23 April 2008

The Top 20 Characters of the Buffy/Angel-verse

By // TV

I’ve just finished watching the entire series of Angel on DVD. Now that my consumption of the Buffycannon is complete I feel a little analysis is necessary. The best way I can think to do this is to analyse by character (my favourite aspect of the two spectacular shows). And thus I give you my run down of the 20 best characters in Joss Whedon’s fantasy universe of vampires and slayers:

1) Wesley Wyndam Pryce (Alexis Denisof)

In every incarnation (the goofy failure of a watcher we meet in Buffy’s third season, the wounded loner of Angel’s fourth season or the romantic martyr in Angel’s series finale), Wesley is the most engaging and multi-faceted character in the Buffy/Angel-verse. Played perfectly by the incomparable Alexis Denisof, Wesley’s journey was that of brave defiance, tragic heartbreak, incredible longing, fierce loyalty and unparallelled growth. His flaws only make him stronger, more sympathetic and human.

2) Anya/Anyanka (Emma Caulfield)

Like many brilliant characters, Anyanka was supposed to be a small part, but when Joss realized how very interesting the vengeance demon now trapped in a teenage life was she transitioned into a permanent member of Buffy’s scoobie gang. In fact, she become the most entertaining and interesting character in the lot. Unused to being human, the newly re-named Anya’s adjustment to mortal life was at times bumpy but always intriguing and poignant. Everything from her hilariously literal interpretations of things to her lack of understanding of customs to her beautifully innocent love for Xander to her resolution to fight alongside her friends and her eventual death make Anya, the former demon, one of the most human characters there is.

3) Spike (James Marsters)

Like Anya, Spike was simply a villain, brought in to cause some havoc in Sunnydale then scuttle out of the way like any other big bad. Thank God that’s not what happened because without Spike, Buffy (and later Angel) would not have been the same series. This British bad ass not only gave us some amazing fight scenes and a good deal of the best one liners in TV history, he also had possibly the most pronounced character arc ever. His transition from rebellious villain to neutered love-lorn puppy to soulful and selfless hero is pure writing and performance genius and makes Spike one of the most popular television characters ever, and most rightly so.

4) Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter)

When executive producer David Greenwalt insisted on bringing the sunny and superficial Cordelia over to Angel after her graduation from Sunnydale High he couldn’t have been making a better decision. On Angel Cordelia blossomed from the sometimes sweet and always funny spoiled princess into the moral centre of a group of true heroes. When the true Cordelia made her exit at the end of Angel’s third season (later to appear only as a divine manifestation or possessed by an evil spirit) she was a completely different girl than the one she’d been 6 years earlier on Buffy. She was smart, independent, caring, strong, loyal, down to earth and heroic. Cordy kept Angel inspired, Gunn in line, Wesley sane and Fred brave and in doing so saved the world, even after she had left it far behind.

5) Winifred ‘Fred’ Burkle (Amy Acker)

Everything from crazy in a cave to the elegant object of multiple men’s desire to the tough and ingenious head of Wolfram & Hart’s science division, Fred transformed on a daily basis, never losing the innocent sweetness that made her so unique in the first place. The brilliance that is the beautiful Amy Acker’s superb talent can’t be challenged once you see her play all these parts rolled into one superbly lovely character AND the intense other worldly goddess who takes over Fred’s body in Angel’s final season. With a unique turn of phrase and an incomparable capacity for empathy, Fred is such a wonderful character that when she’s in danger all Angel has to say to rally the troupes to save her is “Winifred Burkle”.

6) Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan)

Buffy’s best friend and saviour of the world many timesover, Willow is a fan favourite in the Buffyverse. Her independent spirit, sunny outlook, innocent and trusting nature and fierce intelligence and

magical ability make Willow one of the most endearing and coolest characters out there. Too cool, in fact, for the cool kids. Oh, and did I mention she turned evil when the love of her life was killed? If we’re talking intense emotion Willow’s got it. And if we’re talking meaningful relationships with other characters, Xander saved the world with his love for Willow so clearly she’s got the meaningful connection thing down as well.

7) Darla (Julie Benz)

The meanest vamp on the block, Darla defined the sexy villainess, sending Angel reeling with her very presence. After her premature death on Buffy, Darla’s reappearance at the end of a somewhat dreary first season of Angel infused the show with an intense energy that she carried with her until her triumphant self-sacrificing death in season 3. In fact, Darla’sdeath to save her unborn child from her own soul-less self was perhaps the most meaningful death on the show.

