Every Season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Ranked

TV Lists Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Every Season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Ranked

This weekend marks the 20th anniversary of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s series finale, titled “Chosen.” In celebration, Paste is looking back on the episode itself, the series as a whole (in both episodic and season rankings), and the characters that defined it. And for more Buffy, look no further than our past musings on one of the greatest supernatural TV shows of all time.

Let’s get this out of the way now: there is truly no bad season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The series’ consistency has allowed it to remain in the popular culture for as long as it has, with the series’ 144 episode run featuring only a few undeniable misses. Maybe it was creator Joss Whedon’s purposeful habit of making every season finale feel like it could be the series finale (in case the show got canceled, a habit modern day showrunners should seriously consider picking up), or maybe it was the ease with which the series balanced its serialized elements with its episodic nature, but whatever the case may be, Buffy’s seasons always found a way to remain compelling across 22 episodes—and created a reputation of incredible finales along the way as well. 

However, not all seasons of the beloved Buffy are made equal, so in honor of the 20th anniversary of its series finale, we have ranked every season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, starting with lucky number seven. 

7. Season 4

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 4 streaming on Hulu

Ah, Buffy: The College Years. As mentioned, there is no truly bad season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but the fourth season of the series isn’t great. Though, to be fair, Season 4 had a bit of an uphill battle from the very beginning. From the very first episode, some core pillars of the Buffyverse were suddenly gone: Angel and Cordelia moved to Los Angeles to start Angel Investigations in their own separate spinoff series Angel; Oz acts as a mid-season loss in a head-scratching exit for Seth Green; and the explosion of Sunnydale High literally blew up the familiar stomping ground of the previous three seasons. The Sunnydale library now becomes Giles’ living room, the familiar house on Revello Drive is swapped for more frequent dorm-room living, and many characters now find themselves in a transitional period—to mixed results. 

Season 4’s weak villain in The Initiative (and along with it the introduction of Buffy’s most boring boyfriend Riley) certainly only served to make matters worse, and while its experimental finale broadened the lore of the series, it also made the season-long arc about The Initiative and Adam seem small and unimportant in comparison. Though this season features a few all-timer episodes, including the nearly dialogue-free “Hush” and excellent two-parter “This Year’s Girl” and “Who Are You?” it also includes some of the series’ worst outings, including “Beer Bad” and “Where the Wild Things Are.” It’s a mixed bag all around, but still manages to find highs amid its frustrating lows. 

6. Season 6

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 6 streaming on Hulu

The sixth season of Buffy is extremely depressing, but in the best way. This was the first season of the show to be aired on UPN rather than The WB after the network picked up the series for two seasons, and there is a shift in tone to a much darker reality. In many ways, Season 6 feels like an exercise in torturing our main characters, all in the name of truly exploring the consequences and aftermath of the stellar fifth season. After coming back from the dead, Buffy returns from heaven to find that life completely sucks—everything is loud and harsh, she’s broke from her mother’s funeral costs and hospital bills and will have to take any job a high school-educated 20-something can get (which happens to be at a nasty fast food joint), and everyone keeps looking at her like they need her to be okay. Featuring Spike and Buffy’s weird self-hatred BDSM, Willow’s magic addiction, and incels The Trio as the season’s villains, Season 6 finds itself leaning further into adult themes, but in a way that sometimes feels mature for the sake of being shocking rather than darkness for maturity’s sake. 

While this season features a number of my own least favorite storylines, the worth of seeing the characters go through what they do and still come out the other side is undeniable. Through Buffy’s resurrection, Willow’s descent into destruction, and Xander’s cold feet, the series allows its central characters to hit rock bottom, and explore the depths of pain and despair that come with being the Chosen One and Friends of the Chosen One. While Season 6 offers stand-out episodes like the incredible musical romp “Once More With Feeling,” memory-loss “Tabula Rasa,” and season finale “Grave,” its low points (including the much-loathed “Seeing Red”) dampen its shine. 

