Released by Midway Games in 1992, nothing could prepare us for Ed Boon and John Tobias’ Mortal Kombat – a video game that dominated arcades and consoles seemingly out of nowhere, knocking Street Fighter 2 off its perch as the best fighting game around. The realistic character models and non-stop martial arts action might have been the biggest draws for gamers around the world, but it was the Mortal Kombat characters that made us stick around for over three decades plus. It didn’t stop there, either, as the franchise spawned comic books, novels, toys, an animated series, television shows, and several movies too.
Yet, like parents with their children, everyone has their favourite – even if they won’t always outright admit to it. The debate about the best characters (or should we say kharacters?) have caused many friendships and relationships to end, so we’re putting together a comprehensive list of the best of the best in the Mortal Kombat franchise to generate even more heated discussion among the fanbase.
From Elder Gods to Shaolin Monks and other Earthrealm warriors, here are the best Mortal Kombat characters ranked. Oh, DLC characters like Freddy Krueger and the Terminator have been excluded from this list, as well as the DC characters from Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe because they aren’t considered regulars.
For those who picked up Mortal Kombat 3 for the first time, they might have been mistaken into thinking Scorpion had suddenly turned into a cyborg (which wouldn’t be something totally outside the realm of possibility in this franchise).
For all intents and purposes, Cyrax was the robotic version of the character, utilising a similar power set (except for the spear, which became a net). However, the Lin Kuei assassin that becomes a borg is much more than a Scorpion clone or a Boba Fett lookalike. While he and Sektor were the new guys in Mortal Kombat 3, his quick combos and highly effective attacks made him standout a lot more than his cybernetic friend.
While Cyrax wasn’t a playable character in Mortal Kombat 11, there’s hope he’ll be included as a main fighter in future games — maybe even Mortal Kombat 12.
The shaman of the Mortal Kombat universe, Nightwolf is one of the most underrated characters in the series. Yet, while his attacks might boast magic and lightning blasts, it’s actually his defensive abilities that make him a strategic player’s number one pick. He has the ability to shield himself from attacks or even use his aura to reverse projectile attacks back at his assailants.
So, while everyone sits and attacks him with a barrage of moves, Nightwolf waits for the right opportunity to use his tomahawks and daggers to take down his enemies.
If someone takes the time to learn how to use this character properly, they will likely never pick another fighter besides him again.
24. Kotal Kahn
Introduced in Mortal Kombat X as one of the new characters, Kotal Kahn is the new ruler of Outworld. He might hold the Kahn title, but he isn’t as ruthless as his predecessor Shao Kahn, choosing to follow the honourable route of leadership and to not be a total tool to his people.
That doesn’t mean he’s powerless or docile like a golden retriever; quite the contrary. He is a strong character that draws his abilities from the sun and is an absolute juggernaut in the combo department once he gets started.
However, the warrior emperor is easily manipulated and doesn’t check his facts (sort of like our aunties and uncles on Facebook before hitting that share button), which has seen several adversaries trick him into executing their dastardly plans for them.
23. Noob Saibot
Noob Saibot started off as a hidden character and a tribute to the creators (look at the name backwards). However, as the story developed, so too did the character. It’s revealed the shadowy warrior is the resurrected Bi-Han, the first Sub-Zero.
After falling to Scorpion in the first tournament, Bi-Han returns as Noob Saibot, who also has a rope attack similar to Scorpion’s spear. And like Bi-Han’s personality when he was alive, this ninja is vicious and takes no prisoners with an array of moves that leaves everyone in his wake.
While he might have started out as a fun secret character for Mortal Kombat fans to try and discover – like Reptile in the first game – he eventually became a huge part of the lore and an important character in the overall franchise.
The original hidden character in Mortal Kombat. After all the hype surrounding the green ninja in the first game, he eventually received his debut in the next game.
Reptile didn’t stop evolving, though, becoming more than a colour swap of Scorpion and Sub-Zero. In fact, his appearance now is more creature-like than before. However, his move set still remains fascinating and proved to be highly novel for its time. For one, Reptile allowed for the power of invisibility in the game. Trying to control or even fight a character that can’t be seen was something that hadn’t been done in fighting games until then.
