Every Main Character In Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Ranked

In what fans then thought was the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" series finale, Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and her sister Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg) stood above an ethereal portal readying to kickstart the apocalypse. Before sacrificing herself to save the world (again), Buffy tells her sister, "The hardest thing in this world is to live in it." However, the Scooby Gang resurrected Buffy at the start of season 6 — allowing the show to run for two more seasons. But Buffy's message still applies: Life isn't easy, but we can't give up fighting for change.

Even as Buffy battles vamps and demons, she's our guide through life's challenges. "Buffy" transitioned seamlessly from tackling high school problems to adult-sized issues over its seven seasons. Everyone has a little Buffy Summers in them: She represents invisible strength, ingenuity, and perseverance. Final girls have always been a source of hope and inspiration for audiences, but unlike horror leads like Sidney Prescott or Laurie Strode, we spend much more time with Buffy. When I'm in a slump or need nourishment from characters I've lived with for years, I put on "Buffy." Here, I humbly rank the series' main character from worst to best.

12. Angel

As a broody creature of the night, I can say with conviction that I loathe Angel (David Boreanaz). I have a long-held grudge against the character — even if Angel is a fictional vampire. In the Angel vs. Spike (James Marsters) debate, I have always been Team Spike. Since his first appearance, Angel embodied the role of a moody and distant love interest. Before society faced the pure hell that was the "Twilight" saga, we had these two doomed lovers: the vampire and the Slayer. Angel doesn't do anything outwardly problematic, but I never envisioned them together — especially since they met when he was 269 years old. Let Buffy have her blossoming friendships with Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Xander (Nicholas Brendon). Leave her be; she's only sixteen!

Throughout the series, Angel goes from love interest to Big Bad to Buffy's occasional support system (thanks to his starring role in the "Angel" spinoff series). Angel is Buffy's Yoda and her Mr. Big, which is a strange and messy combo. While we delve into his backstory in some standout flashback episodes, I never felt like we get to know Angel...but I don't want to either.

11. Oz

While most of the Scoobies are fantastic, some of the crew find themselves low on this list solely because they never got the airtime that other standouts received. Case in point: Oz (Seth Green). From the "It" miniseries to "Buffy," Green's spooky appearances are perfection. In "Buffy," he plays Oz, one of the most easy-going characters in television history. (Seriously, I wish I could be as calm as that guy.)

Oz and Willow date, but that doesn't last long. As much as their relationship is lovable, it never felt real. Willow was giving us queer vibes from the jump — but that was her journey to experience. The character shines in the "Phases" episode when we learn he's a werewolf. Werewolf metaphors abound, but the series never goes overboard with Oz. But if we're giving hot takes, I would have preferred an Oz spinoff instead of "Angel." Maybe it could have been a sitcom where he moves to LA to pursue his music career and solve werewolf-related crimes on the side!

10. Dawn

Everybody hates Dawn, right? Her abrupt appearance in season 5 arrived when the "Buffy" series was on unstable footing. The show didn't wow critics or fans during season 4. Season 5 took a few episodes for the audience to understand the show's direction. Dawn embodied the bratty sister perfectly, which didn't help matters. Now we had to share our Buffy with this impossible preteen who successfully got under my skin from the moment she debuted. Dawn may grow on some people, but I never got there. Her bond with Buffy is an integral part of the series, and I enjoyed seasons 5 through 7 plenty, but there was something perfect about the early years. Dawn served as a constant reminder that we had passed the golden age of "Buffy."

As a character, she's similar to Cordelia — someone who antagonizes Buffy — but she lacks her wit and empathy. She doesn't take over the mean girl role. Maybe if she did, she would have been more of a compelling threat throughout the series. But no one can deny that Michelle Trachtenberg of "Gossip Girl" fame excels in this kind of role, which is why Dawn beats Angel and Oz.

9. Tara

Tara (Amber Benson) arrives in one of the most notoriously frightening episodes of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." "Hush" gave us the Gentlemen, and they gave me nightmares for a long time. But the iconic episode also gave us Tara, one of the sweetest and saddest additions to the Buffyverse. It's impossible to talk about Tara without thinking about her tragic death at the end of season 6. Her love story with Willow is beautiful to watch. For so many, it was early lesbian visibility in a time where the only other option was "The L Word" or Ross's ex-wife on "Friends."

