The 25 greatest TV characters and why we love them

It’s no secret that we at GamesRadar+ are passionate TV fans. Some of us are all about the sweeping dramas. Some love giggling over cartoons. Some tune in for anything and everything about superheroes. But nothing gets our fandom flags flying like talking about the characters who light up our screens each week. Whatever blend of writing, acting, and magic unites to put these characters in front of our eyeballs, we just can’t get enough.

Here are the best characters from the TV shows you’ll read about on GamesRadar: from the people we love, to the ones we love to hate. These characters represent the best of their shows, and they are a fascinating crew. We’ve got performances that thrill and chill, as in The Wire, alongside the Simpsons character who feels like an IRL friend and a new star from sci-fi smash hit Stranger Things. In other words, there’s a little something for any viewer - and for any TV fan to debate. Yes, we know characters like Frasier, the cast of Friends, and the Sex in the City girls are all icons in their own right, but again: this list is based on the TV you’ll read about on this site, because we had to set some limits to our selections. Looking for the best TV shows ever? Here you go!

Many, many spoilers follow! Several of these have been off the air for some time, but just to be safe maybe skip the entries for any show you haven’t watched yet.

25. Sterling Archer, Archer

Who are they? Sterling Malory Archer is the top secret agent for his mother's intelligence agency, ISIS. After the business gets shut down, he flirts with other occupations, including drug runner, CIA contract employee, and private eye.

Why do we love them? Archer is James Bond turned up to 11, and not just the good parts. He's devilishly handsome and skilled in espionage, but also a callous jerk and promiscuous alcoholic. And though he's clearly well-trained, he also bumbles around a lot and escapes certain death by the skin of his teeth more often than not. He's equal parts admirable and deplorable, pitiable and enviable. And underneath it all, there's heart and humanity. But really, chalk our love of this character up to H. Jon Benjamin's incredible voicework.

Defining moment: "RAMPAAAAAAAAAGE!!!" After Archer is diagnosed with cancer, he bonds with an elderly woman who also has the disease. When she dies, Archer finds out that his medicines and hers have been a mafia scam job. As he seeks revenge, we see all aspects of his personality: the wild-eyed spy who thinks he's invincible, the selfish prat who uses "I have cancer" as a line to get pity sex, a wordplay comedian who comes up with "Terms of En-rampage-ment," and a human being meting out justice for his lost friend. Sam Prell

24. Rick, Rick and Morty

Who are they? Functioning alcoholic, drug abuser, hater of Jerry (his son-in-law), generally an unpredictable jerk - oh, and a scientific genius. Also grandfather to the hilariously inept, but good-hearted Morty, who he adventures around space with during his probably illegal activities. 

Why do we love them? Because for all his swearing, drunk antics and highly illegal escapades, Rick has a good heart. Sure, he asked Morty to shove a seed riiiiiiight up into his butt in the first episode, and his toxic behaviour was enough to scare away a collective hivemind (otherwise known as his ex-girlfriend), but when it counts Rick will do anything to save his friends and family. Flawed genius doesn’t even begin to do justice to his many defects, and the deeper the show gets into his psyche the more admiration you’ll have for the bloody brilliant rascal. 

Defining moment/scene? When Rick leaves his family on a micro-planet under the guise of “going for ice-cream”, he really turns himself into the galactic federation to save his loved ones a lifetime of being on the run. It’s the ultimate proof that he is capable of unconditional love, and having it set to Hurt by Nine Inch Nails will force a single tear from the most stoic of viewers. Casting one last look at a picture of his two best friends, Squanchy and the recently murdered Birdman, he surrenders himself to the police while they’re allowed to walk free. Hoisted up into maximum security and pinned in a row of criminals, one gruffly asks “What are you in for?” Rick’s response? “Everything”. It’s only now that you comprehend that Rick might not be able to get out of this. It’s heart-breaking. Zoe Delahunty-Light

Read more: Rick and Morty season 3 premiere: The 10 most squanchy things that made us go 'what the f*ck?'

23. Wilson Fisk, Daredevil

Who are they? Often simply referred to as "Kingpin" in the Marvel comics, the Netflix version of this villain is a crime boss who aims to control all of the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood.

Why do we love them? Actor Vincent D'Onofrio dominates every scene he's in with his imposing stature and calm menace. And thanks to multiple, incredibly brutal fight scenes (including one where he decapitates someone with a car door), we know to fear him. But what really sets Fisk apart is that, to an extent, he's sympathetic. His past is haunting and his motivations are the same as what many of us want: to protect our loved ones and better our communities. We don't agree with Fisk's methods, but we understand where he's coming from, and D'Onofrio sells every facet to this complex individual.

