buffy smiling in the series finale

Every ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ Season, Ranked From Worst to Best

Seriously, she saved the world a LOT.

Love Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Join the club. The series has been recognized as incredibly important to horror/fantasy, as well as pop culture. And Buffy Summers is, undoubtedly, one of the most iconic characters of all time. With other main characters (especially the Scoobies) also being incredibly significant. I go hard for this show, it’s one of my favorites of all time. It means a lot to me and has helped me through so much shit since I was a teenager. And that’s the thing, with streaming (I was too young to watch when it originally aired), a whole new generation has discovered the show and it continues to live on in many hearts and minds.

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As far as the seasons, even the seasons that are my least favorite have something terrific to offer. With many shows, I can’t even watch episodes that are considered the worst. With Buffy? I’ve rewatched the show from start to finish more than once. But these seasons need to be ranked right now. How am I ranking them? Worst season-long storyline to best season-long storyline.

[Editor’s note: The question of how to (and whether you can) separate the art from the problematic and/or abusive artist—in this case, Joss Whedon—is an evolving conversation that we don’t want to gloss over. Let us know your own thoughts in the comments.]

Season 4

buffy screaming to get rid of the gentleman in Buffy episode: Hush
(The WB)

Season four focuses on Buffy’s college life, and centers around how, once high school is over, everything changes.

There are some really good episodes in this season—I mean, hey, this is the season we’re introduced to Tara (Amber Benson)!!! But this season really struggles to find its footing with Buffy’s new life—and the overarching conflict is…not great. Basically, season four has Buffy dealing with the Initiative’s secret creation, Adam (a.k.a. the WORST villain in the series). And then you add in Buffy’s relationship with Riley (Marc Blucas), which is meh, and filled with toxic masculinity—he simply can’t handle his girlfriend being 10x stronger than him. Ugh. And what you get is Buffy’s least satisfying season—even with the season finale being very memorable.

Season 1

buffy and co standing near the master's bones in Buffy s1 finale
(The WB)

The first season of a good show can either be golden (and hard to live up to) or a little clunky (as they find their way and introduce the viewer to the world). In this case, it’s a little bit of both.

Look, without it, we wouldn’t have the show. So, I’ll give it a little praise up top for that, and for its true classic horror homages. Many of which are done well. But where this season falls apart is how useless The Master (Mark Metcalf) and The Anointed One (Andrew J. Ferchland) are as villains. Sure, The Master delivers the camp, and his scenes with Buffy are stellar. But otherwise, season one’s storyline has a hard time balancing monster-of-the-week and the villain’s grand plan. A skill that they’ll later become excellent at. Season one gave us great relationships (romantic and otherwise), but the overall arc just wasn’t what it could be.

Season 7

buffy smiling in the series finale

Season seven focuses on the end—and what exactly that means for Buffy and her crew. And the First Evil returns as the main villain of this season, wanting to open the Hellmouth and take over the world.

There’s just a lot going on throughout the season. A little too much, in some ways. The potential slayers (a.k.a. the potentials) are a mixed bag of irritating and tolerable. Meanwhile, Buffy spends the majority of the season working at her old (yet very remodeled as it was blown up in season 3) high school, without any qualifications I might add, which is a little blah. Overall, the main storyline’s best aspect is how it all comes together in the end. It has a great (and satisfying) finale, but when you don’t take that into consideration, something about this season doesn’t fully work.

Season 6

buffy singing in Once More, with Feeling ep

Season six is a season filled with misery. And overall, it’s less fun because of it. The focus is primarily on Buffy’s resurrection and her depression and coping mechanisms afterward. This notably leads to her sleeping with Spike (James Marsters) in order to feel something—and that brings misery (and a controversial episode with assault). And it seems all of the characters are blowing up their lives (or blowing up everyone’s lives by attempting to destroy the world, looking at you, Willow).

However, this was a pivotal season for the series. It marks a turning point for a lot of the characters, as they make the decisions that will impact the rest of their arcs on the show. And even if the plot seems to fall flat, in a way, it’s actually the most realistic season. There’s emotional fallout to everything the characters have been through, and while it’s hard to watch at times, season six acknowledges the trauma and sacrifice of being a superhero who saves the world again and again. Which is why it’s higher up on the list rather than at the very bottom. Plus, the musical episode is iconic, hello!

Season 3

buffy and faith giving us homoerotic tension in BTVS s3
(The WB)

Now, on to the best of the best. Season three has such a flavor to it that’s so satisfying. Senior year of high school is usually monumental (not to say it shapes the rest of your life, but it certainly is impactful, in some way, for most), and in Buffy’s case, season three takes a huge pivot as a show. There’s so much to love here—Angel (David Boreanaz) coming back from hell, the introduction of Faith (Eliza Dushku) as a slayer and the role she plays, Buffy and Angel dealing with the reality of their relationship, and more. And I couldn’t forget to mention the mayor and how phenomenal he is as a villain. It also marks Angel exiting as a main character to go to LA for his spin-off. The whole season is ripe with tension and an exploration of how far people can go. There are a few dips in quality here and there, but, for the most part, season three is consistently excellent. Plus, Buffy and Faith’s relationship (which has so many queer undertones) is very important to both of their journeys.

Season 2

jenny moments before her death in BTVS s2
(The WB)

Season two is beautifully executed and has a two-part finale that pulls at the heart. There’s an exploration of what it means to sacrifice and the weight of loss, as Buffy begins to slowly come to terms with the idea that she can’t save everyone. The group really solidifies their bond in this season, and as a whole, does their best to be there for her. But ultimately, season two establishes what every season after will echo, that when it comes down to it, nobody truly understands Buffy’s identity as the slayer. Nor can they feel the full weight of what that entails. The only person who could was Kendra (Bianca Lawson) before Faith showed up. And even she doesn’t last long. I must mention that one of the biggest highlights of this season is Angel turning back into Angelus. That becomes so integral to the overall plot and is so heartbreaking (as well as fantastic). At the end of the day, season two’s plot is *chef’s kiss.*

Season 5

buffy and dawn on the makeshift tower in Buffy season 5
(The WB)

Season five gives us something you could never have predicted during your first watch: Dawn. A sister that Buffy suddenly has, and who all the characters remember, even though we, as an audience, just watched four seasons of a show with Buffy as an only child. It’s brilliant. The plot of this season is essentially Buffy keeping Dawn safe from Glory (Clare Kramer)—a villain who isn’t just any demon or vampire, she’s a fucking hell god! She’s an iconic baddie, and this makes this season even better. Season five just genuinely has the best serialized plot in the entire series. And gives us such an emotional and shocking finale (that almost served as the series finale) that wrecks us every time. It’s corny but the conflict reminds us what “love” is at its core and its true power over evil. What more can I say? This season is practically perfect, and Buffy goes out as a true hero.

(featured image: The WB)

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Image of Vanessa Maki
Vanessa Maki
Vanessa Maki (she/her) is a queer Blerd and contributing writer for The Mary Sue. She first started writing for digital magazines in 2018 and her articles have appeared in Pink Advocate (defunct), The Gay Gaze (defunct), Dread Central and more. She primarily writes about movies, TV, and anime. Efforts to make her stop loving complex/villainous characters or horror as a genre will be futile.