Due to their reputation as mostly entertainment for children, animated series are often home to the most pure, stalwart heroes, and the lines between good and evil are clearly defined. Once in a while though, there will be a character that fits into a moral grey area; a character who was once evil but wants to change his/her ways, or a character who has fallen from grace but wishes to find a way back to the light.
Often, these character's journeys are the best parts of the series.
1. Cindy Vortex ('Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius')
Nearly every series with a school setting includes a bully character, and at the beginning of #JimmyNeutron, Cindy Vortex was that bully. Cindy often insulted Jimmy, his friends and most of Jimmy's inventions. Towards the end of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, the theatrical film that launched the franchise, we learn that Cindy's tormenting of Jimmy stems from jealousy, as he usurped her place as the smartest kid in school. Still, she managed to put her issues aside and help restore Jimmy's confidence, leading to their escape from the villains who had captured them.
Moving into the series, Cindy's behavior further improves. While she and Jimmy still bicker, she is less hostile towards him than she was at the beginning of the movie, and the pair always have each other's back when danger occurs. Later, their friendship has developed to the point where Cindy is the only one to defend Jimmy when he questions the motives behind the Yolkians' (the villains of the movie) new friendship with the citizens of Retroville.
"YES, although I have NO idea how the Yolkians could've possibly gotten into Jimmy's lab... The point IS, we owe Jimmy! Who stopped all those marauding pants from running amok in the streets? Who repelled the big, flaming meteor headed straight for town?! Who risked his LIFE to shrink Miss Fowl down to size when she was fifty feet tall?! I know, those were all Neutron's fault in the first place... But he still risked his LIFE to save us!!! The least we OWE him is our trust!!" — Cindy Vortex, 'The Eggpire Strikes Back'
Cindy probably displays one of the most realistic stories of redemption there is — the kind that comes from simply growing up.
2. Ken Ichijouji ('Digimon Adventure 02')
Crippled with guilt over the death of his older brother (Sam) Ken Ichijouji flees into the Digital World to escape his grief. While there, a dark spore that had become embedded in Ken's neck on his first visit begins to fester and take over him, planting the idea in his head that the Digital World is his to control. By the time the DigiDestined first encounter Ken in Digimon Adventure 02, he has taken on the guise of the evil Digimon Emperor. As the Emperor, Ken enslaves countless Digimon, using them to exert ever more control over the Digital World, while many other Digimon are killed in the process.
Eventually, one of the Digimon Emperor's Frankenstein-like creations, Chimeramon, proves itself uncontrollable, and Ken's true #Digimon partner, Wormmon, sacrifices itself to stop it. Seeing Wormmon's sacrifice reawakens Ken's true, kind nature, leaving the boy devastated by his actions. After finding the reincarnated Wormmon, Ken sets about trying to help the Digital World recover from his reign of terror.
Ken soon joins the other DigiDestined, working tirelessly to make up for his past as the Digimon Emperor by helping them to defeat many dark forces. Over time, he earns their trust and forgiveness, becoming the member of the team that he was always meant to be.
3. Rogue ('X-Men Evolution')
X-Men Evolution's incarnation of Rogue is notable among fans for containing one of the most faithful adaptations of the character's origin story, while still including the twists that the series was known for. When Rogue's powers manifest at the beginning of the series, she becomes the subject of a tug of war between the #XMen and The Brotherhood of Mutants. She chooses the Brotherhood, only because her foster mother, Mystique, used her shape-shifting powers to make Rogue believe that the X-Men had attacked her.
Things become complicated when Rogue finds herself attending high school with the younger X-Men, and forming an unlikely friendship with their leader, Scott Summers/Cyclops. She becomes suspicious of Mystique when their versions of certain events just don't match up. Realizing that her foster mother had manipulated her, she rescues Scott from death at Mystique's hands and joins the X-Men, finding in them the true family she had always wanted.
4. Charizard ('Pokémon')
While Ash's Charmander had been a loyal member of his #Pokémon team, things take a turn for the worse when it evolves into Charmeleon, and worse still when it reaches its final form of Charizard. Charizard is completely disobedient, never listening to Ash except on the rare occasions when it deems an opponent worth its time. This disobedience costs Ash his place in the Pokémon League finals, after Charizard chooses to fall asleep rather than battle a lowly #Pikachu.
Despite all Charizard cost him, Ash refused to give up. During a battle against another trainer's Poliwhirl in the Orange Islands, Charizard is struck at point-blank range with an Ice Beam attack, very nearly killing it. Ash stays up through the night with Charizard, keeping it warm and slowly nursing it back to health. Seeing its Trainer's devotion, Charizard has a change of heart, and begins listening to Ash once more. It soon becomes one of his most loyal Pokémon, returning to Ash's side for nearly all of his greatest battles.
It also provides one of the greatest moments in any Pokémon movie, arriving at the last minute to save Ash from certain death before an epic battle with Entei.
5. Rose ('American Dragon: Jake Long')
By day, Rose was the new girl at Millard Fillmore Middle School. By night, she was Huntsgirl, apprentice to the Dragon-hating Huntsman. Abducted at birth by the Huntsclan, Rose was raised to believe that magical creatures, especially Dragons, were disgusting and unnatural. Her greatest goal was initially to slay the American Dragon, unaware that he is her classmate, Jake Long. When she does eventually discover the Dragon's identity, she finds herself unable to go through with killing Jake, having developed romantic feelings for him.
