King of Fighters: Ranking All the Characters

SNK's team-based fighter has had so many combatants over the years. Who's the worst? Who's the best? Here's our list.

King of Fighters XIV came out earlier this year, reintroducing one of the greatest fighting game series at a time when any comeback seemed unlikely. While not the prettiest update, it’s still on-point and is a great first step into the future of the series.

With a roster of 50 characters, it introduces a huge chunk of new names to the series that is already known for its massive library of characters. Now we’re at over 100 names, which is crazy, especially since games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat have roughly 70.

And much like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, it’s up to me to rank the whole bunch of them. So let’s look at the worst of the worst to the best of the best.

First, some ground rules:

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– Alternate versions of characters are not separate entries. Leona is Leona, whether her hair is blue or red.

– I’m not counting Kyo’s clones from King of Fighters ’99.

– I’m only using characters from the main fourteen games. Not Neowave, the Game Boy Advance games, or Maximum Impact. While that does mean Rock Howard and Fio are disqualified, it does save me from the rest of the Maximum Impact roster…

– I will count upgrades of the accepted games.

As always, I’m ranking these based on style, storyline, and personal preference. Not over who has the better infinite combos and all that jazz. There will also be many spoilers.

Let’s get it started.

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108. LIN

First appearance: KOF00

Here it is. The worst ninja in fighting games. Worse than every palette-swapped character Mortal Kombat tried to throw at us. He’s even worse than Three Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain.

Even though there’s originality in Lin’s attacks, they aren’t especially good. I’m less in awe about how ninja rad he is and instead feel…strangely queasy?

Part of his ranking as dead last is guilt by association. Lin is introduced as a way to herald Ron, who is Lin’s evil and more powerful counterpart. SNK and later Eolith spend all this time building Ron up as this huge menace that the heroes will have to fight down the line. Instead of fighting him during the NESTS storyline, he only appears briefly as an assist. Still, they spend a couple years having him show up to hype up a post-NESTS storyline about some kind of Dragon Spirit.

Then…nothing. The most he gets is showing up in a jokey daydream sequence from Kensou in one of the endings. Ron is nothing but a dud and Lin is right there with him.


First appearance: KOF01

So King of Fighters 2000 introduces and kills off Zero, a mustachioed traitor to NESTS who makes for an average boss fight. Not the worst, but certainly not the best. A year later, the penultimate boss is Zero again, only he has a different stance, more strikers, no mustache, and white hair. Because, you see, the one that died in 2000 was a clone and this is just a boring-ass subboss who is supposed to be superior.

I could have gone my whole life without having to see Zero again, thank you very much. Original Zero is less interesting than the clone, even if he does have a pet lion.

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Bono was right. “Better than the real thing,” indeed.


First appearance: KOFXI

If there was ever a cookie-cutter SNK boss, it’s this guy. He’s…there. There’s nothing that stands out about him other than being all evil-looking and cheap. Nothing about his plans or monologuing are in any way unique. Nobody ever wonders which Capcom character would be Magaki’s VS. counterpart.

He’s just a run-of-the-mill evil guy who sucks and dies after losing.


First appearance: KOFXI

Another Psycho Soldier added and, surprise, it’s another annoying little shit kid. Way to mix it up, guys.

Momoko adds nothing that I can get behind. Bao was already the lowest bar on that team, but even he has some stuff going for him. He has those supers that make him seem like he’s filled with excessive power that he can’t handle. Momoko has…mild capoeira moves.

104. BAO

First appearance: KOF99

As you can probably guess by now, I don’t really like the Psycho Soldiers faction. I’ve never liked them to begin with. Then when King of Fighters became a four-person-per-team thing, they added an annoying little kid with the kind of hat that makes you want to bash him with a hammer.

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Bao’s saving grace is his inexplicable cameo appearance in SNK vs. Capcom, where he randomly pops out of Hugo Andore’s afro.


First appearance: Real Bout Fatal Fury 2First KOF appearance: KOF99

You ever watch a TV show in which they have to write off a character and replace him/her with someone completely underwhelming? You ever watch that last season of Welcome Back, Kotter when Travolta left? That’s how I felt when Mai Shiranui left the Women Fighters Team and they put Xiangfei in her place.

Xiangfei’s big trait as a character is that she’s a skinny girl who can eat a lot. There are literally two game endings based on this. Even fat characters in King of Fighters have more going for them than “eats a lot.”

To add insult, her winpose has her pull out swords. Why were you not using them during the fighting portion?!

102. SETH

First appearance (striker): KOF99: EvolutionFirst fighting appearance: KOF00

Seth looks like he could be worthwhile, but his blandness level is off the charts. Being introduced as a partner to Vanessa did him no favors and makes him one of the most forgettable members of the massive series roster. No joke, I just looked up footage of him a minute ago to remind myself what he’s like and I already forgot.

I wonder if it’s a coincidence that he resembles Mr. T? Under dislikes, his profile states “airplanes.”

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First appearance: KOF02 Unlimited Match

When Eolith had the King of Fighters franchise, they introduced K9999, a pissy clone of K’ who was completely 100% Tetsuo Shima from Akira. He even had the same voice actor. It was less homage and more of a lawsuit waiting to happen. SNK got their hands back on King of Fighters, took one look at K9999 and decided, “Nope!” Not because of any possible legal ramifications, but because they just hated him.

They hated him so much that they erased him from King of Fighters history. Even with the mountains of promotional images in King of Fighters XIV’s gallery, there’s not a sign of K9999. When they rereleased King of Fighters 2002 as Unlimited Match, they decided to remake him into Nameless. Nameless has much of the same moves and the same basic story.

And nobody cares. He’s just the uninspired replacement for something uninspired by default. The knockoff of a knockoff. Those types of replacement characters never work out. I mean, for God’s sake, people think lesser of Mr. Dream from Punch Out and he’s the replacement for a convicted rapist!

100. K9999

First appearance: KOF01

Sorry, where was I? Oh, right. K9999 is pretty bad, but he’s still better than Nameless. Better than Mike Tyson too, while I’m at it.


First appearance: KOF01

So. This guy.

After all this build up over the NESTS Cartel with Krizalid, Zero, Kula, Zero again, and so on, we finally get to this grim, bearded man on a throne named Nests. It’s time to take on the ruler of this super-terrorist organization once and for all.

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Then he gets turned to dust by the henchman standing next to him because, “I’m Igniz and I’m a crazy god and you’re all going to die!” Commence impossible boss fight with the hilarious, never-ending super attack that keeps going and going and going.

If there’s anything this wet fart has going for him, it’s his reaction upon losing, where he asks, “Is this the end of loveable Igniz?”


First appearance: Buriki OneFirst KOF appearance: KOFXI

Gai Tendo is the main character in the obscure Neo-Geo 64 MMA game Buriki One. It’s a game mainly remembered for having a middle-aged Ryo Sakazaki in it. Gai was reintroduced in King of Fighters XI as a midboss and just didn’t bring much to the table. He was there. Yeah.

It’s too bad, since he has a great look and has a bit of charisma to him. He just comes off as “generic fighting guy” and refuses to stand out as anything other than a man who punches and kicks.


First appearance: Art of Fighting 3First KOF appearance: KOF96

What is there to say about Kasumi? Really, what is there? She’s…not good at speaking English despite the fact that everyone in fighting games is fluent? She’s constantly looking for her boring-ass father?

I just never saw the appeal in her. Yet she keeps showing up. Go figure.

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First appearance: Psycho SoldierFirst KOF appearance: KOF94

For a guy who has been in nearly every game, Kensou has always been a bit of a blindspot for me. I tend to forget he even exists. Now that I have to actually pay attention to him…man, Kensou kind of sucks. He’s like a generic “canon winner of the tournament” hero character you’d make for a fighting game, only he doesn’t even have that going for him. He’s just a goof who can’t seal the deal and has spent over twenty years pining for his teammate. He’s not even a fun doofus like Chang or Bandeiras. He’s just kind of sad.

This is made even worse by SNK and Eolith’s inability to pull the trigger and make him important. They spent years building towards some mystery about Kensou losing his powers (not that it affected his in-game style all that much), regaining his powers, then making a big deal about some kind of Dragon Spirit and the threat of Ron the ninja. Then…as mentioned before…nothing.

I will say that his ending in King of Fighters XI is downright hilarious, even if the dead serious Ron “We swear I will be important in the next game!” stinger is just as hilarious in an unintentional way.


First appearance: KOF97

King of Fighters ’97 introduced the New Faces Team, which made for a cute twist. A rock band trio gets salty about Iori Yagami’s jazz ensemble being more popular than them and decides to teach him a lesson by entering the big international fighting tournament. Normally, I’d try not to pick a fight with the man who recently blacked out and chopped up his allies, but then comes the rub: the New Faces are high-ranking Orochi cultists prophesized to unleash their god.

Part of this gimmick is that the New Faces are dark versions of Team Japan. Yashiro slams people around. Shermie has electric powers. Then there’s the ever-so-annoying Chris, who is the dark Kyo. We…we already have a perfectly good dark Kyo. Remember? He’s good at jazz?

Chris is lame, makes Orochi lamer, and wears lame moonboots.

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First appearance: KOF94

The most you can give Battler is an ironic love. As part of the sports-based team in ’94, he and his buddies have become the butt of a running gag where various new teams would enter the tournament by beating them up and stealing their invitations. You look at this meathead and you have to shrug and realize that, yeah, that’s about right.

93. FOXY

First appearance (striker): KOF00First fighting appearance: KOF01

How ironic that one of the least sexual King of Fighters characters is named Foxy.

While I like Kula, I’ve never been partial to her entourage of NESTS nannies. There’s nothing especially wrong with Foxy, but she’s never seemed to grab me. Maybe because she’s just an extension of Kula who has nothing going on for herself and looks the most mundane of all the NESTS creations. Outside of her hair making her look like a Star Wars character, that is.


