From the mid-1980s up to now, gamers of all ages have been entertained, inspired, and emotionally connected to The Legend of Zelda franchise. From its humble beginnings on the NES as a simple top-down adventure about a little elf-boy to his biggest 3D open-world adventures, every entry in this series offers up a new world to explore that is filled with new and unique characters. Even the three most prominent characters, Link, Zelda, and Ganon, have major differences between entries. With decades’ worth of titles released and no end in sight, we’ve decided to list the best characters to ever appear in The Legend of Zelda series, from his very first game all the way up to the upcoming Tears of the Kingdom.
Our only limitation is that we will only include one incarnation of Link, Zelda, and Ganon/Ganondorf. Each of those characters could fill a list like this alone, so we’re only picking our favorite versions of each.
Link (Twilight Princess)
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Why start anywhere else than with our courageous hero, Link? There were many directions we could have gone here, but in the end, we feel that his incarnation in Twilight Princess stood out as his best version. We love his design here, which feels like an evolution of the Ocarina of Time adult Link. Aside from Wind Waker, this is also the most expressive Link has been, but with a much darker story, his lack of dialogue doesn’t limit how much empathy you feel for him. Also, he can turn into a wolf! How could we not put him at the top of the pile?
Sheik/Zelda (Ocarina of Time)
Zelda’s pick was a no-brainer. Sheik, the alias Zelda went by for the majority of Ocarina of Time, is undoubtedly her most popular version. While hiding her identity from Ganondorf, Zelda took on the name of Sheik and the appearance of a male Sheikah to help guide Link after he awakens in a future ruled by Ganondorf. Not only is the design amazing, but her role in the story is one of the most active Zelda has been. She puts the entire plot into motion by sending Link off to awaken the seven sages, then appears at each temple to teach him a new warping song. While we don’t get to see her in action much at all in this game, we do see how capable she is thanks to being a playable character in the Smash Bros. games.
Ganondorf (Ocarina of Time)
Villains in Zelda titles are almost always the stars of the game. Ganondorf’s first appearance was so terrifying and effective that he’s essentially become synonymous with the original villain, Ganon. From first hearing about his infecting of the Great Deku Tree to the first time our young Link is effortlessly blasted away outside Hyrule Castle, Ganondorf presents himself as a powerful, capable, and dangerous foe.
Navi (Ocarina of Time)
Nearly every Link has a companion, and while many are considered annoying, we can’t help but love Navi the most. At this point, the image of Link with his glowing fairy companion is probably what people think of most when imagining the series, or Link himself at the very least. As a companion, Navi felt like a true guide, not just for Link, but even for us as the player who had to adapt to 3D exploration and combat in a Zelda game for the first time.
Skullkids (Majora’s Mask)
Majora’s Mask has been praised for how different a Zelda game it is, and rightfully so. A key aspect of that is the sympathetic character of the Skullkid. This trickster’s tragic backstory puts him on the path to being corrupted by the titular mask and is intertwined with every element of the game. The best villains are ones you can understand, and anyone who has ever felt abandoned and shunned by the world can sympathize with Skullkid. You don’t have to agree with his choices, but they’re understandable.
Zant (Twilight Princess)
Our next villain is the King of Twilight, or should we say the King of Shadows. The sorcerer Zant is technically an underling to Ganondorf, but is able to stand alone as a true evil force. Being born from darkness itself, Zant is a cold, calculated villain who is able to overthrow an entire kingdom. His ambitions and power ultimately bred an arrogant and entitled view of himself as the true ruler of all realms. When you finally defeat him, Zant snaps and loses his mind under the stress of being the only one of his race to even have emotions. He’s less popular for being sympathetic, and more so for just being so fun to hate.
None (Twilight Princess)
Speaking of the twilight realm, Midna is the banished princess of the Twili race. Cursed by Zant, she takes on the impish form we know her as and teams up with Link to save both their realms from Zant. While their relationship is tenuous at first, with Midna only agreeing to help if Link acts as her servant, their relationship and trust grow over the course of the adventure. Even compared to Navi, this companion relationship is the most fleshed out in the entire series.
Happy Mask Salesman (Majora’s Mask)
Let’s get weird with this one. The Mask Salesman did show up in Ocarina, but he played a much more important role in Majora’s Mask. He’s still not much more than a side character, but is probably the most interesting one just due to how mysterious he is. How did he get all these masks? How can he read what emotions are tied to them? He makes vague statements that imply that he knows Link quite well too. Who knows what secrets are hidden behind that smile?
Epona (Majora’s Mask)
Sorry for all focus on Majora’s Mask, but we had to include Epona on the list, and she’s at her best in this entry. While Epona is your trusty steed in every entry she appears in, she really feels like a close friend in Majora. Link has gone far away from anyone and anything he knows, with Epona being his only companion. When she’s stolen, and later recovered, you feel it. She isn’t just a way to get around faster, but Link’s most trusted ally and friend.
Ghirahim (Skyward Sword)
There’s one last villain to round out the list. We have to shout-out the best part of Skyward Sword. Ghirahim is a pompous, self-absorbed, and flamboyant character who steals every scene he’s in. While he might come off as over-the-top when contrasted with Link, his verbose and confident nature work so well. He’s one of the villains we looked forward to finally beating most.