An illustration of a stripy ginger cat with a prize-winning rosette on its shoulder, standing in front of a bookcase full of colourful books.
An illustration of a stripy ginger cat with a prize-winning rosette on its shoulder, standing in front of a bookcase full of colourful books.

While fictional dogs (of which there seem to be plenty more than cats) are often portrayed as loyal, obedient and generally preoccupied with doing what’s right, cats are much harder to stereotype.

They’re a mysterious and mercurial bunch: one minute they’re purring sweetly on your lap, the next they’ve knocked something over or dug their claws into you, seemingly just for a laugh.

On the whole though, literary cats are usually seen playing up to their mischievous tendencies (because where's the fun in playing by the rules?) so from felines wreaking demonic havoc, to those with everlasting grins and the rare gems who are simply loving pets, here’s our definitive list of the best cats ever written.

10. Jiji from Kiki's Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono

If you’re a fan of Studio Ghibli’s films, you’ll no doubt have heard of Kiki’s Delivery Service but did you know the film was inspired by a book?

Eiko Kadono’s beloved story follows Kiki, a trainee witch who, on turning 13, is eager to follow tradition by finding a new town to live in for a year. We all know that witches and black cats go together like eye of newt and toe of frog so Jiji, a talking black cat, accompanies her on the adventure.

He’s much less sinister than you might expect a witch’s cat to be and is always at Kiki's side to offer moral support. 12/10 for being cute, cuddly and sassy in one fluffy package.

9. Mimi from Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

As a young child, Nakata experiences a sudden blackout that leaves him with amnesia — a loss so complete that it erases his ability to read. While his memory may be gone, he does discover an unexpected new ability: he can now communicate with cats.

Cats are a regular occurrence in Haruki Murakami’s novels — often appearing as mysterious, otherworldly creatures with a hidden message — so it’s hard to pick out just one favourite.

Even in Kafka on the Shore, there are several peppered throughout the book but we think Mimi is the one most deserving of a place on this list. A smart, sophisticated Siamese cat who’s fond of quoting from Puccini operas, she's also invaluable in helping Nakata on his quest to find a missing cat.

 

8. Maurice from The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett

Knowing that Maurice is a resident of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld is already a hint that Maurice is no ordinary cat. Like Gaspode the talking dog, Maurice has gained human-equivalent brainpower and the ability to talk, so of course it makes sense to put that intellect to use by… pulling off a series of cons.

Joining forces with a band of intelligent rats and a “stupid-looking kid” who can sort-of play the pipes, Maurice hatches a scam whereby the rats will ‘infest’ a town until the kid turns up, posing as a rat piper, to lead the so-called vermin away – all for a tidy fee from the town’s inhabitants, of course.

Maurice does have a gentler side though; with his intelligence comes other human attributes like guilt and compassion so he's not all that bad.

7. Nana from The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa

When a stray cat is injured by a car, Satoru takes it in and decides to name him Nana – the Japanese word for seven – because of how the cat’s tail bends to one side to resemble the number.

After five years of peaceful cohabitation, Satoru announces that they’ll be going on a trip together. “Cats take quietly whatever comes their way,” thinks Nana on hearing the news, “as Satoru’s roommate I had been a perfect cat, so I should be a perfect companion on this journey he seemed intent on making”.

Roughly half of the story is told by Nana and while he can be somewhat haughty, his loyalty, love and unbreakable bond with Satoru is clear.

6. Varjak Paw from Varjak Paw by S.F. Said

Varjak Paw is a Mesopotamian Blue kitten who has never left the house he lives in. Growing up hearing tales of Jalal, an ancestor skilled in The Way – a secret martial art known only to cats, Varjak longs to get out and explore the world for himself.

It’s not long before his wish comes true although, sadly, it’s spurred on by the death of a family member. Varjak is inquisitive and rather naive – he is a kitten, after all – but he more than makes up for it with his bravery, selflessness and budding leadership qualities.

Plus, since he is a kitten, we imagine he must look like a perfect little floof, which hasn’t hurt his ranking on this list at all.