First appearance: Savage ReignFirst KOF appearance: KOFXI

Savage Reign and its sequel Kizuna Encounter are two awesome SNK games that just don’t get enough play. Taking place in the future of the Art of Fighting/Fatal Fury timeline, they feature a handful of kickass designs like gasmask ninjas, an old man who had been gifted Terry Bogard’s hat when he was very young, an armored boxer barbarian with a giant sword, and so on.

Then when it came time to introduce some Savage Reign characters into King of Fighters, they did so by including none other than Hayate, a martial artist who invented a boomerang-based fighting style. Picking him instead of…well, literally everyone else except MAYBE Carol was a gigantic letdown.

At least he has that pumped-up scream from his intro. Can’t say anything bad about that beauty.

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First appearance: KOFXIII

Okay, so Ash Crimson is evil. But then there’s Saiki, his ancestor, who is basically “evil Ash.” Then he possesses Ash to turn him into an entity named Evil Ash. I’m…confused even before the time travel stuff sets in.

Saiki is a letdown of an end boss that they spent three games building towards. Considering the only Those From the Past character I gave a crap about was Mukai, Saiki loses points for randomly killing him.

At least he’s in the most beautiful-looking King of Fighters installment, meaning his mundane “grab his opponent and punch him a couple times” animations are wonderful to watch.


First appearance: KOF94

Goro’s fighting style is that scene from Avengers when Hulk comes across Loki. That’s the one good thing about him. When he slams people, he slams the HELL out of them.

Otherwise, the guy is just so bland it hurts. He’s the tall, grounded member of a trio that involves a snippy male model and an annoyed teenager. The most he ever does is go, “Hey, guys. Please don’t fight each other.” Then he fades into the background and you forget about him until it’s time for order select.

Pro-tip: If you’re going to make a mundane fighting game character, don’t give him the same name as a better fighting game character. Especially if that guy’s also a giant who throws people around like a ragdoll. At least Mortal Kombat’s Goro can open his eyes without spending three bars.

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First appearance: Dragon GalFirst KOF appearance: KOF14

As an American who doesn’t play pachinko games and doesn’t even know how those machines even work, Mui Mui represents the least-exciting game crossover of the series. Sho Hayate kind of sucks, but part of me is still pumped up at Kizuna Encounter being remembered.

Mui Mui is basically Li Xiangfei from another reality. She’s a tiny kung fu girl with the defining trait of being hungry a lot. I’ve already talked about not caring for that, but at least Mui Mui has the power to summon a bigass dragon to devour her opponents.


First appearance: Art of Fighting 2First KOF appearance: KOF95

I really, really want to like Eiji. I really do. He looks rad and I like ninjas. Especially ninjas with mullets. Too bad his moveset is so vanilla that Robert Van Winkle is thinking of suing. He just hugs himself while doing run-of-the-mill slashing moves and doesn’t have any flash worth mentioning.

The best thing to ever happen to Eiji is getting his ass handed to him by teammate Iori Yagami in King of Fighters ’95 because that at least allowed Eiji to make cameo appearances in Iori vs. Billy special intros in future games. Seeing him stealthily pop in and vanish like that made me want to play a game with him in it and then I saw what he had to offer and let out a sigh.

Then there’s his ending in Art of Fighting 2, which takes place just over a decade before the Fatal Fury games. In it – due to a translator getting a little creative – he professes his attraction to Mai Shiranui. Dude. She is like 8-years-old by this point. That’s just wrong and here’s hoping you are legally obligated to stay 50 feet away from every Kula match.


First appearance: KOF00

Hinako is an excellent fighting game novelty. She’s a cute schoolgirl who has trained herself in the art of sumo wrestling. That’s original and well-implemented in the game’s engine.

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Too bad they just leave her at that. Hinako’s characterization doesn’t go any further than, “I like sumo,” and it sours her once the novelty wears off. Somehow her team ending with Athena and Malin has her become an international superstar for walking on stage and going, “I like sumo.” If you say so.


First appearance: KOF03

Duo Lon is the son of Ron, and part of his storyline is knowing how lame and unfortunate that is, so I can’t hate on him too much. If anything, they should just do a Duo Lon/Rock Howard/Adelheid Bernstein team one of these years.

Duo Lon’s odd-stance assassin style doesn’t really do anything for me outside of using a swarm of souls as a shield. He feels like an attempt to improve on Lin by making him less NetherRealm Studios, but they didn’t hit the mark.


First appearance: Garou: Mark of the WolvesFirst KOF appearance: KOFXI (console version)

I could talk about how Hotaru has something of an emotional story about a girl filled with hope and desperation to find her long-lost brother and bring him home, even if he appears to have been transformed into a completely different man due to a life of violence and hatred.

But then I remember that she’s mostly remembered for a super attack where she has an explosive orgasm over her opponent’s body and you can do said move to Gato.

Nope nope nope nope nope.

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First appearance: KOF01

May Lee almost feels like a self-insert fanfiction character. She’s Kim’s #1 student, she thinks she’s a superhero, and Chang and Choi consider her the true all-star of the team. At the very least, it feels like Eolith was big on her while SNK shrugged and forgot about her immediately.

She’s got enough originality and pep that they could easily bring her back and do something interesting with her, but it looks like she’ll remain one of the few bright spots of King of Fighters 2001.


First appearance (dialogue-only): KOF99First fighting appearance: KOF00

Zero exists to show off how damning NESTS truly is. If you show loyalty, they will use you and ultimately destroy you, as Zero did to Krizalid. If you betray NESTS and go into business for yourself, they will doubly destroy you. Zero attempts to overstep his boundaries with his satellite laser plot and gets taken down by both the heroes and the villains.

He’s not the most fearsome final boss around, but the bladed skirt is a nice touch.


First appearance: KOF14

It’s a cute concept. There are young martial arts practitioners of all kinds, but how does one do a drunken boxer style when they aren’t of legal age? Simple. Just replace the alcohol with narcolepsy.

Looking like he snuck out of Kingdom Hearts, Meitenkun is a clever gimmick, but also a bit annoying. Him being constantly sleepy is a joke that gets just as tired, and I’m not crazy about using a pillow as a weapon when you’re in one of the teams we’re supposed to be taking seriously.

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First appearance: KOFXI

Despite being the subboss in the same game, Shion gets credit for killing Magaki, so more credit to him (him?!). Being another cog in the Those From the Past machine, Shion isn’t very special by default, but still deserves a couple accolades.

Mainly, Shion represents the last hurrah of classic King of Fighters. Before having to recreate the 2D sprites from the ground up to get with the times, Shion shows that there’s still beauty in 90s pixel art. His fluid animations and attacks look so amazing and let us see the full potential of what was considered a tired aesthetic.


First appearance: KOF14

“Kim Kaphwan’s master” is an easy design to work. Just being there is good for the sake of putting Kim in a position where he has to be seen in public with what amounts to his embarrassing, square dad. Gang-Il’s issue is that he just doesn’t bring anything new to the table.

By this point, the whole aged master trope has been done to death in King of Fighters, and we’ve been graced with a ton of better versions of it. Even then, Kim is already a taekwondo master and has more going for him than his squattier mentor.

Maybe have him interact with Jhun for a game. See where that takes us.


First appearance: KOF14

I can’t get into playing as Nelson too much, and I don’t really care about his comatose bride-to-be. I still dig his unique appearance and the inclusion of a cyborg arm. It never really comes into his gameplay, but between his ending and the cryptic dialogue from when Nelson goes one-on-one with Maxima, I like the possibilities of where this can go.

He did inadvertently create King of Dinosaurs, so much love for that.


First appearance: KOF14

The most boring trope in fighting games is the person who enters tournaments to protect nature. Julia Chang in Tekken was the worst until she started having sexual chemistry with Bob Richards and became a luchadora. That stuff before that where she whined about trees and stuff? The total pits.

That’s Zarina, only she does capoeira and hits people with her butt so hard that there’s an explosion of flowers. A Japanese air freshener commercial if I’ve ever seen one.

At least Zarina is able to get her way and save the rain forest by kicking Antonov in the balls. If that were really how these things worked, I’d have watched a hell of a lot more Captain Planet as a kid.


First appearance: Fatal FuryFirst KOF appearance: KOFXI (console version)

On one hand, Tung Fu Rue gets the role of being the master of many fighters throughout Fatal Fury and King of Fighters. His students include the Bogards, Geese, Cheng Shin Zan, Jin Chonrei, Shun’Ei, and Meitenkun. An impressive list for sure.

Except…what exactly did he teach these guys? None of them fight alike and, more importantly, none of them fight like him. When’s the last time you’ve seen Geese Howard turn into the Hulk and spin around? When’s the last time you’ve seen Tung Fu Rue hit someone with a pillow?

By the way, the Team China’s ending in King of Fighters XIV suggests that all of Tung’s students will have to band together against a major threat and supposedly one of said students will be a resurrected Jeff Bogard. Hells yes!


First appearance: KOF94

As far as old master characters go, Chin is fine. In the opening few King of Fighters games, he takes the role of the old man who spouts off advice about overcoming evil through adversity and all that jazz. All the while, he’s probably the most fun character to play as in the Psycho Soldier corner of the series with his drunken boxing style and use of alcohol-fueled pyro.

Then again, he’s always seemed like an odd fit. Of all the people to bring guidance to a bunch of kids with mental powers, why is it the old, drunken man? It’s like having Stick mentor Jean Grey instead of Xavier.

It’s years after the fact, but with King of Fighters XIV out, I kind of feel that it would have worked better if Chin and Tung Fu Rue switched places. Tung Fu Rue’s powers are more metaphysical and Chin would make a better teacher to Meitenkun’s sleep-fu.

75. MR. BIG

First appearance: Art of FightingFirst KOF appearance: KOF96

He’s a 70s pimp crime boss with escrima sticks. There’s nothing to hate about that. Mr. Big’s main crime is being a would-be threat to Geese Howard. At best, he’s Geese’s least-interesting in-game underling. At worst, he’s the gnat trying to go to war with him. Trying to steal South Town from Geese is like trying to steal Transylvania from Dracula. Even if you could doesn’t mean you should.

