Fantasy fiction is full of compelling characters—some of whom we'd love to meet in real life, some of whom we're glad to only know through the pages of a book or on a screen. We've rounded up 50 of The Portalist staff's picks for the best fantasy characters ever. Let us know who your personal faves are in the comments below!
Bilbo Baggins (The Hobbit)
Bilbo was a bearer of the One Ring and is an adoptive uncle to Frodo Baggins. Though he may be small in size, Bilbo has a huge, friendly personality. The tiny hobbit has had so many fantastic adventures that he eventually had to make a written account of them! A lover of books, food, and other comforts of home, Bilbo is a hero that it's easy for readers to identify with.
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Death in Terry Pratchett's Discworld book series isn't your typical grim reaper. He does ride a noble, living steed named Binky, after all. The way Death sees it, his job isn’t to kill, but to collect dead souls and wait for them to be reborn. Throughout the series, Death is a source of hilarious and often disarmingly poignant moments.
Harry Potter (Harry Potter)
The Boy Who Lived is one of the fantasy genre’s greatest gems. The Hogwarts universe is magical and incredible, and the Harry Potter series sparked an interest in fantasy for millions and millions of kids. Let’s face it, the series is at the level of popularity where some people have come to define themselves by their Hogwarts houses!
Tyrion Lannister (Game of Thrones / A Song of Ice and Fire)
Despite Tyrion being accused for several crimes he didn’t commit, he manages to power through and escape every time. He's formidable, both in intellect and in battle. And although he’s been persecuted for being a dwarf, Tyrion doesn’t let people's opinions about him stop him, which is why we consider him to be such a strong character.
Gandalf (Lord of the Rings)
Anytime the characters of The Lord of the Rings overcame any obstacles, the erudite Gandalf was probably leading the way. With a pointy hat, silvered beard, and unmatchable intellect, Gandalf can be said to be one of the greatest wizards of them all. Gandalf, which literally means “Elf of the Wand,” spent some time living among Elves, learning from and teaching them, until he eventually became the most powerful Istari.
Roland Deschain (The Dark Tower)
Stephen King has often called The Dark Tower his defining work, and most of the book series’ success can be attributed to its unforgettable gun-slinging protagonist Roland Deschain. Roland’s job is to keep the peace in his society, but that task isn’t always an easy one. Though he often appears apathetic, when it comes to his singular purpose of reaching the Dark Tower, Roland is dangerously relentless.
Karsa Orlong (Malazan)
At more than seven feet tall, with impressive muscles and a tattooed face, this young warrior is an intimidating one. From Malazan Book of the Fallen, Karsa belongs to the Uryd tribe that resides on the Genabackis continent, and while he’s a killer, he’s a little more sympathetic than most, since at one point he was linked to the spirits of everyone he slayed.
Belle (Beauty and the Beast)
Belle is intelligent, persistent, and extremely brave, sacrificing her freedom for her father's life. And when the pestering Gaston, along with half the town, marches to the castle yelling “Kill the beast!,” Belle refuses to let anything happen to her prince.
Mary Poppins (Mary Poppins)
This magical nanny teaches us that with wit, kindness, and a bottomless bag, life can be full of beauty and fun.
Ali Baba (Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves)
You may or may not have heard of Ali Baba, but he’s a character from One Thousand and One Nights, also known as Arabian Nights, which was one of the first collections of fantasy stories ever published. Ali Baba is just a poor woodcutter, but he becomes a badass when he discovers a thieves’ den, which he enters by saying “Open Sesame”. He subsequently is hunted down by the thieves and must fight them every step of the way to keep the den’s treasure intact.
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Hermione Granger (Harry Potter)
Nothing could be worse to the studious Hermione Granger than being expelled from Hogwarts, but as the Harry potter series progresses, the Gryffindor trifecta get closer and closer to making Hermione’s fear a reality. We love Hermione for her intellect, and because she’s not afraid to call out Harry and Ron when they’re being ridiculous. Hermione is an indicator that we need more female wizards to grace our pages and screens.
In the role of Jareth the Goblin King in the 1986 Jim Henson film Labyrinth, David Bowie inspired many a sexual awakening. His fashion sense, musical abilities, and magnetism make Jareth one of the most iconic characters to come out of the dark fantasy films of the '80s.
Kvothe (Kingkiller Chronicle)
The musically gifted protagonist of Patrick Rothfuss' fantasy epic Kingkiller Chronicles is quick witted and independent, with a voracious appetite for learning. He perseveres in the face of unimaginable personal tragedy, and turns to music and learning as a means of providing solace. He makes a compelling protagonist, to say the absolute least.
In Avatar the Last Airbender, Aang awakens after hundreds of years to find his people, the peaceful Air Nomads, have been destroyed by the Fire Nation. Aang—still merely 12 years old—has the immense responsibility to end the cataclysmic war, but retains his kindness and good cheer even as he struggles to bear the burden of the expectations he faces.
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Eowyn (Lord of the Rings)
Éowyn demonstrates her incredible bravery when—disguised as a man—she takes matters into her own hands and charges into the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, slaying the Witch-King of Angmar. Éowyn’s bravery, compassion, and drive to defy other's expectations of her make her one of the greatest female warriors of all.
