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Azur Lane Tier List (2021 Update): A Complete List of the Best Ships

Welcome to Level Winner’s updated Azur Lane best ships tier list! While some of the ships on our previous tier list managed to keep hold of their spots on top in spite of new updates (USS Enterprise has been top tier since the start of the game, and still is today, and probably always will be), updates eventually arrive and with it, the inevitable power creep. So with that, we need updates!

In gacha RPGs like Cookie Run: Kingdom, Arknights, RAID: Shadow Legends and of course, Azur Lane, some characters are inevitably better than others, at least when viewed in a vacuum. Azur Lane’s balance is such though that even the weaker ships can still do their jobs well with the right gear.

azur lane best characters 2021

Our tier list assumes you have good gear for your ships, as a weak ship with proper equipment and a dash of luck can beat the most amazing ship equipped with weak or unoptimal gear, provided they are both at equal limit break and level. Start grinding for those gold and purple boxes, and pray you don’t get that golden twin 410mm confetti cannon.

Now, this tier list also assumes that you have read our Azur Lane beginner’s guide, and have been playing the game for some time. If you haven’t done it yet, be sure to get to it!

Best Destroyers

Small, fast Vanguard ships who mostly rely on their torpedoes to do burst damage, and have small-caliber rapid-fire guns that deal good DPS. While having good Evasive stats in general, Destroyers are often squishy barring any special abilities built for survivability like Cassin and Downes’ self-heal on low HP.

These ships also consume less fuel than their beefier Vanguard buddies Light Cruisers and Heavy Cruisers. Take special note of Sakura Empire destroyers in general. Just as the Imperial Japanese Navy had the world’s best torpedoes in the Second World War, the Sakura Empire has some of the best torpedo destroyers in Azur Lane.

SN Tashkent

Northern Parliament, Destroyer, Faction-Specific Self-Buff, Damage Dealer, Summoner, Debuffer, Made In Italy

tashkent azur lane

A summon? Isn’t that an Aircraft Carrier’s job? At the start of battle, she calls in a summon who can slow down the enemy. She buffs herself when paired with Northern Parliament destroyers equipped with Northern Parliament guns. That being said, if you don’t have any other Northern Parliament destroyers, you can pair her with any good torpedo destroyers you have to take advantage of her summon. She also has a powerful set of buffs for her own Firepower and Main Gun Efficiency, so she can tear things apart with her main guns handily.

IJN Ayanami (Retrofit)

Sakura Empire, Destroyer, Torpedo Spam, The Starter Ships’ Secret Sister

ayanami kai azur lane

An unassuming reward for collecting all three of the Starter Ships. While her base version is decent, her Retrofit is the best torpedo ship among a faction known for having really good torpedo ships. She has two skills focused on wrecking things with torpedoes. Her first skill is The Demon, a 5% chance of buffing her typically Japanese (i.e. utterly deadly) Torpedo stat by a further 60% at max level for a solid 12 seconds every time her main guns fire.

Considering her rather poor Main Gun efficiency, giving her powerful guns won’t do much. Instead, she benefits from being equipped with cheap, blue tier Single 76mm 3 inch/50cal or Single 120mm QF Mk IX guns, which while having garbage firepower, have the fastest reloads. You want that quick reload so she’s constantly firing her main guns not to do damage, but to trigger The Demon’s buff.

On top of that, she has her own Torpedo barrage in the form of Demon Dance, firing a helical spread of torpedoes rapidly. Her third skill is All Out Assault, which is only really good for triggering her first skill instead of doing actual damage. Give her some fast, cheap guns and the best torpedoes you have.

IJN Suzutsuki

Sakura Empire, Destroyer, Smokescreen, Gunship, Anti-Aircraft, Faction-specific Self-Buffer, Smoking Area Here

suzutsuki azur lane

A more balanced, defensive destroyer compared to the likes of the torpedo-slinging Ayanami. Her firepower and anti-aircraft stats get stronger for every Sakura Empire ship in her fleet, and every two planes she shoots down makes this same buff stronger, stacking up to six times. On top of that, she has a smokescreen-barrage combo that increases Evasion for every friendly inside the smoke.