That’s Big’s problem right there. For all his swagger, he’s a toothless threat to everyone. The only guys on his payroll who are worth anything are temporary and working against their will (King, Takuma). Even in Art of Fighting, he doesn’t even get to be the final boss despite being the big villain. Geese uses him as a means to an end and as of the latest game only refers to him as “James” because Geese can’t be bothered calling him by his tough street nickname.


First appearance: KOF97

When fully embracing their Orochi heritage, Chris would stand with his hands out, each one spewing with purple flame, and Shermie would stand straight up with her hands extended to the side, making her look creepy and ominous. Yashiro would…do that thing with his arms that people do when they’re in the front of a conga line. Or when they’re taking a bunch of toilet paper from the roll. Very scary.

Yashiro is the counterpart to Goro and is a step up due to showing some passion and gusto in all of his slamming attacks. Goro looks like he’s doing a martial arts exhibition while Yashiro looks like he intends to smash every bone in his enemy’s body.

Also, I’ve found that the New Faces didn’t actually go into the tournament knowing their true identities. It sort of awakened in them throughout the story. Meanwhile, the truth seeped into Yashiro’s songwriting as he tended to write lyrics about death and disaster. That means that Yashiro is SNK’s Nathan Explosion and that alone deserves a nod.


First appearance: KOF03

Malin comes with another one of those storylines that is all mysterious and has zero payoff. She’s supposed to be some kind of teenage agent for an unknown organization, but nothing ever comes of it. Her story becomes better when she founds a team based entirely on the fact that Yuri Sakazaki insulted her fighting style one time. I love how petty that is.

Malin’s fighting style is what I imagine it would be like if SNK programmed Harley Quinn into one of their games. Spunky with a giant mallet, bladed yo-yo, and lots of hidden knives.


First appearance: Garou: Mark of the WolvesFirst KOF appearance: KOFXI

One of the stand-out characters from Mark of the Wolves (WHY WERE THERE ZERO FOLLOW-UPS TO THIS GAME?!), Jenet is both adorable and alluring in action. She’s a teenage girl so fearsome that she somehow runs her own crew of pirates. And I mean the Captain Hook cartoony kind, still existing in the 21st century. Don’t question it.

Having made only a few appearances, Jenet hasn’t much of anything to do, even as a team captain. Her crew rampaging through various King of Fighters endings is a gag I never tire of.


First appearance: Sky LoveFirst KOF appearance: KOFXIV

Another lady pirate captain. Go figure.

Love Heart is another visiting character from a game that’s a little too obscure for people on my side of the globe, but unlike Mui Mui, she’s carried by the fact that she’s from a world of sky pirates. She brings a laser sword to a fighting tournament and somehow she’s the first King of Fighters contestant to do that.

My biggest gripe with Love Heart is that from what I’ve read, in her original game, she is able to double-wield bazookas. Yet she doesn’t in King of Fighters XIV. How do you not make that her level 3 super? How?


First appearance: Art of FightingFirst KOF appearance: KOF94

Ryo is inspired by two great Street Fighter characters and is the inspiration for another great Street Fighter character. Unfortunately, Ryo doesn’t stand up to them. He’s just…lesser Ryu who looks a bit more like Ken. Dan without being treated as a loser with endless heart.

Thing is, Ryo is part of the whole Kyokugen camp, which is one of my favorite things in King of Fighters. They’re all a laugh riot and fun to play as because they’re kind of Ryu-like but not totally. Ryo is ultimately the straight man in all of this and despite being the central practitioner, he’s also overshadowed by everyone else being more interesting than him.

The others are spending ten minutes talking about restaurant business dealings and making attempts to get Ryo laid, but he just sits to the side and makes remarks about training and being good at fighting.


First appearance: Fatal FuryFirst KOF appearance: KOF94

“Nice.” — Mai Shiranui

Poor Andy. It really sucks when you’re known as “the other Bogard.” Andy’s just as capable of defeating Geese Howard and liberating South Town in the Fatal Fury games, but everybody knows that it’s all about Terry. Andy’s just off to the side, refusing sex from the big-breasted ninja lady who wants nothing more than to jump his bones.

According to King of Fighters XIV, he’s finally relented and is now in a committed relationship and lives with Mai. About time, dude. Especially since Andy’s subplot in Fatal Fury: The Motion Picture where he gets emasculated, has a mental breakdown, goes into hardcore training, starts wearing black, kicks the shit out of one of the bad guys, and then makes out with Mai is the best part of that anime that doesn’t involve Kim or Geese. Embrace your awesome luck.

Speaking of Geese, I’ve seen speculation that Andy is Geese’s biological son, which makes just enough sense, and I hope it’s true. For one, it adds another layer or two to Terry’s relationship with Rock. It really would be like father, like son.

68. MIAN

First appearance: KOFXIV

The queen of dive-kicking is a very welcome addition to King of Fighters XIV. She has a very unique look and style, even if “opera dancing” isn’t the most exciting one. Despite being outlandish, she acts as the grounded one on her team of a dark enigma and a cutesy murder machine. There’s still enough personality in there, like her casual greed, so she doesn’t feel like the team’s Goro Daimon.

The alternating masks gimmick is cool too, especially in her level 3 super. Kind of makes me think of Hexadecimal from Reboot.


First appearance: Art of FightingFirst KOF appearance: KOF94

Yuri certainly adds to the Kyokugen family’s wonderful comedic existence, but of the three founding Women Fighters Team members, she’s just kind of there. Yeah, she definitely shines better when dealing with her brother, boyfriend, and father than interacting with Mai.

She’s not quite Sakura and she’s not quite Dan Hibiki, but she’s fine for what she is. Besides, by showing up as an actual fighter in Art of Fighting 2, she broke away from being a damsel in distress and learned to slap around Mr. Big. Good for her.


First appearance (namesake): AthenaFirst appearance: Psycho SoldierFirst KOF appearance: KOF94

“PSYCHO BAAAAAAWWW!” is the bane of my ears and she tends to associate with losers, but I like the idea of Athena. She’s the descendant of a goddess and balances training her telekinetic powers with fighting in tournaments in the name of goodness and rocking out as one of the top pop music acts in the world. Her tendency to change up her appearance from game to game is also a cute touch.

I guess she’s like the opposite of Kim Kaphwan in that she also has a bunch of spinoff characters in the games, but hers kind of suck and hurt her brand. She’d be better off hanging out with Mai and King for a year or so.


First appearance: KOF99

Krizalid isn’t the kind of guy you should need four people to defeat, but he’s the one NESTS boss that I tend to like because his short time in the series shows off what kind of assholes we’re dealing with. A clone of K’ that thinks he’s the real deal, Krizalid is a loyal soldier of NESTS who has no idea that he’s being used like toilet paper. After a decent boss fight where he shows up looking like an S&M Kenny McCormick cosplayer, his whole world comes crumbling down both literally and figuratively.

First, his higher-up has him killed by causing the hideout to implode onto him. Then his “sister” Whip comes to tell him off and let him know that he’s merely a clone of K’. Her insults become pity as he dies in front of her.


First appearance: KOF03

Shen Woo’s strength is how simple he is, both in design and mentality. When your series has entries that go into double digits, you have to come up with increasingly outlandish designs that somehow feel on-brand. Shen Woo feels like he would have been just as at home in King of Fighters ’94 as he is in the latter games. He’s a run-of-the-mill brawler who acts only out of 1) anger, and 2) the desire to fight strong opponents.

What’s great is how he plays into the story. Ash Crimson is all about playing people, and he has no problem using Shen Woo’s two defining characteristics as tools because Shen is too simple to see he’s being played. And he only goes for revenge because 1) he’s angry, and 2) it’s an excuse to fight strong opponents.

Even if Shen gets his revenge by beating Ash, his winning quote has him brushing it off like a minor thing and then offering to go get some food.


First appearance: KOF96

Even if it’s the third game, it’s a breath of fresh air to see the tournament being held by someone who isn’t up to no good. Sure, she’s plotting stuff, but Chizuru’s intentions are pure. While she’s a bit of a frumpy sad sack, she makes up for it with her role in making the Kyo/Iori rivalry interesting by playing peacemaker and making them understand the big picture.

She never does feel right outside of her important guidance role. Her time as part of the Women Fighters Team felt awkward and ill-fitting. She’s endlessly aggravating to fight, so I’m fine with her not showing up all that much, but I do accept her as the harbinger for important shit going down.


First appearance: KOF95

Saisyu should rank higher, but he really hasn’t done enough. He’s cool and all and certainly has a better look than his son, but when you get down to it, he’s a Kyo knockoff who acts out a lesser version of the Mr. Karate storyline. Then he peaces out for the most part. I like him, but there’s not enough originality to make him shine.

I do entirely dig his appearance in King of Fighters 2001’s ending for Team Japan. Kyo and his partners treat Shingo like crap and abandon him, but then Saisyu shows up and offers to make him great and teach him how to summon fire. Good guy, that Saisyu.


First appearance: KOFXI

For the most part, Elisabeth never got much of a reaction from me one way or another. Neither hated her nor cared for her both in-game and in-story. It wasn’t until the end of King of Fighters XIII and her cameo in King of Fighters XIV (Official Team’s ending) that I started to appreciate her.

Essentially, Elisabeth and Ash’s relationship reminds me of one of my all-time favorite comics, Astro City #1/2 by Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson. The story, “The Nearness of You,” is free on Comixology, so you should get on that.

The comic resembles Elisabeth and Ash’s story. Due to his heroic sacrifice (inspired by his love for Elisabeth), Ash defeats Saiki in a way where both are not just killed, but erased from the timeline. Ash was never born. Despite that, Elisabeth’s connection to him is so strong that she simply cannot forget the man who never existed and it causes time and space to crack.