8) Faith (Eliza Dushku)

In the grand tradition of Whedon characters who spend time being ultimate heroes AND ultimate villains, Faith is pretty close to the top of the list of the best of both worlds. Her descent into villainy with the Mayor in season 3 of Buffy, her redemption in season 4 of Buffy and season 1 of Angel and her reappearance to save the world twice over in the space of a couple weeks in season 4 of Angel and 7 of Buffy make for some of the most memorable episodes of both shows. This bad ass slayer is one of the verse’s coolest characters, walking the line between good and

evil and seeking redemption for her sins.

9) Oz (Seth Green)


Joss Whedon says that when he wrote the character of Oz he wanted to write a character who was “so cool he could see how cool Willow was” and he did. Oz may have turned into a gigantic fanged beast every full moon but the rest of the time he was the definition of cool; the kind of cool that is so cool it can make anything cool and has no need to be cool.

10) Charles Gunn (J. August Richards)

and speaking of cool. Gunn is cool, even when he’s singing “three little maids from school”. With a big brain and an even bigger heart, the “muscle” of Angel’s crew proved that he was more than he seemed. Who wouldn’tswoon over how far he would go for his love for Fred? and when Gunn screwed uphe wouldn’t rest until he’d atoned for his actions; his sense of justice was incomparable.

11) Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head)

Buffy’s father figure was more than just the exposition man. He was the group’s guide post and source of strength. Giles’ own tumultuous past informed every decision he made from murdering human Ben in order to rid the world of evil Glory to cautioning Willow against relying too heavily on magic to leaving Buffy so that she could learn to stand on her own.

12) Xander Harris (Nicholas Brendon)

The sidekick, the third wheel, the moral support, Xander may have been the only scoobie with nothing supernatural to offer the group but his incredibly relatable character gave viewers a way into the

show. He was the ‘everyman’ in extraordinary circumstances but his love for the people around him was in itself so noteworthy that his otherwise unimpressive character became somewhat remarkable.

13) Angel (David Boreanaz)

Less remarkable for his own somewhat tedious mythology and more notable for what he meant to other characters, the presence of Angel in both shows was central to the development of almost everyone. His relationships with Cordelia and Wesley were some of the most meaningful in the verse and Buffy’s sacrificing her own happiness with him and killing him in order to save the world revealed more about the nature of sacrifice and her destiny as the slayer than even her sacrificial suicide in season 5.

14) Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar)

She had to make the list somewhere. Even though I find the supporting characters far more engaging than either Buffy or Angel, it must be acknowledged that they are the centre of their shows and without their stories there would be nothing to tell. Buffy kicked butt. She inspired others, and saved the world even when wallowing in self
pity, and she did it in high fashion while spouting clever comments.

15) Andrew Wells (Tom Lenk)

Hahahahaha. Thatis all that needs to be said about Andrew. In a season (Buffy season 6) filled with misery and brooding, Andrew and his cohorts lifted the series back into the realm of lighthearted with their turn as the season’s “big bads”. Returning as one of the “good guys” in season 7, Andrew provided the expected comic relief and came through with the occasional incredibly touching moment such as his scene in the hospital with Anya and his recounting her death to a heartbroken Xander.

16) Lilah Morgan (Stephanie Romanov)

This femme fatale of Wolfram & Hart may have been tedious at first but through her relationship that wasn’t a relationship with Wesley she grew into a complicated and fascinating villain and queen of the “grey area”. Even after her death, Lilah’s commanding presence was intriguing and her relationship with Wesley when she was alive added unexpected layers to both of their characters, no one ever truly knowing what they really meant to one another.

17) Harmony Kendall (Mercedes McNab)

It wasn’t until she was killed at her high school graduation that Harmony was finally released from her constraining role as Cordelia’s sidekick and allowed to become the hilarious character she was. As a vampire, Harmony returned on Buffy and Angel as the most comically clueless vampire there ever was, a bizarre love interest for Spike and a surprisingly good (if somewhat untrustworthy) assistant to Angel. Promoted to regular cast
member for the final season of Angel, Harmony added some much needed girly spunk to the mix in the absence of Cordelia.

18) Tara Maclay (Amber Benson)

Love lesbian Willow or hate her, the Willow and Tara relationship was beautiful. Tara brought out a brilliant strength in Willow and Willow’s presence in Tara’s life gave her the sense of self to stop hiding in the shadows.

19) Drusilla (Juliet Landau)

This crazy vampire’s relationship with Spike solidified within the verse’s mythology that soulless vampires can, in fact, feel love. She played a crucial role in the dynamic of the core four vampires and their familial hierarchy (Darla sired Angel who sired Dru who sired Spike), and her insane amounts of crazy not only made Dru interesting, they also made her intensely scary as the unhinged villainess loose on Sunnydale and LA throughout both series.