She also heals herself by 5-15% hp when her HP falls below 20%, once per fight. This self heal makes her very useful for mob fleets, reminiscent of Cassin and Downes except with higher killing power, a smokescreen for her friends and unfortunately, a thirstier fuel requirement.

IJN Kitakaze

Sakura Empire, Destroyer, Blueprint Ship, Torpedo Spam, Is that A Bunny? A Bird? Nah, She’s A Boat

kitakaze azur lane

A real weirdo among the Blueprint Ships, who are also all weirdos in their own right. An IJN destroyer whose amazing first skill is improved by a gun so worthless, you’re better off just using a different gun and making do with the still awesome base version of her first skill. That skill allows her guns to ignore enemy armor type, doing full damage to anything they hit. The skill also improves the efficiency of the aforementioned garbage gun, but the improvement is small enough to ignore.

Her second skill though is where the fun lies. Every time she scores 10 hits with her torpedoes, she lets out her Kitakaze Style- Lotus Torpedo barrage. Lotus barrage torpedoes don’t count toward the hit total, which is fine since she’s already immensely powerful the way she is. She’s a Blueprint ship though, so get those IJN ships of yours into a squadron and start grinding!

SPECIAL MENTION

Fletcher And Her Sisters

fletcher spam azur lane

Fletcher-class destroyer spam arguably allowed the Americans to win the Pacific Theater, a symbol of their sheer industrial and economic might. Fletcher and her 174 sisters, not even half of whom have been implemented in Azur Lane yet, are a good way to form a fuel-efficient and still destructive fleet thanks to Fletcher’s Fletcher-class specific buff. Especially since you probably have enough of them sitting in your docks to fill multiple fleet vanguards!

Cassin And Downes WITHOUT Retrofits, or Limit Breaks

cassin and downes azur lane

These two girls from Pearl Harbor are a pair of unusually hard to kill grey-tier ships. Their ability to heal themselves once per battle after hitting a low HP threshold, mixed with their fuel efficiency, make them a popular choice for grinding earlier PVE levels for retrofit blueprints.

Not to mention the much-dreaded Map 3-4 Fox Mines for Akagi and Kaga. If you have them limit broken and retrofitted, you sacrifice a bit of the fuel efficiency that makes them so popular for grinding. But now, you have a strong and still relatively fuel-conservative pair of destroyers for clearing more difficult maps, so it’s your call!

Best Light Cruisers

Light Cruisers are the middle-point between the bulky Heavy Cruisers and the tiny, speedy Destroyers. They have larger caliber but slower guns and still use torpedoes unless they’re from the Eagle Union, who prefer extra guns.

They also retain some of the Destroyer’s ability to evade projectiles on top of better HP. Destroyers are still better at using torpedoes though thanks to their speed allowing them to easily get into the optimal torpedo firing position: Right up the enemy’s nostrils. Not to mention these big girls guzzle more fuel than destroyers do.

USS San Diego (Retrofit)

Eagle Union, Light Cruiser, Anti-Aircraft, Heavy Barrage, I Am Number One!

san diego kai azur lane

This little superstar didn’t get her ton of Battle Stars in World War 2 for sitting around. While her base form is rather useless for most of the game (She wrecks World 13 and Carrier-heavy groups in PVP but that’s it), her retrofit does a ton to improve her ability to fight actual ships. It gives her the Sparkling Battle Star barrage that absolutely shreds whatever is put in front of it, while increasing her already amazing Anti-Aircraft power. You can also equip her with Destroyer guns instead of Light Cruiser guns to trigger All Out Assault more often.

To top it all off, the existence of the Prototype Shop removed her one downside: Getting her mic for the retrofit! Instead of being merely limited to an event, you can now grind for her mic whenever you want, albeit rather slowly if it wasn’t the first thing you got.

USS Helena (Retrofit)

Eagle Union, Light Cruiser, Faction-specific Support, Offensive Support

helena kai azur lane

A powerful support ship blessed with the Eagle Union’s distinctly American habit of sticking as many guns as possible on their cruisers, possibly a side effect of American Second World War torpedoes being notably garbage until late in the war. While her freedom-loving equipment choices are already nice, it’s her skills that put her on this list. Radar Scan and Radar Scan Plus have a 60% chance every 20 seconds at max level to make the enemy eat 40% more damage than they normally would.

