Best Fighting Game Characters: Top 5 World Warriors, According To Gamers

The late ’80s and early ’90s were arguably the peak of the silver age of arcade gaming. Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Tekken, and the like began to draw bigger crowds of eager gamers than classics like Pac-man or Joust. Back then, arcade cabinets boasted graphics, music, and gameplay that simply couldn’t be matched by home-consoles of the era. More than that though, it was the competition that brought in the quarters. People from all over the neighborhood would gather at the local bowling alley or arcade for a chance to go head-to-head with other players. In the quest to gain a competitive edge in the virtual ring, many gamers have asked, who are the best fighting game characters?

Many life-long gamers might attest that video games teach a slew of transferable skills. After all, playing a new game is essentially the task of learning and mastering new software. Regarding a recent study on the positive impact of video games: The latest research by neuropsychologists from Ruhr-Universitat in Bochum, Germany showed gamers outperformed non-gamers in a learning task. They also found that individuals who regularly played video games also showed increased brain activity in areas associated with learning.

“Our study shows that gamers are better in analyzing a situation quickly, to generate new knowledge and to categorize facts – especially in situations with high uncertainties,” says the study’s first author Sabrina Schenk.

Video games can teach young gamers about winning, losing, and stress management. They can enhance mindfulness and improve critical thinking skills. Another recent study even suggests that video games might benefit gamers in other areas as well. Life may not be as simple as a game, but playing them sure helps people reach the “next level” in their careers. Nearly half of Americans credit many of their successes in life to playing video games. Forty-seven percent say gaming prepared them for success. Another six in 10 believe they gained a keener creative eye or better problem-solving skills. A similar amount (59%) add video games improved their hand-eye coordination, while others learned time management skills (50%).

In 2023 amateur and pro-gamers alike gather from all around the world to battle, and in some cases compete for fantastic esports prize pools in excess of $40 million USD. In the 40+ year history of fighting games, who are the top five Fighting Game characters? We turned to our sources to find out. Let us know your favorites in the comments below!

Street Fighter Ken and Ryu figurines
Street Fighter Ken and Ryu figurines (Photo by Ryan Quintal on Unsplash)

The List: Best Fighting Game Characters, According to Experts

1. Ryu from Street Fighter

With his iconic battle cries of “Hadouken” and “Shoryuken”, Ryu from the “Street Fighter” game series is possibly the most recognizable fighting character of all time. “Some people may consider him boring at this point, but there’s a real beauty to the simplicity that Ryu embodies as a character. The classic daddy of all fighting game protagonists, this man has been around the universe and back, fighting everyone and everything with nothing but the clothes on his back, with his only motivation being the desire to become stronger and improve himself,” explains Kakuchopurei.

The original “Street Fighter” arcade cabinet was released in 1987 and could be found in arcades, theme parks, and bowling alleys across the United States. “It’s hard to believe that Ryu has been with us since 1987, that he was the only playable character in the original arcade game, or the needless travesty that was Ryu’s comedy outing in 1994 in the Street Fighter movie. How times have changed. And yet they haven’t at all. Ryu was the original Street Fighter and every game since, has in some way revolved around him,” writes Gamers Decide.

He is the defining image of a fighting game martial artist in his white Gi and flowing red headband. “What more can you say about Ryu that everyone doesn’t already know. He introduced the shoto character archetype, and he is the grandfather character / MC of all fighting games. He is the reason fighting games are so popular… Every gamer has attempted to do a Shoryuken at least once, and we all owe it to him,” according to Okizme.

 2. Scorpion from Mortal Kombat

“Mortal Kombat” was released in 1992 by Midway Games. As seen in many early fighting games, Scorpion was once part of a duo of pixel swapped characters with his blue counterpart Sub-Zero. “When you ask anyone about fighting game characters, Scorpion and Sub-Zero probably are the most iconic characters that many can recognize. They reinvented an older concept of shoto characters. Still, they gave them a plethora of moves that differentiated from the standard fireball. They have iconic and fantastic character designs that provide the Mortal Kombat franchise its unique style,” explains Okizeme.

Scorpion’s signature move, a spear that pulls an opponent to him, is ushered in with his catch phrases “Come Here” and “Get Over Here”.  Another source offers additional details, “Get Over Here!!” Scorpion is my absolute go-to character in any Mortal Kombat game. I don’t think I’ve truly experienced any MK game, unless I’ve played as Scorpion in it (and with that, I’m not bad-mouthing the original versions of MK3). Also, I think his personal quest for vengeance in all its pyrrhic and often tragic glory is one of the narrative linchpins of the whole MK saga,” explains Hande’s Blog.

