The 20 Best South Park Characters, Ranked

Goin' down to South Park? Gonna have yourself a time? Well, watch out: In this quiet mountain town, there's a lot to take in. 

What began as a simple, crude animated Christmas short has become a vast, sprawling franchise that seems likely to keep expanding in unexpected directions. However, "South Park" is still, at heart, a chronicle of the adventures of four elementary school boys trying to navigate a progressively weirder adult world. In addition to the standard growing pains, like overbearing teachers, difficult family members, and dangerous politics, their town has also had to deal with multiple paranormal incursions, unhinged celebrities on bizarre crusades, and visits from deities from multiple faiths.

It's hard to pick just 20 characters to represent the best that "South Park" has to offer, but considering how big the cast has gotten, it's also impressive that the four leads still number among them. Where do they rank? You'll have to read on. The only hard and fast rule for this list is the character cannot have been a one-off; each one must have appeared in at least two episodes.

20. PC Principal

"South Park" has a knack for creating one-joke characters that gradually acquire surprising amounts of depth, and PC Principal is one really good joke. Political correctness is tough to make fun of without coming off as shrill, but by making its foremost advocate a douchey dudebro who's the exact opposite of what one might expect, Trey Parker and Matt Stone found a way.

Parker and Stone's both-sidesing of hot button political issues felt admirable in the early '00s, but in recent years it's come off as more of a cop-out. Still, the duo clearly doesn't want to have any sacred cows, and try to find humor in everything. Making PC Principal the opposite sort of person than the one you would usually expect to champion trigger warnings and safe spaces brilliantly makes the joke about the individual character, rather than belittling the issues that political correctness attempts to address.

Forcing PC Principal to deal with fatherhood and "PC Babies" allowed the show to further take on extremists while still keeping the humor grounded in the characters' ridiculous nature. The whole thing creates a weird enough juxtaposition that, so far, this gag remains consistently funny.

19. Nathan

Characters with Down's syndrome rarely show much diversity in movies and TV. Usually, they are portrayed as relative innocents, bravely struggling to thrive despite their social and medical disadvantages. The desire to normalize people with disabilities is an understandable and commendable instinct, but it also limits the range of characters with Down's that we get to see, presumably out of fear of propagating negative stereotypes.

That's why Nathan feels like a truly original character in that regard, even though it would be even better if he were voiced by an actual actor with Down's. Like so many characters on the show, he's played by Trey Parker, who appears to have based him on Sean Costello from the Parker-Stone produced documentary series, "How's Your News?" Unlike Costello, however, Nathan is one of the show's few out-and-out villains, a drug dealer with a passionate hatred of Jimmy Valmer, whom he repeatedly attempts to torture and kill. However, like a "Looney Tunes" villain, his traps inevitably backfire on him, usually due to the ineptitude of his sidekick, Mimsy.

Despite the constant setbacks, Nathan proves to be arguably the most resilient character on the show, surviving potentially lethal events that would have easily killed Kenny. He nearly always ends up in positions of power and connections, despite his inability to vanquish his foes. While "South Park" often heedlessly rushes into attempts to be as offensive as possible, Nathan's evil genius blasts apart stereotypes in a unique and memorable way.

18. Mitch Conner (Jennifer Lopez)

The first time that Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez were an item — right when "Gigli" tanked at the box office — Eric Cartman created a grotesque caricature of the actress by drawing on his hand. Though wildly off-base and rooted in Mexican stereotypes (the real Lopez is Puerto Rican), the drawing fools many bystanders into thinking it's the real deal. Among them is Ben Affleck, who has sex with Cartman's hand while the child is asleep.

Is it all a ruse, though? "Lopez" clearly acts independently of Cartman, later claiming to be a con artist named Mitch Conner. Cartman argues that the whole thing was an attempt to put one over on his friends, but Conner pops up in subsequent episodes to reveal previously unknown secrets about Cartman's parentage. He returns again as the villain in the "South Park" video game "The Fractured But Whole," in which he appears on other characters' hands. Is Mitch really the Vietnam veteran he claims to be, or just an elaborate mass delusion? Knowing "South Park," we can probably expect a future episode to explain (and retcon) it all. In the meantime, Mitch remains one of the few characters with unresolved origins.

