Here’s a hot take: villains should be relatable.
Not every villain, not every time, and certainly not to everyone at once, but there should be moments. We should, occasionally, be able to see ourselves in the bad guys, be able to understand how they got there.
Because it reminds us not to fucking go there.
Antis who get upset about villains having relatable qualities (often couched as being “romanticized” or “woobified”) are people who cannot bear to ever think of themselves as having the capability of being wrong.
Every human alive is capable of being a horrible person. Relatable villains remind us to keep an eye on that shit.
I gotta say, I had a huge trouble with grasping this rule. Because I took “relatable” as “likeable”, “sympathetic”, or even “redeemable”. As a result, I ended up writing villains that did terrible things, but we were supposed to root for them anyway.
The thing is, “relatable” just means you understand them, like the OP said. You’re able to follow their logic and see why they do this, from their viewpoint, even if you personally disagree with it. It has nothing to do with you feeling bad for them. “Relatable” is an explanation, not an excuse.
This villain kills people, but only murderers and thieves. Can you understand the desire to save innocent people from those criminals? Probably, yes. Do you think that’s the right way to do that? Probably not. It’s as simple as that.
The best villains, honestly, are just one step away from heroes. There’s something so right about their logic, except for one fatal detail, one flaw that makes them “bad”. And the heroes usually point that out to them in the cilmax.
Is it kind of a scary thought? That the hero and the villain could have almost the exact same logic?
Good. It’s a useful thought.