By now, Joss Whedon’s name has been attached to so many high profile projects that he’s become one of the most recognizable creators in Hollywood. Alongside his contributions to the MCU and Pixar universe, he’s created many of his own original concepts, which fans have collectively labeled the Whedonverse. Whether it’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel or Firefly, he’s responsible for some of the most memorable on-screen characters in recent memory. In fact, taking in so many magical personalities can be an overload to a viewer’s brain. That’s why we felt compelled to take a trip down memory lane to gather the very best from the Whedonverse and put them into an easy to read list format.
Taking into account all that Joss Whedon has offered the world - big screen stories included - we’ve opted to stick to the television projects which have garnered the Whedonverse the most attention. That means all non-Whedonverse examples will not be making the cut. Sorry Avengers, we still hold a special place for you in our hearts.
So without further ado, let’s look back fondly at all the Whedonesque characters that have brought us so much joy over the years.
Note: We warn you ahead of time, if you are not well versed in the shows below, proceed with caution. There will be spoilers!
An original member of the Scooby Gang and an expert in all things supernatural, Rupert Giles watches over Buffy Summers, acting as a parental figure and guardian to the slayer. After beginning his time as the librarian at Sunnydale High, he opens up the Magic Box shop in town before returning to England after believing Buffy has become too reliant on him.
Remembered most fondly for his wisdom and knowledge of mysticism and demonology, Giles’ proficiency in archaic languages as well as his interest in sorcery later opens the door for Willow to expand upon her natural aptitude for witchcraft. Although Giles has moderate experience with hand-to-hand combat, he spends most of his time being either captured, manipulated or easily incapacitated by the demons of the Hellmouth. Despite his less than helpful efforts to fight off foes, he was an essential part of the gang’s success, providing need-to-know information to defeat several big bads throughout Buffy’s seven season run.
Praised for her on-screen depiction of lesbianism, Tara was half of the milestone couple that would bring about a new approach to LGBT characters in television. Introduced as an introverted, quiet character in the season four episode “Hush,” Tara is first shown attending a Wicca meeting when Willow decides to seek more people with whom she can share her interest in magic. She soon comes out of her shell as the two share an instant liking of one another.
Despite having studied magic for most of her life, Tara never becomes obsessed with the use of witchcraft, an issue which later becomes a heated topic between her and Willow. Abstaining from the temptations of the dark arts, she remains the voice of reason in the relationship until her untimely death eventually tips Willow past the boiling point, consuming her with rage at the end of season six. Tara’s death scene would remain one of the most devastating and divided moments in Buffy’s history, showcasing just how far LGBT depictions on-screen had come in such a short amount of time.
Traveling with the crew of the Serenity, Inara Serra leases a room from Captain Malcolm Reynolds as a Companion, a licensed escort who offers upper-class customers services beyond just a sexual nature. Trained since the age of twelve to be poised, graceful and compatible with her clients, she is taught to control any urges for a more tranquil and blissful experience. A wise character with a knack for psychological assessment, she’s given the power to choose her clients and ban anyone whose actions are found to be distasteful.
Early on, Malcolm shows an attraction to Inara despite her support for the Union of Allied Planets, which he vehemently fought against in the Unification War. Although he persistently responds negatively to her profession, she is noticeably taken in by his loyalty to the crew and his protection of her. Due to her forgiving attitude and avoidance of conflict, she becomes a calming personality among the crew. Still, she isn’t afraid to hold her own and is shown to have some formal training in the use of a sword, which she can use to protect herself if needed.
Krevlornswath of the Deathwok Clan - better known by his English name, Lorne - is a green demon with red horns who makes a home for himself in Los Angeles after leaving the medieval dimension he called home. Unsuited for the blood-thirsty, slave owning demons of Pylea, he opened a karaoke bar named Caritas, where good and evil people alike are invited to have a drink and test their singing chops. Often trying to avoid trouble and maintain a peaceful establishment, he later becomes more involved in Angel’s cases as his good nature prevents him from turning a blind eye.