Rose soon becomes a double-agent, working within the Huntsclan to help Jake bring them down. She becomes so committed to Jake's cause that she is willing to sacrifice her own life, using the mystical Aztec skulls to wish for the destruction of all the Huntsclan (Including Rose, as she bears a Huntsclan tattoo) in order to protect the magical community. Unwilling to let Rose die, Jake saves her with his own wish: That she was never taken by the Huntsclan. Sadly, the wish costs Rose her memories of Jake, but, she gets a chance at a normal life with her family.
6. Gatomon ('Digimon Adventure')
When Gatomon is first introduced in Digimon Adventure, she is a henchman of Myotismon, the series greatest villain at that time. Once a friendly #Digimon who had roamed the Digital World in search of a person with whom she was destined to bond, abuse at the hands of Myotismon caused her to forget her original goal, adopting a crueler personality to ensure her survival.
With the help of her friend Wizardmon, Gatomon's true, kind nature returns and she remembers her destiny as the partner of the eighth DigiDestined child, Kari. While she quickly devotes herself to protecting Kari, she struggles to gain the trust of the other Digimon due to her past misdeeds. When Wizardmon is killed protecting Kari and Gatomon from one of Myotismon's attacks, both are devastated by the loss. The pair's grief activates Kari's crest of Light, allowing Gatomon to Digivolve into her ultimate form, Angewomon. Borrowing energy from the other Digimon, Angewomon mounts an attack to destroy Myotismon once and for all. Following this, Gatomon becomes a trusted and valued member of the DigiDestined team, her dark past forgotten.
7. Dagur The Deranged ('Dragons: Race To The Edge')
Dagur The Deranged, leader of the Berserkers tribe, is introduced as the second major antagonist in the DreamWorks Dragons television franchise. His first major act within the series is breaking a longstanding alliance between The Berserkers and Hiccup's tribe, the Hairy Hooligans, over the latter's refusal to resume hunting dragons. Despite their antagonism, Dagur greatly respects Hiccup, referring to him as "brother," and wishing that Hiccup would do the same for him.
Things begin to change for Dagur in the second season of Dragons: Race To The Edge, when he locates his sister, Heather, is an ally of Hiccup and the Dragon Riders. Unable to harm Heather when she is captured by the Dragon Hunters, he releases her and disappears from the Hunters' service. His new goal is to regain Heather's trust and find their missing Father. After nagging Hiccup to teach him, Dagur is shown to be a natural with Dragons, quickly bonding with his Gronckle, Shattermaster.
In time, he becomes a trusted ally of Hiccup, and even manages to ride the once thought un-trainable Triple Strike, using it to defend the injured Shattermaster. Witnessing Dagur's devotion to his dragon, Hiccup finally calls him "brother," giving him the acceptance he had always craved.
8. Mewtwo ('Pokémon')
Billed as the most powerful Pokémon in the world, Mewtwo was the antagonist of the first Pokemon movie. Used and betrayed by the humans who created it, Mewtwo aimed to destroy humans and their Pokémon partners, to repopulate the world with his powerful Pokémon clones. After witnessing Ash Ketchum almost sacrifice his life to stop the battle between the natural Pokémon and the clones, #Mewtwo has a change of heart, realizing that being a clone does not mean he is any better the naturally born Mew.
When he is next seen in the #TV special Mewtwo Returns, Mewtwo has hidden himself and the clones away on a secluded mountain, believing that they should be isolated because they are not "real" Pokémon. He devotes his life to keeping the other clones safe, and is heavily injured trying to protect them when Team Rocket's leader, Giovanni, arrives to reclaim him.
With some help from Ash, Mewtwo is healed by a special pool, helping him realize that he is a real Pokémon. Erasing Giovanni's memory of all the clone Pokémon, Mewtwo allows them to leave their seclusion and live regular lives among other Pokémon. Mewtwo himself, free of all the beliefs that had once held him back, becomes a Batman-like figure, roaming the night in search of those who need help.
9. Terra ('Teen Titans')
When Terra is first introduced in Teen Titans, she has the potential to be a strong ally, potentially even a sixth member of the team. Sadly, Terra is not entirely in control of her Earth powers. Believing that Beast Boy betrayed her secret to the rest of the team, she easily falls prey to the manipulations of Slade, agreeing to betray the Titans in return for control over her powers.
Slade gives Terra a robotic suit that allows her control, but neglects to mention that it also allows him complete control of her actions. Slade goes on to use Terra to stir up a volcano that will destroy Jump City. With encouragement from Beast Boy, Terra manages to wrestle back control. While it is too late to stop the eruption, Terra sacrifices herself to keep the lava from reaching the City, leaving her trapped inside a statue. The Titans vow to restore her, but whether they ever succeed is left ambiguous.
10. Zuko ('Avatar: The Last Airbender')
Throughout the first season of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Prince Zuko is the clear villain. He doggedly pursues Aang wherever he goes in the hopes of capturing him and regaining his honor. As the series goes on, we learn that the real story is far more complicated, and that Zuko is, in fact, the least evil member of the Fire Nation's royal family. He is hardly evil at all, but rather a boy desperately seeking acceptance from his cruel Father.
While Zuko is briefly welcomed back to the Fire Nation, he realizes his Father's ways do not match his own view of how the world should be. He tracks down Aang, becoming his Firebending teacher, and a crucial ally in the fight to come. He even battles his own sister, Azula, to give Aang the time he needs to take out the Fire Lord. When Zuko reappears in the sequel series Legend of Korra, it is revealed that he and Aang remained friends for life, and founded Republic City together, a place where people from all nations could live in harmony.
What's your favorite redemption tale in a cartoon? Leave it in the comments!