While Yu-Gi-Oh's appeal mainly centers around the dueling aspect, the characters also don't hold back in terms of complexity and holistic development across the various seasons that have sprung up over the years.
From Seto Kaiba's slow-burn redemption throughout the original Yu-Gi-Oh!, GX's Jaden's plunge into darkness, to 5D's Yusei's rise from poverty to dueling champion, the entirety of Yu-Gi-Oh! has some well rounded characters and rather formidable duelists. It's enough to fill numerous articles from each era, though this one will focus largely on the original through 5D's.
Note: This article contains Yu-Gi-Oh! media spoilers ranging from the first to the fifth generation. It also includes the author's personal opinion.
10 of the best Yu-Gi-Oh! characters, ranked by dueling and writing strength
10) Teá Gardner
Teá Gardner isn't a weak character at all, in fact, her growth is probably one of the more understated parts of the original Yu-Gi-Oh! She's just outdone by several other characters that came after her.
As an aspiring dancer and part-time waitress at the beginning of the manga, Teá starts out lively, tomboyish, and outspoken when the anime begins. Throughout, she seamlessly settles into the Team Mom role, assisting her friends by being the voice of reason and keeping everyone (particularly Joey and Tristan) in line.
Her dueling prowess improve throughout the series, from being able to beat Joey five times in a row to standing up against more competent duelists such as Mai Valentine and Crump of the Big Five.
Taking all of these into account, Teá rivals Mokuba Kaiba in terms of the number of times they are kidnapped, possessed, or held hostage. She also helped Yugi get out of a depressive spiral throughout the series, and also played a crucial role in keeping everyone's heads and hearts up, otherwise the heroes would've lost due to the villains' mind games.
9) Bakura/Yami Bakura
The original true Yu-Gi-Oh! villain is a lot like Akechi from Persona 5 or Adachi from Persona 4, deceptive and sneakily nice. Unfortunately, Ryo Bakura is unaware of his evil counterpart half the time since he's a lonely kid that lost his sister in a car crash, and his father was too busy for him and the spirit of the ring causes him to black out when he possesses Bakura.
Ryo's evil counterpart (Yami Bakura) is a vengeful spirit inhabiting the Millennium Ring, whose people were slaughtered by Atem's grandfather in ancient Egyptian times. Yami Bakura often manifests unwillingly and unknowingly.
As a result, Yami Bakura is always playing the long game to gain all the Millennium items and unleash his dark master Zorc to wreak vengeance on Atem.
While Yami Bakura easily steals the Eye from Maximillion Pegasus shortly after his combat with Yugi (leading in Pegasus' death in the manga), his attempt to retrieve the Rod nearly kills him. Yami Bakura completely underestimates Yugi and his allies and meets his demise at their hands, freeing Ryo Bakura from his control.
8) Jack Atlas
Jack Atlas has been compared to Seto Kaiba because of his arrogance and manipulative attitude. The analogies end when Jack confesses that his emotional state becomes more volatile as Yu-Gi-Oh 5D's progresses, similar to shonen competitor Bakugo from My Hero Academia.
When he started out as King of Turbo Duels, he was a showman, always putting himself in deliberate corners to crush his opponent by the end. Jack started out as an orphan and leader of the Enforcers gang, who took over the Satellite.
Jack's dreams of power and fame led to him stealing Yusei's Duel Runner and Stardust Dragon card and making a break for the big city.
Following a grand loss to Yusei, Jack Atlas fought for everyone's sake alongside Yusei in several instances. While this may not have always come across, especially in the English Dub of Yu-Gi-Oh 5D's, Jack didn't hesitate to help during the Dark Signers arc, and even afterward he's still looked upon favorably even if he still wants to beat Yusei eight years after the events of the anime.
