Mortal Kombat: Ranking All the Characters


Presenting, the definitive ranking of Mortal Kombat characters! I’m counting everyone, with only a few exceptions. Here are the criteria…

– It has to be an actual Mortal Kombat character and not a guest fighter. That means no Freddy Krueger, Kratos, Jason, Predator, or anyone from the DC Universe.

– Dark Kahn doesn’t count for the same reason.

– It has to be someone who was playable in the one-on-one games. I’m not going to get into boss characters from, say, Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero or Mortal Kombat: Special Forces if that’s all they’ve appeared in.

– I’m lumping alternate versions of characters together. No reason to split Human Smoke and Robot Smoke.

– Similarly, I’m not counting Tri-Borg as being a single character. He’s more of a Voltron of existing characters.

Also, I’m ranking these based on style, storyline, and personal preference. Not over who has the better infinite combos and all that jazz. Just be warned: there will be spoilers!

You can watch a video breakdown of our top 5 right here, but keep scrolling for details on all 73 (!) Mortal Kombat characters!

Let’s get it started with the worst of the worst.

73. REIKO

First appearance: Mortal Kombat 4

It’s one thing to be lame. It’s another to be built up as something exciting, only to be anything but. Reiko was introduced in Mortal Kombat 4 as Shinnok’s general. In actuality, he was just a reworked Noob Saibot given a different design in order to have more original characters in the game. In the arcade and Nintendo 64 versions of the game, his ending would simply show him running into a portal. That was it. How mysterious.

Then in the PlayStation and Dreamcast versions of the game, we got to see the full ending. He went into the portal where he then put on Shao Kahn’s helmet. OH SNAP! Reiko is Shao Kahn?! I mean, it doesn’t make a lick of sense, but that’s still a big deal! Then Midway swept it under the rug and said he wasn’t Kahn. He was just wearing the mask. Um…good for him.

Reiko is like opening the biggest gift at Christmas only to see you got a pair of used socks.

Reiko appears as a major villain in the Mortal Kombat X prequel comic, where they build him up as a threat, only to have him die a humiliating death and show Havik as the true main villain. In the game’s story mode, Earthrealm and Outworld start out in decent relations due to the “Reiko Accords.” It’s probably a treaty based on them coming together in agreement that Reiko is the worst.

72. HSU HAO

First appearance: Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance

The bulky Hsu Hao was created for two reasons: 1) They came up with the Red Dragon organization as a rival to the Black Dragon, and Midway needed Red Dragon to catch up. Just having Mavado wasn’t enough, so they came up with another, lesser member of the group. 2) Since Kano’s laser eye was so cool, they figured it was worth expanding on with other body parts. Hsu Hao was given a laser heart.

In Mortal Kombat X, Kano has the same laser heart. Hao is completely redundant and is ultimately forgettable. Makes sense that they killed him off immediately in the Mortal Kombat X comic.

71. CHAMELEON

First appearance: Mortal Kombat Trilogy (PlayStation)

In a time when Midway was abusing the hell out of their color scheme ninja party, they introduced Chameleon, a male ninja who constantly changed colors and move sets.

Unlike his female ninja counterpart from the Nintendo 64 version, Khameleon, Chameleon didn’t have anything resembling a storyline. This wasn’t until appearing in Armageddon (which he originally wasn’t going to until fans got on Midway’s case), where he got the most generic ending/explanation ever.

70. MEAT

First appearance: Mortal Kombat 4

Meat was one of the lamer concepts for a hidden character. He was just a bloody skeleton model used as an unlockable player skin. No moves or gestures of his own. Just a costume.

With Armageddon, they gave him some backstory. Meat is an escaped experiment created by Shang Tsung with no sense of identity. So yeah, he’s just a gross, bloody dude.

69. JAREK

First appearance: Mortal Kombat 4

Rather than use Kano in Mortal Kombat 4, they just grafted his entire move set onto a really ordinary-looking stand-in named Jarek. Jarek was the last remnant of the Black Dragon organization, who, unlike Kano, sided with Earthrealm against invading forces. Other than Kano’s moves, Jarek lacked anything interesting that Kano brought to the table.

He was a major part in the most hilariously bad Mortal Kombat ending, though, but more on that later.

68. TANYA

First appearance: Mortal Kombat 4

Yet another Mortal Kombat 4 character who was just an example of, “Eh, we need more new characters. Let’s just alter an existing one.” Tanya was different enough from Kitana that that wasn’t a problem, but since then, she’s been a one-dimensional villain whose only quality is betrayal. They never came up with anything interesting for her to do.