Lorne’s transition into music and cocktails happens by chance when he stumbles onto a portal, sending him to the human world where he exchanges places with the future Angel team member, Fred Burkle. Winning the award for the best dressed character of the Whedonverse, he takes to the stage multiple times during Angel’s five year run to add to the show's soundtrack. Gifted with telepathy and the ability to sense when someone is lying, he helps Angel to steer clear of decisions that are morally ambiguous and keeps the investigation team in check throughout the series.
As the programmer for the Los Angeles branch of the Dollhouse, computer genius Topher Brink has many morally questionable responsibilities, which he performs on a daily basis. He is responsible for wiping the memories of the active Dolls, the select group of volunteers whose brains are imprinted with false personas that give them new identities and inherited skills. Due to his self-absorbed attitude and confidence, Topher is often perceived as uncaring by his colleagues, who fear that many of the Dolls are being treated as property rather than human beings.
Despite his own belief in his superior intelligence, Topher later shows great remorse for his actions. After discovering that his boss Adelle DeWitt is more ruthless than he imagined, he expresses guilt in ever helping to build the brain-washing technology of the Dollhouse. He then begins aiding the show’s antagonists to take down the organization from the inside. After he is forced to build a device which would wipe the world’s minds clean, he goes insane. In an attempt to restore the planet to its former state and remove the remaining imprints, he sacrifices himself in an explosion, showing just how far he had progressed in the short-lived series.
As optimistic as she is handy with machines, Kaywinnet Lee Frye, better known as Kaylee, is the mechanic aboard the Serenity. She becomes a member of the crew after being caught having sex with the previous mechanic Bester. Impressed by her natural intuition with fixing the perennially broken ship, Captain Malcolm Reynolds offers her a full-time position. When she has a near-death experience with an armed Alliance agent, the tough-hearted Jayne Cobb shows just how important the crew views her by tending to her bedside while she recovers from a gunshot wound.
Although she is known more for her boyish inclination to repair things, Kaylee still perceives herself as girly. She is embarrassed by the rest of the crew when they taunt her for liking the newest member of the ship, Simon Tam. The two begin a relationship with each other, but due to his reserved nature, they skate around any intimacy until they both finally decide to plunge into something more meaningful. As the true heart of Firefly, Kaylee brings a certain innocence to a future overcome with tyranny, despite remaining an empowering female character that is both actively sexual and skillful with a set of tools.
More commonly referred to as Dru by her bad guy boyfriend Spike, Drusilla is a psychotic vampire who was first created in 1860 after Angel’s evil alter-ego Angelus became obsessed with her. At the time, Dru was an innocent Catholic girl living in London in a traditional household. Given the ability to see the future, Angelus was intrigued by both her gift and her religious beliefs. Looking to destroy any semblance of purity left in her, he slaughters her family, driving her insane before finally turning her into a vampire.
By the time Drusilla arrives in Sunnydale with Spike, they have traveled across the countryside as a couple, murdering helpless victims and laying waste to entire towns. Responsible for siring Spike, Dru becomes his biggest weakness, eventually leaving him in a drunken, despondent state. While not the most ruthless villain on Buffy, Drusilla builds a reputation as being unpredictable due to her broken mind. She remains a presence in Spike’s life, returning in season five to win him back, only to disappear again. Her whereabouts are unknown by the end of the show, but wherever she is, destruction is sure to follow.
Without a doubt one of the most underrated products of the Whedonverse, Dr. Horrible’s three act Internet miniseries is a showcase for Neil Patrick Harris’ superb singing talents and all-around dorkiness. He’s an aspiring supervillain with a superhero nemesis named Captain Hammer that always manages to foil his scheming plots. But for all his wrongdoings, Dr. Horrible is really nothing more than a sympathetic character trying to make it into the Evil League of Evil to impress his crush Penny, the generous caregiver that volunteers at homeless shelters.
