Death Note's 5 Smartest Characters

Updated on April 23, 2020
Jeremy Gill profile image

Jeremy enjoys anime when not working as a chemist or building manager.

Misa, Light, and L
Misa, Light, and L

Death Note Summary

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.


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.


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.


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?

See results

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, which has expanded into a Netflix adaptation, musical, and one-shot sequel.

But for now, cast your vote for the most intelligent character, and I'll see you at our next anime countdown!

Questions & Answers

  • Which is better; the Death Note anime, or the Netflix original Death Note movie?

    Definitely the anime. Most people didn't like the Netflix film; I think it had a few redeeming factors, but it still can't compare to the original show.

© 2017 Jeremy Gill


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    • Jeremy Gill profile imageAUTHOR

      Jeremy Gill 

      8 weeks ago from Louisiana


      Did you read the official sequel one-shot that came out not too long ago? I definitely recommend it, and it only takes a half hour or so to finish.

    • poppyr profile image


      8 weeks ago from Enoshima, Japan

      I'm currently reading the original manga for Japanese practice. Forgot how much I loved this story.

    • profile image

      Priyanka rautela 

      2 months ago

      I think

      1is L

      2is Light



    • profile image


      16 months ago

      I personally think light is the smartest

    • Jeremy Gill profile imageAUTHOR

      Jeremy Gill 

      2 years ago from Louisiana


      Mello and Light are pretty similar. Both were very intelligent and had tendencies to react emotionally, which could land them into trouble. However, Mello is like Near and L in that he can construct plans in the blink of an eye, whereas Light usually needs much more time to properly think out a situation, and struggles to adapt if things go astray.


      I read your hub, and I know the movie definitely let down many fans (heck, I made an entire Hub about ten dumb choices the characters make in it), but I'm in the minority that am glad I saw it. It was different, not just another retelling of a story we've heard many times, and I actually enjoyed Mia, Ryuk, and L's depictions.

      That said, I can certainly see why many fans disapprove, as the film did fail in several aspects.

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      how is mellow smarter then light? please explain

    • Marco Arista profile image

      Marco Arista 

      2 years ago from Italy


      No it's not, check it out after you see the movie...yeah I do mention the older live action movies in the review, I have to say I enjoyed them more than this one (although I was younger and less "demanding" back in the days).

      I mean, the movie has some enjoyable bits, and I have to give it credit for drawing attention on the franchise, watch it.

      I had never heard of the musical! The song is nice, I'm sure the musical will be enjoyable as well...too bad I'm 5500 miles away from there, I'd rush to see the show haha

    • Jeremy Gill profile imageAUTHOR

      Jeremy Gill 

      2 years ago from Louisiana


      I haven't watched the film yet; is your review spoiler-free? Even with low expectations, I like to experience the twists and turns naturally. And though I've been hearing the Netflix movie disappointed, I've been quite impressed with some test runs of a Death Note musical they're making.

      Heck, the track "Playing His Game" is on my mp3 and listened to more than I'd care to admit. And if that's not up your alley, there are two older Japanese Death Note films that were moderately-well received.

    • Marco Arista profile image

      Marco Arista 

      2 years ago from Italy

      too bad the netflix film was...well...not up to the task. I wrote a hub about it, check it out if you want

    • Jeremy Gill profile imageAUTHOR

      Jeremy Gill 

      3 years ago from Louisiana


      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


      3 years 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


      3 years 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 imageAUTHOR

      Jeremy Gill 

      3 years ago from Louisiana


      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


      3 years ago from Enoshima, 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 :)


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