Nothing like the inspiring story of a nerd who becomes cool -- especially if that nerd maintains his old friendships (or, at least, reunites with his old friend) despite his upswing in popularity rather than the show kill off that lingering acquaintance by having him accidentally shoot himself with the gun his uncle gave him during a summer spent in Oklahoma (yeah, we're looking at you, 90210).
Despite being involved in some heavy storylines (his homophobic treatment of Marco, for instance), Spinner brought a certain degree of levity to the halls of Degrassi. Whether it's his malapropisms (Mrs. Kwan being the "pain" of his existence), his evolution from bully to jock to rocker, or the odd inconvenient erection, Spinner reminded you that, for all the "special" episodes of Degrassi, it was at its heart a show about teenagers stumbling through an awkward period of their lives.
The star of one of the series' early contentious story arcs, Christine "Spike" Nelson would be remembered as the teen mom with the outrageous hairdo. Despite her predicament, Spike proved to be a level-headed young woman amidst the pity of her classmates and the vitriol of hysterical parents. She gives birth to Emma in season 2 but her storylines would rarely veer from her daughter (e.g., going to school with a daughter, dating with a daughter, etc), who would go on to feature in 'Degrassi: The Next Generation'.
Marco Del Rossi
Before there was Kurt Hummel, there was Marco Del Rossi, a student from 'The Next Generation' who suffers a heterosexual misstep in dating Ellie before he comes out and becomes his true self. The show's portrayal of a gay teen was done with care, taking the time to create a real person without resorting to cliche. For the younger members of the LGBTQ community this was a revelation and suggested that coming out could signify the start of a new life, not the end of one.
Arguably the most popular of the students to attend Degrassi in all its incarnations, Joey is the archetypal scheming slacker with a heart of gold (and fedora). His antics -- and on/off relationship with Caitlin Ryan -- would be the focal point for Degrassis 'Junior High' and 'High'. The Zit Remedy alumnus's run on the series would culminate in 'The Next Generation' as the stepfather of Craig Manning.
Yes, he was always going to be near the top of the list but probably not for the reasons you're assuming. Putting aside the fact he was brought to life by the future ambassador of the Toronto Raptors -- a singer who embodies all that is good and right with Canada -- "Wheelchair" Jimmy Brooks was just a good guy. Rich, talented, yet humble. He doesn't pressure Ashley into having sex, he prioritizes his English test over basketball tryouts, and perhaps most importantly, supports Marco when he comes out. Oh, and in what won't be the last time a fictional band is mentioned in this list, Downtown Sasquatch.
Introduced in Season 2 of 'The Next Generation', Eleanor "Ellie" Nash was the goth girl, a look that would diminish over time. She was different, which probably added to her allure as a character. She didn't look like the rest of the girls, she read Edward Gorey books, she told Spinner about the importance of showering daily, and complimented Paige's song for the Pro-Voice Songwriting Contest despite the pair's frosty relationship. What's more was her acceptance of Marco's sexuality despite the two dating and her decision to play his girlfriend until he figured things out.
Though she is seen as something of a goodie two-shoes, Clare seems in the middle of many of the show's harder-hitting storylines. She has undergone chemotherapy after being diagnosed with cancer, suffered a miscarriage after being impregnated by Eli, and was sexually harassed by her former boss, Asher Shostak. Through it all she has stood up for herself and her friends, including Connor, who is let back into Degrassi thanks to Clare's machinations, and Alli, whom Clare convinces is too good for the duplicitous Johnny.