As supervillains go, Dr. Horrible falls tragically low on the threatening scale. He’s trumped by the condescending hero, who saves Penny and manages to steal her attention. With some catchy tunes and a voice to match, Dr. Horrible sings of his torment and vows to get vengeance on Captain Hammer while documenting his plans before a camera in his secret lair. Deep down, he cares only to be accepted by the girl of his dreams, but must face the reality that she will likely never fall for him. In the end, he’s left to deal with his circumstances the only way a villain knows how, by trying to take over the world.
The director of the L.A. Dollhouse, Adelle DeWitt is an intensely amoral character who works for the founders of the Rossum Corporation to deliver a service to clients. Erasing the minds of the Dolls and turning them into the people of their clients’ dreams, she believes she’s providing a joy that certain people don’t have. Due to her own loneliness, she uses the pseudonym “Miss Lonelyhearts” to sleep with Victor, one of the active Dolls she helped recruit.
As the head of the L.A. branch, Adelle is responsible for commanding the Dolls’ handlers, who are sent to watch over them should anything go wrong. She’s also put in charge of the organization’s programmers and physician, who make sure the Dolls keep a clean memory when they’re not out on a job. When many of the Dolls begin recalling memories from their previous lives, Adelle starts ignoring protocol to regain balance. Sending people to the Attic to be tortured, she removes herself from any sense of wrongdoing until she realizes Rossum’s own inability to control its mind-wiping technology will likely spell the end of humankind.
For the first two seasons of Angel, Lindsey McDonald served as the sinister lawyer from the evil corporation known as Wolfram & Hart. Powered by greed, he clashed with Angel Investigations as many of his legal representatives crossed paths with the heroes of justice. After a failed incantation leaves Lindsey without his right hand, he becomes even more enraged by the group. In contention with Lilah Morgan for the vice presidency of the company, the two spark a long rivalry until he eventually leaves Los Angeles behind in season two.
Returning for the show’s final season, Lindsey doesn’t take Angel’s new role as CEO of Wolfram & Hart lying down, quickly picking back up his position as a leading antagonist. Covered in runic tattoos so he can’t be detected by the ancient Senior Partners that run the deadly firm, he plots to have Angel killed by the company that employs him. While his plan backfires, he does join forces with the group to take down the Senior Partners, only to be killed by Lorne when Angel assures everyone he cannot be trusted.
Initially a misguided high school mean girl, Cordelia came into her own in season two of Buffy after sparking an unexpected relationship with Xander, bringing her into the fold as a member of the Scooby Gang. When she witnesses her then-boyfriend kissing Willow in the season three episode “Lovers Walk,” she effectively ends the relationship and later moves to Los Angeles post-graduation as an aspiring actress, joining Angel Investigations as a way to try to make some extra cash.
It’s during her time on Angel that Cordelia was given the most depth. Starting things out as the damsel in distress, she develops into a headstrong character capable of holding her own. Unfortunately, she isn’t given the proper send-off she deserves, making her season five ending a bittersweet moment between the character and Angel, who had become a love interest. Her final moments are touching, but far from the final fight the other Angel cast members would receive, making it all the more disheartening to see such an assertive character depart too soon.
A child prodigy capable of clearing a room of armed men by herself, River Tam was the product of years of experimentation which left her with psychic abilities. Brought aboard the Serenity as a means of refuge, she hides from the Alliance with her older brother Simon, a trained surgeon from Osiris who gives up his career to protect her. Perceived as an academic talent, the Alliance began their testing on River as a teenager in hopes of creating the perfect assassin. Now labeled as a fugitive, her and her brother must flee from her captors in order to assure her freedom.
Due to her repeated mistreatment by the Alliance, River’s personality is often perceived as odd. She is quiet and calm, but can also lash out during a mental outbreak, causing her to be quite dangerous to those around her. It’s later explained that her amygdala, the part of the brain which helps filter emotions, was removed during the experiments, meaning only heavy medication can help her keep control. In their crusade to protect her from bounty hunters, she brings the members of Serenity together, finally finding a place she can call home.
