25 Of The Year's Best Memes, Ranked

Photo: Andrew Parsons/REX/Shutterstock.
Well, that happened. Unless you were a soulless demagogue, a Canadian musician, or a unicycling frog — 2016 was a pretty awful year. Even social media, that everlasting Gobstopper of cheap serotonin, became a wasteland that at times seemed solely comprised of drunken, racist grandpas. But through it all, there was one thing we could still count on: memes.

As we noted back in June, the first half of the year turned in a stellar roundup of hilarious and nonsensical internet weirdness, and the second half didn’t disappoint. (Except for the death of Vine. #RIPVine, man.) Now it’s time to see which memes held the throne, which got knocked off the CN Tower, and which even taught us a little bit about ourselves.

So grab your water bottles, clench that aardvark fist, and start worrying about that guy she told you not to worry about. Here come the best memes of the worst year of all time!
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Photo: Know Your Meme.
25. Angry Michael Phelps
When Michael Phelps announced his comeback after already solidifying his place as the greatest Olympian ever, many asked, “Why?” During the 200-meter butterfly semi-finals, the answer became clear: He had never created a great meme. Enter a taunting Chad le Clos, Future’s "Stick Talk," and an ice grill for the ages. Phelps took gold again and #PhelpsFace was born.
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24. Damn, Daniel
Was “Damn, Daniel” technically a viral video and not a meme by traditional standards? Sure. Did you say “Damn, Daniel” more than 25 times this year? You know you did. In this post-truth environment, do the rules of anything even matter anymore? Ugh. Regardless of category, Daniel and his white Vans were a powerhouse in 2016 and rightfully earned this spot.
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Photo: Know Your Meme.
23. Ken Bone
The first “human meme” on the list, Ken Bone had so much potential. The sweater. The ‘stache. The reply to a trolling “Ken Bone probably has a hot wife” tweet with a mic-dropping, “Yeah he does.” K.Beezy was gonna save us from the nightmare that was the 2016 election, showing we could still laugh through the fear. Then, the Reddit history surfaced. Damn you, 2016.
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Photo: Twitter.com/@AnsuKTA.
22. J. Cole Went Platinum With No Features
JCWPWNF started as a knock on the rapper’s fans overhyping him (the argument: in a world where rappers rely on 10-plus guest artists to sell their records, Cole went platinum without featuring any). But it spun into a classic statement-presented-in-the-wrong-context meme — à la “Jet fuel can’t melt steel beams” — and poor J. Cole got more features than he ever asked for.
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Photo: Know Your Meme.
21. Don’t Talk To Me Or My Son Ever Again
There were times in 2016 when the internet was a dark and irredeemable place. This meme was not one of them. Take one normal-sized thing, make a smaller version of that thing — or even better, find the two together IRL(!) — and you’ve got, “Don’t talk to me or my son ever again.” It’s dumb, it’s funny, and sometimes that’s all we need.
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Photo: Twitter.com/@isthatahmed
20. Mr. Krabs Blur
This bizarre screencap from a Spongebob episode clogged up everyone’s Instagram feeds for nearly the entire spring, and while it’s not the top reaction meme on this list, it was the perfect reaction for when your flash goes off in a dark bar, or the doctor asks if you’re sexually active with your mom in the room, or...
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Photo: Twitter.com/@CookieSci
19. Hodor
LOLLL remember the morning after (spoiler alert) our boy Hodor got ripped to shreds by a pack of wights, and every single office building had some jokester slap a picture of ol’ Wylis on the Hold Door button? Sure, it got old quick. But becoming a real-world meme earns you an automatic place in the Top 20, and forever in our hearts.
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Photo: Twitter.com/@aaannnnyyyyaaaa.
18. Evil Kermit
In the future, there will be no angel and devil on your shoulders. There will only be Kermit and Evil Kermit. With its simple structure of a well-meaning “me” countered by a devious “me to me,” this late-2016 meme exposed the fact that we all kinda share the same Dark Side — no matter if we’re dog-lovers, thirsty singles, or plagiarizing future first ladies.
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Photo: Know Your Meme.
17. DJ Khaled
While Ken Bone was the human meme that broke our hearts, DJ Khaled is the one who hasn’t – yet. What would 2016 be without “major key,” “They don’t want us to eat,” and a ridiculously overwatered floral garden? With nearly everything he said becoming ironically iconic, Khaled Khaled both invented and perfected the idea of man-as-meme this year. LION!
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Photo: Twitter.com/@soykawai.
16. #MemeHistory
Centuries from now, we might look back at #MemeHistory as a turning point. The moment memes broke the space-time continuum and maybe even became self-aware. #MemeHistory applied modern reaction memes to biblical and historical lore — from Abraham and Isaac to Rosa Parks — and probably signaled the first step in memes becoming all-powerful and destroying us all.
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Photo: Know Your Meme.
15. Name A More Iconic Duo
The internet loves a good challenge. Especially when it gets to mock the challenge with the fire of a thousand flame emoji. Thus was the case when a Twitter user tweeted a photo of Kylie and Kendall Jenner with the phrase, “Name a more iconic duo. I’ll wait.” Waiting for her? Chips and queso. 6 and 9. Harambe and the boy who fell into his enclosure. (More on that later.)
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Photo: Twitter.com/@hot-natured.
14. Record Scratch, Freeze Frame
This mockery of clichéd movie entrances got its big break alongside a photo of a smiling Usain Bolt smoking his opponents at the Olympics. Soon enough, it was everywhere — from Ned Stark’s execution to a horse trapped on a balcony to (braces for lightning strike) Jesus on the cross. Yep, that’s memes. You’re probably wondering how we ended up in this situation.
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Photo: Know Your Meme.
