Stories about dragons exist across the globe. Some dragons are wise and helpful, and others are terrifying monsters. Some steal princesses from towers, while others grant wishes and help heroes on quests. While they vary from culture to culture, there are a few traits in common—they tend to be reptilian, and they usually fly and breathe fire.
These magical creatures have captured imaginations from the Middle Ages to today. Here are seven of the best dragon characters from books, movies, and more.
His armor is like tenfold shields, and his teeth and claws are swords and spears. When his tail falls, it’s like a thunderbolt; when he beats his wings, it’s a hurricane. And his breath is death.
Smaug, the last great dragon to exist in Middle-earth, storms in first on the list.
In The Hobbit, Smaug sleeps under the Lonely Mountain, hoarding treasure for 171 years until the hobbit Bilbo Baggins, a company of dwarves, and Gandalf wake him up from hibernation. He is over six thousand years old and capable of destroying entire cities in a single attack without tiring. Because of his fearsome reputation, Bilbo calls the dragon many names, including Smaug the Golden, Smaug the Magnificent, and Smaug the Chiefest and Greatest of Calamities.
Smaug is amazingly agile and quick for his huge size, and he is covered from snout to scale with impenetrable armor—everywhere except for his soft underbelly. Bilbo takes advantage of this fact as he fights to retake the Lonely Mountain’s lost dwarven kingdom.
The Inheritance Cycle
When Saphira hatches from her egg, she bursts forth with the most beautiful, bright blue scales anyone has ever seen. They are like sapphires, iridescent and shimmering, which is why the elves of Alagaësia, the setting of the series, call her Brightscales in their ancient language.
As Saphira grows, she discovers she is capable of mysterious magic. In one instance, she transforms a beloved mentor’s gravestone into diamond. In another, she marks an orphan child’s brow with a silvery birthmark. And of course, she can breathe fire: huge tongues of flame tinged with deep blue.
Saphira waited in her egg for a century, curled up and cramped until her true rider, Eragon, could find her. She and Eragon share an empathic bond—any time one of them gets injured, the other feels it too, and they can share each other’s thoughts and memories.
The last known female dragon of Alagaësia, Saphira holds an important role with Eragon. She provides hope to the people fighting against the dictatorship of the corrupt, immortal dragon rider Galbatorix, and she defeats many monsters and enemies with a resistance group, the Varden.
The Inheritance Cycle, of which Eragon is the first book, has a few dragons appearing through the series, but Saphira’s enchanting point-of-view plus her striking appearance (as fearsome as it is beautiful) makes her the series’ best. If you love dragon books, consider exploring Alagaësia.
Toothless, How to Train Your Dragon
Toothless is a black dragon, dark as night. Only the movement of his wings covering the stars betrays his location. Instead of breathing out a spray of fire like other dragons, Toothless blasts a single blue firebolt with explosive power.
Toothless is one of many, many dragons terrorizing the viking village of Berk, until Hiccup, the teenaged son of the village chief, shoots him down from the sky. Instead of killing Toothless, Hiccup sets Toothless free, at which point he realizes he damaged Toothless’s tail. Toothless can’t fly on his own anymore.
Hiccup makes Toothless a prosthetic tail and works to earn his trust. As they bond, Toothless teaches Hiccup secrets about dragons, and he shows off his retractable teeth (hence the less-than-scary name). Their relationship is almost symbiotic—Toothless relies on Hiccup to work his new mechanical tail, and in return he allows Hiccup to fly through the skies with him.
Toothless is small but mighty. His fireblasts are precision strikes, sending shockwaves through the surrounding air. He’s the coolest dragon in the movie, but also he’s super cute. His comical animation is also graceful, based off a black panther, with large eyes and ears to better convey his emotions in the visual medium.
A Song of Ice and Fire
Drogon, Rhaegal, and Viserion are Daenerys Targaryen’s three dragon-children, born out of a funeral pyre for her husband in George R.R. Martin’s fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire. Daenerys receives their eggs as a wedding gift, and they only hatch after she walks into the fire herself.
They grow rapidly, striking fear into the hearts of her enemies as she fights to reclaim the Iron Throne and rule as the Queen of Westeros. Their voracious appetites make them cause trouble for Daenerys, though. At one point, she has to decide if she wants to let them fly free or chain them down so they won’t kill civilian children.