Furthermore, radar Scan Plus can also make the first instance of the debuff happen in 16 seconds and not 20 if Helena’s carrying SG Radar with her. Her second skill only available with her Retrofit, The Wonder of Kula Gulf, makes her take 5-15% less torpedo damage depending on the skill’s level. On top of that, if there is an Eagle Union ship other than Helena in the rearmost position in the Vanguard, she buffs their evasion by 12% at max level.

IJN Noshiro

Sakura Empire, Support, Torpedo-focus, Carrier-Killer Of Samar

noshiro azur lane

A good partner to Sakura Empire torpedo-spammer Vanguards in general, even if her buffs aren’t technically specific to Sakura Empire ships. Her first skill increases her own Evasion Rate by 15% at max level, it also decreases the damage the rest of your Vanguard takes from enemy torpedoes by 20%, also at max level, for as long as she’s floating.

The fun skill is the second one though. At the skill’s max level, not only does she give herself a 20% damage buff against Carriers, she also gives the rest of your vanguards a big juicy 20% boost towards their torpedo stats. Oh, and an extra 12% crit rate starting at skill lv7. Seeing as Sakura Empire ships often have the best torpedo stats, you might as well pair Noshiro with them instead of more gun-happy ships who won’t make the best use of her torpedo buffs.

Best Heavy Cruisers

These are the bruiser bullies of the Vanguard fleet, often being slow but heavily armored, and packing bigger guns than both the Light Cruisers and Destroyers. Eagle Union Heavy Cruisers often dominate their counterparts from other nations, since the slowness of Heavy Cruisers make them less than ideal for torpedo work. Instead, Eagle Union Heavy Cruisers often use extra DD guns, letting them spray anyone that comes to them rather than having to go to the enemy themselves.

USS Portland (Retrofit)

Eagle Union, Heavy Cruiser, Gun-Focused, Tank, INDY CHAN KAWAII

portland kai azur lane

An American Heavy Cruiser who got into a lot of brutal fighting in most of the Pacific Theater’s greatest battles. Being a bulky Heavy Cruiser with unusually high evasion and guns where torpedoes should be, she’s a pretty straightforward ship built to protect the rear. Her retrofit along with her all-guns loadout means she can shred anything that gets too close with high DPS, but lacks the burst damage of torpedoes.

This makes her excellent for protecting your back line against bomb ships. While her DPS is also useful against tougher targets like boss ships, you’re probably going to nuke said boss ship with a battleship broadside or carrier air strike anyway. In short, she is a very powerful, blunt stat beatstick who can clobber the enemy mercilessly.

KMS Roon

Iron Blood, Heavy Cruiser, Tank, Boss-Buster, Blueprint Ship, YOU WILL PAY

roon azur lane

Don’t let that gentle-looking smile on her artwork fool you. Roon is an absolute kill-thirsty nutjob. She makes the creepy Friedrich der Grosse look like an unironically loving mom. It’s reflected in her abilities, with Well Rounded Armor giving her shields to absorb shots. This lets her get within strangling range of the enemy, and stay there.

Once she gets within strangling range, she can happily rip their faces off with Expert Loader, which alternates her ammo type between High Explosive and Armor Piercing, while increasing her reload a bit every time her main gun fires, up to 12 times.

Thankfully for your enemies, she’s not just a Blueprint Ship, but a German Blueprint Ship. This means you need to get her Iron Blood acquaintances (using the word “friends” is pushing it) and use them to unlock her. At least she’s a Vanguard ship, so while gathering tech points for her is a pain, gathering EXP for her won’t be as painful. Many Iron Blood backliners are event locked, but they have enough Vanguards in the main build gacha, though they appear rarely.

USS Minneapolis

Eagle Union, Heavy Cruiser, Tank, Mob-Clearer, Admiral Kinkaid’s Flagbearer

minneapolis azur lane

Minneapolis is a lady that can absolutely shred large groups, since she gets a  buff to her firepower stat (15% at max level) and reload (30% at max level) when she kills something. Now remember that she’s an Eagle Union cruiser, and therefore has extra guns in place of torpedoes, so that firepower buff is especially good on her. While the buff does not stack, killing the enemy does refresh the buff’s 12 second duration so the more bad guys there are on screen, the longer the buff stays.

