Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Best Redemption Arcs In Cobra Kai Ranked

At its core, "Cobra Kai" is a story about redemption. The early seasons focus primarily on Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), one of the main villains from the original "The Karate Kid" movie, as he attempts to pull his life together after hitting rock bottom. At first, his arc is purely one of self-improvement. He restarts the Cobra Kai dojo as much to infuriate his old rival Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) as to help himself, but the process of recruiting and training new students ends up having a hugely positive impact on Johnny's life. It even drives him to atone for his past mistakes and become a better person overall, though that journey takes a few seasons to really get started.

Even after "Cobra Kai" expands and stops being all about Johnny's arc, the theme of redemption remains key to the narrative. Almost every character leans into their darker side at one point or another, and a lot of the drama comes from seeing how and when they inevitably realize their mistakes. No one is perfect in the "Cobra Kai" timeline, which is the whole point. However, not all redemption arcs are created equal. Some are definitely more compelling to watch than others, be it because of how evil the character once was or because they have a particularly satisfying resurrection. Here are the best redemption arcs in all of "Cobra Kai," ranked.

John Kreese

At the bottom of our list of the redeemed is none other than John Kreese (Martin Kove), the lead villain of "The Karate Kid" and the sole Big Bad of "Cobra Kai" through Season 2 and Season 3. Kreese could fairly be described as a monster — a man who revels in tormenting children and who approaches every area of his life with the same "No Mercy" mentality he teaches in karate. So why does he make it onto this list at all? Well, Kreese hasn't yet fully redeemed himself in "Cobra Kai" — hence his last-place status — but he does get a lot of backstory and development that adds a bit of extra dimension to his harsh persona.

In "Cobra Kai" Season 3, we get multiple flashbacks to Kreese's early life, revealing that he grappled with a lot of grief as a young man and always had a hard time getting by. He joined the army in the hopes of rising above his station, but war only increased his suffering and turned him bitter toward the world. While imprisoned in Season 5, Kreese gets a lot of time to reflect. Much of his time in therapy is clearly performative, but it's also apparent that he does care — in his own warped way — for his former students, especially Johnny. There's plenty of room for Kreese to rise higher on this list, but right now he's still just on the brink of redemption.

Mike Barnes

Unless you're a diehard "Karate Kid" fan, you may be a bit confused when Mike Barnes (Sean Kanan) pops up in "Cobra Kai" Season 5. As the secondary villain of "The Karate Kid Part III," he's not exactly a core figure in the franchise, but he's far from insignificant. He presents one of Daniel's biggest challenges to date, and he works hand-in-hand with Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith) to torment his rival and Mr. Miyagi. So it's certainly curious when Mike returns in Season 5 as... a mild-mannered furniture store owner.

Like Daniel, Mike exchanges the excitement of karate for the joys of entrepreneurship in his adult life, though he still packs a mean punch. While it would have been easy for the show to bring him back as a one-note villain, it's far more interesting and entertaining for him to be a genuinely good guy. He and Daniel commiserate about how badly Silver and Kreese mistreated and manipulated them both, and Mike expresses severe regret at his own deplorable actions.

The only reason this full turn from sniveling bad guy to upstanding citizen doesn't rank higher on this list is because Mike just doesn't play that big of a role. His transformation occurs off-screen, and when he does finally return to the fold, he doesn't bring all that much to the table.

Daniel LaRusso

Yes, even the protagonist of "The Karate Kid" needs a little redemption in "Cobra Kai." Though he's generally the picture of patience and balance, Daniel LaRusso is far from the perfect sensei at the start of the show. Many have argued that Daniel is the real bully in "The Karate Kid," and while the situation is a bit more complicated than that, he undeniably has done some things worth atoning for.

Daniel is proud to a fault, self-important, and resistant to help. Through his renewed relationship with Johnny, he slowly unpacks these flaws and learns to be a more open person. Where in early seasons Daniel cares more about being right than about doing the right thing, later seasons see him grow into a man more worthy of Mr. Miyagi's legacy. He reconciles with almost all of his old foes, and he beats the remaining ones the right way. While not as dramatic as some other arcs on this list, Daniel's journey is still a story of redemption, and one his late sensei would surely be proud of.

Kenny Payne

Kenny Payne (Dallas Dupree Young) is something of an anomaly in "Cobra Kai." He's completely unconnected to the "Karate Kid" films, he isn't introduced until Season 4, and yet he becomes a pretty important character in a very short amount of time. Kenny has a pretty isolated arc in Season 4 that shows him being mercilessly bullied by Daniel LaRusso's son Anthony (Griffin Santopietro). He eventually turns to Cobra Kai to learn how to defend himself, training under both Terry Silver and Robby Keene (Tanner Buchanan).

After growing strong, Kenny flips the script on Anthony and dishes out some well-deserved payback. But as Season 5 progresses, he ventures beyond the bounds of recompense and becomes a bully himself. In this way, Kenny's arc mirrors that of Hawk (Jacob Bertrand) — that of a vulnerable kid who goes too far in his efforts to stop his tormentors.