In the hands of an experienced player, however, it allows for them to get the upper hand in the match. It proves Terry Silver’s quote from The Karate Kid Part III right: “If a man can’t see, he can’t fight.” Plus, who can forget when he’d remove his mask, show off his reptilian features, and spit acid at his opponents? Reptile might very well be the most underrated Mortal Kombat ninja of all time, since he doesn’t always get the respect that he deserves.
While Mortal Kombat 2 included a lot of new supernatural characters, Jax Briggs was a surprise favourite, even if he was positioned as a human with regular abilities. However, there’s no disputing the fact he shared an appearance akin to action superstar Steve James helped to get him over with the fans.
Yet, Jax developed into more than that, especially after he received his cybernetic arms. Suddenly, the ground pounds hit harder than before and the “gotcha” move made players soil their pants.
Jax is often equated to Street Fighter‘s Zangief as the powerhouse wrestling-type of character of the franchise; however, he’s long surpassed his mohawked Russian friend due to his evolving repertoire and constant levels of dominance throughout the years.
Who’s the ugliest Mortal Kombat character around? If Baraka isn’t in your top three, make sure to get those eyes checked by your doctor.
His looks aside, the Tarkatan warrior became a favourite of gamers everywhere when he debuted in Mortal Kombat 2. With the retractable blades on his arm and a rugged fighting style, Baraka is a menacing character that’s both dangerous in the hands of veteran and new gamers. His signature chop-chop blades is one of the most overly used moves in the game and can have opponents pulling their hair out on how to stop him.
More importantly, Baraka is the sort of dependable character that doesn’t always get the praise he deserves like some of the others, but you can rest assured he’ll always be the most well-rounded kombatant in the fight.
While the first Mortal Kombat video game featured Shang Tsung as the final boss, every player knows Goro, the Prince of the Shokan, was the toughest character to defeat.
If he reached out and grabbed you, you were in big trouble and his blows would deplete the life bar quicker than a politician does a community fund. The undisputed power of Goro still makes him one of the best Mortal Kombat characters of all time. He might not have the same fear factor he had in the first game, but anyone who goes up against him knows it isn’t a walk in the park.
Plus, who can ever forget the outstanding animatronics job that was used to bring the four-armed prince to life in Paul W. S. Anderson’s Mortal Kombat film from 1995.
18. Shang Tsung
The shapeshifting sorcerer continues to be a threat in the Mortal Kombat universe, even after three decades and having to contend with other devious antagonists such as Quan Chi and Shinnok. As the original main villain, though, Shang Tsung is still a menace, as he connives and does all he can to stay in power.
As a kombatant, his ability to transform into other characters is highly underrated and remains one of the quickest ways for players to learn a diverse move set. It allows any player the opportunity to quickly morph into a fighter that will be best suited for a specific fight. For example, if they need someone speedy to battle against a powerhouse like Jax, they can quickly change into Liu Kang, and vice versa.
Make no mistake about it, Shang Tsung’s ability to shapeshift into various characters is one of the biggest strengths in any bout.
Mortal Kombat 3 is a game that induces mixed feelings from gamers. While it pushed the franchise forward with fresh changes to the gameplay, it also excluded many popular characters from the final roster. However, one of the best new additions was Kabal: the former member of the Black Dragon who looks like Darth Vader’s illegitimate love child.
In the games, though, Kabal is the epitome of a speed demon. From his mad dashes and hook sword attacks, he’s almost unplayable when he gets racing along. He might not have the same big-name reputation as the other notorious Black Dragon member, Kano, but he has one of the best move sets in the game.
If a gamer nails down his combos and special attacks, it’s difficult to defeat Kabal in any version of Mortal Kombat.
Kitana’s genetically created twin sister, Mileena, has her own fan base, especially when she pulls down her mask and shows some Tarkatan teeth. Unlike Kitana, though, she’s largely been a villain throughout the franchise and is one of Shao Kahn’s most loyal disciples.
When it comes to actual combat, Mileena is slightly less powerful than Kitana, but that doesn’t mean she’s a slouch and should be taken as a joke. Her sai attacks are lethal, making the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles‘ Raphael jealous about how she uses her weapons, and she holds a brute strength that betrays her smaller stature.
Underestimate her at your own peril, and you’ll quickly get a kiss from her that’ll make your insides explode.
15. Kung Lao
The descendant of the first Mortal Kombat champion and Liu Kang’s best friend, Kung Lao, has a – let’s say – cutting-edge move set. When he debuted in Mortal Kombat 2, fans instantly fell in love with his razor-rimmed hat.
