Animal Crossing: New Horizons has become the world’s coping mechanism of choice amid the COVID-19 quarantine, and it’s become a hotbed for everyone’s frustrations. Just take a quick glance at Twitter and you’ll find hundreds of angrytweets about ugly problem villagers and furtive questions on how to remove them.
Unfortunately, there’s no surefire way to do this. New Horizons has added many mechanics to craft your island into exactly what you envision it as, but there are some things they just won’t release control over—it can become a strong source of anxiety quick. As a fan of the series since the Gamecube era, I’m well attuned with the song-and-dance to make villagers leave, from digging holes around their houses to hitting them with nets. I’m taking a much more peaceful approach to deal with my own problem villagers, instead opting to ignore them for days on end until they get the message (still working on this with Claude the rabbit, he just can’t take a hint).
I’ve had a lot of time to ponder something that’s floated around in my head since I was 12, something I’ve long argued about with friends: which species in Animal Crossing are the best? After going through every single non-special NPC in the game, I’ve made some definitive decisions on which of God’s beautiful creatures are, well, the most beautiful, and which you’re probably going to want to send packing on their move-in date.
You had a wolf phase that either ended gracefully by the end of elementary’s halcyon days or went partially malignant in your late high school career. Nintendo knows this, and that’s why they made the wolf one of the rarest villager species in the original Gamecube game. They knew just how badly you wanted them. And how could you not? With the addition of Audie in New Horizons, the wolf has solidified itself as the best animal crossing villager species with a pleasing silhouette and few enough members that each becomes a desirable member of any island.
High Points: Kyle, Audie, Skye, Fang, Lobo, Dobie, Wolfgang, Whitney, Vivian, Freya
Low Points: None
When deer finally arrived in New Leaf I was ecstatic. As a Southerner, I’ve always felt sympathy for the most elegant and tragic species on the planet, and remember my mom skipping the VHS right before Bambi’s mom dies so she wouldn’t have to deal with my wailing. The game does the species justice, and contains some of my absolute favorite villagers in the whole series, with decent variety despite a pretty small pool to choose from. They’re simply great, dearie.
High Points: Fauna, Fuchsia, Beau, Bam, Diana, Zell, Lopez
Low Points: Deirdre
The rarest of all villagers are completely worth it, and they’ve been with us since the genesis of the franchise. Not that many players at the time even knew the molluscs existed outside of the fishable oceans—I was completely unaware until New Leaf, when they finally got their third member, the adorable takoyaki-themed Zucker (one of the only instances where I’m able to get past how uncomfortable the food themed villagers are). The only complaint you could possibly have of them is there’s just too few, but it makes encountering them on a wild mystery island tour oh so sweet. I screamed when I encountered Zucker on just my third try.
High Points: Marina, Octavian, Zucker
Low Points: None
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it—that must have been the design philosophy behind all of Animal Crossing’s tigers. Going through the list, you’ll be nodding and thinking “yep, that’s a tiger,” stripes and all. Despite this, all of them are quite cute, from Claudia’s psychedelic neon coloring to Bianca and Rowan’s very classic looks. They may not push the design sense to its utmost reaches, but I bet you’re happy every time you encounter one of these striped friends.
High Points: Bianca, Claudia, Rowan, Leonardo, Tybalt
Low Points: None
Our feline friends are by far the most versatile of species. There’s a cat for everyone, and several (like Bob, Rosie, and more recently Raymond) have become quite popular in the Animal Crossing fandom. Rightfully so—they’re various and manage to be cute without getting gimmicky, and they all read true to what you might expect from a cat, from the snooty glamour of Olivia to the cuddly sweetness of Kiki. Few would dismiss the cats as a weak entry—unless they’re more of a dog person, I guess.
High Points: Bob, Kiki, Olivia, Lolly, Punchy, Rudy, Monique, Rosie, Tom
Low Points: Ankha, Tabby, Stinky, Katt
New Horizons made a mistake by removing the sheeps’ signature scarves. Nevertheless, the sheep have some of the strangest and most colorful designs in the series, and I’m always a fan of a clown villager. Hi, Pietro.
