The 25 best Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes

Buffy the Vampire Slayer turns 21 years old this Saturday. No, not the character herself (though technically speaking, she would be 47 in 2018, and presumably still kicking vampire butt), but the Joss Whedon-helmed supernatural drama which helped define a new age of television.

That first premiere episode of 1997 was a long, long time ago and, two decades later, it can be difficult to remember every highlight when reminiscing on the show's seven fruitful seasons. Luckily for you, our expert ranking takes all 144 episodes and narrows them down to the best 25, allowing you to re-binge Buffy with the keen selective senses of a hungry hellhound. Keep reading on, and remind yourself why Buffy the Vampire Slayer remains one of the best damn television shows of all time.

Read more: 20 years of the Slayer: How Buffy defined a generation of TV and movies

25. Who Are You

Episode: Season 4, episode 16

Body swapping isn’t exactly a fresh concept, but usually it’s used for knockabout fun, not for serious character development. However, Who Are You manages to do both when Faith (Eliza Dushku), having turned bad and switched bodies with Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) in the previous episode, does some serious soul-searching. Seeing Gellar play Faith and Dushku play Buffy is undoubtedly fun and both do brilliant work imitating the other, but the episode delivers its best moment during the final battle. As Faith (as Buffy) hits Buffy (as Faith), she screams “you’re nothing, disgusting, murderous bitch” at herself, revealing how little she thinks of herself. Take that, Freaky Friday.

24. Conversations with Dead People

Episode: Season 7, episode 7

Notable for keeping the main characters apart for an entire episode, the haunting Conversations with Dead People features five distinct strands, including Buffy reminiscing with a vampire and Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg) being visited by her dead mother Joyce (Kristine Sutherland). Sadly, it also marked the death of the misguided Jonathan (Danny Strong) as he’s stabbed by his Trio ally Andrew (Tom Lenk), leading to the arrival of the show’s final Big Bad, The First Evil. And if that wasn’t dark enough, it also revealed that Spike (James Marsters) was being a naughty boy, meaning his chip wasn’t stopping him harming humans. Uh-oh.

23. Band Candy

Episode: Season 3, episode 6

When the adults of Sunnydale eat some dodgy candy bars, they revert to their teenage selves to give us a glimpse of Giles (Anthony Head) as Ripper, who gets a little too close to Joyce for Buffy’s comfort. Seeing the slimey Principal Snyder (Armin Shimerman) as an awkward teenage nerd is delicious, but the real joy is in Giles and Joyce getting it on, especially as the episode ends with a brilliant gag that reveals the two did have sex, despite Buffy thinking that she’d solved the problem before they “did anything”. At least parents’ evenings are rarely that awkward.

22. Earshot

Episode: Season 3, episode 18

Delayed in the US due to it being scheduled for broadcast a week after the Columbine shooting, Earshot is one of the most powerful episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s entire run. After being infected with telepathy, Buffy hears someone plotting murder at school and is led to believe Jonathan will be committing mass murder. However, when she confronts him in the clock tower as he’s holding a rifle, she learns he was only planning to kill himself. Gellar gets a fantastic monologue about everyone ignoring others’ pain as “they’re too busy with their own”, but the episode belongs to a terrific and heartbreaking performance from Strong. Oh, and in an Agatha Christie-esque twist, the lunch lady was going to poison all the students... and you thought your school dinners were bad.

21. Restless

Episode: Season 4, episode 22

As with the likes of Hush and The Body, Restless shows that Whedon was unafraid to do something out of the ordinary, however divisive it could turn out to be. Having dispatched the season’s Big Bad Adam in the previous episode, Restless is a season finale like no other as it revolves around the dreams of Buffy, Giles, Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Xander (Nicholas Brendon). As a piece of art, it’s gorgeous to look at and brilliantly conceived and despite its quieter nature, Restless still manages to foreshadow upcoming events, such as Joyce’s devastating death and Anya’s return to her vengeance demon ways. Even if you don’t like the episode, you can’t help but admire its boldness.

20. Welcome to the Hellmouth

Episode: Season 1, episode 1

It's never easy starting a TV show, let alone when audiences still have a pretty terrible movie of the same name fresh in their minds. Yet Whedon made it look effortless with Welcome to the Hellmouth. Setting up the show's distinctive blend of pop culture references and witty dialogue, the pilot makes us care straightaway for Buffy and her soon-to-be Scooby Gang, as well as establishing the season's Big Bad in the form of The Master. It even has the audacity to end on a cliffhanger, confident that viewers are already hooked. Whedon was right. We were.

19. Something Blue

Episode: Season 4, episode 9

Comedy episodes of otherwise serious shows often spell disaster, but rarely so in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Case in point: Something Blue. One of the most purely enjoyable episodes of its entire run, it sees Willow cast a spell to make her desires come true. Cue weird things happening such as Giles going blind and demons suddenly becoming obsessed with Xander. For Buffy fan-fiction writers everywhere though, the real selling point of the episode is Spike and Buffy kissing for the first time, setting the foundations for season 6's relationship. And despite being a comedy episode, it also provides a glimpse at the Dark Willow to come.

18. Surprise

Episode: Season 2, episode 13

Don't you just hate it when having sex with someone makes them lose their own soul and become a vicious killer? That's the gut punch Surprise leaves Buffy with after she finally gets it on with Angel. We don't fully see Angelus for the first time, but we're fully aware that something bad has happened thanks to David Boreanaz's terrific performance. It would lead to Angelus becoming season 2's Big Bad, alongside the deliciously evil duo of Spike and Drusilla. And, on a happier note, Oz and Willow have their first date. Awww.

17. Villains

Episode: Season 6, episode 20

Previous episode Seeing Red may have ended with the shock death of Tara, but we've chosen Villains for our countdown as it marks the point of no return for Willow in season 6. It's the moment she fully becomes Dark Willow as she tracks down Warren and tortures him, including sewing his lips shut before flaying him alive. Hannigan clearly relished the role after being the good guy for the majority of the show. Her delivery of "bored now" before killing Warren is absolutely chilling, topped only by the prophetic "one down" after the execution.

16. Angel

Episode: Season 1, episode 7 

Angel had appeared in other episodes of season 1, often brooding in the shadows, naturally. Episode 7, however, saw him finally reveal his true colours - and slightly less handsome face - to Buffy, kickstarting the show's main love story as well as showcasing its numerous difficulties. Poor Joyce gets in the middle of the Angel, Darla and Buffy love triangle and gets bitten (one of the first main characters to do so), which eventually prompts Angel to dust Darla. And it doesn't just set up the relationship; we're also given enough hints of his dark past to foreshadow the traumatic events of season 2.

Ian Sandwell

Ian Sandwell is an entertainment journalist, an avid FrightFester, and horror genre lover, as well as being a bit of a Marvel geek. Ian was the Features Writer at GamesRadar between 2015-2017, and has since moved on to Digital Spy where he currently sits as the website's movies editor.