U.S. gamers love anti-heroes, and this has added to Scorpion’s enduring appeal. “A minion of villains at his darkest and an anti-heroic assassin at his lightest, the undead Hanzo Hasashi seeks vengeance against the forces of Outworld, especially his former master Quan-Chi. Scorpion is a quick but savage fighter only made more deadly with his command of Hellfire and his trademark spear,” says Watch Mojo.

3. Kazuya Mishima from Tekken

First released in 1994, “Tekken” is one of the most popular fighting game series of all time.  At the narrative center of the franchise is the Mishima family. Headed by the stereotypically evil Heihachi, his son Kazuya started as a heroic protagonist. Regarding the details of Kazuya’s narrative through the main eight entries in the series, “Kazuya is one of the only bad guys on this list who is actually a main character. He was the protagonist of Tekken 1 and back then he didn’t have much of a personality. Then he went about killing his father and son and then being killed and being resurrected from the dead and even getting possessed by a devil and liking it. That’s a lot of stuff to handle for one dude. It was around this time we realized that Kazuya isn’t really a good guy, just the lesser of two evils, which is really saying something,” as stated by Arcade Sushi.

Father vs. Son is a narrative trope that is seen in many different forms of media from Greek tragedies like “Oedipus Rex” to modern works including “Star Wars” and “Succession.” “Kazuya has issues. Perhaps the ‘main’ story arc character in the original Tekken, Kazuya sets out to get at his corrupt heartless father which while initially seems rather noble it actually turns out, (lolz), that he made a deal with the devil and consequently then becomes the bad guy to beat in subsequent games. Oh the irony!” exclaims Gamers Decide.

Apart from all the story-based shenanigans, Kazuya is also a powerful character that is easy to learn to use yet difficult to master.  “Kazuya also serves as the linchpin behind Tekken’s storyline, starting as protagonist before becoming an antagonist, as well as being an easy character to pick up and understand, even if he requires good knowledge to play effectively. Combine all of this and the heir to the Mishima zaibatsu is an iconic character in his own right, recognizable and well-known across franchises,” writes Dual Shockers.

 4. Akuma (Gouki) from Street Fighter

Akuma, also known as Gouki in Japan, was originally released in “Super Street Fighter II Turbo” as a response to an urban myth that began in ’90s arcades.  “In the original arcade version of Street Fighter II, one of Ryu’s victory quotes is ‘You must defeat Shen Long to stand a chance’. The term Shen Long was a mistranslation of Dragon Punch (the literal translation of Shoryuken). The fans believed it was the name of an undiscovered secret character… As Akuma was intended to be a reference to the Shen Long myth, he is an overwhelmingly powerful character, and was never intended for serious tournament play,” offers Screen Rant.

After naming several other fighting game characters, one source denounces them all to make the following claim of Akuma’s over-powered greatness: “No, the honor of top fighting game bad guy obviously goes to Akuma, the man who sold his soul for power… Akuma’s attacks are so powerful, the screen can’t show you what happens!” raves Arcade Sushi.

Another source writes about our continuing enthusiasm for honorable antagonists, “With those sharp teeth, pointy red hair, and references to himself as a ‘denizen of Hell,’ it’s hard to believe he’s actually Ryu’s adoptive uncle. I guess it takes all sorts to make a family. Akuma however, is the very definition of the warrior despite his love affair with darkness and evil stuff,” according to Gamers Decide.

 5. Meta Knight from Super Smash Bros.

Some gaming gatekeepers claim that Super Smash Bros. is not a fighting game, but rather that it is a platform fighter or cross-over fighting game. Whatever nomenclature is used, Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. has been a major part of organized tournament play in esports as early as 2002. “Super Smash Bros. Meta Knight is the best character in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and is overpowered to the point of being banned at most tournaments… the games now have the ability to be patched. These patches have mainly balanced the characters better, so we will likely never see the likes of OP Smash Bros. Brawl Meta Knight ever again,” explains Screen Rant.

Much like the previously mentioned Akuma, Meta Knight is an over-powered character by design. “Even in a game with plenty of overpowered characters like the Ice Climbers, Snake, and Diddy Kong, Meta Knight still stands head and shoulders above the rest of the cast as the best character,” according to Softonic.

Regarding what some consider to be Meta Knight’s unfair advantage, “You know a character is too OP for a video game if he’s banned from use in tournaments, and that’s exactly what happened with Meta Knight… Meta Knight’s attack priority is the highest in the game, which means, if he clashes with another player in combat, his attack will hit his opponent while taking no damage. He’s also insanely fast, and his range is great, so he’s a first-strike opponent who is almost impossible to defeat,” as detailed by Ranker.

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