Tanya is in Mortal Kombat X as DLC, which sticks out as a sore thumb among two popular guest characters and an obscure name that fans have been wanting to see more of. Seriously, who was excited at all about that part of the announcement?

Tanya does show up in story mode, but still brings nothing interesting to the table.

67. DAIROU

First appearance: Mortal Kombat: Deception

Chances are your response to this is less, “How dare you rank Dairou so low!” and more, “Wait, who the hell is Dairou again?” This bland-looking mercenary is part of the whole Chaosrealm vs. Orderrealm subplot in Mortal Kombat: Deception that didn’t go anywhere. Dairou came from the realm of Seido, where order rules all, and was a prison guard. He found out a prisoner killed his family and went against the rules by exacting revenge. Since then, he became an outlaw with no regard for what Seido represents.

Not the worst backstory, but nothing was really done with it. He was just a pawn for Darrius (who in actuality killed Dairou’s family and pinned the blame in order to twist him in the right direction), and he looks so unbelievably generic. Give him a mask or spikes or a fannypack or something!

66. LI MEI

First appearance: Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance

Li Mei was nearly as forgettable as Dairou, only distinguished by her ridiculous outfit of a bandana and underwear. Li Mei was a villager enslaved by Shang Tsung and Quan-Chi who was used as a guinea pig by having her soul shoved into an undead soldier’s husk of a body. That was undone, but it ultimately corrupted her by the next game.

So at least her betrayal was more organic than Tanya’s every waking moment. Still, she’s hard to care about and her cameo in the new game is completely forgettable.

65. SHUJINKO

First appearance: Mortal Kombat: Deception

God, I hate Shujinko.

On the surface, the gimmick of an old man who could do the attacks of much of the cast due to years of wanderlust and training is pretty cool. Unfortunately, they explained this through Deception’s Konquest Mode, which proceeded to depict our main hero as one of the most gullible, susceptible dumbasses in video games. No matter what someone told him to do, including villains, he would blindly do it without a second thought.

Not only did he unleash the Dragon King onto the realms through decades of questing without questioning, but then he stepped on Scorpion’s toes. This game touted Scorpion as the new marquee hero character, only to say, “PSYCHE!” and put Shujinko in his spot. No thanks.

64. MOKAP

First appearance: Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance

Well, that joke didn’t age well. Mokap was included as a hidden character in Deadly Alliance, based on Carlos Pesina, who did the game’s motion capture.

Mokap is the guy responsible for doing the motion capture for the CGI in Johnny Cage’s movies and is constantly wearing the mocap balls on his outfit because of it. He didn’t really work well as a comedy character because the game did little to differentiate any of the characters in terms of personality, so he didn’t do anything silly outside of wear his motion capture uniform.

He’s no Dan Hibiki is what I’m saying.

Mokap did have his moments in Deception’s Konquest Mode. Not only does he walk around like a doofus, practically BEGGING you to punch him out, but at another point, if you do punch him, he’ll crouch down and yell, “OW! MY BALLS!”

RELATED ARTICLE: A Guide to the Secret Characters of Mortal Kombat

63. KHAMELEON

First appearance: Mortal Kombat Trilogy (Nintendo 64)

The female catch-all ninja may not have the variety of her male counterpart Chameleon, but at least they put some semblance of effort into her character. She had a bit of a storyline about being part of Reptile’s endangered race and is the only honest chance at bringing his people back to prosperity.

She’s still forgettable and became little more than a footnote in the franchise.

62. ASHRAH

First appearance: Mortal Kombat: Deception

Ashrah is a character with promise. A demon born in the NetherRealm, her conscience got her in trouble with Quan-Chi and while trying to escape assassins, she came across a heavenly sword that purified her soul based on how many demons she killed. Her whole thing became about ironically earning salvation through outright slaughter.

There was nothing special about her “female Raiden” design or play-style that grabbed anyone, so she faded into the background. With a new coat of paint, she might become worth revisiting in a new run of games, but otherwise…meh.

61. FUJIN

First appearance: Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero

First appearance (fighting game): Mortal Kombat 4

Fujin has a good foundation. Why should Raiden be the only heroic god fighting for humanity? Fujin is the God of Wind and has a unique enough look along with a crossbow that shoots energy blasts. That’s pretty cool. Too bad they couldn’t come up with anything for him other than Raiden’s sidekick. Mortal Kombat 4 set it up that he’d be taking Raiden’s place, but then Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance was all, “Nah.”

