"Mature Content Warning!"
This article contains some content involving a mature subject or situation and may not be suitable for younger viewers. If you are 18 years or older or are comfortable with graphic material, you are free to view this page.
There's nothing special about being born. Not a thing. Most of the universe is just death, nothing more. In this universe of ours, the birth of a new life on some corner of our planet is nothing but a tiny, insignificant flash. Death is a normal thing—so why live?
~ Johan tormenting Miloš, an orphan, while disguised as his sister Anna
I was born in a town that was straight out of a fairy tale. Many people died there, and when I walked away, I held hands with my other self. To me, it seemed like we were the only two people in the world. Neither one of us possessed a real name.
~ Johan terrorizing Schuwald
I woke up from the dream. There were so many visions I had of the end, but now I'm picturing a different ending altogether; a clearer vision of the true ending.
~ Johan to his henchman Horst Grossman immediately before killing him
I saw Hell right there in his eyes. Hell. In the eyes of a living human being.
~ Hans Georg Schuwald on the true nature of Johan
Johan Liebert is the titular main antagonist of the manga and anime series Monster, and the unseen overarching antagonist of the light novel sequel Another Monster. He is a ruthless, emotionless, and psychopathic serial killer whose life was saved by Kenzo Tenma as a child. He is also the twin brother of Anna Liebert, aka Nina Fortner. Johan has stated that his one true goal is to be the last one alive when the world ends—but upon rediscovering a children's book that appears to have played a pivotal role in his monstrous nature, he instead set his mind on committing the "perfect suicide", i.e. dying without leaving behind any evidence of his existence (with the possible exception of Dr. Tenma and Anna's memories of him in order to destroy their faith in humanity).
With alarming premeditation and calculation for his age, he murdered his caretakers despite being homeless, rewarding their kindness towards him and Anna with cruelty. This occurred prior to most of his past traumas, proving that he had already exhibited psychopathic tendencies as a child.
He infamously caused the 511 Kinderheim massacre, once more as a child, by insidiously manipulating and provoking the orphans and instructors into inciting chaos—which culminated in the orphanage burning down and Johan tossing an oil rag into its fires, ominously overseeing dozens of other children die by either killing each other or burning alive. This cements Johan as an entity of pure evil if he wasn't prior, and establishes his initial goal of causing the collapse of human civilization to be the last man alive amidst a wasteland of death. There is no apparent motive for this beyond nihilism and, possibly, misanthropy.
Hartmann—a former director of 511 Kinderheim and no saint himself as an abusive caretaker—even admits that there was no way the orphanage could've created a "masterpiece" like Johan, suggesting that he is far more a born monster than a made one and eliminating any semblance of tragedy his character could've been.
He murdered his foster parents, the Lieberts, before successfully prompting a traumatized Anna to shoot him herself with the intent to corrupt her. Despite Anna's life nearly being ruined that night and his alleged love for her, Johan shows no remorse for this—said "love" appearing to stem merely from his notion that they are two halves of the same entity, that she is a nameless monster much like him (as per the picture book that Johan had been shown), rather than brotherliness.
He stole the identity of Johan Wilhelm Liebert, the deceased son of another family with the surname of "Liebert", and steals multiple other identities along the way. Aptly for someone designated "the Nameless Monster", the serial-killing Johan's true name is never revealed.
He tortured Helmut Wolf by forcing him to watch his wife, children, and many friends and acquaintances all die one after the other, reducing him to a broken and paranoid wretch just to make him experience the same solitude that Johan did—despite the fact that Wolf saved him and his sister from a near-death experience. Although Wolf was a neo-Nazi, what he was subjected to was not only irrelevant to that, but cruel even for him.
It is worth noting that Johan has a tendency to subject his victims to the worst possible loss and suffering rather than actually killing them himself, which often drives them to suicide anyhow. This would explain his disinterest in killing Dr. Tenma.
He murders Tenma's boss and coworkers Director Heinemann, Dr. Oppenheim, and Dr. Boyer with poisoned candy simply because Tenma had unwittingly told Johan that Heinemann would be better off dead—despite this declaration stemming from anger and resentment rather than genuine malice—thereby framing Tenma for the murders due to his severe demotion prior to this. Whether Johan's incrimination was deliberate is uncertain, but not unlikely.
While Director Heinemann and his subordinates were thoroughly repugnant for their corruption and disregard for the lives of their patients, Johan did not kill them for this reason, but to invalidate Tenma's belief that all lives are equal, as Johan tells Tenma that his career was only salvaged thanks to the murders.
He encourages Rheinhard Dinger and other serial killers to commit murderous acts with little to no effort, seemingly bearing a corrupting influence on a nearly supernatural level.
