Let’s settle this age-old question. I’ve had a lot of people tell me they didn’t like a book because they didn’t like the main character, which is fair. I tend to dislike a book if I dislike the protagonist, but it depends.
If I dislike a character because of personality traits that I don’t personally get on with, I tend to see that as still a good character, as opposed to not liking a character because they are one-dimensional or cliche.
While I personally think a protagonist doesn’t need to be likable for a book to be good, it certainly helps. Liking a character can help readers relate to them, root for them, and feel more empathetic. But creating a character that’s popular with readers does not equate to creating a perfect character. Everyone has flaws and these flaws can even make the character more relatable.
What I’ve always been fascinated by is characters that people seem to either love or hate. Take Nesta from the A Court of Thorns and Roses series. Some people really related to how Nesta reacts to her trauma and how she lashes out. Other people, however and possibly myself included, dislike her because of her cold demeanor. I mean, I just found her mean. But I still enjoyed reading about her side of the story.
BUT there’s also the Shadow and Bone series that I disliked because I hated the main character, Alina, because she gave off complete pick-me vibes and her narration nearly ruined the books because it came off as snobby rather than from a place of internal turmoil like Nesta had.
So, in short, no. Protagonists do not need to be likable, but they do need to have reasons for their flaws and still be relatable.