Even Rodimus Prime got a better deal than this guy.

60. HOTARU

First appearance: Mortal Kombat: Deception

In the battle between order and chaos, order tends to be the more boring, but Hotaru has just enough of a cool factor from his insect-like samurai armor to at least break into the top 60. Otherwise, all he really has going for him is his zealot-like behavior in following Onaga. A man who worships order sounds like he could be almost admirable, but then he goes and follows a demonic dragon man because he’ll put all of reality under his thumb and therefore create order.

But yeah, he’s still plenty vanilla once you get past that.

59. JADE

First appearance: Mortal Kombat II

Jade gets to show up in modern games because she was in Mortal Kombat II, but she doesn’t really bring anything to the table. She’s Kitana’s friend who happens to look just like Kitana, but usually more tan. The most she did was decide not to kill Kitana when Shao Kahn told her to.

Even her Armageddon ending was boring as hell. The most they could do for her was, “She wanted all evil to go away and it did. Hurray!”

Not only did they decide to just graft her trademark attacks onto Kitana in Mortal Kombat X, but the game seems to completely ignore her ever existing outside of that. All the victims of Sindel show up as Quan Chi’s undead soldiers except for Jade for some reason and I didn’t even notice until someone pointed it out well after the fact.

She gets to at least break the top 60 due to being such a rad secret character in her first showing.

58. TAVEN

First appearance: Mortal Kombat: Armageddon

As a debuting protagonist character, Taven at least had a leg up above Shujinko. I mean, Taven was another failure, but at least that wasn’t his fault. Plus Taven’s campaign led to him mainly fighting the other kombatants while Shujinko merely did whatever they asked of him like a doof.

Showing up in a game based around including every single playable Mortal Kombat character, Taven’s generic design didn’t do him any favors.

57. DRAHMIN

First appearance: Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance

Drahmin is like a collection of cool concepts that doesn’t make for much of a sum. The basic backstory is great. He was an ancient warlord in Outworld predating Shao Kahn and Onaga who died and went to Hell, where he suffered for so long that he completely lost his mind. He wears a mask that keeps his mindless rage in check. His arm is a metal club. He’s constantly covered in flies.

Put it all together and he doesn’t quite pull it off. His buddy Moloch does a lot more with less.

56. DAEGON

First appearance: Mortal Kombat: Armageddon

Daegon has the same problems as his brother Taven, but the twist in his backstory at least allows him to rank higher on the list.

Meant to team up with Taven and help defeat Blaze when necessary, Daegon woke up from his slumber years earlier and became a bit corrupt. He killed his parents and started up the Red Dragon organization, intending to kill Taven when the time was right.

A good start, but there was nothing especially magical about the character that makes me ever want to see him again.

55. BO’ RAI CHO

First appearance: Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance

It’s hard to believe that you can make a character so embarrassingly lowbrow for a game series about over-the-top murder porn, but here you go.

Bo’ Rai Cho is Liu Kang and Kung Lao’s master, retconned into the story with a pretty great explanation: he probably could have taken out Goro and Shang Tsung in the Mortal Kombat tournament back in the day, but he’s from Outworld and that would only count in their favor. The best he could do was train a worthy Earthrealm student to do the job for him.

To liven up the sage master trope, Midway decided that Bo’ Rai Cho needed to be a fat, drunk guy who farts and pukes all the time. He’s basically a Shaw Brothers Boogerman, and the gag wears thin after the third time you use his puke attack.

After Mortal Kombat X, I moved Bo’ Rai Cho up the list a bit because I rather like the loudmouth, friendly way he was portrayed in the game’s story. When he keeps his bodily fluids to himself, he grows on you.

54. KAI

First appearance: Mortal Kombat 4

Kai probably should be lower on the list, but I don’t know. I kind of like him. Maybe I’m distracted by his cool tiger stripe tattoos. Maybe it’s how his look and fighting style felt fresh in Mortal Kombat 4 because all the other new characters were completely derivative. Kai didn’t really find a worthwhile spot in Mortal Kombat lore, especially after his position as “Liu Kang’s friend” was usurped when Kung Lao was brought back in Mortal Kombat Gold.