He organizes a successful money laundering business only to abandon it, which in turn instigates another massacre.
He hires serial killers from all around Germany, including Adolf Junkers and his two partners, to dispose of all of his former foster parents—only to backstab the trio by disposing of them once they've outlived their utility. Junkers initially survives, but is later executed by Johan himself in cold blood right in front of Tenma, just as Junkers was on the path to redemption and recovery. In doing so, Johan also torments and possibly attempts to corrupt Tenma—a purely good character—by insinuating that the blood of Heinemann, Oppenheim, and Boyer is on his hands and that their deaths benefitted him due to his promotion to fill their place, suggesting to Tenma that disposing of those in one's way is acceptable.
He habitually murders his own subordinates (e.g. Horst Grossman later on) or neglects their potential deaths (e.g. his surviving disciple, Christof); even his most loyal henchman, Roberto, is not exempt from this callousness when he dies before an indifferent Johan's eyes without having his end of the bargain fulfilled, as he is ultimately nothing more to Johan than a pawn.
Johan's interactions with Tenma overall are attempts to invalidate his belief in the equality of all life, hence the former's acknowledgement of the latter's promotion and persistent encouragement of shooting him in the head. As seen in the climactic showdown, he goes to depraved lengths just to crush Tenma's idealism.
He corrupts children with his worldviews and convinces them to jump from rooftops as a game, which they're told to try again should they survive. It's highly likely that many of them either become critically wounded or do not survive.
He initially plans to have Schuwald assassinated by his hitman Roberto so that he may seize control of Germany's economy, manipulating murderers to target those close to Schuwald in order to get closer to him by taking their place and earning his trust, in addition to driving Edmund Fahren to suicide for no apparent reason. His reason for nearly subjugating the economy is to set his aforementioned apocalyptic initial plan in motion.
When recovering alcoholic and detective Richard Braun is hired to investigate Fahren's suicide and begins to draw connections between Johan and other unsolved murders, Johan retaliates by meeting Richard in a bar and, veiled as research for a college thesis, confronting him on the latter's execution of a 17-year-old serial rapist and murderer, citing various sections from the Convention on the Rights of the Child to put the detective in the wrong—initially under a neutral, understanding façade. This façade gradually erodes as instead of simply luring him someplace he could kill him, Johan does so while slowly and ruthlessly hammering away at Richard's psyche by planting seeds of guilt, asking Richard how he intends to look his daughter Rosemary in the eye the next day when her father is a murderer and a coward, and finally manipulating him into drinking again—which is followed by Richard either jumping/falling off the rooftop Johan has lured him to or being pushed off, killing him, despite Johan's knowledge that Richard was to see Rosemary the next day for the first time in years. His wife and daughter grieve his death afterwards. This is done not to deliver justice for the otherwise morally upright Richard's past crime, but simply for his interference with Johan's plans.
After murdering Blue Sophie (which is arguably well deserved), Johan gives drug money to a prostitute near the crime scene for seemingly no other reason than to further ruin her life by having her abuse more drugs—although it is possibly also pragmatism, i.e. to dispel suspicion by rendering her an unreliable witness due to her addiction, if not simple hush money.
He sets the highly occupied Munich University Library ablaze while instilling terror into Schuwald, killing a few and injuring many while burning myriads of books simply because of his loss of interest in murdering Schuwald. Since he refuses to abandon his plans for Schuwald without ruining the business tycoon's life in some way, he spitefully traumatizes him and shows him scenes from Hell—both in the library and in Johan's very eyes.
Upon embarking to Prague in search of a 511 Kinderheim tape from his youth, Johan murders and deceives people—including Reinhart Biermann, the repenting headmaster of said orphanage who, up until his death, was raising children in a manner opposite to that of his past experiments—while disguised as his sister Anna, deliberately gaslighting and potentially incriminating her. In said disguise, he frequents a local bar and acquaints himself with Detective Jan Suk, who is enamored with him due to his convincing appearance as Anna; however, upon extracting the required information from Suk, Johan poisons his boss and other (corrupt) policemen involved with the Czech Secret Police attempting to acquire and sell the tape that Johan seeks, which deflects blame and suspicion onto the innocent Suk due to the similar poisoning method utilized by said police.
To exonerate Wolfgang Grimmer from false suspicion of murdering Biermann, several of the orphans who were previously in the latter's custody band together to find the "mysterious blonde lady" (Johan) who was present at the scene and presumed to be a witness—and one of the boys, Miloš, is successful. What follows is one of Johan's most wanton and reasonless acts of cruelty when, still disguised as Anna, he tells Miloš that he should find his lost mother at a nearby red-light district, but bombards his hopes with the notions that his mother abandoned him because he was never wanted and that all life is insignificant; he then sends the boy through said district wherein he witnesses several forms of human depravity, including rape, which—coupled with his inevitable failure to find his mother—tortures the boy enough to drive him to the brink of suicide. Although this is stopped through Tenma and Grimmer's narrow intervention, Miloš is still very visibly traumatized and implied to be corrupted by Johan when he squishes a moth unprovoked, and his fate thereafter is unspecified.
