Light Yagami Vs. L: Who Was Smarter?

By Kanishma Ray / February 3, 2022

Half of Death Note's charm is that it pits two invincible minds against each other.

In many ways, both Light Yagami and L were almost equaled, designed to outsmart and outpace each other at every interval. The series spared no effort to show us how they're the only two people who could present a challenge to the other. Each of them excelled where the other lacked, and it's this dynamic that gave the show its signature thrill.

But if it came down to stripping both Light and L of their resources and judging them solely based on their intellectual capacities, who would emerge victoriously? Though debates are abundant online, there's only one conclusive answer.

Read on to find out!


Minor spoilers for the Death Note anime and manga series (including the Death Note: Tokubetsu Yomikiri one-shot) ahead!

L vs. Light: Who Is Smarter?

Death Note manga artwork

Though it's a near draw, L is smarter than Light. Despite being at a clear disadvantage against Kira (who had the power of the Death Note and Shinigami eyes), L managed to zero in on his approximate location and figured out the DN's two most important conditions, all within 15 minutes.

It can also be argued that Light had a significant amount of plot devices working in his favor. For one, Misa Misa and her Shinigami eyes were an extremely convenient resource for him to exploit. And Rem's desperation to save Misa was one of the most significant advantages he had during his final plot against Lawliet.

In comparison, all L had was a team of human detectives, none of them more competent than your average person. (Apart from the special occasions where he used con artists and other experienced people available to him).

It's hard to deny Light's advantages as it is, but when you sit down and consider all the favorable plot devices the series dealt with him, you realize that he might not have fared as well as he did if it weren't for these little "edges."

Of course, this isn't to say that if the roles had been reversed, Yagami would've had a hard time keeping up with L. It's just that the game seemed to have been slightly rigged in his favor, and the fact that L still managed to get so close to Kira is a testimony to his wits.

L vs. Light: Who Won?

In episode 25, Light put Misa in a dangerous spot with L and manipulated Rem to save her by killing L and Watari. Rem died subsequently, and Light assumed the leadership of the Task Force, successfully eliminating any threat against his reign as Kira.

L Dies In Light's Arms

Light's win here is credited to his ruthlessness and ability to manipulate people, though it goes without saying that to some extent, Rem's feelings for Misa turned out to be a convenience for him. Without it, he would've had a hard time convincing Rem (or even Ryuk) to do him a favor like that.

Of course, this wasn't a plan he hitched overnight. When Amane got arrested, Light played the long game by etching fake rules into her Death Note, which prevented the Task Force from destroying the notebook and ensured that L would come to suspect Misa again. He also risked erasing his own memories to sell his innocence, which helped throw L off his trail for a while.

Light might not have been the smartest on the show, but his genius was second only to L. And he filled the small gap of difference between their intellect with his flawless ability to manipulate people (mostly into doing his bidding), which ultimately secured him his victory.

Is Near Smarter Than L And Light?

Near from Death Note

Though incredibly gifted, Near isn't smarter than Light Yagami or L. He did manage to catch Kira, but L had solved half the case for him. In the anime, Near would rank right behind Light and before Mello. But in the DN mangaverse, he'd come after Minoru Tanaka.

One of the biggest reasons Near caught Kira was his lack of initiative and disinterest in endangering himself, unlike L, who took bold risks like revealing his face to Light (even though he suspected him).

This, and the fact that Mello was reckless enough to take bold steps, ultimately played in Near's favor, allowing him to expose Light to the Task Force without dying himself.

If it hadn't been for Mello's sacrifice, Light would've killed Near before he had the chance to do anything. This is why it isn't hard to say that Near is not brighter than L or Light, even if he's the one who finally caught Kira. He, along with Mello, had the potential to be better than L, but since the latter died, Near isn't half as effective as L had been.

"Neither of us could surpass L on our own."

— Near talking about Mello and himself.

"But The Death Note Volume 13 Says Near Is Smarter!"

Volume 13 is a good enough representation of the characters, but it's not the most accurate in describing their individual traits. The book even contradicts what the author of Death Note had to say about the characters.

For example, Tsugumi Ohba (author of the series) confirmed that L was the most intelligent character in the DN series. However, Volume 13 rates Light the highest on the scale of intelligence (9/10), while L comes second (8/10).

This is why the book is generally not taken as the most accurate source for arguments.

Is Minoru Tanaka Smarter Than Light And L?

Minoru from Death Note

We don't have much information and data on Minoru, but based on what we know, it's not hard to guess that he isn't smarter than Light or L.

In the Death Note: Tokubetsu Yomikiri one-shot, Near admitted defeat after failing to trace Minoru and praised him for his cleverness, which means that Minoru is, however, more competent than Near. Arguably, Minoru had a lot of information at his disposal and the advantages of the Death Note, but you must remember that his plan was still impeccable for a middle-schooler.

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