First appearance: KOF94

Lucky walks the line between being a lame design and being so ridiculous that it’s endearing. Like Battler, he’s defined by being a sports guy who is for some reason in a fighting tournament. It’s just that while Battler wears most of a football uniform and does a bunch of basic moves based on rushing into people, Lucky is able to summon basketballs out of the sky like an actual god.

Where do these basketballs come from? How does he control them? Why are they capable of putting Omega Rugal out of commission? We need answers. I need answers.

59. WHIP

First appearance: KOF99

A military girl armed with a whip and a gun in a fighting tournament is something that sounds appealing, but I could never get into her play style. As the least interesting member of the Ikari Warriors, Whip at least has a decent character arc. She goes from being a NESTS experiment, to joining the Ikaris, to finding out her true identity, to joining with her “brother” K’ in taking down NESTS for good, to living her life with a newfound family.

Then she goes back to being in the Ikari Warriors, but in a video game retirement way. She’s in the cutscenes, but she’s no longer an active fighter. Her story is over, and unlike most other major characters, she’s allowed to ride off in her own way.


First appearance: KOF97

Shingo basically exists to show that Team Japan is made up of a bunch of assholes. Shingo is Kyo’s protégé, and while Kyo reluctantly teaches him how to punch, kick, and how it’s all in the mind, there isn’t much he can do about getting Shingo to combust with Kusanagi flame. That’s more of a genetic thing, making me wonder why Shingo doesn’t go pester Ralf.

Or is the Galactica Phantom a Jones family tradition? Who’s to say?

So Shingo’s deal is “Kyo, but without flames, and he’s clumsy.” He occasionally gets to join with Benimaru and the rest, and they dress him down for being bad at fighting. Guys! Don’t invite him into the fighting tournament if you don’t like him!

Then Saisyu makes a man out of him and teaches him how to make a slight spark with his hand after a year of training. Kyo still abuses him, but at least he has Benimaru and Goro’s respect, so that’s something. Shine on, underdog.


First appearance: Buriki OneFirst KOF appearance: KOFXI

“We need our own Akuma and stat!” – someone at an SNK meeting in the late 90s.

Silber is very much Akuma with the serial numbers filed off. It’s like they wanted to include him, but knew to at least remove 90% of the Ryu-inspired stuff. He doesn’t have chi or any of the tried-and-true Ansatsuken attacks, but he’s most definitely cut from the same cloth of enigmatic martial arts demon god.

Even in Buriki One, when the player is able to earn the right to face him, Silber appears via annihilating the planned opponent and taking his spot. Win or lose, he reacts by simply jumping away into the night. This is especially great in his ending, where he does this to answer press conference questions.

Silber is better integrated into the game than Gai Tendo and comes off as the kind of warrior that we need to see more of in future games.


First appearance: Kizuna EncounterFirst KOF appearance: KOFXI

Hey, now this is a step up from Sho Hayate. Jyazu is the mysterious end boss in Kizuna Encounter. Since the series introduced two future ninjas (Gozu and Mezu) in the first game, they had a head-swapped, Satanic bird man ninja as the one villain higher on the food chain than King Lion. We never got much of an idea of who or what he even is, but he’s a decent boss fight, and I was jazzed to see that he wasn’t totally forgotten.

His appearance probably isn’t canon, and they don’t really explain more about what he is, but I’m totally down for more Jyazu.


First appearance: KOF99

Jhun is merely Player 2 Kim Kaphwan, but he makes it work. As Kim’s frenemy, he exists to complicate Chang and Choi’s plight by adding another authority figure that is just as unbalanced, just in a different way.

“Forcing criminals to train tirelessly in taekwondo? That’s not how you rehabilitate people! You need to force them to go see J-pop concerts! That’s the true way of justice!”

Jhun’s obsessed dedication to Athena’s music is what gives him legs. Which is good, since that’s what he mainly uses to atta—never mind, that joke’s dumb. Not only does Jhun’s love for Athena give hilarious explanations for why he isn’t in certain tournaments (ie. ran towards a cardboard cutout of Athena, thinking it was the real deal, then got hit by a car), but it’s even talked about in games that Jhun isn’t in! In King of Fighters XIII, Robert is reluctant to fight Athena because he knows what that taekwondo nutjob will do to him.

Jhun may not be as good as Kim, but at least he beats out Kensou.


First appearance: Art of FightingFirst KOF appearance: KOF94

Robert is a lot like Ken Masters (second-banana, friendly rival, rich family), but gets a little leeway for being just different enough. Unlike Ken, he hasn’t settled down. He dresses like he’s got a lot of money instead of being tied to the overused karate gi look. There’s also his fighting style, which features a lot of the usual Ryu/Ken trappings, but is at least based off of suave, rapid kicking.

It is pretty rough that Ken and Robert sponsor the Capcom vs. SNK 2 tournament, yet Robert couldn’t even get a spot in the brackets. Double rough when you remember that Dan got in.

Anyway, Robert doesn’t get to do enough (Art of Fighting 3 was his big story, but nobody cared about it), but he is a welcome tentpole in the “Kooky Kyokugen family.” Robert’s words, not mine. Some of these games have some weird dialogue.

Robert used to call people “taco breath.” That’s kind of great.


First appearance: Garou DensetsuFirst KOF appearance: KOF14

Alice is an airheaded Terry Bogard fangirl introduced as a mascot for some pachinko games and eventually brought in as a new member of the Women Fighters Team. She’s essentially the Sakura to Terry’s Ryu, albeit a lot greener. While she isn’t nearly as skilled as Terry, her awkward English game is way more impressive. “Let’s have a blast,” indeed!

Even though she borrows her moves from various Fatal Fury characters, she still feels like her own entity and has more staying power than her pachinko crossover sisters Mui Mui and Love Heart.


First appearance: KOF94

Heidern sort of gets screwed over by the narrative when you think about it. He goes into King of Fighters ’94 as the Guile/Chun-Li character. He’s the one guy who has a legit beef with Rugal from the get-go. Rugal killed his wife and child. Then Lanky Nick Fury has to sit back and watch some snot-nose teenager take the glory. Twice!

Nice thing about Heidern is that although his arc in the first two games are about revenge, his (mostly) non-fighting appearances for the next twenty years are about fleshing him out. Not only does he find a new family with his soldiers, but he even makes peace with Adelheid Bernstein, bringing an end to any hatred between their families.

I do miss his creepy mannerisms.


First appearance: Fatal FuryFirst KOF appearance: KOFXIII

Hwa Jai started off as a dud. He was the Muay Thai fighter who wasn’t Joe Higashi, and unless you’re a lady bartender in a tuxedo, what’s the point? He was written off as Joe’s hated-rival-turned-training-partner and was ultimately forgotten about for years.

Then he was brought into the King of Fighters world in an inspired plot where he and Raiden pretended to be criminals again just so Kim would force them into being his students and would therefore get them spots in the tournament. They fooled Kim in order to get themselves more mainstream attention and high-profile fighting opportunities. Then they kissed up to him and made him think they were rehabilitated even though they already were from the get-go.

Hwa Jai also gets on my good side because he’s the closest thing we have to getting to play as Adon in King of Fighters.


First appearance: KOF97

King of Fighters has fallen into a pattern with their storylines where they focus on some evil group and escalate for a few games until reaching the top banana. While NESTS and Those From the Past never struck oil, the whole Orochi thing was brilliantly done and is the reason why SNK keeps trying to reinvent the wheel.

He also feels like the one boss battle in the series where you’re really fighting something truly otherworldly. There’s something about the disinterested way Orochi hovers around while dispatching foes that sets him apart from everyone else.

Too bad he’s stuck in Chris’ body. As threatening as Orochi is supposed to be, he loses something when you remember that he’s wearing a 14-year-old’s jeans.

Anywho, one of my favorite things about Orochi is how beating him with most teams causes him to fly off and talk about how he’s going to come back soon because he can’t be destroyed. But if you pick the special edit team of Kyo, Iori, Chizuru? Well, then you get one of the best endings in the series as Orochi is taken down completely.


First appearance: KOFXIV

The mysterious femme-fatale fits in great simply for being the character that disarms Kim Kaphwan. After years of Kim being a bossy control freak to all of his partners, he’s placed with someone who he has absolutely no power over. Kim rants about justice and morals, but Luong is able to effortlessly take him down by pinching his cheeks and being uncomfortably flirty.

Putting together a team of people who practice the same martial art can be tricky because you want them to play relatively similar, but not TOO similar. Luong’s style definitely works this out better than Gang-Il’s.


First appearance: KOF94

Benimaru is stuck in that awkward limbo where he’s important, but not really. He’s Kyo’s teammate and friendly rival, but that just means he’s a hanger-on for Kyo doing important Kyo-related stuff. But hey, it’s good enough to get him a spot in every installment and Capcom vs. SNK.

Benimaru’s metrosexual style and egotistical attitude is what makes him such a necessary mainstay in the series. Even if he’s ultimately done nothing except hit on women and stand behind Kyo during boss interactions, King of Fighters just wouldn’t be the same without him. There have been many electric-based fighters out there, but nobody has the grace and confident control that Benimaru represents.

Shine on, you Polnareff ripoff.


First appearance: Samurai ShodownFirst KOF appearance: KOFXIV

Nakoruru was never my favorite Samurai Shodown character, but I can’t help but respect the emphasis on her in King of Fighters XIV. Nakoruru was always one of the more iconic SNK fighting game characters, but being from several centuries back made her an ill fit. She isn’t like Ryo or King where you can fudge the time-frame and make her part of the present. Nakoruru is defined by where and when she comes from.

Rather than have Verse ramble on about how important and scary he is, Nakoruru does that just by showing up. She and her Another World compatriots appear because Verse’s chaotic existence threatens to unravel the entire multiverse. It builds up the threat of this game, as well as future games, all while being 100% in-character for this fish out of water named Nakoruru.

She’s a nature-protector, and I hate those, but she redeems it by turning King of Fighters into Crisis on Infinite Earths.


