This list is, of course, constantly changing. As I consume more and more media–be it television, film, books or otherwise–I come across the occasional character that truly blows my mind. My favorite component of any literature is characterization. Personally, it’s something as a writer I really want to work on; it’s why I’m so partial to writing fanfiction (because the characterization is already done for me–I just have to play to it, do it justice in whatever situation I place those characters). Here are my Top Ten Fictional Characters, a few of which have been on this list for years and years, and some who’ve just made it to the top! Click the following link to view the list, and see whether or not you agree with some of my choices.
1. Spike (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel)
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I think Spike will always be my favorite fictional character. He started as a one-off villain in season two of Buffy and expanded into a deliciously complex character. Spike’s storyline begs the question: Can someone love without a soul? Can someone be a good person without a soul? What does it mean to be “human” or have “human” traits? Is it compassion for others that defines our human nature? Spike’s character was butchered a little bit in the last two seasons of the show, but Seasons 2 to around midway through S6 really showcased the writing powers of Joss Whedon & co. Spike constantly teeters on the line between “good” and “evil,” “humane” and “inhumane.” He reminds us there’s a gray area, and that more often than not, we as humans exist in the middle of it.
2. S’chn T’gai Spock, Star Trek
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Spock is endlessly wonderful because, like Spike, he’s a contradiction. I love characters that, while ‘supernatural’ on the surface, exemplify the mess of contradictions embedded in being human. Spock, as a Vulcan, isn’t supposed to express feeling; to Vulcans emotion is considered illogical and therefore irrelevant. But Spock is also half-Human. Where does that allow him to fit in? The original series delves into this a bit, but it’s the motion pictures that follow that really expand on this question. I adore Spock because in his attempts to deny his humanity in favor of logic and reason, he appears to us more human than he could probably comprehend. His interactions with Kirk and Bones, in particular, shine light on his human side. It’s not only Spock as a character, but how he deals with other characters that is, in his words, “fascinating.”
3. Tsukino Usagi, Sailor Moon
This is more an appreciation for Sailor Moon in general–though the first fictional character I ever fell for was, indeed, Usagi (or Serena) Tsukino, aka the sailor soldier who “rights wrongs and triumphs over evil in the name of the moon.” Sailor Moon was way ahead of its time, and honestly still is in terms of how women are treated in mainstream anime. Usagi is a superhero. She was quite literally thrown into saving the world by a talking cat at age fourteen–and it shows. Superman’s weakness is kryptonite. Usagi’s is that she’s…a kid. She’s a kid who cries and has crushes and loves junk food. She’s normal, relatable, and yet so, so powerful. Her power isn’t just in her physical strength, either. It’s also in her ability to be compassionate and genuine. Usagi is the kind of person I aspire to be, and always has been.
4. King Arthur Pendragon, Merlin/Arthurian Legends
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Arthur is deeply, deeply tragic no matter which version of Arthuriana you subscribe to. I became attached to his character via the BBC series Merlin which provides a perspective on Arthur that’s much younger and more refreshed than some of the ancient tales. But those tales are just as important to our understanding of the character. Arthur was a great ruler, uniting kingdoms and peoples and promoting justice and understanding. But his demise is always met in every version of the legend because of his tragic flaw: he trusts too easily. It’s something I relate to personally, and it’s always a heartbreaking thing to see depicted in the various adaptations of Le Morte D’Arthur that have been produced over the years. Arthur loves too deeply and trusts too much, which lets Mordred and Morgan le Fay betray him so easily. It’s amazing to see someone so powerful brought down by something so very human.
5. Elphaba Thropp, Wicked
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Both in the novel and play on which it’s based, Wicked features a really strong, “beautifully tragic” female lead. If you’ve ever felt misunderstood, chances are you can relate to Elphaba. She’s everything a college-age girl should be–a little naive, a little terrified, a lot inquisitive. And she’s also green. Literally green. Her story really speaks to issues of diversity, friendship, family, love, and betrayal.
6. Mark Cohen, Rent
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Continuing on with my Broadway-musicals trend, Mark has always been my favorite character in my favorite play. I’ve seen the play Rent six times (and the film countless times!); the constant of course is that Mark is our eyes and ears into the world of late-1980s Lower East Side life. But what’s most interesting about Mark is that while he’s the narrator and the person who’s most immersed in his friends’ lives, we know the least about him. As he himself says, “Me? I’m here. Nowhere.” Mark doesn’t voice his opinions because he’s too busy documenting the opinions of others. His development over the course of Rent is fantastic; in the end he finally understands he has to step out from behind the camera and start living his life and making a difference not only through filmmaking, but in being truly present in the world around him.
7.Pereguin Took, The Lord of the Rings
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Pippin is one of the most under-appreciated characters in Tolkien’s trilogy, in my opinion. I’ve become partial to him since reading the trilogy for the first time; hearing a chunk of the story from his point of view certainly helped with that. Pippin might come off as very one-dimensional, a typical Hobbit. But what I love so much about him is that he’s so much more than that. He’s very brave and very loyal, and though he can outwardly appear afraid and often makes mistakes, he’s such a genuine person, and frankly, if you read the books is really a lot more astute than the films portray him. Pippin may not always have a piece of the action, but he knows his friends inside and out, and would do anything to protect them.
8. Leslie Knope, Parks and Recreation
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Leslie is probably the character on this list I can relate to most. She’s smart, strong and has held various positions of power in government–while simultaneously being a total dweeb. She fights openly and effectively for more power for women in government, and I honestly think she’s a strong role model for girls in this day and age! She also has her flaws which is what makes her a great character–she’s a workaholic, and sometimes jumps too quickly to conclusions which leads her to make rash decisions. But, like with Spock, Parks and Rec provides an ensemble cast of unique characters which balance her out and, ultimately, change her for the better.
9. Captain America, Captain America
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Don’t even get me started on Cap. If you disregard the Ultimate Avengers series which is an utter travesty for everyone’s characterization (“DO YOU THINK THE ‘A’ ON MY FOREHEAD STANDS FOR FRANCE?!?!?!”), Cap really has such an interesting backstory that shapes him as a hero and as a modern-day icon–the “man out of time.” Obviously not all of it can be retold in the Marvel cinematic universe, so I really recommend checking out a Cap comic, if you can. Steve Rogers isn’t just that guy from 1943 who’s still learning modern-day references, and he isn’t just a beefy hero, either. He’s extremely adaptable to his surrounding world despite jumping forward a few decades, and yet retains a lot of core values he learned in 1940s wartime America. In other words–just because he’s from a time your grandparents hail from, doesn’t mean he doesn’t believe in progression in America. What I love about Steve is that he’s honest, patriotic, and traditional while simultaneously very understanding of how the world is constantly changing. He’s also a phenomenal leader, and again, he’s not without flaws, which is why the Avengers keep him in check (unless it’s Tony. In that case, Cap is keeping Tony in-check).
10. Donna Noble, Doctor Who
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Donna as a companion to the Doctor is unique in that (a) she doesn’t function as a love interest for him at any point, and (b) she’s the only companion, in my opinion, who really keeps the Doctor on his toes in terms of his morality. The other companions thus far always challenge him, but Donna was a really important component of the 10th Doctor’s humanity. She was real, honest, sincere, and wasn’t afraid to call the Doctor out on his bullshit.