As anyone who has ever used the Internet knows, cats are everything. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, more than 36 U.S. million households sport a feline companion. Where dogs are blindly loyal, a cat’s ambivalence speaks of alien wisdom.
That’s likely why there are so many great cats in sci-fi and fantasy: if your cat one day sat up and calmly informed you that it was a mystical being on a quest to save the world, you’d probably buy it, no problem. To prove just how popular they are, we offer a list of 25 of the best cats in all of SFF.
Master Ren in Monstress, by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
To quote the poets, Master Ren is kind of awesome. Liu and Takeda’s dark, profane comic sprawls into epic pretty quickly. And naturally, any story involving a necromantic war will get kind of dark, though this one goes darker than you might be prepared for. Thank goodness Master Ren is there: with two tails and a font of wisdom surprising for a cat, Master Ren is the ideal companion for traumatized, rough-around-the-edges protagonist Maika, providing smart comebacks, great advice, and the occasional fierce bluff in times of crisis.
Mort(e), by Robert Repino
Mort(e) is easily one of the best characters, human or feline, in recent SFF. In love with the dog next door, genetically modified by a race of invading super ants, and transformed into a lethal warrior, he chooses his unusual name because of its uncertainty. He’s not sure if he is a cold killing machine or a loving being horrified at what has happened—although his dogged (excuse the pun) pursuit of his lost love hints strongly at the latter. Repino’s unusual novel should be on the top of everyone’s must-read SFF list—even if you don’t like cats.
Lying Cat in Saga, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
If you Google “lying cat” you’ll be rewarded with a slew of images of a fierce-looking cat saying the word “lying” in various tones—from vicious to interrogative. Lying cat can always tell if someone is deliberately lying, and thus is an invaluable companion to bounty hunter The Will in this remarkable comic series. More than just a very large cat that acts as a lie detector, Lying Cat is also a fierce warrior, and fiercely loyal. The fact that a cat that comes up to The Will’s shoulder was the runt of its litter should disturb you.
Tailchaser in Tailchaser’s Song, by Tad Williams
Tailchaser is a fine cat, but what makes him special, really, is the complex and deeply imagined mythology and culture of feral cats that Williams creates around him in this remarkable novel. He imagines that all animals see themselves as the dominate species on the planet, and cats are no different. Tailchaser sets off on an adventure when his friend Hushpad goes missing, one of a rash of feline disappearances, and his exploration of the world of cats—and other animals—grows more and more interesting as it progresses (did we mention he heads to Cat Hell?).
Pete in The Door Into Summer, by Robert A. Heinlein
Inspired by his own cat’s confusion and irritation when confined in the house during a cold winter, which prompted his wife to observe that the cat was looking for the “door into summer,” Heinlein claimed he wrote this twisting time-travel story in just two weeks. Pete is a lively tomcat who despises the snow, and is, at various points in the protagonist Daniel Boone Davis’ life, his only friend and companion—though he disappears from the story for a long stretch. While Pete doesn’t do much of note, it’s clear that cats played a huge role in inspiring the story, and anyone familiar with the book has an outsize sense of affection for the critter.
Nimitz/Laughs Brightly in The Honorverse, by David Weber
Nimitz, the large treecat who befriends Honor Harrington, is a fixture in the Honorverse. Although Laughs Brightly initially had no desire to adopt a human, his encounter with Honor when he saved her from peak bears on the planet Sphinx—being injured in the melee—caused him to bond with her immediately. She named him Nimitz, and the two formed a unique pairing, able to share their vision via their telepathic link. Anyone seeking to harm Honor knows they have to eliminate or incapacitate Nimitz somehow—and that isn’t an easy task.
Crookshanks in the Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling
Crookshanks, Hermione’s pet, is wise beyond his years and species. Able to figure things out for himself, to learn, and to solve puzzles, he also sports the ability to sniff out untrustworthy people—even if they are magically disguised. Crookshanks proved to be an invaluable companion in his time, intelligent and valiant, and some might argue that one of the greatest failures of the series is the way this phenomenal cat simply disappears from the story, with no hint as to his ultimate fate.
The Cats of Ulthar (all of them) in The Cats of Ulthar, by H.P. Lovecraft
Lovecraft is known for his eldritch horrors and stories about the thin line between sanity and existential terror, but this short story is one of his best, and there’s nary an Old God in sight. Anyone who has witnessed casual cruelty to animals knows it’s a strong hint that the perpetrator is a sociopath (at best). An orphan passing through the town of Ulthar loses track of his only companion, a black kitten. Discovering the kitten has been trapped and cruelly killed by an old couple that routinely delights in killing felines, the orphan recites a mighty prayer, and the cats of Ulthar take violent revenge on the old couple, making them the Cat Avengers of your nightmares.