First appearance: KOFXIV

Bandeiras is the antithesis of Shingo and Alice, falling more into being like Yuri. He is a wannabe to more skilled martial artists, but his style is on point. He’s an absolute weeaboo to the point of embarrassment (give us Sodom vs. Bandeiras in the next Capcom vs. SNK!), but even the other ninjas in the game will admit that he seems to know what he’s doing. Mai goes from weirded out to impressed and open to the idea of making Bandeiras her student.

That’s the great thing about him. In terms of storyline, someone like Eiji Kisaragi is head and shoulders above Bandeiras in skill, but it doesn’t matter because Bandeiras comes off as being better as a ninja. He does the cool ninja shit that we want to see in a cartoony video game about people solving apocalyptic problems through tournament bouts.

Add to that that he’s a practitioner of “Brazilian ninjutsu.” As a fan of puns, I approve of this.


First appearance: Fatal Fury 3First KOF appearance: KOF97

Mary’s relationship with Terry makes all the sense in the world. He lost a loved one and fights for justice; she lost a couple loved ones and fights for justice. He throws his hat all the time; she throws her jacket all the time. He acts all happy while punching people in the face; she acts all happy while breaking people’s limbs. They were made for each other.

Mary is like the sensible, mentally-healthy version of Mai. If anything, she’s the voice of reason for the Fatal Fury crew. She’s the one who will outright call out Terry on his lone wolf bullshit.

Too bad her detective skills are crap. A “mysterious benefactor” hires her to enter King of Fighters and her partners are Geese’s trusted bodyguard and a psychopath mafia enforcer. There are so many red flags that a bull’s head just exploded in rage.


First appearance: KOF01

The fact that she wears a Mai-level tight/scant outfit probably helped her return from obscurity, but Angel deserves recognition for more than that. She’s incredibly distinctive in the way she plays and fights, and has a killer personality for a character who hasn’t done all that much. She was a hanger-on for the K-who-shall-not-be-named and is now the third wheel in a team of luchadors.

What I love is how fitting that is. Angel herself isn’t a wrestler, but she is, for some unknown reason, a huge Rock enthusiast. She performs his punch combo, does the “Just bring it!” pose, does the Rock Bottom into an exaggerated elbow, and her secret super in King of Fighters 2002 featured her doing the full People’s Elbow setup. Even in the latest game, when you turn on MAX Mode, she does the arm-waving taunt.

With all the chipper ladies of King of Fighters, such as Mai, Athena, Kula, and so on, Angel is the one who keeps that demeanor while being a total bitch. She will verbally run you down and remind you that she is a greedy terrorist, but she’ll do it in the happiest, most childish way possible.


First appearance: Ikari WarriorsFirst KOF appearance: KOF94

He’ll never be as rocking as his explosive military buddy Ralf, but Clark Still (Steel?) wears his sunglasses at night and that makes him at least as cool as Corey Hart. Calm, restrained, and professional, Clark is defined by his love of professional wrestling and how he meshes it with his commando training.

It’s brilliant if you think about it. GI Joe has two members who are in the WWE Hall of Fame, so that strategy has a proven track record. Using his enhanced strength, Clark is able to throw his enemies 50-feet in the air and then turn it into a Torture Rack and Death Valley Driver. Any use of a Death Valley Driver in a video game is worth a thumbs up from me.

Like Ralf and Terry Bogard, Clark should be under fire for taking all those steroids in-between King of Fighters XI and XII. Not cool, bro.


First appearance: KOFXIV

When I first saw footage of Sylvie, I groaned, expecting to hate her. She’s way too cheery and looks like what happens when you vomit from eating too much Fruity Pebbles. Then I realized that her eccentric nature is only part of what she truly is: a broken toy soldier in a world that isn’t hers.

Sylvie was part of NESTS as a lesser experiment created to control electricity. Due to her powers and the experimental process itself, Sylvie is cute to the point of insanity. It only makes her more serious moments – such as her fear when facing fellow NESTS agent Angel or her dark expression when doing her level 3 super – stick out more.

She’s still super annoying, but at least there’s a method to her madness. And believe me, “madness” is the right term. Her profile lists one of her hobbies as, “collecting fingerprints from good-looking me.” Yikes.


First appearance (striker): KOF99: EvolutionFirst fighting appearance: KOF00

SNK had a boxing character worth a damn, but we weren’t going to be seeing Heavy D! again anytime soon, so they gave us the next best thing: a spunky Shirley Manson who knows how to swing fists. Vanessa is a similar character to Street Fighter’s Crimson Viper as a business-attire-wearing woman leading a double life as both a single mother and a secret agent. Vanessa is way superior because she has charm and doesn’t have the worst haircut.

She also wasn’t in Legend of Chun-Li, but that goes without saying.

Vanessa never really does much when it comes to the series’ story, and most of her cutscenes revolve around rolling her eyes at Ramon’s advances. That said, she absolutely explodes in personality with her sprite animations. The way she wails on her opponent like a pro, then shakes her hurting knuckles makes her hard to dislike.


First appearance: Fatal FuryFirst KOF appearance: KOFXI

Aw, shucky, ducky, quack, quack! How did it take so long for this guy to make the jump into King of Fighters?

I think what makes Duck King work so well is that he’s a doofy 80s design introduced in the 90s, and they keep at it with such gusto that he doesn’t feel completely dated. He just keeps dance-fighting his way through our hearts with his tiny baby duck following him. Not only does he need to show up in more games, but I want a year of King of Fighters where he takes over as Chang and Choi’s team captain.

Duck King also gets points for bringing us this wonderful Geese Howard quote from Real Bout Fatal Fury: “Not bad for a dumb disco diddle meister, Duck King!”


First appearance: KOF14

Verse is less of a supervillain and more of a plot device. Normally, that would be a strike against him, but screw it, I like that. How many monologuing bosses did we have to deal with over the years? Let’s just get a creature that shows up and makes guttural noises with the occasional growl of, “VERSSSSSE!”

His design is unique and makes him look like a Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Stand who has his own Stand. He has the power to bombard his enemies with flying, disembodied, burning stone fists from the skies. That rules.

He may be just a thing that happens, but there’s at least a strong indication to him showing up and the realization that he’s coming back down the line, likely altered and more powerful.


First appearance: KOF94

Kyo was fighting a losing battle from the beginning. They put him in a game full of pre-existing SNK heroes and decided that this newcomer would be the protagonist. Not Terry or Ryo, but Kyo. His first couple years of being the guy who always wins didn’t do him any favors in my eyes, since it came off like he was just some disinterested teen going through the motions and being the main character just because.

He didn’t start to become interesting until the Orochi storyline really kicked into gear, and they changed up his moveset to make him more about chaining together his stylish offense. This culminated in his badass true ending in King of Fighters ’97.

While Kyo hasn’t been my favorite, I do like how SNK has been able to keep him feeling important despite three different protagonists taking his place since the end of ’97

37. HEIN

First appearance: KOF14

Hein is a great fit for the whole Geese Howard operation. Billy is the prime henchman, but Hein fits as a teammate who complements Billy’s personality. He’s the proper and cool-headed square with the glasses, off to the side, being creepy and competent at his job. Very similar to Owen Burnett from Gargoyles or James Wesley from Netflix’s Daredevil.

Hein adds class to the Howard Connection with his tendency to adjust his gloves and glasses after casually dismantling his enemies. By default, he’s one of the better new characters, but there are also hints that there’s something more to him that makes him a wild card. Billy, Mature, and even one of the game’s special endings hint that Hein isn’t all that he seems.


First appearance: KOF00

Ramon’s acrobatics keep the opposing player guessing and his grappling links keep them frustrated. He shows that just because the fighter is a wrestler doesn’t mean he has to be 10-feet-tall and bursting with muscles. He has the enthusiasm and showmanship you’d expect from a tecnico high-flyer, and you don’t have to worry about him constantly talking about being a bad chef like a certain other fighting game luchador.

As a wrestling fan, I do have to question Ramon’s choice of attacks. Outside of the DDT, a lot of his moves are transitional stuff that warm-up the match like armdrags, snapmares, and drop toe holds. His level 3 super is a facebuster and people kick out of that all the time.

Ramon adds personality to whatever group he teams up with, and considering King of Fighters XIV’s Team Mexico is already brimming with personality, I hope we see those three stick together for a long, long time.


First appearance: KOF00

I really can’t believe it took them seven games before they decided to introduce an ice character. Usually, I can’t stand cute kid characters in fighting games, but Kula is the exception. She fits a role as the Anti-K’ and has enough pathos (oh man, her King of Fighters 2000 ending…) for her upbeat nature to really mean something.

Not only is she the opposite of K’ in the sense that she has ice powers, but she deals with who she is, what she is, what she’s done, and what’s been done to her by living life to the fullest and taking in the joys of the world instead of being pissy and cynical. Though created to combat K’, she becomes something more constructive and simply centers him by being his loving opposite.

34. GATO

First appearance: Garou: Mark of the WolvesFirst KOF appearance: KOF03

Gato is what we wrestling fans call a tweener. He’s not quite good and he’s not quite evil. He walks the line like a total neck-snapping badass. A total neck-snapping badass who likes to show off his gnarly back scars after winning fights.

It’s Gato’s independence that makes him stand out in a game series about teamwork. In his first series appearance, he’s on a team of criminals and abandons them in the end. In his second appearance, he’s on a team of good guys and abandons them as well. Even when it comes to his sister, Gato wants nothing to do with her, but will fight for her safety at the drop of a hat.

We need more of this guy.


First appearance: KOF99

I have to hand it to SNK on this one. They showed restraint. They introduced a character who had himself operated on and turned into a cyborg and went exactly as far as they needed to go. He may be filled with gizmos and lasers and scanning equipment, but Maxima comes off as more man than mech.