High Points: Willow, Vesta, Muffy, Pietro, Stella, Dom
Low Points: Cashmere, Frita, Wendy
High highs to low lows—the rabbits really run (or hop) the gamut for some of the best and worst villagers. Still, their upright, twitching ears and short stature make them a favorite for many, and even the odd, mature looking rabbits elicit a laugh from me. There’s something charming about the bizarreness of Coco, a progenitor of over half of Animal Crossing’s creepypasta fare, and Snake and Tiffany are hilariously strange. The designers clearly weren’t taking it too seriously on these rabbits, and an island wouldn’t be complete without a town weirdo.
High Points: Bunnie, Chrissy, Coco, Cole, Dotty, Ruby, Snake, Tiffany
Low Points: Claude, Gabi, Gaston, Mira
It’s rather odd to label this species as “ostrich” given over half of its representatives are meant to be birds other than our planet’s largest living bird—we’ve got Flora the flamingo, Gladys the highly endangered red-crowned crane, Julia the peacock, and Phoebe the… phoenix? Nevertheless, the ostriches (or just “big birds” if you prefer) have an interesting silhouette and bright, fun coloring that earns their rightful place in the top ten of Animal Crossing species, which, honestly, they probably wouldn’t have received if every one of their representatives was actually an ostrich.
High Points: Flora, Julia, Phil, Blanche, Gladys
Low Points: Queenie, Sprocket
There’s a je ne sais quoi about our avian friends in Animal Crossing. The shape of the bird villagers may limit the breadth to mostly songbirds, but nearly all of the ones available are adorable in a plucky (or pecky) sort of way. Animal Crossing might not be quite to the point of introducing non-binary villagers (though allowing players to Switch between male and female is a big step), but many of the birds are almost indiscernable when it comes to everyone’s least favorite social construct. They certainly earn some points for that.
High Points: Twiggy, Piper, Peck, Midge, Jacques, Jacob, Peck, Admiral
Low Points: Anchovy, Lucha, Robin
Good on the Animal Crossing designers to make me love an animal that I feel pretty neutral about in real life. The rhinos are adorable and they do a lot with the relatively limited outline of a rhino—odds are you’ve seen the patisserie-themed villager Merengue, whose horn is a strawberry. Rhinos rule.
High Points: Merengue, Hornsby, Renee, Rhonda
Low Points: Tank
I’ve noticed over the years that the squirrels are oddly divisive. Love them or hate them, I’m definitely a fan. Their main appeal is just how small they are, and their designs play off this by being hyper cute or full of sweetly grumpy attitude. Part of my fondness may stem from Pecan being the very first villager I ever spoke to back on the Gamecube. Weirdly, that experience stays with you, nutty.
High Points: Caroline, Hazel, Peanut, Mint, Cally, Pecan, Poppy, Static, Sylvana, Tasha
Low Points: Sheldon, Nibbles, Marshal, Filbert, Agent S
Seemingly everyone has a fond memory of an elephant villager from New Leaf. They’re pleasant with an elegant design and are some of the only villagers taller than your player character, making them unique and helping to diversify the overall demographic of your island. You’ll find yourself wishing you could just be friends with Margie and Tia in real life.
High Points: Tia, Margie, Cyd, Ellie, Paolo, Tucker
Low Points: Axel, Eloise, Big Top
The pigs are a pretty low risk animal—it’s hard not to make them cute or charmingly silly. Think of all the fictional pigs we collectively love: Peppa, Porco Rosso, Miss Piggy, Pumbaa, Porky. You don’t have to try very hard at all to make them appealing, and they don’t even have to be all too pretty (though a little lipstick goes a long way, or so the saying goes). I’m always down for an ugly-cute villager and the pigs have plenty to offer. Also, Ganon (along with Medli) is irrefutably the best amiibo villager in New Leaf—let’s hope they patch those in at some point.