In season 5's "Family" episode, we meet the judgmental characters that Tara calls her family (including future Hollywood royalty Amy Adams). They arrive to take Tara away before she becomes a demon, as they don't understand how their need to suppress, control, and deny Tara what she wants is due to their lack of empathy and understanding of their differences. It's the first time the rest of the Scoobies — and Buffy in particular — defend Tara. It is one of the most touching moments in the series, echoing a fundamental truth that we all want to fit in somewhere. Luckily, Tara found her people.

8. Xander

Xander is Chandler Bing without the zing — a dweeby sidekick in need of a superpower. Throughout the series, more interesting, resourceful, and powerful women outshine him. None of this is a bad thing. Every friend group has a Xander. Few would admit to it, but not everyone can be a Buffy. Xander represents the audience more than any other character in the franchise: He's a regular guy in a mysterious, semi-apocalyptic world. He works a blue-collar job to make a living while those around him succeed as superheroes. There is a tragic quality to Xander — where is his cabaret show full of regrets and lamentations?

As a character, he never goes anywhere. In the early seasons, he can get away with his ineffectual mortal ways because Willow hasn't discovered her witchy ways yet. But once she embraces her power, she leaves Xander in the dust. While Cordelia and Anya later bring a cutting wit and perspective to the gang, Xander is the physical embodiment of "meh." Still, he is deeply relatable, loyal, and honest. While I probably won't be kinder to him in future appraisals, I know I should because we all have a little Xander in us.

7. Riley

Buffy's boyfriend, Riley (Marc Blucas), represents stability, order, and discipline, which is likely why we all hate him. Arriving in the show's rocky season 4, Riley is a T.A. who strikes Buffy's fancy. Being the antithesis of Angel, this at first appears like a good thing. Riley seems like a guy Buffy would have gone for in her pre-Sunnydale days. But like Xander, straight men without supernatural powers tend to be dreadfully dull in this series. (Giles is the exception!) It doesn't help Riley's case that he works for the Initiative and becomes connected to the season's Big Bad — one of the most boring season-long villains. He and Buffy are most interesting when they're hiding their identities from each other. But he never fits in with the Scoobies: He's the embodiment of heteronormative thinking.

His departure in season 5 only shows that free-thinking, diversity, and weirdness are not traits or situations he seeks. However, Riley is a good, stable presence for Buffy. He's better for her than Angel, so he earns a higher spot on our list.

6. Willow

Between her role in "Buffy" and her starring role as band freak Michelle in the "American Pie" series, Alyson Hannigan made geeks sexy. She inspired all of us to take pride in our inner nerd, and as Willow, no one has ever made research more important to vampire slaying. She evolves more than any other character in the series, starting as a soft-spoken, Xander-obsessed school outcast to a witch addicted to magic and finally embracing her inner goddess to save the world. It's hard to pick a favorite Willow. As much as I adore her resourcefulness before she became a witch, I can't deny how amazing it is to watch her hone her powers and become just as valuable as Buffy in a battle. The season 4 finale gave us some hints at what her powers could potentially do, and her recovery journey is so compelling that it doesn't matter that the magic metaphor feels silly.

The Willow I most identify with is the one we get to know in season 7: she's lived through challenges and tragedy and is learning how to navigate the world on the other side of that. Willow speaks to the resiliency we can all hope to apply to our lives as we navigate the cliffhangers and season finales of adulthood.

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5. Cordelia

Cordelia Chase (portrayed by the astounding Charisma Carpenter) could have ruled any high school she wanted. Her character could have easily starred in "Beverly Hills 90210" or joined the Heathers in "Heathers." She could have been a Plastic in "Mean Girls" or one of the Teen Dreams in "Jawbreaker." Instead, Cordelia settled on Sunnydale, serving as mean-girl-in-residence and sometimes foe to Buffy. She is rich, sharp-tongued, and fabulous. With lines like "What is your childhood trauma," Cordelia cemented herself as a clever queen bee. Despite facing vamps in the show's first episode, Cordelia often denies the existence of otherworldly happenings. For most of the early season, Cordelia derides the Scooby outcasts. But eventually, she joins their crew.

Despite her villain-lite status, I love Cordelia's strength. She knows how to carry herself, speaks eloquently, and never stops fighting for what she wants. By season 3, we see Cordelia as a powerful woman. I longed for her to stay by Buffy's side so they could do slaying together. But alas, she had to go to "Angel" — limiting what future arcs "Buffy" could have given her and her fans. She could have earned a higher spot on this list if we saw her character evolve further on screen.

