Ever since the GTA franchise became what it is today with Grand Theft Auto 3, Rockstar has packed their worlds full of colorful and rich characters. While we’ve only been able to control male characters up until now (though that is set to change if the GTA 6 rumors are true), they have all had distinct and interesting personalities and stories. That said, sometimes it’s the side characters that can steal the show too. Looking back at the entire series, we’ve come up with our picks for the best GTA characters of all time.
Carl ‘CJ’ Johnson — GTA: San Andreas
Good old Carl Johnson, better known as CJ, is way more than just a meme. San Andreas was the second game in the series to really focus on character in a major way, and the team nailed it with their lead. Not only was the entire cast filled with bonafide actors, but CJ’s personal story as a gang member whose mother is murdered was far more nuanced and emotional than the media would lead you to believe. The real draw was the relationship CJ had with the main antagonist Officer Tenpenny (who may or may not be mentioned later on). This game set the standard for how Rockstar would reveal more about the characters and world through casual conversation throughout the story.
Tommy Vercetti — GTA: Vice City
Vice City still feels a bit like it was getting its grip on refining the GTA formula after 3, but as far as the world and characters are concerned, Rockstar was leagues ahead of the competition. Tommy’s entire arc wears its Scarface inspirations on its sleeve and is all the better for it. He cracks-wise, has a simple goal of becoming the most powerful gangster in the city, and is just a fun character to follow. This also marked the first time in the series we got a protagonist voiced by a Hollywood actor in the form of Ray Liotta, who absolutely nails the role. He feels like a second attempt at the character Claude from GTA 3 was meant to be but with the benefit of a sun-soaked Miami-inspired setting.
Trevor Philips — GTA V
You can love him or hate him, but whichever side you land on we all can agree that Trevor is a good character. Not a good person — not even close — but a good character. Of the main trio featured in GTA V, Trevor stands out as the unpredictable wild card. Not only do you never know what Trevor is going to do, or how he will react, to a given situation, but even his dialogue is unpredictable. Sure, you could say that he lacks any character growth, but that’s somewhat the point — he contrasts Michael and Franklin’s development. He’s easily the funniest character on this list, while simultaneously being the most terrifying. That’s no small feat, and easily earns him a spot on this list.
Officer Tenpenny — GTA: San Andreas
Our only non-player character, and antagonist, to make the list is the best villain of the series. This character might’ve earned a spot simply for being voiced by none other than Samuel L. Jackson himself, but the character himself pulls as much weight as the performance. Like any great villain, Tenpenny is just as three-dimensional as CJ, with strengths, weaknesses, and relatable motivation. We just wish he could’ve survived so we could get more of him in later games.
Niko Bellic — GTA IV
Taking us back to Liberty City, Rockstar switched things up on players by giving us perhaps the most “American” story told through the eyes of fresh immigrant Niko Bellic. This modern tale (well, modern for the time anyway) of a man looking for a fresh start in a new country, only to have his past continue to haunt him, was a fresh direction for the series. This is really where Rockstar’s ability to write empathetic characters who were trying to do the right thing, but was destined to fail was perfected. We loved the tragedy of seeing Niko try his best to live an honest life, only for outside forces to drag him back into a life of crime and violence.