When Silver's nefarious ways are revealed to the world at the end of "Cobra Kai" Season 5, Kenny seems to show remorse. He's the first student to tear off his dojo merch and toss it at his evil sensei's defeated body, and he's clearly torn up about his role in creating an abusive culture. Kenny stays low on this list, however — both because he's still in the process of figuring things out and because, to be brutally honest, a good deal of Kenny's rage is justified.

Anthony LaRusso

It seems right to put Anthony and Kenny side-by-side on this list, as they serve as inverses of each other in "Cobra Kai." At the beginning of Season 4, Anthony is your typical teenage dirtbag — a rich soon-to-be high school student with no thought for the consequences of his often cruel actions. When Kenny starts to fight back against Anthony and his gang, it's hard to find any sympathy for the young LaRusso. He behaved horribly, after all, and he simply gets what's coming to him.

In Season 5, though, Anthony makes real strides toward becoming a better person. He isn't just apologetic because he wants Kenny to leave him alone; he genuinely believes that he deserves the treatment he gets. Training in the Miyagi-Do style of karate helps Anthony navigate some of his own mistakes and shortcomings, and he plays a key role in getting the whole dojo to work together as a team. He might still have some work to do, but at his age, that's to be expected.

The only reason Anthony gets a higher rank than Kenny is because he comes back from a darker place. Sure, Kenny gets pulled into Cobra Kai's abusive cycle, but his motivations are good. Anthony's just mean because he can be, which is far worse. So when he tries to become a decent person, it feels like more of a transformation.

Tommy, Jimmy, and Bobby

Johnny Lawrence may be Daniel LaRusso's biggest rival in "The Karate Kid," but he isn't the only Cobra Kai student who faces off against him. Johnny's backed up by a whole crew of "No Mercy" fighters, including Dutch (Chad McQueen), Tommy (Rob Garrison), Jimmy (Tony O'Dell), and Bobby (Ron Thomas). While Dutch doesn't return for "Cobra Kai" — apparently due to the character being in jail — the other three all come back in Season 2 for a reunion. As it turns out, they all grew into fine people after escaping Kreese's cruel karate cult.

Bobby took a particular anti-Cobra Kai path in adulthood by becoming a pastor. While Tommy and Jimmy didn't go to such lengths in search of redemption and peace, they still seem to be normal, well-adjusted men, and when Johnny brings up Kreese, it's clear that they all understand just how damaging he was to them in their youth. This crew doesn't get quite enough time on screen to warrant individual entries on this list, especially since their arcs through life seem to have been so similar. But it's still nice to see that they all addressed their aggressive ways and became better than the man who trained them.

Miguel Diaz

If you had to pick a single protagonist in "Cobra Kai," it'd probably be Miguel Diaz (Xolo Maridueña). Sure, Johnny gets more screen time early on, but Miguel is the heart of the story. He's the new Karate Kid — the one who gets picked on, learns to fight to defend himself, and eventually becomes a champion. But as often happens, Miguel makes some missteps along that path, leading to a brief but significant allegiance to the "No Mercy" style.

To be fair, Miguel only really embraces cruelty for the duration of a single fight, but it's a pretty big one. His All-Valley championship duel with Robby at the end of Season 1 solidifies him as a champion and puts Cobra Kai back on the map, but Miguel wins by employing some truly despicable tactics. He repeatedly targets Robby's injured shoulder — an injury caused by a Cobra Kai attack earlier in the tournament — without remorse, channeling all his anger toward his opponent. As he boldly declares to his sensei midway through the fight, "There's nothing dirty about winning."

Miguel carries the weight of his abusive victory for a long time afterwards, and he suffers far more than enough as a result. While his dip into the dark doesn't last as long as some others on this list, the fullness of his growth and redemption are so satisfying to watch that he easily earns a higher spot.

Robby Keene

Robby Keene doesn't exactly have an easy life. He grew up with an absent father and a mostly absent mother and had to learn to fend for himself at a young age. When he starts learning karate from Daniel LaRusso in "Cobra Kai" Season 1, it looks like he might finally be on a path towards balance, and he wields the principles of Miyagi-Do proudly and effectively in his first All-Valley Tournament. However, Robby eventually gives in to his buried rage, leading to a near-fatal confrontation with Miguel and a defection to John Kreese's Cobra Kai dojo.

As one of Kreese's two star pupils, Robby becomes almost unstoppable. He's a force to be reckoned with on the mat, as well as someone who believes that his hard life justifies any questionable decisions he makes. Driven by self-preservation and pride, he becomes downright ruthless in his campaign to be the strongest fighter in the Valley, and he causes a good deal of hurt along the way.

Fortunately, Robby eventually sees the error in his ways. He recognizes that Kreese and Terry Silver are incredibly harmful people, and he refuses to let himself turn out like them. Over the course of "Cobra Kai" Season 5, he mends things with his dad, Miguel, Tory (Peyton List), and basically everyone else, going out of his way to make things right for his past mistakes. That's what true redemption looks like, and it's why Robby gets such a high ranking on this list.