4. Giles

No one in film or television has made tea and tweed jackets look as sexy as Giles (Anthony Stewart Head). The watcher's signature move — sensually removing his glasses as he reveals information about a new monster to the Scoobie Gang — is as much a part of the show's lifeblood as stakes and crosses. Head's Giles is the seemingly stuffy librarian at Sunnydale High, a place where no one reads. Buffy's Watcher blends the roles of a mentor with the secretive M we know from "James Bond." As a surrogate father to the Scoobies, he's wise and mostly disapproving. 

To his credit, Giles' past is much livelier than he led us to believe. He dabbled in dark arts like one might drop acid at a party. His losses are some of the most tragic in the series — specifically regarding Miss Calendar's fate. Who killed her? Oh, right, Angel, because he is the worst. Giles' buddy-comedy routine with Spike could have made for a successful sitcom. While Buffy inspired us with strength, Cordelia with wit, and Willow with brains, Giles is the series' emotional support system — guiding the viewer through life's twists and turns.

3. Anya

"Former demon" is how I like to introduce myself in job interviews, so I can channel my inner Anya (Emma Caulfield) whenever I interact with others. Anya is a vengeance demon who debuts in the season 3 episode "The Wish." She grants Cordelia's wish for a Sunnydale without Buffy Summers, which doesn't turn out how she hoped it would. (Spoiler: Sunnydale becomes overrun with vampires. After losing her powers, Anya joins the Scoobies and dates Xander — making for a fascinating character arc. We've all had humiliating falls from grace. Anya's struggle is one of the most relatable — having to start from scratch as a human.

Once she starts working at the magic shop, Anya becomes cutting, abrasive, and hilarious. She takes over the mean girl role left vacant after Cordelia's departure. As a former demon, she lacks a human cadence and sounds almost robotic-like. Anya feels alien, making her relatable to fellow outsiders watching this show. Her ability to sleep peacefully through the night before the Scoobies enter the Hellmouth in the series finale embodies her casual detachment from all aspects of human life, even heroism. Her tragic death fighting to save the world speaks to her evolution as a character who loves humanity — even if she'd rather be somewhere else.

2. Spike

In a world of Angels, be a Spike. This seductive bad boy with bleach-blonde hair and floor-length leather jackets is why I dyed my hair platinum blonde and don leather jackets. Introduced as a Big Bad in season 2, Spike is almost always more lovable than an intimidating evil force. As Drusilla (Juliet Landau) and Angel become the real villains of season 2, Spike becomes more relatable: He's a selfish guy looking out for his best interests no matter the cost. He doesn't like playing second fiddle to Angel (nor should he!). In later seasons, Spike becomes an unlikely anti-hero, a vampire in love with the Slayer. His comedic chops endear him to me — though the Scoobies barely tolerate him — even as he trades his evil ways to gain a soul.

His relationship with Buffy is tragic. While parts of their sex life are passionate and enviable, other moments are disastrous and devastating. Spike might be the most human vampire, and the fact that Buffy will always choose Angel over him adds a level of sadness to his devotion that I can't help but feel sympathy for him. In the series finale, he embraces his full-on hero status, sacrificing himself to save the world and owning his love for Buffy. His death is noble and that moment felt earned after his character's progression.

1. Buffy

Icon. Legend. Star. What else can I add to the Buffy discourse? She is the hero we wanted, the hero we needed, and the hero we received. The series took the trope of the dumb blonde in horror and subverted it. There is something in Buffy for all of us. At low moments, her courage gives me strength. Her humor helps me lighten a tense mood, and her passion reminds me to keep fighting for my values and desires. She embodies so much for the audience that it's almost easy to forget she is the most entertaining and engaging heroine to ever grace television.

Buffy's post-heaven depression in season 6 is some of the most relatable content on TV. However, it felt almost too real when I first saw it. Watching Buffy struggle made me so uneasy about my life. When she got a job flipping burgers, I couldn't believe what was happening because she's the Slayer! The Slayer shouldn't have bills to pay! Late-season Buffy added an element of serious realism to the series that distressed me at times. I only wanted strong, unbreakable Buffy because I mistook her stumbles for weakness. But her strength becomes more apparent in the later seasons. Buffy reminds us that we are strongest when we stumble and that the world will continue to be a hard place to live. But we have to keep fighting to live in it anyway.

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