Moreover, she’s one of those ships blessed with an ability to self-repair once per battle when hitting a low-enough HP threshold, increasing her survivability in long, grueling missions as part of a mob-clearing fleet. Put her in your mob fleet to sweep the map clean of weaklings quickly while saving your boss fleet for the boss.

USS Baltimore

Eagle Union, Heavy Cruiser, Faction-specific Support, Armor Breaker, Magic Carpet

baltimore azur lane

A specialized armor-hating Heavy Cruiser who spent the end of the war ferrying America’s boys back home from the Pacific.  Her first skill, APsolute Ammunition (That’s not a typo) not only changes her main gun’s ammo type to armor piercing, it increases her main gun’s damage too depending on level.

At skill level 8,  it also gives each shell a small chance of inflicting Armor Break to any enemy it hits with Heavy Armor. She’s also a friend to Eagle Union Carriers, giving the whole fleet a 7% increase in Anti-Air, and increasing their Air Power by 15% when they’re around. Without Eagle Union Carriers, her own firepower is increased by 12% and her Evasion by 15%. Perhaps she’s angry her Carrier buddies aren’t around.

SPECIAL MENTION

Prinz Eugen, Everyone’s First Super Rare

prinz eugen chibi azur lane

Prinz Eugen is most likely your very first gold-tier ship. That said, she very much earns that gold background simply by being very, very tanky. She’ll last pretty long in your fleet. Not to mention she’s an Iron Blood ship. You’re gonna have to use her and her Kriegsmarine buddies to get monsters like Friedrich der Grosse and Roon.

Best Fleet / Light Carriers

Carriers are part of the backline Main Fleet. They are generally squishier than Battleships, but have the ability to not just clear the screen of bullets with their airstrikes, but also to dump bombs over the enemy’s heads.

They only usually take hits if a fight progresses for too long or if the enemy has Carriers too thanks to their stealth mechanic, where they can only be attacked by Battleships if enemy ships or aircraft get past their detection line. Fleet carriers have a full size flight deck capable of equipping three sets of planes, while Light Carriers sacrifice one set of planes for anti-aircraft guns.

IJN Shinano

Sakura Empire, Aircraft Carrier, Surface Attack Aircraft, I Thought They Released The Yamato Already

shinano azur lane

A Yamato-class aircraft carrier, not to be mistaken for the largest battleship ever built. She’s the only rainbow-tier ship that is neither a Blueprint ship like Friedrich der Grosse, nor a Retrofit like Warspite or San Diego. She’s an event ship though, so getting her is still a pain.  While her dismal service record of 10 days in real life is anything but stellar, her power in game makes her worthy of her rainbow-colored background. She mostly has support skills, one of note being her ability to toss a barrage to support a different fleet she isn’t in.

She also has one utterly nasty trick up her sleeve: After her first limit break, you can equip dive bombers and torpedo bombers in her fighter aircraft hangar slot. Putting some purple Helldivers or gold Barracudas in there instead of fighter planes with their tiny bomb loads should prove devastating towards surface targets. Thankfully it’s easier to get Bulin MkIIIs now for limit breaks because of the Prototype Shop.

USS Saratoga (Retrofit)

Eagle Union, Aircraft Carrier, Barrage Ship!?, HP Tank, Magical Girl Prankster

saratoga kai azur lane

A strange Aircraft Carrier with a heavy cruiser-caliber battleship-style broadside, a remnant of her original 1916 design specification as a Lexington-class battlecruiser. Unlike an Aviation Battleship though, she most decidedly does NOT sacrifice air power. Saratoga’s retrofit has the highest base Aviation stat in the whole game, though some carriers surpass that using buff abilities.

She also has Fleet Carrier, which allows her to strengthen her Vanguard buddies every time she launches planes. Her most special perk though is Witch’s Prank. At max level, it gives a 70% chance to launch an extra set of torpedo bombers when launching an airstrike, causing flooding damage to the enemy along with filling the water with torpedoes. Mix that with her powerful Aviation stat and start laughing as the massive cloud of planes sends the enemy fleet to April First.