Ofelia (Pan's Labyrinth)
It's impossible to keep your heart from breaking over the troubles faced by Ofelia, the protagonist of Guillermo del Toros' Pan's Labyrinth. Sent to live with her stepfather, a powerful member of the fascist army, Ofelia will stop at nothing to protect her family from him, bravely facing monsters—both those in the everyday world, and those of the fantastical labyrinth— to save the people she loves.
Aragorn (Lord of the Rings)
Brave, bold, and compassionate, this Ranger of the North will always be our king.
Dumbledore (Harry Potter)
Dumbledore could be mercurial, enigmatic, and a little infuriating—but that was just part of the Hogwarts Head Master's considerable charm! He was ultimately a father figure for Harry and many other students, and often sacrificed his own well-being to protect them.
Korra (The Legend of Korra)
A reincarnation of Avatar Aang, the powerful Avatar Korra is one of the most badass female characters to ever appear in a Western animated show—and her groundbreaking relationship with Asami left us incredibly emotional.
San (Princess Mononoke)
Abandoned by her parents when she was very young, San was raised by wolves, and has a fierce, loyal bond to her wolf family and the forest where she lives. She’s not afraid to die, or kill, to save her home and the animals she loves. But with the help of Prince Ashitaka, she has the strength to gradually acknowledge her humanity as well.
Susannah (The Dark Tower)
Susannah Dean is the brave, witty, and courageous heroine of Stephen King's The Dark Tower epic. She quickly takes to the life of a gunslinger, but never allows herself to lose her sense of compassion. Ultimately, her ability to be a fierce fighter while also caring for the members of her rag-tag found family are what keep Roland and his clan (or ka-tet) safe from many of Mid-World's dangers.
Daenerys Targaryen (A Song of Ice and Fire /Game of Thrones)
This bold ruler has been through hell and back, but she hasn't let it bow her. With her dragon children at her side, she's determined to be the ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. And we think she just might succeed!
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Jon Snow (Game of Thrones /A Song of Ice and Fire)
Generous, brave, and capable of sacrificing for the needs of others like a true leader, we wouldn't mind seeing Jon ruling alongside Dany!
Alanna (The Song of the Lioness)
The protagonist of Tamora Pierce's beloved book series The Lioness Quartet, Alanna switches places with her male twin in order to train as a knight. As she grows from a young page to a grown warrior woman, Alanna faces many dilemmas that, although set in a fantastical world, will resonate with real-life women and girls who have been judged by their gender.
Temeraire (The Temeraire series)
The Chinese Imperial dragon from Naomi Novik's book series of the same name, Temeraire is a character it's impossible not to fall for. An aspiring poet and politician who's unfailingly devoted to his captain Laurence, Temeraire is also adamant about doing what he believes to be right, even when it's not the popular decision.
Arya Stark (Game of Thrones /A Song of Ice and Fire)
Arya, the youngest daughter of House Stark, has always been a warrior. From early childhood, she was more interested in practicing swordsmanship than 'acting like a lady.' She’s headstrong, and may just survive the brutal contest over the Iron Throne.
Moiraine Damodred (Wheel of Time)
A powerful member of the Aes Sedai, Moiraine's unprecedented achievements are known far and wide.
An antihero in Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast books (and their excellent BBC adaptation), Steerpike is the kind of character you love despite their machinations. A conniving kitchen boy determined to wreak revenge on the class system of the crumbling Gormenghast kingdom, Steerpike is both a tragic figure and a villain.
Buffy (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
High school is hard. It's even harder when you're a vampire slayer living in a Hellmouth, but Buffy handles her unique adolescent challenges with kick-butt prowess and immense charm.
Willow Ufgood is a kind magician and family man who quickly welcomes the orphaned girl Elora Danan into his family, even without knowing she's the child prophesied to defeat the relentless Queen Bavmorda. He will do anything to protect Elora and the rest of his family, and is eventually—and rightfully—hailed as a hero.
Princess Cimorene (The Enchanted Forest Chronicles)
The headstrong and hilarious princess at the center of Patricia C. Wrede's Enchanted Forest stories, Princess Cimorene decides that royal life isn't to her liking, and braves the perils of the Enchanted Forest to work for the dragon Kazul.
Shadow Moon (American Gods)
The ex-con protagonist of Neil Gaiman's urban fantasy book American Gods, Shadow Moon is the coolest guy around—heck, he's literally Odin's bodyguard. What's cooler than that?
Falkor (The Neverending Story)
Who didn't grow up wanting to have Falkor the Luck Dragon as a friend? This gentle flying giant captured the heart of many an 80s and 90s kid.
Onyesonwu (Who Fears Death)
Onyesonwu is a young mixed-race girl ostracized by her Okeke community because she's an Ewu—a child conceived when her Okeke mother was raped by a Nuru man. Onyesonwu and her mother and stepfather struggle to find acceptance in their community, but when her stepfather dies, Onyesonwu's grief unlocks an unfathomably powerful magic within her. Her newly discovered magical skills further ostracize her, but also give her the power to possibly bring peace to the Okeke—and defeat the powerful sorcerer Daib.
