Fighting game franchises often live and die by the strengths of their character rosters (or the lack thereof), and very few can manage to be as consistently excellent on that front as Mortal Kombat has been over the years. From the first time it burst onto the scene with its debut right up until now, where, decades on and with numerous games under its belt, it’s become a cultural phenomenon all on its own, Mortal Kombat has delivered some truly outstanding characters that have gone on to become icons in their own right. As we look forward to the launch of Mortal Kombat 1 and the promise of its new, rebooted universe (and the unique spin it will put on all of those characters), here, we’re going to look back and rank what we feel have been some of the best Mortal Kombat characters over the years.
#30. KOTAL KAHN
First introduced in Mortal Kombat X, Kotal Kahn is one of the freshest faces in this list, but one that has made a big enough impact to warrant a place. As a strong, decisive, yet honourable ruler of Outworld, he sets himself apart from his predecessors in some interesting ways, while his personal arc – which sees him trying to get a brewing civil are under control – is also a strong one. Sure, he can be a bit stupid sometimes, but this is Mortal Kombat– everyone can be a bit stupid sometimes.
One of several instances of someone in Mortal Kombat starting out as a joke character and somehow managing to find their way into the inner circle (or close enough), Rain is probably a better character than his standing in the series’ hierarchy would make you believe. His backstory is an exceedingly interesting one (at least once you really dig into it), and his abilities (he can literally make it rain) also make for an interesting wrinkle.
#28. ERRON BLACK
What do you get when you combine a gunslinger from the American Frontier with the Mortal Kombat franchise’s knack of portraying its characters in the coolest way possible? You get a guaranteed good character, that’s what. Erron Black might not be as prominent or have as much screentime as many of his peers do, but when he shows up, you can’t help but be glued to every single thing he does or says.
From his unique and intriguing backstory as a shaman to the way that translates to his fighting style in terms of actual gameplay, Nightwolf has consistently been one of Mortal Kombat’s most unique and intriguing characters for years. Playing as someone whose style emphasizes defence nearly as much as offence might feel a bit unnatural in a Mortal Kombat game at first, but once you grasp how to use him, he can be incredibly fun to play as.
There was plenty wrong with Mortal Kombat 4, but the introduction of Fujin was inarguably one of its unquestionable wins. Arriving as a counter-part to Raiden and putting bringing his own unique twists with his focus on wind-based abilities instead of electrically infused ones, Fujin struck the perfect balance between feeling completely fresh and quite familiar. Hopefully, future Mortal Kombat games will use him more prominently than they’ve done in recent years.
Kano might be the far more popular Black Dragon member (more on him in a bit), but Kabal is another one you can’t help but love. Not only does he sport excellent visual design (thanks in large part to his respirator and the horribly scarred face he hides underneath it), he’s also one of the deadliest and most enjoyable characters to play as. His absurd speed and agility can be a bit tricky to get to grips with, but once you do, Kabal can be pretty much unstoppable.
We’ll be charitable here and call Quan-Chi’s debut an underwhelming one, but there’s no doubting that, over time, he evolved into a really good antagonist. The fact that he could kill Liu Kang for good – something that not even Shao Kahn himself has ever been able to do – alone makes him one of the series’ best villains, but you add to that his other existence-shattering exploits when he was part of the famous deadly alliance with Shang Tsung, and he becomes even more memorable.
Mortal Kombat boasts plenty of memorable cyborg characters, and one in particular that stands out in memory is Sektor. Easily the most blatantly evil of all characters in that group, Sektor is a character that the series’ fans love to hate. There’s also the fact that playing as him and using his crunching abilities has never not been fun, which just makes us appreciate him even more.
Cyrax may have been a bit of a tough sell when he was first introduced in Mortal Kombat 3 (much like Sektor was), but overtime, he’s become a proper fan-favourite. With his eye-catching armour and his braids, he’s got a visual design that stands out in memory, while it’s also a lot of fun to use his net and his detonators in combat. He’s also been at the center of some of Mortal Kombat’s most interesting character-specific stories.
As Sindel has proven time and time again, she can be one of Mortal Kombat’s most devastating characters. She’s often left behind a massive body count in her wake, and has also served as the catalyst for some of the series’ biggest narrative arcs. Over the years, she’s also oscillated between being an antagonist and one of the good guys, and regardless of how she’s been portrayed, she’s remained a compelling character.
