Ignore the fist fights, the one-liners and the shock twists.
One of the best things that Joss Whedon arguably does is create memorable characters we feel we know. Ever since he debuted Buffy The Vampire Slayer on the idiotbox in 1997, he's been responsible for some of the coolest, scariest and wittiest characters on the big and small screens.
Here, then, are our favourite characters from Whedon properties. These are, in our eyes, the best of the best - which means no Dawn (sorry Dawn fans, all one of you)…
20. Ripley 8
"I'm the monster's mother."
Alien: Resurrection wasn't all that, we know this, but as icky and needlessly sticky as Jean-Pierre Jeunet's fourquel turned out to be, we at least got an awesome new version of Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) as part of the deal.
Made in a lab as part of an attempt to resurrect the Alien Queen that Ripley died harbouring in her chest (in Alien 3), Ripley 8 is an unwanted "by-product" of the company's eighth and final (successful) attempt at creating the Alien Queen - 200 years after Ripley's death.
This new Ripley is part alien, part human, able to slam dunk a basketball without looking and a dab hand at underwater combat. The scene in which she encounters the seven, mutated, failed attempts at cloning her is a brilliantly dark Frankenstein's monster-style sequence that almost justifies the film. Almost.
"Maybe it's 'cause of all the horrific things we've seen, but, hippos wearing tutus just don't unnerve me the way they used to."
You go to a Halloween party, make all the effort of hiring an extravagant costume and slathering yourself in make-up. Then Oz (Seth Green) turns up in his regular clothes and an unobtrusive name sticker that simply reads: 'God.'
That's how Oz rolls. Drip-fed into the Scooby Gang at the start of Buffy season two, he's the perfect love match for Willow - where she's nervy, he's grounded. Where she's ramble-y, he's restrained, sitting quietly on the fringes of a scene before unloading an earth-shattering observation of brief eloquence.
Oh, and he's also a werewolf, in a band called Dingoes Ate My Baby and eventually responsible for breaking poor Willow's heart. The most unexpected bad boy ever.
18. Lilah Morgan
"Just shut up! One more excuse from you and I am going to bury you alive, next to my house so I can hear you screaming."
Everybody hates lawyers, but we just can't get enough of Lilah Morgan (Stephanie Romanov). At least she admits she's evil. Well, she'd have to, considering she works for Wolfram & Hart, the formidable LA law firm that helps demons out of a tight spot. Because who else is gonna?
At first a somewhat forgettable B-character in a suit who crops up in Angel's first season, Lilah soon transforms into one of the show's greatest she-bitches - always ready with a tart put-down, she's a Machiavellian schemer who does her own thing (when she's not answering to the suits upstairs, of course).
As with everything in the Jossverse, nothing's black and white, and Lilah's eventual relationship with Wesley is startling but totally makes sense, and by the time she bites it (at the hands of a possessed Cordelia, no less), you feel the loss like a blade in the jugular.
"Oh, I love children. I could just eat 'em up."
The first character we ever meet in Buffy The Vampire Slayer is also one of the coolest. Pretending to be a helpless teenage girl, Darla (Julie Benz) lures a high schooler into her trap and reveals she's actually a vampire. Then nom nom nom.
She's the perfect mirror to Buffy, herself a convention-flouting blonde bombshell, though with a very different agenda. (Darla also helps to establish that Angel very much has a type.)
Not only is Darla integral to Angel's back story, she's also been at the centre of spin-off show Angel's best twists - from being resurrected at the end of season one, to causing havoc in season two and then turning up preggers in season three. "It's the one good thing we've ever done together," she gasps to spine-tingling effect as she goes into labour...
"I met an old man. I didn't like him. He got stuck in my teeth."
Like a bat out of hell, Drusilla (Juliet Landau) descended on Buffy season two with her own very special brand of cuckoo. She's just the kind of nuts that Whedon does so well. A total conundrum, she's alternately innocent, childlike, deadly and demonic.
When we first meet her, she's weak and reliant on Spike (James Marsters) - until she regains her strength, the tables are spectacularly turned and she reveals she can be disarmingly vicious - she kills slayer Kendra using just her fingernails. Meanwhile, Drusilla's psychic senses mean she can often tell when bad things are about to happen. Handy, that..
Basically, Drusilla was called on whenever Buffy or Angel needed an injection of all-out insanity.
15. Topher Brink
"I don't want to use the word genius, but I'd be OK if you wanted to."
Of all the characters created for short-lived series Dollhouse, Topher (Fran Kranz) is easily the best - and most memorable, which is sort of poetic given what the character does in the show.
Nerdy to the extreme and responsible for programming the 'dolls' in the Dollhouse, Topher is an over-caffeinated geekazoid - he's the kind of guy you imagine would hang out with the Geek Trio in Buffy (hello, crossover potential).
14. Wesley Wyndam-Pryce
"The father will kill the son."
