Buffy episodes ranked

The 30 best Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes of all time, ranked by a superfan

Cordelia episodes are always god tier

Buffy the Vampire Slayer has been in my life as long as oxygen, food and water have. And that is not an exaggerated statement. I was born in 1996 – nearly exactly a year to the date before the show premiered in the US. I had two older sisters who I watched Buffy with from as long as my memories will allow me to remember. I have never stopped watching it. I have never stopped loving it, sharing it, talking about it, obsessing over it. Buffy and all its characters live inside me as part of my makeup. With that said, here are my 30 best episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, ranked.

I’ve bunched two parters together and counted them as one episode, one self contained story. In one instance, I’ve counted three episodes as one. If you’d like to take umbrage with this

30. Revelations (Season three)

As a general rule of thumb: If Faith’s in an episode, it’s great. Revelations is the first time we really see the Faith and Buffy tension come to a head, and it’s all thanks to the meddling of sinister Watcher Gwendolyn Post. Revelations is one of those great episodes that balances an amazing self-contained story (Post coming to Sunnydale to seek the Glove of Mhynegon and its power) with the reveal to everyone that Angel is alive and Buffy kept the information from everyone.

The library scene is ferocious. Everyone acts their arses off quite frankly, and Xander is in peak heart on sleeve brat behaviour mode. Giles’ disappointment and fury with Buffy is devastating. The final showdown in the mansion is a blast – Buffy and Faith finally fight, Post is perfectly deceiving and manic and her betrayal of Faith’s trust triggers a downwards spiral that will take years to recover from. Great stuff.

29. Prophecy Girl (Season one)

The only season one episode to make the top 30, Prophecy Girl is the perfect culmination of a campy season filled with monster-of-the-week fun and an overarching story of ancient vampires and prophecies. This is an episode that takes the show down a more serious tonal route. I love the scene where Cordelia and Willow find the guys massacred in the TV room – the bloody red handprint as the telly plays a chirpy cartoon is really chilling. Buffy’s showdown with the Master and her brief death change the show forever – and change the lore and lineage of the Slayer line.

But the centrepiece of this episode is when Buffy overhears Giles and Angel discussing that the prophecy states she will face the Master and die. Sarah’s acting in this scene is… whew. Perfection. Every line is delivered flawlessly. Her fury, her sadness and her fear are so clear – it’s one of the brief times you see this powerful girl who quips her way through brushes with death truly as the frightened 16-year-old she is. Cordelia and Ms Calendar get more into the gang, we have corny theme tune music as Buffy storms into the school saying “Oh look, a bad guy” and the Hellmouth spawn haunts my nightmares to this day.

28. The Zeppo (Season five)

From a writing and storytelling perspective, The Zeppo is a triumph. The gang deal with an apocalypse that is clearly on the level of one that would be a season finale in terms of stakes and drama, yet we hardly see any of it. Instead, we get a romp through what Xander gets up to whenever the cameras aren’t normally on him. Chaos, bedlam, and Faith taking his virginity then booting him out her front door. Whilst Xander is no one’s fave character, this is just a perfect example of the new things Buffy always tries with episodes and how good it is at pulling them off.

Say what you will about Xander, the character who has clearly aged the most poorly, but Nicholas Brendon plays him so perfectly here. The Zeppo’s set up and style went on to inspire the likes of Russell T Davies, who said it was a direct inspiration on his ‘Docor-lite’ episode Love & Monsters.

27. What’s My Line? (Parts one and two) (Season two)

Kendra! KENDRA! The first ever Buffy episodes to get a part one and part two (the pilot and The Harvest too, I guess), What’s My Line is a Buffy story with budget that deals with the Slayer lineage progressing in response to Buffy’s brief death at the hands of The Master in Prophecy Girl. It’s a great story that revolves around the school having a careers fair and the group pondering their future – or, as Buffy feels, her lack of one.

Kendra’s arrival as a second Slayer gives Buffy the freedom to potentially retire, but through the course of the episode we see her realise being the Slayer is what she’s born to do. And she embraces her destiny! Cordelia and Xander begins, Willow finally meets Oz and Spike and Dru nearly kill Angel to restore Drusilla’s strength. The final battle against the vampires and the Order of Taraka in the church is amazing.

26. Lie to Me (Season two)

A great and underrated self contained episode that I have always had so much love for. Buffy’s friend from LA, Billy Fordham, moves to Sunnydale High and quickly reveals he knows Buffy’s identity (“I thought you were slaying a vampire” “What? Whatting a what?”). It soon transpires though, that Ford is in town because he plans to hand Buffy over to Spike in return for making him into a vampire – along with a group of lonely followers of Ford’s that

The big reveal though, is that Ford is dying and has cancer. He wants to become a vampire because he’s afraid of dying. It’s a story that has such a satisfying and surprisingly emotional climax – the scene with Buffy and Giles in the graveyard at the end is really touching, their father-daughter dynamic is wonderful. If this isn’t amongst your best ranked Buffy episodes, sort it out!

