The manga universe is full of notable personalities: protagonists and antagonists who have changed both their readers and pop culture itself.

What’s remarkable about these iconic figures is that they not only represent their story but fundamental Japanese culture.

Manga readership is not just a Japanese phenomenon; this exquisite art form has quietly taken over the world. Every day sees initiates to the genre grow ever more hungry for the next story, the next instalment... and even the next merchandising gimmick.

Have you been looking for your chance to immerse yourself into the fantastic world of manga and anime – what is also known as Japanese animation?

If so, you’re in luck!

Your Superprof now details the top manga characters as chosen by manga readers, according to the most popular manga of all time.

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Dragon Ball: Son Goku

Manga artist Akira Toriyama has a distinctive style that fans of his work immediately recognise.

The enormously popular Dragon Ball (Shonen Jump, 1984 to 1995) has garnered such a loyal following that several spinoffs have since been created.

Those titles are Dragon Ball Z and Dragon Ball Super; anime series include Dragon Ball GT and Dragon Ball Kai, which is truer to the original manga storyline.

The story starts in Son Goku’s boyhood and follows him as he grows into manhood, learning martial arts and saving the world a time or two.

Monkey D. Luffy: Future King of Pirates

The manga One Piece holds the record for most copies sold. That suggests that its reading community is substantial – that is probably the reason why there are more than 90 volumes: nobody wants the story to end!

As a boy, this protagonist ate a Devil Fruit, resulting in his body becoming elastic.

This serves him well on his quest to find the treasure that will make him the King of the Pirates... but it prevents him from being able to swim!

What kind of pirate can’t swim???

The sheer longevity of this saga demands that it be broken down into several story arcs.

You might consider broaching this series when you have about two weeks off work; its capacity to draw readers in fairly guarantees that you will be utterly consumed once you start.

You won’t want to stop until you’ve read all 939 chapters or watched every one of the 883 anime episodes!

Other manga stories have enjoyed a long life; discover the most popular mangas of all time!

When you read Death Note, focus more on L than any other character
Compared to the enigmatic L, Death Note's antagonist's moves are mundane Source: Kana

The Enigma that is L

Japanese comics are not all kawaii (cute) and romantic.

For all that the Japanese adore kawaii, this art form known as manga spans many genres: horror, fantasy... and some manga even includes pornographic elements!

Death Note has gained a near-cult status for its dark themes and intrigue but the focus of our thesis is not the antihero Si Light Yagami, who attempts to create Utopia by eliminating everyone he believes is morally deficient.

Our focus is on the mysterious detective who shadows him.

L, as he is known, has a shady past that he cleverly wraps in ploys and schemes designed to trip up his adversary. Their cat and mouse game, the backbone of the series, will keep you on the edge of your seat!

For a relatively short series – only 12 volumes, we have to say that Shueisha, the publisher of Shonen manga, hit the nail on the head. It has spawned a light novel based on the anime series, four live-action films and two mini-series.

Are you ready for a bit of psychological terror?

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Sailor Moon: A Classic Struggle with a Twist

One of the most popular Shojo manga series, Sailor Moon is replete with ‘cute’ as well as controversy.

For a story supposedly marketed to adolescent girls, its themes of violence, nudity and even racy references to homosexuality all put it on the edge of acceptable reading for that demographic. Granted, that was 20 years ago...

But that’s not the twist we’re referring to in the segment title.

Contrary to superhero stories that seem to trivialise female protagonists (Capt. America v. Ms America; Superman v. Supergirl...) Sailor Moon leads the pack in her search for a magical artefact.

For a perfect blending of kawaii and courage, guts in battle and good at friendship, please disregard the fact that this story was meant to appeal to a certain segment of the population that you may or may not belong to.

The 18 volumes that this story comprises will convince you that there is no such thing as a target audience when it comes to this manga!

This would be a great manga to help you learn Japanese!

Edward Elric: Dutiful Vengeance

Fact: for centuries, alchemists have attempted to turn a variety of substances into gold.

Hiromu Arakawa may be the ultimate alchemist: he managed to turn his drawings into a top-tier product coveted by all!

Fullmetal Alchemist gives a philosophical perspective into what it means to be human and the fact that one cannot reap fantastic gains without losing a bit of oneself in the process.

To wit, Edward Elric and his brother, having lost their mother to the plague, ignore the fundamental law of alchemy in attempting to bring her back. As a result, Edward loses an arm and a leg while his brother is reduced to a spirit – which Edward hastily contains in armour.

The series follows Edward’s adventures, first in being fitted with metal limbs to replace the ones he lost, and then in recovering the philosopher’s stone so that he may restore his brother.

Lessons learned painlessly have no real value – Edward Elric

Seldom have wiser words been spoken but we can assure you that you will not suffer in partaking of this tale... unless you stay up all night to read it!