He burns down the Red Rose Mansion, which contains a painting of his own mother, in his endeavor to erase his past and (ultimately) himself.
Upon reuniting with her at the remnants of the mansion, he nearly drives Anna to suicide, who as well is barely stopped by Tenma.
Subsequent to disposing of his henchman Horst Grossman, he visits the remote village of Ruhenheim wherein he instigates a massacre by playing on the doubts, fears, and innate greed associated with human nature, destroying its peace and killing many more in the process. He intends to have its entire population dead at its own hands.
He has an atoning Franz Bonaparta murdered in cold blood by Roberto, denying him any chance at redemption.
He rejects Anna's forgiveness of all of his actions during their final encounter, immediately before holding a nearby child at gunpoint just to coerce Tenma to shoot him and fulfill his goal of a "perfect suicide" (and once more to corrupt Tenma and invalidate his worldviews).
In the ambiguous ending of the story, Johan appears to even reject Tenma's pity upon him when told by the latter that he spoke with the former's mother, who claims that he indeed has a name and is still loved by her—simply rejecting her love and his true name by seemingly using his mother's handing over of Anna to Bonaparta as an excuse to deny any goodness in people. It is, however, possible that this was a figment of Tenma's imagination.
Furthermore, it is possibly implied that Johan escapes the police hospital he was sent to following his second brain surgery, indicating that in the end, he receives no comeuppance for his long list of atrocities. It is also possible that he is still in a comatose state, but regardless, his ultimate fate is unknown and it is likely that he evaded justice.
He indirectly instigates the events of Another Monster by inspiring Hermann Führ to dispose of Molke and everyone else aware of his existence, now that his criminal record is publicized.
Overall, he lives up to the manga/anime's name as a living force of evil (complete with parallels/allusions to the Antichrist as opposed to the Messiah that Tenma symbolizes) which brings out the absolute worst in people, spreads as much evil and suffering as possible, and champions the downfall of all human society and morality, showing no signs of any genuine caring towards Anna or anyone else beyond mere fixation (e.g. his refusal to kill Tenma out of a petty desire to destroy his optimism and negate his humanitarianism, and his intent to torture Anna instead of killing her). While overarching antagonist Franz Bonaparta may indeed have contributed to Johan's evil, the latter was clearly born psychopathic and already beyond redemption once he murdered his own caretakers as a child, even prior to his tenure at 511 Kinderheim—thereby proving himself more monstrous than Bonaparta, who not only sought repentance but had standards and good intentions even as a villain. For this reason, neither Johan adopting Anna's memories of the Red Rose Mansion, nor his trauma from the day Anna was abducted for the experiment (which she walked out a good person), nor whatever The Nameless Monster may have imprinted on his mind upon reading it as a child can truly mitigate his emotionlessly antisocial behavior and copious atrocities—especially not what would have transpired if he hadn't rediscovered the aforementioned picture book.
Johan is perhaps among the most acclaimed—and often considered one of the most evil—villains in manga and anime. The former may be due in part to his complexity and realism (for the most part) as a villain despite his lack of positive qualities, and his religious allegory; the latter may partly be because of the fact that, rather than only torturing and murdering people, he drags them down to his level with relative ease, reducing them to nihilistic monsters (if not outright insanity) like himself.
Furthermore, he does not appear to gain much from his actions as he shows few to no sadistic tendencies, which only highlights his malice since not even sadism may be an excuse. Assuming he truly even has the emotional capacity for hatred, his misanthropy appears to be his only drive since it conflicts with his nihilistic outlook; however, given that his demeanor, disturbingly, appears to be far more apathetic than antipathetic, it can be argued that everything he does on his way to fulfilling his ultimate goal (including the goal itself) is purely for the sake of evil—such acts being as natural and mundane to him as breathing.
Allegedly, it is stated in the light novel sequel Another Monster that Johan "rebuilt his life" subsequent to the events of the manga/anime. Whatever this suggests is unclear and possibly left up to interpretation; however, given that he simply spreads further death and suffering by inspiring Führ to kill all those who know of him, redemption is still out of the question, and "[rebuilding] his life" most likely only insinuates a successful evasion of justice.
He is currently the only Naoki Urasawa character to be approved as Pure Evil, although bothversions of Friend from 20th Century Boys, Dr. Roosevelt from Pluto, and possibly Hermann Führ from Another Monster are likely to count as well.