#20. SHAO KAHN
The ultimate big bad of the Mortal Kombat franchise, Shao Kahn is pretty much guaranteed a spot in any list like this one. From his intimidating debut and how tough of a character was to beat to his excellent visual design, from his crunching, deadly fighting style to the fact that he outright tells you that you suck (in as many words) while he’s pounding you with his giant hammer, there’s no shortage of things that we love about the Outworld Emperor.
A fan-favourite who has almost never gotten the sort of attention and prominence many feel he deserves. Whether it’s his dinosaur-like reptilian form you’re talking about or his human one, Reptile has captured the hearts of Mortal Kombat fans time and time again. Is it sad to see him be treated like a doormat by the series’ story time and time again? Most definitely- but we also can’t imagine a Mortal Kombat universe without a Reptile.
Goro has clearly grown significantly less important to the series as a whole as time has gone on, but we won’t ever forget the pure fear he evoked when we first laid eyes on him in the original Mortal Kombat. With his hulking form and his four muscular arms, the Prince of the Shokan was a terrifying sight to behold, and sure enough, taking him on in one-versus-one combat lived up to that billing. It’s been a long time since Goro’s debut, but even now, he remains one of Mortal Kombat’s most iconic and recognizable characters.
Starting out as one of Mortal Kombat’s many ninja palette swaps, it wasn’t long before Ermac had been cemented as one of the series’ most fascinating characters. Not only is the character’s core premise of having a multitude of souls inhabiting a single body an instantly compelling one, Ermac is also an absolute blast to take control of in fights. Combining telekinetic abilities and agile attacks, this red ninja is a fan-favourite for good reason.
#16. KUNG LAO
Not to be confused with the Great Kung Lao, his namesake has certainly endeared himself to MK fans over the years, even if he hasn’t become as popular as Liu Kang, his best friend and rival. Not only has Kung Lao had some of the best Fatalities in Mortal Kombat games over the years, he’s also a blast to play as, thanks in large part to his ability to dismember and behead his enemies using his razor-sharp hat.
The general of the Tarkatan horde was Mortal Kombat 2’s attempt to one-up the pure intimidation factor of Goro, and it has to be said, it was a pretty darn good attempt. Not only does Baraka look like an absolute walking nightmare, his fighting style also backs that up, from his brutal, pounding attacks to the visceral Fatalities he dishes out to the retractable bone blades in his arms.
#14. JAX BRIGGS
A mainstay of the Mortal Kombat universe, Jax has been around for a long, long time, and like most MK fans, we can say that we’ve always been big fans. Narratively, NetherRealm’s rebooted trilogy bolstered him with excellent characterization, thanks in large part to the dynamic he shares with the characters around him (like Sonya and Jacqui), while on a gameplay level, he’s a solid character to use as well, thanks to his bionic arms.
Yet another Lin Kuei warrior who has held a special place in the hearts of Mortal Kombat fans for years, Smoke feels like one of the most unique ninjas and cyborgs in the series. And that’s not just because he can transform into smoke, though that honestly would have been reason enough. He might not be one of Mortal Kombat’s most prominent or narratively important characters, but both in and out of combat, he has been widely beloved by the fanbase each time he has shown up.
There aren’t a lot of characters that are as fiercely loved by the Mortal Kombat community as Jade. Striking the perfect balance between speed and strength, Jade and her devastating staff make for one of the most enjoyable characters to play as in the series. Narratively, she didn’t have too many interesting things going on for the longest times, but recent years have seen her grown in importance and get roped into some captivating arcs.
Kitana’s genetically engineered twin, Mileena has to be one of Mortal Kombat’s most fearsome antagonists, which is saying a lot (especially after her excellent portrayal in the NetherRealm trilogy). She’s been at the center of some of the series’ most memorable stories in recent years, while the fact that she can literally bite her enemies’ heads off in the blink of an eye also makes her a fan-favourite on the battlefield.