Before Willow became one of the most recognizable LGBT characters in television history, she dated a guitar player named Oz. Initially introduced in the season two episode “Inca Mummy Girl,” Oz performed at The Bronze as part of the band Dingoes Ate My Baby, but it wasn’t until he hooked up with Willow that his deeply philosophical outlook and witty quips truly began to shine.
Originally intended to be killed off in season two, Oz would eventually gain enough traction with both the viewers and the writers to stick around for a while in season three. After being bitten by a werewolf in the episode “Phases,” he would depart the show in order to learn how to control his lycanthropy. Although he would return briefly in season four, Willow’s sexual identity had already been firmly established, giving the character little incentive to return as a recurring cast member. Ultimately, his short stint on the show was best remembered for kickstarting Seth Green’s career and giving Willow her first real romance.
Revered as a Robin Hood-like legend by the small town of Canton, Jayne Cobb is anything but the hero the townsfolk make him out to be. He’s a mercenary who lives in a morally gray zone. While he sticks to a certain code of honor -- staying faithful to his employers -- he does so only under the assumption that he will be compensated for a job well done. Appearing brutish and less than sentimental before the crew of the Serenity, he proves to be more emotionally layered than meets the eye, sending much of his earnings from his activities to his mother.
Rarely unnerved by any man or woman, Jayne has a sense of when danger is near. After meeting Captain Malcolm Reynolds while trying to rob him, he takes residence with the crew with the promise of a bunk, some food and a steady income. He demonstrates attachment for everyone on board and grows to show concern for how he is perceived by those he cares about. As quick tempered as he is physically intimidating, he becomes the muscle of Firefly and slowly becomes a trustworthy character despite his checkered past.
Of all the characters of the Whedonverse, none have done more of a complete one-eighty than Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. First introduced in Buffy as a pompous member of the Watchers’ Council intended to take over Giles’ position as guardian to the slayer, Wesley grew into not only a well-groomed fighter but a tragic character whose tough decisions often leave him bereft of joy. Joining the cast of Angel, he proves to be the most competent member of the supernatural detective agency, but it’s his rational thinking that ultimately lands him in the position to be called Whedon’s most vulnerable anti-hero.
In his five seasons on Buffy’s spin-off series, Wesley has a sexual relationship with an amoral lawyer for an ancient demon-owned law firm, kidnaps Angel’s son to prevent a prophecy from coming true, and sees the love of his life die before his eyes. Through the turmoils, he transforms from a cowardly shell of a man into the layered hero who puts the common good before himself. His bravery is on display during his final stand in the Angel series finale, which was enough to convince every viewer just how vital the character had become.
Taking into account how Buffy became the slayer, Faith’s journey to the title is more nontraditional. As the prophecy goes, whoever is chosen as the next slayer shall take on the role only after the previous slayer has died. Following the brief death of Buffy at the end of season one, a new line of slayers is started and Faith eventually picks up the mantle. Things come to a head between the two in the show’s third season when their two clashing personalities show how drastically different a person’s approach to the position can truly be.
With a protective layer of toughness, Faith became the sympathetic villain early on. She was described as the “working class” slayer by actress Eliza Dushku due to her lack of friends. A product of a broken home, she initially perceives Buffy’s life as idyllic before accepting that the role of a slayer can be a burden. She would return to the show for its final season to help activate all of the world’s potential slayers. Through the error of her ways, she grows to be the savior she thought she could never be, making her a worthy hero alongside Sunnydale’s very own blonde-haired heroine.
Given the name The Scourge of Europe by the eighteenth century citizens who feared him, Angel became one of the most notorious vampires in history. Sired in 1753 by his maker Darla, he took on the name of Angelus and wreaked havoc on all those who stood in his way before having his soul returned to his body as a form of punishment in the late 1800s. Since then, he’s lived with the guilt of his actions and has tried to redeem himself by fighting the forces of evil which consume the world.