5. Season 1

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 1, streaming on Hulu

Buffy’s short first season can be, at times, a bit of a slog. In fact, in my first attempt at watching the series from beginning to end, I stopped in the middle of the episode where Xander and a number of other high schoolers get possessed by hyenas (Episode 6, “The Pack”) because I just couldn’t do it, especially after watching Xander get seduced by a praying mantis teacher just two episodes earlier (Episode 4, “Teacher’s Pet”). Though, once you get through a few of the rougher episodes, Buffy’s first outing becomes a charming monster-of-the-week series that ends with one of the show’s best finales in “Prophecy Girl.” Featuring everything from guest star Clea DuVall becoming invisible and torturing Cordelia to Buffy becoming a vampire herself in a living nightmare, Season 1’s hair-raising fun and unending charm provides the perfect beginnings for what will become a supernatural television staple. 

The first season is relatively unserialized, but the dynamics and characterization set up in the Season 1 finale cause ripple effects throughout the entire series, especially as Buffy struggles to accept her status as the Chosen One. It’s heartbreaking to watch as Buffy tells Giles before she goes off to face The Master, “I’m 16 years old, I don’t want to die.” Her reluctance to be the one girl in all the world is a through-line that follows Buffy for the rest of the series, and in every instance of weight coming down on Buffy’s shoulders, that beautiful white dress and the 16 year-old forced to die in it come to mind. It’s easy to write Season 1 off for its goofy supernatural shenanigans, but it beautifully laid the groundwork for the future of the show, and remained earnest and heartfelt while doing so. 

4. Season 7 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 7, streaming on Hulu

There’s nothing I love more than a good team-up storyline, and that’s exactly what Buffy’s seventh season provides. In many ways, Season 7 goes back to basics, focusing on Slayer lore, the cost of Buffy’s heroism, and the central dynamics between the Scoobies; Dawn is attending the now-rebuilt Sunnydale High, Buffy gets a job at the high school and feels more like herself than she did throughout Season 6, and even the central villain itself is a blast from seasons past. It’s all hands on deck as Buffy and friends fight the First Evil, a sinister force that nearly made Angel take his own life during Season 3. The First is able to take on the visage of any dead person, and this feature allows for some familiar faces to return in an homage to the history of the show. 

With series staples Faith and Angel returning towards the end, alongside the inclusion of new (or reformed) characters like Robin, Andrew, Kennedy, and the rest of the potential Slayers, Season 7 allows Buffy to face her toughest challenge yet with an incredible crew by her side. The events of the series finale, titled “Chosen,” were many years in the making, and there is nothing more satisfying than Buffy the Vampire Slayer ending with our titular heroine finally not having to shoulder the burden of Slayerhood alone. As Buffy stares down at the crater that used to be her home in the final moments of the series, the sense of closure and relief is palpable before the screen fades to black. For a girl that “saved the world, a lot” and nearly lost everything trying to do so time and time again, there was no more fitting end than what Season 7 offered our former Chosen One. 

3. Season 2

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 2, streaming on Hulu

Buffy’s second season is when the series truly hits its stride, and comes into its own in all the best ways. The central storyline revolves around Buffy, her relationship with Angel, and, in particular, her own personal brand of teenage angst. The series manages to maintain its air of supernatural shenanigans while still being heartachingly teenage, and offer a maturity that only started to truly blossom in the final episodes of Season 1. Buffy remains a reluctant hero, but now she must balance the intricacies of being a 16 year-old with being the protector of humanity, and this season perfectly blends her supernatural connection with the reality of high school heartache and teenage emotions. Her relationship with Angel, with her friends, with Giles, and even with herself begins to change, as we watch Buffy forcibly made to grow up much quicker than any child should. 

While Season 1’s villain in The Master was fun, Angelus as the Season 2 villain was masterful, and remains unmatched by any other villain in the series. By having Angel lose his humanity (after a night of love-making with Buffy, no less), the series gave its heroine her most personal villain, one that gave every shocking kill and every battle an extra layer of love and loss and betrayal that was perfectly utilized. Season 2 features a number of all-timer episodes, including “Halloween,” “Innocence,” “Passion,” and “Becoming,” and who could possibly forget about one of the most iconic moments to ever grace Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Buffy pulling out a bazooka to kill the “unkillable” vampire Angelus raised. Through the escalation of emotional highs and lows, alongside the seriousness with which this season handled the beautifully teenage aspects of the story, Season 2 will forever remain one of the series’ best. 

