- “You'll never hurt Kiara or Simba! Not while I'm here.”
- ―Kovu standing up to Zira
Kovu is the deuteragonist of the 1998 Disney direct-to-video film The Lion King II: Simba's Pride, the sequel to the 1994 film The Lion King. He is the son of Zira, the youngest brother of Nuka and Vitani, and the mate of Kiara.
Kovu is claimed to be the youngest son of Zira, who is a close follower of Scar; his two older siblings are Nuka and Vitani. He was apparently born at some point during Scar's reign, as Scar hand-picked him to be his successor. As a result, he was referred to by the Outsiders as the Chosen One. However, Scar merely adopted him, and Kovu is of no relation to Scar. His chosen path was put to a halt after Simba took back the throne from Scar and exiled the Outsiders due to their opposition of Simba's rule. As a result of Scar's death, Kovu was expected to one day avenge Scar by killing Simba and usurping the throne. As a cub, he was put through harsh training by Zira to prepare him for this task.
Kovu is aggressive and crude, even as a cub. Upon first meeting Kiara, his first reaction is to snarl a challenge, and the only game he appears to understand is play-fighting. His violent tendencies are reinforced by a knack for taking care of himself, as he is physically fit and an able hunter, two features that make way for his more arrogant and cocky side. Even as a cub, Kovu strives to please and takes no shame in showing off to the more innocent Kiara. However, when faced by his mother, Kovu is submissive and prone to showing his softer side, exposing a desire to befriend and treat kindly the new cub he has just met. After meeting Kiara again as an adolescent, Kovu begins to cave to his inner good, proving himself to enjoy laughter and good times.
Kovu is noted by many to bear a strong resemblance to Scar, though it is a coincidence.
His fur is auburn, and his muzzle, paws, and underbelly are all creamy brown in color. He sports a dark brown head tuft and also sports tufts of fur on his elbow joints that match the color of his head tuft and tail tip. His dark eye shades mirror those of his siblings, but his emerald green eyes match no member of his family's.
As an adolescent, Kovu's mane is colored a very rich dark brown and matches the dark shades of his elbow tufts and tail tip. He later gets a scar across his left eye identical to Scar's that is inflicted by Zira.
One day, Kovu escaped from his brother Nuka, who was supposed to be watching him. While wandering about, he met Kiara, Simba's daughter, who had wandered in the Outlands and bumped into him. The two cubs became friends after an incident with crocodiles, but they were quickly separated by their feuding parents. Back home, Zira angrily scolds Kovu for trying to befriend an enemy but then realizes she may be able to use the friendship to allow Kovu to get close to Simba and kill him. She then praises Kovu for his brilliance, stating that he has the "same conniving mind" that Scar had.
When Kovu has grown into an adolescent, Zira sends him to the Pride Lands to initiate her plan. As part of the plan, he rescues Kiara from a wildfire that has been set by his siblings Nuka and Vitani. After rescuing Kiara, he asks Simba to allow him to join the Pride Landers. Though Simba rejects him initially, it is pointed out that by law he owes Kovu a debt for saving Kiara. As repayment, Kovu is allowed to return to the Pride Lands; however, Simba still doesn't trust him. Simba chooses to reserve his final judgment until he can learn about Kovu's character and forces Kovu to sleep outside the den away from the pride, where Kiara thanks him for saving her life, to which Kovu comments that Kiara almost dies and also about her lack of hunting abilities and a provoked Kiara asks him to teach her to which Kovu agrees. Kovu appears briefly in Simba's nightmare, where Scar turns into him and throws Simba off a cliff into the stampede (similar to how Scar killed Mufasa in the first film).
During his time at Pride Rock, he tries to attack Simba from behind, only to be unknowingly interrupted by Kiara, who reminds him about his earlier promise to teach her to hunt. When they do so, it becomes apparent that Kovu has never had any real fun before. When Kiara chooses to chase birds alongside Timon and Pumbaa for the fun of it, Kovu believes it to be training. Kiara teaches him to loosen up and enjoy himself and after fleeing from a herd of rhinos, they accidentally kiss. Over time, he grows fond of Kiara and begins to fall in love with her, a feeling which is encouraged by a meeting with Rafiki and begins to question his role in Zira's plot. Later, Simba finally warms up to Kovu and thanks him for saving his daughter's life the other day and invites him in the den with the pride. The next morning, Kovu decides to reveal Zira's plot to Kiara and that he doesn't want to be a part of it anymore because he loves her, but is prevented from doing so when Simba takes him alone to talk. After hearing Simba's retelling of Scar's story, he realizes how just how wrong his mother has been in her opinion of Scar. However, the two are ambushed by Zira and the Outsiders, who had been spying on Kovu and realized he was having second thoughts. Zira frames Kovu, claiming that the ambush was part of the plan. Kovu denies it, but Simba believes it anyway and quickly distrusts him. Kovu attempts to defend Simba but is knocked unconscious by Vitani.
