A fighting game can have gorgeous graphics, heart-pounding music, and rock-solid mechanics, but without interesting characters, none of it really matters. The ideal roster must be filled with varied, memorable, and appealing character designs that will attract gamers of all types, no matter their playstyle. Its not uncommon for fighting game fans to develop a powerful affinity towards their favorite fighter, remaining loyal to them throughout a series long history and encouraging those whove taken on the same character choice mantle.
Throughout their storied franchise pasts, some esteemed pugilists have risen to legendary levels amongst fighting game fans. These are the characters that strike the right balance between being straight-up cool, instantly recognizable, and iconic of the fighting game genre as a whole. To ensure that this list doesnt become a popularity contest, weve laboriously whittled our choices down to one fighter per franchise–otherwise, thered be no way for the little guys (and girls) to get their due. Without further ado, these are the best fighting game characters of all time
7. Scorpion (Mortal Kombat)
Tell most any gamer to Get over here! and theyll immediately understand which yellow-clad ninja youre referring to. With his classic spear pull and the unforgettable fire-breathing Toasty! fatality, Scorpion is the true face of the Mortal Kombat franchise. Whats left of his face, anyway. Watching this vengeance-crazed phantom remove his mask to reveal a skull was an exemplary OH $#*%! moment in 90s arcades.
Scorpion has some tough competition in the MK franchise, but none come close to the sheer coolness of his undead antagonist factor. Despite the fact that he started out as a mere palette swap, Scorpions appeal made him a frontrunner in every major MK game to date. Scorpion is also MK co-creator Ed Boons favorite fighter, and for good reason–Boon actually did the voice work for Scorpions quintessential, proximity-requesting lines. Its like Walt Disney doing the voice of Mickey Mouse, but with wayyyyyyy more ruthless gore.
Franchise runner-ups: Sub-Zero, Raiden
6. Nakoruru (Samurai Shodown)
This Ainu warrior priestess might seem a bit timid at first glance, but rest assured, she and her loyal animal friends can easily tan your hide. Like the feudal Japan version of Captain Planet, Nakoruru is a stalwart guardian of nature, and despises anyone foolish enough to pollute, loot, and/or plunder its precious resources. That said, shes a pacifist at heart, only striking down opponents when absolutely necessary.
Despite her petite frame and gentle disposition, Nakoruru is, in our minds, one of the first agile but weaker fighting game characters to truly distinguish herself from her male counterparts. We love the fact that shes essentially two characters in one, given her companionship with her trusty hawk Mamahaha or the lesser-seen wolf Shikuru (which later spawned the creation of Nakorurus evil other half, Rera). Nakoruru is one of SNKs crowning achievements in character design: a memorable female fighter whose popularity doesnt lie solely in sex appeal.
Franchise runner-ups: Galford, Genjuro Kibagami
5. Sol Badguy (Guilty Gear)
With a surname like that, how could you not grow up to be a total killer? As the frontman in the wildly unique roster from the Guilty Gear series, the so-called Flame of Corruption is just the right mix of detached bounty hunter and anime-esque antihero. And yet, beneath all the bravado, Sols a former scientist with an appreciation for the musical styling of Queen. Whats not to love? As one of the few lefty fighters we can name off the top of our head, Sol and his array of fiery attacks are emblematic of the flashy style of Arc System Works extreme, heavy metal franchise.
Sol and his one-of-a-kind, flat Fuuenken sword also spawned one of fighting games most iconic combos: the air-juggling Dust Loop, which shares its namesake with one of the greatest fighting game community forums. You know youve really made it as a fictional character when youve had a forum named after you.
Franchise runner-ups: Potemkin, Dizzy
4. Morrigan Aensland (Darkstalkers)
This sultry succubus is one of fighting games leading ladies, striking a balance between the dignified seriousness of Chun-Li and the hyper-sexualized cleavage-heaving antics of Mai Shiranui. Granted, Morrigans ridiculously revealing costume seems like it could slip off at any moment. But cmon–shes a supernatural vampire who sucks the souls out of mortals seduced by her charms; cut her a break. Shes also the source of the lithe, underage-looking Lilith, who originated as a fragment of Morrigans royal soul.