Behemoth in The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov
Aggressive, hilarious, and profane, Behemoth—as his name might suggest—is less a cat than a demon, one of Woland’s entourage in the classic novel. Able to take the form of a man at times, Behemoth is largely a jester in Woland’s court, and over the course of the novel isn’t given much respect, even by the humans. Smart and even somewhat sophisticated, being a fan of chess and endless, rapid-fire jokes, Behemoth is serving Satan to pay off his debts, which makes sense; for many people the idea of living your days as an enormous cat would, in fact, be hell.
Lady May in The Game of Rat and Dragon, by Cordwainer Smith
This classic short story about humans telepathically linked with cats in order to detect and destroy invisible alien presences called “dragons” that float in the vastness of space is a joy to read. The fact that it focuses not so much on the psychic combat, and much more on the relationship between one human named Underhill and Lady May, the Persian cat he’s linked with, makes it one of the most unusual stories written about either space travel or relationships, while Lady May’s charms make her one of a handful of cats we all wish we could meet.
Greebo in the Discworld series, by Terry Pratchett
Greebo is not a feline companion anyone would wish for. Dirty, aggressive, and lustful, Greebo is a terror, and the only human who has a consistent burning affection for him is Nanny Ogg. The fact that he often transforms into human form—a human form that retains almost all of his less desirable qualities—does nothing to make Greebo more likable—although the fact that he has killed and eaten at least one vampire is a mark in his favor. In fact, the only creature Greebo seems to be daunted by is a small white kitten, which is just common sense, as small white kittens are terrifying.
Tobermory, by Saki
Saki’s classic short story centers on the titular cat, who is taught to speak and understand English. Tobermory initially astounds—then disturbs, as the guests at the remote country house gathered to witness the event soon realize that we speak rather freely in front of animals, assuming they cannot report our activities. As Tobermory proves to be a gifted and somewhat mean-spirited gossip, murder plots sprout up in this darkly hilarious story that should make you think twice about wishing your cat could tell you what it’s thinking.
Roger in Cat Out of Hell, by Lynne Truss
Truss, best-known for her witty lecture on grammar Eats, Shoots & Leaves, is obviously not a cat person, as here she blames them for many ills, and possibly the eventual destruction of the human race. The main cat, Roger, is erudite, chatty, and quite happy to explain that all cats are capable of killing someone with a “single application of overpowering malevolence.” As many critics have noted, anyone who has ever shared space with a cat knows that moment, making Roger one of the most brutally honest cats in literature.
Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis
Aslan may not be a tame lion, but he is a lion, which makes him a cat. The son of the Emperor Over the Sea, Aslan is alternately comforting and terrifying, largely depending on how foolish you’re being in his presence at the moment. Religious allegories aside, the moment in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe where Aslan sacrifices himself—and is then set free of his bonds by an army of non-talking mice—is guaranteed to make even grizzled adults shed a tear.
Strig Feleedus in Angel Catbird, by Margaret Atwood, Johnnie Christmas, and Tamra Bonvillain
Scientist Feleedus is transformed via chemical accident into a creature with a cat’s head, bird’s wings, and the instincts and abilities of both. This makes him one of the most unusual cat-like creatures in SFF, especially when those instincts war with each other, forcing Strig to work out whether he should rescue something, eat it, or ignore it altogether. A product of Margaret Atwood’s remarkable imagination, Angel Catbird isn’t the only cat hybrid in the world, it turns out, opening up a whole new universe for us to gleefully explore. Combining a Bojack Horseman-esque sensibility with a superhero story instantly makes this one of the most interesting new comics out there.
Tinker/2 from We3, by Grant Morrison
A cat encased in battle armor, given the ability to speak via brain implant, and armed to the teeth: we give you 2, a.k.a. Tinker, one of three cybernetically augmented animals created via secret government program. After kidnapping the animals and cruelly transforming them, the government shuts down the program and dooms them to destruction. Only the last-minute mercy of one of the scientists save their lives—although the trio of augmented animals soon find themselves hunted and forced to fight with every land-mine and other weapon contained in their suits. Tinker proves to be one heck of a fierce cat in the battles that follow, and while you might not want a cat that can blow up your house when kibble is late, you’ll have to admit this one is pretty awesome.