Since then, it’s become an important part of his arsenal as he flings it at you, uses it to slice and dice, and incorporates it into his Shaolin Monk fighting style. Kung Lao isn’t quite as popular as his BFF, but he’s still a useful fighter to master in the franchise due to his long-range attacks and ability to teleport throughout the contests.
When that life bar is low and any attack might result in a loss, the razor-rimmed hat becomes one of the most useful items to use from a distance.
Kitana is the 10,000-year-old princess of Edenia who doesn’t look a day over 25. But don’t be fooled by this statistic, she’s one of the most lethal and proficient fighters in the Mortal Kombat games.
While she’s adept at hand-to-hand combat, her steel fans have become a staple part of her repertoire as she slices and dices her opponents with them. Kitana is also effective with long-range attacks, as she has the ability to hurl her fans from the other side of the screen or even while airborne.
In Mortal Kombat 2, she was easily the most powerful character in the game; however, her OP levels have been toned down since then to make it more of a fair fight.
13. Shao Kahn
Imagine being so powerful that when you hit someone with a hammer, their head flies out their rear end. That’s what Shao Kahn is all about.
No one will forget their first time against him in the original timeline and as the final boss in Mortal Kombat 2. It wasn’t only his sheer power that frightened us, but also his constant taunts and provocations. Whenever you would land a blow, he would throw back his head and laugh, or retort with “don’t make me laugh” – talk about the ultimate trash talk and a way to make anyone feel small.
Regardless, Kahn is one of the most unstoppable characters in the game and has established himself as the main villain of the franchise.
Who could have thought that the red ninja named Ermac would go on to have one of the most exciting abilities in the game?
Introduced in Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, Ermac burst onto the scene with his telekinetic powers. Heck, so many players spammed the Telekinetic Slam attack, because once it got going, it was practically impossible to stop and the flawless victory would be his.
Also, the fact that Ermac is a character composed of the souls of fallen warriors brought into a human form is just too darn cool. He’s like the poster child of the Mortal Kombat mythology all wrapped up into one.
11. Cassie Cage
When Mortal Kombat X decided to introduce the next generation of fighters, there were a few hesitations. For one, it was a reminder of the mortality of many long-term fans of the franchise. Had we all gotten so old that these characters had adult children?
Second, how would these new fighters fare compared to their predecessors. Enter Cassie Cage – the daughter of Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade. Merging all the best elements of her parents’ fighting styles, Cassie has become a fan-favourite Mortal Kombat character due to the fluidity of her movements.
There is a certain satisfaction that players get when Cassie nails the perfect combo in the game.
It’s incredible to watch the evolution of Kano throughout the franchise. While he’s always been positioned as a bad guy and the face of the Black Dragon, he’s somehow managed to build up a fanbase that loves his thug ways. Perhaps it’s because of Kano’s dirty fighting style and relentless approach. He’s like the kind of guy who has a few too many at the bar and gets into a slugging match.
However, Kano isn’t afraid to cut corners and use dirty tactics to get ahead. He knows how to get stuck into the battle and stay in the game, even when the other fighters might be more powerful and experienced than him. Kano uses what he has and refuses to back down from the fight.
He also has a sense of humour that has fans cackling in the different games and even in the new film.
9. Jacqui Briggs
The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. Jacqui Briggs inherited all the power from her father and evolved her fighting style to be even more varied and impactful.
While she moves with the speed and power of a boxer, she also pairs this with the Special Forces combat style and her electronic gauntlets that brings some real firepower to her attacks.
After her debut in Mortal Kombat X, many players have debated if she could go toe-to-toe with her father and knock him out for the count.
8. Sonya Blade
The first female character and Special Forces lieutenant, Sonya Blade has become one of the ultimate Mortal Kombat characters.
Apart from her pivotal arc to the overall storyline, Blade also has an aggressive fighting style that helps her bash skulls in and crack bones. Her leg takedown is one of the most recognisable special moves from the game and her flowing combinations make her tough to stop when she gets going.
Interestingly enough, Blade’s character was inspired by legendary action star Cynthia Rothrock and there’s no disputing that the character fights as hard as her real-life influence.
Kenshi is a latter addition to the Mortal Kombat franchise, debuting in Deadly Alliance. That said, he’s become one of the most prized fighters around due to his expert swords fighting technique and telekinetic powers.