25. School Hard (Season two)

School Hard manages to make the unremarkable legendary, and that’s why it deserves its place here. How does it do it? By introducing us to Spike and Drusilla – two of the Buffyverse’s most iconic characters. Spike eats up every scene he’s in, like he’ll go on to do until the last episode of the show. The chemistry between James Marsters and Sarah Michelle Gellar is magnetic from the off.

A simple plot of Spike and his vampire crew attacking Sunnydale High on parent’s evening makes for an episode testing Buffy’s resourcefulness and the first glimpse Joyce gets to see her daughter do what she was chosen to. “Get the HELL away from my daughter” is a classic.

24. Halloween (Season two)

Buffy’s first Halloween episode is also its best. A pretty seminal TV Halloween episode by all counts, and enjoyable completely out of context from the show. Ethan Rayne makes his first appearance as the mysterious anti-Giles, and wreaks havoc on Sunnydale by selling the kids cursed costumes that turn them into whatever they dress up as. Willow becomes a ghost, Xander a soldier, Buffy an 18th century duchess and Cordelia… is Cordelia in a cat costume.

Such a fun concept that really allows the cast to flex their acting ability and comedy chops. Willow storming into the library through the wall and Giles dropping all the papers out of fright is 10/10.

23. I Only Have Eyes For You (Season two)

I absolutely love when Buffy does standalone episodes that work themselves into the overarching plot effortlessly, and I Only Have Eyes For You does it perfectly – as do many season two episodes, when they’re at their best. A simple plot of a poltergeist menace in Sunnydale High after student / teacher lovers in the 1950s who died in a murder suicide find their souls trapped makes a mourning Giles believe it’s Jenny’s ghost.

The possessions of the students feels so interesting every time, no more so than when Buffy and Angel get possessed and take the opposite gender roles. Sarah’s acting is a masterclass. Where the HELL is SMG’s Oscar role at?

22. Family (Season five)

Buffy episodes ranked

I cry every time I watch this Tara-centric episode, which is her true acceptance into the gang and where she really evolves from Willow’s girlfriend to a friend the rest of them would do anything to defend. The parallels between Tara’s family being abusive to her because she “has demon in her” and homophobia are clear, and they’re moving. I love episodes where the whole gang really unite as a strength and the warmth of Family just really hits me. Warm episodes = best ranked Buffy episodes. Plus, AMY ADAMS!

21. Band Candy (Season three)

An episode with enchanted chocolate bars that makes all the responsible adults of Sunnydale behave like chaotic and rebellious youths with cigs, shagging and bevs all round? In-fucking-ject it. This episode is such a BLAST – and it’s all down to how amazing Anthony Stewart Head and Kristine Sutherland are as the teenage Giles and Joyce. Every scene is iconic. Could watch it forever. Snyder also steals the show.

20. Spiral (Season five)

The first of a trilogy of episodes that takes us to Buffy’s greatest season finale, Spiral is the show at its biggest budget and most action-film-esque. Kicking off the top 20 ranked Buffy episodes, watching Spiral leaves you breathless – the Winnebago fight against the Knights of Byzantium is perfection, and it’s so nerve wracking seeing the Scooby Gang so on the ropes as they flee from Glory now she knows Dawn is the Key.

It’s breathless entertainment, impossibly high stakes and still manages to have the odd funny moment and classic zinger Buffy line. A blast. Season five supremacy!

19. Tabula Rasa (Season six)

Tabula Rasa is the plenary to Once More With Feeling, and its humour is deceptive. It’s one of the saddest and most bittersweet episodes of Buffy ever. After the fallout of everyone’s secrets coming to a head in the previous musical episode, Willow vows to not use any more magic – before doing the exact same spell again to try and wipe the fight but accidentally giving the entire group amnesia after it goes awry and subsequently nearly killing everyone.

It’s so fun watching the gang wake up and name each other, discover their sparks and who they’re drawn to and who is a Slayer or in Spike’s case, dead. But the humour is just permeated with the feeling of dread that this won’t end well – and the episode ends with Michelle Branch belting out Goodbye To You as Giles leaves Sunnydale, Tara leaves Willow and Buffy leaves her willpower at home and necks Spike. Phenomenal telly.

18. Homecoming

Early Buffy at its best. Cordelia and Buffy competing against each other for homecoming queen, complete with hilarious montage of them trying to outdo each other in terms of popularity, takes a supernatural turn when Cordelia is mistaken for Faith and they both end up being hunted by demons competing in the tournament ‘Slayerfest ’98’.