Besides her full-time gig as a male fantasy, Morrigans made quite a name for herself, showing up in almost every Capcom crossover and spin-off. Armed with her spam-happy Soul Fist fireballs and trademark drill kick, shes even making a splash in modern-day, high-level Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 play. Not bad for a girl who was born in 1678 and made her debut in 1994.
Franchise runner-ups: Zabel Zarock (Lord Raptor), Anakaris
3. Yoshimitsu (Tekken / Soulcalibur)
Now, we know what youre thinking: Isnt Yoshimitsu that goofball samurai who unfairly fights unarmed combatants with a katana? Well, yes–but hes also one of the most iconic playable characters in both the Tekken and Soulcalibur series. With a flag on his back and a sword in his hands (be it a tachi, katana, or straight-up lightsaber), Yoshimitsu has been repping ridiculously clothed warriors and leading the Manji clan since the very first Tekken game. Well never tire of his self-destructive seppuku move, the way he spins around like a lunatic, his use of swords as pogo-sticks, or his ceaseless, high-pitched squealing.
But Yoshimitsus most impressive trait is how frequently his costume changes: Rarely does he ever sport the same attire for two games in a row, and his alternate costumes are always wildly different from their already-inventive counterparts. Dressing as a clockwork puppet, oni-faced swordsman, chrome-plated space samurai, beetle-skeleton hybrid, or nautilus-helmeted fencer–Yoshimitsu dons all these costumes with aplomb, and he wears them oh-so-well.
Franchise runner-ups: Jin Kazama, Heihachi Mishima / Nightmare, Cervantes
2. Terry Bogard (King of Fighters / Fatal Fury)
POWAH WAYVE! ARE YOU OKAY?! Whoops, sorry about that–we were just channeling the spirit of the American-born awesomeness that is Terry Bogard. Whether hes clad in his red-white-and-blue Fatal Fury outfit or the bomber-jacket-and-jeans combo from Garou: Mark of the Wolves, Terrys an instantly recognizable hero in dozens of SNK classics. His signature moves like Burn Knuckle, Crack Shoot, and Power Wave produced some of the most quotable fighting-game phrases of all time, besides simply looking awesome.
And behind all that brazen moxie, Terrys got a heart of gold. The reason he entered the King of Fighters tournament in the first place was to revenge-kill Geese Howard, the psychotic crime lord who murdered his father. Instead, Terry ultimately tries to save Geese from a plummet to his death, but fails when Geese pompously lets go of his hand. So what does Terry do? He adopts Geeses now-orphaned son Rock and teaches him right from wrong! What a champ.
Franchise runner-ups: Iori Yagami, Joe Higashi / Rock Howard, Billy Kane
1. Ryu (Street Fighter)
Ryu is the epitome of fighting game characters. This wandering world warrior lives for the fight; there are no revenge plots, ulterior motives, or harebrained schemes in Ryus nomadic lifestyle. Like the players themselves, Ryu seeks only to challenge himself and better his skills through battle–though he has the convenience of not having to quarter up after every bout. Whereas that necklaced jerk Akuma uses the Satsui no Hado for wanton demonstrations of destructive power, Ryu uses his superhuman abilities to benefit those around him, pushing Ken to improve his technique and encouraging his defeated opponents to keep training.
Though Ryu has the powers of a demigod–able to conjure plasma-like fireballs from his palms, spinkick continuously through the air, or uppercut someone into the stratosphere–he stays humble and never picks a fight with someone weaker than he. Ryu definitely isnt the liveliest guy on the block, but his modesty gives him a calming, relatable charm outside of the ring–provided you dont run into him during his Evil time. Just as Marios eagerness and tenacity are symbolic of platformers as a whole, Ryus determination, respectful attitude, and unending pursuit of self-improvement define everything that makes a great fighter, be they real or virtual.
Franchise runner-ups: Chun-Li, Ken Masters
We await your return, warrior
Didnt see your favorite fighter make the list? Dont just stew about it–let us know in the comments below why your pick wouldve been better, or if these seven fighters really resonate with you like they do us. Everyones entitled to their own opinion; if the likes of Necro, Kuma, Voldo, or Benimaru are among your top picks for the best fighting game characters, we want to hear about it. Also let us know in the poll which one of these characters is your favorite!
Want more impassioned fighting game appreciation? Why not take a look at the 20 obscure fighters that deserve HD remakes and the Street Fighter X Tekken character rejects: 20 fighters we wish were included.