5. Hobbes from Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

A Calvin and Hobbes comic strip by Bill Watterson in which Calvin is wondering why his cat Hobbes is so tired that he needs to spend the day snoozing.

Image: Bill Watterson / Sphere

While he may look like a small stuffed toy to everyone else in Bill Watterson’s comic, Calvin knows that his best friend Hobbes is a walking, talking tiger. As far as Hobbes himself is concerned, he delights in being a big cat and occasionally passes judgement on the follies of human nature.

Although named after the philosopher Thomas Hobbes, the two don’t share much in terms of their moral outlook but feline-Hobbes is often the voice of reason or, perhaps, the voice of Calvin’s conscience. Unsurprisingly, the two are inseparable and it’s easy to see why – who wouldn’t want a pal like Hobbes to while away their days with?

4. The Cheshire Cat from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Is there a more enigmatic literary moggie than the Cheshire Cat? Known for its mischievous grin and ability to disappear (and reappear) whenever it likes, we’re not sure whether this is a cat we’d actually like to meet.

At one point, the cat starts to slowly disappear until just its wide smile remains, causing Alice to say that she “has often seen a cat without a grin but never a grin without a cat”. Very disconcerting indeed.

While the cat's conversation may confound her, it does act as something of a guide to Alice and it is one of the friendlier of Wonderland's inhabitants. And whatever you think, the Cheshire Cat is a pretty perfect depiction of a cat: sometimes lovely, sometimes baffling, generally does whatever it wants. No wonder this cat remains one of the best-loved creatures in literature. 

3. Mr. Mistoffelees from Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot

An Edward Gorey illustration of the Magical Mr. Mistofelees from T.S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats

Image: Edward Gorey / Faber & Faber

T.S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats is, unsurprisingly, a book full of cats. So picking a favourite really comes down to personal preference, doesn’t it? But allow us to present a case for the Magical Mr. Mistoffelees: he’s an expert conjurer, holder of all the patent monopolies and he can play any trick with a cork. You might not think that sounds like much but was there ever a cat so clever as Magical Mr. Mistoffelees?

Not to mention, he appears to be able to astrally project himself elsewhere and he once produced seven kittens out of a hat and – much more impressive than your average magician pulling a single rabbit from a hat, we think you'll agree? It's no wonder this phenomenal cat has conjured himself so high up this list.

2. Mog from Mog the Forgetful Cat by Judith Kerr

An illustration of Mog the forgetful cat, sitting in front of a bush, by Judith Kerr.

Image: Judith Kerr / HarperCollins

With her tabby coat and white bib, Mog must be one of the most recognisable fictional cats out there.

She’s a fan of all the usual catty activities like eating, snoozing, chasing birds and whatever else cats get up to in their spare time but the issue is, she’s a very forgetful cat (as you might have gleaned from the title of the book).

She forgets she’s already been fed, forgets she has a cosy basket to sleep in, forgets cats can’t fly when she jumps out of trees and, crucially, forgets about the existence of the cat flap that allows her to go in and out as she pleases. But one day, her forgetfulness works in her favour when she unwittingly (and it is usually unwittingly, bless her) saves the day.

Mog may be forgetful but she is certainly unforgettable, which explains why Judith Kerr's classic children's book continues to be a favourite to this day. 

1. Behemoth from The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

And in the top spot we have the inimitable Behemoth, “an enormous black cat with cavalry moustache, that walks on two legs” who can take on the human form of a “fat shorty in a torn cap” for brief periods time time.

He's a roguish cigar-smoking, gun-toting creature with a penchant for vodka, chess, pickled mushrooms and endless quipping – and in Bulgakov's masterpiece, he is the jester of the novel. He's a member of the devil's entourage but evidently not a very well-respected one as Margarita soon takes to slapping him without fear of retribution.

Make no mistake, Behemoth is an obnoxious miscreant but no other fictional moggie leaves such an indelible impression.

What did you think of our list, and which cats would you want to add? Let us know by emailing us at editor@penguinrandomhouse.co.uk.

Image: Michael Driver / Folio Art for Penguin

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