Lafayette (True Blood)
In the HBO adaptation of Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse novels, Lafayette was ultimately the only character who made the series worth watching. A medium, short order cook, and out gay man, Lafayette boldly takes down bigots in his small town of Bon Temps, Louisiana, and stands up for his friends and his found family whenever they need it.
Xena (Xena Warrior Princess)
A bold, brave, woman-loving-woman, Xena will always hold a special place in our hearts.
Mr. Moundshroud (The Halloween Tree)
A mysterious, creepy figure who shepherds the heroes of Ray Bradbury's Halloween Tree throughout time and space, Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud is not the kind of character we'd like to meet in a dark alley (especially while trick or treating!). But he's a huge part of an iconic fantasy story, and deserves a spot on this list.
Samwise Gamgee (Lord of the Rings)
We all wish we could have a loyal friend like Samwise Gamgee. Without Sam's loyalty and courage, the One Ring would never have been destroyed.
Morgana Le Fay
Morgana Le Fay from Arthurian legend is often portrayed as a villain, although in early versions of the Camelot tale, she was depicted as a healer rather than an antagonist. Over time, due in large part to medieval Christianity's views on women, she came to be portrayed as explicitly evil. A fascinating figure who has been linked to goddesses from both Irish and Welsh mythology, we find the various ways Morgana Le Fay is depicted in the classics, and in pop culture, to be fascinating.
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Ged (A Wizard of Earthsea)
A preternaturally powerful wizard in Ursula K. LeGuin's Earthsea series, Ged grows from a naive young boy into a powerful Archmage determined to prevent the ebb of magical power from Earthsea. His arc is fascinating, and this brilliant series remains one of the greatest additions to fantasy ever.
Anomander Rake (Malazan)
A powerful mage of ridiculously intimidating proportions, Anomander Rake is an iconic character in the Malazan series.
Pantalaimon (The Golden Compass)
In Philip Pullman's alternate history fantasy series The Golden Compass, Pantalaimon is the protagonist Lyra's daemon. Able to shape shift (at least, until he eventually settles on a final form), Pan appears throughout the books as everything from a mouse to a dragon. More timid and cowardly than the books' brave protagonist Lyra, Pan sometimes helps keep her safe, and always keeps her company.
Captain Shakespeare (Stardust)
In Neil Gaiman's exquisite fairy tale Stardust, Captain Shakespeare helms a sky pirate ship that temporarily carries the protagonists. Although Shakespeare's life sailing the high skies might seem idyllic to you or me, he's charmingly infatuated with non-magical life, and takes the name 'Shakespeare' as a tribute to his one and only time visiting outside the Wall in England. Although Shakespeare has a relatively brief appearance in Stardust, his life among the skies is unforgettable.
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Inigo Montoya (The Princess Bride)
Inigo Montoya's rugged charm and singular commitment to avenging the death of his father by slaying Count Rugen make him one of the most memorable characters in a story positively brimming with memorable characters.
The White Witch (The Chronicles of Narnia)
Jadis the White Witch from C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia series has to be one of the most compelling villains ever. I mean ... what's the first thing you associate with Turkish delights?
Frog and Toad (Frog and Toad)
Perhaps we're cheating by putting two characters in one entry, but Frog's stories wouldn't be complete without Toad and vice versa. These adorably domestic amphibians from Arnold Lobel's series of classic children's stories allow young readers to learn about the joy and sadness inherent in relationships. Given that Lobel was a gay man, many readers believe Frog and Toad were coded as a gay couple. Considering how rare it is for LGBTQIA relationships to be depicted positively in media, that interpretation makes the kindness and love Frog and Toad demonstrate for each other even more touching.
Hagrid (Harry Potter)
I don't know anyone whose heart wasn't almost instantly captured by Hagrid arriving at Privet Drive with a tiny Harry on his motorbike. A gentle giant whose massive physical form was only dwarfed by his good humor, Hagrid was, in many ways, the heart of the Harry Potter series.
Sabriel, the first book in Garth Nix's classic Old Kingdom trilogy, centers around the titular hero, a young girl who has been raised in boarding school. Sabriel is kept safe across the wall from the magical Old Kingdom, where her father the Abhorsen ushers the Dead through the gates of death and away from the world of the living. When her father disappears, Sabriel leaves safety to return to the Old Kingdom in search of him, braving death—and the Undead themselves—along the way.
Granny Weatherwax (Discworld)
Esmerelda "Esme" Weatherwax is a witch of impressive capabilities. Regarded with fear and respect by younger witches, she has a valuable understanding of the difference between doing the right thing, and doing what's nice.
Locke Lamora (Gentlemen Bastards Series)
Locke Lamora is a notorious con man known for his ability to swindle Camorr's upper crust out of their money. The head of a crew called the Gentleman Bastards, he's a scheming, hilarious antihero whose devices and dirty dealings make him legendary.
Featured still from "Game of Thrones" via HBO