Mortal Kombat X is finally here, and it’s getting rave reviews all across the web. The game features arguably one of the strongest stories ever crafted for the franchise, with some classic characters now fighting alongside their grown children in a story mode that is dripping in nostalgia.
With that said, it feels like this is as good as a time as any to take stock of some of the names that have kept us coming back to Mortal Kombat for 23 years and counting. With 10 games in the main line, as well as a number of spin-offs, there is certainly no shortage of fighters to pick from. But here, to the best of our ability, are the 10 most iconic characters in Mortal Kombat history.
(It’s a given there will be some disagreement with this list among readers, but that’s why the Elder Gods created the comment section.)
10. Shang Tsung
Shao Kahn is widely viewed as the main villain in Mortal Kombat history, and that’s mostly true. But the original final boss of Mortal Kombat has arguably had just as big of an impact on the franchise.
Shang Tsung’s ability to turn into any other fighter during the final fight in the first Mortal Kombat gave players fits. But it was when he returned as a younger, playable character in Mortal Kombat II that he really took on icon status. His shape-shifting has frequently made him one of the most versatile characters in every game he’s appeared. He’s also played a large role in the plot of the franchise for most of the last two decades, perhaps most memorably when he teamed up with Quan Chi in Deadly Alliance.
9. Sonya Blade
Sonya was the only female character in the original Mortal Kombat, and with all due respect to Kitana, Jade, and Mileena, is still the most recognizable female character in franchise history today. She’s played a large role in various ongoing storylines, and is one-half of the reason Cassie Cage exists today. The Special Forces crew has expanded greatly over the last two decades, but it was Sonya that started it all.
Sonya’s sometimes barely-there attire and even her first Fatality, the Kiss of Death, served their purpose in the early games of getting young teenage boys all worked up, but the franchise has done a good job over the years of developing her story and making her more than just a pretty face.
In the first Mortal Kombat, Raiden was just another contestant, and in fact, if he won the title, it led to the end of the world. But starting with Mortal Kombat II, Raiden has been Earth Realm’s greatest protector. He’s arguably served the largest role in advancing the story over the last two decades next to only Shang Tsung. The ability to play as a god, and one that can shoot lightning out of his hands at that, has always made Raiden one of the most fun characters to pick on the roster screen. The ability to repeatedly fly across the screen into an opponent has also been one of the most satisfying (and to them, annoying) moves in the game.
Shang Tsung might have any amount of sorcery and souls at his disposal, but players knew that as long as the Thunder God was on their side, there was no evil that could not be vanquished.
Smoke first gained fame as one of the hidden battles in Mortal Kombat II, but came into his own as a playable character in later games. Midway and now NetherRealm Studios has never been able to nail down a clear identity for this character, changing him into a cyborg and then back to human again across the various titles.
Smoke is perhaps best remembered for his ridiculous combo as a cyborg. He could teleport and upper cut and follow that up with a roundhouse that would set the opponent up for another teleport.
6. Noob Saibot
This character was named after Mortal Kombat creators Ed Boon and John Tobias. (Just spell their last names backwards.) He was a special hidden character in Mortal Kombat II, and his move list was as infuriating then as it was in later games when he became playable. He had the special ability to disable the other player’s special moves and could even prevent them from blocking.
But it was his all black costume – yes, yet another palette-swapped character – that made him so bad-ass. Saibot also was given a key storyline in later games, with the writers claiming that he is the resurrected version of the original Sub-Zero, who was killed in the first game.
As the first hidden character in Mortal Kombat history, Reptile is certainly iconic. The only way to fight him at the bottom of the Pit was to get two flawless victories in a row and also pull off a Fatality.
Reptile’s look has changed a bit over the years; his original appearance saw him simply looking like a green version of Sub-Zero or Scorpion. But as the franchise has progressed, the artists have given Reptile some, well, reptile-looking features that have made him a favorite playable character of many.
Mortal Kombat has a reputation for introducing a big, bad sub-boss in just about every game, and it all started with Goro. Fighting the monster with four arms in the original game was arguably more difficult than defeating Shang Tsung, and every huge sub-boss that comes after him has Goro to thank for the inspiration.
There’s a reason NetherRealm picked Goro as a pre-order bonus for Mortal Kombat X; he’s simply one of the most iconic and popular MK characters of all-time.
3. Liu Kang
The canon for Mortal Kombat says that Liu Kang won the first tournament, and he would go on to essentially be the main protagonist (and also victorious) in the next three games as well. The franchise creators have shaken things up in later years, actually killing him off and turning him into a zombie fighter, but among long-time fans, Liu Kang is the most well-known “good guy” next to only Raiden.
There’s a reason the publisher keeps putting Sub-Zero and Scorpion at the forefront of advertising for just about every recent Mortal Kombat game. Sub-Zero’s ability to freeze opponents has always been one of the most popular moves in franchise history.
But Sub-Zero also features one of the more unique storylines in the series. As mentioned earlier, the story goes that the original Sub-Zero in the first game was actually killed and came back to life as Noob Saibot. His younger brother took up the mantle to seek revenge and is the character that most players are familiar with today.
GET OVER HERE! Scorpion’s classic spear-rope is perhaps the only move that was spammed as often as Sub-Zero’s freeze ball at the arcades back in the day. People loved both Sub-Zero and Scorpion, but the fact that Scorpion was a bad-ass who came back from hell to avenge his death at the hands of Sub-Zero gave him a slight edge in popularity in the early days.
The developers smartly came up with a story that pitted Sub-Zero and Scorpion against each other, and to this day, there are Sub-Zero fans who can’t stand Scorpion, and vice versa. But whether your flag flies blue or yellow, there’s no question that both Sub-Zero and Scorpion are the two most iconic characters in MK history.
Did this list omit a favorite fighter? Give us your own top 10 in the comments. If you liked this list, check out our ranking of the main Mortal Kombat games in the series leading up to Mortal Kombat X.
Mortal Kombat X is out now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, iOS and Android. It will release for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 this summer.