Sarah and Charisma’s dynamic is absolutely joyous. They are two of the finest actors on the show and the journey they go on together this episode always just leaves me grinning.

17. Selfless (Season seven)

An origin story filled with trolls, vengeance, Halfrek and an extra Once More With Feeling song. I believe in Anya Jenkins supremacy.

16. Storyteller (Season seven)

The funniest episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to ever be made. I believe in Andrew Wells supremacy.

15. Chosen (Season seven)

Not many shows with the acclaim and pop cultural impact that Buffy had manage to round themselves off with a good series finale, but Buffy ended on a huge high. Chosen wraps everything up perfectly and feels like a satisfying conclusion to the greatest TV show ever made. The cast are all at their best – the action thrilling and the deaths we mourn like Anya still hurt to this day.

But what Chosen does best is its message: Any girl who has the power to be a Slayer, WILL be a Slayer. It’s not a Chosen One, it’s an army of strong girls with the strength and skill to fight. Its feminist call to arms makes me cry every time I watch it.

 14. Fool For Love (Season five)

Buffy episodes ranked

A thrilling blast through Spike’s history as Buffy unpacks the story of how he was made a vampire and how he went on to kill two previous Slayers. One of the most cinematic episodes the show ever did, and if you wouldn’t get this ranked amongst best Buffy episodes I don’t know what to tell you. Outrageously entertaining.

13. This Year’s Girl / Who Are You? (Season four)

Buffy episodes ranked

I would die for Faith. One of the best characters in fiction, and you can quote me on that. Her waking up from her coma and using a body swap device the Mayor left for her on Buffy results in one of the most thrilling and introspective character pieces the show has – the self hatred of Faith and the parallels between how Buffy has what she wants but can never admit is just incredible storytelling.

Sarah and Eliza deserved Emmys for these episodes. They both play the characters in each other’s bodies so wonderfully – it’s like a RuPaul’s Drag Race Snatch Game masterclass.

12. Villains / Two to Go / Grave (Season six)

A trilogy finale for season six that is absolutely devastating, as Willow succumbs to dark magic after losing Tara and goes on a rampage to destroy Warren, Jonathan and Andrew. The descent of Willow into villain brews all season and the climax is devastating – as we watch her go down a path that sees her trying to kill pretty much anyone and everyone who tries to stop her. I know many people are conflicted about how dark season six is, and it definitely has its rough patches, but these final episodes are Buffy at its best and most high octane and deserve to be amongst the best episodes ranked. Alyson Hannigan is astounding.

11. Graduation Day (Parts one and two) (Season three)

Buffy episodes ranked

Buffy graduating, and the battles that came with it, were not just the end of season three but the finale of the early school years of the show – the setting that was so iconic to the series. Buffy leaving school was for many a worry that the show would decline, and there are definitely purists who think it was always best when Buffy and the gang were at Sunnydale High. If Graduation Day was a series finale – it would have been a stratospheric high to go out on.

The climax of Buffy VS Faith is thrilling, the debut of the red leather pants is iconic and the final battle against the Mayor where all the students fight and rise up against the vampires is absolutely euphoric and weirdly moving.

10. Passion

Buffy episodes ranked

Pure, heartbreaking horror. Jenny Calendar prepares to recurse Angelus with his soul – he finds out and chases her through the school in the kind of scene that usually results in Buffy arriving in the knick of time and smacking him about a bit. No Buffy arrives. Angelus brutally snaps Jenny’s neck and leaves her corpse amongst rose petals in Giles’ apartment for him to find. It’s truly horrific and monstrous, and the most shocking Buffy moment from the early years.

The stakes became infinitely higher and Buffy grew into a risk taking, more adult show that was going to go there and kill off pretty major characters. Packs such a wallop.

9. Doppelgangland (Season three)

Buffy episodes ranked

Doppelgangland is proof that when it comes to the Buffy Wishverse you can’t have too much of a good thing. SO much to love here, the obvious being Vampire Willow’s return and the hilarious comedy that ensues as the gang confuse Willow encounters with her vampiric doppelganger. The scene in the library where Giles, Buffy and Xander mourn Willow only for her to stroll in very much not dead is one of my all time favourites.

Also love this episode so much for its increase in Anya exposure – one of my all time fave characters, who was too bloody good to just have a guest spot. As her run on the show proves.

“And I think I’m kinda gay?”

8. Becoming (Season two)

buffy episodes ranked

Season two is probably Buffy’s most emotionally charged season ever. The Angelus loses his soul storyline pits Buffy against the love of her life in a fight to the death as Willow races to restore his soul and Buffy tries to free the kidnapped Giles from Angel’s clutches as Angel tries to complete the ritual of Acathla that will swallow the world.

