TMNT Characters – Giant character list of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Imagine a late Saturday morning: you’ve just woken up but your first instinct isn’t to brush your teeth or make your bed. You run downstairs instead and hastily pour yourself a box of your favorite cereal before settling in on the couch and turning on the TV.
Nothing speaks more to childhood nostalgia than waking up to watch cartoons on a weekend morning over a bowl of cereal. Whether you’re a kid now or still a kid at heart, you can most likely hum that one theme song from your favorite cartoon growing up. Whether you still have fond memories of the cartoons you watched growing up or you’re still an avid follower of cartoons, everyone is familiar with the hit franchise Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
In syndication for more than three decades through a multitude of season renewals, TMNT as a franchise has grown since its debut, premiering to over 3.9 million viewers with its 2012 Nickelodeon-hosted series. While in past TMNT reboots the turtle brothers are introduced as a crime-fighting team, the latest TMNT series, Rise of the TMNT, transports us to a time before our favorite evil-slaying turtles are fighters of crime. Whether it’s your first time into the series or you want a refresher before starting again, we cover the history of our favorite, recurring characters as well as delve into the new series’ changes without any spoilers!
Named after the Renaissance leader, Leonardo da Vinci, Leonardo is typically the oldest brother and the leader of the TMNT gang. Donning a blue mask and wielding twin katanas, Leonardo is the more serious and mature of the four brothers. He has a strong bond with the brothers’ adoptive father, Splinter, because of his dedication to learning the ninja arts.
As the leader of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Leonardo is seen as the brother that brings everyone together, in both the good and the hard moments of the franchise. His role as leader also brings a lot of pressure. A common character development point for Leonardo is working with his perfectionist side and accepting his shortcomings as well as failures. And while Leonardo may be the head honcho, he still has his moments where he’s more like an older brother, such as getting into spats with his other siblings.
The tech whiz of the group, Donatello supports the TMNT team with his smarts and his inventions. His namesake is after a Renaissance sculptor who developed a new sculpting style based on classical Italian sculpting techniques. Donatello’s primary weapon is a bō staff and he wears a purple mask. He is the most tech-savvy of the brothers and technically the most educated—in the 2003 series he receives his college diploma through the mail. Though he has the highest intellect out of all the brothers, he also shows the most resistance to co-existing with humankind, stating that he’d rather live a simple life as a turtle on multiple occasions.
Besides his book-smarts, Donatello is also known for being the most gentle of the brothers and gets along well with the majority of characters in every series. While he doesn’t instigate fights with his brothers, he sometimes loses his cool when his brothers don’t understand his explanations for his inventions and there are moments when his siblings pick on him as well in teasing brotherly fashion.
The comic relief of the team, Michelangelo’s preferred weapon is a pair of nunchucks and is distinguishable from his other brothers with his orange mask. Named after the famed artist of the David statue and the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo is the easygoing, happy-go-lucky brother, frequently quoting from pop culture favorites such as Star Wars. If you’re more familiar with the 1987 or 2003 series, his most distinctive characteristic is his love for pizza and for shouting Californian surfer slang in the midst of battle such as “cowabunga.”
Though Michelangelo’s antics sometimes draws the ire of his brothers or his adoptive father, his social and extroverted personality is complemented by his positive outlook on life as a mutant. He is ultimately an optimistic character who tries to support his brothers with his jokes and his lighthearted personality.
The only turtle to don a red mask for all series incarnations, Raphael is the hothead of the group and his namesake is from the High Renaissance Vatican painter. His main weapons are a pair of sai. Prone to sarcastic comments and losing his temper, Raphael often butts heads with his brothers, especially with motormouth Michelangelo. In some incarnations, such as the 2012 series, Raphael has a love-hate relationship with his eldest brother, Leonardo, and often disputes with Leonardo about his role as leader of the TMNT group.
However, despite his temperamental side, Raphael is consistently developed within each series of the franchise as a character who can be guilty of his quick temper and learning to work past his more eruptive moments. He also has a deep sense of concern for his brothers and is usually the first of the brothers to react when one of the TMNT members is about to be hurt or is in serious danger.
Splinter is the adoptive father and teacher of the TMNT brothers, depicted as a humanoid, bipedal rat. A devout master of ninjutsu, he relays his knowledge of martial arts to the TMNT brothers after adopting them. How he learned ninjutsu is dependent on the series: in some series, Splinter was a rat owned by ninjutsu master Hamato Yoshi and had the intellectual capacity to copy his owner’s moves. In other series, Splinter is Hamato Yoshi himself but mutated into a rat after coming in contact with the turtles.
Regardless of the series, Splinter plays multiple roles as father figure, martial arts instructor, and teacher of the turtles. While he is in charge of their wellbeing and overprotective of them, Splinter ultimately allows the turtles to challenge themselves in order to hone their martial arts skills.
Appearing in virtually every installment of the TMNT franchise, April O’Neil is the first human ally of the TMNT brothers. Depicted as a young woman of Irish descent, April plays a role akin to a big sister or adoptive mother for the TMNT gang. In the 2003 series, April especially gets along well with Donatello as her supporting role has more of a scientific expertise.
