Like many others, my introduction to the Persona games wasn’t until after the release of the 5th main entry in the franchise. The hype and great word of mouth surrounding its release intrigued my wife, who is much more inclined to play JRPGs than myself, to get the game and see what all of the fuss was about. Well, needless to say due to this article’s existence, 100 plus hours later and she was hooked. For the next few months, Persona 3, Persona 4, their countless spin-offs, expansions, and anime series were played, beaten, watched, and adored to the point where Persona has now become one of her favorite video games, animes, figure lines, and just all-around things of all time.
So, it’s through the second-hand exposure to the series that I too came to appreciate the games and their lively casts of characters. Where JRPGs tend to shine more than a lot of other genres is through their typically large, but well-conceived casts, and not only does Persona (at least the last 3 entries) live up to this standard, it completely dominates it. I must say, it was no easy task coming up with only 10 characters to list as my favorite, but for the sake of time and my sanity, I disciplined myself and kept this list somewhat manageable. Well, that and I quite the large honorable mentions section…
So, without further ado, let’s get into it! PE-RU-SO-NA!
10: Makoto Nijima
Kicking off the list is Persona 5’s ‘best girl’, Makoto Nijima. Now, it’s hard to say this, because compared to other JRPGs and video games in general, Persona 5 has a stellar group of heroes, but compared to Persona 3 and 4, I have to say that I felt the 5th game had the weakest band of interdimensional traversing students. Of course, this isn’t without a few exceptions, and one these outliers is Makoto, who not only sports arguably the most bad-ass Phantom Thief outfit and Persona (her Persona is a freaking motorcycle!), but she has one of the most interesting back stories in the game as well.
Despite her academic success, Makoto lacks confidence in her usefulness and is quite the outsider amongst her peers. She is seen as selfish, arrogant, and as a control freak among the Shujin Academy student body, all rumors that propagate her insecurities. And to top this all off, she struggles with the fact that her older sister has had to take on the burden of caretaker after their father was murdered 3 years prior. It’s this struggle that she faces that makes Makoto’s journey all the more impactful, however. It’s a journey that sees her finally realize her contributions to the Phantom Thieves, and once she discovers her Persona, turns into an absolute badass. It’s easy to see why she has so quickly become such a fan favorite.
9: Naoto Shirogane
Growing up and finding yourself in a world that is ready to criticize you at a moment’s notice sucks, and Persona isn’t afraid to showcase the struggles that kids and adults face every day when it comes to finding acceptance. Naoto Shiogane is the perfect example of this struggle and is a character that serves to highlight gender related issues that were arguably ahead of their time for a video game released in the mid-2000s. Naoto, also known as the ‘Detective Prince’, is as the title implies: An underage detective that manages to solve cases that her much older counterparts can’t seem to crack.
Naoto’s status as a young detective earns her quite a bit of fame, and it’s due to this fame that she feels the need to hide parts of her true identity, primarily her gender. Disguising herself as male, Naoto serves as a look into a world that is reluctant to accept those for who they are, simply judging them on unfair biases. Naoto is one of the best at what she does, but she is afraid that if she drops her male façade she won’t be taken as seriously, and it’s not until she meets the other members of Persona 4’s cast does she finally let loose her identity in its entirety. Naoto is an example of accepting yourself for who you are and not letting the world around you dictate what you can and cannot do.
Although, I do think age should dictate what you can and cannot do. You shouldn’t drive at the age of 8 and you probably shouldn’t be solving murders at the age 15, I’m just saying—Maybe finish college first, Naoto.
8: Akihiko Sanada
Akihiko Saneda is second in command in Persona 3’s SEES group, and for good reason. Confident, strong, and maybe a tad hot headed, Akihiko can be quick to react, but is a vital member of the party. As a well-respected upper classman amongst his peers, Akihiko Sempai quickly becomes a frequent term throughout the halls of Gekkoukan High School. And I can understand why.
He may be sarcastic and seem to care more about a challenge than he does relationships with others, but Akihiko does eventually come to care for his team members and creates a familial bond with them. The bottom line though, Akihiko is just plain cool. In the Persona fighting games specifically, Akihiko sheds his school uniform for bare abs and a red cape that would make Spawn blush. Now a drifter and covered in battle scars, Akihiko travels the country, constantly on the hunt for a worthy opponent—and protein.
He essentially turned into what Jules Winnfield strived to become at the end of Pulp Fiction—just minus all the hitman stuff—and less clothes.
7: Chie Satonaka
Extroverted and the opposite to her best friend, Yukiko, Chie Satonake has an upbeat personality, often the one in the group ready to crack a joke and liven up the atmosphere—except for Yosuke. She ain’t got time for Yoske—As Persona 4’s designated tomboy, she has an affinity for all things martial arts and beef. She is a strong fighter and is never willing to back down from confrontation, no matter the odds.