His path of justice brings him face to face with Buffy, where he wins her over with his brooding nature. Becoming both a love interest and occasional enemy to the slayer, he departs for Los Angeles to start up his own investigation company where he clashes with the demon-owned law firm Wolfram and Hart. His heroics put the well-being of humankind before all else, while his destiny to prevent apocalyptic tragedy continually puts a strain on his desire for a social life. He saves the day time and time again, that is, when his soul isn’t being stolen to release his evil alter-ego onto the world.
An ex vengeance demon with a strong phobia of bunnies, Anya began her life as a human named Aud in a small Scandinavian village before being turned immortal by the supernatural D’Hoffryn. As a demon, Anyanka first appeared in season three of Buffy where she took rightful revenge on all the men who left women scorned. After becoming mortal and joining the Scooby Gang, she became a recurring member in the show’s remaining four seasons.
As Xander’s girlfriend, Anya struggles with her own mortality, eventually taking a job as a cashier at the Magic Box and looking to settle down. Her centuries of experience in demonology made her a suitable successor to Wesley Wyndam-Price after he left the show to join Angel, but her own distaste for research left her knowledge often lacking compared to Giles’ genius-level intellect. With little people skills to speak of, her straightforward and frank comments made her both comic and at times emotionally devastating. Her final story in the show’s series finale made for one of Buffy’s most heartbreaking moments, giving us all the more reason to rank her so highly.
The only married couple on the list, Hoban “Wash” Washburne and Zoe Alleyne Washburne were inseparable on Firefly, and are therefore inseparable on our list. Wash first met Zoe after becoming a renowned pilot raised on a polluted planet where he dreamed of seeing the sky. As Malcolm’s second-in-command on the Serenity, Zoe had fought alongside the ship’s captain during the Unification War, seeing their resistance against the Alliance come to an end at the Battle of Serenity Valley. As a natural leader, Zoe’s commanding attitude clashed with Wash’s child-like personality, but as time wore on, he began to have an effect on her.
Known for her no nonsense approach to danger, Zoe was the opposite of her husband, who thrived the most in panicked situations. Though he kept miniature toy dinosaurs in the ship’s cockpit as a reminder to never take things too seriously, Wash wasn't afraid to step in harm’s way to resolve conflicts. In the movie Serenity, the climactic final chapter to Whedon's story, Wash is killed by a Reaver during an escape, leaving Zoe widowed and devastated. The crew erect a memorial in his honor and the audience is immediately aware just how much the pair completed each other.
Maturity was probably the word furthest from viewers’ minds when they first saw Xander as the comic relief in the first few seasons of Buffy. He was a demon magnet whose own obsession with attractive women did him more harm than good, but he was also good-natured and smarter than people gave him credit for. As an underdog without any powers to speak of, he was able to view himself as a member of the group with something to prove.
In later seasons, when the rest of the gang was attending college, Xander was giving viewers a look at working class society with his alternate career path. He meets his equal in Anya and the two spark a romance that seems destined for a happy ending. Although he was often the subject of mockery in the show, he found himself the most comfortable among the cast as a willful sidekick that would take up arms to defend his friends. His maturity may have been called into question, but there’s no denying he is the type of friend you want by your side when the world comes crumbling down.
A few of the characters on our list have doubled as both villains and heroes, but none were more unpredictable than Willow. In the early seasons of Buffy, her innocent portrayal as the archetypal straight A student made her instantly sympathetic. She wasn’t exactly a part of the in-crowd, but she fit right into place as the girl who just wanted to date a guy and feel like a normal high schooler. Of course, we’d later learn that her own sexual identity may have been much less straightforward than the early seasons suggested.