USS Enterprise

Eagle Union, Aircraft Carrier, General Burst Damage, OWARI DA

enterprise azur lane

After all this game’s updates, after all the power creep with the new event ships and hard-to-grind blueprint horrors, Lucky E still stands proudly as one of the tippety top cream of the crop Fleet Carriers in the whole game for one simple reason. She is lucky, and her Lucky E skill means double damage and total invincibility for the longest few seconds of your life when it triggers.

On top of that, she’s one of the ships you can get not only in the basic Special Build screen, but also in the Medal rotation. Not just one of the most cost-effective ships in the game, but one of the most effective, period. Give her those purple Helldivers that seem to beat out most of the gold tier dive bombers and watch her liberate the Pacific.

USS Essex

Eagle Union, Aircraft Carrier, Faction-Specific Support, DPS, Lucky E’s Eager Yet Jealous Kohai

essex azur lane

A ship made to surpass the Yorktown-class carriers, of which Enterprise was a member. Boasting the third best Aviation stat in the game and a skill that lets her send out another squadron of TBF Avenger torpedo bombers when deploying an air attack, Essex’s damage ability is pretty ridiculous. On top of that, deploying her along with other Eagle Union Carriers and Light Carriers improves her Aviation and AA stat further, doing yet more damage to both enemy ships and any planes stupid enough to fly into her own fighters.

As if that wasn’t enough, every time her fighters down an enemy plane, her Aviation stat increases AGAIN causing them to shoot down more planes for a hilarious cycle of buffs. Give her a pair of Steam Catapults, some Hellcats, Helldivers and Barracudas and you’re good to go.

HMS Centaur

Royal Navy, “Light” Carrier, Offensive Support, Anti-Battleship, Fighter Planes, Looks Like A Fleet Carrier To Me

centaur azur lane

A Light Carrier with an Aviation stat befitting a Fleet Carrier, and three slots for planes. Unfortunately, two of those slots are for fighters, so that means her surface killing ability suffers right? Not really, considering she’s guaranteed to send out extra Swordfish torpedo bombers along with whatever planes she’s equipped with during airstrikes. The Swordfish planes also slow down anything they hit with their torpedoes.

On top of that, she increases the Air Power and Firepower of all ships in the main fleet for 8 seconds after every airstrike. She also does 10% extra damage vs Battleships, which is a nice little extra. Pair her with some torpedo ships to take advantage of her Swordfish’s debuff ability.

SPECIAL MENTION

Long Island Retrofit and Ranger Retrofit, Lucky Charmers

wildcards azur lane

These two unassuming light carriers, Long Island your true starter ship, have fairly weak statlines as expected of a starter ship and a grey-tier that can be retrofitted to blue-tier. And yet, they have a hilarious habit of clutching hard wins from even the most monstrous foes in the game thanks to their ability: Quick Takeoff. This simple ability carries a small chance of reloading their airstrikes instantly upon launching.

It can also trigger on any airstrike reloaded by Quick Takeoff. Let that sink in. It is not unheard of for lucky players to see 5 airstrikes chain into each other and steal victory from the jaws of that Oathed Warspite Retrofit who sunk the rest of their fleet. Add Ranger’s ability to load extra dive bombers where her AA guns should be along with her small chance at double damage and you have a recipe for comedy.

Best Battleships

If Aircraft Carriers are screen-clearing wave cleaners, Battleships are imposing bombardment ships whose largest guns you have to aim manually unless you’re playing in auto. They also defend the others in their backline by spraying any foes that get too far behind your Vanguard with their secondary guns.

They generally make better better flagships than Carriers thanks to their bulkiness. Battleships with barrage abilities are also reliant on being in the flagship position for maximum shot coverage.