2. Season 3 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 3, streaming on Hulu

In many ways, Season 3 feels like the end of an era—and the perfect endcap at that. After killing Angel and watching fellow Slayer Kendra die, Buffy returns from a sabbatical in LA to finish out her final year at Sunnydale High. This season has everything. The high-octane teenage emotions carry over from Season 2, but this time elevated through the arrival of new Slayer Faith and Angel’s return from a hell dimension, alongside Willow, Oz, Xander, and Cordelia’s interpersonal drama. The third season of Buffy feels like hit after hit when watching the episodes back to back, with some of the series’ most iconic moments and sequences appearing in this third outing. Featuring incredible episodes like “Homecoming,” “The Wish,” “Helpless,” “Doppelgangland,” “Earshot,” and “The Prom,” alongside many others, Season 3 feels like a greatest hits for Buffy’s high school years. 

Ahead of the almost soft-reboot that was Season 4, Buffy’s third season offers a fitting conclusion for characters like Angel and Cordelia before they head off to LA, leaves a pin in Faith’s storyline that allows her to blossom into one of the show’s best guest stars in her various reappearances, and establishes the perfect opening for Buffy and her friends to go from the lovable teenagers we have watched for the past three seasons into the wonderful young adults they grow into over the course of the rest of the series. As Buffy continues to shoulder the weight of being the Chosen One, Season 3 shows her the harshness of the world beyond the bubble she operated in throughout Season 2, opening her up to the whims of the Council, her own mother, Faith, and her friends—all while attempting to stay afloat as she deals with the trauma she has been subjected to on the show so far. Season 3 is the perfect close for a chapter of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that remains beloved to this day, while laying the groundwork for both Buffy and the show itself to continue to grow in its subsequent seasons. 

1. Season 5 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 5, streaming on Hulu

If Season 6 was mature and adult in a shocking way, then Season 5 was mature and adult in a grounded, emotional way. The fifth season of Buffy finds our titular heroine dealing with a lot: her mother Joyce is in and out of the hospital before having a fatal aneurysm, her little sister Dawn is actually a just-apparated mythical key that she must protect, and a God that is leagues stronger than Buffy is wreaking havoc on Sunnydale. From the very beginning with the hilariously campy “Buffy vs Dracula” to the devastating finale “The Gift,” Season 5 is hilarious and heartfelt, highlighting the emotional highs and lows of balancing the cost of being the Slayer and simply just being human. 

Buffy’s fifth season puts family first, providing ample heartache as Buffy’s mother is back and forth from the hospital before passing away in the series’ best episode “The Body;” that episode fully cemented everything the fifth season of Buffy had been trying to achieve and become all along: a family drama with supernatural elements. In truth, every vampire, every slay, and every episodic villain could be taken out of Season 5 and what remains would be all the best aspects. Buffy’s struggle to balance her grief with her duty, Dawn’s struggle to find her own identity and place within the world, Willow’s coming out journey and the blossoming of her relationship with Tara, Giles’ sense of uselessness, and Xander’s newfound maturity and relationship with Anya—it all finds its footing in reality, and is elevated by the supernatural elements, not defined by them. 

In many ways, Buffy’s fifth outing proves that the series as a whole should not be defined by its biggest apocalypses or nastiest villains, but rather by its characters, their relationships, and their struggles. The show always manages to find the balance between its seriousness and its campy humor, but Season 5’s effortless mix of emotional maturity and youthful joy represent Buffy the Vampire Slayer at its very best. 

Anna Govert is an entertainment writer based in middle-of-nowhere Indiana. For any and all thoughts about TV, film, and the wonderful insanity of Riverdale, you can follow her @annagovert.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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