Defining moment: Fisk's true strength lies not in his fists, but in his invisible strings of influence. And because of this, his most defining moment doesn't even feature him on camera. When hitman John Healy gives up Fisk's name to Daredevil, our masked hero warns Healy to get out of town. But Healy knows that Fisk will find him and make an example out of him - rather than face Fisk's wrath, Healy impales himself on a piece of fence. That's the moment you know this kingpin of crime is not to be trifled with. Sam Prell

Read more: Everything the Daredevil movie did wrong (that the TV show fixed)

22. Homer Simpson, The Simpsons

Who are they: The patriarch of the first family of animated comedy. He’s worn many hats and had many adventures over the years, but at his core, Homer is a husband, father, and good friend living in Springfield, USA.

Why do we love them? Every Simpsons fan has their personal favorite character, but Homer really sums up so much of what makes the show a classic. He’s lazy as hell, but his heart’s in the right place. He loves his family even when they drive him up a wall. He binges on beer, donuts, and all that is deep-fried. He’s often wrong, but usually realizes it in the end. He’s hilarious even as he makes you squirm. Anyone can find some part of themselves in Homer, which makes us even happier that he keeps landing on his feet after so many years. 

Defining moment: One word – “D’oh!” Anna Washenko

Read more: 50 best Homer Simpson quotes of all time

21. Spock, Star Trek: The Original Series

Who are they? First officer and science officer of the starship Enterprise in the Star Trek Original Series. Is also briefly a starship captain and later on a Federation Ambassador.

Why do we love them? He’s the yin to Captain Kirk’s yang, the salt to his pepper. But the real reason Spock is so wonderful is that he also has opposites balancing out within himself, half vulcan and half human, making him much more than a very smart dude. The elegance and purity of his rational mind is only ever shaken by the affection Spock has for his companions on the Enterprise. For the character who is supposed to be calmly calculated at all times, his presence on the bridge lends both warmth and humor in equal measure. Nobody could so easily go from pushing Doctor McCoy’s buttons to mind-melding with a horta with such grace.

Defining moment/scene? You could argue that any time Leonard Nimoy quirked his eyebrow and uttered “Fascinating” in the face of danger would qualify as the most iconic Spock action. But the absolute best moment for him isn’t from the many episodes of outsmarting the monster of the week with his impeccable logic. It’s at the climax of the Wrath of Khan movie, when he carries out the only course of action that will save the ship and its crew from Ricardo Montalban’s dastardly Genesis plan. His speech to Kirk would pull tears from even the stoniest Vulcan heart. Anna Washenko

Read more: The 20 best Star Trek episodes ever

20. Dale Cooper, Twin Peaks

Who are they? The tireless, intellectually brilliant, warmly empathic FBI agent sent to Twin Peaks to solve the murder of Laura Palmer. 

Why do we love them? The modern TV hero has to be somewhat rough-edged. They need to be a tad snarky, and pithy with their heroism. If they’re a detective, particularly, they need to be entirely aware of their brilliance, a little cocky, and perhaps slightly too independent. It’s just not deemed cool or realistic for someone, even the best of good guys, to lack such flaws and sharp corners. But Dale Cooper didn’t get the memo, and would (politely) decline if he did. Coop, you see, is just better than that. Professionally, he verges on genius, but personally, there’s much more to him than that. He’s as conscientious regarding others’ emotional needs as he is the correct running of a crime scene. He’s as passionate about life, and nature, and all the little, oft-overlooked wonders as he is building an inquiry and doling out justice. Crusading for happiness and decency as much as for the rule of law, and fully aware of the importance of childishness in a well-rounded adult, Coop is a shining bastion of wholesome intelligence who, far from being unbelievable, simply highlights and shames the contrived artificiality of so many, more ‘realistic’, bad-boy good-guys. It really is possible to be that good. 

Defining moment/scene: When he takes a moment to warn burgeoning best friend Sheriff Harry Truman that the FBI colleagues coming to assist are brilliant, but lack the social niceties the two of them value. Before tweaking him affectionately on the nose. 

Read more: The 14 best Twin Peaks moments to get you ready for the new season

19. Bruce Wayne/Batman, Batman the Animated Series

Who are they? He's Batman. The Dark Knight protects the innocents of Gotham City, striking terror into the hearts of criminals and putting its most deranged villains in Arkham Asylum.

Why do we love them? The Animated Series gave us the purest distillation of Batman: strong, intelligent, stoic, and unwavering in his pursuit of justice. Kevin Conroy's spectacular performance has forever solidified him as the Dark Knight for legions of fans, as Conroy's baritone voice and confident delivery give Batman a gravitas that never dips into gravelly voiced silliness. His portrayal of Bruce Wayne also gives much-needed humanity to the tireless hero, working in just enough light-heartedness and compassion to convince us that the man behind the mask isn't an emotionless vigilante. And no matter which villain he's going up against from his diverse and unforgettable Rogues Gallery, Batman is always trying to redeem the little bit of good in them - even if they too often force him to dole out a good old-fashioned beatdown.