20) Lorne (Andy Hallett)

and last but not least, the host of the infamous karaoke bar on Ange lost some of his pizazz when he became an everyday player, but Lorne’s special sparkle still deserves to make the list. His unique ability to read people when they open their hearts to sing was a fascinating plot and character device while the addition of details of his family life in Pylea added depth to the character. Lorne was always quick with the one liners and could always be counted on for a fun (if slightly condescending) nickname for Angel, making him a great addition to the show.

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9 Responses to The Top 20 Characters of the Buffy/Angel-verse

  1. Dorv says:

    Well… Five of your top seven are my top five. I slide Cordy down the list quite a bit, and Tara would end up at 6 in front of Willow at 7. Impresses to see Darla so high… She’s one of my favorites.

  2. Kelly says:

    you should check out the buffy/angel special edition of my podcast in which Rachael and I discuss our love of Cordelia and Angel over Buffy and Angel. (podcast available by searching “My TV” in the itunes store). By season 3 of Angel Cordy has stepped up as an incredibly strong and vibrant character with a wit that can match anyone in the verse. I dont count season 4 as being the same character (because it isnt really her). now explain your love of tara.

  3. Dorv says:

    Oh, you won’t find an argument from me that Angel/Cordy was a better relationship than Angel/Buffy. I never liked Buffy and Angel together, which was one of the main reasons I didn’t give Angel (the show) much of a shot when it premiered.Maybe I just need to rewatch the run of Angel to see it. When I originally watched Angel, I picked it up right around the time of Connor’s death, worked through the end of the run, and then started from the beginning. So, admittedly, Cordy’s best years were the last that I saw.Now, why do I love Tara? Forget the fact that Amber Benson is a beautiful woman for a moment (But then, Joss always casts well). I guess I identify with her so much (You know, being the gay wiccan that I am… Ok, seriously, definately a white dude). What I identify with her was her status as the new person ingratiating herself into a group with well defined relationships. To that point, she never really did become a real member of the group.I mean, its not like I said that I was a big fan of Dawn or anything ;)

  4. Kelly says:

    first Id like to clarify that you can in fact be gay and wiccan AND a white boy, I’m just sayin’ On another note, I like Tara too, she’s just not one of my tops. Rachael (the other MY TV writer) has pointed out to me that Tara is one of the only characters who is allowed to not be witty all the time. Oftentimes her jokes fall flat and people just dont “get” her. I think that’s what makes her so human and relatable.

  5. Dorv says:

    I think what you said is exactly why I liked Tara so much, was that she was so different, and not understood, but still accepted just the same (Though that speaks for the rest of the Scoobies as much as it does her).

  6. says:

    Great reasons given for all your choices. I cannot stand tara, but that's just me and I know most people love her, but there are very few other characters that I think don't work on any level.
    Probably goes something like:
    1.Cordelia (in Angel, she was amazing, it felt like she almost came to represent the Buffyverse for so many people. What they did to her in season 4 was awful, one of Joss' few mistakes, but her send off was beautiful.)
    2.Anya (does it need explaining? I just bawl every time she speaks in 'The Body'. Aside from that, she is just hilarious and perfect.)
    3.Giles (S1-3 of Buffy) Just because he's brilliant. I went off him slightly in later years, but he still has two of the finest lines from all of Buffy's later years – “I'd like to test that theory”, “The world is DEFINITELY doomed”.
    4.Spike (S2-6 of Buffy)
    5.Angel (only in Angel, especially s1-3, once he realised he had his own show and could actually kick ass as well as just whining and looking like a slapped puppy all the time)
    6. Doyle (Awesome, from beginning to magnificent end. If given a longer run he might even have reached Cordy heights, but he had to die when he did.)
    7.Winnifred Burkle (Got over a really dodgy start to become just a wonderful character)
    8. Dawn Summers (See no.7 x 10!)
    9. Angelus (Purely for the death of Jenny Calender, spectacular, and the constant threat he imposed on both series)
    10. Gunn
    11. Xander (S1-2 Buffy) He became a jerk at the start of season 3, until Anya sorted him out.
    12. Joyce Summers (purely because she gave us 'The Body', which I would probably rate as a very close second to 'Prophecy Girl' overall, truly one of the finest and most emotional episodes I've ever seen in television history.)
    13.Buffy Summers (I know she can be annoying, but her burden was maybe the greatest in all of TV, and in the end, She saved the world, a lot.)
    14.Oz – Summed up by the line “Huh…..and how long has that been going on?”, in response to his enquiry about his cousin Jordy being a werewolf. Hilarious, succinct and almost always great.
    15. Wesley – Unlike a lot of other characters, I found his darker side to be his weaker one storyline wise, but he's still pretty good.
    16. The First Evil – Probably something to do with the fact it was the final season, but this was the first 'Big Bad' that I actually believed could win. Caleb was a great addition, and 'Conversations with dead people' is among my top 10 episodes
    17. Darla – In some way I feel Darla ought to be much higher than this, but there's no-one I've mentioned so far that I feel could be replaced, so Darla ends up here. The effect she has on the latter seasons of Angel changes everything, and I felt she deserved a bigger role in Buffy.
    18.Willow – She is this low because, despite the fact I knew how important she was to the show, she just wasn't ever that important to me after season 2. I thought the idea of a gay relationship in Buffy was a really good one, and I loved the fact that there was nothing gratuitous about it, but I just didn't like Tara, AT ALL, and this clearly had an effect on my view of Willow.
    19. Lyla Morgan – A fantastic villain, played by a beautiful actress, and just generally a truly evil character that always got worse just when you began to think she might have a heart.
    20. Faith – I was going to include Mayor Wilkins, but the fact that Faith was there in 'Chosen' probably just gives her the edge. She sees redemption, and helps save the world.