7) Alexis Rhodes
Alexis Rhodes from Yu-Gi-Oh GX is rather unlike her fellow Obselisk Blue members. Whereas everyone else in the Obelisk Blue section of the duel academy is arrogant about their dueling prowess, Alexis is more soft-spoken, polite, and sharp as a tack when it comes to dueling. She's one of the top seven duelists and keeps advancing as Yu-Gi-Oh GX progresses.
Alexis serves as a deconstruction of the fanservice character. Specifically, her main motivation is that she's incredibly annoyed that everyone only focuses on her looks and assumes she only got into Obelisk Blue because of them. Alexis would rather be renowned for her duel skills.
She gets her wish as the series goes on, and doesn't end up with anyone by the end since she has no interest in relationships.
By the end of the Yu-Gi-Oh GX anime, she's off to become a teacher in America. She delivers a goodbye speech at graduation, stating that no obstacle is too great if you keep moving forward with friends by your side. This was key to her arc, as she pushed herself too far at times and needed her friend's aid more than once.
6) Joey Wheeler
Yugi's best friend in the original Yu-Gi-Oh deserves a spot for continuing to improve despite setbacks shoving him down. Joey Wheeler starts off as a bully from a broken family living with an alcoholic father while his sick sister lives with his mother. After being cruel to Yugi, things began to change when Yugi suffered a beating meant for Joey.
Joey helped Yugi finish the Puzzle by diving into the school pool to grab the last piece. Once Atem was unleashed, and helped them both with their mutual tormentors, Yugi and Joey became friends. Joey became a more competent duelist, winning victories over Bandit Keith, Rex Raptor, and Mai Valentine in Duelist Kingdom and also withstood an attack from the legendary Winged Dragon of Ra which injured the supposedly unbeatable Yami Marik.
Joey's family means a lot to him, seeing as he practically snuck in to Duelist Kingdom to gain the 3 million dollar prize to help his sister Serenity Wheeler get an eye operation to avoid blindness.
Joey's the literal embodiment of the underdog in every sense of the word. He's always third best in almost everything because Yugi and Kaiba outperform him, especially in dueling, yet he never lets it bother him. Joey's finest moments were him and Tristan rescuing Yugi from a burning building, saving Mai by giving up his soul, defeating third in command of Doma Malon, and helping Yugi out of a depressive spiral by punching him in the face.
5) Akiza Izinski
Akiza Izinski was a girl living in Neo Domino City in Yu-Gi-Oh 5D's who manifested psychic powers when she was a child. After accidentally harming her father with them, Akiza was isolated from other kids due to being unable to control her psychic summoning monster powers. She believed herself to be a monster for a long time, especially after several incidents in the Duel Academy.
After witnessing her parents' blissful lives without her, Akiza broke down and destroyed their home. Believing she didn't belong anywhere, she drifted through several underground duel rings and eventually created the "Black Rose" persona to terrorize others. Her life took a turn when she was adopted by the Arcadia Movement, but they were just using her for her abilities.
It took dueling Yusei Fudo twice, the loss of the manipulative leader of the Arcadia Movement, and the near death of her parents after Akiza awoke from a coma for her to finally be helped properly.
Without a doubt, Akiza is one of the most beloved female duelists and characters from the first three series.Her tragic backstory, Black Rose Dragon going up against Yusei's Stardust Dragon evenly, and her character arc really resonated with viewers. Her journey continues with her offering assistance to the others in Team 5D and her powers becoming more under control as the series proceeds, and her relationship with Yusei is one of two people healing each other.
4) Seto Kaiba
Seto Kaiba is the owner of the Kaiba Corporation, a large gaming and entertainment corporation in the world of Yu-Gi-Oh! His prominence as one of Yu-Gi-Oh's most iconic rival characters is so well-known that he can be found almost everywhere Yu-Gi-Oh is marketed.
Gozaburo Kaiba, Seto's adoptive father is to blame for the latter's arrogance, sarcasm, and planetary giant ego, which makes Vegeta from Dragon Ball Z look meek in contrast. Seto was constantly isolated from Mokuba, forced to study until he collapsed and all fun things hidden away or otherwise broken except his Duel Monsters deck which Mokuba hid.