While not exactly carefree, he hits that role by default by hanging out with K’ all the time. His grounded levity makes for a good support system for the NESTS arc’s hero and makes him endearing to the player. While K’ is moping about his uncontrollable powers and his lack of memories, Maxima is shrugging off bullets and remarking, “Playing with fire…I love this stuff!”


First appearance: Fatal Fury 2First KOF appearance: KOF96

In Fatal Fury, I love this guy. Even if they inexplicably dropped his mustache, he made the second anime a blast. Honorable, but vicious, he’s the one man that Geese is afraid of and for good reason. He’s also by far the best collection of English soundbytes in these games. The only line delivered better than, “I’ll chisel your gravestone! Sleep well!” is, “This is a showdown, Geese!”

In King of Fighters? He’s so utterly wasted. He appears in King of Fighters ’96 and hangs out in the background. Even in his team’s ending, the most he does is say his goodbyes and walk off. They made a damn dream match in King of Fighters ’98 and didn’t even add him in until years later! This is no way to treat a man who flexes so hard that his armor pops off!


First appearance: King of Fighters 2003

I’m not much of a fan of the whole Those From the Past storyline. The stable of bad guys seemed boring, and it felt like a weak retread of the Orochi Saga without many of the new developments having any punch.

Before it flew completely off the rails, we had Mukai. While there’s not much to the guy, he is still one of the better final boss fights in King of Fighters. He’s got this great design both visually and in terms of attacks. I never truly felt irritated at having to face him, even if he is as cheap as the rest.

The Those From the Past arc really peaked with this guy.


First appearance: KOF97

Shermie is another underused character. With her stylish miniskirt and memorable hairstyle that she can presumably see through, she was dead by the end of her first appearance. That’s too bad, since she had some of the best animations. The way she’d bust out rolling German suplexes, the way she’d perch up on her opponent’s shoulders, wrap her legs around them, and then spike them into the ground, and so on.

We never really got to know her, but considering the Verse plot, I’d bet on her return in King of Fighters XV.


First appearance: KOFXIV

As we’re on our fourth major King of Fighters arc and we have a new hero character in Shun’Ei, it makes sense that they would give him his own Iori-type rival in Kukri. We don’t know what Kukri’s deal is, but he’s a hateful little Nobody with a sailor’s tongue. His pre-fight dialogue with Iori does show the difference between the two, though. While Iori reacts to everyone he comes across with an irritated, “I’m going to kill you.” Kurki’s hate comes off as him knowing secrets that nobody else is privy to, but disgust him just the same. This is especially apparent when he calls Shun’Ei a bastard but won’t explain why.

Being a dude who can transform into sand and use it offensively goes well with his mysterious druid persona. It’s such an obvious elemental fighting style that it’s surprising we haven’t seen anyone like him before.

Another nice touch is that his profile is put together by people who associate with him instead of Kukri himself. Antonov, Yakov, Sylvie, and Mian offer their insight on his likes, dislikes, etc. based on spending time around his potty mouth.

Or maybe “kitty litter mouth” would be more accurate.


First appearance: KOFXIV

Shun’Ei’s journey has just begun, but I like the little douche. It helps that when they released the game’s demo, he was one of seven available characters and easily the most fun guy to play as with his fire and water giant hand constructs (video games are strange).

Unlike most other hero characters, Shun’Ei works backwards. He isn’t gradually working his way up increasing power levels. He’s already maxed out and it’s too much for him. His story is about taking his overwhelming and inexplicable set of powers and gaining the experience and inner-strength to keep them in check so they don’t destroy him and everyone he holds dear.

Promising so far, but let’s see how he is in the next game or two.


First appearance: Fatal FuryFirst KOF appearance: KOFXII

SNK and Capcom both feature plenty of wrestlers in their games, but there’s one thing SNK’s got a far better grasp on and that’s the use of the face/heel dynamic. Raiden was introduced in Fatal Fury as a take on Big Van Vader’s black mask phase. Then in Fatal Fury 2, he was reintroduced as Big Bear, where he was unmasked and looked like Vader’s updated look. The idea was that Big Bear was him after leaving the life of crime and becoming a fan-favorite.

SNK would do the same thing in 3 Count Bout to explain head-swap characters.

Raiden spent years as second to Chang, the resident big, fat guy in King of Fighters. It took Capcom’s interest in him in Capcom vs. SNK and the King of Fighters XII animation overhaul to get him a spot in the sun. The novelty of having Vader spewing mist against the likes of Kyo and Terry is always worth it, so I’m glad we got him for a couple games.


First appearance: KOF96

Despite being the prelude to the bigger villain Orochi, Goenitz appears to be the last final boss to have some real meat to him. With the exception of maybe Krizalid, all the boss characters are more about fulfilling the role of a nigh-impossible threat to monologue at the player. Goenitz is no villain of the week. He’s a piece of shit responsible for all sorts of horrors.

He’s the reason why Chizuru and Leona are emotionally broken. He’s the one who tore out Rugal’s eye, empowered him, and then ultimately led to his doom. He’s the one who put Kyo in a hospital in a defeat so devastating that Kyo had to change up his entire fighting style. Even in defeat, he appears responsible for Iori losing control and slaughtering Vice and Mature. Even if he doesn’t bring forth the end of the world, he’s still a terror of a man and needs to be put down.

All of the tragedies he’s caused are brought upon by his calm and casual nature, which translates well into his fighting style, making him one of the most punchable SNK bosses. He’s so damn smug in the way he creates tornados at a whim that after the 500th time he’s caught you while muttering, “Koko desu ka,” the vein in your forehead will be punching the screen for you.


First appearance: KOFXIV

Phew, Chang and Choi finally got away from that lunatic Kim. I’m sure their new partner will have a good head on his shoulders—what in God’s name…?

Chang and Choi’s new captain is Xanadu, who is what happens when you merge Bray Wyatt with Bray Wyatt’s weight in meth. He’s cryptic in a way where he’s off-the-wall Looney Tunes, but might have a better grasp of what’s going on in the world than anyone else. He’s dangerously insane, and his “fighting style” is just mindlessly flailing around while hallucinating and freaking out. He’s an absolute joy to see in action.

He’s a fantastic addition to the Kim Kaphwan subplot of the series because he finally gives Chang and Choi what they want…only not really. They’ve been wanting to hang out with real deal criminals since 1994 and now that they get the chance to, they realize that maybe they’ve bitten off more than they can chew.

24. K DASH

First appearance: KOF99

For a while, I hated K’. He felt like Kyo merged with Poochie. Trying too hard. Over time, I learned to enjoy him and his unique fighting style with some genuinely badass animations. The throwing of the sunglasses might be a bit too much, but it did make for one great visual in his King of Fighters XIII ending.

The NESTS story didn’t exactly capture the imagination like the Orochi Saga, but K’’s part of it is good. It’s your usual antihero motions, but the perpetually angsty loner saves the day and finds a family to reluctantly care about.

Then there’s the meta story, which is where he really shines. See, K’ was supposed to replace Kyo and Iori upon introduction. Their stories were over, so they weren’t going to be in any more games. Then SNK realized that wouldn’t fly and figured out how to integrate them into the NESTS arc. Similarly, once NESTS is out, K’’s story should be over. He should be living his new life with Maxima, Kula, and possibly Whip. But he keeps getting pulled back in because the story and status quo call for it and it drives him batty. He’s an aimless hero who has no stake in what’s happening around him, but he’s there anyway.


First appearance: KOF03

Ash Crimson is basically Loki. That about sums him up. He’s punchable, egotistical, tricks everyone, keeps people guessing, and associates with an angry, blond guy who likes to hit everything. Ash is a good protagonist for screwing with expectations. Through his first appearances, he undermines and messes with his teammates, the series’ all-star trio, and even his closest friend.

Ash comes off as a Mary Sue character, and unlike most video game heroes, we’re supposed to hate him. We’re supposed to be mad when he continues to clown Kyo and Iori. We’re supposed to root against his behavior. And in the end, we’re rewarded because even if he does turn good and saves the world from his evil ancestors, he does it in a way that makes everyone forget about how tough and cool and smart and unbeatable he is.

Then this inadvertently causes the plot of King of Fighters XIV to happen because time paradoxes are a pain in the ass.


First appearance: KOF94

The entire Kim/Chang/Choi storyline is already an entertaining thread going through all the different games, and they’re a solid team, but when you think about it, it’s such a compelling dynamic. This self-imposed judge and jury adopts/kidnaps two criminals for the sake of training them against their will to be better warriors and, in turn, better people. Year after year, the two try to get away and constantly screw up, getting their punishment. It’s a unique concept that I’m surprised doesn’t really show up in any other kind of combat-based fiction.

But as the series keeps going forward, there are questions that arise. Who are we really meant to root for? Who is the actual bad guy? Chang and Choi admit that they’re better people, but insist that they’ll prove how bad they really are. Is this because they’re actually evil or because it’s their nature to rebel against Kim, who is actually sort of horrific?

Tiny Krueger Choi Bounge is an interesting character to follow because sometimes we’re just as confused as he is. He acts out because he’s in the middle of a mid-age crisis and he genuinely doesn’t know what he wants to be. After years and years, he finally gets to be free of Kim and hang out with a genuine villain and he’s left with the realization, “Did I make a huge mistake, buddy boy?”


First appearance: KOFXI

If anyone was hurt from the graphical jump between King of Fighters XI and King of Fighters XII, it’s Oswald. Brought in to round out the team of Ash and Shen Woo, the middle-aged mob enforcer kicked so much ass in his lone appearance. Not only was his fighting style – based on using playing cards as weapons – unique to the game, but it all looked so damn good! All of his movements were so incredibly animated and show off how good the SNK crew was at this.

He just might be the most underused fighter in the franchise.

Then again…

20. HEAVY D!

First appearance: KOF94

I get the backlash against Brian Battler and to a lesser extent Lucky Glauber. I do. They are silly and come off as dopey jobbers in a world of serious high school students with magic powers. It’s just a crying shame that they have to drag Heavy D! down with them. Outside of perhaps Dudley from Street Fighter, Heavy is legitimately my favorite boxer design in fighting games.

