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The 15 Best TV Characters of 2021

From an anime villain to a mafioso to a pair of billionaires with outsize personalities, these characters were the most memorable — and most memed — of the year.
Best Tv Characters
By  · Published on January 8th, 2022

This article is part of our 2021 RewindFollow along as we explore the best and most interesting movies, shows, performances, and more from this very strange year. In this entry, we explore the best TV characters of 2021.

It’s hard to imagine that anything could be definitive after yet another year when nothing felt certain, but this list  — encompassing animated, live-action, prestige, and international television series —  really is. The TV landscape in 2021 was as broad and chaotic as the rest of the year, but amidst that noise, we were introduced to several unforgettable new characters and gifted memorable performances from returning favorites.

From an anime villain to a mafioso to a pair of billionaires with outsize personalities, these 15 TV characters were the most talked about, memed, and think-pieced of 2021. This year would truly not have been the same without them.

15. Ghost Tour Attendee

Tim Robinson Ghost Tour

Show: I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson
Performer: Tim Robinson

It’s not the best sketch from I Think You Should Leave Season 2 — that honor of course goes to the instant classic “Coffin Flop” — but the “Ghost Tour” has one of the most memorable characters in the whole series. In it, a ghost tour attendee becomes the ideal avatar for Tim Robinson’s cringe comedy. The unnamed man takes things too far after hearing the tour guide say that attendees can “say whatever the hell you want” after hours. While most other attendees meet this with a giggle, Robinson’s character barely lets him finish his sentence before blurting out “jizz.”

The mood changes. Robinson’s ghost tour attendee continues to take undue license and begins spewing X-rated expletives at the crowd as if possessed by a raunchy spirit. The tour guide attempts to get past it and pursue the tour as planned, but the guy is relentless. By the end, he is in actual tears trying to get out his final wildly crude question, genuinely confused by the animosity he’s facing from other attendees. And the audience is in stitches.

14. Amina Hussain

We Are Lady Parts Amina

Show: We Are Lady Parts
Performer: Anjana Vasan

We Are Lady Parts is a sweet six-episode British comedy from Nida Manzoor. It revolves around Amina Hussain (Anjana Vasan), a guitarist and microbiology Ph.D. student who loves to play music but suffers from stage fright. She has abandoned any dream of performing and is resigned to teaching young students how to play guitar until one day an all-female Muslim punk band suddenly recruits her.

Vasan’s expressive doe-eyed acting perfectly complements Manzoor’s writing. She’s desperately romantic but unlucky-in-love, sometimes at a loss for words, sometimes word-vomiting over others. And, thanks to her charmingly melodramatic voice-over narration, she is able to tap into the kind of lovable awkwardness that made Bridget Jones such a charismatic heroine.

In the series, Amina’s rich persona is brought to life with cinematic daydreams, like a whimsical fantasy sequence of her flirting with her crush that is rendered as a black and white Old Hollywood tribute — era-specific clipped speech included. Also, she absolutely shreds on guitar. There’s no one else like her on TV.

13. T’Challa as Star-Lord

Tchalla As Star Lord

Show: What If…?
Performer: Chadwick Boseman

With the episode “What If… T’Challa Became a Star-Lord,” we get an alternate version of Chadwick Boseman as Marvel’s T’Challa. In this timeline, he becomes Star-Lord, leader of the Guardians of the Galaxy, instead of Black Panther. This short “what if” tale, which features the late actor’s final performance in the Marvel Cinematic Univers (and last-released project overall), showcases what a unique character T’Challa is. Even when given a different backstory, his heart, integrity, and compassion shine through and imbue Star-Lord with a bigger purpose.

He has neither the power of the Black Panther nor the demigod energy Peter Quill inherited from his dad, but his Star-Lord is a hero nonetheless because T’Challa was born to be one. He uses his skills for noble causes rather than opportunistic heists like Peter. Instead of being hellbent on changing the world, he’s hellbent on changing the galaxy. And apparently, he would’ve been successful, as What If…? shows T’Challa as Star-Lord could’ve talked Thanos out of the snap. “Sometimes the best weapon in your arsenal is just a good argument,” he says humbly to the would-be villain.

“You’re one bright burning light in a night sky of billions,” his father says to him via message in one touching scene. Too true.

12. Tomura Shigaraki

Shigaraki My Hero Academia

Show: My Hero Academia
Performer: Koki Uchiyama (Japanese version), Eric Vale (English version)

For its fifth season, the popular anime My Hero Academia did a villain-centric arc: My Villain Academia. One of the show’s antagonists, Tomura Shigaraki, levels up and becomes a true force to be reckoned with. His quirk (the show’s term for a character’s ability) of decay has always been powerful but many other villains with better organization and a better handle on their power were always greater threats to the show’s heroes. This arc proved why Tomura is not to be taken lightly.

Over the course of a few episodes, the show shifts away from its main heroes to present Tomura’s backstory (tragic, of course), dive deeper into his relationship with his crew, and reveal him leveling up his fight skills in one-on-one battles — with beautiful animation and artfully censored gore — until he becomes the commander of the Paranormal Liberation Front by season’s end.

Though he’s been part of the show for a while, this was the year Tomura Shigaraki became truly undeniable as a strategist, leader, and foe. It is a risk to pull focus from protagonists as beloved as the heroes in class 1-A whom viewers typically tune into My Hero Academia for, but this arc proves Tomura can be just as compelling to watch.

11. Oliver Putnam

Only Murders In The Building Martin Short

Show: Only Murders in the Building
Performer: Martin Short

Hulu’s crime comedy Only Murders in the Building was one of the best surprises on TV this year. While Martin Short and Steve Martin are a tried and tested comedy duo, it was unclear how they would pair with former Disney star Selena Gomez. Any concerns were done away with when, in the first episode, it was clear the chemistry was magic.

Of the three, though, Martin Short shines brightest as a hammy short-on-money Broadway producer who gets the trio to start a true-crime podcast to solve the murder of one of their Upper West Side building’s residents. The actor plays Oliver Putnam as harried, self-serving, and quippy. Every line delivery — the threats he mutters under his breath, his cutting evaluation of Steve Martin’s podcast voice (“you need acoustics”) —  is golden.

Oliver loves drama, prefers dips like hummus over real food, walks his dog in a stroller, and has the kind of shamelessness that makes him a poor business partner but a hilarious character. At an all-building meeting about the murder victim, they run into a crying tenant and Oliver matter-of-factly asks, “Do you consent to being recorded? Just say anything to agree.” “No, please,” the tenant says through tears. “Perfect, thank you.”

Explore more of the best TV characters of 2021 on the next page…

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Naomi Elias is a contributor at Film School Rejects. Her work has also appeared on IGN, Pajiba, Nylon, and Syfy Wire. You can follow her on Twitter here: @naomi_elias (she/her)