[Top 3] D&D Best Monk Subclasses To Play

The reason why DND Monks exist


There are two types of real-life monks: the Catholic Monk and the Shaolin Monk. We’re going to talk about the latter one.

The Monk class started out as an upgrade for the Cleric class back in the original Dungeons and Dragons in the 70’s. Starting around the Third Edition of the game, the Monk has been its own class.

The Monk is a class that specializes in fantasy martial arts. While the Fighter masters the art, and even the science, of combat, the Monk masters the body and the metaphysical power within it, also known as ki (the “Japanese” name for the magical ‘energy’ that flows within you). In other words, if you want to live the Anime fantasy of being a magical warrior like Son Goku in Dragon Balls, Naruto, or Ichigo in Bleach, then the Monk class is for you.

Best Options

With so many published 5e books up to date, it would take a daunting task for you to search the ‘best’ subclass option out there. So, here is a list containing the Top 3 D&D Best Monk Subclasses to Play.

Disclaimer: The word ‘best’ used here is very subjective since most of the time DND players choose subclasses that best fit the ‘theme’ or ‘story’ of their characters, instead of choosing mechanical superiority (plus, most of the time their DM’s allow them to homebrew subclasses that are not so good, like the Way of the Four Elements).

With that in mind, let’s get to it!

3. Way of the Kensei

Cool Factor

Have you ever wanted to create an Anime ronin? The samurai version that doesn’t need armor but just their katanas, like Kenshin Himura in Rurouni Kenshin? Have you ever felt that the official Samurai subclass of the Fighter just wouldn’t fit your vision? Then this is the subclass for you!

Notable Class Features

Kensei Weapons - Although this feature is, at first glance, redundant with the new feature introduced in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything named Dedicated Weapon, the major advantage of Kensei Weapons is that you can choose a martial weapon that you are not proficient with (like the Longsword/Katana for your fantasy ronin hero) and this feature makes you proficient with it along with a ranged weapon, like the Longbow. Not only that, the new more powerful weapon becomes a Monk weapon. That means you can attack with a Longsword (for example) using your Dexterity ability instead of the required Strength (since the Longsword is not a Finesse weapon).

Agile Parry - This one is a really strong feature. It adds a +2 to your AC like a shield. You can imagine your Anime swordsman deflecting arrows or parrying attacks with his sword. This feature alone increases the survivability of your Monk! But, there’s just one little problem: to activate the +2 to AC, you have to use an unarmed strike as part of your Attack action! So that means if you’re a Level 3 Monk who just turned into a Kensei, you still have to punch your enemies in order to benefit from the defense bonus! So what’s the point of becoming a Kensei if you can’t show-off your katana? My idea for a quick fix is simply ask your DM to improve the wording of the rule to activate on your weapon attack instead. Your DM will most likely accept this little change since most likely you won’t be playing in Adventure’s League. But if you really want to follow the rules, simply wait until you reach Level 5 in order to gain the Extra Attack feature. This way you can use the first attack to attack with your Kensei weapon and the second attack using your unarmed strike.

Why is ‘Way of the Kensei’ Great:

  • Live out the Anime wandering swordsman trope (and not the armored, strength-based Samurai of the Fighter). Cue Rorouni Kenshin intro song!
  • Wield more powerful martial weapons as monk weapons thereby immediately increasing your damage potential at early levels.
  • Increased survivability with Agile Parry.


2. Way of the Ascendant Dragon

Cool Factor

You have the power of a dragon! What's cooler than that? But jest aside, the dragon is an iconic beast for the Monk. Not only is it a titular name for the world’s most popular table-top game but real-world Chinese martial arts honor the dragon as a symbol of power, like Bruce Lee in ‘Enter the Dragon’ or Soul Calibur’s Maxi having the name of ‘dragon’ in most of his techniques. 

Notable Class Features

Breath of the Dragon - A subclass about dragons won’t be draconic enough if it can’t breathe fire. This feature allows you to ‘breathe’ an elemental area attack choosing the five available damage types of the chromatic dragons: fire, cold, acid, lightning, and poison. Plus, you don’t have to spend Ki points (although you can) in order to use this feature since you can use it a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus. This feature is great for crowd control (which the Monk struggles with).

Aspect of the Wyrm - You create a draconic aura that can do two things. First is the ability to frighten one enemy within your 10-foot aura. It might not seem strong at first glance but you have to remember that it only uses a Bonus Action to scare your target. And the frightened condition is actually a strong debuff. In addition, should your target resist your initial scare you can recast this to the same target always since it doesn’t make them immune to the condition if you fail.

The second sub-feature is the ability to give resistance to you and your allies that are within your aura. The damage type you can resist is up to you when you first activate this ability, although you can use this ability only once per long rest (or activating it with 3 ki points). 

Why is ‘Way of the Ascendant Dragon’ Great:

  • You get to be a Fire Bender like Prince Zuko (or any of the other Benders since you can just reskin the damage types to suit the elements)
  • You can create a Bruce Lee-type character wielding nunchucks that can also breathe fire
  • You can also create an Asian-type dragonborn with a long flowing beard using this subclass


1. Way of the Drunken Master

Cool Factor

A drunkard is bad, but a drunken brawler is awesome. But a drunken brawler who knows kung-fu is way more awesome! The Way of the Drunken Master subclass of the Monk is the best in terms of survivability. Its features don't add much to its damage potential like the Kensei or the Ascendant Dragon, but it surely makes you weave in and out of tight combat situations. Plus, you get to be like Jackie Chan!

Notable Class Features

Drunken Technique - Although, personally, I really wish they could have created some rules with regards to being drunk but this feature is still solid even without the use of alcohol (although you can use your creativity to suggest to your DM to add some extra effects, both negative and positive, when you do use alcohol). But about this feature, you have to remember that this is mainly defensive in nature since it adds the Disengage option to your Flurry of Blows. Not only that, it extends your walking speed by another 10 feet. This core feature of the Drunken Master doesn’t make you a glass cannon but instead makes you a backline skirmisher. You dart in, you dart out.

Tipsy Sway - This feature features two benefits. The first seems insignificant at first glance but a 5-foot cost to Move Speed to stand up from prone is WAY powerful since the original rules state that standing up from prone costs half of your Move Speed. So, this is your anti-prone ability.

The second and funnest benefit is the Redirect Attack option. It lets you redirect your enemy’s missed melee attack against you towards another enemy in melee range. And the attack is an auto-hit. You can imagine the red face of Jackie Chan comically messing around with his enemies' attacks.

Why is ‘Way of the Drunken Master’ Great:

  • You can become Wong Fei-Hung
  • You have all the reasons to become a drunkard
  • You have the creative license to create your rules for being drunk


What do you think of the Top 3 choices listed here? Do you agree with the reasons written here, or not?

Let us know in the comments!

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Silvin had always wished that life was a fantasy. He does not want to be a lawyer protecting the innocent, he wants to be a paladin protecting the innocent. But alas, lawyers are the closest thing.
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