watchworthy presents

The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History 

Ranker TV
Originally by
Updated March 9, 2020 45.5k votes 3.6k voters 49.3k views 96 items

List Rules Vote up the best breakout TV characters of all time

When a television show first starts, the writers of the program already have the star in mind. They write for the characters they think the audience will relate to and like the most and design the show around those characters. However, once the show hits the airwaves, the viewers don’t always agree. Sometimes the true star of the show is the unlikeliest candidate. The breakout character is usually a character who was introduced as part of the supporting cast, but for one reason or another became a fan favorite. This list of the greatest breakout characters in TV history includes characters from both comedies and dramas and has been ranked by the community.

The breakout character on a TV show usually becomes the most discussed and most loved part of the show. He or she has the funniest lines, the best stories, and is portrayed by the favorite actor. After a positive audience reaction, these breakout characters suddenly start to get more screen time and story lines. Characters like Fonzie and Ben Linus were never meant to be huge parts of their shows, but after their introduction, it was inevitable that they’d become pivotal to the show’s success. Some breakout characters, like Frasier Crane, even go on to star in their own series.

Who are the greatest breakout characters on TV? Vote up the best breakout television characters below or add the best breakout star if he or she isn't already on the list.

Data-driven recommendations based on voting from over 40 million monthly visits to Ranker. Try the free app
list ordered by
1
Ron Swanson is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
Parks and Recreation

Actor: Nick Offerman

2
Daryl Dixon is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
3
Spike is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
Gandarla86 added Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Actor: James Marsters

Episode: School Hard, Surprise

More Spike 

#20 of 215 The Saddest Television Deaths Ever #21 of 325 The Best TV Villains Of All Time

4
Barney Stinson is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
How I Met Your Mother

Actor: Neil Patrick Harris

Episode: Peter's Progress, No Chris Left Behind

More Barney Stinson 

#245 of 787 The Most Annoying TV and Film Characters Ever #2 of 86 The Best Dressed Male TV Characters

5
Sheldon Cooper is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
6
Spock is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
Star Trek

Actor: Leonard Nimoy

Occupation: Scientist

Episode: Unification, Part II

More Spock 

#63 of 215 The Saddest Television Deaths Ever #5 of 85 The Most Memorable Film Sidekicks Ever

7
Dwight Schrute is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
8
Fonzie is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
Happy Days, Joanie Loves Chachi

Actor: Henry Winkler

Occupation: Mechanic

9
April Ludgate is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
10
Janitor is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
Scrubs

Actor: Neil Flynn

Occupation: Janitor

11
Jesse Pinkman is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
Mia W (SweetLilMzMia) added Breaking Bad

Actor: Aaron Paul

Episode: Felina

More Jesse Pinkman 

#599 of 787 The Most Annoying TV and Film Characters Ever #25 of 204 The Most Likeable TV Anti-Heroes

12
Castiel is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
Supernatural

Actor: Misha Collins

Episode: Jump the Shark

More Castiel 

#146 of 1,423 The Greatest TV Characters of All Time #28 of 91 The Most Hardcore Current TV Characters

13
Stewie Griffin is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
Family Guy

Actor: Seth MacFarlane

14
Cosmo Kramer is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
Seinfeld

Actor: Michael Richards

Occupation: Actor

15
Frasier Crane is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
Cheers

Actor: Kelsey Grammer

Occupation: Psychiatrist, Psychotherapist, Radio personality

More Frasier Crane 

#53 of 1,423 The Greatest TV Characters of All Time #51 of 86 The Best Dressed Male TV Characters #101 of 487 The Funniest TV Characters of All Time

16
Steve Urkel is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
Family Matters

Actor: Jaleel White

Occupation: Student, Inventor, Scientist

Episode: The T.G.I.F. Time Warp

More Steve Urkel 

#220 of 1,423 The Greatest TV Characters of All Time #6 of 103 The Greatest Geeks in TV History

17
Barney Fife is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
The Andy Griffith Show

Actor: Don Knotts

Occupation: Police officer

18
Karen Walker is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
Will & Grace

Actor: Megan Mullally

Occupation: Businessperson, Socialite, Personal assistant

More Karen Walker 

#83 of 97 The Funniest Characters Currently on TV #8 of 286 The Funniest Female TV Characters

19
Michael Kelso is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
That 70's Show

Actor: Ashton Kutcher

Occupation: Waiting staff, Student, Security guard, Police officer, Model, + more

More Michael Kelso 

#347 of 1,423 The Greatest TV Characters of All Time #20 of 152 The Greatest TV Character Losses of All Time

20
Bobby Singer is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
wawwhite1 added Supernatural

Actor: Jim Beaver

Episode: No Rest For The Wicked, Mystery Spot, In My Time of Dying, Dream a Little Dream of Me, The Magnificent Seven, + more

21
Alex P. Keaton is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
Family Ties

Actor: Michael J. Fox

22
Bart Simpson is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
teddybear1029 added The Simpsons, The Tracey Ullman Show

Actor: Nancy Cartwright

Occupation: Student

More Bart Simpson 

#391 of 787 The Most Annoying TV and Film Characters Ever #7 of 317 The Greatest Cartoon Characters in TV History

23
Mr. Gold is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
wawwhite1 added Once Upon a Time

Actor: Robert Carlyle

24
Crowley is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
Lilahjk added Supernatural

Actor: Mark Sheppard

Episode: Johnny Bravo

25
Arya Stark is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History