The storylines tend to be simple tales of bold adventure. The cast has a simple structure as well: almost all the characters look essentially alike—mostly male (a few female Smurfs have appeared: Smurfette, Sassette, and Nanny Smurf), short (three apples high), with blue skin, white trousers with a hole for their short tails, white hat in the style of a Phrygian cap, and sometimes some additional accessory that identifies a personality (for example, "Handy Smurf" wears overalls instead of the standard trousers, a brimmed hat, and a pencil above his ear). Smurfs can walk and run, but often move by skipping on both feet. They love to eat sarsaparilla (a species of Smilax) leaves, whose berries the Smurfs naturally call "smurfberries" (the smurfberries appear only in the cartoon; in the original comics, the Smurfs only eat the leaves from the sarsaparilla).
The Smurfs fulfill simple archetypes of everyday people: "Lazy Smurf", "Grouchy Smurf", "Brainy Smurf", and so on. All Smurfs, with the exception of Papa, Baby, Smurfette, Nanny and Grandpa, are said to be 100 years old. There were originally 99 Smurfs, but this number increased as new Smurf characters appeared, such as Sassette and Nanny. All of the original Smurfs were male; later female additions are Smurfette and Sassette—Smurfette being Gargamel's creation, while Sassette was created by the Smurflings.
When they first appeared in 1958, the Smurfs lived in a part of the world called "Le Pays Maudit" (French for "the Cursed Land"). To reach it required magic or travelling through dense forests, deep marshes, a scorching desert and a high mountain range. The Smurfs themselves use storks in order to travel long distances, such as to the kingdom where Johan and Pirlouit live, and keep up-to-date with events in the outside world.
In the Johan et Pirlouit stories, the Smurf village is made up of mushroom-like houses of different shapes and sizes in a desolate and rocky land with just a few trees. However, in the Smurf series itself, the mushroom-like houses are more similar to one another and are located in a clearing in the middle of a deep forest with grass, a river, and vegetation. Humans such as Gargamel are shown to live nearby, though it is almost impossible for an outsider to find the Smurf village except when led by a Smurf.