    There are pretty much only 3 characters I really dislike – Connor, Tara and Riley.

    This started out as a little 5 line comment, but I got carried away, as I tend to when the Buffyverse is concerned, so sorry if I've rambled on and stolen the limelight from anyone. I didn't intend it that way, I just felt like really going for this list in the end!

  7. Kelly says:


    you are perhaps the first person I've ever encountered who had a season 1 episode as their favourite in the whole verse. is there a particular rationale?

    you are also among a very small group who actually liked Dawn. generally, people who like her watched the series as it aired instead of on DVD so they weren't spoiled on who she was and how she got there. is that true of you? or are you just crazy?

    Im actually with you on willow, sort of. I think she morphed too much as a character and if you didn't like the new, stronger willow (or her predominant relationship), it was easy to forget how much you loved her in early seasons.

    I don't think the first evil counts as a character, but ill give it to you anyway, just because of the nathan fillion shoutout in the caleb reference.

    angel and angelus totally count as one.

    impressed (confused?) to see doyle on the list. he was cool but never developed into much. that's like putting jenny calendar on the list.

    while there are a couple people who argue that riley was important to the series and to buffy's arc, very few people actually liked him. and every single viewer in the world is on board with your opinion of connor, say something if you're reading this and disagree.

  8. Oliver says:

    Well, with 'Prophecy Girl' it probably sticks out as my favourite episode because of the fact that I managed to avoid seeing it for so long. I didn't actually ever see it until about 5 years ago, somehow. Obviously I was aware of it and had seen various clips from the 'Previously…' segments, but somehow I had never seen the episode. It felt like being exposed to a wonderful piece of folklore of which you were aware but had never really experienced. I recall thinking at the time that I couldn't remember enjoying an episode so much, and I'm aware that there can be a difference between casually enjoying an episode and real greatness, but I just felt it had both, as well as so many incident which would shape so much of the next 6 years.

    With Dawn I must admit I even leave myself feeling a bit baffled at that one, I really couldn't stand her throughout most of season 5, but I experienced I seismic shift in feeling towards her that I can't really explain. I felt she was a huge part of Spike's character development in s5-6, and when she began to whine less (she did!) I found myself really wanting to see what would happen to her. The incident with the knife was staggeringly good and felt scarily real. What can I say, I like her, even though I know I ought not to. I watched s1-4 on tv(apart from Prophecy Girl!), and s 5-7 on DVD, so I don't know how that fits in with your theory.

    As for Doyle, I just thought he was brilliant. A superbly written character, who brought out the absolute best in the characters around him. He was the everyman the Buffyverse needed, you can say what you want about Xander Harris, but Doyle was the everyman with a dark side, an unspoken side that we were only allowed to see bits of. He was down to earth, hilarious and kind, but like I say, he had that dark side and obvious drink problem that made him all the more human, for all that he was half demon. He made it acceptable for someone in the Buffyverse to be an alcoholic, a gambler and in debt to all kinds of people, but still be genuinely one of the good guys. Nobody before was allowed that kind of grey area. Spike, great as he was, didn't always deal with human problems, he was in essence a soulless monster for most of the show. Doyle blurred the line between black and white, good and bad, and not only that but he brought out a sense of brotherhood in Angel nobody expected, and a wonderful platonic relationship with Cordelia that might have become more. I don't recall Angel or Cordy having many truer friendships than they did with Doyle (apart from with each other, and Angel-Buffy for whatever that was), and the fact they still got upset abbout him in S4 said it all for me.

    I'm not sure I see why the First shouldn't count as a character, I suppose saying Caleb would have been more specific, but he isn't as scary on his own, so for me the First stays where it is.

    As for Angelus and Angel, I don't agree with you there either. They are totally different characters to me, and I have completely differing opinions and views on both of them.

    Glad to hear people don't really like Connor. I can't see why anyone would, but my friends aren't really fans of the show so I'm never quite sure what the general consensus is on some characters.

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