High Points: Agnes, Chops, Curly, Kevin, Lucy, Maggie, Pancetti, Truffles, Boris
Low Points: Peggy, Rasher, Cobb, Spork, Gala
It took much rumination in deciding how I truly felt about the bears versus the cubs. In the end, Chicago wins. These hulking teddy bears are very cute, even when they’re a little gruff, with Pinky and Chow rounding out the list as pandas. It’s no surprise, really. Bears are pretty standard when in the realm of stuffed toys.
High Points: Beardo, Chow, Klaus, Pinky, Teddy, Tutu, Curt
Low Points: Charlise, Ursala, Paula, Nate
You really can’t go wrong with a penguin. They’re chunky, round, and big-eyed. This video of the penguins of the Two Oceans Aquarium hopping down stairs has warmed my heart and kept me cooing during the ongoing COVID-19 quarantine. From the cranky emperor Hopper to the classic roundness and vacant eyes of Roald and Cube, the penguins are among the most huggable and doofy of the villagers and put a smile on my face every time.
High Points: Aurora, Cube, Friga, Hopper, Roald, Sprinkle, Tex, Wade
Low Points: Puck, Iggly, Boomer
Despite not having my favorite silhouette and at times being rather difficult to read visually, the horses have some fun looks and are rather distinct given how their designs play with different eye shapes and placements, different hairstyles, and the oh-so-popular unicorn villager Julian. I’m also a sucker for the ‘80s shoujo princely look Colton sports, and Savannah is a very lovable zebra. The horses manage to transcend their odd shape to be a well-rounded cast of islanders.
High Points: Cleo, Colton, Peaches, Julian, Reneigh, Savannah, Papi
Low Points: Clyde, Ed, Elmer, Winnie
The designers successfully captured the effortless regality of the eagle, down to their personalities—there’s no peppy, lazy or snooty eagles in the game. The eagles also sport some fun coloring like the pelican-esque Frank and the fluorescent blue Keaton. They look right at home on an island in just about any form.
High Points: Amelia, Celia, Frank, Keaton, Pierce, Sterling
Low Points: Buzz
While none of the dogs are particularly bad, they manage to, as a whole, be disappointing given all of them have a sort of labrador-esque shape. It’s a good shape, but it’s a rare instance when the constraints of the game feel rather limiting in what they’re able to portray. Still, Goldie has managed to become an iconic villager, and the punk queen Cherry and the mummified Lucky keep the designs feeling fresh. I’m not mad about the dogs themselves, they just raise some noticeable flaws in the way the villagers are rendered.
High Points: Goldie, Bea, Cherry, Lucky, Shep, Walker
Low Points: Mac, Cookie, Benjamin, Marcel
There may only be a handful of alligators, but they do a lot with a small pond of reptilians. Unfortunately, I can’t really imagine them adding any more of them—they’re kind of at max capacity, and it’d take some real creative wit to design another that’s distinct in any way. Still, I’m overjoyed there’s a bright pink alligator with a heart pattern named Gayle and a literal (lazy) dragon named Drago in New Horizons.
High Points: Allie, Drago, Del, Gayle
Low Points: Sly
Koalas are one of two oddly regional (Oceanic, in particular) animals to make it in the game, and they’ve been present since the beginning. There isn’t a whole lot to say about them. Sydney and Lyman are quite cute, and Eugene is a lovable misfit, but the koalas underwhelm. They’re certainly not offensive, but given their real world counterparts just chill and eat eucalyptus all day, I suppose we can’t expect too much excitement from them.
High Points: Eugene, Gonzo, Lyman, Sydney, Yuka
Low Points: Ozzie, Canberra, Alice
Coming in right under the koalas are their Australian brethren, the kangaroos. Seeing a kangaroo for the first time is certainly novel, given all the females come coupled with a joey in their pouch that mimic all of their mother’s expressions. Beyond that, though, their designs aren’t too inspired. I certainly don’t have an issue with them—on a mystery island tour, I encountered Rooney, who I initially was excited to invite to my island. After some brief pondering, I thought “Would I even be able to pick him out in a line-up?” Unfortunately, I had to pass. Nintendo is responsible for far more interesting kangaroos over the years, so it’s a shame they aren’t all that interesting.