Naruto has long been a crowd pleaser
Of all the manga out there, Naruto is particularly favoured Source: Le Journal CNRS

Naruto: The Ninja of Renown

So popular is Naruto that these manga books hardly need an introduction.

The deceptively simplistic artwork conceals the passionate, far-reaching storytelling capabilities of Mashashi Kishimoto, the work’s creator.

A total of 500 episodes and 66 story arcs does make for proficiency, don’t you think?

More than anything, Naruto is a tale of passion: the protagonist’s affection for Sakura and rivalry against Sasuke, poignant moments that take us to the depths of sadness or, conversely, tickle our funny bones in such a way that we erupt into laughter...

Truly a gem of the genre.

Saitama: The Bored Superhero

Not so long ago, this character would have been overlooked in favour of the protagonist from Bleach... maybe, or Captain Tsubasa.

However, when One Punch Man went viral in June 2012, Saitama swept to the forefront of the anime and manga ‘top character’ list.

Did you know you could read manga online? Participate in polls that decide the most popular characters and stories?

Saitama trained like a devil until he became the strongest superhero. Still, he remained unclassed: how do you group someone who can knock even the mightiest, most cunning enemy out with a single punch?

He soon grows bored with his talent, longing for foes who can put up more of a fight.

Some of the themes in this manga indicate that it is meant for slightly older audiences; maybe young adults rather than primarily adolescent boys.

Besides, younger readers might miss out on the gut-busting humour woven throughout the story: that is actually what makes this tragi-comedy a knockout hit!

Curious? Interested? Discover how you too could join the legions who enjoy reading manga...

The History of Manga: Astro Boy

The history of manga is said to date back to the 12th century.

You may be surprised to learn that this art form has entertained for generations – centuries, in fact.

Kibiyoshi, what many consider to be the first adult comic book, were being printed as early at 1775... but, just because Osamu Tezuka is considered the grandfather of manga, it doesn’t mean he is centuries old!

Astro Boy is indeed one of the world’s oldest manga; since its debut in 1952, it has been instrumental in shaping Japanese pop culture.

You might think of Astro Boy as a futuristic Pinocchio.

As the story goes, Dr Tenna created this robot to replace the son he lost. Just like the wooden boy we're familiar with, Astro soon discovers he possesses certain powers that enable him to make the world a better place.

Have you already met the little robot who fights to keep the peace between man and machine?

Have you been to the library yet?
No manga has driven people to the library like Saint Seiya has! Source: Toei Animation

Saint Seiya: a Knight of the Zodiac

Yes, it takes fully 28 volumes of original work to lead us to the discovery of the horsemen who serve Athena and their combat against the king of Hell himself.

Seiya prepared well for his adventure, spending years in Greece, training.

Finally permitted to join the legions of knights serving Saori, the reincarnation of Athena; goddess of wisdom and war, various battles test his and other knights’ powers and magic capabilities to their limit. Those weapons include:

  • The Pegasus Meteor
    • also the Pegasus Sonic Meteor, the Pegasus Comet and the Pegasus Tempest
  • The arrow of Sagittarius
  • The Cosmic Arrow
  • Atomic Lightning

In the same vein as Son Goku of Dragon Ball, Seiya is a cult personality that appeals to children (or the child in all of us!) because of his wistful longing for the family he never knew as well as his fervent desire to do good.

Notably, this manga series has had the curious effect of driving fans of all ages to brush up on their Greek mythology so that they can better grasp the storyline.

That makes Seiya a superhero in our book!

Yugi Muto: The King of Games

If this name tickles your memory but you can’t quite dredge up any associations to it, maybe this quote could help:

Get your game on! - Jaden Yuki

Did you guess Yu gi oh!?

Yugi Muto is a student who would sacrifice his school experience for a game – and we thought it was only human children who only wanted to play games all day...

One day, Yugi’s grandfather gives him an ancient puzzle. While solving it, the spirit of a long-dead pharaoh possesses him. Soon, Yugi is able to defeat all of his foes.

With his punk hairstyle and personality switches the call forth questions of schizophrenia, Yugi is a character that will stay with you – whether you read the manga, watch the anime or get into the spirited card game with your mates.

Clearly, this list is non-exhaustive – but then, how could anyone create a list of the best manga characters that isn’t reams of paper long?

We hope to have clued you into some manga or anime that you’ve not yet explored... if not, you can learn more about this engaging art form.

To that end, you may also want to check out some of these characters:

Character NameManga
Light YagamiDeath Note
Sasuke UchiwaNaruto
Ichigo KurosakiBleach
Natsu DragneelFairy Tail
VegetaDragon Ball
Itachi UchiwaNaruto
Erza ScarlettFairy Tail
Allen WalkerD. Gray-Man
Kuroko TetsuyaKuroko's Basketball
Kenshin HimuraRouroni Kenshin
Nicky LarsonCity Hunter
TrunksDragon Ball
NamiOne Piece
Eren YeagerAttack on Titan

Do you have a particular manga hero? Why not let us know in the comments?

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