Picking 10 favorite characters is extremely difficult, but I’ll make the attempt.
#10 – Locke Lamora from the Lies of Locke Lamora.
Locke is a brilliant con, and he has a fantastic relationship with his principal partner, Jean. I greatly enjoy their banter, their heists, and seeing the clever ways that Locke handles problems that come up. My only complaint is that he doesn’t live up to his potential in the sequels.
#9 – Simon from Will Wight’s House of Blades.
Simon starts out as being a completely normal guy, and rather than discovering he’s the chosen one like many farm boy protagonists, he has to work to accomplish his goals. I love the fact that power doesn’t come easily to him, and that it’s really his dedication to succeed in spite of seemingly impossible odds that makes him excel.
#8 – Nightblood from Warbreaker.
Yes, a sword is a perfectly valid character. Nightblood is a great example of an entity with blue and orange morality. Since he’s not human – he’s essentially artificial intelligence – his judgment processes are alien, and that makes him a tremendously fun character.
#7 – Zoran from Mother of Learning.
Much like Simon, Zoran doesn’t start out as being a particularly powerful character. He’s more Hermione Granger than Harry Potter – and frankly, I always liked Hermione better. Much like Hermione, he should by all rights be a sidekick to the much more powerful main character (Zach) – but it doesn’t even occur to Zorian to let Zach do the heavy lifting. He blazes his own trail, in spite of his own comparative weakness, and doesn’t make the mistake of relying on any specific outsider for too much help.
#6 – Aiko from Vapors.
I’m not a huge reader of fanfiction – although I certainly support it, as long as proper attributions are given. Aiko is easily one of the best fanfiction character’s I’ve read. She’s great at optimizing her abilities – but less so at dealing with personal relationships. She’s brilliant, witty, and fun to read about. Her character is someone I think anyone raised on internet culture can relate to.
#5 – Kaladin Stormblessed from The Way of Kings.
Change the “K” to a “P” and you have “Paladin” – and Kaladin is probably the best representation of a paladin-style character I’ve ever seen in fiction. He’s a model for how you can make a character “lawful good” without strictly obeying all of the laws of his culture, and he has some of the most awesome moments in literature. The Stormlight Archives are truly the pinnacle of Sanderson’s work, and Kaladin is one of the best characters in the mix.
#4 – Vladamir Taltos from the Jhereg series.
Villain protagonists can be tremendous fun, and Taltos is at the top of my list for the best executed among them. He’s a lovable rogue who always manages to convince himself that he’s doing the right thing – and the reader loves to root for him, even when they might disagree with his motivations and actions. He exudes fantastic charisma, charm, and competence.
#3 – Maou from Maoyuu Maou Yuusha.
In spite of being a literal evil overlord, Maou is not a villain protagonist like Taltos. No, she’s a fantastically intelligent and charismatic young woman who happens to also be a ridiculously powerful demon. In spite of being one of the most directly powerful characters in her own series, her combat abilities are almost superfluous – her secret weapons are her knowledge of cultural norms, economics, politics, and technological advancement. If her series was a bit longer, she’s probably be at the top of my list.
#2 – Harry Dresden from the Dresden Files.
Harry, in spite of getting stronger over the course of over a dozen books, is a perpetual underdog – always forced to rely on his cleverness and charisma in the face of overwhelming opposition. He’s also extremely easy for me to relate with, and he develops a fantastic skill set and great relationships with his supporting cast.
#1 – Dalinar Kholin from The Way of Kings.
Yes, the Stormlight Archives managed to get two entries. While Kaladin is a fantastic character and a joy to read about, Dalinar is the definition of the badass normal. Hits feats make me fist-pump in joy and exaltation more than any character I’ve ever read – which is all the more impressive, given that he’s years past his prime and doesn’t have any of the super powers of many of Sanderson’s other characters.
Runner Up – Shiroe from Log Horizon.
Much like Maou, Shrioe is an intellect-based character and has some fantastic ideas. I felt like including them both might be too redundant, however, and Shiroe and Maou are both better known for their anime and manga versions than their light novels – and their archetypes are so similar that I felt that including them both in the numbered list would be too redundant. Nevertheless, the “Villain in Glasses” is a great character, and tremendous fun to read about – or to watch in anime form.