This article originally appeared on Tor.com.
Warning: this post contains no deep interpretations of animal companions and their impact on story. I won’t philosophize on the essential nature of furry, fuzzy, or squishy familiars or ask why they exist in the first place. Bottom line: they’re cute as hell, and sometimes that’s enough. I’m writing this while my familiar—Baloo, a 16-pound chonk feline boi—sits on his perch next to my desk. He and my other cat, Iroh (who stays near my wife for most of the day) are the inspiration for this piece.
Nothing can match the love of my real-life furry friends, but there are fantasy animals that sure do come close. Here are five of the cutest heckin’ fantasy companions of all time…
Azymondias (The Dragon Prince)
The Dragon Prince just kicked off its fourth season on Netflix, so now is a perfect time to dive in.
Seasons one through three feature Azymondias—nicknamed Zym—the Storm Dragon companion of the show’s trio of protagonists. Callum, Rayla, and Ezran travel across the realm to reunite Zym with his kin, and they learn all sorts of excellent dragon facts along the way. I was enamored from the get-go, as Zym is quite possibly the cutest dragon of all time. (Trust me when it comes to dragons: I recently did my signature “Dragon Dance” on national TV—end shameless plug to catch me on Password episode 2 on Peacock).
Zym feels particularly special compared to other companions on this list (save for the last entry) because we get to see him frolic and learn to fly within the visual medium. There’s something to be said for an animated depiction of a creature that’s most often relegated to the theater of the mind. Zym bursts forth and steals the spotlight whenever he gets screen time in The Dragon Prince.
Mephi (The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart)
Cat? Fish? Mercat?
During his search for his long-lost wife, Jovis encounters Mephi and immediately mistakes the creature for a kitten. Already, we’re off to an adorable start. As Jovis and Mephi travel together, adventuring through the kingdom on Jovis’ years-long search, the two learn quite a bit about each other, including some surprising truths about what Mephi is.
Mephi’s impact on the story evolves over time, but I just said I wouldn’t dive into that sort of analysis here, so suffice it to say the not-quite-cat provides peak cuteness and comic relief in a book that deals with heavy themes.
Doomslug (Skyward, Brandon Sanderson)
Call me crazy, but yes: I’m including a space mollusk on this list. Slugs and their slimy, spineless brethren never crossed my mind much, beyond a momentary detached fascination or the occasional glance during an aquarium visit.
Then along comes Brandon Sanderson’s Cytoverse, upending my vague disgust at such creatures and turning my outlook around completely! Doomslug has it all: certifiably charming, tiny, and a tad mischievous. She chirps and parrots Spensa’s exclamations, often appearing in new places without any slime trails to indicate how she got there.
Doomslug shatters the boundaries of cuteness and joke-ish territory in further books, but rest assured, the developments only serve to make her species seem all the more adorable.
Kirby, (Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger)
The critically appreciated but generally underrated Elatsoe features a ghost dog. Do I need to say more?
Kirby is Ellie’s deceased canine companion, and the pupper is as loving and loyal in death as he was in real life. The Springer Spaniel is everything a good doggo should be, and he exists within the context of Ellie’s ability to communicate with the dead. Kirby is a mainstay of the story, a paragon of dog-like loyalty and unconditional love. Elatsoe’s cover features an array of ghost dogs scattered all over, giving readers a nice visualization aid. But if you’re like me, Kirby will serve as a stand-in for any beloved pet companion you might’ve had as a kid. He reminded me of my childhood chocolate lab, Bobbi. Darcie Little Badger clearly knows how special a human-pet relationship can be, and it shines through in the pages of Elatsoe.
Literally All The Companions From Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra
Frankly it’s hard to choose from the amazing pantheon of Avatar companion characters. Appa, Momo, Pabu, Naga, Furry-Foot (Jinora’s dragonfly bunny spirit)… they all fit the bill, and they’re all amazing in their own way.
If I had to choose one, I’m a traditional Appa guy. Nothing beats the trust of a rideable flying steed-turned-friend for life. They’re all excellent, though, and Pabu’s little circus show with Bolin remains a personal favorite throwaway Korra scene.