17. Chef

If Lunch Lady Doris on "The Simpsons" embodies every stereotype of an elementary school caterer, Chef is the polar opposite. As Mike Judge explained on a DVD commentary track (via CheatSheet), Parker and Stone met Isaac Hayes at the premiere of "Beavis and Butt-Head Do America." When they came up with the idea of a soul-singing chef — and Comedy Central (wisely) prevented them from voicing him themselves — the duo pitched Hayes, who said yes. Serving as a moral compass for the kids, albeit an extremely horny one, Chef always had an inappropriately sexy song ready for inspiration, and a positive outlook to convey when things looked bad.

Sadly, as reported by The Independent, the Church of Scientology, ostensibly acting on Hayes' behalf, declared that Hayes had resigned from the show following the episode "Trapped in the Closet," which mocked the church and its star celebrity, Tom Cruise. Chef promptly suffered a humiliating death in an episode that implied that a cult called the Super Adventure Club had brainwashed him into becoming a pedophile. At least we'll always have his Chocolate Salty Balls.

16. Mr. Slave

"South Park" has a long history of both making gay jokes and creating characters who transcend them. Big Gay Al, for example, earned the series a GLAAD Media Award nomination for its first season. 

At first, Mr. Slave did not seem like someone who would ride that fine line. Introduced as Mr. Garrison's lover, the teacher used Mr. Slave in an attempt to get fired for being gay, and for publicly embracing extreme gay stereotypes. Ultimately, the joke comes at the expense of Mr. Garrison and the homophobes in the audience, but it also reduces Mr. Slave to little more than a human sight gag — initially, he utters nothing more than a slightly aroused-sounding "Jesus Christ!" 

But Mr. Slave would turn out to contain many depths, both figuratively and literally. While he engages every kink imaginable, he also speaks out against sexualizing children and is vocally in favor of informed consent. To prove that he could out-kink any celebrity, he even shoved a visiting Paris Hilton inside his own rectum. There, she learned what Lemmiwinks the gerbil already had: An entire Rankin-Bass-style fantasy world exists inside Mr. Slave's intestines. More recently, Mr. Slave left his abusive relationship with Garrison and married Big Gay Al, proving that every "South Park" character is capable of changing for the better — it just takes some time.

15. Terrance and Philip

Initially created as a bit of meta-comedy, Terrance and Philip originally represented the criticisms aimed at the early episodes of "South Park":  that it's all just crude animation and fart jokes. However, the bit evolved over time. Terrance and Phillip were originally animated characters, then became live-action actors — their unique character designs were eventually explained away as part of their Canadian heritage.

Terrance and Phillip are a great example of Parker and Stone's ability to take one-joke characters and overdo the gag until it's funny again, somehow developing real personalities for them along the way. A hilariously profane musical number in their movie, "Asses of Fire," ignited a war with Canada in the "South Park" film, "Bigger, Longer, and Uncut." It also initiated a real-life grudge against Phil Collins, whose "You'll Be in My Heart" beat Parker and Stone's "Blame Canada" at the Oscars; "South Park" had to settle for an MTV Movie Award for a different song from the film.

On the show, Terrance and Phillip have had their ups and downs. At one point, they even broke up, although they would ultimately reconcile. As always, using the duo's absurdly limited comedic repertoire as a narrative springboard has yielded a surprising amount of depth, giving "South Park" a way to riff on fame, celebrity, censorship, and marketing in more creative ways than originally seemed possible.

14. Jimmy Valmer

Let's admit it: As a character, the wheelchair-bound Timmy is overrated. By contrast, his nemesis-turned-friend Jimmy is consistently underrated, except within the storylines themselves. On "South Park," everyone seems to think he's far more talented than he actually is.

In real life, seeing a terrible stand-up comedian is a waste of money on a two-drink minimum. In fiction, though, an unfunny comedian who's convinced that he's hilarious provides humor on a different level. Jimmy's best joke — a pun about fish sticks — is funniest when passionately misunderstood by the "South Park" version of Kanye West, who appeared on the show before the real Kanye went into full public meltdown mode.

Jimmy doesn't just inspire his fans with his comedy. By remaining constantly upbeat despite his disabilities, he's accrued two different arch-enemies. The first was Timmy, whom he ultimately befriended. The second is Nathan, whom he almost certainly never will. However, with his typically good spirits, Jimmy would probably still count his foes among the members of his "great audience." In the end, that optimism is inspiring, even if it makes Jimmy delusional about the quality of his act.

