Trying to find the best flavor of magical martial arts for your next DnD game? The best DnD Monk subclasses include draconic warriors and poison-wielding healers. There’s a lot of flavor available among the Monk subclasses 5e, but there are also some really bad options which you may want to stay clear of.
If your chosen DnD class is the Monk, you’ve already got a load of interesting features to play with – it’s one of the more complicated classes in the game, after all. Some DnD Monk subclasses transform your role entirely, while others are more like augmentations. There are some very powerful options available, and they can be great for roleplaying, along with the right background 5e.
- 10. Way of the Four Elements
- 9. Way of the Sun Soul
- 8. Way of the Kensei
- 7. Way of the Drunken Master
- 6. Way of Shadow
- 5. Way of the Astral Self
- 4. Way of the Ascendant Dragon
- 3. Way of the Long Death
- 2. Way of the Open Hand
- 1. Way of Mercy
10. Way of the Four Elements
An attempt by Wizards of the Coast to make a spellcasting Monk, Way of the Four Elements sounds like an awesome Monk subclass. You’re basically an element-bending avatar, you know, from Avatar!
Way of the Four Elements gives you versatile options that let you build a bender, as you learn new spells or ‘elemental disciplines’ at 3rd, 6th, 11th, and 17th level. You can deal fire, cold, or thunder damage to foes, and even learn to fly.
But we wrote ‘attempt’ for a reason. One of the main problems with this subclass is that spells use Ki points: the Monk’s main resource, which powers all their core class features. The elemental disciplines burn through your Ki like wildfire, so you have to be incredibly sparing with your spells.
Your spells also don’t synergise well with the Monk’s melee abilities, there are several underwhelming spell options, and you only learn a handful of spells throughout your adventuring career. But really, it’s the prohibitive resource cost that washes this Monk subclass down to last place.
9. Way of the Sun Soul
Sharing many of the same problems as our previous entry, Way of the Sun Soul is another caster-type Monk, but instead of elemental damage, this one fires laser beams of radiant light to scorch foes. The good news is that you get a cantrip-like effect, a radiant ranged spell attack that doesn’t cost Ki. The bad news is that its damage dice is so low you might have been better just using your fists.
At first glance you might see the Way of the Sun Soul’s limited box of toys and view it as a less versatile, and therefore worse, version of the Four Elements Monk. It is a close run race to last place, but we think it’s not so simple.
One big difference is that the Way of the Four Elements Monk’s best features are the utility spells like Fly and Wall of Stone that come at high levels, whereas the Way of the Sun Soul’s low level features pack more of a wallop and it falls off later. For instance, bonus action Burning Hands at 6th level is pretty nice! Since there are way more DnD games taking place at low levels than high, Way of the Sun Soul ekes out a (rather meaningless) victory.
8. Way of the Kensei
Way of the Kensei is a Monk subclass focused on DnD weapons over unarmed combat. But it’s a bit funky: the Agile Parry ability you get first of all encourages you to not use your weapon, as it requires an unarmed attack to get the AC bonus. Later on you get some good weapon abilities, but it feels so strange to be required to hold a weapon and not use it from the outset, that it really hampers the feel of the subclass.
Tasha’s Cauldron has made Way of the Kensei a strong choice for an archer build, but it seems to us that bow-lovers are a rather small portion of the players’ opting for a Monk during DnD character creation. The DnD Ranger is just over there, people.
7. Way of the Drunken Master
Drunken Master makes great usage of the Monk’s role as a skirmisher, jumping away with free disengages after using Flurry of Blows and forcing opponents’ to hit each other when they miss you. It’s a fun subclass to use, and all of the abilities are useful, but overall this option feels like it’s missing a little something.
6. Way of Shadow
The closest Dungeons and Dragons has to a ninja class, Way of Shadow is a Monk subclass focused on stealth. It gets some really cool magical powers, like the ability to cast Darkvision and Silence, a tricky teleport in Shadow Step, and invisibility with Cloak of Shadows. These are all really powerful abilities, obviously, and a creative player can find all sorts of ways to use these tricks.