Tory Nichols

Just marginally edging out Robby for the number four spot on our list is John Kreese's other "Cobra Kai" prodigy, Tory Nichols. When she's first introduced in Season 2, Tory immediately establishes herself as a brand ambassador for the bad girl lifestyle. But there's a lot more to her than first meets the eye.

Out of everyone in "Cobra Kai," Tory may just have the hardest run. With her mother bedridden and her father nowhere to be seen, it's up to her to provide for her little brother by working whatever jobs she can find, all while still attending high school. Does she go way overboard in her feud with Mary Mouser's Sam LaRusso? Absolutely. Should she have started a fight in the middle of school — one that leads to Miguel's debilitating fall? Of course not. But at the same time, it's hard not to see Tory's side of things. For her whole life, she's been the only one in her corner, and she's treated like a criminal by the BMW-driving Sam when they first meet.

That's what makes Tory's turn in "Cobra Kai" Season 5 so satisfying — she's so deserving of a second chance. Over the course of multiple seasons, she realizes that the people who've promised her strength are actually just manipulating her. Once she finds the determination to turn against them she brings the whole Cobra Kai establishment down, and she does it all without sacrificing the core of who she is.

Chozen Toguchi

When Yuji Okumoto first played Chozen Toguchi in 1986's "The Karate Kid Part II," he was an angry and downright murderous youth with an apparent vendetta against the world itself. He challenges Daniel to a fight to the death at the end of the film, and he gets nothing that even resembles redemption when it ends. However, Chozen reemerges in "Cobra Kai" Season 3 as a very different person. Not only is he repentant for his past behavior, but he helps Daniel put an end to Terry Silver's dangerous Cobra Kai expansion.

While Chozen's transformation into a good person isn't shown on screen, "Cobra Kai" still acts as the venue for some of his redemption. Reuniting with Daniel allows Chozen to finally apologize in person and make up for his mistakes by fighting the show's villains. He helps train the Miyagi-Do and Eagle Fang students, nearly gives up his life in a duel with Terry Silver, and proves himself to be unquestionably loyal, trustworthy, and true.

Given just how bad Chozen is in "The Karate Kid Part II," it's impressive to see such a complete evolution. He's walking proof that anyone can turn back from a harmful path if they can only set themselves right — one of the core tenets of "Cobra Kai.

Johnny Lawrence

Johnny Lawrence's slow redemption is the main overarching storyline of "Cobra Kai," so it's only right that he be near the top of our list. At the beginning of the show, he's about as low as a man can get — unemployed, indebted, and generally defeated by life. He's estranged from his family, has no friends, and regularly drinks himself to sleep. Fast-forward to Season 5, and Johnny's a (relatively) responsible adult with a sense of responsibility and a much more open mind. He works hard to make sure that he can be there for his family — new and old members alike — and he constantly strives to be better.

When you get deep into "Cobra Kai," Johnny still has problems. He's still prone to anger. He's still generally rude. He still exhibits some toxic, macho behavior. But that's also part of the point. Johnny isn't meant to show what a perfect person looks like; he's meant to show what a person dedicated to improvement looks like. He goes from someone who calls all Latin American people Mexicans to someone who actively works to learn Spanish to better connect to his partner Carmen (Vanessa Rubio) and her family. And, perhaps most importantly, Johnny is someone who learns to admit when he's wrong.

Over the course of "Cobra Kai," there's no doubt that Johnny redeems himself for his past mistakes, even if he's never fully done with the process. However, his redemption arc isn't quite the show's best.


Hawk isn't the main character of "Cobra Kai," or even the main teenage character. And yet, he may embody the core themes of the show the best. Not only that, but he also has the series' best redemption arc, which takes him all the way from bullied kid, to fearless bully, to humble hero.

At the start, Hawk isn't Hawk at all. He's just Eli Moskowitz, a quiet kid who's been bullied most of his life for the birth scarring on his upper lip. At Johnny's indirect suggestion, Eli gets a dramatic haircut that brings a new name, and he quickly becomes one of the Valley's fiercest young karate practitioners. Of course, as the story often goes, Hawk becomes corrupted by his newfound strength. He doesn't stop at simply putting his old bullies in their place and eventually becomes just like them, even turning on his best friend Demetri (Gianni DeCenzo) in some pretty violent ways.

In the end, it's that very friendship that finally brings Hawk back into the light at the end of "Cobra Kai" Season 3. Realizing how much pain he has caused, he repents and defects to Miyagi-Do, where he takes on lots of rejection and hate in order to attain redemption. Even his signature hair is lost in the process — a casualty of his former dojo's attacks. When he finally raises the All-Valley trophy, though, having defeated all his opponents with both skill and honor, it all becomes worth it. Hawk is, in short, the very spirit of "The Karate Kid."