Yu-Gi-Oh! protagonists tend to be known for outlandish hair and taking a children's card game far too seriously -- with one notable exception. The carefree and childish Jaden Yuki of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX has never wanted to do anything more than enjoying the game, though some world-saving ends up creeping its way in, cramping his style.
Embodying the sheer joy of facing a solid opponent and putting everything you have into the game, it's strange that fans have been a little less than impressed with Jaden. Compared to other protagonists, such as the rebellious Yusei of 5Ds, and "believe in the heart of the cards" Yugi himself, Jaden's lackadaisical approach to dueling can be hard to get behind. Still, Jaden is often far too overlooked.
What Jaden lacks in dueling seriousness, he certainly makes up for in his storylines. Jaden's slacker tendencies often serve as the crux of many early episodes, with either teachers or upper-level students trying to put him in his place and make him behave. Ultimately, they start to realize that he's wildly lucky with the cards he draws and is impressively good at putting those cards together on the fly to earn a win. However, some supernatural forces come in as they back off to challenge our carefree protagonist.
For Yugi, he was there at the inception of professional dueling with Pegasus's Duelist Kingdom. On the other hand, Jaden competes against many opponents who have had more years to hone their skills and decks -- and just as many years to get corrupted by some ancient evil. While not quite as Egyptian-themed as its predecessor, Jaden finds himself up against the Light of Destruction, shadow duels, the card Yubel and himself -- or much rather, his Supreme King persona.
Despite the constant life-or-death situations, Jaden keeps a positive outlook and still eagerly enjoys the game -- barring some especially devastating defeats. It's playing the game for the sake of playing that sets him apart from the rest of the protagonists, who, while they enjoy dueling, usually aren't just in it to win it but have ulterior motives for participating. The main factor that sets him apart from other Yu-Gi-Oh! protagonists is his arc of learning to accept all of himself, even the bad.
Jaden's had some trouble with differentiating between right and wrong, including when his vendetta to rescue Jessie Anderson caused him to throw his other friends under the bus. While he regretted this action after coming to his senses, it was only a precursor of things to come as he would soon be possessed by the Supreme King, who convinced him that he was irredeemable. This misstep leads Jaden down a dark path -- one that calls for redemption -- which is critical in appreciating his place in the Yu-Gi-Oh! franchise -- for fans and himself.
While seeking to complete the card "Super Polymerization" under the Supreme King's influence, Jaden sacrificed many duelists before one of his friends was finally able to defeat and free him. Still, his actions had inadvertently hurt and caused Yubel to act out in such a way that others were hurt as well. After coming to his senses, Jaden opted to use the super-card, full of deeds that could not be undone, to do one more -- and fused his soul to Yubel, both ending its pain and ensuring they would never be apart again.
Understandably, this momentarily throws Jaden for a loop, but his love of the game is stronger -- and that's his real strength as a duelist. Unlike many of the other protagonists, when Jaden is beaten (and the world isn't on the line), he can genuinely smile and thank the opponent for a fun duel regardless. It's this endless joy that wins Jaden many of his friends, allows their relationships to grow and lets him move on from his dark past into a proper duelist. Aside from some divisive catchphrases, Jaden is a hard character not to root for even when he's stumbling.