After a hostile takeover that saw Gozaburo supposedly kill himself, Seto turned Kaiba Corp from a weapons manufacturing business to a gaming business with top-of-the-line holograms and VR.
Seto's gradual transformation into a somewhat better person is a key feature for shonen anime rivals. Kaiba, also known worldwide for being a Grand Champion of Duel Monsters, is a dragon deck expert and was able to use Obelisk the Tormentor without difficulty. He also assisted in the defeat of his father when he awoke in a virtual world, and even attempted to share some cards with Yugi for the latter's last showdown against Atem.
3) Yusei Fudo
The world of Yu-Gi-Oh 5D's differs greatly from that of GX's dueling academy or the original's version of Japan. Yu-Gi-Oh 5D's has a more dystopian setting, with the world divided into Neo Domino City's wealthy upper crust and the Satelitte slums, where all the "trash" goes. Yusei Fudo, the main character, spent much of his life in the slums.
That all changed when his former friend Jack Atlas stole his Stardust Dragon, stole his Duel Runner, and the gang he briefly belonged to went their separate ways.
After building a new Duel Runner and escaping to New Domino city, Yusei's life changed when he learned about his legendary Crimson Dragon birthmark.
Yusei would go on to wield the entire might of the Crimson Dragon to stop dark cults from further destroying the planet, secret societies from ruling it, and even time traveling beings from altering well over 200 years of history. Yusei went from using synchro cards he found in the trash, to being able to summon the ultimate versions of Stardust Dragon. He'd eventually settle down as a scientist, determined to stop another altogether worse future from happening.
2) Jaden Yuki
Taking place several decades following the original Yu-Gi-Oh, Yu-Gi-Oh GX primarily centers around a large Duel Academy. This academy features three dorms based on Egyptian God Cards: Obelisk Blue for the best duelists, Ra Yellow for middle ground, and Slifer Red for the worst. Main protagonist Jaden Yuki is part of the Slifer Red dormitory of Duel Academy and is considered the worst due to poor grades and not caring about anything but dueling. However, as Yu-Gi-Oh GX continues, Jaden's character growth eclipses Yusei's.
Apart from becoming more serious following his first significant loss to a new student named Aster and acquiring a new Neos Hero deck to replace his Elemental Hero deck, Jaden remained his goofy self until defeating the cult, Society of Light.
After being forced to watch his friends be sacrificed because he obsessed over saving one of them, Jaden became the dark Supreme King and harvested souls indiscriminately. When finally freed, Jaden atoned for these actions by defeating the world threatening Light of Destruction.
Though no longer truly human after having to fuse with the Supreme King and withdraw for a long time, Jaden rekindled his friendships, defeated Nightshroud and somehow ended up dueling Yugi and Yami Yugi in the climax of Yu-Gi-Oh GX, finally realizing there's more to life than dueling.
1) Yugi Muto/Atem
There's only one King of Games, and that's Yugi Muto. The feats of the original Yu-Gi-Oh protagonist are legendary, from incorporating numerous fusions like Dark Chaos Magician and Gaia the Dragon Champion, weilding all three Egyptian Gods, to having Exodia, plus defeating the likes of Pegasus, Marik, and Dartz.
Yugi Muto was a bullied young man until he solved the Millennium Puzzle in the Yu-Gi-Oh manga, allowing the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Atem to possess him and outwit serial killers, fraudulent psychics, vicious bullies, and even Seto Kaiba.
As the card duels escalated into life endangering stakes, Atem and Yugi worked together to defeat tougher foes like Marik and Bakura.
Yugi grew from a kid barely able to stand up for himself to a person able to stand on his own two feet and fight on his own without Atem. He even defeated Atem in their final duel in the anime, though both Bonds Beyond Time and Dark Side of Dimensions brought them together one last time to save time and space itself.
Poll : Is there anyone better than Yugi?