She would go on to date the rocker-turned-werewolf Oz, before becoming half of a lesbian power couple with Tara Maclay. Somewhere along the way, Buffy’s red-headed best friend loses some of her quirkiness as she becomes the most powerful witch the series has known. She must learn to strike a balance between what she is capable of doing and what she knows is right. When she is stricken with grief following Tara’s death in season six, we witness the extent of her powers, showing just how much of a badass she could be with just a little bit of effort.
Ranking Fred so high on our list feels almost like a cheat. Not only was she one of the kindest and most intellectual characters in Angel, but she also spent some time as an ancient demon named Illyria after her body becomes a host to the character following her death in season five. Although she kicks more ass as the blue-haired, leather-wearing demon, she loses the small town Texas charm that viewers grew accustomed to with Fred.
Winnifred “Fred” Burkle is first introduced to the Angel gang at the end of season two after she's sucked through a wormhole and gets stranded in Lorne’s home world of Pylea. A former UCLA student, her predilection with numbers and knowledge of quantum physics proves useful to Angel Investigations, while her endearing charm makes her an anchor for the group. Later, she sparks a relationship with Wesley, giving her final departure a stab at the top spot for the saddest scene in Whedonverse history.
The captain of the Firefly-class ship known as Serenity, Malcolm Reynolds was written as an nontraditional hero seeking out everything that a typical hero wasn’t known for. His sole mission is to keep his ship flying and his crew alive, though his constant run-ins with various antagonists often prevent him from doing so. As a soldier on the losing side of the Unification War, he fought against the rising powers of the Alliance, resisting the authoritarian government which controls the majority of territories in the far-reaching galaxy.
Retaining his belief in humanity as his only real sense of a moral philosophy, he takes in the gifted River Tam and her brother Simon after the Alliance marks her as a classified weapon. Rebelling against an operative who is sent to secure River, he houses and cares for the brother-sister duo. While he takes whatever odd jobs put food on the table, he isn't against doing the morally correct thing unless he's pissed off, making him one of few men still with a semblance of honor in a future that has long forgotten what it looks like.
With his platinum blonde hair, British accent and bad boy charm, Spike won over viewers as the villain turned good guy in both Buffy and Angel. Born under the name William in Victorian era England, he was given the moniker “William the Bloody” for his habit of writing cheesy poetry. Sired by his on-again, off-again lover Drusilla, he adopts the persona of a punk rocker in his later years, eventually butting heads with Angel when they both battle for Buffy’s affections.
Arriving in Buffy’s second season, Spike begins as the chief antagonist of the series before being reduced to a sobbing drunk after Drusilla leaves him for a Chaos demon. Strongly resembling rock star Billy Idol, he is able to win over the slayer, initiating a violent relationship despite their past run-ins. In the series’ finales for both shows, he puts his life on the line for the greater good, sacrificing his body to prevent apocalyptic chaos from reigning over the world. Growing into a beloved anti-hero, he’s able to tap into his emotions without always having a soul, making him the only such vampire to retain any sense of humanity while still being snide enough to keep his evil image.
The blonde school girl who started it all, Buffy Summers isn’t only one of the most recognizable female characters of all time, she happens to be the biggest badass Joss Whedon ever created. Originally conceived as a way to subvert the stereotype of the blonde female victim in horror movies, Buffy began her career in the 1992 film Buffy the Vampire Slayer with actress Kristy Swanson in the role. The movie would prove to be a misfire, which Whedon would acknowledge in interviews when he expressed disappointment in the interpretation of the character.
In 1997, Whedon would get another crack at bringing his vision to life, this time with Sarah Michelle Gellar in the lead role and a new story written for the small screen. The second time proved to be the charm as a typical high school girl answered the call, becoming the savior of Sunnydale and preventing the Hellmouth from destroying everything around it. Beyond being a role model for women and men alike, Buffy was open-minded and loyal to her friends. And though she wasn’t always perfect, she learned to fit the role of the hero with the help of her supporting cast. She became the ultimate Whedon character, and it's hard to imagine anyone ever taking her crown.
Which Whedonverse character was your favorite? Let us know in the comments.