There are three protagonists in GTA 5, yet one of them is clearly the most important.
GTA 5 follows the criminal lifestyles of three different characters. Franklin wants to rise above the lowly ranks of street hustles. Michael is a professional lawbreaker who is forced out of retirement. Trevor is a madman who stops at nothing to get what he wants. The GTA 5 story cohesively ties them all together.
While they all serve their purpose in the story, it can be argued that Michael is the most important. This article will go over several reasons why this is the case. That's not to say the other characters aren't useful to the narrative. It's just that Michael holds everything together in GTA 5.
GTA 5: Who is really the main character?
GTA 5 offers multiple player characters, each with their own story. Michael seems to be the most prominent out of all of them. He has the most story missions in the entire game. More importantly, he is responsible for the whole story.
Michael is arguably the main character
He carries the honorable distinction of narrating the first ever trailer for GTA 5. Michael's voice is what players hear for the first time when he says the following:
"Why did I move here? I guess it was the weather."
Right away, it sets the tone for the entire game. GTA 5 players get the sense that Michael is hiding something important. This is relevant because the vast majority of GTA 5's story focuses on Michael. His actions have major consequences for everybody in his life.
The trailer also goes into detail about his personal life. Michael clearly has an unfulfilled life for some reason. He wants to be a family man, but something is dragging him to the dark side.
GTA 5 revolves around Michael
Michael's decisions play a huge role in the GTA 5 story. The main conflict involves growing tensions with his former partner Trevor, who correctly suspects that he was set up years ago. Their strained relationship takes up a majority of the story. Michael's past actions came back to haunt him.
In fact, Trevor only gets involved because he found out Michael was still alive. His character development relies on his interactions with the latter. One can argue that Michael connects everyone together. For example, Lester Crest mainly plans out the heists with Michael himself.
Franklin doesn't get to do anything important until he encounters Michael by chance. Speaking of which, Franklin doesn't serve much of a purpose until the end. His rivalry with Stretch is not very developed, unlike Michael's hatred for Devin Weston. Franklin is usually in the background by comparison.
Without Michael, there is no GTA 5
If it wasn't for Michael, Franklin would still be stuck in his terrible repo job. The same goes for Trevor, who only left Blaine County to go find Michael. Those characters were mostly directionless until Michael showed up. He gave them a real purpose in the GTA 5 story.
Trevor's main source of conflict is his trust issues with Michael. It doesn't get resolved until the story is completed. Meanwhile, Franklin needs a mentor to guide him through the criminal underworld.
Michael is also responsible for bringing in major antagonists. This includes the likes of Martin Madrazo, Steven Haines, and Devin Weston. These are the main obstacles of GTA 5's story which the player needs to remove. They are all directly tied to Michael and his rash decision making.
Regarding the official ending
Some may argue that Michael cannot be considered the main character because he can potentially die. However, there is a problem with this particular statement. First of all, main characters can always bite the dust in their story. Without spoiling anything, it happens in quite a few Rockstar games.
Secondly, Michael's death is officially disconfirmed by Rockstar themselves. GTA Online directly references the events of The Third Way. This is the ending where all the GTA 5 protagonists survive.
Franklin sparing Michael's life is character development from a student and teacher standpoint. The former learns quite a lot from the latter and doesn't betray his trust.
Michael is the lynchpin of GTA 5
Michael can be considered the main character of GTA 5. Both Franklin and Trevor rely on him to further their character development. Michael is at the very core of GTA 5's story and gameplay. He is part of the first ever heist in the game. Keep in mind that heists are a key aspect of the story.
Each of the GTA 5 protagonists serves their role very well. The story is not the same if one were to be removed. However, whether it's a friend or a foe, it is Michael who brings everybody together. His impact on the story cannot be underestimated in any way.
Note: This article reflects the writer's personal views.