KMS Friedrich Der Grosse

Iron Blood, Battleship, Tank, Barrage Ship, Blueprint Ship, Big Mama’s Musical Wonder Waffles

friedrich der große azur lane

A frightfully imposing war machine who is as deadly and painful to unlock as she is disconcertingly beautiful. Not only is she extremely bulky, she also has a skill that lets her throw out a guaranteed barrage when taking damage, with a measely 15 second cooldown. On top of that, every odd regular barrage she does increases her Reload, speeding up her even barrages, which have added crit. And when you think you’re finally going to kill her, she gets damage reduction buffs depending on how low her HP is.

Nothing is more frustrating than losing your entire fleet to another of Big Mama Fred’s barrages when she’s this close to sinking. And that’s if you even get to that point, because the higher her HP is, the harder she hits. Even among the other Blueprint ships, she is an absolute nightmare to behold.

Her one downside? Not only is she a Blueprint Ship, she’s a German Blueprint Ship. To unlock her, you need to make use of Iron Blood ships. This will take a long time as most Iron Blood main fleet ships are event ships, barring outliers like Graf Zeppelin.

IJN Nagato

Sakura Empire, Battleship, Flagship, Faction-specific Buffs, Heavy Barrage, Lil’ Nugget

nagato azur lane

A little lady whose guns are bigger than she is. In fact, her guns are bigger than most of the girls in this game. This is reflected with her barrage, which is basically just her covering the whole screen in bullets. When you hear her say her skill line after firing her main guns, you can expect the screen to be wiped clean, as long as you put her in the flagship position for maximum coverage.

On top of that, she can buff her fellow Sakura Empire ships just by being in the flagship position. We’d all be speaking Japanese right now if her real life counterpart did as much damage as she could.

HMS Warspite (Retrofit)

Royal Navy, Battleship, Flagship-Buster, The Grand Old Lady

warspite kai azur lane

A battleship with utterly gruesome single-target burst damage, almost ending Enterprise’s domination in PVP (While Warspite can launch Enty into space with Divine Marksman +, Enty’s own Lucky E skill can still negate it with tablet-tossing perfect timing).  When her Divine Marksman + skill triggers, she always hits either the boss or some unlucky lady in the enemy backline, often deleting them or coming really close to doing so.

Even in her base form you have to approach her with care. But once she gets that sword for her retrofit, just don’t pick a fight with her at all. Unless you have some blueprint monster ship like Friedrich Der Grosse, or maybe Long Island and Ranger mixed with several bags of four leaf clovers.  As a side note, she pairs well with Hood, who can make Warspite reload her highly accurate guns faster and cover for the crowd-clearing job.

FFNF Richelieu

Iris Libre, Battleship, Barrage Ship, Flagship, Faction-specific Support, Boss-Buster, Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite

richelieu azur lane

The pride of the Iris Libre here, and the Free French Navy in real life. Much like Hood and Amagi, she’s one of those ships with a frightfully high chance (75% at max level!) of unleashing her barrage when firing a regular salvo. Unlike those two though, her barrage comes with a ton of debuffs for the enemy, along with a more reliable shot pattern. Not only do the victims of The Iris’s Holy Flame’s tricolor barrage catch fire, their offensive stats are all decreased for 30 seconds. That’s if they actually survive of course.

She also increases Firepower, Torpedo, Accuracy and Reload by 15% at max skill level for both Iris Libre and Vichya Dominion warships sortied with her. On top of that, Iris Libre ships deal 6% more damage while Vichya Dominion ships take 6% less damage from the enemy. Oh, and her first gun volley always crits, and she hits harder when equipped with HE main guns.

SPECIAL MENTION

South Dakota, The Dutiful Babysitter

south dakota chibi azur lane

South Dakota is a nice ship to bring if you just got some new backline ships you want to powerlevel. Her main ability is The Strongest Shield, letting her absorb 50% of the damage your main fleet backliners take every 25 seconds for 10 seconds, then heal a percentage of that damage depending on the skill’s level, along with a slight firepower increase.

Giving her a weak or slow main gun, decent secondary and AA guns and tanky auxiliaries allows her to protect the newbies in your fleet, without taking MVP experience points away from them. You really need the weak gun for babysitting jobs though, since she also comes with a small chance to deal double damage. Just get ready for the PVP grind if you want her.

And that is the end of our tier list of the strongest ships in Azur Lane. If you commanders have any suggestions to add here, don’t hesitate to let us know in the comment section below!

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