Now, of course the number one on this list could very easily be Batman. He is however excluded due to his sheer popularity. DC comics seems to have the most gritty superheroes, especially because of the sheer tragedy many of these superheroes deal with. Bruce Wayne had his parents killed in front of him, a theme that is often repeated throughout DC with a good amount of their characters.
Before we begin, let's define grit witin the context I'm referring to. When I say grit I mean tragedy, a true struggle in life, whether this be mental or physical, and death is always a part of it in one way or another. The best example is Batman; his parents were killed at a young age and so he went on to try and avenge their deaths in a crime filled town. He has morals but at the same time is not afraid of torture, especially if it means getting the answers. He doesn't kill but he does hurt, badly.
Most of these superheroes are unknown due to their lack of promotion in television and film. Characters, like the Green Arrow, have been misinterpreted in the series, which will hopefully be fixed in season 4. Arrow is a character that is more lighthearted and such, whereas the show is incredibly hardcore and gritty, which I like in a purely entertainment kind of way. In the classic comics he is however a much more light hearted character. Nonetheless, his series tackled huge concepts. So, without further ado, here's our honorable mention.
Honorable Mention: Green Arrow
As I mentioned above, Oliver Queen or the Arrow is often misrepresented in the comics but still has a gritty story line in the comics. For example, spending a long time on an island is grit in it of itself. It also tackled some incredibly hard issues. In Green Lantern/Green Arrow issue 85 it is, for instance, revealed in spectacular fashion that Speedy was a junkie.
This groundbreaking issue was the first comic with drugs actively being used on the cover, let alone by one of the good guys. This arc could only be described as fearless, as it attacks such a huge problem.
5. Red Hood (Jason Todd)
Despite him being in the Batman storyline, he deserves the number 5 spot. Red Hood was the persona the Joker went by before he became the Joker and Jason Todd took the title after he was mercilessly beaten and supposedly murdered by the Joker when in fact he survived. He ended up coming back to Gotham and went on a rampage. He abandoned his vow to not kill due to his ordeal with the Joker. Due to the training he received from Batman, his extremely high intelligence and his physical ability, he is already a formidable hero. Yet due to his thoughts on killing he became unstoppable. His ruthless view makes him more of an anti-hero because he stops crime but Batman wants to stop him. Fantastic fighting skills, lack of morals, extreme intelligence and a tragic reason behind his change are some reasons why he is the 5th grittiest superhero.
4. Black Widow
This may seem odd but she does have a truly tragic background. Trained to be a Soviet Operative from a young age, she got brainwashed and mercilessly trained in order to become a hard killer. She was trained in part by the Winter Soldier and was created to kill, that's it. In alternate story lines she was captured by the Nazis and tortured until she was rescued by the Russians who made her into a super spy. She is very adept at martial arts and she's a weapons expert, highly intelligent and not afraid to take a life. Her backstory, in addition to her mission above all mentality, helps her make number 4 on the list.
This one should seem obvious. He's a government super soldier turned super hero, and his family is dead. Wolverine is very tragic, not only with regards to his family and how it happened, but also in terms of his relationships. Everyone he meets seems to die or turn against him. He has no family, and being a super hero, his friends die often. Also, he is plagued by nightmares of his military days.
2. Ghost Rider
Ghost Rider is the star motorcyclist/actor turned pawn of the Devil and a being with supernatural powers. Whenever Johnny Blaze becomes the Ghost Rider he becomes a flaming skeleton in biker clothes with a flaming chain wrapped around his waste. He originally became the Rider when he sacrificed himself to to the arch-demon Mephisto to save his father's life. He becomes the Ghost Rider at night and when he's around evil. His powers include the use of hell fire to burn people's souls, yet he leaves no physical scars. This hell fire also wraps around his biker chain. He also has this penance stare, which makes the recipient feel the guilt of everything they had ever done all at once, whilst the Rider is also forced to feel massive guilt. This normally consumes the soul and kills the person, he used this on the Punisher but it did not work...
1. The Punisher
Hands down the most hard core and gruesome hero of them all. He was rejected by fellow superheroes in their times of need because he was too extreme, and has no remorse. This is the Punisher of course. Frank Castle is a highly trained Special Forces operative who received training from the best of the best; SAS, Navy Seals, Marine Force Recon, Paratroopers, CIA, he is the most proficient killer out there. He employs every method to get his vengeance for crimes, and from extortion to torture to murder, he has no limits. His obsession with vengeance of all sorts began when his wife and daughter were murdered by a super villain named Frank Costa, or Olivier. One of the scariest parts of him is that he feels no remorse for anything he has ever done. At one point he fought Ghost Rider, who used the Penance Stare on him, and Castle returned his stare, unfazed. Castle's no limit style, his tragic backstory and his lack of remorse give him the title of Grittiest Superhero.
Of course my list is my personal opinion! If you have a better idea for the list please comment below!