Cast of 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'
(20th Television)

10 Best ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ Episodes, Ranked

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is well over 20 years old now, but it’s proving to be one of those genre classics like Star Trek: TOS that never quite goes away. The series, which premiered in 1997, sports a legacy that’s still influencing today’s popular culture. While the revelations about Joss Whedon may have tarnished the show’s self-conscious feminism, it still stands as a revolutionary genre-defying take on horror tropes, adolescence, and the misogynistic narratives embedded in popular media. Though thankfully, we’re all a lot less comfortable with grown men kissing teenage girls now, even if they are centuries-old vampires.

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Funny, scary, and frequently emotionally devastating (especially in later seasons), there’s still a lot to love in Buffy. After spending frankly a lot more time thinking about this than I should have, here are my top 10 episodes, counting down from 10th runner-up to best.

10. “The Body” (season 5, episode 16)

Kristine Sutherland as Joyce Summers in Buffy episode "The Body"; she lies on her back with her eyes open and face blank. She's wearing a white shirt.
20th Century Television

While “The Body” is a truly phenomenal piece of television, I absolutely hate it for all the things that make it great, so it’s only here under sufferance. Buffy’s mother Joyce dies, and that’s upsetting enough, but “The Body” is an incredibly well-written and crafted exploration of grief that makes you feel all of it. Viscerally. It’s brilliant and horrible, powerful and powerfully depressing, and not at all what I come to Buffy the Vampire Slayer for. What I’m here for is a show about weird teens (and later, hot college girls) killing and/or making out with monsters. 10/10 for artistry, very well done, now I’d like to never think about it again.

9. “Witch(season 1, episode 3)

Buffy the Witch episode; a woman's hands lower a cheerleader doll with pink cloth wrapped around it's face into a green, bubbling liquid.
(20th Century Television)

This is the kind of episode that I come to Buffy for. “Witch” takes a normal, stressful high school experience—in this case, trying out for the cheer squad—and views it through an apt supernatural metaphor. Girls catch fire, go blind, and suffer unfortunate accidents until the girl with the pushy cheer mom finally makes it on the team. Because in the Buffy-verse, a parent trying to relive their youth through their child can literally take over their body. There’s witchcraft, a body-swap plot that doesn’t rely primarily on embarrassment (as it does in every other show or movie), and a well-earned comeuppance. It’s fun, the ending is satisfying, and it fleshes out more of the Buffy-verse beyond vampirism.

8. “Bad Girls” (season 3, episode 14)

Screensot from the Bad Girls Buffy episode; Eliza Dushku as Faith looks through a window that she's drawn a heart on, making a wicked face.
(20th Century Television)

This is a fun episode until suddenly it isn’t, and that’s good, too. In “Bad Girls,” Buffy and Faith bond, with Faith teaching Buffy to loosen up, have fun, and lean into loving the slaying. Faith and Buffy skip school to destroy a nest of vampires. They go dancing, shoplift weapons, and then Faith accidentally kills a guy. A human guy. Oops. Faith isn’t that bothered by casual murder, and Buffy learns that Faith’s instinct and impulse-driven approach to the Slayer life isn’t necessarily a good thing. The tonal shift proves very effective: it’s like a really fun night out ending with a bucket of cold water to the face. “Bad Girls” also features the iconic moment where Faith walks in, sees Wesley in all his pompous glory, and walks right back out again. It’s a whole mood.

7. “Out of Mind, Out of Sight” (season 1, episode 11)

Screenshot from the Buffy episode Out of Mind, Out of Sight; Charisma Carpenter as Cordelia sits in a chair with a crooked tiara and blood on her face.
(20th Century Television)

One of the more blatantly metaphorical episodes, “Out of Mind, Out of Sight” avoids being condescending by making the metaphor literal and having the Scoobies be aware of it. So many people feel completely invisible in high school, but Sunnydale’s proximity to the Hellmouth is capable of transforming that sentiment into reality. Marcie (Clea Duvall!) was a shy flutist whose parents were never around, and who was increasingly invisible to her classmates. Then one day, she literally disappeared from view. It’s hard to say at what point the magic took over in this process, but it doesn’t really matter, because Marcie is angry and she’s out for blood. Cordelia’s blood in particular, as she blames her for excluding her back when she was still visible. It’s a great concept and the little postscript where Marcie is recruited by a clandestine government agency shows just how evil and untrustworthy the government is. And let’s face it, that’s exactly what the government would do if they had access to traumatized, invisible teenagers in real life. The episode leaves you with a lot more questions about the Buffy-verse.

6. “Selfless” (season 7, episode 5)

Screenshot from the Buffy episode Selfless; Emma Caulfield Ford as Anya stands next to a pale skinned demon, looking into the distance.
(20th Century Television)

“Selfless” gives us Anya (Emma Caulfield)’s origin story, and serves up that signature mix of humor and heartbreak that Anya brings to the series. It also explains her fear of rabbits—turns out it’s not the bunnies’ fault, but the associations she has with them. “Selfless” has a lot of good lines in classic Buffy fashion, but the laughs are countered with deeply sad revelations about Anya’s past. There’s a lot of comedy in Anya’s very first revenge spell, and it’s really fun to watch her gaslighting, philandering husband stumble around in troll form while villagers throw things at him. Then there’s that very hot flashback to the Russian Revolution with her and Hallie that’s just delightful. But it’s not this high up on the list just for that.

