The 12 Best Characters In Squid Game Ranked

"Squid Game" is the latest Netflix show to take the world by storm. Genuinely ubiquitous, it's one of the most immersive and nail-biting shows of recent years. Originally dismissed by some as a copycat of "Battle Royale" or "The Hunger Games" (depending on the age of the person you speak to), "Squid Game" is an incisive, intelligent allegory for the impact of capitalism in South Korea. That's not a slight on "Battle Royale" (which is an incredible film, and relevant to the period in which it was made) — "Squid Game" is simply a much more socially-aware creation, as opposed to a gory, dystopian action film. 

"Squid Game" also features a pitch-perfect ensemble cast, and the show painstakingly builds a backstory for each character, all of whom are struggling with debt. Out of desperation, each one signs up for a shady series of deadly children's games, competing to win a large amount of money.

However, with 456 contestants, all wearing identical tracksuits, an army of neon-clad guards in matching masks, and all of the supporting players in each one of our characters' lives, you may need some help keeping everyone straight, which is one reason why we have put together a ranked list of the lead characters. Beware: There are mild spoilers ahead.

12. The Salesman

The Salesman only makes two appearances in the show, but Gong Yoo's mysterious, smooth character is the first link we get to the shadowy organization that runs the Squid Game. He essentially introduces the central premise of the series, drawing an unwitting Gi-hun into a childish game after they meet at an empty subway station. 

The salesman talks Gi-hun into playing a game that's essentially a microcosm of the whole series — for every round the salesman loses, he will pay Gi-hun $100,000. For every round he wins, he can slap Gi-hun in the face, which he does, hard, until Gi-hun's face is red and raw. When Gi-hun finally wins, the payout he receives pales in comparison to the amount of pain he's in; this foreshadows the series' inevitable finale. No amount of money can make up for the torture Gi-hun and the others have to endure.

Gong Yoo's smarmy performance is gleefully malevolent, and his casting is a nice nod to "Train to Busan," a Korean film in which he plays a character who is ambivalent towards the lower classes, at least at the start of the film. Gong Yoo manages to make this character supremely sinister while wearing an amiable smile. The second and final time we encounter the salesman is incredibly suggestive — if there's a second series, it's almost a given that this character will appear, as he's one of the few links to the organization in the outside world.

11. Byeong-gi (111)

While we get to know the backstory of most of the game's contestants, there are a handful we only get to know through their interactions during the games, whose private lives remain relatively mysterious. So it is with the bespectacled Byeong-gi, a quiet, unassuming contestant in the games. Initially just another face in the crowd, it's eventually revealed that he is receiving clues as to how to survive through little messages in his food. The reason for this, and the way he uses this information to survive in the games and bargain for protection among the more violent contestants makes for one of the more interesting subplots of the series. We don't learn a huge amount about his personal life, aside from the fact he's a doctor, which makes him a valuable asset for both the contestants and the guards. He's an interesting character nonetheless, someone who is playing the hand he's dealt to the best of his ability, and making the most of the limited information he's given. 

10. The Front Man

The faceless overseer of the day-to-day operations of the games, the Frontman is a mysterious, sinister figure. Creepily decked out in an expressionless black mask that sets him apart from the other guards, he is an eerie presence, calmly watching the games while listening to jazz in his immaculate, stylish office. Just as likely to shoot his own men as any contestants who step out of line, he is meticulous, polite, and terrifying in equal measure, ruthlessly following the rules of the game to the letter (in one unbearably tense scene, he realizes that someone's been in his study by the way the phone receiver has changed position, something he indicates with the subtlest tilt of his impassive mask).

The character really comes to life during the hunt for Hwang Jun-ho, when he becomes aware of a spy in his midst and uses all the means at his disposal to uncover the traitor. The eventual reveal of the Front Man's identity is both a proper gut punch and a nice moment for fans of Korean cinema. Let's just say, if you're paying attention to the

9. Jang Deok-su (101)

In every "Battle Royale"-type story, there's a secondary antagonist in the main group, one who disrupts the game or takes part because they enjoy it. In "Squid Game," the irascible Jang Deok-su is initially presented as a relatively sympathetic, if brutish, character. Like Gi-hun, he has been robbed by Sae-byeok, and violently confronts her at the very beginning. He is presented as a victim, being used by Sae-byeok as an unwilling human shield during the Red Light, Green Light game. However, as we learn through flashbacks, Jang Deok-su has a dark past — he's a violent gangster who's been cut off from the criminal underworld after falling into debt and burning all his bridges. 