If we'd told you when Wesley Wyndam-Pryce (Alexis Denisof) first wafted onto the scene in Buffy's third season that he'd become one of the darkest, most captivating anti-heroes in the Whedonverse, you'd probably have laughed in our face. (Heck, we'd probably have signed ourselves over to the loony bin without much complaint.)
But that's exactly what happened. Pitching up halfway through Angel's first season to a chorus of groans (not least because he replaced the much-loved Doyle), Wesley gradually developed from gormless buffoon to capable fighter to perceived traitor and despised outcast.
His relationships with Fred Burkle and Lilah Morgan only deepened our understanding of this complex man - and if there weren't tears in your eyes when he was finally bested in battle and requested Illyria "lie" to him, you're a cold, cold monster.
13. Buffy Summers
"If the apocalypse comes, beep me."
Starting out in Whedon's head as little more than a clever post-modern concept (what if the helpless blonde girl attacked in an alleyway turns out not to be helpless at all?), Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) remains one of the coolest TV characters ever created.
Though she's outshone by other characters on the show (well, she IS the lead, and therefore gets lumbered with less kooky characteristics), Buffy's a great heroine because she's also resolutely human.
Charged with fighting monsters as a teenager, she goes through all the trials that most young people face (college, first jobs, first loves, deaths in the family), always with a quick one-liner and a stake at the ready. It's her journey that we go on for seven years, and what a journey it is.
12. River Tam
"I swallowed a bug."
Though she spends most of Firefly hiding behind her brother's lab coat and babbling nonsensically, River (Summer Glau) really comes into her own in Serenity, the movie continuation of the show.
Raised in a government facility called The Academy, River was trained to become a deadly fighter - and in Serenity, she kicks considerable booty when, in the third act, she demonstrates just what she's capable of by wiping the floor with a rabid pack of Reavers.
11. Andrew Wells
"It eats you starting with your bottom."
Originally a member of the Geek Trio (alongside Jonathan and Warren), the (not so) Big Bads of Buffy's sixth season, Andrew (Tom Lenk) is separated from them in the show's seventh year and becomes a hilarious (if unwanted) member of the Scooby Gang.
His defining moment (aside from getting beaten up by Anya) comes in 'Storyteller', in which we see the movements of Buffy and her friends through Andrew's fanciful eyes.
That includes slow-mo shots of Buffy seductively pouring herself some cereal, and a colourful segment in which Andrew pictures himself and the other Geeks as gods. Oh, and when the apocalypse is at hand, he has a wheelchair fight with Anya…
10. Wash & Zoe
Wash: "Psychic, though? That sounds like something out of science fiction."
Zoe: "We live in a spaceship, dear."
We're counting these two as one, not because we think they can't function independently (or that your partner defines you), but because Zoe (Gina Torres) is so integral to understanding Wash (Alan Tudyk) and vice versa. (Also, we only have room for 20.)
Part of Mal's (Nathan Fillion) crew aboard Serenity, they're one of the only couples in the Whedonverse that isn't overwrought with domestic drama. Zoe's a fearless fighter and Wash is a wise-cracking pilot, and the two go together like (to pinch a Friends quote) day and later that day.
True, they bicker, but that's normal right? And it's a tragedy that we'll never get to see on-screen how Zoe copes with Wash's death in Serenity…
9. Willow Rosenberg
"And I think I'm kinda gay…"
It's a toss up, here, between Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Evil Willow (er, also Hannigan), the alt-reality vampire version of everybody's favourite red-head (she crops up in 'The Wish' and 'Dopplegangland'). Considering Willow sticks around for considerably longer, though, we'll go with her (though Evil Willow remains a pinnacle of wicked TV brilliance).
Of all the characters on Buffy, it's perhaps Willow who develops the most over the show's seven seasons. Initially an awkward nerd, she graduates literally and metaphorically when she becomes interested in magic - which turns out to be an extended metaphor for homosexuality (and, later, less cleverly, drug addition, but we'll ignore that).
Her flay-happy Dark Willow is unforgettable, and we'll never get over her appearance in Angel's season four episode 'Orpheus', when she mistakenly believes Fred (Amy Acker) is coming on to her.
8. Xander Harris
"If we close our eyes and say it's not real… it'll stab us to death."
Considering he's just a regular teenager with no discernable talents (beyond the ability to wheel out the odd sarcastic remark), it's pretty remarkable that Xander Harris (Nicholas Brendon) opts to help Buffy when she's, er, ousted as a slayer.
Though he's rarely at the centre of the story, season three episode 'The Zeppo' was a master class in alt-POV storytelling - while Buffy and co fight the apocalypse, Xander's got his own non-end-of-the-world problems to contend with.
As he'll note in season seven, he's the heart of the gang, and particularly good at fixing the things that get broken during the numerous demon battles. Also, he gets a bitchin' eye-patch in the show's final year…
"Man, you just get darker and darker. And the weird thing is... your aura? Beige."
