The Most Iconic Heroes in Manga


Kristian Wilson Colyard grew up weird in a one-caution-light town in the Appalachian foothills. She now lives in an old textile city with her husband and their clowder of cats. She’s on Twitter @kristianwriting, and you can find more of her work online at kristianwriting.com.

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Featuring gorgeous designed edges, dazzling metallic foil designs on the jacket and case, and an exclusive endpaper map that reveals new unexplored territories, Tomi Adeyemi’s #1 bestselling Legacy of Orïsha series comes to an earth-shaking conclusion.

We’re on the precipice of a potential manga boom. With the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren) turning its eye toward manga exports, the future of print media looks bright. Let’s take a peek at some of the most iconic heroes in manga, whose influence and star power continue to shine today.

So, as you might have guessed from that last line, I’m an Old. Like, I remember Toonami. And when Adult Swim was almost entirely anime. So while you may be expecting Tanjiro Kamado or Shoyo Hinata, I’ve reached further back for these selections. Decades, in some cases.

That’s not to say that manga like Demon Slayer and Haikyu!! aren’t influential or iconic. I’m sure in 10 or 20 years, we’ll hear from up-and-coming mangaka who cite Gotouge and Furudate as major influences. But right now, those characters aren’t as instantly recognizable as those who came before. So you’ll forgive me for sticking to the mizūmi and kawa I’m used to.

I’ve picked out eight of the most iconic heroes in manga for you to check out below. Whether you’re new to this whole manga scene or have years of experience collecting volumes, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this little walk down memory lane.

Most Iconic Heroes in Manga

Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa book coverFullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa book cover

Edward Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa

Short? Check.

Blond? Check.

Bitterly determined? Check and check.

Alphonse Elric might get mistaken for the “Fullmetal Alchemist” a lot, but it’s his older brother who’s the real hero of Hiromu Arakawa’s iconic fantasy series.

Chobits by CLAMP book coverChobits by CLAMP book cover

Chi from Chobits by CLAMP

There was a time when you couldn’t escape the ubiquity of persocom ears in lolita fashion. Those days may be mostly behind us now, but there’s still no mistaking Chi, the central figure of CLAMP’s early-Aughts manga series. What she may have lacked in personality, she more than made up for with an iconic look that thousands of manga fans spent years trying to imitate.

Berserk by Kentaro Miura book coverBerserk by Kentaro Miura book cover

Guts from Berserk by Kentaro Miura

Berserk is one of Japan’s longest-running manga series. It’s been in serialization since 1989, and its print run has continued past the untimely death of creator Kentaro Miura in 2021. Between its longevity and its grimdark European fantasy setting, the series and its hero, Guts, are some of the most recognizable in circulation today.

Lupin III by Monkey Punch book coverLupin III by Monkey Punch book cover

Lupin III from Lupin III by Monkey Punch

A gentleman thief descended from a long line of the same, Monkey Punch’s Lupin III has been bopping around since 1967, making him one of the oldest manga characters on this list. As such, his series has been referenced in a number of anime, including Cowboy Bebop, FLCL, and the next series on this list, Urusei Yatsura.

Urusei Yatsura by Rumiko Takahashi book coverUrusei Yatsura by Rumiko Takahashi book cover

Lum from Urusei Yatsura by Rumiko Takahashi

Urusei Yatsura is one of the earliest examples of what Jonathan Clements calls the “geek-gets-girl” format. In this case, the alien Lum is that girl. She’s instantly recognizable in her tiger-striped bikini, even today. More importantly, Lum remains popular enough to have spawned a new anime adaptation in 2022, some 35 years after the manga ended its run.

Sailor Moon by Naoko Takeuchi book coverSailor Moon by Naoko Takeuchi book cover

Sailor Moon from Sailor Moon by Naoko Takeuchi

Usagi Tsukino is the everygirl, but it’s her superpowered alter ego, Sailor Moon, who is the real star of Naoko Takeuchi’s beloved manga. The Sailor Guardians were such a pop culture powerhouse in the 1990s that I can remember finding knockoff Sailor Moon toys at my local dollar store in Podunk, S.C. Their popularity hasn’t waned, and leader Sailor Moon remains one of the most iconic heroes in manga today.

Astro Boy by Osamu Tezuka book coverAstro Boy by Osamu Tezuka book cover

Astro Boy from Astro Boy by Osamu Tezuka

You can’t talk about iconic manga heroes without mentioning Astro Boy. Known as Mighty Atom in Japan, Astro is the oldest character on this list by far. His creator, Osamu Tezuka, was a god among mangaka, and the Astro Boy series is renowned for its influence on all that came after. Even when considered alongside western comics, Astro ranks among the greatest characters of all time.

DragonBall by Akira Toriyama book coverDragonBall by Akira Toriyama book cover

Son Goku from Dragon Ball by Akira Toriyama

It’s difficult to overstate the cultural impact of Dragon Ball and its sequel series. Son Goku has been the face of the franchise since its 1984 inception. His orange gi, spiky hairstyle, superhuman abilities, and relentlessly cheerful attitude make him one of — if not the most — iconic heroes in manga, bar none.


Want to read more about the most iconic heroes in manga? Check out these manhwa and manga like My Hero Academia. And be sure to read this list of the most influential manga of all time.



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