As the show goes on and his personality is laid bare, he is shown as a thoroughly nasty character, emerging as one of the show's main villains. Jang Deok-su forms his own gang, steals food from his fellow contestants, and instigates a vicious fight to thin out the herd, murdering several contestants in cold blood in between games. Deok-su becomes increasingly hardened by his experiences, willingly sacrificing others to progress and showing no loyalty to his allies, as seen when he cuts off Mi-nyeo after it becomes apparent that he needs stronger team mates. Brutal, callous and violent, he is nonetheless still shown to be human in certain moments. It's suggested that Deok-su's persona is just his way of coping with the pressure — later on his inner vulnerability is laid bare, and he is shown to be just as scared as the others.

8. Ji-yeong

Another character that we learn very little about, Ji-yeong first appears in the break before the third game, as the contestants pick teams. She is so casual about the situation that it's a wonder that she survived the first two games — or maybe her carefree approach is actually an asset.

Ji-yeong might be the most innocent of the contestants, despite her tragic backstory. She is a victim of her past, but takes charge of her own fate, and seems keen on making friends despite the fact that there can be only one winner. Recruited by Sae-byeok, the two quickly form a strong bond. The game of marbles that they play might be the most devastating scene in the show, as they use their allotted time to get to know each other, rather than actually playing the game — it's a scene that made the actors themselves quite emotional, but both sell the moment perfectly. Lee Yoo-mi is just incredible at making her character effortlessly cool almost immediately. She makes a huge impact with her limited screen time, and is easily one of the most likeable characters in the show.

7. Hwang Jun-ho

A police officer who begins investigating the disappearance of his brother after a chance encounter with Gi-hun, Hwang Jun-ho is effectively the audience's surrogate, piecing together the details of the Squid Game from behind the scenes in an attempt to uncover what happened to his brother, who disappeared in mysterious circumstances years ago. As the only law enforcement representative to take Gi-hun seriously, he immediately stands out as an honest, determined character, and uses the calling card Gi-hun gives him to gain entry to the games.

A dogged investigator, Jun-ho jumps into the shady organization head first, disguising himself as one of the sinister guards. Aside from anything else, it's nice to have a character who isn't a contestant, is doing a bit of detective work, and gives the audience insight into the inner workings of the games — a respite from the unbearable tension of the main events is also quite welcome. However, Jun-ho's storyline remains incredibly suspenseful, as he navigates around the guards' quarters and finds his feet in an environment where everyone seems suspicious of him. His fate is left ambiguous at the end of the series; hopefully, a second season will give his story a satisfying pay off.

6. Ali Abdul (199)

Oh, poor Ali. He just can't catch a break. First introduced saving Gi-hun's life, even though they've never met before, Ali is probably the most decent of the main characters. He's one of the first to join the central group, and quickly proves an asset as one of the physically strongest contestants. His backstory is one of the most tragic as well; unlike the others, Ali isn't in debt because of gambling or poor investments, but rather due to his sleazy employer refusing to pay him after an injury in his workplace, resulting in the loss of two fingers. Because of this, Ali is unable to provide for his wife and child, demonstrating the way that immigrants in the workforce are often mistreated and exploited by Korean society. 

As one of the few non-Korean actors in the cast, Anupam Tripathi more than holds his own, playing Ali as someone who is unfamiliar with both these specific children's games and Korean traditions in general (see, for example, when he bows too deeply to Sang-woo, reverentially calling him "sir"). In return, Sang-woo generally looks out for him, hinting that he should hide his hand when they are picking teams — as a result, Ali begins calling Sang-woo "Hyung," or "older brother," making their bond even deeper. Ali might be the bravest character on the show, placing his trust in the friends he makes during the games; ultimately, though, he's too trusting, which leads to his downfall.

5. Cho Sang-woo (218)

Undoubtedly the smartest man in the room (a fact that is helpfully emphasized by Gi-hun at every opportunity), Sang-woo is one of the show's most conflicted and misunderstood characters. Initially sympathetic, he is introduced helping Gi-hun during Red Light, Green Light, and quickly works out how the games work, even predicting which ones will come up next. He is also shown to be the only member of the main group to fully grasp that there can only be one winner. He eventually evolves into a universally loathed character, but his actions make sense when you see his life outside of the games.

A former team leader at a large investment firm, Sang-woo is in deep trouble when we meet him, having stolen money from his clients and lost it all on the stock market, accruing a debt of billions. In a scene that has been misinterpreted by many, he even tries to kill himself in his apartment before returning to the Squid Game with a new drive and determination to win, becoming increasingly ruthless as the games go on. Sang-woo takes a dispassionate, calculating approach to the games, helping the others when it won't hurt him, but otherwise allowing people to choose their own fates, even letting his old friend pick the more difficult option in one game without warning him.

The contrast between Sang-woo and Gi-hun is shown in the difference in their profile pictures: Gi-hun is smiling broadly, while Sang-woo has his usual stoic expression. Gi-hun is very much the heart of the show, which makes Sang-woo the methodical, pragmatic brain.