Still, I’m ranking him over those others because of the concept art for his almost-inclusion in Deadly Alliance. Look at how badass this redesign is:

Why they didn’t go with that in Armageddon, I have no idea.

53. BLAZE

First appearance (background): Mortal Kombat II

First appearance (official): Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance

Blaze is kind of adorable for how much of a reach he is. Someone saw a tiny, burning Liu Kang in the background of Mortal Kombat II and figured, “That is most definitely a character you can fight somehow!” Then that rumor transformed into a secret character in Deadly Alliance who didn’t resemble Liu Kang at all, but was completely on fire. Then he somehow became the end-all end boss in Armageddon.

Too bad Blaze never had any actual character to him. He was always just a walking plot device.

52. KUNG JIN

First Appearance: Mortal Kombat X

I think the sly, subtle moment between Raiden and Kung Jin where they reveal that Kung Jin is gay is really sweet, well done, and very welcome. I even like the idea of him being the silver-tongued member of the new generation of heroes who sympathizes with the poor and hungry driven to thievery. It’s just that there’s nothing else to hang your hat off of after that.

In a game where they introduce so many new characters, Kung Jin is without a doubt the most boring. Look at his friends. You have the gun-toting, sassy military girl. You have the psychic ninja with barbed arm whips. You have someone with machine gun arms. Then there’s just the guy with the bow and the plain appearance.

51. NIGHTWOLF

First appearance: Mortal Kombat 3

Yeah, Nightwolf never did anything for me. He seemed to be there because throwing a Native American into your fighting game series was the in-thing to do back in the ’90s. Other than his green laser weapons, Nightwolf was the most ho-hum member of the Mortal Kombat 3 cast. He did at least get more interesting over time, earning some points for being the one to take down Sindel when she went all John Cena on a huge chunk of the cast.

That almost makes up for how lame he was on the Defenders of the Realm cartoon. Remember when he’d power up after his pet wolf jumped into his chest? What the hell was that about?

50. MOTARO

First appearance: Mortal Kombat 3

I can’t fault Midway’s logic. They did a massive, four-armed sub-boss. Then they did a better-looking version. Where else do you go other than four-legged?

Motaro added a nice wrinkle in the mythos with a rival centaur race against the Shokan race, but ironically enough, he didn’t have the legs to be more than a one-shot sub-boss. When they gave him only two legs in Armageddon because they couldn’t be bothered with programming a whole new body type, it just made him all the more laughable.

It’s no wonder Raiden killed him in the reboot with so little fanfare.

49. NITARA

First appearance: Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance

“Let’s toss in a vampire,” wasn’t the worst idea Midway had, and Nitara’s own side-story in Deadly Alliance was interesting. Coming from a realm of vampires that had been merged with Outworld, Nitara was hell-bent on separating it. While her mission is rather righteous, she’s still a dishonest trickster who uses people like pawns, and there’s the whole “surviving on the blood of others” thing that comes with being a vampire. They never did anything of interest with her after Deadly Alliance, and she was easily forgotten.

Also, I never got why she wore sleeves to go along with her leather bikini. Maybe she just has sensitive arms.

48. SKARLET

First appearance: Mortal Kombat 9

Skarlet is female Ermac in just about every way, although they never outright say that. She’s a red ninja who was originally just an unfounded rumor that later became an actual character.

As Ermac is Shao Kahn’s soldier made up of the souls of dead warriors, Skarlet is made up of their blood. While there’s something kind of lazy about having someone be “Blood: The Character,” Skarlet’s introduction is kind of badass.

Before being released as DLC, she was shown chained up in Shao Kahn’s arena. Did she do something wrong? Was she a punished hero? Nope! She’s just such a dangerous asset to Kahn that he’d rather keep her chained up with intent to let her loose only if he’s desperate.

47. JACQUI BRIGGS

First Appearance: Mortal Kombat X

Gun arms are awesome. The fact that Jacqui can choose between shotguns, machine guns, and pulse cannons is even better. She has some fun spirit to her at times and she’s fun to play as, but she doesn’t stand out nearly enough.

They’ll really need to give her something better to do in the next game, since her role in story mode is to get into generic fights meant to pad out the plot and randomly fall in love with Takeda.