Defining moment/scene: In the first season's third episode, Nothing to Fear, Batman's hanging for his life at the edge of a moving zeppelin and slowly succumbing to the effects of Scarecrow's fear toxin. He hallucinates his deceased father deforming into a giant skeleton and calling him a disgrace, but Batman resists, self-assured of who and what he is. "I am vengeance. I am the night. I... am... Batman," he bellows, defining the character for a generation of Bat-fans. Lucas Sullivan 

Read more: Forget Batman, who played the best Bruce Wayne ever?

18. Jessica Jones, Jessica Jones

Who are they? A private investigator with a drinking problem, Jessica Jones may sound like the typical TV PI but she’s actually got superpowers, which makes her a Marvel hero… albeit one who’s lost her way a bit.

Why do we love them? Because she’s not perfect. In fact, she’s actually a terrible person a lot of the time. She pushes away anyone who cares about her, drinks too much, and gets into fights. But at the end of the day, she still tries to help people as well as battle her own demons, and given what she’s been through, her trust issues are understandable. She’s the epitome of someone who tries to do right thing even after their world’s been destroyed. 

Defining moment/scene? Finding out that the only reason Malcolm is a drug addict is because Kilgrave is using him to spy on her is a pretty defining moment for this character. You can see the guilt on her face over his addiction, the surprise because she never saw this coming, and the fear at just how deep Kilgrave is embedded in her life. It takes everything you know about this show and pushes it further and that’s when you see what kind of person she really is. Lauren O’Callaghan

Read more: 6 things we want to see in Jessica Jones season 2

17. The Doctor, Doctor Who

Who are they? A Time Lord, i.e. an alien with two hearts, a sonic screwdriver (think of it like a key that can unlock anything/a superpowered scanner), and a time-travelling spaceship named the TARDIS. Oh, plus, he’s incredibly intelligent, can regenerate into a new person each time he comes close to death, and, luckily for us, humans just happen to be his favourite. 

Why do we love them? Half the time he’s full of wonder like a small child, delirious with curiosity and excitement that something new is happening. The other half he’s weary, ruthless, and prone to bursts of fury where you see just how dangerous his intelligence can be. Jumping between the two personas shows just how the ability to travel anywhere, and to any time, is both a blessing and a curse. Although it’s the ultimate high for someone as curious as The Doctor, when the universe is at your fingertips and you repeatedly save civilisation after civilisation, you can get one hell of a hero complex. He’s not always right, but The Doctor is at his best in those rare moments where we see his flaws. 

Defining moment/scene? David Tennant’s Doctor thinks he’s saved everyone. Then he hears knocking. Wilf is stuck in a chamber that’s about to get flooded with radiation. The Doctor will have to save him - but would sacrifice himself in the process. His words speak for themselves. “Look at you,” he yells with frustrated tears in his eyes. “Not remotely important. But me - I could do so much more! But this is what I get. My reward. And it’s not fair!” He pauses, weary suddenly. “Oh… I’ve lived too long.” And saves Wilf. Of course he does. Because he’s the Doctor. Zoe Delahunty-Light

Read more: The Doctor Who season 10 finale explained - everything you need to know about that ending

16. Carol Peletier, The Walking Dead

Who are they? One of the most criminally underrated characters in The Walking Dead, Carol has a show-carrying presence and history which is somehow always overshadowed by other cast members and goings-on. 

Why do we love them? While there’s a strong arc to most of The Walking Dead’s long-standing cast, Carol is arguably the character that’s been on the longest of journeys. A former, quiet-spoken, battered wife she’s escaped her abusive husband, lost her young daughter, found her again as a zombie and watch her get shot in the head as a result. Despite all that, she grew to become a crucial member of Rick’s inner circle - turning into one of the toughest, most capable survivors out there. Where she goes from here is something even the show seems to struggle with - possibly because no one seems to know what to do with a middle aged woman who’s a tougher, more dangerous badass than any of your main leads. She’s been a savior, a murderer, an executioner, and a mother, with more complex layers than any character has any right to have in this show.

Defining moment/scene: While we’ve seen Carol deal with death (and even inflict it) numerous times, season 4’s The Grove is possibly the most shocking. After a young girl, convinced the undead are her friends, kills her sister so she can “come back,” Carol takes her into the forest and tells her to “look at the flowers” before shooting her in the back of the head. It’s an unflinchingly brutal look at what she believes is required for the greater good. Leon Hurley

Read more: Everything you need to know about The Walking Dead season 8