Gareth from Time Cat, by Lloyd Alexander
Alexander was inspired to create Gareth by one of his own pet cats, who, like Gareth, would simply appear and disappear, seemingly by magic. Gareth can speak, and has the ability to travel to nine fixed points in time—his nine lives. This simple premise forms the spine of one of Alexander’s best efforts, a classic children’s fantasy that follows Gareth as he leads his human owner, Jason, on an incredible time-traveling adventure before returning them home—and refusing to ever speak again.
The Hani from Pride of Chanur, by C.J. Cherryh
The Hani are a cat-like people who were given space-faring technology, which means they are simultaneously technological and still quite feral. Although fully acclimated to space travel, they also gain control of a “clan” through old-fashioned combat between two males. Interestingly, males are thus viewed as somewhat less stable than females, rendering them initially ineligible for space travel until events later in Cherryh’s series.
Mogget in the Abhorsen series, by Garth Nix
Cute lil’ Mogget is actually Yrael, the Eighth Bright Shiner, bound into cat-form. As one of the original sentient entities in the universe and a being of free magic, Yrael is incredibly powerful. When released from his bonds, he pretty much wants to destroy the Abhorsens in revenge for having kept him in servitude. This so perfectly captures the usual cat/human dynamic most pet owners experience it makes Mogget one of the most compelling cats in SFF more or less by default.
Bagheera in The Jungle Book, by Rudyard Kipling
Bagheera is one of the most heroic cats in literature. After being born in captivity, he escapes the zoo and establishes himself as cunning and brave. He saves Mowgli from certain death when he kills a bull in order to induct the lost human boy into the protection of a wolf tribe. After spending years standing by his young human charge, Bagheera then hunts again so that Mowgli may go free to find his own kind. As a result, Bagheera is one of the best cats in literature, period.
Chessie in the Barque Cats series, by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
Chessie and her fellow Barque Cats are bred specifically to live on spacecraft, where the ancient bond between humans and cats is celebrated: the Barque Cats hunt vermin and assist with locating and dealing with other problems (like oxygen leaks) that would have disastrous effects on both the cats and their human partners. The cats are definitely the main attraction in these charming books, highly valued in-universe and capable of much more than the boring normal cats we have to deal with in the real world.
Slag in the The Tales of the Ketty Jay series, by Chris Wooding
Slag is the feral cat that lives on Captain Darian Frey’s ship, the Ketty Jay. He’s just a cat. He doesn’t talk, or have magic powers, and rarely has a direct connection to the main plot of Wooding’s arch, fun SFF series (ideal for anyone missing Firefly). But Slag entertains, and often offers a perspective—especially in his popular POV chapters—that illuminates the situation of the crew in ways that feel refreshing and unobtrusively informative in ways that no other character could achieve.
Churchill from Pet Sematary, by Stephen King
Poor Church. A lively, loving cat, he is run over and killed on the road outside Creed’s house early in King’s classic 1983 novel. Brought back to life by the mysterious Pet Sematary [sic], Church initially seems like a miracle—especially for any readers who have lost pets. Sadly, resurrected Church comes back wrong—he smells bad, has an ill temper, and his playful hunting for mice and birds becomes slightly more…psychopathic. In the end, though, the tragedy of getting your pet back and discovering he’s not the same makes Church one of the most memorable cats in genre writing.
Dax in Tuf Voyaging, by George R.R. Martin
It’s easy to forget just how long—and how successfully—Martin has been creating fictional universes and characters. Haviland Tuf is one of his most memorable, a surly misanthropist whose seedship gives him the ability to genetically engineer living things and dramatically alter the ecology of planets—for a fee. Tuf prefers the company of his genetically-engineered cats to humans, however—especially Dax, the slightly-psychic cat who becomes his constant companion. Readers easily come to like Dax just as much as Tuf does.
Lucky from The Green Millennium, by Fritz Leiber
One of Lieber’s stranger works, this story (set in a 21st century that sure seemed like what the far future would be like in 1953) kicks off when the depressed and kind of dull protagonist wakes up to find a green cat in his room. The cat, which he names Lucky, makes anyone who sees it feel happy and peaceful. Although the cat doesn’t factor much into the rest of the story—which pretty strange—these days we could all use a cat that made us feel good just by its very presence.
Did we forget your favorite SFF cat?