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Ryan Atwood (portrayed by Ben McKenzie)
- Deadpan Snarker: Leaning more to the Deadpan side of this trope.
- Doom Magnet: He is accused of being one early in the show by Julie.
- The Stoic: He's not big on talking or being openly emotional.
Seth Cohen (portrayed by Adam Brody)
- Chick Magnet: He attracts the attention of Summer, Anna, Alex, and Taylor.
- Fanboy: Seth loves his comic books.
- It's All About Me: He's incredibly self-absorbed and gets mad when other people change the subject
- Motor Mouth: Especially when nervous, which happens a lot.
- Nice Jewish Boy: A snarkier version of one but one nevertheless
Marissa Cooper (portrayed by Mischa Barton)
- Broken Bird: Emotionally spastic, teen soap version
- Freudian Excuse: Her family situation.
- Generation Xerox: She has a lot of her father's characteristics, such as his impulsiveness and irresponsibility
- Second Love: To Ryan. The first was Theresa.
Summer Roberts (portrayed by Rachel Bilson)
- Catch Phrase: "Eww"
- Character Development: The first episode she was more like Holly Fischer, going as far as to dump the drunk Marissa on her front door and flirt with Luke.
- Deadpan Snarker: Leaning more to the snarker side of this trope
- Last Name Basis: She persists in calling Seth by his last name, Cohen, even after they're in a relationship.
Taylor Townsend (portrayed by Autumn Reeser)
- Abusive Parents: Her cold-hearted and judgemental mother.
- Broken Bird: Revealed as one due to her horrible mother.
- Cunning Linguist: Fluent in French, Korean, Spanish and Latin.
- The Determinator: There are very few things that cab stop Taylor from getting what she wants.
- Full-Name Basis: Not quite constantly but much more frequently than any other character.
- I Have No Son: Gets kicked out of her house by her mother and told she isn't welcome there anymore after her marriage is revealed. Given how her home life was characterized by intense verbal and emotional abuse, it was probably the nicest thing she did for Taylor, albeit unintentionally.
- I Just Want to Be Loved: She will relentlessly pursue anyone who shows her even the slightest amount of affection due to growing up with a heartless, emotionally abusive mother. She at least seems aware of it though.
- Motor Mouth: Once Taylor gets talking, she can't stop, especially when she is excited or panicked about something.
- When She Smiles: Her entire face seems to light up when she is happy, which usually occurs after an encounter with Seth or Ryan.
Luke Ward (portrayed by Chris Carmack)
- Bash Brothers: He gets there with Ryan, however short-lived it may have been.
- Put on a Bus: By the end of season one he had become a fairly major character. However, after the season two premiere he is never seen again.
Sandy Cohen (portrayed by Peter Gallagher)
- Big Ol' Eyebrows: It is Peter Gallagher, after all.
- Brooklyn Rage: He is from The Bronx.
- The Cast Showoff: Sandy's oft-lampooned fondness for show tunes ends up hijacking a season 2 episode when he surprises Kirsten with a set of love songs on their anniversary. Peter Gallagher has a great voice and it is pretty squee-worthy.
- Deadpan Snarker: Gives his son a run for his money.
- My Beloved Smother: His mother is a handful to say the least.
- Papa Wolf: Has a quiet but powerful moment after rescuing Seth.Sandy: Since the minute you were born I knew, I would never take another easy breath without knowing that you were all right.
- Supreme Chef: He is a very good cook.
Kirsten Cohen (portrayed by Kelly Rowan)
- Blonde Republican Sex Kitten: At one point in the show Sandy mentions to another character that Kirsten is a political conservative. There are also a few points in the show where Kirsten criticizes Sandy's "hippie parenting."
- Kuudere: In the first episodes; it takes her a bit to warm up to Ryan.
Julie Cooper (portrayed by Melinda Clarke)
- Defrosting Ice Queen: Julie Cooper very gradually becomes more sympathetic as the show goes on. By the final season, she had shed much of the bitchiness that defined her in the show's first few seasons.