The trouble is: all these stealthy options will help you stay out of trouble, but don’t actually do much once battle is joined. There’s no built-in way with either the base Monk chassis or this subclass to capitalize on surprise. So while the abilities granted by Way of Shadow are all superb and you can have some sneaky fun on side missions for the party, if you want to use stealth, why aren’t you playing a Rogue 5e instead?
5. Way of the Astral Self
With this Monk subclass you get your own humanoid patronus, your ‘astral self’, which you can summon as a kind of spectral extension of your body. This Way of the Astral Self buff grants a variety of bonuses, from darkvision to karate chops with extra reach.
The class is ideal if you want to build a Monk focused on the Wisdom DnD stat, since your astral power-ups all use Wisdom instead of Dexterity. It’s an easy-to-use class with abilities that are effective if not super flashy. The main weakness of the class is that it costs Ki to summon your Astral Self, so if you dump Dex, you risk getting caught out when your ghost arms go down.
4. Way of the Ascendant Dragon
What the heck, thinks the Four Elements Monk, as they watch the Ascendant Dragon Monk swoop down on spectral wings, unleashing cones of elemental energy with each punch. Basically the Monk’s worst subclass done right, Way of the Ascendant Dragon is a well-designed, powerful Monk that gives all sorts of versatile options and is a whole lot of fun to play.
The Way of the Ascendant Dragon makes you superb at crowd control, dishing out AOE damage and applying fear to enemies. Your new features gel well with the Monk’s main features, never requiring you to take a turn off of tussling to cast a spell.
What’s great about this class’ spell-like features is they’re not overly demanding on your Ki. You can often spend Ki points to reuse abilities or upgrade them, but you almost always get something for free. However, the subclass did take a pretty severe nerf with Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons that keeps it a little below top tier.
3. Way of the Long Death
According to the DnD books, Monks who follow the Way of the Long Death “capture creatures and prepare elaborate experiments to record and understand the moments of their demise”. So that’s pretty disturbing, but in return for being a coldhearted animal murderer, you do get some pretty cool abilities, most of which revolve around not dying yourself.
For starters, you get temporary hit points whenever you kill something, perhaps allowing you to borrow the DnD Warlock’s ‘bag of rats’ trick if you’ve an amenable DM. You can throw the Frightened 5e condition around using Hour of Reaping, and you can spend one Ki to stop yourself dropping to zero HP indefinitely, making you an absurd tank.
This is the grimmest of the Monk subclasses and its abilities feel like they’d come from a DnD Warlock patron rather than the Monk’s more spiritual origins, but there’s no denying it’s strong, though this is another subclass that’s lacking in extra offense.
2. Way of the Open Hand
Perhaps best summed up as the expanded Monk class, the Way of the Open Hand is the subclass option which best encapsulates the basic fantasy of the Monk: guy what is magically good at hitting people. Your basic feature, the Open Hand technique, makes Flurry of Blows much stronger, letting you launch combatants, debuff them, or knock them prone.
You get some other great options with this subclass too, including a self-heal that can come in handy when there’s no chance for a short rest, and a capstone ability that’s essentially a cheap, reusable, one-hit KO. This is a great subclass to pick if you already love the flavor of the Monk class, and just want to expand its capabilities rather than doing anything drastically different.
1. Way of Mercy
Presented as a mask wearing grim healer, using their knowledge of the body and life force to bring healing to their friends and pain to their enemies, the Way of Mercy is one of the coolest DnD Monk subclasses, but it’s also our pick for most powerful.
The main two abilities you get here are Hand of Healing and Hand of Harm, one healing and one damaging effect. These are both fantastic because of how efficient they are, both in terms of Ki points and DnD’s action economy. They get even better as you unlock new features, letting you fold them into your flurry of blows and inflict poison or cure DnD conditions. You can heal yourself too; this subclass can keep itself going in a fight for ages.
The cherry on top is a final ability that lets you Raise the Dead for just one action and five Ki points. Oh sure, you can only do it once per long rest, but that’s hardly a major drawback for such an easy-to-use revive action.