Jeremy casts spells in between his careers as a chemical analyst and campus manager.
With each new season of Yu-Gi-Oh, we explore a different world with a unique lead. Ranging from naively optimistic to stoic and brooding, Yu-Gi-Oh protagonists vary in demeanor, but share several similarities.
They wield 2500-ATK signature monsters, win most of their duels, and most importantly, rock two-color hairstyles. But some duelists triumph far more than others; which reign supreme? These are the ten strongest Yu-Gi-Oh protagonists! Note we're judging by win ratio (stacking modern decks against old ones wouldn't really be fair).
6. Yuma Tsukumo
Anime: Yu-Gi-Oh ZEXAL
Yuma stars in one of the most poorly-received anime, and he definitely loses more than any other protagonist (he never did conquer his rival Kite Tenjo). This is especially true if you count Yuma's 20 repeated losses to Bronk (though only one is actually shown), but to be fair, Yuma wasn't using his "Number" monsters at the time.
Ironically, despite his numerous losses, Yuma had a pretty solid deck for its time, rapidly swarming xyz monsters. Plus, some of his defeats can be chalked up to plot nuance (like his inability to xyz summon without Astral by his side).
5. Yuya Sakaki
Anime: Yu-Gi-Oh ARC-V
Yuya was the first anime character to wield pendulum monsters, powerful cards that special summon other monsters from the hand and extra deck. Later, he also mastered xyz, synchro, and fusion summoning, wielding a versatile build.
Ironically, while I find Yuya's deck one of the best of his era, he's lost more duels than most heroes (though certainly not as much as Yuma). Yuya's matches were always fun since he had just enough chance of losing to keep things interesting, but usually came out on top.
4. Jaden Yuki
Anime: Yu-Gi-Oh GX
Even for a Yu-Gi-Oh anime, GX has a notoriously bad dub, so I highly recommend the subbed version for anyone interested. Either way, Jaden duels more than any other protagonist, racking up over 75 matches with just three losses (four if you count his childhood flashback loss against Osamu).
That's an impressive win record, but like most protagonists, Jaden lucked out of a few losses. For instance, Chazz would have had him once had he not been forced to forfeit, and Jesse got pretty close before their match was interrupted. But despite his impressive win record, I've never found Jaden's "Elemental HERO" theme particularly strong, even at the time of its release.
3. Yugi Muto
The original hero himself, Yugi wins almost all of his duels with the help of ancient Egyptian Spirit Atem (often called Yami). With his spellcaster-emphasizing "Dark Magician" deck, Yugi rarely loses, and half his "defeats" were technicalities anyway, like his forfeits against Rebecca and Kaiba.
But even Yugi isn't invincible, having been legitimately beaten by Raphael and taking an implied off-screen loss to Joey. Yugi's deck (under the control of copycat Dimitri) also lost to Jaden's in GX, although Yugi's actual duel against Jaden was inconclusive (and highly debated).
2. Yusaku Fujiki
Anime: Yu-Gi-Oh VRAINS
As of this writing, VRAINS hasn't yet concluded, so it's possibly Yusaku might suffer more losses by the time it ends. But armed with his cyberse link monsters, he's done exceptionally well so far, only ever losing off-camera in a few flashbacks.
In all of his shown battles, Yusaku either ties or defeats his foe, and he's an interesting deviation from past heroes, dueling out of necessity rather than the fun of it. Because all legitimate issues should be settled with card games.
1. Yusei Fudo
Anime: Yu-Gi-Oh 5D's
As weird as blending motorcycles with dueling is, no one can deny 5D's protagonist's fierce win record. Yusei's only official loss was one of those pesky flashback duels to Jack; he wins, ties, or has his match interrupted with every proper bout in the series.
To be fair, some of the inconclusive battles likely would have ended in Yusei's defeat (like his clash against Kalin), but even if you count these, he's got a fierce win record. Plus, his signature synchro monster "Stardust Dragon" became a staple in real-life competitive play.
What Makes a Good Yu-Gi-Oh Protagonist?
While Yuma and Yuya rank last in terms of winning, are they really "worse" than their peers? After all, even the best real-world duelists take a loss now and then, and having a fallible hero helps keep matches exciting. As an interesting aside, the younger a protagonist, the more duels they lose—today's list ascends almost exactly in order of character age.
Also, remember that anime duels often have slightly different rules (like starting at 4000 life points and changing card effects), and you might find some themes work better in longer 8000-life matches. But for now, as we await Konami's next anime protagonist, vote for your favorite character and I'll see you at our next Yu-Gi-Oh countdown!
© 2019 Jeremy Gill