13. Mr. Hankey

While speaking at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival (via Time), Trey Parker recalled the origin of Mr. Hankey, a sentient fecal dropping his dad made up to scare him into flushing the toilet: "My dad said, 'Trey, you need to flush the toilet because if you don't, Mr. Hankey is going to come out and kill you.' And I'm like, 'What do you mean?' And he goes, 'Well, it just sits there, and you flush it. But if you don't, he'll come to life, and he sings a little song, and he kills you.'"

Parker could have easily translated a murderous turd to animation pretty directly, but as a child raised on Rankin-Bass Christmas specials, he instead made the adorable bowel movement into a secular avatar of Christmas who brings joy to children of all faiths — provided they have a heavy tolerance for skid marks, that is. It worked. With his goofy falsetto and cheery catchphrase ("Howdy-ho!"), the magical Mr. Hankey proved instantly popular, spawning a line of plush turds, a Christmas album, and a theme song that charted in the top 10 in the U.K.

12. Mr. Mackey

Mr. Mackey isn't as stupid as many of his fellow teachers. He's just really, really condescending. He can't help it. Even when dealing with adults to whom he's not intentionally talking down, he litters his speech with "m'kays," much like "Beavis and Butt-Head" teacher Mr. Van Driessen ('90s animators all apparently suffered through demeaning talks in school).

Most fans likely assume that South Park Elementary's guidance counselor was named Mackey after his signature interjection, but as he explained in an interview with the 7 PM Project (via TheThings), Trey Parker actually based him on a real counselor named Mr. Lackey. Eventually, however, we did learn something from Mr. Mackey. Via his song in "Bigger, Longer, and Uncut," fans now know that "bich" is Latin for generosity. The tune also revealed that every time Mackey says "M'kay," he really wants to say the f-word.

11. Tweek

The son of the co-owners of a local coffee shop, Tweek embodies the eternal anxiety of childhood, in part because his parents keep giving him coffee laced with meth to calm him down (and then blame his nervousness on ADD, of course). However, Tweek knows that he's being gaslit, which makes his anxiety extra-relatable. After all, he's seen the truth about the mysterious Underpants Gnomes, which may be his greatest contribution to the series.

Catchphrases and characters from "South Park" often break through to the mainstream, but "Underpants Gnomes" really caught on as a phrase used to describe ignorant venture capitalists who expect to make money from their wild ideas, but who don't know exactly how that will happen. While the gnomes' primary purpose on the show was to demonstrate that, sometimes, the twitchy, stressed-out kid is telling the truth, their half-witted scheme to steal underpants and somehow derive a profit made for an astute critique of capitalism, even as the same episode extolled the quality of Starbucks over some independent coffee houses.

Tweek became better understood as time went on. A presumed relationship between Tweek and Craig may have begun as fan fiction, but ultimately the two stayed together, proving that Tweek has hidden depths that even he doesn't know about. No doubt Craig appreciates Tweek's ability to cut through nonsense and get to the point, a side effect of his caffeinated hypertension.

10. Tolkien (Token) Black

Initially a parody of the "Peanuts" character Franklin, "Token" Black was a joke about half-hearted diversity in cartoons. But while his name obviously riffed on tokenism, the real joke was that Token was the most well-developed, normal kid on the show. He became frustrated any time he found his tastes and talents veering towards those of Black stereotypes, and grew especially annoyed at the near-constant racism, classism, and ignorance of his fellow townspeople. To escape his awareness of his own typecasting, Token even briefly tried becoming a lion, only to find that lions in the "South Park" universe are really annoying practical jokers.

While Token frequently has to push back against prejudice, he's also made it clear that he doesn't exist to absolve anybody's conscience, ultimately forcing Stan to realize that he'll never fully understand the experience of being Black in America. That commentary gained an extra layer when the boys learned that they'd originally misheard his name, which is actually Tolkien (in a further subversion of stereotypes, his parents are massive fantasy nerds), and had been calling him the wrong thing this entire time. The meta joke of that reveal has two layers: Parker and Stone get to play the "We didn't stereotype, you just assumed we stereotyped!" card while also acknowledging that their explanation absolutely won't wash, thereby making fun of ridiculous retcons while still benefiting from one.

9. Stan Marsh

Constantly bullied by his sister and embarrassed by his needy father, Stan has an understandable introvert streak, evidenced every time that he vomits in front of Wendy or shies away from conflict until he's really pushed. Yet, somehow, Stan often serves as the de facto leader of the boys, thanks largely to his compassion and ability to see through scams. Stan mostly goes astray when his love of animals steers him towards eco-terrorism, which usually culminates in a typical Parker-Stone-style message about the hypocrisy of animal rights groups and radical environmentalists.