46. TREMOR

First Appearance (game): Mortal Kombat: Special Forces

First Appearance (fighting game): Mortal Kombat 9

First Appearance (fighting game, fully playable): Mortal Kombat X

Tremor owes a lot to his long-running mystique. Yeah, he’s not really that great, but there’s so little of him given to us compared to how engaging an idea he is that you can’t help but ask for more. He started out as a boss in Mortal Kombat: Special Forces in 2000 and despite being the worst Mortal Kombat game of all time (not counting unfortunate ports of otherwise good games), fans had been bugging Midway/NetherRealm to put him in a proper game for a decade and a half since. Then he got a briefly playable moment in the PS Vita version of Mortal Kombat 9‘s Challenge Tower, which only made the fans more restless.

Finally, he showed up as DLC in Mortal Kombat X.

So who is Tremor? Tremor is a brown-clad Lin Kuei ninja (later redesigned to have stone flesh) who left his clan in order to join the Black Dragon for reasons never truly explained. Unlike Sub-Zero and all the other male ninjas who share the same body type, Tremor is super buff and physically imposing to the point that he’s considered to be the Black Dragon’s answer to Jax. He can even match him in causing earthquakes by punching the ground. There’s a lot of mystery to the character waiting to be unraveled.

45. SMOKE

First appearance (human): Mortal Kombat II

First appearance (cyborg): Mortal Kombat 3

Smoke is a lot like Jade, only more interesting, and I’m not talking about their secret character connection. Smoke had a similar storyline in the Mortal Kombat 3 games as Jade in that he was sent to go capture/kill his best friend and turned against it. Smoke is ranked higher because 1) he was a robot, automatically making it cooler, and 2) he went against his programming and did the whole “Remember who you are!” trope.

After that, Smoke stepped down and became a lackey for Noob Saibot, giving us the unique Noob-Smoke tag team character in Deception. I really liked his long-haired redesign in the reboot.

44. DARRIUS

First appearance: Mortal Kombat: Deception

With the Orderrealm vs. Chaosrealm storyline going on in Deception, Darrius was a nice wrinkle.

On the surface, he was a good guy. He lived in the realm of Seido and grew disgusted with the oppressive order, choosing to start a revolution. Considering how extreme guys like Hotaru are, that would normally paint Darrius as sympathetic. Instead, he’s also a complete scumbag. While he’s a self-proclaimed revolutionary, he’s done some terrible, back-handed stuff to prove his point and get followers, which could definitely use some expanding.

He immediately fell into Mortal Kombat obscurity, but I feel he’s worth revisiting down the line.

43. KOBRA

First appearance: Mortal Kombat: Deception

One character type that always shows up in Mortal Kombat games is the down-to-earth fighter. As much of a space case as Johnny Cage is, he’s the outsider that we identify with who is blown away by this ridiculous world of sorcerers and four-armed gorillas. Same deal with Stryker.

Kobra is what happens when you decide, “Wait, why do they all have to be heroes?” A martial artist who became too obsessed with brutalizing people, Kobra got recruited into the Black Dragon and was welcomed into the ridiculous world of sorcerers and four-armed gorillas. Kobra is Evil Johnny Cage, which makes it a shame that they’ve never really interacted. And I guess they won’t, since Erron Black admitted to offing him at some point.

Of course, he’s also a blatant knockoff of Ken Masters. So much that the programmers just called him “Ken Masters” in early builds of Deception, which got awkward when a gaming magazine saw that and reported that Street Fighter’s Ken was going to be in the new game.

42. SHEEVA

First appearance: Mortal Kombat 3

After Goro and Kintaro hit the scene, Boon and the rest wondered, “Where the ladies at?” and made a female Shokan warrior. Sheeva’s status in Kahn’s party is a cool dynamic. Goro and Kintaro have already failed in the prior two games. Shao Kahn’s new #2 is Motaro, part of the centaurs, the Shokan’s natural enemy. Yet Sheeva’s still on the payroll as Sindel’s bodyguard.

While she’s busy protecting Sindel and regularly pulling out her own atomic wedgie, Sheeva’s unaware that her race is being wiped out by her very own boss, punished because her own predecessors got their asses kicked. Of course, when Motaro got killed off so early on in the rebooted version of the story, and Goro and Kintaro were still hanging around, Sheeva became just another grunt.

The best thing about Sheeva is her ending in Mortal Kombat 9, where Earth’s governments allowed her to rule over Australia, a jab at Australia’s infamous censorship policies.

41. KIRA

First appearance: Mortal Kombat: Deception

If Kobra is Evil Johnny Cage, then his cohort Kira is Evil Sonya Blade. With both Sonya and Kano not in Deception, it was a decent idea to create a character with a mix of their moves.

