Top 10 Male Characters in Literature

Matt Damon plays the role of Mark Watney to perfection in the movie version of “The Martian.”

Matt Damon plays the role of Mark Watney to perfection in the movie version of “The Martian.”

Women’s magazines tell us there’s a dearth of good (and eligible) men. Thank goodness, it’s not the case in literature. From literary novels to thrillers, and of course, romances, there are enough great male characters to keep readers glued to their books.

I had a lot of fun rounding up my top 10 male protagonists. If you haven’t read the books below, grab a copy and see what you think of these fine men.

Top 10 Literary Heroes

#1 Mark Watney ( “The Martian” by Andy Weir)

Astronaut Mark Watney is left behind on Mars by his crewmates who think he died in a storm. How would he get back to Earth, if at all? His answer: “I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this.” Watney is the quintessential 21st-century literary hero—intelligent, resourceful, brave, and most of all, funny.  Despite the endless obstacles he faces, he keeps his sense of humor and hope intact. Getting stranded on Mars doesn’t seem so bad if you’re in the company of Mark Watney.

#2 Jack Reacher (Jack Reacher series by Lee Child)

During stressful times, nothing can comfort me better than Jack Reacher. In every book, he arrives in a new place with only the clothes on his back, some cash, and usually no clear agenda, but he’s always ready for a kick-ass adventure.  A former Army Military Police officer, he has a brutal sense of justice and the right skill set to go with it. He has no qualms breaking the law and he won’t stop until he stops the baddies. Call him a vigilante, a killer, or an anti-hero. He’s all of that and then some. If everything goes haywire tomorrow, let’s just hope Jack Reacher is in town.

#3 Mr. Darcy/Fitzwilliam Darcy (“Pride & Prejudice” by Jane Austen)

He’s intelligent, rich, and handsome—what’s not to like about Mr. Darcy? OK, he does start out as an arrogant snob and a bit of a jerk, but thanks to Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Darcy goes through a massive emotional arc and redeems himself in the end.

#4 Inman (“Cold Mountain” by Charles Frazier)

After getting injured and experiencing horrific violence in the Civil War, Inman walks 300 miles back to his home and returns to his love, Ada Monroe. Inman is a sensitive and ruminative soul who will haunt you long after you finish reading this deeply moving novel.

#5 Atticus Finch (“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee)

I’ve read “Go Set a Watchman,” which continues the story of the beloved characters of “To Kill a Mockingbird” two decades later. Let’s just say I prefer the Atticus Finch of “To Kill a Mockingbird”—a lawyer with an indefatigable sense of justice. He’s a patient and loving father, and a Southern gentleman in the best sense. He defends a black man wrongly accused of raping a white woman in a small town rife with racism. He sacrifices his peaceful life and jeopardizes his family’s security in the process. For this, Atticus is an enduring literary hero, apart from “Go Set a Watchman.”

#6 Sam Spade (The Maltese Falcon” by Dashiell Hammett)

Sam Spade is the best thing about “The Maltese Falcon,” Dashiell Hammett’s seminal detective novel. He fights the bad guys bare-fisted and outsmarts the cops and the villains alike. Although he romances the ladies, he’s decidedly an anti-romantic hero. In software speak, Sam Spade is the equivalent of a template—the inspiration and the basis of so many detective heroes that came after him.

#7 Jay Gatsby (“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald)

I admire Jay Gatsby for his ability to reinvent himself and to stick to his goal at all costs.  I can understand why he falls in love with Daisy Buchanan as a young military officer, but why he stays in love with her until the end beats me. Still, it doesn’t make him less of a romantic hero.

#8 George Emerson (“A Room with a View” by E.M. Forster)

There’s a purity to George Emerson that’s hard to resist.  Of all the characters in this upbeat novel, he’s the one who truly believes in the power of love and puts all of his faith in it. Everyone around him pretends to be in love— or not in love— and lie about it, but he remains true to himself and to his beloved Lucy Honeychurch.

#9 Eddie Brown (“The Professional” by W.C. Heinz)

Eddie Brown, a prizefighter and a devoted husband and father, is a consummate professional who kept me rooting for him throughout the story. This 1958 boxing novel is a glimpse of Eddie’s training prior to a make-or-break fight, his first shot at the world middleweight championship after nine years of struggle. He’s unsentimental, almost stoic, in pursuing his dream, but memorable on the whole. It’s no wonder Ernest Hemingway, a well-known boxing fan, praised this novel.

#10 Mikael Blomkvist (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” by Stieg Larsson)

I didn’t like Stieg Larsson’s trilogy well enough to finish reading all three books, but based on “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” alone, Mikael Blomkvist earned his place on this list. He’s a crusading journalist who uses the power of the pen to expose corrupt financiers. He also uses his investigative journalism skills to solve the decades-old mystery of the disappearance of a wealthy young woman.

Read a related story:

Top 9 Female Characters in Literature

Top 9 Supporting Characters in Literature


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  1. Top 10 Villains in Literature | Cindy Fazzi
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