A masked vigilante that fights crime with DIY weapons, Casey Jones is an ally or at least a frenemy of the TMNT team. His main arch-nemesis is the leader of the Purple Dragons gang—Hun. In most incarnations except the 1987 one, he develops a friendship with Raphael due to their similar personalities and circumstances. With April O’Neil, Casey helps and supports the TMNT gang in their missions and their crime-fighting sprees.
An alligator-turned-mutant, Leatherhead is typically an ally of the TMNT team except for his incarnation in the 1987 series. For the 2003 series, Leatherhead is depicted as an intelligent mutant who uses his research to help out the TMNT gang. However, despite the human-like intellect he’s gained as a result of becoming a mutant, Leatherhead still has an innate aggressive ferocity and lives in isolation so he doesn’t harm those close to him with his alligator instincts.
Hamato Yoshi is a master of the ninja arts in feudal Japan. His style of martial arts is passed down and practiced by Splinter and the TMNT brothers. In many of his incarnations within the franchise, he is either Splinter himself or Splinter’s owner. Though Yoshi is more of a side character, he has a large impact on the plot development and background of the TMNT franchise, playing a big role especially within Shredder’s history.
The Foot Clan is a clan of ninjas that are the main antagonists of the TMNT gang. Though the Foot Clan’s origins are as a ninjutsu and black magic-practicing clan in feudal Japan, they are presently a crime syndicate with heavy activity in drug smuggling and assassination. While the faceless drones of the Foot Clan are easy to take down by the turtles, they prove to be a persistent foe with their numbers and tenacity.
Shredder is a recurring antagonist in the franchise and is the primary arch-enemy of the TMNT brothers and Splinter. His origin can be traced all the way back to feudal Japan. His character development from ninjutsu-practitioner to evil-doer has deep ties with Hamato Yoshi. Shredder’s appearance in the TMNT franchise has consistently changed over the years, but regardless of his role, he is the Foot Clan’s first-in-command.
Depending on the series, Karai is either the adopted daughter or biological granddaughter of Shredder. She is also typically the second-in-command of the Foot Clan and learns martial arts as well as ninjutsu directly from Shredder himself. In some incarnations, Karai is Leonardo’s love interest and while she is typically an enemy of the TMNT brothers, she sometimes teams up with them as an ally.
A New York gang consisting of low-level thugs, the Purple Dragons are frequently revived in the TMNT franchise. In most incarnations, the Purple Dragons have a connection to the Foot Clan and serve the Foot Clan for their nefarious purposes.
One of the primary antagonists in the TMNT franchise, the Hun is the leader of the Purple Dragons and the perpetual arch-rival of Casey Jones. Perhaps one of the strongest characters in the franchise, Hun is able to fend off all four TMNT brothers at once. He is usually depicted as a large man with blonde hair though his 2012 incarnation depicts him as a lean but mean Chinese-American.
What’s New in the Rise of the TMNT
Compared to previous series in the TMNT franchises, what makes Rise of the TMNT different? Here are differences that we feel distinguish Rise of the TMNT from past series:
- Change in leadership. While past TMNT re-iterations have Leonardo serving as the leader of the team, Rise of the TMNT mixes things up by making Raphael not only the newest leader but the oldest brother as well!
- Red-eared sliders no more. Up until the Rise of the TMNT, the TMNT brothers were identified as red eared sliders before mutating to their current forms. However, Rise of the TMNT places a twist on this by making almost every brother a different species. Raphael is based off the snapping turtle while Michelangelo is a box turtle. Donatello is now a soft-shell turtle and Leonardo is the only brother to remain as a red-eared slider. The chosen species complement not only the powers but the personalities and potential weak points of each of our favorite butt-kicking turtle brothers.
- Power-ups galore. Compared to previous series, Rise of the TMNT is the first series to introduce powers via the turtles’ weapons. Another point of deviation is that a few of the brothers wield different weapons in Rise of the TMNT—instead of twin katanas, Leonardo wields the heavy and powerful ōdachi, which is like a Japanese longsword, and Michelangelo’s iconic nunchucks have been replaced with a kusari-fundo— a weapon consisting of a chain with a weight attached at its end and commonly used in feudal Japan.
- New series, new antagonists, new stakes. While many diehard or nostalgic TMNT fans will remember Shredder and his evil Foot Clan minions, Rise of the TMNT is the first series of the TMNT franchise that doesn’t introduce Shredder within the first episode. In fact, the main antagonist that the turtle brothers must contend with is Baron Draxum. A mutant warrior who believes humankind must be made extinct in order for mutant-kind to flourish, Draxum is a threat to the turtles and the human world, commanding a horde of mutant mosquitoes called Oozesquitoes, which turn humans into mutants with one bite.
What kind of challenges will Baron Draxum bring for our favorite TMNT gang? With a new series and new power-ups, will the TMNT brothers stand a chance? Tune in on Nickolodeon or catch the entire first season on Amazon Prime to find out!