I could list ten, twenty or thirty fictional characters who have stayed in my mind for one reason or another. This limited list includes peeps from classic literature, noir and fantasy.
5. Philip Marlowe
Created by Raymond Chandler
Featured in The Big Sleep, The Little Sister etc.
The Big Sleep, Chandler's first novel to feature Philip Marlowe, was a curious mix of Greek tragedy and post-war sleaze. Marlowe embodied these qualities wholeheartedly, navigating the seedy underworld of Los Angeles with his own brand of honour, knowing that the world was not as it should be, inhabited by people more inclined to violence and theft than to honesty and peace. He didn't sugar the pill when it came to the sorry status quo, but he also never took advantage or allowed himself to be swayed by the numerous femme fatales that came his way. There is a certain pleasure to be had in reading the stories of a man who is, while definitely no angel, a good guy among bad guys.
4. Jed Parry
Created by Ian McEwan
Featured in Enduring Love
You know almost from the very beginning of this novel that there is something slightly strange about Jed Parry. In the aftermath of a bizarre and tragic balloon accident, Jed accompanies the protagonist Joe Rose in his search for survivors, and it is during this time that he suggests they kneel down and pray together. Joe does his best to shake off this oddball, but Jed has become fixated, and spends the next few hundred pages thinking up ways to invite himself into Joe's life and convince him to profess his love. Sinister yet somehow guileless, Jed is so realistically imagined that his peculiar brand of devotion will stay with you long after you've turned the final page.
3. Sophie Fevvers
Created by Angela Carter
Featured in Nights at the Circus
Sophie Fevvers was found on the doorstep of a brothel in Victorian London, a baby girl lying on broken eggshell. The working girls who take her in don't truly believe that the child was hatched - that is, not until white feathers begin to sprout from her back, growing into a magnificent pair of wings. Sophie goes on to become a famous aerialiste in a travelling circus, earning herself the stage name "The Cockney Venus". Nights at the Circus is a fantastically written piece of magical realism, and its protagonist Fevvers is a larger than life character in just about every way. Outspoken, curvaceous, aggressively sexual and always charming, Fevvers bewitches the reader like the fairy-tale creature that she is.
2. Atticus Finch
Created by Harper Lee
Featured in To Kill A Mockingbird
I don't know what to say about Atticus that hasn't already been said by fifty years' worth of literature enthusiasts, except that he is bold, brave and honourable without ever being unrealistic or sentimental. He is the mould from which all fathers should be made, and he is the kind of man that all men should endeavour to become.
Created by Joss Whedon
Featured in Buffy the Vampire Slayer / Angel
Best described as "the working class Slayer", the introduction of roguish Faith in Season 3 of Buffy provided an effective dramatic foil for the heroine. Faith was the unwanted sister in Buffy's life long before Dawn appeared out of thin air, and it was through her mistakes that Buffy learned what it truly means to be a Slayer. Whether she was casually taking people's virgnity, going on violent sprees or facing up to her own self-loathing, Faith was always compelling. It pleased a lot of fans when Faith reappeared towards the end of Buffy's run as a reformed character: while still a tad on the loose side (Faith remains the only openly promiscuous female character in the Buffyverse), she was repentant and no longer coveted Buffy's life. Her time in prison had granted her perspective, and she was wiser for it. Which is nice for her character arc, but much less fun to watch than any one of her many violent smackdowns with frenemy Buffy.
Other memorable characters who are worth your time: the benevolent Jean Valjean (Les Miserables), the adventurous Lyra Belacqua (His Dark Materials), the incompetent Rincewind (Discworld) and the deliciously arrogant Sherlock Holmes.