We love the fantasy genre for so many reasons, but we feel like one of those reasons often gets overlooked. We’re just so caught up in our magic systems, and our fancy weaponry, and our world-ending peril that we forget to focus on the little things. So it’s time to appreciate a truly underrated aspect of the genre: beautifully toned biceps.
Show us your muscle, fantasy heroes.
BEFORE WE BEGIN. We want to acknowledge that there are many, many excellent science fiction and super-heroic biceps as well—from Captain America’s helicopter-wrangling stuntwork to the impressive pull-up toned arms of both T2’s Sarah Connor and Aliens’ Jenette Vasquez. In this post we’re focusing on fantasy, but please feel free to tell us about fictional biceps (and triceps! and deltoids!) of all stripes in the comments!
Brienne of Tarth, A Song of Ice and Fire
While George R.R. Martin described Brienne of Tarth as tough and relatively “unattractive”, actor Gwendoline Christie got flack when she was cast in the role because she was apparently “too pretty” for some fans. While Christie was tickled that people claimed she looked like a fashion model, she proved them all wrong by adding enough muscle to her six-foot-three frame to make the world quickly realize she was no one to trifle with. We know you’re shouting “but what about the Mountain?” but it’s hard to hear you when our lady is swinging a giant broadsword at ice-zombies.
And as long as we’re in Westeros, yes, yes, of course Khal Drogo. Jason Momoa worked hard for that look, and we certainly don’t want to snub him. Especially since he also once played another character on our list, and could crush us like so many gnats.
Conan, Conan the Barbarian (comics and film)
Pretty much the OG in the fantasy bicep game, Conan has been at this for a long time. It doesn’t really matter if he’s pressed into the pages of a comic book or played by the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jason Momoa—we’re here for Conan because this is what he’s bringing to the table.
Zula, Conan the Destroyer
Zula is Grace Jones. Grace Jones rules us all. Obviously she has some of the best biceps in fantasy. It’s hard enough to pay attention to Conan when Grace Jones simply exists in the same frame, let alone when she flexes those muscles at us.
Rand al’Thor, The Wheel of Time
You gotta figure that being “The Dragon Reborn” comes with a few perks, right? And so does having the namesake of an old Norse god. Okay, maybe this award should go to his blacksmith buddy Perrin, since we know he’s a tough boy, but just look at Rand. Up there. Flexing. He saw you looking, and he just had to make sure you were proud. We are proud of you, Rand. Four for you. You go.
Red Sonja, Marvel Comics/Dynamite Entertainment/film
Red Sonja sometimes spends her time hanging around with Conan in various media, an update from the Robert E. Howard tale in which she first appeared. She made the move to comics and then to a movie that most people don’t remember, and now has a home with both Marvel and Dynamite Entertainment. We all know the reason for her continued popularity… it’s her biceps. Obviously. Don’t mess with Sonja.
He-Man, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe
He-Man is a character that started with a toy, and that toy was supposed to make little boys feel bigger and tougher in an uncertain world. That is, in fact, where his signature “I have the Power!” catchphrase comes from. So Prince Adam uses a special sword to become He-Man, but the transformation doesn’t seem to make him look all that different, apart from baring his biceps to the world. That’s clearly where “the Power” comes from.
Bershad, Blood of An Exile by Brian Naslund
Just look at this man. Bershad has a lot of problems cropping up right now, but even after being sentenced to die after assassinating a fellow nobleman, we have to give the guy credit: He never skips arm day. We’re not entirely sure what being a dragon slayer has to do with biceps, but we are so glad he doesn’t neglect them. We also have some questions for his tattoo artist.
Avatar Korra, The Legend of Korra
While the previous Avatar was all about being nimble and flexible, like the air nomad society he was born into (we know Aang is incredibly tough, of course), his successor Korra was ninety percent muscle. That and her penchant for wearing sleeveless tunics that show off her perfectly toned arms make her an easy contender for arm wrestling champion of the world. And arm champion of pretty much everything else.
Demane, The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson
Sorcerer of the Wildeeps is epic fantasy, yes, but it’s also one gorgeous poem of queer longing. And in amidst all the lyrical flirting and sensual wordplay, it becomes obvious that both Demane (the titular Sorcerer) and his Captain (a storied hero) have ridiculous arm game. Which helps when they’re protecting their men and wrestling wild beasts and generally showing off for each other.
Xena, Xena: Warrior Princess
We could also put Xena in the “best abs of fantasy” list, but it would be remiss not to count her here, too. Throwing her signature chakram with deadly accuracy requires some serious arm muscle. And if we’re talking about Xena, we’re contractually obligated to give a shout to her stalwart gal pal, Gabrielle, who, while not billed as a “Warrior Princess” could still more than hold her own in battle.
Jasper, Steven Universe, Steven Universe Future
Most Steven Universe characters use weaponry or emotional manipulation to fight, but Jasper is the rare Gem who skips straight to her mighty FISTS. She’s very much a villain for most of the show, and her fighting style is pure tank. She bashes people, punches Steven in the face, defuses Garnet with a well-timed blow—it’s all pretty dark, and only gets darker. One could argue that she’s the first genuinely scary figure we meet in SU, a true bully with none of the character of Peridot or complex backstory of the Diamonds. Which is why it makes it all the cooler when, in Steven Universe Future, she uses those crazy ripped arms to train Steven in a different kind of power, and takes him on a journey that ultimately helps him to change the way he lives for the better.
Penthesilea, The Amazon and the Warrior by Judith Hand
Penthesilea is Queen of the ancient Amazons, so is it any surprise that she’s got amazing arms? She’s pretty furious that Achilles murdered her sister, but she’s well on her way to finding vengeance. And she also has a warrior boyfriend with amazing arms (seen above). That’s probably their meet cute: “Hey, you’ve got great arms, I’ve got great arms. We should date.”
Thor, Marvel Comics/Marvel Cinematic Universe
If characters partly inspired by Thor make this list, then obviously Mr. Thunderdome himself also gets a ranking spot. Those arms are so huge, he needs two different types of hammer to contain that swing. And sure blah blah magical powers, blah blah he’s based on an actual Norse god who probably had lots of other things going on, but we all know the Grandmaster took to calling him Sparkles because he was trying to distract us from the real star of the show.
Trogdor, Homestar Runner
Trogdor has had an eventful life, between once being a man, now being a dragon, and burninating all the peasants and their thatched-roof cottages. But for the purposes of this list, let us all stand back and gaze in awe at his ONE BEEFY ARM.
An earlier version of this article was published in July 2019.