A character we all just love to hate, Kano has been a thorn in the sides of Mortal Kombat’s good guys for as long as Mortal Kombat has been a thing. There’s never been an end to his depravity and hateful cunning, and time and time again, he’s proven to be a major hurdle for the heroes- and that’s what made him such a compelling character. His ages-long feud by Sonya Blade and Jax has taken many a turn over the years, but he’s somehow always managed to remain one of Mortal Kombat’s most interesting characters.
#9. SONYA BLADE
We’re now entering the arena of the veterans, and among those veterans, Sonya Blade is obviously a fan-favourite. The Special Forces elite operative has been a focal point of Mortal Kombat stories ever since the outset, and has only grown in prominence as time has gone on. Her relationships and interactions with characters like Johnny, Jacqui, Jax, and Kano have also cemented her place in the hearts of Mortal Kombat fans that much more.
We could talk endlessly about the things that make Kitana one of Mortal Kombat’s most iconic characters. Her bladed fans that she uses to great effect, the long-standing rivalry that she has with her evil clone Mileena, her excellent visual design, the fact that, in spite of being associated so strongly with Outworld, she’s always been one of the good guys. Ever since her inception, Kitana has been one of MK’s best characters, and that stands true even today.
In many ways, Raiden is the centerpiece of the Mortal Kombat storyline, and that’s been true time and time again over the years (though it looks like Liu Kang is now about to step into that role). Raiden has led the charge against the Mortal Kombat universe’s bad guys time and time again, and has served the role of commander even at his worst (though at his worst, he wasn’t a very good commander, to say the least). Putting him this high on the list is a bit of a no-brainer, honestly.
#6. JOHNNY CAGE
Who doesn’t love this absolute goofball? Seeing a Hollywood actor who loves martial arts amongst a roster full of crazy, fantastical characters was enough to set him apart from everyone else even back in the first game, and over time, Johnny has only grown in popularity. We can’t help but love his charismatic attitude, or the way he interacts with other characters, or the way he grows and evolves into an actual leader as time passes. A true MK legend in every sense of the word.
#5. SHANG TSUNG
Shao Kahn might be the big bad of the Mortal Kombat universe, Quan-Chi may be the only one to have bested Liu Kang, Onaga may have been the catalyst for the destruction of the universe, and Kronika might be the one who led to the creation of an entirely new timeline, but as the franchise’s very first primary antagonist, Shang Tsung holds a special place in our hearts the way no other Mortal Kombat baddie does. His soul-sucking, his accelerated ageing, the way he keeps finding ways to mess things up for the good guys time and time again- Shang Tsung has no shortage of attributes that make him such a wonderfully deplorable villain.
#4. LIU KANG
Arguably, the true protagonist of the Mortal Kombat universe. Raiden might be the protector of Earthrealm, but almost every single major threat that the good guys have faced in the series over the years has been defeated by Liu Kang. Time and again he’s proven to be Earthrealm’s strongest warrior, and time and again he’s been pivotal to some of the series’ most crucial storylines.
#3. NOOB SAIBOT
Mortal Kombat fans have been fascinated by Noob Saibot forever, and that stands true to this day, even if his character doesn’t have the air of mystery he did in his earliest days. In life, he was Sub-Zero, but after being killed by Scorpion, former Lin Kuei warrior Bi-Han returned in revenant form as Noob Saibot, and proved to be one of the most intimidating and enigmatic characters in the series. His moveset, his character design, his backstory, and the behind-the-scenes details of how the character came to be make him one of MK’s most magnetic personalities.
For those not in the know, we’re talking about Kuai Liang here, who has been Sub-Zero since his introduction in Mortal Kombat 2, where he took up the mantle after the death of his predecessor (and older brother) Bi-Han. To call Sub-Zero iconic would be a massive understatement, and his status has only grown as time has gone by. From his ice-infused moveset to his rivalry and growing dynamic with Scorpion to his story with the Lin Kuei and their cyber initiative, Sub-Zero is easily one of the series’ most compelling characters.
The undisputed face of the franchise, even if he isn’t as central to the larger narrative as Liu Kang, Scorpion has long been the most popular Mortal Kombat character, and we don’t see that changing anytime soon. His memorable Fatalities, his spear, his character design, Ed Boon yelling “get over here”, the captivating stories he’s been central to over the years- it’s easy to see why Scorpion is so widely beloved. Putting him at the very top of this list was a pretty easy choice in the end.