His movements are quick and ferocious, as he defeats you before you have even realised the fight is over. In recent years, his story has developed due to the addition of his son, Takeda Takahashi, in the video game series as part of the new generation with Jacqui Briggs and Cassie Cage.
Kenshi is also the lead character in the Mortal Kombat: Snow Blind animated movie.
Let’s be real here for a second. In his first official appearance, Raiden was the MVP. While other players might have gotten the acclaim and attention, the eternal God of Thunder was almost unplayable in the hands of an expert player in the first game.
From his lightning shock to his teleportation and the torpedo charge, once Raiden gets on a roll, it becomes extremely difficult to stop him. As it should be, too. Considering he’s a god, he should automatically be one of the most powerful Mortal Kombat characters in the game. Fortunately, he’s always in the thick of things and a constant presence in the various games.
That said, the original Raiden from 1992’s Mortal Kombat was OP in a different kind of way that still gives nightmares to many people who frequented arcades in that era.
5. Johnny Cage
Apart from Sub-Zero and Scorpion, is there another character as popular as Johnny Cage? Heck, the fact he didn’t feature in 2021’s Mortal Kombat movie was almost as big a story as the film itself and its decision to focus on Cole Young instead. There’s a reason for it, though: Cage is pure gold.
From his over-the-top Hollywood persona that parodies every other tough action star in showbiz to his outstanding comedic timing that has us in stitches, Cage is the type of personality that elevates the franchise to something beyond being a fighting game. In addition, his fighting style is smooth, slick, and exciting for players, as he blends (shadow) kicks with flowing combos and groin punches that have delighted fans for years.
More importantly, the “Here’s Johnny” fatality is the picture-perfect finishing move that should garner him all the awards at the Oscars.
In Mortal Kombat, you stand on one of two sides: you either stan the ice-cold ninja known as Sub-Zero or you throw your support behind the fiery spectre known as Scorpion.
The Lin Kuei’s most renowned member and grand master has made a splash on the franchise in both incarnations as Bi-Han and Kuai Liang. Subby’s powers have become a firm favourite, as he’s able slide people off their feet and also freeze opponents for a short period of time, which gives him a huge advantage in any fight. Also, he has one of the best fatalities of all time, as his spine-ripping finisher has featured in many top 10 lists as the most iconic moments from the franchise.
More importantly, he was the first MK character to receive his own spinoff game in the form of Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero.
No, Jade wasn’t the other sister of Kitana and Mileena, though it’s easy to see why that mistake would be made.
Introduced as a hidden character in Mortal Kombat II, Jade finally made her playable debut in Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3. Since then, she’s become arguably one of the most popular fighters in the game due to her insane combination of speed and strength. When Jade gets her steel staff spinning and her feet moving, there’s a flow to her movements that aren’t only glorious to behold, but they also leave lasting damage.
If you don’t believe how appreciated she is in the Mortal Kombat community, hit any forum after the roster for a new game is announced and she isn’t a part of it.
Without a shadow of a doubt, the resurrected ninja who was once known as Hanzo Hasashi and a former member of the Shirai Ryu is the most popular Mortal Kombat character since the first game. It also helped that he had a top-tier actor like Hiroyuki Sanada portraying him in the feature film. Scorpion proves the hype is merited, however, as he always contains an exciting and fiery move set, including the infamous spear and mandatory utterance of “get over here.”
Whether he’s as a spectre or in his human form, he is fast, agile, and packs a powerful punch. More importantly, he is an easy-to-use character, as his moves are fairly simple to perform. Hopefully, all the future games keep this element of the character intact.
1. Liu Kang
Liu Kang is meant to be Mortal Kombat‘s answer to Ryu from Street Fighter.
As a member of the White Lotus Society and the Grand Champion of the Mortal Kombat tournament, he is the top dog; the Floyd Mayweather of the series. However, he doesn’t always get the respect he deserves, as he isn’t the most popular character around. Popularity contests are best reserved for boardrooms and companies, though, since Kang is a great character and martial artist supreme. Whether it’s turning into a dragon or his effective bicycle kick, his move set is arguably the best in the series.
More importantly, he’s well rounded for all forms of fighting, combining speed, power, and agility into one total package. Forget the hype of the other Mortal Kombat characters, because Liu Kang is – to quote Tina Turner – simply the best.