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Death Note's 5 Smartest Characters

Updated on March 29, 2017
Misa, Light, and L
Misa, Light, and L

Death Note

To the unaware, Death Note is a psychological horror anime depicting the story of Light Yagami, a Japanese student who obtains a supernatural notebook. This "Death Note" can kill anyone whose name is written within as long as Light has seen their face.

Light quickly resolves to use the Death Note to punish criminals, believing their incarcerations too soft a penance, causing several agencies to begin looking for the mysterious killer.

Unlike most anime, Death Note (minus the supernatural notebook) features a realistic, modern setting, and focuses on mental rather than physical clashes. I highly recommend you watch the series before continuing, as spoilers are ahead.

Naomi Misara
Naomi Misara

5. Naomi Misara

Status: Deceased

A former FBI agent who had worked previously with L, Naomi skillfully investigates Kira after he murders her fiance, Raye Penber. While not quite on the level of the others in this countdown, she came incredibly close to catching Kira early in the series.

Naomi managed to:

  • Discover critical information about Kira
  • Almost outsmart Light (using an alias)


Task force member Aizawa passed by Light and Naomi during their fatal interactions; had he paid more attention, perhaps Light could have been caught much earlier.

Light Yagami
Light Yagami

4. Light Yagami

Status: Deceased

Light Yagami is seemingly a kind, brilliant student dedicated to justice, but secretly acts as the mass murderer Kira, resolving to create a better world by executing criminals with the Death Note.

Light Yagami managed to:

  • Outlive L and Mello
  • Almost defeat Near
  • Seize L's position as head of the Task Force after L's death


Light's definitely intelligent; why isn't he higher in the countdown? A few reasons. First, he has a dumb tendency to admit he's Kira to people he believes are about to die, a trait that helped prove his guilt to Near, and would have revealed him had L or Naomi lived.

Second, while Light is brilliant, but tends to need time to concoct his plans, unlike the lightning-quick minds of Near, Mello, and L.

Third, Light simply has several advantages the other characters don't. His Death Note's supernatural nature helps disguise its use, and Misa's blind devotion to Light (as well as Ryuk's ability to detect followers) grant Light boons no one else receives. Still, Light proves to be a challenging, lethal foe throughout the series.

Mello
Mello

3. Mello

Status: Deceased

Mello (real name Mihael Keehl) was selected to be one of the successors to the mantle of L. However, his inability to overcome his rivalry with Near made him follow his own path towards capturing Kira. Dangerous and sharp, Mello is far more emotional and ruthless than Near or L.

Mello's accomplishments:

  • Persuaded the Mafia, of all groups, to help him in his plans
  • Managed to get a hold of a Death Note, and discover the fake rules inserted by Light
  • Sacrificed his life in a (successful) attempt to provide evidence framing Kira

Mello receives less of the spotlight than the other super-geniuses in the series, but his contributions and strategies prove he's more than capable of standing with them.

Near
Near

2. Near

Status: Living

Near (real name: Nate Rivers) is one of few characters to live through the series. A gifted, quick mind allows him to counter move after move by Light and Mello. His calm demeanor surpasses even L's, allowing him to push aside personal feelings and choose the most logical course of action.

Near's accomplishments:

  • Survived!
  • Deduced Kira's identity, and captured him (with some post mortem help from Mello)
  • Becomes the new L


Near's genius deduction skills managed to figure out that not only is Light Yagami acting as L, but that he is also Kira. Near also succeeded in finding Light's acting operative, Teru Mikami, and orchestrated a scheme to capture both.

L
L

1. L

Status: Deceased

Without the genius of L (full name: L Lawliet), the investigation likely would never have drawn anywhere close to Light. Using subterfuge, deception, and sheer logic, L quickly deduces that Light is Kira, but struggles to convince his team of it.

L's accomplishments:

  • Suspected (correctly) the identities of Kira and the second Kira
  • Guided the Task Force into finding the Death Note
  • Managed to keep his real name hidden from all but those with Shinigami eyes


L's mental capacities survived amazingly long against a genius serial killed who had help from a girl who could see L's name just by looking at him. Without L, Light very well may have operated safely as Kira indefinitely.

Who do you think is the smartest character?

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Future of Death Note

Death Note's anime and manga run ended years ago, but it continues to see new material in the form of movies, books, and even musical dramas. With an ever-growing fanbase, Death Note fans can expect more morbidly-addictive content from this clever series.

For now, feel free to cast your vote for the most intelligent character, and I'll see you at our next countdown!

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    • Jeremy Gill profile image
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      Jeremy Gill 13 days ago from Louisiana

      @Joseph

      Great comparison! The contest between Light and L remains one of my all time favorite clashes. Luckily, Death Note has been adapted into radio dramas, musicals, and even an upcoming Netflix film.

    • profile image

      Joseph 13 days ago

      Light vs L is like two people playing chess for the first time, except Light has the rules of the game explained before hand and L has to learn as he goes, and still nearly wins.

    • profile image

      slayer171 2 months ago

      Good analysis. L's definitely smartest. Managing too narrow Kira down and correctly at that? Light has shinigami and misa to help, L was almost alone.

    • Jeremy Gill profile image
      Author

      Jeremy Gill 4 months ago from Louisiana

      @Poppy

      Thanks for your comment. You make a good point, but I warn against spoilers at the beginning, and the text of most of the characters reveals their fate anyways. Haha it's tough to really talk about Death Note without spoilers.

    • poppyr profile image

      Poppy Reid 4 months ago from Tokyo, Japan

      Nice article; of course L would come first! However, don't you think it might be better to not have "deceased" in their character descriptions, as it's a potential spoiler?

      I know it's quite an old anime but still. Good article overall. Voted up :)