High Points: Rooney, Walt, Rooney, Marcie, Astrid
Low Points: Sylvia, Carrie
Odds are you had no idea the anteaters were supposed to be anteaters. It’s an odd animal to pick with a difficult look to portray, but nevertheless, there are some truly great villagers here. They don’t have enough gems to solidify themselves as one of the true Animal Crossing greats, and none of the anteaters have breached into legend status, but I love that Annalisa’s found a home on my island and Olaf is a bit of a delightful jerk.
High Points: Annalisa, Cyrano, Olaf, Antonio, Anabelle
Low Points: Snooty
Cows are one of my favorite animals in real life. I love all kinds, from the classic Holstein Friesan to the lovely pale Brown Swiss. Cows have an elegant, feminine beauty that has appealed to me since I was a child. Unfortunately, I’m well aware that cows rarely translate well to mascot-ification. I certainly don’t hate them, and Tipper gives me exactly the kind of cow-glam I’m looking for, but I certainly wish their heads were a bit smaller. They didn’t milk the refinement of the unassuming cow for all it’s worth, that’s for sure.
High Points: Tipper, Patty, Norma
Low Points: Naomi
I have to say, I’m not really that into hamsters in the real world, and that same neutrality carries over to New Horizons. They’re tiny, which is quite cute, but I’d rather have a squirrel or a rabbit any day. They at least manage to trump the mice in the rodent war. Still, almost none of the designs are offensively bad, and Flurry and Hamphrey are quite cute. I wish their designs were just a little more creative, especially given they were introduced late in the series in New Leaf. You’d think they would have had more ideas than what we received.
High Points: Flurry, Hamphrey, Clay
Low Points: Graham, Hamlet, Rodney
This one may be a hot take, but the cubs aren’t all that interesting. There’s certainly some great ones—Pekoe and Stitches come to mind—but a large number of the cubs are pretty uninspired and pale when compared to the excellent bears. Sometimes bigger is better.
High Points: Stitches, Pekoe, Murphy, Maple, Chester
Low Points: Bluebear, Judy, Poncho, Tammi, Vladimir
We’ve reached the point in our rat race to the bottom where I start to feel nothing but vitriol for over half the villagers present in each species, so let’s just pull the band-aid—the mice are terrible. They seem to be designed by someone that has never once seen a mouse, even a cartoon one. Their ears are far too large and oblong and their heads are stretched to a hellish degree. If only their individual designs made up for this. Unfortunately, some of the mice are downright horrifying—Greta is styled much like Eihi Shiina’s character from Audition and I feel worried for my other villagers’ well-being every time I see Moose. Why on earth does Limberg have a five-o-clock shadow? Bella would absolutely burn down my house just because she likes fire. Samson’s Glasgow smile is a threat to me personally. Why are the mice like this? I’m so sorry, Dora, Chadder and Bree, but your fellow rodents do you a disservice.
High Points: Dora, Chadder, Bree
Low Points: Bella, Greta, Limberg, Moose, Penelope, Samson
The chickens were extremely phoned in. Already a humdrum animal, little effort was made in making these cluckers distinct or lovable. No endorphins are released when I see any of these hens and roosters, just a sort of idle pity. Could we just remove the chickens entirely in lieu of something a bit more exciting? A full turtle series, or maybe we can get crazy and have some butterflies? No? Fine.
High Points: Knox
Low Points: Benedict, Egbert, Goose, Ava
Bulls are already the less interesting male counterpart to the much-loved cow, and it’s no different in Animal Crossing. With squared off heads and an overall dorky vibe, the bulls are largely unremarkable unless you’re looking to imbue some masculine thick-headedness on your island.
High Points: Rodeo, Stu, T-Bone
Low Points: Angus, Coach, Vic
Unfortunately, the hippos do not stand alongside the elephants and rhinos as unexpectedly great large mammal offerings. Their heads are comically large, but not in a delightful way, and it’s hard to feel any kinship with them given when you speak to them all you can see is their large teeth and noses. The hippos are just a giant design faux pas.
