A superhero story can only be as great as its villains. That's not to say they're every series' end all and be all, but villains often perform the all-too-important task of challenging truths the protagonists and audiences take for granted. In so doing, they provide the opportunity for protagonists to reconcile their existing ideals with the bitter reality, while consistently being the best-looking characters of any series. My Hero Academia's Shigaraki Tomura is no different. Here's what makes him such an exemplary villain.
In a nutshell, Shigaraki and MHA's protagonist, Midoriya Izuku, are two sides of the same coin. Both admired heroes and wanted nothing more than to become Pro Heroes themselves in the future. The difference between them, however, is that apart from being Quirkless, Midoriya had a largely unexceptional childhood while Shigaraki's life was forever changed by the sudden manifestation of his Decay Quirk. Unaware of its effects, Shigaraki disintegrated all of his family and his home. With nowhere else to turn he was forced into the streets, where he was ignored until All For One picked him up. All For One spent years dyeing Shigaraki in his colors, but his stint in the streets was more than enough to give him an overwhelming dislike of heroes and the system that celebrated them.
Shigaraki Tomura's Villain Academia
Inasmuch as My Hero Academia is about Midoriya's climb to the #1 hero spot, one can't deny that Shigaraki is about as equally important to the story. Although they're working toward very different ends, their journeys strangely mirror one another. Just like All Might chose Midoriya to be his successor, All For One chose Shigaraki to become his next incarnation. Both masters were bent on training their charges as best they could -- and that took on very different forms.
While Midoriya's Hero training consisted of organized classes with the rest of 1-A, Shigaraki had a more hands-on approach to villainy 101. All For One encouraged him to explore the world as he saw fit, with the assurance that he would always be there to bail Shigaraki out if needed. Shigaraki took his master's words to heart and his attack on USJ was the first of many on UA and the hero society at large. He may have suffered an overwhelming defeat once All Might arrived on the scene, but Shigaraki was only getting started.
When Shigaraki was first introduced in My Hero Academia, his only motivation was his infantile dream of indiscriminate destruction. It was quite the ambitious goal but it only really became a threat once Shigaraki identified the source of his irritation for hero society. All For One orchestrated a meeting with Stain in order to instill some proper conviction in his student but Shigaraki only learned the intended lesson after the Hero Killer's death. Seeing all of Japan fawn over Stain's notion of "true heroes" helped Shigaraki realize that most of his irritation with the Hero society was concentrated in All Might. For the first time, his malicious intent focused on a single goal: tearing All Might's reputation down.
Shigaraki's ambitious goal was only made possible with the help of his villain allies. Just as Deku's strength grew in tandem with the rest of Class 1-A, Shigaraki found community in the League of Villains. The team supported his attempts at subtly destabilizing hero society and indirectly struck the final blow against All Might when they kidnapped Bakugo Katsuki. It wasn't enough to physically harm All Might; the League intended to shatter the sense of safety and complacency his omnipotence had given the citizens of Japan. Through carefully organized guerrilla attacks, they continued to cast doubt on the competence of UA and the heroes, slowly earning Shigaraki the opposite of All Might's nickname: The Symbol of Fear.
Shigaraki's goal of indiscriminate destruction was challenged by rival villains seeking to usurp the #1 villain spot once All For One was imprisoned. These villains recognized the same faults in society as Shigaraki did, but their solutions to the hero cancer didn't impress him at all. Overhaul introduced him to a plot as genius as it was evil, involving organizing a monopoly of Quirk-erasing and Quirk-restoring bullets and profiting of the heroes’ eternal struggle against the villains.
Re-Destro and The Meta Liberation Army fought to create a world where Quirks could be used freely. In the end, both of these movements crumbled and Shigaraki ended up assimilating all they'd achieved: Overhaul's Quirk erasing bullets and the full might of the Liberation Army. Just as Midoriya had rivals and mentors to learn from and support him, these villains served as a stepping stone for Shigaraki to move on to further greatness.
In making good on his promise of everything belonging to Shigaraki, All For One had his longest partner and Quirk Doomsday Theory proponent, Dr. Garaki, outfit his successor to the original AFO Quirk with all the others he'd collected. Replete with strength on par with All Might's at his peak, Shigaraki finally achieved the Symbol of Fear status he'd been working toward -- but his role in MHA took a sudden shift when All For One betrayed him.
Who Will Be Shigaraki's Hero?
It turned out All For One's promises of granting Shigaraki the entire world wasn't because he'd felt sympathy for him, but rather an elaborate plot to prepare Shigaraki's body and mind to host his master's consciousness. Naturally, Shigaraki tried to reject the transformation his Quirk operation had forced on him but to no avail. In an instant, the strong-willed Shigaraki who had been displayed for all of MHA was relegated to being a spectator in his own mind.
In a failed attempt to steal One For All, All For One accidentally made Midoriya privy to the struggle within Shigaraki's mind. Sensing his longtime enemy was in dire need of help from that encounter, Midoriya made the unique decision to save Shigaraki. This conclusion was in line with the protagonist's character but predictably, the previous One For All holders viewed Midoriya's goal as delusional. After all, who knew if Shigaraki could be saved anyway? And what would be the point of saving someone who turned his back on society and actively plotted to destroy it?
Shigaraki's dilemma presents one of the most interesting conflicts in My Hero Academia so far, and how it finally gets resolved is one of the most anticipated aspects of the series' ending. Midoriya is the obvious character to save Shigaraki but the story has repeatedly stressed that the lines separating hero and villain aren't set in stone. Characters on either end of the spectrum routinely step into the other's territory, so we might well end up with one of the League of Villains' members being the one to rescue Shigaraki from his former master. Having the League save Shigaraki instead of Midoriya would provide a satisfying conclusion to Spinner in particular's character arc -- and teach Midoriya the all-important lesson that he can only reach those willing to be saved by him.