You might have your own selection of favorite anime characters, but some characters are so broadly popular that it seems like everyone loves them—like, all around the world.
Sometimes a character becomes so popular that they transcend genres, eras, and may even cross into the mainstream. People who don't even watch anime probably know of them.
Of course, popularity is subjective and difficult to quantify. However, for us, one important factor is a character's lasting impact on anime culture since their introduction. Heroes and villains are both eligible, but we draw the line at "flash in the pan" characters.
Here are our picks for the most popular male characters in anime history who helped make anime itself more popular.
10. Speed Racer (Speed Racer)
Although his time in the spotlight might have passed, there was a time when Speed Racer was the biggest name in anime in the West.
If you don't believe me, then consider this: Has any other anime series been adapted into a live-action film directed by the Wachowskis? You know, the duo who gave us The Matrix?
Sure, Speed Racer debuted back in 1967 long before anime went mainstream, but that's because Speed Racer itself played a huge role in popularizing anime across the world.
It's been decades now, but many people—maybe even your parents—still know the tune to Speed Racer's theme song. It was the first real anime on Western TV and its cultural footprint remains huge.
9. Satoru Gojo (Jujutsu Kaisen)
One of the newer animes on this list, Jujutsu Kaisen only debuted in 2020 but it already dominates anime popularity polls.
Of the many great characters in the series, Satoru Gojo is a standout. He's not just incredibly strong, but also unsettlingly mysterious and absolutely unflappable in every scene he's in.
Satoru Gojo is one of the most popular male anime characters because he strikes that perfect balance between cool, badass, and fun. We're constantly wondering what he's going to do next.
Fun fact: The prequel film Jujutsu Kaisen 0 broke box office records despite Satoru Gojo being one of the only characters from the main show. That alone speaks to his popularity!
8. Levi Ackerman (Attack on Titan)
The entire cast of Attack on Titan has their own troubles, but Levi Ackerman has it worse than most—and those struggles molded him into one of the deadliest characters in anime.
Levi is cold, calculating, fiercely focused on wiping every grotesque titan off the face of the planet, and he has the skills to do it.
He shot up the anime popularity polls as soon as he debuted in 2013 and continues to hover near the top despite Attack on Titan's erratic release schedule. Fans simply can't get enough of him, especially now that the anime is winding towards its grand finale.
7. Zoro Roronoa (One Piece)
Every fighter in anime history has some sort of gimmick, but few of them are as cool as Zoro's own tricks.
Zoro Roronoa is a master of the incredibly impractical but undeniably wicked Three-Sword Style, wielding a blade in each hand with a third one clenched in his mouth.
It can look silly at times, but Zoro's undying dedication—towards both his training and his friends—is what earns this pirate a cherished spot amongst the most popular male anime characters of all time.
6. Vegeta (Dragon Ball Z)
It's hard to imagine where anime would be without the success of Dragon Ball, and it's hard to imagine Dragon Ball without Vegeta.
The mighty Saiyan Prince—when is he going to become king, anyway?—is Goku's most famous enemy-turned-rival, and he can stand his ground against Goku in both power and popularity.
In fact, Vegeta has never actually lost to Goku in a fair fight (although he also rarely wins those battles). The two are locked in a perpetual tug-of-war that we suspect will continue for as long as the Dragon Ball franchise continues to print money.
5. Tanjiro Kamado (Demon Slayer)
Another newer anime series on this list, but it's impossible to deny the popularity of both the Demon Slayer anime and its heroic protagonist, Tanjiro Kamado.
The young Demon Slayer is kind, caring, supportive of his friends, and willing to cut demon heads off whenever necessary.
How do we know Tanjiro belongs on this list of the most popular male anime characters? The first Demon Slayer film became the highest-grossing Japanese movie of all time, displacing Studio Ghibli's iconic Spirited Away after nearly 20 years.
4. Ichigo Kurosaki (Bleach)
Bleach made a big comeback in 2022 when the Thousand-Year Blood War Arc finally got its anime treatment.
The show remains popular for its huge, ever-growing cast of fun characters, but the whole thing has always been carried by series protagonist Ichigo Kurosaki.
His multiple transformations, evolutions, and developments throughout Bleach have always made it impossible to guess where he's going next, even if it usually comes down to fighting Hollows and other nightmares from the afterlife.
3. Naruto Uzumaki (Naruto)
Before he was Boruto's dad, Naruto Uzumaki was the endlessly optimistic and increasingly powerful rookie ninja from the Hidden Leaf Village—who became one of the most marketable and most recognizable anime characters of all time.
With Naruto Shippuden ending in 2017, Naruto sort of stepped aside and allowed the spotlight to fall on his son with the debut of Boruto: Naruto Next Generations that very same year.
Even so, Naruto remains such an enduring figure in anime that they're still making movies about his adventures. It's no surprise that his popularity has barely waned over the years.
2. Monkey D. Luffy (One Piece)
Most of us probably had no desire to be pirates until we saw One Piece and met Monkey D. Luffy and his crew of Straw Hat Pirates.
This iconic shonen anime has been going strong for well over 1,000 episodes, and it shows no signs of slowing down. It's not just the anime—One Piece movies are still being made, too.
The most recent movie in the series, One Piece Film: Red, currently sits among the top ten highest-grossing Japanese movies ever, mostly thanks to the ever-stretching hero Luffy.
1. Goku (Dragon Ball)
How popular is Son Goku, the Saiyan sent to Earth as a child? Well, you can see him make an appearance nearly every year in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, floating over the streets of New York.
It's been almost 40 years since Dragon Ball first aired on TV and Goku has been at the heart of the franchise ever since.
In fact, there are parts of the world where Goku is more well-known than Superman or even Mickey Mouse, achieving the kind of global popularity that most anime characters can only dream of.