High Points: Hippeux
Low Points: Bitty, Bubbles, Harry, Rocco
The goats could have used more time in the drawing room—their faces are bizarrely shaped which makes them wholly unlovable. There’s almost nothing to say about the goats, so instead, I’ll explain why they completely fail on a mathematical level. As opposed to the Western standard of beauty lying in the beloved golden ratio, Japan favors its close sister, the silver ratio. Most mascot characters, such as Doraemon, are designed with this formula in mind, which is why so many mascot characters have rounded bobbleheads. Nintendo is well aware of this, yet decided the goats needed to look like… this. There’s no beauty factor to them, and they’re as aware of it as we are.
High Points: Pashmina, Billy
Low Points: Chevre, Gruff, Sherb, Velma
I want to like the gorillas. I really do. I mean, Nintendo has a whole franchise dedicated to how great they are. Yet something about the gorillas are wholly unappealing. Perhaps it’s because their proportions can’t be accurately captured in the tiny style of Animal Crossing, so their shirts look like they’re bursting at the seams and their shoulders appear stiffly broad. I have a fond memory of starting New Leaf with Violet and absolutely hating her, but she gave me clothing almost every day and always gossiped with me about my fellow villagers. I have to shout her out just for that.
High Points: Violet, Louie
Low Points: Rilla, Rocket, Jane, Peewee, Hans, Cesar, Boyd
Do I have some kind of misconception on the vibe a lion is supposed to have? Regal, mature, brave? Looking at the list of lions, you’d think years of codifying media portraying lions as anything but dorky uncles and small town slackers never existed. It’s absolutely bizarre—not one of the lions reads as cool. It’s not that I expect all of them to exude serious attitudes, but not one capturing that makes me feel nothing but contempt for professional vacationer Bud and substitute teacher Mott.
High Points: Lionel, Leopold
Low Points: Bud, Rory, Rex, Mott, Elvis
Nintendo did an absolute injustice to everyone’s favorite waterfowl. Cartoon ducks are a no-brainer. Daffy, Scrooge and Donald continue to be some of my favorite characters of all time, delightfully bumbling and relatable second bananas to their rodent counterparts. Ducks are also some of the cutest animals on the planet. How did they mess this up so terribly? Was someone on the design team a diehard Bugs fan, so much that they chose to sabotage the poor ducks? Someone mad that Donald never healed them in Kingdom Hearts? They should be ashamed that their bias against our favorite aquatic preeners is just so obvious.
High Points: Gloria, Molly
Low Points: Drewin, Drake, Freckle, Ketchup, Miranda, Pate, Pompom, Quillson, Weber
Lily the frog is one of the best villagers in the series, and Nintendo knows this—they prominently display her in much of the series’ promo work because she’s just so darn cute. So why do none of the other frogs ever appear front-and-center? Probably because most of them are downright horrifying! It might be my actual, real life ranidaphobia speaking, but the warty texture on Wart Jr. and realistic spotting on Frobert makes my skin crawl in all the worst ways. If I see one of these guys, I’m running the other way. Even the catchable frogs in the pond are preferable (are we going to discuss that ever?).
High Points: Lily, Puddles, Diva
Low Points: Frobert, Jambette, Wart Jr., Ribbot, Raddle, Prince
Porter, the train station attendant present in every game up until New Horizons, was the sole representation of the typically cute monkey. Think of all the monkey merchandise you’ve seen in your life—from sock monkeys to Curious George, it’s hard to make a monkey not appealing. And yet, somehow, they screwed it up so, so bad. There is not one saving grace among the relatively small pool of simians other than, maybe, Nana, and I’d wager she’s no one’s favorite villager of all time (sorry if she is!). Lumpy-headed and rendered with some nightmarish faces, the monkeys play 35th banana for the worst villager species to date.
High Points: Nana
Low Points: Tammi, Shari, Flip, Elise, Deli, Monty, Simon
Austin Jones is an intern at Paste. He writes about music, videogames and queer issues. He’s an avid fan of electronic and pop music, horror games, Joanna Newsom and ’80s-’90s anime. You can follow him on Twitter @belfryfire.