Joss Whedon’s iconic TV show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its popular spin-off, Angel, are two of his best and most popular works to date, but which show edges out the other in terms of being all-around better?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer started as a 1992 movie starring Kristy Swanson as the titular Slayer, then moved to television on The WB network in 1997. Starring Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy Summers, the Slayer, the show followed Buffy and her friends—known affectionately as the Scooby Gang—through their adventures in high school, college, and beyond. Equal parts supernatural drama and heartwarming coming-of-age tale, many fans grew up watching Buffy and found themselves greatly identifying with the characters due to the lessons that the show taught about growing up, falling in love, heartbreak, loss, and much more. After season 3, David Boreanaz—who played Buffy’s vampire boyfriend, Angel—ended up departing Buffy for his character’s own spin-off series, which ran from 1999-2004 and totaled five seasons.

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Though Buffy had a longer run—seven seasons—and created the larger universe that’s known to fans as “the Buffyverse”, Angel had some definite high points. Because the two shows were connected, there were many crossover episodes between the two, and characters from one show often made appearances for a single episode or even a larger arc on another. In many ways, the two shows are so interchangeable given their overlap in talent, crew, and overall style, given Whedon’s signature way of writing, that it’s difficult to ascertain which is better. However, three easy criteria to apply here are: characters, plot and writing, and the ability to re-watch and binge-watch a series, since both  have been very popular on streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and even Facebook Watch.

Better Characters: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

It can easily be argued that, since Buffy the Vampire Slayer created many of the characters who eventually transitioned to Angel either as main characters or for shorter story arcs, the original show gets the nod for best characters overall. However, the reason behind why Buffy has the better characters overall goes far beyond that logic. Not only did Buffy create the characters who, arguably, are the best on Angel—including Angel himself—but if one considers the overall trajectory and growth of each character, Buffy did it better.

Since Buffy is largely a coming-of-age tale, it’s a definite positive that the show’s main characters all went through some major transformation. While many of the characters who were first introduced on Buffy, such as mean girl Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter) did go on to have better, meatier story arcs and character development on Angel, it can’t compare to the overall growth of the core characters on Buffy. Even Buffy Summers herself went from a high school girl who wanted to completely ignore her prophetic death in season 1 to a young woman who was willing to risk it all—her very life—by committing suicide in season 5 to save the world. Then, after her resurrection in season 6, she confessed to her friends that she was pulled out of Heaven—where she would have possibly been reunited with her late mother, Joyce (Kristine Sutherland)—and still continued to fight the good fight.

By season 7, Buffy overcame her occasional bouts of selfishness in early seasons and utilized the magical prowess of her best friend, Willow (Alyson Hannigan) to share her Slayer powers with her small army of Potential Slayers and beyond, subsequently allowing every young woman who could potentially have the power to be called to embrace her full gift. Other characters, like Xander (Nicholas Brendon) went from a male-gaze heavy character who pined over his unrequited crush on Buffy to fighting valiantly by her side even after he lost his eye at the hands of Caleb (Nathan Fillion), one of the First Evil’s henchman who far overpowered him, a mere human.

It could also be argued that, if not for his relationship with Buffy, Angel would have never been drawn to the city of Los Angeles and drawn to his mission to “help the hopeless”. While he always sought redemption and seemed to possess a strong urge to help others, it was after his actions in season 2 when he lost his soul and once again reverted to the villainous Angelus after a moment of pure happiness that he seemed to rededicate himself to the cause.

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Better Plots & Writing: Angel

While Buffy the Vampire Slayer earns its edge in characterization, the writing and plots in Angel were far superior overall. The overall theme of Angel was about redemption and self-sacrifice for the greater good and, because of this, it managed to go beyond the coming-of-age classification of its progenitor. While Buffy taught audiences that heroism often has a price and saving the world isn’t easy, Angel reinforced that the cost is often heavier than one might think, and yet people are still willing to pay it—often over and over again—in order to keep the world from falling into the hands of the wicked.

Though Angel still very much contained the sharp, often biting one-liners and potent sarcasm that’s become a trademark of any Joss Whedon show or movie, there was a darker edge to it that truly gave it an advantage. Not only that, but the storylines reflected much of the real world and its problems. The City of Angels—Los Angeles—is known as a hub for all sorts of predatory behavior even without the supernatural quotient, as has been recalled time and again in modern years with the rise of the #MeToo movement and the Harvey Weinstein trial. Hollywood, in many ways, is as insidious and predatory as vampires and demons, and Angel plays off of this by putting Angel in the seat of a private investigator—a very normal, even human job—to “help the hopeless”, particularly young women who have been targeted for some reason.

In season 1 alone, Angel deals with cases that involve date rape, stalking, political corruption, and even cut a storyline that was deemed too dark for TV. Buffy took a darker turn in season 6, but overall, the show was downright light-hearted in comparison. Both shows aren’t afraid to kill their darlings, and many a main character met a tragic death, but Angel went even harder in that department by proving to its audience on multiple occasions that nobody is safe; it was almost as reliable as shows like Game of Thrones, where major character deaths almost were expected rather than surprising, though it never hurt less to say goodbye.

Better For Re-Watching (& Binge-Watching): Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Due to Angel‘s heavier subject matter, it can be difficult to engage in repeat viewings. While Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a longer show overall, with seven seasons instead of five, it’s more often cited as re-watchable and binge-watchable by fans, with many even claiming to do a yearly re-watch. Angel occasionally drags along, and while Buffy is guilty of having a few story arcs and standout episodes that are arguably difficult to get through for one reason or another—some are boring, where others are more emotionally draining—it’s the lighter, easier watch overall.

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Outside of that, Buffy has a few episodes that beg to be watched over and over again, where Angel flows more seamlessly from one episode into another, with longer story arcs and less of a formulaic, “monster of the week” style than the original show. Though this cinematic feel, which is a hallmark of more modern television shows, like Westworld and Lovecraft Country benefitted it in terms of the plot development and the spin-off’s superior writing, Buffy is quick to digest. Episodes like Buffy‘s renowned musical, “Once More With Feeling”, can almost be seen as disconnected enough from the rest of the show that it can be consumed in a solitary fashion via standalone viewing. Also, for many fans of both shows, Buffy is like comfort food: putting on an episode is less like settling down to watch a TV show and more like visiting an old friend.

The Winner Is: Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Overall, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the better show. While Angel is a strong competitor and really shows the best of Whedon and company in a completely different way than the original show, there’s a reason why Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a continual talking point in pop culture. Colleges teach entire classes dedicated to dissecting the show and its plots, themes, and overall impact on society. Angel has become a part of that—and the larger universe—by proxy, and while there are many lessons to be learned from it, there’s just no stopping the Slayer.

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