Part of it comes from what separates him from his partners. Heavy doesn’t need to dress up in baggy shorts and put on boxing gloves. He proves he’s an expert boxer by simply being good at it. So instead of being a goofy caricature, he’s just this mohawked bare-knuckle brawler with the sweetest eagle tattoo on his back. It really sucks that he’s been tossed to the wayside.


First appearance: KOF03

The thing that annoys me the most about the whole King of Fighters series is how they dropped the ball with Adelheid. As of King of Fighters 2003, they had a great twist. The Kyo-like protagonist was actually a bad guy, while one of the final bosses, the son of the series’ original villain, is actually a good guy.

While his sister Rose inherited their father’s viciousness, Adelheid has Rugal’s fighting skill. Although he wants to continue his father’s legacy as an arms dealer, he’s at least an honorable and respectful man. What you get is a younger and faster version of Rugal that you can root for, especially when his sister is used as a puppet by the bad guys.

Only SNK never got around to finishing his new sprites for King of Fighters XIII. While everyone else got to fight Saiki and Ash saved the day, Adelheid was stuck slumming it with Heidern in the cutscenes and reminding us of how great it would be if Rugal Jr. got to step up and be the hero.


First appearance: Fatal FuryFirst KOF appearance: KOF94

In a way, Joe reminds me of Deadpool. On the surface, he’s a joke character whose big mouth attracts the anger and violence of anyone he goes up against. Under that, he’s genuinely skilled and successful. He is, after all, the world’s leading Muay Thai kickboxer with no signs of stopping. Under that, he’s empty and unfulfilled.

Joe watches as his best friends have relationships with women that they arguably take for granted while he’s left with nobody. The only woman he’s got any spark with is unfortunately the sister of one of his greatest enemies. He talks a big game and owns up to it, but it’s secretly never enough. He’ll always be alone and isolated no matter how much he brags about his fighting skill, or how many championships he defends, or how many fighting game articles for Den of Geek he writes, or—I MEAN, UM

He uppercuts so hard that tornados happen! That’s good! Let’s move on!


First appearance: Fatal Fury 2First KOF appearance: KOF94

She may be Bewbs: The Character, but Mai’s optimistic spirit helps balance her into a fun character who is always a blast to play as. At least she owns up to her bouncing upstairs and bouncing downstairs by showing pride and acting like it’s an intentional part of her battle strategy. It’s been over twenty years, and we still don’t know why Cammy White is in constant need of having her unitard buried in her crack.

Mai constantly stalks and hounds Andy, which I guess is acceptable since at the end of the day, he digs her too and is too much of a stuffed shirt to admit it. Mai is commendable for at least wanting more and refusing to be Andy’s ignored side-piece as he goes on adventures with his brother and friend. In her eyes, they’re equals and she deserves to be his partner. At least more than Joe. The Women Fighters Team is ultimately her way of showing him up and teaching him a lesson.


First appearance: KOF94First fighting appearance: KOF96

Vice and Mature are the X-factor of King of Fighters, always keeping you guessing. Introduced as Rugal’s secretaries over the first two games, they don’t become actual characters until King of Fighters ’96 as Iori’s accomplices. They turn out to be spies for the Orochi faction with the added twist that Iori was well aware of it. They intended to use him, but he used them instead, and – judging from their pre-boss fight dialogue in that game – probably got at least one three-way out of the deal.

Then they got slashed to bits by Riot of the Blood Iori. They died and it seemed like they took out two promising characters before they could hit their stride.

They returned in King of Fighters XIII, which was surprising, since up until recently, SNK was fairly good about the “dead means dead” policy. They’re ghosts now, existing in the land of the living. Not only does their return raise questions, but so do their motivations. They’ve acted as mystical agents for Iori, but why? They don’t seem to want to unleash Orochi anymore, as they had the opportunity. Is it affection for Iori? Are they planning on stabbing him in the back? Or is there a bigger picture?

15. VICE

First appearance: KOF95First fighting appearance: KOF96

So with that said, that leaves the question of which Orochi secretary is better. I have to go with Vice on this one. Mature’s super-sharp Sharon Stone is dandy, but Vice is the one whose personality truly stands out. She’s snake-like and psychotic, making her moveset shine through.

Then there’s the whole eye-patch thing. Mature has an eye-patch in King of Fighters XIII. She no longer has it in King of Fighters XIV. I’m not sure which confuses me more: that a ghost can have an eye injury or that a ghost can heal from an eye injury. Vice is free from those mind-bending complications.

But for real, was it just a fashion thing? Can ghosts get pink eye?

One thing’s for certain about both. Slamming someone so hard that a skull made of energy explodes from the ground or wall is the sweetest shit ever.


First appearance: Garou: Mark of the WolvesFirst KOF appearance: KOF03

Tizoc started as just another cool design in Garou, a game filled with cool designs. While he looked rad and did some ridiculous superhero wrestling moves, it became apparent when he was adopted into King of Fighters that there wasn’t enough to him. He was yet another Mexican luchador wrestling for the orphans of the world. That cliche’s been done to death.

Suddenly, King of Fighters XIV propelled him into being amazing. After losing a match against Nelson, Tizoc lost his goddamn mind and turned heel for the sake of getting revenge. Instead of a stoic griffon, he became a maniacal tyrannosaurus. Because of course he did.

King of Dinosaurs adds to Tizoc in every way. He looks better (and is the best-looking fighter in the game), his moves get an extra shot in the arm, and his personality has gone into overdrive. From his angry response at Terry casually calling him “Tizoc” to his bewildering inner-monologue during his team’s ending, King of Dinosaurs is the best change of wrestler gimmick since the Ringmaster decided to start drinking beers and flipping people off.


First appearance: Art of FightingFirst KOF appearance: KOF94

In the early days of King of Fighters, Takuma was just a generic karate master. He’d yell at Ryo and Robert to train more while looking like John Saxon. It seemed like he had peaked, since the first Art of Fighting game featured him as Mr. Karate, a martial arts Darth Vader driven by blackmail and riddled with guilt. Once he got past that and reunited with his family, he became somewhat bland.

Then the SNK folks hit a double-whammy. First, they made him out to be kind of a senile joke. He’d go back to wearing his Mr. Karate mask and would act like his own family couldn’t tell the difference. After a couple years of this, they decided that despite being a bit off in the head, Takuma is still a raging badass.

In King of Fighters ’99, the enemy headquarters collapses onto him, exactly like it did to kill Krizalid. After the credits play over Ryo, Robert, and Yuri paying their respects and showing their grief, Takuma simply wakes up and punches through the rubble. A year later, he saves King from a city-destroying satellite laser by blasting it with his own chi.

This moment of badassery is immediately tripped up by Takuma openly admitting that he’s committed to the idea of King having Ryo’s babies, even though Ryo and King have yet to admit their mutual feelings towards each other. Takuma basically treats them like two dolls that he slams together while making kissy noises.

Regardless, he may be old and goofy, but he’s still SNK’s chosen rival for Shin Akuma. Don’t mess with Takuma.

12. KING

First appearance: Art of FightingFirst KOF appearance: KOF94

King is a pre-existing fighter who owes a lot to the King of Fighters format rehabilitating her image and making her downright awesome. King is the first woman fighter in SNK history, but it wasn’t exactly the proudest debut. In Art of Fighting, King’s basic theme was shame. She dressed up as a man because she was ashamed of her gender. She got her shirt torn off, exposing her bra. She tearfully gave information to Ryo while clutching her chest. It wasn’t the best look.

With King of Fighters, she ended up forming a team alongside two women who were ultimately the odd-women-out of their circles. Mai wasn’t brought in with the Fatal Fury crew and Yuri was the expendable Art of Fighting character, so the three decided, “Screw it! We’ll start our own fighting team! With blackjack and—“ Whoa! Almost got accidentally problematic there.

Anyway, King is the captain of the Women Fighters Team, which has persevered over the decades. She’s gone against her unfortunate introduction and has become proud of being a woman while becoming a leader for other ladies. Sure, her shirt gets torn up from time to time, but she always shows off this cold confidence that’s made her one of the series’ most classic characters.


First appearance: Fatal FuryFirst KOF appearance: KOF95

Billy Kane is conflicting. I’m never sure how to feel about him. As Geese Howard’s right-hand man, he’s evil for the right reasons. He’s not an outright monster, but more of a loyal man with no moral compass. The only people that matter to him are his sister and his boss, who has only shown him pure respect and support. The fact that his boss is a murderous megalomaniac does absolutely nothing to make him budge. He won’t save the city from Geese and he will never, ever try to usurp him.

Does that make you want to admire him or pity him? Does his loyalty make him commendable or is it frustrating?

Billy’s unique play style and grounded personality always make him welcome whenever he appears in the series. The big drawback is that up until King of Fighters XIV, Billy being around meant that he was simply an agent of Geese, doing his dirty work for him. He was a reminder that they totally could have put Geese in the game and didn’t.


First appearance: TNK IIIFirst KOF appearance: KOF94

What began as a Rambo knockoff became the Patron Saint of Punching People so Hard They Explode, and I love him for it. Ralf is a short-fused mercenary with a heart of gold, who somehow finds the right balance between his childish loud-mouthery and his sense of responsibility as a colonel out to save the world and look after his comrades. That’s great and all, but that’s nothing compared to the pure joy that is playing as Ralf in just about any King of Fighters game.

All of his moves are totally sweet and nothing tops his Galactica Phantom. It’s a nigh-unstoppable, highly-damaging dashing haymaker laced with napalm. What’s not to love? While I’m not too crazy about Maximum Impact’s English dialogue, I’ll let it slide for hearing Ralf declare, “Galactica Phantom! A real man’s punch!”

He’s right. He’s totally right. Ralf Jones claims he can survive nukes and damn it, I believe him.