Stan's generally the best judge of when adults are being actual idiots, and if the other characters would listen to him more, they might have fewer problems. But what fun would that be? For viewers, it's better that chaos keeps coming to town, so we'll happily watch Stan continue to make exasperated faces and swear under his breath as yet another disaster of the townspeople's own making causes trouble.

8. Kyle Broflovski

While many "South Park" characters are based on people from Trey Parker's life, Kyle is clearly a young Matt Stone, complete with an awesome Jew-fro. The child of the relatively even-keeled lawyer Gerald and the overbearing loudmouth Sheila, Kyle has inherited both his father's morals and his mom's short temper, though the bullying he endures from Cartman for being Jewish bolsters the latter considerably. Curiously, one thing that isn't a product of Kyle's temper is his habit of kicking his brother Ike like a football – both kids seem to enjoy it, and Kyle remains highly protective of his brother, even when a retcon reveals that Ike is an adopted Canadian.

Like all the kids, Kyle occasionally misunderstands adult behavior, including the tenets of his own faith. However, Kyle also functions as the moral compass of the core group of boys. While he will compromise his standards, he's generally aware when he's doing so, and usually stops short of becoming as unethical as Cartman. And while Kyle may not always understand Judaism clearly, his absolute belief in Mr. Hankey has saved Christmas more than once, reinforcing a common "South Park" message that faith itself is more important than any individual, occasionally contradictory, rules.

7. Randy Marsh

Almost every man has a childhood dream that has gone unfulfilled. Randy has a different one every week. While Randy relatably embodies the resentment that occurs when the realities of real life overshadow our ambitions, he also shows us how unattractive it can be to have that kind of chip on your shoulder. Whether he wants to hold the world record for the largest dump or transform into a dolphin, Randy will whine for days on end, embarrassing his family and showing the world what it looks like when adults behave like third-graders. At least Cartman has an excuse: He's a kid.

And yet, Randy means well. He really thinks it will be better for everyone if he achieves his goals. He's usually wrong, of course, but that weed farm panned out, allowing Randy to get rich and high off his own supply. Now, the Marsh patriarch has to learn that attaining his dreams also means that he'll need to work to hold on to it; ultimately, he might be too spoiled for the task. Given that it's just as satisfying to watch Randy fail as it is to see him succeed, we'll keep tuning in.

6. Satan

"South Park" boasts what is arguably the most sympathetic take on Satan since John Milton penned "Paradise Lost." Through songs and various revelations about Parker and Stone's take on the hereafter, it's strongly implied this Satan was cast out from Heaven — which is Mormon — for being gay. In Hell, where you'll find the usual suspects like Adolf Hitler as well as notable non-Mormons like George Burns, Mahatma Gandhi, and Princess Diana, Satan functions as the benevolent overseer of an alternate afterlife. He even celebrates Christmas, because on "South Park," Christ is, of course, a non-judgmental TV show host.

But Satan's not just an advocate for happy alternative lifestyles; he's a domestic abuse survivor, too. After striking up a relationship with Saddam Hussein, Satan soon found himself being disrespected, unheard, and berated. However, he was so codependent that he couldn't leave. Even after finally killing Saddam, who promptly came right back to Hell, Satan was unable to enter into a more supportive relationship while his ex stuck around.

Satan finally realized that he needed to be alone, and so he asked God for a favor; Saddam was sent to Mormon Heaven as a result, which to him was true Hell. Free from his abuser at last, Satan finally learned to stand up for himself.

5. Eric Cartman

When people complain that you couldn't put a character like Archie Bunker or Al Bundy on TV today, they should probably add " live-action," because Eric Cartman is 100% worse than those two combined. Racist, anti-Semitic, selfish, needy, vindictive, sexist, and consistently abusive to his mom and so-called friends, Cartman consistently generates laughs out of the extreme lengths to which he'll go for self-gratification. Whether it's cryo-freezing himself so that he won't have to wait for a new game system or tricking an arch-rival into eating his own parents, Cartman remains unbound by social contract, and is only occasionally peer-pressured.

On the plus side — and that's not a fat joke — Cartman does have a massive imagination. On a micro level, he can recreate the movie "Wild Wild West" using only plush toys. On a macro one, he has no trouble rounding up all the kids in town for a live-action roleplay session, a Civil War reenactment, superhero cosplay, or money-making scams. We often root for Cartman to succeed simply because he's roped in collaborators who ought to know (and deserve) better — in the end, Cartman will always try to shift the blame, leaving everyone else to pick up the pieces. But even when the consequences of his schemes are humiliating, like when he has to perform uncomfortably intimate tasks as Butters' fake robot friend, Awesome-O, Cartman never for a moment considers that he might bear some responsibility.

