Yes, there are villains in Steven Universe

It is very often claimed that Ms. Sugar has said there are no villains in Steven Universe, and the discussion quickly turns to the morality of the characters. Is anyone irredeemable? Could certain characters have reasonable motivations for their harmful actions?

A source is never cited for the initial claim, however—people simply assume that Ms. Sugar said that there are no villains then proceed from there.

As far as we can tell, the only place Ms. Sugar has ever spoken about villains is in an old Gizmodo article written in November 2013 as the show was beginning. Most of the article is about the show, but Ms. Sugar’s time on Adventure Time comes up, as does her role in helping shape the Ice King’s backstory. It is after that, at the very end of the article, that it mentions villains in Steven Universe:

But we won’t necessarily see that many iconic villains on Steven Universe, says Sugar — the Gems aren’t dealing with a particular person, but something “bigger than that.” There’s not “really a singular enemy.” Instead, the conflict will be within the group, and it’ll be about Steven figuring out what’s right.

It should be immediately obvious that this is far, far different than what people assume is meant by “there are no villains in Steven Universe”. First off there is the immediate qualifier: the article is talking about iconic villains. Plus it says “we won’t necessarily see that many” of them, not that there aren’t any.

The primary conflict of the show was envisioned as being driven not by a villain attacking the group but within the group and within Steven’s own sense of right and wrong.  That doesn’t mean that there are no villains, and it doesn’t even mean that those villains can’t be iconic.

While it’s easy to see how the game of Telephone could turn the article’s quote into a “no villains” line, making it the likely source of the rumor, examining it directly makes it obvious that it doesn’t say there are no villains in the show.

Some of the earliest sources for this claim cite an AMA Ms. Sugar did. It’s true that in August 2014 Ms. Sugar did an AMA on Reddit, but nobody has ever cited a post where she claimed the show had no villains. She was asked twice about whether recurring villains would be added to the series, but both times she simply said that she did not want to give spoilers.

We have yet to find a direct quote from Ms. Sugar – or even another article paraphrasing her words – that is about villains on the show, despite people often being challenged to provide a source for the claim that Ms. Sugar says the show does not have any villains (or “any true villains” as it has also mutated into). If you can find such a source then let the world know, but people have been saying she said there were no villains for at least two and a half years at this point without it surfacing. The claim most likely started with a misunderstanding of what the Gizmodo article said and grew from there.