13. Ted Cruz
The final human meme on this list, Ted Cruz is ranked highly not out of respect, but because fuck that guy. Between looking like Grandpa Munster, that thing on his lip at the debate, and being the literal Zodiac Killer, Ted “The Human Blobfish” Cruz was a meme factory who even gifted us one last perfectly depressing photo as he faded away (hopefully) forever.
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Photo: Know Your Meme.
12. Conceited Reaction
And the title of Best Reaction Meme of 2016 goes to...a battle rapper’s pursed lips! This screengrab of NYC-born rapper Conceited making a face that can loosely be described as, “Yeah, I wouldn’t be too sure about that,” was the best single-frame response since Nicholas Fraser’s Meme Hall of Fame-worthy “why you always lyin’” smile.
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Photo: Twitter.com/@aaronpaul_8.
11. Petty Joe Biden
Depressed about the election? Petty Uncle Joe will help. Inspired by the Obama-Biden bromance and the VP’s actual sign of the cross at the mention of President Trump, Petty Prankster Biden imagines the VP giving the new administration a less-than-warm welcome, including Nair shampoo and travel-size toiletries (perfect for small hands!).
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Photo: Twitter.com/@mal_coholic.
10. Get You A Man Who Can Do Both
What do Drake, Guy Fieri, and a horse have in common? They’re all “men who can do both,” the meme which started as dressed up/dressed down versions of guys — until weird Twitter got its hands on it and applied it to shoes, cartoons, and sexy animals. It even got name-checked in one of the year’s top rap songs. Get you a meme who can do both.
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Photo: Twitter.com/@CaptMavrel.
9. SpongeBob
Why is SpongeBob such an icon in the meme-iverse? Is it because he can do a surprisingly convincing cover of Denzel Curry’s "Ultimate"? Because of the way he so savagely roasted Squidward? Or because he just knows that feeling of mom sending you on a last-minute grocery run? Whatever the reason, SpongeBob was the genesis for some of 2016’s best memes, and hopefully isn’t done yet.
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Photo: Twitter.com/@kalvinMacleod.
8. You Vs. The Guy She Told You Not To Worry About
Fragile masculinity was at the center of 2016 (and now, in the center of the White House!), and “You vs. the guy” was its meme calling card. Like “Get you a man…”, this simple two-image meme had unlimited potential, hitting everything from soda machines to marshmallows, and even that S everyone used to draw in high school.
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Photo: Twitter.com/@monstta.
7. #TrapCovers
The first rule of Meme Club? Black Twitter always does it best. Look no further than #TrapCovers — a script-flipping of cultural appropriation that parodied all those corny white girls’ covers of Beyoncé’s "Formation" and Rihanna’s "Work" with trap covers of the whitest songs possible, like "A Thousand Miles," "Hey Jude," "You Belong With Me," and of course, Coldplay.
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Photo: Portland Press Herald/Getty Images.
6. Bottle Flipping
If irony is the currency of this generation, consider bottle flipping the $10,000 bill. What began as a ridiculous performance at a school talent show in North Carolina became so ubiquitous, and annoying, that it was banned at schools across the Atlantic Ocean. What’s brilliant about bottle flipping is it’s not the act of flipping, but the overreaction to the flip that makes for a good meme. This one’s hard to beat.
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Photo: Twitter.com/@bobby.
5. Drake Sitting On Things
Name a more iconic meme generator than Drake. I’ll wait. The man is a living GIF. A walking hashtag. If we found out Drake were created in a lab strictly to distract us from evil government stuff, I’d be 0% surprised. I don’t even think I’d be mad. The art on Views and the “Drake sitting on...” memes that followed (Ali, Simba, Seinfeld) were just another reminder: Nobody memes like Aubrey(eme).
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4. Mannequin Challenge
Has any meme seen a more meteoric rise than the Mannequin Challenge? From a Jacksonville classroom to Hillary Clinton’s plane in the span of just two weeks. Not to mention it’s the first meme to ever catapult a song (Rae Sremmurd’s "Black Beatles") to No. 1. And even after all that, it gave us perhaps the best animal meme of all time: the Dog Mannequin Challenge. That meme is a real crowd-pleaser.
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Photo: Know Your Meme.
3. Arthur’s Fist
We’re down to the top three, and with it, the most surprising meme of the year. If you told us Arthur — actually, his clenched right hand — would be a star of 2016, we’d say, “Yeah, right. And Donald Trump is going to become president!” But look at it. Tell me you haven’t felt that way at some point this year. Or, I dunno, permanently since November 9. Arthur’s fist is all of us.

Who’s got the No. 2 spot? Here come...
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Photo: Know Your Meme
2. Dat Boi
O shit waddup! In our half-yearly ranking back in June, we ranked Dat Boi No. 1, even though we couldn’t quite understand him. Do we have clarity six months later? Nope. But just like that precocious frog when he mounted that unicycle, you’ve got to go with what feels right. And Dat Boi, in all his perplexing hilarity, made us happy in 2016. Sometimes it’s just that simple.
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Photo: Brett Carlsen/Getty Images.
1. Harambe
Harambe was the internet’s first saint, and the perfect meme for 2016. “Harambe the Meme” was immensely complicated. It was peak millennial irony, the height of the internet’s love of mock reverence (see Bone, Kenneth). And at its core, a relentless send-up of the selective outrage of the angry mob — who mourn a gorilla while ignoring human refugees. It was at times both brazenly nihilistic and brilliantly inspired. But you can’t deny that once in awhile, it was really freaking funny. And that’s just where we’re at in 2016. Things don’t quite make sense, perhaps they won’t for a really long time. But despite the darkness, we’re still trying really hard to make each other laugh. And that, as my man Harambe said, is something worth fighting for.
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