Chie is extremely protective over those closest to her and will go out of her way to face those who threaten to commit an unjust deed. However, while Chie’s sense of justice and physicality are strong, the same cannot be said for her self-confidence. Chie demonstrates insecurities with her femininity and finds herself often feeling inferior to her counterpart, Yukiko. This is greatly embarrassing to her, as she feels like just another one of the guys, and less of a woman herself under the shadow of Yukiko’s well-to-do and feminine status.
I can imagine Chie’s self-image is something a lot of kids her age would have to deal with. Society’s expectations for how a gender should act can have massive consequences on social interactions, and when certain attention is stripped away in favor for someone else, in this case Yukiko, it can be devastating.
All Persona characters have some degree of relatability, but I feel Chie’s insecurities may hit home with the broadest group of people.
Before Morgana came along to take the throne as Persona’s go-to poster child, Teddie proudly stood as the colorful, circus-bear-thing mascot of the Persona series. Bubbly and naïve, Teddie serves as the main comedic relief of the group. He’s cute, clueless, and has quite the infatuation for the ladies, but that doesn’t mean Teddie doesn’t suffer from his own insecurities. Teddie is a shadow, although unlike most other shadows, isn’t malicious in the slightest. Teddie suffers from an identity crisis. If he isn’t a mindless hostile husk like the other shadows, what is he? His purpose in life is his greatest mystery and gravest concern, as his existence could be for no reason at all. A search for memories of a life Teddie thinks he might have forgotten seems a fruitless endeavor and risks proving that everyone’s favorite wise cracking bear has no true self.
It’s in the face of this despair then that Teddie comes to learn his eventual purpose in life. Like Teddie, no one is necessarily born with a purpose, but we come to find our reasons for being here later in life. Teddie may not have a past and may exist for no particular reason, but when he meets the rest of the Persona 4 cast that doesn’t matter anymore. Teddie has found his reason for existing through the bonds he has made and the purpose he has found in helping save the small town of Inaba from the looming threat of the TV World.
5: Ryotaro & Nanako Dojima
Ryotaro, the hard-working police detective and a somewhat distant father as a result, and Nanako, Ryotaro’s 7-year-old, but self-reliant daughter, are the uncle and niece to the protagonist in Persona 4. Both characters are great in their own right, with Ryotaro Dojima being a rough around the edges man who has been worn down by a stressful job and the loss of a wife and Nanako who is not only adorable, but smart and independent beyond her years. However, together Ryotaro and Nanako have one of the best father/daughter dynamics in video game and anime history.
The relationship these two share is extremely believable, as both suffer from the loss of a wife and mother, but deal with it in different ways. Dojima wants to be a good father and cares deeply for his daughter, but finds difficulty in accomplishing that with a job that demands so much of him. Nanako is lonely in return, but finds a ‘big brother’ in the protagonist when he comes to live with the Dojimas over the summer. She clings to the protagonist in hopes to build some kind of a familial bond with him. She loves her father and does everything she can to help him around the house, but Nanako has come to accept that he can’t be around as often as she would like.
The Dojimas are a heartbreaking aspect to Persona 4, because beneath Nanako’s adorable nature and Ryotaro’s gruff and occasionally humorous drunken antics, is a broken father/daughter relationship that can feel all too relatable at time.
4: Mitsuru Kirijo
Mitsuru Kirijo, the leader of Persona 3’s SEES group and an absolute badass, as well as the ultimate waifu after she makes her appearance in the Persona 4 Arena games. A skin tight, leather cat suit complimented by a flowing fur coat… move over black widow, ‘cause this red head has got you beat! (I cringed a little writing that… But yeah, Mitsuru is hot in Persona 4 Arena)
An upper classman at the Gekkoukan High School, Mitsuru’s demeanor demands respect. She is intelligent, calm, mature, wise beyond her years, and knows how to get stuff done. Although Mitsuru may seem conceited and stuck up to those on the outside looking in, this is couldn’t be further from the truth. If anything, Mitsuru is far from selfish, as her actions are always made in order to benefit those she cares for. She plays a big sister/motherly role, and this is apparent with how she treats the members of the SEES group. Sure she’s strict, but like any good parent she is only that way because she cares.
So next time Mitsuru decides to ruin your vacation plans by signing you up for summer classes, know she only does it because she cares… or she thinks you’re dumb and could use the additional schooling.
