Despite the increasingly contentious environment in the entertainment business, Netflix remains near the top of the food chain. The service that first launched the streaming craze in the mid-2010s has solidified its leadership, even as many of its competitors struggle to stay afloat.
Netflix’s library of original shows is remarkably strong, including critically-acclaimed and viewership juggernauts like The Crown, Stranger Things, and Squid Game. These series became international hits thanks to their collection of strong and memorable characters, many of which became instant icons of modern television. From lead figures to supporting players, heroes and villains alike, these characters are the main reasons behind Netflix’s success and superstars of the streaming world.
15 Lucifer Morningstar (Tom Ellis) – ‘Lucifer’ (2016-2021)
Based on the now-iconic DC character introduced in Neil Geiman‘s The Sandman, Lucifer stars Tom Ellis as the titular character (a role he originated on network TV). The show follows Lucifer as he abandons hell and moves to Los Angeles, where he runs a nightclub and becomes a consultant for the Los Angeles Police Department.
Ellis is devastatingly charming as the Lord of Hell. In his hands, Lucifer Morningstar is a creature of pure desire: lustful, daring, and nearly irresistible. Outgoing and instantly likable, Lucifer is among the best adaptations of any DC character, successfully reinventing him for a modern audience while remaining close enough to the source material to not alienate loyal fans.
14 Matt Murdock/Daredevil (Charlie Cox) – ‘Daredevil’ (2015-2018)
The 2010s exploded with superhero content, but only a few projects stood out in the overly competitive market. Netflix’s Daredevil was one such project, with Charlie Cox starring as Matt Murdock, a blind lawyer with heightened senses and expertise in combat who fights crime as a nocturnal vigilante.
Cox perfectly embodies Murdock’s contradictions, playing the righteous Murdock by day and shining as the brutal Daredevil by night. Unlike other Marvel superheroes, Cox’s Daredevil lived up to his name; violent, relentless, and unforgiving, the Man Without Fear was grounded by faith, adding yet another layer to his already rich and intricate characterization.
13 Number Five (Aidan Gallagher) – ‘The Umbrella Academy (2019-)
The Umbrella Academy is among Netflix’s most interesting and ambitious efforts. Based on the eponymous comic book series, the show revolves around a dysfunctional family of estranged superpowered adoptive siblings. Reuniting after years, the group must investigate their father’s death and stop an impending apocalypse.
The show juggles an impressive cast, although Aidan Gallagher is undeniably the standout. An adult trapped in an adolescent’s body due to some time-traveling shenanigans, Number Five is a captivating creation that commands and steals every scene he’s in. Gallagher has the herculean task of playing a figure wise beyond his years without succumbing to tired clichés. He excels by leaning on Five’s gonzo traits, crafting a suitably wacky characterization that perfectly fits the show’s unique world.
12 Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren (Uzo Aduba) – ‘Orange Is The New Black (2013-2019)
Arguably the show that put Netflix on the map, Orange is the New Black draws from Piper Kerman’s memoir to deliver an acidic and darkly-comedic dramedy. The show follows Piper Chapman, a 33-year-old woman sentenced to serve 15 months at a minimum security prison. The plot chronicles her experiences with the erratic characters she meets inside, including the scene-stealing force of nature, Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren.
Played by the marvelous Uzo Aduba, Crazy Eyes lives up to her name and reputation. Bright but volatile and socially awkward, Crazy Eyes struggles with her mental health, resulting in a discomforting but captivating character unlike any other in television. Aduba remains the only performer to win Emmys in the Comedy and Drama categories for the same role in the same show, a testament to her timeless brilliance.
11 Maeve Wiley (Emma Mackey) – ‘Sex Education’ (2019-)
The raunchy comedy Sex Education is among the best teen originals on Netflix. The plot follows Otis Millburn, an awkward teenager who begins a sex advice clinic in his high school, aided by Maeve Wiley, a clever outsider with a divisive reputation.
Emma Mackey became an instant star thanks to her portrayal of Maeve. Acidic and intelligent but warm and easy to root for, Maeve is one of television’s most refreshing teen characters. Mackey is a spitfire in the role, expertly blending brazenness and wit with vulnerability and honesty. It’s not an easy trick to pull off, yet Mackey makes it look easy, becoming the show’s breakout character.
10 Seong Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae) – ‘Squid Game’ (2021-)
Netflix’s unexpected 2021 hit Squid Game took the world by storm. The South Korean survival thriller follows a group of financially-distressed individuals who agree to compete in a dangerous event made from deadly children’s games. Lee Jung-jae stars as Seong Gi-hun, a gambling addict competing to pay his debts and win shared custody of his daughter.
Lee gives a harrowing but understated performance in the show, portraying the character’s horrific struggles with raw intensity. However, the actor keeps Lee grounded, turning him into the audience’s eyes within the games. Lee won the Emmy Award for his work in Squid Game, becoming the first Asian actor to win the accolade in the ceremony’s 75-year history.
9 Wednesday Addams (Jenna Ortega) – ‘Wednesday’ (2022-)
The Addams Family is a prominent part of pop culture. However, the 2022 show Wednesday redefined the iconic Wednesday Addams for a new generation. Modern scream queen Jenna Ortega plays the macabre character, with the show following her into a prestigious private school for supernatural beings, where she becomes involved in a dangerous mystery.
Wednesday is an uneven and often silly show held together by Ortega’s outstanding performance. The actress is the pillar that holds the entire thing, delivering a dry yet engaging interpretation that makes the character irresistible. Ortega creates a new heroine for Gen Z, and while Addams purists might take issue with the show, no one can argue against Ortega’s stellar work.
