If you missed it, we published a well-received list of the ten manliest movie characters the last fifty years. Television has it’s own star-studded roster of manly characters, too. The best part is, us fans get to see these characters more frequently than movie characters. In many ways, it feels like we know them a bit more because of the deep character development. While there are lists about characters who “redefined” masculinity, here’s ten traditionally masculine television characters from the last fifty years.
Manliest Characters in the Old West: James Dutton, “1883”
The “Yellowstone” prequel is the Oregon Trail video game brought to life! James Dutton is an 1880’s cattle rancher who leads his family on a treacherous journey from Texas to Montana. Dutton’s physical strength, leadership, and his unwavering determination to protect his family make him a symbol of masculinity on television. In one memorable scene, Dutton confronts a group of bandits who have attacked his family’s wagon train. Dutton takes on the bandits single-handedly, using his rifle and his fists to defeat them and protect his family. (Spoilers) Oh, and don’t try messing with his daughter, either.
Manliest Characters in the 60’s: Don Draper from “Mad Men”
Jon Hamm’s celebrated portrayal of ad man Don Draper embodied the masculine spirit of the 1960’s. Dick Whitman, A.K.A. Don Draper, is known for his charisma, wit, and style, but also for his troubled past and hidden vulnerabilities. A moment that demonstrated his masculinity was when he defended his family’s honor in a bar fight. In the scene, Don got into a physical altercation with a man who had insulted his wife. Shockingly, the ad man emerged victorious after the brutal fight, leaving his opponent bloodied and battered.
Manliest Characters in the 80’s: Thomas Magnum from “Magnum, P.I.”
Thomas Magnum is a private investigator and former Navy SEAL who lives in Hawaii. Magnum’s physical strength, intelligence, and his ability to solve complex cases make him a symbol of masculinity on television. In one memorable scene, Magnum takes on a group of armed robbers who are holding hostages in a jewelry store. Magnum uses his wits and his combat skills to take down the robbers and save the hostages.
Tony Soprano from “The Sopranos”
Tony’s character is a complex mix of family man, ruthless mob boss, and vulnerable human being. He’s a character you know is bad, but really want to root for. Ruthlessly aggressive, this New Jersey mob lives by the code of the wild. Don’t dare be a rat, and never disrespect them! In season one, the Sopranos audience was given a taste of what was to come related to primal aggression. It’s here when Tony bumps into a former “rat” and takes matters into his own hands, strangling the man.
Walter White from “Breaking Bad”
Walter White was a high school chemistry teacher turned drug kingpin, willing to do anything to provide for his family. He reminds the audience that most men do have dark sides of their personality that can be tapped into when necessary. A memorable scene that demonstrated his masculinity was when he faced off against a rival drug lord. In the scene, Walter used his intelligence and resourcefulness to outsmart his opponent. Ultimately, “Heisenberg” emerged victorious and solidified his status as a major player in the drug world.
Jack Bauer from “24”
Jack’s character is a tough counterterrorism agent who is willing to risk his life to protect his country. In season one, Jack discovers that an assassination attempt is being planned against presidential candidate David Palmer. As he works to prevent the attack,Jack discovers that his boss is involved in the plot against Palmer. Heroically, Jack chooses the right thing and he takes down the conspirators who were planning the assassination attempt. Thanks to Jack’s bravery and quick thinking, Palmer continues his campaign and eventually becomes President of the United States.
Jax Teller from “Sons of Anarchy”
Unsurprisingly, a biker gang icon makes it on our list of TV’s manliest characters. Jax Teller is a biker gang leader who is fiercely loyal to his family and his club. Throughout the series, he leads his gang in brutal, bloody battles against rival gangs. In season 1 episode 8, Jax was defends Tara’s honor by shooting her ex-turned-stalker and attempted rapist, Kohn, dead. Arguably, there’s nothing more masculine than that act.
Vic Mackey from “The Shield”
Vic Mackey is the leader of an elite police unit in Los Angeles. Mackey’s physical strength, intelligence, and his complex moral code make him a symbol of masculinity on television. In one brutal scene, Mackey interrogates a suspect by slamming his head into a wall repeatedly until he confesses to the crime. This demonstrated Mackey’s willingness to use brute force to get the job done, even if it means crossing ethical boundaries.
Manliest Characters of the Apocalypse: Rick Grimes from “The Walking Dead”
Rick’s character is a former sheriff’s deputy who becomes a leader in a world overrun by zombies. In nine seasons, he proved he would do anything to protect his family. Whether it be biting out a man’s throat or covering himself in guts, he’s a manly survivor through and through. In his sacrificial act, Rick blows up the bridge he’s on to protect his group from a zombie horde. Even while hallucinating and bleeding out, he used wits to fend off the undead, showing his dedication to his people.
Joel from “The Last of Us”
Another apocalyptic protagonist makes the list, and similar to Rick Grimes, Joel is a father battling the horrors of zombies. After a fungal outbreak destroys humanity, Joel becomes a smuggler who transports people and supplies across a dangerous, infected America. Joel’s strength, resourcefulness, and willingness to do whatever it takes to survive make him one television’s manliest characters. In a badass scene, Joel kills a group of bandits who were threatening him and Ellie, whom he has sworn to protect.
Honorable Mention: Cordell Walker, “Walker, Texas Ranger”
What’s a list about manliest characters without Chuck Norris? His portrayal of Cordell Walker in “Walker, Texas Ranger” deserves an honorable mention as a symbol of masculinity on television. As a Texas Ranger, Walker is a master of martial arts and an expert in firearms. In one memorable scene, Walker takes on a group of armed robbers in a warehouse using only his fists. Of course, he destroys them. Walker’s unwavering sense of justice and his ability to protect the innocent make him a beloved character.