First appearance: KOF14

The cliché that comes to mind when I first got to see what Antonov’s all about was, “Where have you been all my life?!” He’s incredibly funny, cartoonishly manly, and most important of all, a KOF host who doesn’t fall into the trope of being a megalomaniac. He doesn’t want to rule the world. He’s not using everyone as gears in some big, secret plot. He just wants to defend his championship belt and get gigantic ratings for it. And watch some Old Yeller pastiche movies on the side.

Then he nearly sacrifices his life to save that child from Verse, while showing humility, making him my dude.


First appearance: KOF96

Despite all the plots for world destruction and world domination, the most evil act in the series is Goenitz creating Leona. He compelled an innocent child to murder her family and village against her will and allowed her to live with the act for the rest of her life. That is so incredibly messed up.

The great irony is that Leona is able to pull herself together and power through her blood-soaked trauma because she has a supporting adopted family…of grizzled soldiers. She deals with being a forced mass-murderer by cutting through opponents and shoving bombs in them and at the end of the day, seeing her comrades at each other’s throats makes her laugh.

Despite her tendency to hold back her emotions, Leona is essentially the heart of the Ikari Warriors.


First appearance: KOF94

I love this big lug. I love crushing my tiny opponents with a giant ball and chain. I love grabbing them and slamming them around like Chang is trying to put out a fire. I love how he tries to do Kim’s flipping kick, but can’t quite pull it off and instead lands on his back. Chang is the best big man of SNK, nay, fighting games in general.

I’m a huge fan of redemption storylines, and that’s what Chang perpetually is. He appears to be the nicer one compared to Choi, and you can’t help but want to see him embrace that. Hit that potential. Be the good guy. Prove Kim right to the point that even Kim can see Chang’s gone legit with no signs of lying.

The whole Xanadu twist and the fall from grace finally brings it all to a head because it tests what Chang is all about. Does he want to escape Kim because he’s actually a bad person or because he wants to be able to think for himself? If you look at Kim’s special intros with his students in King of Fighters XIV, Choi cowers at the sight of him, but Chang is able to awkwardly stand up for himself and point out, “What you do is wrong and I have the right to freedom, even if it means screwing up!”


First appearance: KOF94

The first time you see Rugal Bernstein, he more or less tells you, “Hello, I murdered Guile from Street Fighter and encased his corpse in carbonite. How are you today?” He’s as vile as you can get, but so suave and charismatic that you can’t hate him for it no matter how many Genocide Cutters you jump into.

…and it’s a lot…

SNK boss impossibility aside, Rugal is such a cool villain. He’s what M. Bison wishes he could be. He’s the guy who Capcom handpicked as the threat capable of killing Akuma and holding the dead body up like a carnival prize, only to throw it away like garbage. Then he proves that as great as Akuma is, his power is better wielded by a megalomaniac with the gift of style and swagger.

One of the great things about Rugal is that he didn’t wear out his welcome. Two games into the series, he died. Sure, he showed up in some dream match games, but he stayed dead. Plus he died because of his own hubris, which is classic villainy.

I spent many sleepless nights trying to figure out whether I liked Rugal more or less than Geese, but in the end, the fact remains: Geese was never played by Ray Park in a terrible live-action movie.


First appearance: Fatal FuryFirst KOF appearance: KOF96

Speaking of movies, it’s a crying shame that we never got Dolph Lundgren as a live-action Geese Howard. That would have owned.

Geese works on so many levels. There’s the ironic, over-the-top nature of him that you can’t help but love. For instance, HIS NAME IS GEESE. Geese Howard. That is his name. He’s one of the most powerful, richest, sinister men on Earth and his name is Geese. Why did his parents name him that? Is this a “Boy Named Sue” situation where instead of everyone laughing, his dad wanted everyone to scratch their heads in confusion and ask, “Is your name really Geese? Why? Is this some kind of ‘Boy Named Sue’ situation where–”

There’s also his delightful broken English. “You cannot escape from death,” is tensely delivered, while at the same time making people laugh at how ridiculous it sounds.

He’s inherently badass, even if his pants make him look like he’s wearing a giant dress. His counters make him seem as untouchable as he is as a criminal mastermind, not to mention his kickass Reppukens and Raging Storm. The guy was the total highlight of Fatal Fury: The Motion Picture, and he was only there for maybe thirty seconds.

What separates Geese from all the other bad guys in fighting games is that, even though he is an outright bastard, he still doesn’t act like that to everyone for the sake of being an outright bastard. He treats his subordinates – especially Billy – with respect because he knows the value of that. Even if Ryo, Andy, and Terry have tried to kill him and bring him to justice, Geese still respects them for their power and tenacity. He couldn’t care less about their morals, but the idea of crossing fists with the Bogards amuses Geese.


First appearance: KOF95

Iori was introduced as Kyo’s rival with the intent to kill him for reasons never explicitly explained. That meant we were to be treated to a million video game endings that end with Kyo and Iori about to throwdown with no actual winner revealed, which is strange, since it’s always intended to be a fight to the death.

I always liked playing as Iori, and his moveset perfectly mixed the joy of slicing people up with your hands and making people combust with purple flames. The guy’s fighting style has always made him out to be this hateful sadist who is delightful to control.

Over time, I realized that Iori is not only way cooler than Kyo, but he’s a way better hero. Iori may be spiteful and introverted, but he represents sacrifice. Iori would absolutely love to take down Kyo for good (although his dialogue with Tung Fu Rue in the latest game questions that). Fighting Kyo is all he lives for.

Yet at the same time, he isn’t selfish enough to be a nihilist over it. Even when turned into a mindless beast and transformed into his Riot of the Blood form, he still has the willpower to forego slashing Kyo to ribbons so he can focus his rage on Orochi. In King of Fighters XIII, he gives up the chance to live a full life so that he can get his life-shortening powers back and challenge Kyo again. Even STILL, the ending to King of Fighters XIV shows that he’s had visions of Orochi trying to return once again and holds his desires in check so that he, Kyo, and Chizuru can save the world once again. This is from a guy whose running theme in his endings is that he doesn’t play well with others.

Though it has to be said: sacrificing his lifespan for power is a moot point when nobody in the series ages to begin with.


First appearance: Fatal FuryFirst KOF appearance: KOF94

I’ve mentioned how Ryo Sakazaki is a cross between Ryu and Ken, but Terry is a better take on that concept. He’s the best of both worlds in terms of what makes Ryu and Ken work. He has Ryu’s wandering hobo nature and desire to meet and fight the best fighters in the world. He also has Ken’s outgoing personality and people skills. While Ryo is a worse character than both Ryu and Ken, I feel that Terry is better than both of them.

He doesn’t even need Ryu’s “inner darkness” plot to drive him. Terry is given his own moral battle in the Fatal Fury games and his victory is more meaningful. Geese Howard killed Terry’s dad and when given the chance, Terry chose NOT to kill him. When Geese defiantly committed suicide, Terry continued to break the circle of violence by raising Geese’s son as his own and giving him a better life.

All that, and much like Ralf, his fighting style centers around exploding punches. To this day, I don’t get the logistics of how the Buster Wolf is supposed to work, but I love it to death anyway because it’s the most over-the-top amazing super attack in fighting games. Sorry, Raging Demon.

Here’s to you, Terry Bogard. You’re like anime John Cena, only you’re better at putting over the younger stars.


First appearance: Fatal Fury 2First KOF appearance: KOF94

It’s crazy when you look at it. Despite being a supporting character in Fatal Fury with what amounts to generic martial arts attire, Kim has more spinoff characters than basically everyone in the SNK multiverse. Chang, Choi, Jhun, May Lee, Jae Hoon, Dong Hwan, Gang-Il, Luong, what’s-her-name from Maximum Impact… Hell, he even has a justice-loving descendant in Kizuna Encounter. He deserves it, since Kim is such a wonderful character who constantly walks the line between Adam West Batman and that “MY PARENTS ARE DEAD!” Batman webcomic.

On paper, he seems so wholesome. He loves justice. He’s a devout family man. He takes great pride in his fighting style and shows dedication. It’s when Chang and Choi are brought into the picture that you really get to see what kind of man Kim is and it isn’t pretty. He means well, but he isn’t well. He wants what’s best, but is bad at taking criticism, so it’s made him humorously twisted. There’s a real “who watches the watchmen?” deal with his actions because what right does he even have to pipe up about justice when his everyday activity is holding two men against their will and abusing them?

The last several King of Fighters games have taken the starch out of Kim by dumping on him relentlessly, which goes great with how much of a control freak he’s been up to this point. He’s been abandoned by his friends, bamboozled by his partners, and then stuck with people who force him into being the lower-status member of the team.

In the end, maybe he’s the one who needs to be rehabilitated.


First appearance: Fatal Fury 3First KOF appearance: KOF97

If Vinnie Jones snorted a LOT of coke, you would have Ryuji Yamazaki.

Such a fantastic design. He’s a sadistic and charismatic piece of mob muscle who routinely acts calm and professional as a thin mask over his psychotic, violent streak. He isn’t a trained martial artist by any means, but gets by through dirty brawling and an incredible tolerance for pain. His main forms of attack are stabbing, stomping, and using his arm as a whip.

But more than anyone else, I feel that Yamazaki fulfills the promise of what King of Fighters is all about. He’s an outsider, just like Terry, Ryo, Athena, Ralf, and so on. He’s from Fatal Fury, but he isn’t just tacked on. The others are crossover characters meant to interact with Kyo’s story. Yamazaki is Kyo’s story. He’s revealed to be part of the Orochi bloodline, which explains his outbursts and sadistic behavior.

That makes Yamazaki just as much a King of Fighters character as he is a Fatal Fury one. It’s how it should be.

Agree? Disagree? Should Kasumi Todoh have been in the top 10? Did I overdo it on Fatal Fury cast love? Is this the end of lovable Igniz? Sound off in the comments below!

Gavin Jasper turned to dust after finishing this article. Honor his memory by following him on Twitter.