4. Oh Il-nam (001)

The oldest contestant by quite some stretch, Il-nam seems like a sweet old man who is likely to be killed almost instantly. However, he proves to be one of the few contestants who adapts to the games almost immediately, happily playing Red Light, Green Light with a creepily innocent smile on his face. He bonds with Gi-hun almost immediately, as they're the lowest and highest numbered contestants, and the two share some genuinely tender moments.

The subplot about Il-nam's advancing dementia and his bond with Gi-hun is one of the more touching strands of the story, and Il-nam proves his worth multiple times, bringing up the games he would play as a child and the techniques he used to win. Despite being written off as old and useless by many of the contestants, Gi-hun sticks by Il-Nam to his own detriment, with Il-nam eventually calling Gi-hun gganbu — a Korean word that plays up the implicit trust between them — in a moment that takes on a new significance by the series' end. Il-nam is one of the most interesting characters in the series, and one whose motivations make a lot more sense on a rewatch.

3. Han Mi-nyeo (212)

The most purely entertaining character on the series, Mi-nyeo is a true wild card, with a backstory that seems to change constantly and a prewritten spiel that she rolls out whenever she needs to big herself up. Initially introduced as a desperate mother who wants out, Mi-nyeo remains a bit of an enigma — we never find out conclusively what her history is, but she is so mercurial and quick-witted that it's impossible not to root for her.

Given the show's lackluster subtitles, it's easy to miss that Mi-nyeo is street smart but not formally educated, a frequent trope in Korean cinema. Mi-nyeo is a wily, shrewd character who it's hard to dislike, even when she's antagonizing our heroes. She's also one of the few supporting characters to have a clear arc over the course of the series, one that serves in direct contrast to Deok-su's. While Deok-su becomes increasingly paranoid, Mi-nyeo eventually reclaims her inner strength and agency.

Kim Joo Ryoung's performance is full of fun mannerisms, little tics, and disdainful looks and she's a joy whenever she appears on screen, but Kim has said that she played Mi-nyeo as someone who is desperately trying to hide how scared she is, covering her inner insecurities with an outward bolshiness. All of this contributes to giving Mi-nyeo a genuine character arc, during which she confronts her fears and gets revenge on Deok-su in one fell swoop.

2. Seong Gi-hun (456)

The protagonist of the series, Gi-hun is introduced as a deeply flawed character. He mistreats his mother repeatedly, unashamedly stealing from her, insulting her, and living in her home rent-free while struggling to work as a chauffeur. He is also an objectively awful dad to his daughter. However, as the show progresses, we get glimpses of his past, which provide reasons for his attitude without ever making excuses for it. His selfishness and gambling addiction don't immediately make him an unlikeable character, mainly due to Lee Jung-jae's energetic, charismatic performance, and the fact that he's really an idealist — he's not callous or cruel, just selfish with little to no foresight, and we see the wide-eyed optimism and naivety that has brought him to this point.

While other characters fight to retain their humanity over the course of the game, Gi-hun actually seems to rediscover his. The games inspire him to be a better person, and he acts altruistically throughout (although he stops just short of actually putting other people first — he still wants to win). He forms a team to work through the challenges, re-establishes his childhood friendship with Sang-woo, and welcomes Sae-byeok into their group despite their adversarial history. Most importantly, Gi-hun grants Il-nam some dignity, treating him respectfully and helping him through the games. As the show goes on, he finds an inner decency that makes him almost unrecognizable from the character we met in episode one, ultimately leading him to confront Sang-woo over his increasing ruthlessness and while trying his hardest to protect his friends.

1. Kang Sae-byeok (067)

The breakout character of the show by quite a margin, Sae-byeok is a North Korean defector who manages to find her way into the Squid Game in an attempt to win a new life for her and her little brother, and to pay for her mother to come to South Korea. Jung Ho-Hyeon's performance is subtle and incredibly layered — she even affected an authentic North Korean accent for the role, something most western viewers won't even notice. Sae-byeok tries to hide her heritage from the other contestants, only speaking in her native North Korean accent when alone with her brother.

Amazingly, this is Jung's first acting role, and yet she manages to find the humanity in her initially abrasive character. The audience's sympathies constantly shift with her — at the beginning, she's a pickpocket who lands Gi-hun in even more trouble with the mob, and she appears to take to the cutthroat nature of the games much more adroitly than most. She is soon shown to be one of the more resourceful contestants, managing to avoid breathing in the gas that knocks them out and keeping hold of her pocket knife, which proves helpful later on. Her humanity emerges through her friendship with Ji-Yeong, who breaks through the emotional walls Sae-beyok puts up, and the grudging respect she has for Gi-hun, who sees something in her that most other characters do not. In return, she prevents Gi-hun from murdering someone in cold blood, perhaps saving his soul in the process.