Over the years, Rockstar Games has created many unforgettable characters within their flagship Grand Theft Auto series. While some of the playable characters fall into a more basic realm, most can be considered the reason their respected games were so successful.
Grand Theft Auto is more than just driving around and running down innocent civilians — it’s about the characters and the lives they live. Even the most cold-blooded killers in this franchise usually have some redeemable traits, or at least something that makes them seem less horrifying than they would be in real life.
In this list, I’ll go over the best GTA characters ranked and explain why each is so great. I’ll talk about their stories, their impact on the franchise, and some reasons players like (or dislike) each character. Sound like a plan? Let’s get started!
The 10 Best GTA Characters Ranked
Starting at number #10, let’s work out way down to the best of the best GTA characters ranked!
Huang Lee (GTA: Chinatown Wars)
Huang Lee is a unique protagonist, as he’s one of the only ones who comes from a wealthy family. With Lee, we don’t see the struggles of poverty like we do in most other characters. However, this does allow us to see him develop quite a bit as a person as the plot unveils. However, he doesn’t see as much character growth as most fans would have liked.
Lee’s story in Chinatown Wars begins after he is attacked and has his family sword stolen. The plot mainly revolves around his quest to find the people who attacked him and reclaim the sword, ending after confronting his uncle who was ultimately responsible for his attack and the death of his father.
Johnny Klebitz (GTA IV: The Lost and the Damned)
Johnny Klebitz is one of the more sympathetic Grand Theft Auto characters. He first appeared in the expansion for GTA IV, The Lost and the Damned. This was the only time he was playable in the series, but he appeared once more in GTA V as well.
Johnny’s tale is a tragic one, going from one of the most important members of The Lost MC to splattered on the bottom of Trevor Phillips’s shoe in GTA V. In The Lost and the Damned, he spent most of the story trying to unify his gang and solve the issues between himself and former leader, Billy Grey. By the time GTA V took place five years later, he had fallen into meth addiction and become a shell of his former self.
Claude (Grand Theft Auto III)
Next on our list of best GTA characters ranked is Claude.
Claude is the silent protagonist of Grand Theft Auto III. Since he doesn’t speak a word throughout the story, he has very little actual personality. But this is one of the main reasons I like Claude. He can be anything the player wants him to be, and even though he doesn’t speak I still find that he does have some form of personality anyway.
Claude’s story in GTA III begins after a failed bank robbery, during which his girlfriend betrays him. Throughout the story Claude works for various bosses and gangs in an attempt to find his ex-girlfriend and get revenge against her. Claude also appears as a side character in GTA: San Andreas, which takes place nine years earlier.
Tommy Vercetti (GTA: Vice City)
Tommy Vercetti was the prototype for what GTA characters became over the years. He was the first protagonist that truly had its own personality, which was mainly due to having voice lines. Tommy isn’t the best protagonist of the series, but he was an undoubtedly important one.
Tommy’s story takes place in 1986 Vice City. At the beginning of the story he has recently been released from prison, and is quickly sent to Vice City to expand his boss’s drug trade. After a drug deal turns into an ambush, Tommy spends the rest of the story trying to get the money to pay back his boss and take over Vice City for himself.
Victor Vance (GTA: Vice City Stories)
Victor Vance is another of the more relatable GTA characters. He didn’t get into the drug business for fun or because he loves violence, but instead joined due to a corrupt army sergeant. Vance joined the army to raise money for his brother’s asthma treatment, and soon began helping his sergeant transport drugs. After this went wrong and he was kicked out of the army, Vance began working in the larger crime business.
In GTA: Vice City, Vance is killed early on during a drug deal gone wrong. His brother spends much of the game’s plot searching for revenge, and ultimately gets it. Vance is no cold blooded killer, and he’s one of the most sympathetic GTA characters yet.