- It's All About Me: Julie is very selfish and self-centred. Although, there is nothing that she wouldn't do for her children, notably Marissa.
- Jerkass —> Jerk with a Heart of Gold
- May-December Romance: Constantly, but the most prominent exanple would be wiht Luke Ward
- And on the opposite side with Caleb.
- Teen Pregnancy: Julie had Marissa when she was 18.
Jimmy Cooper (portrayed by Tate Donovan)
Caleb Nichol (portrayed by Alan Dale)
Kaitlin Cooper (portrayed by Shailene Woodley (Season 1) / Willa Holland (Seasons 3 — 4)
- Broken Bird: Most prevalent in the Alternate Universe of "The Chrismuk-huh?" where after Marissa's death in Tiajuana, she locked herself in her studies and graduated high school at 15.
- Freudian Excuse: Like for Marissa, her family situation, except even more so since she got shipped off to Boarding School and felt abandoned.
- Generation Xerox: She seems to have some of her famously scheming mother's personality traits.
- I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: She breaks up with her boyfriend Will because she doesn't like how she's changing him.
- Nice Girl: Kaitlin has a big heart, and though she doesn't always say it the right way, she cares about people. She once threw a party solely so two girls that she barely knew could attend because they hadn't been invited to the Alpha Bitch's party.
- The Stoner: Although, she seems to be completely unaffected by it. She never gets stoned.
Anna Stern (portrayed by Samaire Armstrong)
- Meaningful Name: Anna Stern likes to sail.
Hailey Nichol (portrayed by Amanda Righetti)
Oliver Trask (portrayed by Taylor Handley]]
Theresa Diaz (portrayed by Navi Rawat)
- Ambiguously Brown: In Real Life, Navi Rawat, Theresa's portrayer, is actually half white and half Indian.
- Domestic Abuse: Victim of domestic violence by her ex boyfriend.
Zach Stevens (portrayed by Michael Cassidy)
- Lovable Jock: Zach is a water polo player and an athlete but he's a nice guy. Lampshaded in his more jerkish moments when he states "I'm a water polo player. We're never nice".
Alex Kelly (portrayed by Olivia Wilde)
Lindsay Gardner (portrayed by Shannon Lucio)
Trey Atwood (portrayed by Logan Marshall Green)
- The Atoner: He tried to become this with Ryan's support, but it didn't last.
- Hair-Trigger Temper: It's partly why he screws up so often.
- Sibling Yin-Yang: With Ryan. They are vastly different in personalities and outlooks.
Johnny Harper (portrayed by Ryan Donowho)
- Settle for Sibling: In his short relationship with Marissa's sister Kaitlin.
Kevin Volchok (portrayed by Cam Gigandet)
- Hidden Heart of Gold: Mostly in season 4, but he shows signs of this even in season 3: he was really sad about Johnny's death and deep down, he really cared about his relationship with Marissa, albeit in a dysfunctional way.
- Your Cheating Heart: He cheated on Marissa.
Holly Fischer (portrayed by Ashley Hartman)
- The Bus Came Back: Returned in Season 4 (after two whole Seasons!) intitially in the All Just a Dream set "The Chrismukk-huh?" and then a few episodes later in 'reality'.
- Divergent Character Evolution: Very early on she and Summer were distingushable only by hair colour, both being vapid, self absorbed party girls. This is actually Lampshaded by the show in the "The Chrismukk-huh?" where see a universe where Summer continued to be friends with Holly rather than going through Character Development. It is not a pretty picture.
- Took a Level in Dumbass: While she never displayed any particular intelligence in her early appearances she wasn't noticably dumb either. When The Bus Came Back however she was firmly in Brainless Beauty territory and there are a lot of jokes about her airheadedness ("Who says I can't have a baby and a six pack?").
- Your Cheating Heart: Slept with her best friend's boyfriend. In two different realities no less.