After Simba manages to escape the Outsiders, Kovu rushes back to the Outsiders to see about Nuka, who had been trapped under falling logs while trying to attack Simba. Nuka dies as a result of his wounds, leaving Kovu, his family, and pride devastated. Zira angrily blames Kovu for Nuka's death, scarring him across one eye, reminiscent of Scar's appearance. In response, Kovu stands up to his mother for the first time, rejects Scar, and runs off. Back at Pride Rock, Simba and the animal subjects believe that Kovu was behind the ambush, and exiles the rogue lion from the Pride Lands, ignoring Kiara's protests. As Kovu was driven away by Simba’s animal subjects, he was being watched by Rafiki from a distance who sighs very sadly while realizing that Simba has completely defied his father's goals and broke the Circle of Life. However, Kovu later reunites with Kiara, who had run away from Pride Rock to find him. The two briefly discuss running away to form their own pride, but Kiara convinces Kovu that they need to return to try and unite their prides.
Kovu and Kiara return to find the Pride Landers and the Outsiders engaged in a bitter war, with Simba and Zira preparing to fight one on one. Kovu and Kiara manage to separate them, and Kovu publicly announces his intention to not let Zira harm either Kiara or Simba. As a result of his and Kiara's words and actions, Vitani leaves Zira's side, with the other Outsiders following her after Zira threatens to kill Vitani. When Zira attempts to attack Simba, Kovu looks on as Kiara fights her in an attempt to save her father. He sighs sadly as he sees his mother fall to her death but is relieved that Kiara is safe. Simba apologizes to Kovu for his mistake and allows him to return to the Pride Lands, where he is united in marriage with Kiara by Rafiki.
Kovu, along with Nuka, Vitani, Zira, and their pride return in the Disney Junior series The Lion Guard episode "Lions of the Outlands", which takes place sometime after Kovu's first meeting with Kiara. He is very hopeful when Kiara's brother, Kion, says he could get them back in the Pride Lands due to his desire to see Kiara again, something Kion had no knowledge of until then.
When Zira and her minions are blown out of the watering hole, (which they had taken from Jasiri's clan) by Kion's Roar of the Elders, Kovu manages to avoid being blasted away. When Kion starts to approach him, Kovu runs after his mother, siblings, and pride.
Kovu later returned in the series finale, "Return to the Pride Lands" (which takes place after Simba's Pride) when the Lion Guard arrives in the Outlands on their way to the Pride Lands.
After Kion recovered in the Tree of Life and returned to the Pride Lands with the Lion Guard, Anga sees Kovu at Pride Rock. This worries Kion and his friends, thinking they may have been too late. When the Lion Guard and the Outlanders are about to fight Vitani and her team, Kiara and Kovu immediately interfere, with Kiara revealing to Kion that Kovu, Vitani, and the rest of their pride have joined theirs. When Kion asks about Zira, Kovu somberly reveals that Zira has died. He and Kiara then take Kion and his Guard to Pride Rock where he, Rafiki, and Kiara explain everything that had happened while The Lion Guard was away, where it is then mentioned that Kiara and Kovu will be the new rulers of the Pride Lands.
Afterward, Kovu and the Royal family spend the whole day with Kion (during which time he and Kion very likely get to know each other a lot better and bond as brothers) and at night they gaze up at the spirit of Mufasa, who is happy to see them together. The next day, Kovu and several other animals watch the competition between Kion and Vitani's Lion Guards, which ends up with Kion appointing Vitani's team to be the new Lion Guard for winning most of the competition. Kovu, along with the rest of the Royal family and all the Pridelanders attends Kion's coronation and wedding to Queen Rani and is happy that his new brother is now free to be with the one he loves and follow his own destiny just like he and Kiara did and cheers for him.
- "Kovu" means "scar" in Swahili.
- Sora's lion form in Kingdom Hearts II resembles Kovu as a cub.
- Kovu was originally going to be Scar's biological son, however, Micheal Eisner decided that Kovu shouldn't be related to Scar, as it would cause incest between him and Kiara as "first cousins". Specifically first cousins once removed, as Kovu and Simba would be first cousins. His mane was also black during the early development stages, but was reshaded to his final design when his relation with Scar was scrapped.
- In production, Kovu's original name was "Nunka" when he was Scar's son, but soon renamed Kovu, presumably due to Nunka being a misspelling of the Spanish word, "Nunca" which translates to "Never".
- In the documentary Proud of Simba's Pride, Kovu is described as a "teenage killer". That would mean that his adolescent self is the equivalent of an 18/19-year-old.
- In The Lion Guard, he always seems to be the least aggressive Outsider which means that his intensive training has not yet made him more aggressive. However, he was able to stand up to Nuka and stick up for Jasiri when Nuka prepared to attack her, implying that his intensive training has at least made him, to some degree, assertive.
- Surprisingly enough, in the series finale, it is stated that Zira trained Kovu after the events of the Outsiders' debut episode, which contradicts the events of the second film. This could mean that Kovu's assertiveness in this episode was purely part of his initial personality.
- In The Lion Guard, Kovu's voice appears to have deepened, implying that he has aged since his first meeting with Kiara. Also, Kion expresses shock when learning of Kovu's friendship with his older sister. This could mean that Kion was either not born yet or was an infant when Kiara and Kovu met.
- In a way, Zira's plan for Kovu to become King of the Pride Lands succeeds because he begins as Scar's heir to the throne, but ironically through his marriage to Kiara, Kovu ends up as Simba's heir and also unlike Scar, Kovu would rule for the sake of his subjects and not for his own gain.