The two halves of Becoming ranked here amongst the best Buffy episodes are equally thrilling but in completely different ways. The flashbacks of part one show is so much insight into Buffy’s life before Sunnydale, and Angel’s history as he becomes a vampire and then reforms to help the Slayer after being cursed with his soul. Drusilla killing Kendra, Spike’s betrayal and flip to help Buffy and Joyce finally learning the truth about her daughter – Becoming is the culmination of a season of emotional trauma and it pulls it all off magnificently.

7. The Wish (Season three)

Buffy episodes ranked

Of all the best Buffy episodes ranked here, it’s The Wish that’s arguably the most inventive. A scorned Cordelia blames Buffy for all her problems, and says in front of then-vengeance demon Anya that she wishes Buffy had never come to Sunnydale. The wish comes true, and fanfiction comes to life as we see an alternate universe where Xander and Willow are the Master’s most senior vampire lieutenants and the streets are ruled by evil.

Willow tortures Angel and rides him in all leather, Xander and Willow kill Cordelia, Buffy finally shows and she’s giving full Lara Croft – it’s a spectacular glimpse of what could have been and a firm fan favourite for a reason.

6. Restless

buffy episodes ranked

Maybe it’s the A24 film fanatic in me, because I’m sure for some that Restless is too metaphorical and ambiguous to be ranked this high, but for me it is an untouchable masterpiece of foreshadowing and character development. Following the big battle of Primeval against the Initiative, Buffy, Xander, Giles and Willow are hunted down by the First Slayer – whose power they harnessed for a spell – in their dreams.

Restless has some of the most beautiful cinematography and direction of any episode of any TV show I’ve ever seen. It’s daring, weird and thrilling. And often terrifying. Buffy always excelled with its dream sequences, and Joss making a full dream episode was a choice that paid off as it maps out the rest of the show through riddles and mystique. Just perfect.

5. Surprise / Innocence (Season two)

When Buffy sleeps with Angel on her 17th birthday, she loses her virginity and he loses his soul and becomes a murderous demon again who wastes no time in doing everything he can to cause her pain and suffering. As well as trying to destroy as many humans as possible. It’s devastating every single time you watch it – but Buffy’s strength and how well she rises to the situation is euphoric amongst the heartbreak.

It’s one of the first times we see Buffy as a leader, and not just Giles’ Slayer in training. She is resourceful and competent and the rocket launcher is next level iconic. In many ways, this two parter IS Buffy as a show. It has it all.

4. The Gift (Season five)

Buffy episodes ranked

The Gift is Buffy’s greatest season finale, and despite how much I love so many episodes and arcs in seasons six and seven, it could have arguably been the end of the show. It would be sad for Buffy to die, but the arc feels so complete. Everything about The Gift is special. Glory is the show’s greatest villain, the Dawn plot the show’s most daring but satisfying twist ever and the gang’s triumph so satisfying. It’s heartbreaking, but it feels more climactic than any other finale. The music alone gets The Gift a top five placement amongst Buffy episodes ranked.

“The hardest thing in this world is to live in it. Be brave. Live, for me.”

3. Hush (Season four)

Buffy episodes ranked

The most terrifying hour of television to ever air. Not satisfied with just scaring the hell out of us, Hush is also runs nearly entirely without dialogue and pushes forward the Buffy / Riley storyline whilst introducing Tara and giving us the start of one of the most groundbreaking queer relationships on TV. Masterpiece.

2. The Body (Season five)

best Buffy episodes

The most heartbreaking and devastating episode of anything, ever. Period. Not hyperbole, just the truth. Joyce’s death is handled in exemplary fashion and every single person involved in this episode deserves endless awards. Especially Sarah for her performance. I’ve written a full article about how much this episode means to me, and you can read 1000 words on its specialness here.  Of all the episodes ranked amongst the best of Buffy, it is The Body that means the most but remains hardest to watch.

1. Once More, With Feeling (Season six)

This episode is my entire personality and there could never be anything else at number one. Every song a masterpiece, every plot reveal devastating and the cast and creative team at their best. Only Buffy could do this and pull it off. It’s OMWF, for Christ’s sake. There’s a reason you can buy this episode on DVD on its own.

All the best Buffy episodes ranked here and the rest of the show are available to stream on Disney Plus.

Recommended stories by this writer:

• Only the Chosen One is getting full marks on this impossible Buffy The Vampire Slayer quiz

• Happy 20th birthday to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the best thing to come out of the nineties

• Celebrate the show’s 20th anniversary by taking this quiz to find out which Buffy female character you are