Michael De Santa (Grand Theft Auto V)
Michael De Santa is one of three playable characters in GTA V, and while he isn’t my favorite (we’ll get to them) I do like him a lot. Michael is relatable due to his family and every day struggles, which is a rarity in this series. Unlike many characters, when we first play as Michael he’s already retired from crime. Throughout the story, we see his chaotic return to this lifestyle as he reunites with former associates and enemies.
What makes Michael such an interesting character is that at no point is truly portrayed as a “good” person, but we still want to see him succeed. He has a family, goals, and all the money in the world, but he still ends up going back to crime. Michael’s story is in many ways tragic, but fun nonetheless.
Trevor Philips (Grand Theft Auto V)
What makes Trevor Philips such an interesting and popular GTA character is simple: he’s absolutely insane. Trevor is the most unhinged character in the entire series, and his antics mimic this trait. Even just the act of switching from another character to Trevor is an experience, as he’s almost always caught up in some kind of chaos.
In general, I would say that Trevor is the most memorable character in the series. Where he loses some points, though, is his character development. Trevor doesn’t change at all throughout the game. He starts out as a psychotic maniac and he finishes the story exactly the same. He also has very few relatable traits and is only likable because of how fun he is to play. That being said, he is very fun to play.
Carl Johnson (GTA: San Andreas)
Carl Johnson has always been a beloved protagonist, from the countless memes including him to references to him in other GTA games. Since San Andreas was such a jump forward for the series, it’s not surprising to see how popular he is. Carl’s story begins with his return to Los Santos to attend the funeral of his mother who was murdered in a drive-by shooting. He reunites with his fellow gang and family members to retake the city, and becomes involved in a series of businesses and jobs while he’s at it.
CJ was a massively influential character for the series. Rockstar has been creating characters with similar development and backstories as his ever since San Andreas was released, and it seems that they will continue doing so for years to come. And if the memes surrounding him are any indication, it doesn’t seem that the game’s fanbase will be forgetting about him.
Franklin Clinton (Grand Theft Auto V)
Who is the best character in GTA 5? That honor goes to my personal favorite protagonist, Franklin.
Franklin is regarded as one of the best GTA 5 characters because of how relatable he is. Franklin starts out as a petty criminal just trying to make enough money to scrape by, and climbs the ranks of the criminal world to live a life of luxury. And while I can’t personally relate to the act of climbing up from the bottom to the top of the crime world, it certainly makes for a more understandable story arc than the average GTA protagonist.
From his special ability in-game to the relationships he finds himself involved in, Franklin is one of the most unique characters in the franchise. Even his moral flaws are easily overlooked in the scope of this series, as he never comes across as malicious. Franklin is a fan-favorite character, and it’s for good reason.
Niko Bellic (Grand Theft Auto IV)
Who is the best GTA character overall? It’s time for #1 on our list of best GTA characters ranked: Niko Bellic.
Niko Bellic is the protagonist of arguably the best and most tragic GTA game. He comes to America with the hopes of escaping the life of crime he was leading in Europe, but quickly realizes he can’t escape it no matter where he goes. Niko’s story is an eye-opening portrayal of the “American dream” and all its faults, proving that sometimes one can’t escape their past regardless of where they live.
Niko is my favorite Grand Theft Auto character because for all his flaws (and he does have many), he wants nothing more than to get out of the lifestyle he finds himself trapped in. I think many of us can relate to this idea of wanting to move on from something and live a better life, whether we do or don’t have a background as shady as Niko’s. He’s the most well-developed and realistic character in the franchise by far, and for that he’s my favorite playable character.
Become a High Grounder
The Grand Theft Auto series has been a chart-topper ever since its debut, and the best GTA characters ranked are why. With each new entry, players are allowed to truly immerse themselves into the lives of the protagonists, often learning just as much about themselves as they do the insane world within the game. So go buy as many of the GTA games as you can find (most of them are on Steam for very low prices) and as always, make sure to keep the high ground!