Until now, demons have generally been considered bad. Sometimes misguided, yes, but mostly just monsters in need of a good putting down. All that changed with the opening episode of Angel's second season, which introduced the never-more-demonic-looking Lorne (Andy Hallett), actually the owner of a demon karaoke bar.
When he's not interfering with Angel's broody schtick by referring to him as "angel cakes" and "angel face", Lorne (otherwise known as 'The Host'), quickly turns into a valuable ally - not least because he has a direct line to the Powers. Also, he's fabulous.
Notable moments? When Lorne's trapped in Las Vegas as a performing monkey (not literally) in season four, and season five ep 'Life Of The Party', in which Lorne has his sleep removed and the rest of the team are compelled to quite literally act out his instructions for a company shindig…
"Don't you need anyone dead? Or maimed? I can settle for maimed."
Initially conceived of as a dark slayer yin to Buffy's bubbly slayer yang, Faith (Eliza Dushku) is like the awesome older sister you're probably glad you never had - dark, dangerous, rule-trashing, tough as nails, always ready for a fight - and yes, she's smoking hot, to boot. Though she's originally a morals-muddying foil for Buffy, Faith quickly develops beyond that into something genuinely interesting.
Leaving Buffy with a body-swapping bang in season four, her dark side's unleashed in full force on Angel, where she comes into her post-watershed own torturing Wesley in ways you can only imagine (or probably shouldn't).
Her gradual rehabilitation leads to her triumphant return in the final five episodes of Buffy's final season, where things finally come full circle and she fights side-by-side with the Buffster. They finally learn to get alone. Sort of…
5. Cordelia Chase
"I'm not a snivelling, whiny, little cry-Buffy. I'm the nastiest girl in Sunnydale history. I take crap from no-one!"
Entertainingly snippy but dismissable in early seasons of Buffy as a prom queen with pointier fangs than most vampires, Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter) was granted unexpected depth by Whedon and his writers over the course of her time on Buffy.
It was on spin-off show Angel that she really came into her own, though. Plonked in Los Angeles with no money and a misguided notion of becoming an actress, she becomes an integral part of Angel Investigations, adding bright wit to an undeniably dark show.
Her season five swan song, 'You're Welcome', is a fittingly emotional, delightfully snarky send-off.
"Out. For. A Walk… Bitch."
Though his accent's all over the place (where is this guy actually from?), Spike's an infinitely more interesting vampire than wet-blanket Angel (even Angelus can't hold a flame to him). He's killed two Slayers in his time, he's named after a railroad spike and his style icon is Billy Idol.
Better still, Spike (James Marsters) was responsible for sneaking a colourful array of British swear words onto prime time TV, introducing the whole of America to nouns like 'wanker', 'tosser' and 'ponce'.
Though season six misused him as a weird torture porn love interest for Buffy, Spike returned with a vengeance in Angel's fifth season, adding pith and pluck to an already strong final year for the show. Spike, we love you.
"Bunnies, bunnies, IT MUST BE BUNNIES! Or maybe midgets…"
She's an ex-vengeance demon who's scared to death of "floppy, hoppy bunnies" (that's leporiphobia, you know), which is surely all you need to know to fall in love with Anya (Emma Caulfield).
Introduced as a guest starrer in season three Buffy episode 'The Wish', she was so brilliant that she became a regular as Xander's on-off girlfriend in season four (going on to share a peppy, screwball musical number with him in 'Once More With Feeling').
Frank to the max, Anya's everything you'd expect an ex-demon to be - cynical, obsessed with money and sex, and hopelessly confounded at every turn by the weirdness that is humanity.
2. Fred Burkle
"Nutty-ol'-goonie-bird-up-in-her-room-doin'-nothin'-but-moochin'-off-Angel Fred. I swear, I don't know how y'all put up with me."
Introduced in rags as a wormhole-jumping UCLA graduate at the tail end of Angel season two, Winifred 'Fred' Burkle (Amy Acker) starts out as a shy, retiring (Texan) wallflower, mooning over Angel and confining herself to her room, where she scribbles mathematical equations all over the walls.
By the end of her first season (Angel's third), though, Fred's proved she's vital to Angel Investigations. Not only does she boast an intellect to rival even Wesley's, she's also the sweetest thing you ever did see.
High points? Exquisite season three ballet ep 'Waiting In The Wings', plus that devastating, reduce-you-to-howlin'-tears season five farewell, 'A Hole In The World'.
"I start fightin' a war, I guarantee, you'll see somethin' new."
He could easily have been a pale imitation of Han Solo, with his roguish charm and refusal to be tied down by anybody. Instead, Captain Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) emerged as one of the best sci-fi anti-heroes in recent memory.
Yes, he swaggers, yes, he's quick with the wit (and even quicker with a gun), but he's exactly what a rag-tag band of space fugitives need in a leader - somebody who isn't afraid to stare unblinking into the harshest, bleakest reaches of space.
We wish we'd have been given the chance to get to know him better…
Who's your favourite Whedon character? Tell us below...