As awful as he is, Cartman's confidence is sometimes as aspirational as his plans are atrocious. We can laugh at a character like this in a cartoon because he's not causing any actual harm. Nobody in the real world would ever behave that way ... right?

4. Mr. Garrison

By most metrics, Mr. Garrison is a truly terrible person. Misogynist, racist, homophobic, vain, selfish, delusional, and not particularly smart, he's quite possibly one of the worst people ever put in charge of an elementary school class. He swears in front of the kids, and most of what he teaches them is wrong.

Yet as terrible as Garrison is, his ongoing journey of self-discovery remains compelling. Initially, Garrison's disfunctions seem to result from being a repressed, self-loathing gay man, but after transitioning to a woman for two seasons and then becoming the show's surrogate for President Trump, Mr. Garrison's unique brand of lunacy can always be counted on to throw everyone's lives out of whack. With a narcissistic insistence on his own righteousness, even when his position contradicts a previous one, Garrison does occasionally make a good point, as with his review of the Jodie Foster movie "Contact."

3. Officer Barbrady

More recent episodes of "South Park" show Park County's police force being commanded by Sergeant Yates, a violent bigot who likes to frame innocent Black men and cheer on female sexual predators. Given the current discourse surrounding police violence and over-funding, Yates feels like an of-the-moment caricature. However, during a more innocent time, the town of South Park only had one cop: the oblivious Officer Barbrady. 

An even lower-IQ take on "The Andy Griffith Show" standout Barney Fife, Barbrady's childlike nature and inability to understand most situations made him perfectly relatable to the third-graders. It's hard to portray a cop as stupid, violent, and dangerous, yet still somehow sweetly innocent — in this climate, it might actually be impossible. However, Barbrady's functional illiteracy led to one of the show's best jokes, a pointed dig at libertarians who rushed to embrace Parker and Stone as fellow travelers. After Barbrady finally learns to read, he picks up Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged," decides that reading is pointless, and promptly gives it up. Others have undoubtedly felt the same way, but only Barbrady has the courage to admit it. From a satirical standpoint, Barbrady may be behind the times, but this naïve moron is still sorely missed.

2. Butters

"Woo loo loo, I got some apples. Woo loo loo, you got some too..." For Leopold "Butters" Stotch, the familiar song isn't just a pastime. It's a declaration of character. Sweetly naive and innocent, Butters will do anything to please others, which occasionally leads him into truly horrific situations. However, on occasion he does crack, decorating his head in tinfoil and transforming into the supervillain Professor Chaos, whose schemes all subconsciously derive from episodes of "The Simpsons."

Butters' far-too-trusting nature is the result of his parents blaming him for everything and constantly grounding him — naturally, Butters accepts his punishment with G-rated curses. As such, he's a perfect companion for Cartman, who often takes advantage of Butters' gentle nature in order to further his own interests. But Butters doesn't mind; even now, he seems to trust Cartman implicitly, even if doing so often leads to further misfortunes.

1. Kenny McCormick

Oh my God! We chose Kenny!

Sure, Kenny isn't as mouthy as Stan or Kyle, and when he speaks he's rarely understood. He's not as laugh-out-loud funny as Cartman, either, but the boy who used to be a simple punchline — originally, he died every episode, and gets away with uttering obscenities by mumbling — has, over the years, turned out to be the most heroic "South Park" character of them all.

Kenny's multiple deaths initially served as a sign that "South Park" was as irreverent about continuity as everything else. But right around the time that Kenny volunteered to go back into Hell in order to save the world in "Bigger, Longer, and Uncut," his deaths stopped being quite as funny, and took on an air of poignancy. For a time, the show even treated Kenny's death as permanent, trying out both Tweek and Butters in the role of the fourth friend. Then things got weirder: When all the kids dressed up as superheroes, Kenny donned the mantle of Mysterion and revealed that he has a legitimate superpower – every time that he dies, he is born again.

Kenny began as a joke. Since then, he's proved to be fiercely loyal to his sister, willing to sacrifice himself to save others, and secure enough in his gender identity to cosplay as a princess. Although he's the poorest character on the show when it comes to his household income, he's the most valuable friend and character that "South Park" has to offer.