You know them well. The Class Clowns who sit in the back of the classroom, playing tricks on anyone and everyone. The Bullies who make sure you can't even cross the cafeteria without feeling embarrassed. Loki is a card-carrying member of this elite group of annoying but somehow loveable tricksters. Every culture seems to have them. We can't live with 'em, we can't live without 'em.
The trickster figure appears in almost every mythology we can think of. He is the guy who loves to play pranks on the other characters, usually to fulfill his own desires for food, sex, or, as in Loki's case, just for the sheer fun of it. The trickster figure is usually someone who crosses boundaries, defies social taboos, and eludes easy identification. Sometimes he is a creator, and, at other times, a destroyer. Loki, for instance, is neither god nor giant, refuses to play by the rules, and procures marvelous gifts for the gods even as he sows the seeds of their destruction. There are so many trickster figures throughout world mythology and folklore that we can't possibly list them all, but here are a few to get you started.
In Greco-Roman mythology, Hermes (the Romans called him Mercury) is the messenger of the gods and the patron of liars, thieves, and travelers. Like Loki, he brings some good to the gods. He is credited with the invention of fire. Also like Loki, he births some species- and category-spanning children. His son, Pan, is part goat and part human, while his son Hermaphrodite is part-man and part-woman.
In some Native American cultures, Coyote is a part-man, part-animal figure who shares Loki's ability to shape-shift. Although the stories about Coyote vary among the many and diverse Native American cultures, in all of them Coyote possesses great cleverness and powers of transformation and resurrection. Some Native American cultures, like the Plains Indians, credit Coyote with impersonating the creator and naming the world's creatures. In the Pacific Northwest traditions, a similar figure takes the form of a raven.
Anansi is the trickster-figure of West African oral folklore. He takes the form of a spider. Most of his stories deal with his attempts to trick people out of food or money, or convince people of his great sexual prowess. Anansi shares Loki's cleverness, which, like Loki, he sometimes puts to good use to benefit the world. In fact, in one story, the Sky-God rewards Anansi's clever captures of a python, leopard, hornets, and a dwarf by giving stories to the world.