The greatest things about both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spinoff Angel are the characters. As excellently, tightly plotted as both were, the characters were what kept people coming back every week. The actors consistently nailed it and the writing was simultaneously grand and intimate. These were characters that were allowed to grow and change as their respective series went on. They were completely different at the end than they were at the beginning.
But what characters changed the most? That’s exactly what we’ll be taking a look at in this list and it’s harder to answer than you might think. Everything factors into this. The decisions they make, changes in their personality, appearance, all of it matters.
These are the characters from both shows who truly wound up in a different place than they started. Some of them started out wholesome and went to darker places, some were introduced as monsters and turned out to be heroes. Whatever the case, these are the people who truly changed as time went on.
Anya was first introduced as a single episode villain in “The Wish.” She was a lot of fun to have on set and Whedon kept her in mind for a later episode bringing back Willow’s vampire twin. It was here that he saw how great she was with comedy and kept coming up with more reasons to keep her coming back on the show, eventually making her a series regular. Anya started out as a monster of the week, became Xander’s girlfriend, his fiancé, a capitalist and genuinely funny and consistently sarcastic presence.
Fred is introduced as scientist who was sucked into another dimension where she lived as a slave for five years. For her first few episodes, she’s still living with that and is almost completely lost inside of herself. But she has an amazing confidence and, frankly, a badass nature that builds and builds throughout the series. Sure, her transformation into Illyria is drastic, but that’s credit to the actress. Fred is sadly gone before Illyria comes into the picture as her own, distinct character. Winifred Burkle was one of the most wholesome and trustworthy of Team Angel right up until the end, but also proved she was more than capable of handling herself.
Cordelia started out as the bitchy popular girl who hated being roped into helping—or even knowing—Buffy and her friends. Her journey was long and complicated, but even though she never lost the major aspects of her personality, she became a hero. Even if she became possessed by a monster during her last arc on Angel, she died a champion. In a Joss Whedon show, it’s really how you go out that counts.
Faith’s arc, at least in the third season of Buffy, was planned from the get-go. She’s the new slayer in town. She’s rash, impulsive, she doesn’t take orders like Buffy does. She’s never had the sense of family that Buffy has, and that’s what leaves her vulnerable. The Mayor is evil, but he’s like a father to her. She becomes a cold-blooded killer, but then faces her demons and begins a long road toward redemption. Her character’s particularly interesting, given that she has just as much development on Angel as she does on Buffy.
How can Willow not be a major part of this list? She starts out as Buffy’s nerdy, computer hacker best friend who’s smitten with Xander. Then, she starts dating a werewolf and becomes a burgeoning witch. Her power over witchcraft grows as does her confidence and she comes out as gay and begins a serious relationship with Tara. After Tara’s death, an enraged Willow unleashes godlike power and tries to end the world. Then she atones for what she’s done by casting a single spell that empowers women all across the globe by turning them into slayers. There’s no better transformation than a meek, quiet nerdy girl who becomes a Goddess.
More than any other character, it’s a miracle Spike stuck around as long as he did. He was supposed to last around three or four episodes, just a semi-recurring villain. His apparent death in “What’s My Line” was originally just going to be his death scene. They kept coming up with reasons to keep him around just a little bit longer. He goes from being a villain to a neutered, reluctant ally in the fourth season. From there, it’s revealed that he’s always been in love with Buffy and he becomes an obsessive stalker in the fifth season. His destructive relationship with Buffy in season six drives Spike to realize that he’s not capable of loving her the way she deserves and reminds the audience that he’s still in fact evil, so he fights to restore his soul and begins trying to make up for what he’s done. What makes Spike interesting is that in all the different stages of his development, both evil and good, his personality never changes all that much.
No character on either show changed more than Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. Period. His overall arc is devastating to watch. It’s a brutal decay of innocence and hope over the course of six seasons. He starts out as a comic relief foil for Giles in Buffy’s third season. He’s there to make Giles look cooler. He gets fired by the end of the season and pops up on Angel, where he’s trying to be cool and brands himself a “rogue demon hunter.” Except he’s not, he’s still just a scared idiot. Which makes it all the more interesting to consider that a rogue demon hunter is exactly what he becomes, except it’s not a fun journey to get there. What happens to make him so cold, so dispassionate by the end of the series? It’s a long descent, but as Wesley himself so bluntly put it, “I had my throat cut and all my friends abandoned me.”