Something interesting “Selfless” does is depict the original, human Anya (then called Aud) as either autistic or otherwise neurodivergent. The “quirky,” funny little ways she doesn’t understand what she refers to as human culture (and which already pinged for a lot of autistic viewers) aren’t actually a human-demon culture clash at all. They’re part of who she always was as a human being; it’s just that demons didn’t treat her badly for being different in the same way that humans did. Anya is not the best autism representation out there, but she’s also definitely not the worst. And frankly, the fact that literal demons treated an autistic woman better than most neurotypical humans did is something to think about.

5. “Fool for Love” (season 5, episode 7)

Screenshot from Buffy episode Fool for Love; Juliet Landau as Drusila cuddles up to James Marsters as Spike. He has blood on his face and they're grinning.
(20th Century Television)

It’s a Spike and Drusilla period piece! I love “Fool for Love” because it tells you so much about who Spike is. The episode also delves into the relationship dynamics between the four members of the Whirlwind (Spike, Dru, Darla, and Angelus), throughout the centuries. We learn how Spike got his nickname, and we meet his soppy, sweet human self, which makes us reassess the Spike we know and love. The storyline with his mother is heartbreaking, his tension with Angelus is great, and the two battles where he killed a Slayer provide us with tantalizing information while leaving us wanting more.

4. “Graduation Day 1 & 2” (season 3, episodes 21 & 22)

Screenshot from the Buffy episode Graduation Day 2; a group of Sunnydale High students rip off their robes to reveal a lot of weapons.
(20th Century Television)

“Graduation Day” may be two separate episodes but they’re also a two-parter, so I feel justified in making them share an entry on this list. The season 3 finale sees the mayor’s long-term evil plan finally come to fruition, as he decides to time his Ascension to demon-hood with the end of his speech at the Sunnydale High graduation ceremony. So much happens in these episodes. Angel is poisoned by Faith, who gets stabbed by Buffy. The Mayor turns into a 60-foot-long snake demon and eats Principal Snyder, a truly beautiful moment. And the entire graduation class, under the command of General Xander (drawing on his Halloween-induced military knowledge), rises up together to take down the mayor’s forces. There are flaming arrows and a brilliant moment where the graduates rip off their graduation robes to reveal weapons and crosses. Buffy leads the snake-mayor on a merry, rage-filled dance through the school right into a room full of explosives, which ends with destroying both the mayor and Sunnydale High. It’s so satisfying, and a great way to mark the show’s transition between dealing with teenage (demon) problems to adult ones.

3. “Band Candy” (season 3, episode 6)

Screenshot from the Buffy episode Band Candy; Anthony Stewart Head as Giles and Kristine Sutherland as Joyce make out on top of a police car.
(20th Century Television)

I love Giles, and I especially love bad boy young Giles, a.k.a. Ripper, with his motorcycle and demon-summoning best friend/ex-boyfriend Ethan Rayne. No, the relationship is not technically canon, but there’s a lot of homoerotic tension there. IMHO, Giles has always pinged as a disaster bisexual even before this episode. It’s really fun to watch his irresponsible younger self come out to play, especially when he takes off with teen Joyce to steal stuff and hook up on top of a police car. The episode feels like a meta-joke about how they’re the mom and dad of the entire Scooby Gang, even though they’re not actually a couple. The episode delves into the bridge between adolescence and adulthood, a timely theme as the Scoobies prepare to graduate high school.

2. “Hush” (season 4, episode 10)

The gentlemen from the "Hush" episode of 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'
(20th Century Television)

OK, so “Hush” is legitimately terrifying, and is perhaps the scariest episode of the entire series. Even though I was a whole almost-adult when I first watched “Hush”, I still went to bed paranoid I’d see the Gentlemen coming for me. The episode sees everyone in Sunnydale waking up without voices. While that would be unsettling enough on its own, this is Sunnydale, so that’s about when the murders start. The Gentlemen (one of whom is played by Doug Jones!) are tall, gaunt, corpse-like figures who float menacingly a few inches above the ground, accompanied by odd shambling Igor-esque creatures who act as their assistants. On the hunt for human hearts, the fact that they’ll politely knock on your door first before harvesting your vital organs just adds to the nightmare fuel of it all. Genuinely the most unsettling thing Buffy has ever done and I applaud it.

1. “Once More with Feeling” (season 6, episode 7)

Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy Summers in "Once More With Feeling"
(20th Century Television)

It has to be the musical episode “Once More With Feeling” that takes first place. Not just because the songs are absolute bangers, but because the writing is really good. First off, they found a way to make the song and dance numbers real in the world of the show (thanks to musical demon Sweet), instead of some kind of dream sequence/fantasy aside. The songs reveal the Scoobies’ secret inner pains and conflicts, which are raw and emotionally devastating in the best way. The episode also shows off the vocal talent of (most of) the cast, which each song style artfully matched to each character. Then the little twist ending, which I won’t spoil for you just in case you haven’t watched it, remains just as funny and delightful.

(featured image: 20th Century Television)


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Author
Siobhan Ball
Siobhan Ball (she/her) is a contributing writer covering news, queer stuff, politics and Star Wars. A former historian and archivist, she made her first forays into journalism by writing a number of queer history articles c. 2016 and things spiralled from there. When she's not working she's still writing, with several novels and a book on Irish myth on the go, as well as developing her skills as a jeweller.