8 Titus Andromedon (Tituss Burgess) – ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ (2015-2020)
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt stars Ellie Kemper as the titular character, a young woman who escapes a cult after 15 years and begins a new life in New York City. Kimmy then meets struggling and over-the-top actor Titus Andromedon, becoming her roommate and close friend.
The underrated Tituss Burgess plays Titus Andromedon, stealing every scene he’s in and delivering one of the best and wildest comedic performances of the 2010s. Titus is a true icon; what Burgess does is nothing short of masterful, playing up Titus’ larger-than-life qualities without reducing the character to a caricature. Titus Andromedon is a work of comedic genius, and Burgess deserves all the flowers he deservedly received for his hysterical performance.
7 Jim Hopper (David Harbour) – ‘Stranger Things’ (2016-)
Stranger Things has a large and delightful collection of memorable and popular characters, but few are better than the reliable and inspiring Jim Hopper. Played by David Harbour, Jim is Hawkins’ chief of police. Initially a chainsmoking and detached alcoholic, Jim becomes heavily involved in the town’s supernatural battle through his relationships with Joyce Byers and Eleven.
Harbour’s performance has been critically acclaimed, with the actor receiving two Emmy nominations for the beloved role. Jim is one of Stranger Things‘ pillars: strong, reliable, and supportive, he grounds the narrative and provides stability when it threatens to descend into the Upside Down’s chaos. Jim’s character has a rough time in season 3 but earns his much-needed redemption in season 4, confirming himself as one of the show’s best figures.
6 Geralt Of Rivia (Henry Cavill) – ‘The Witcher (2019-)
It’s not an overstatement to say Geralt of Rivia is the role Henry Cavill was born to play. The White Wolf is known across the Continent for his skill in battle and supposed cruelty. However, Geralt is as neutral as they come, avoiding politics and controversies and leading a solitary existence – until fate intervenes.
The Witcher lives and dies with Cavill’s Geralt. The actor is brilliant in what could easily be an off-putting role; after all, Geralt is stoic, grumpy, almost expressionless, and notoriously distant. However, Cavill keeps Geralt grounded and accessible, if not necessarily relatable. The Witcher has many great characters, but Geralt is the undeniable star, a fascinating and complicated figure that proves Cavill has more versatility than he’s often given credit for.
5 Marty & Wendy Byrde (Jason Bateman & Laura Linney) – ‘Ozark’ (2017-2022)
The crime drama Ozark is among Netflix’s most intense and acclaimed shows. Jason Bateman and Laura Linney star as Marty and Wendy Byrde, a married couple who become money launderers for a Mexican drug cartel after moving to the Lake of Ozarks.
Bateman and Linney deliver career-best performances as the increasingly ruthless Byrdes. The acclaimed actors portray a harrowing version of the American Dream’s corruption, crafting two devastating and reprehensible yet magnetic portrayals that rank among the finest in Netflix’s library. Ozark is a cruel and twisted story about ambition and power, with Bateman and Linney as its rotten and unrelenting core.
4 Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) – ‘Stranger Things’ (2016-Present)
Stranger Things might have many fan-favorite and critically-acclaimed characters, but Eleven remains the undeniable star. Played by Millie Bobby Brown, Eleven is introduced as a girl with psychokinetic and telepathic abilities who underwent considerable experiments after being separated from her mother.
Eleven’s character journey is among the best and most fully-realized in Stranger Things. Brown was a revelation, playing Eleven’s intricacies with admirable honesty. The actress embodied Eleven’s might while presenting her as a child looking for affection, thus grounding her in a deeply humane story despite the supernatural antics surrounding her. Eleven is the show’s breakout character, an instantly-iconic figure who became synonymous with Netflix and a prominent part of modern pop culture.
3 Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy) – ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ (2020)
Anya Taylor-Joy rose to international prominence and acclaim thanks to her lead performance in the 2020 Netflix miniseries The Queen’s Gambit. The show follows Beth Harmon, a chess prodigy who must battle her numerous inner demons and addictions on her way to the top.
The Queen’s Gambit is among Netflix’s most acclaimed efforts, largely thanks to Anya Taylor-Joy’s superb performance. The actress is spectacular as the tortured and struggling Beth, portraying the character’s fight with addiction with an earnest and compelling intensity that goes beyond her years. The actress received universal acclaim, winning the Golden Globe and SAG Award for her performance and cementing Beth as one of Netflix’s undisputed icons.
2 Queen Elizabeth II (Claire Foy, Olivia Colman, & Imelda Staunton) – ‘The Crown’ (2016-Present)
The Crown is Netflix’s critical darling, earning countless nominations and wins from numerous awards organizations. The show’s portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II has been lauded as fascinating and nuanced, peeling the layers behind one of modern history’s most elusive figures and revealing the substance within.
Three actresses have played the Queen throughout the show – Claire Foy, Olivia Colman, and Imelda Staunton. Each has brought something unique to the role, modulating their performances to fit each stage of the monarch’s life. The Crown‘s unique storytelling approach has allowed for a comprehensive portrayal of the Queen, creating a riveting portrayal that expertly walks the line between prestige drama and soapy entertainment.
1 BoJack Horseman (Will Arnett) – ‘BoJack Horseman’ (2014-2020)
The adult animated sitcom BoJack Horseman is a modern television classic. The familiar but underrated Will Arnett voices the titular character, an anthropomorphic horse and former sitcom star trying to stage a comeback in an increasingly changing world while struggling with his deteriorating mental health.
Bleak, subversive, and darkly humorous, BoJack Horseman is a modern masterpiece, with Arnett’s performance as its compelling center. BoJack is a tragic and fascinating character, with the show presenting a nuanced depiction of trauma and addiction. BoJack is an inspired and thought-provoking representation of the human condition and one of the all-time great characters whose influence will forever remain part of Netflix’s history.