3: Kanji Tatsumi
Much like Naoto, Kanji Tatsumi hides a true inner self beneath layers of masculinity and a forced tough guy persona. At his core though, Kanji is a kind-hearted kid who feels a strong duty in caring for his mother and an enjoyment in knitting small plush animals. However, it’s due to his traditionally feminine interests that make him question his own sexual nature. This insecurity is only exasperated when he eventually meets Naoto and develops a crush on her—who Kanji thinks is a him at the time of first laying eyes on her.
Playing on an over the top representation of effeminate caricatures and the polar opposite to Kanji’s outer appearance, Kanji has one of the most hard-hitting stages when the Investigation Team enters his inner psyche to defeat his shadow. There, an extremely effeminate Kanji resides and serves to torment the real Kanji, as he is forced to face what he has tried hiding for so long. The idea of being forced out into the open not on your own terms is devastating, as the embarrassment of such a thing would understandably be unbearable for many.
What Kanji faces is something all too familiar for a lot of kids and adults. The judgmental nature of society forces us to try and follow a determined path based on what we are born as and discovering our true sexuality and keeping up appearances is an all too real experience for many– especially through the hormonal stages of middle and high school.
Every character in the Persona series hits home in some shape or form, but Kanji is a character that, at the time of Persona 4’s original release, served to represent an all too overshadowed community of people.
Created as an anti-shadow weapon, Aigis scratches that itch all anime fans have for mechanized-humanoid-cyborg-android girls. And Aigis may be the best example of a robot anime girl we have ever received. Gun arms, rocket feet, shoulder mounted mini gun– being armed to the teeth has never been so literal, as I think Aigis probably does have weaponized incisors, as well as fingers that can shoot an onslaught of armor piercing rounds. Also, just to drive her OP-ness home, she sleeps in a damn armory for heaven’s sake!
When Aigis is first introduced in Persona 3, she is very much a robot with no other train of thought other than protecting the protagonist at all costs. This is an obsession that leads to many awkward moments that include breaking into the protagonist’s dorm while he sleeps, as well as watching over him at the least convenient of times. Aigis’ ‘connection’ to the protagonist keeps her laser focused on a singular task, but Aigis does eventually begin to exhibit new emotions as the game progresses, becoming more human as she spends time with her companions in SEES.
Aigis soon desires to be a student at Gekkoukan High School and goes as far to disguise herself as such so she can fit in with the others—and keep an eye on the protagonist. However, it’s really not until the events that take place after Persona 3 does Aigis really come into her own. With her sole mission no longer fulfillable, she becomes her own person and ultimately a leader in the protagonist’s place.
It is arguable that Aigis is the true main character in Persona 3 and her story arch from a machine to a fully self-aware human makes her one the most compelling characters in the series.
And here we are, the best Persona character of them all. In a pool of relatable, fantastical, and all around badass characters, Morgana from Persona 5 is undeniably my favorite. Cocky, witty, cute, suave, a little smug, and just plain charming, Morgana is the perfect mascot for the ever so stylish Phantom Thieves and the world they inhabit—Also, he’s a cat and I really love cats—especially ones that wear masks and demand that I keep a healthy sleep schedule (my real cat doesn’t do that. He just wakes me up in the middle of the night for no goddamn reason other than to mock the fact that I have to get up for work while he passes out on a bar stool for most of the day).
Morgana is an indispensable part of the Phantom Thieves, as his intelligence and extensive knowledge of the palaces they must travel keep them in the right direction. Morgana is relatively level headed as well—except for when he comes across treasure. Then he tends to lose his sh*t—He can also get the team out of tight situations by transforming himself into a bus! Yes, a bus. I strongly considered making a whole new number one slot for Morgana Bus alone, as we all know the true pinnacle of characters in any medium is Morgana Bus.
Like Teddie, Morgana is a shadow that fancies himself as a human, rather than the animal he appears to be. Referring to Morgana as a cat only irritates him, especially when its coming from Ryuji as Morgana tends to have quite the beef with the spikey haired, second rate Yuske. The only person that could probably get away with it is Anne, as Morgana’s interest in her is similar to how a real cat would eye up a cat nip covered scratching post wearing a red spandex body suit.
While Morgana may not represent the growing pains that many of the other Persona characters do, he makes up for that in just sheer charm and lovability. From his design, to his personality, Morgana is the best Persona character and video game mascot in the last half decade hands down.
In an endless ocean of JRPGs, and by expansion JRPG characters, the Persona franchise stands as a real achievement of character design and development. There’s a reason why nearly every game in the series has gotten either a spin off or expansion, and that’s because fans of Persona can’t get enough of the characters.
Of course, my list is subjective, and any rearrangement or addition of characters would be warranted. It was very hard narrowing it down to the ones I have, as I am sure I have left out a character deserving of being featured on this list. So, bottom line, if you haven’t already experienced the Persona series and its awesome casts of characters for yourself, do yourself a favor and remedy that!