Most people might say Drogon is the best dragon in the series. Daenerys might even agree herself. Drogon is the biggest and smartest, and he helps Dany out of quite a few sticky situations.
However, Viserion makes this list because, if his role in the television adaptation Game of Thrones is anything to go by, there’s an even cooler story lined up for him.
Spoiler alert! In the seventh season of the series, Daenerys fights with her dragons against the Night King, the leader of the undead White Walkers. The White Walkers shoot Viserion from the sky, and he drowns in a frozen lake. But then, the Night King dredges him from the depths and brings him back to life, this time as a white zombie dragon who shoots out ice instead of fire.
This unique twist (plus the metal image of a zombie dragon) bumps Viserion to the top, narrowly beating out his brothers.
Ash's Charizard, Pokemon
Charizard might look menacing with his flaming tail, huge green wings, and spiky orange head and claws. However, it's actually quite friendly and loyal with the right Pokémon trainer. In the video game, it’s said that Charizard’s fire is capable of melting boulders and massive glaciers, but Charizard never turns this fire on an opponent weaker than itself.
In the anime, Ash’s Charizard first appears when Ash finds it as a tiny Charmander (the young version of the Pokémon). Charmander’s first trainer abandoned it on a rock in the middle of nowhere.
Charmander refuses to go with Ash even when a rainstorm starts, and Ash knows if Charmander’s tail flame goes out, the Pokémon will die. Ash rescues the tiny Charmander by sheltering its remaining tail flame with his coat until they reach a Pokémon center that can heal Charmander.
Charmander evolves into its teen form, Charmeleon, and then quickly evolves into a Charizard when it is trapped under a mountain with Ash, facing swarms of prehistoric Pokémon.
Charizard fights their way out of the mountain and saves Ash, but then it becomes stubborn and lazy because of its newfound strength. It’s only with diligent patience and care that Ash is able to earn Charizard’s loyalty. Then they become an unbeatable team.
While Charizard isn’t a dragon-type Pokemon, it's a dragon in every other trait. Its big personality, important spot on Ash’s team, and iconic role as one of the original Pokémon make Charizard one of the best dragons of all time.
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The Hungarian Horntail
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
With bright yellow eyes, jet-black scales, and bronze spikes all over its body, the Hungarian Horntail is a ferocious beast. What’s worse, its roar sounds like a yowling, screeching scream, and it can shoot flames hot enough to melt stone from fifty feet away.
Mother dragons are even nastier than other horntails, which causes a problem for Harry Potter. Harry must confront a mother horntail as the first task for the Triwizard Tournament, a competition among three different wizarding schools. He’s tasked to steal one of her eggs, which is actually a clue for the next task.
Harry decides to use his Firebolt broomstick to get the egg. He flies in an aerial chase with the horntail, an extremely speedy flyer, around the grounds of Hogwarts.
After going toe-to-claw with Harry (and knocking chunks out of a few stone buildings in the process) the horntail proves itself a formidable opponent. It only shows up in two chapters in the book, but its terrifying descriptions make it easily the most memorable dragon in the entire series.
Bowser, Super Maria Bros.
Bowser’s fire breath, green spiky shell, and monstrous reptilian voice qualify him as the final dragon on this list.
He first appears as a pixelated monster in Super Mario Bros., where his army invades Mario’s mushroom kingdom. They transform every citizen into an inanimate object and kidnap Princess Peach, the only person capable of undoing the curse. Mario, an intrepid plumber, races through the kingdom, dodging obstacles and fighting monsters until he reaches Bowser’s castle, where Bowser spits fireballs, throws hammers, and leaps to attack Mario.
Later games, however, make Bowser a friendlier character. He teams up with Mario to compete against Sonic and friends in Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games, where he must pole vault and breaststroke his way to the gold medal.
In Super Smash Bros., he fights friendly matches against a full roster of Nintendo characters with his classic firebreath and claw slash moves. And in Mario Kart: Double Dash he joins his small child Bowser Jr. to race cars on wacky tracks.
Bowser epitomizes the flexibility of the dragon myth. At times a mindless monster, at other times a friendly turtle who just wants to play tennis, no list of dragons would be complete without the King Koopa.