Kira came off as a bit easier to take seriously than “Not Ken Masters,” but what really made the two of them great was their relationship as expanded on in their Armageddon endings. Being the counterparts to Johnny and Sonya, they also share the same love/hate relationship, only it’s darker. Both of their endings have the winner gain ultimate power, show emotion for the other, and then get stabbed in the back for it.

Those two deserve each other.

40. RAIN

First appearance: Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3

Rain was pretty dumb up until Armageddon and Mortal Kombat 9, where he became an egomaniac.

In Mortal Kombat Trilogy, the TV shows, and movies, Rain was just the dude who betrayed everyone and joined Kahn’s side. Starting with Armageddon, Rain started showing personality as a power-hungry jerk who believed that he was owed everything because he was the greatest fighter and was the son of a god. This transitioned well into his Mortal Kombat 9 ending where he killed Shao Kahn for his perceived lack of respect. Raiden thanked him and called him a great hero before pointing out that Rain was the son of the Edenian god Argus. Rain took that as, “All right! That proves I’m great! To show how great I am, I’m going to destroy Earthrealm. Thanks, Raiden!”

Thanks, Raiden. Dumbass.

Rain makes a few appearances in Mortal Kombat X as Mileena’s advisor. Naturally, he’s out to stab her in the back. Of all the non-playable opponents, he’s the one most deserving to be reintroduced onto the main roster.

39. MAVADO

First appearance: Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance

The Red Dragon was one of the better ideas for expanding the Mortal Kombat lore. So far, all the Black Dragon gave us was Kano, Kano’s knockoff, and the gasmask guy who no longer wanted anything to do with them. It made sense to move on, and they gave us the Red Dragon, the rival group led by an anti-Kano villain who was a calculating and cold assassin. Mavado got added cool points for his bungee hook attacks and the very idea that he outright murdered Kabal for completion’s sake and stole his badass weapons.

Mavado fell down the totem pole when they stopped caring about the Red Dragon in Deception (temporarily killing Mavado off in the process) and then decided to retcon him into second-in-command to Daegon by the time Armageddon rolled around.

38. FERRA/TORR

First Appearance: Mortal Kombat X

Master Blaster from Beyond Thunderdome rules, so I was completely on board when they decided to introduce a knockoff in Mortal Kombat with a play style very reminiscent of Chang/Choi from Capcom vs. SNK 2.

Ferra/Torr is great, though only exists as Kotal Kahn’s funny-talking muscle without the dignity of being a boss character. The duo is a bit paper-thin at times, but at least their symbiotic species is the most original new race the series has introduced in years. Their ending shows how their lifespan works and it’s honestly kind of tragic.

Anyway, I hope to see more action from them in the future.

37. FROST

First appearance: Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance

With Sub-Zero’s attempt to rebuild the Lin Kuei and give it legitimacy, adding Frost to the cast was a nice touch. The young protégé went through a tragic downward spiral through the games due to her ego. She went from being self-centered to greedy and power-hungry to completely insane, soon driven only by her desire to kill Sub-Zero. Not because she was outright evil, but because her own faults led her to mental illness.

The new, altered timeline shows that Sub-Zero and Scorpion have been able to make their peace, but Frost opposes it. I’d like to see them continue with that point of view in the future.

36. ONAGA

First appearance (mentioned): Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance

First appearance (in-game): Mortal Kombat: Deception

After Shinnok was a bust, and Deadly Alliance’s idea for a final boss was “two less-than-impressive guys one after the other,” it was refreshing to see them go with someone genuinely ominous. While only referred to as “The Dragon King,” Deadly Alliance’s story dropped plenty of hints that Onaga was going to be a major force to deal with in the sequel. Then he made his first official appearance by clowning the combined might of Raiden, Shang Tsung, and Quan Chi without breaking a sweat.

He would never be nearly as cool as Shao Kahn (his former advisor, who killed him with treachery years ago), but he was the right villain for what the series needed at the time.

35. SHINNOK

First appearance (mentioned): Mortal Kombat Trilogy

First appearance (in-game): Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero

First appearance (fighting game): Mortal Kombat 4

Shinnok should have been awesome. The endings for Mileena and Noob Saibot in Mortal Kombat Trilogy built him up as this Satanic ender of worlds. Then he showed up in Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero, which made him look like a jester as played by a guidance counselor.

It didn’t help that in Mortal Kombat 4, he didn’t have any cool boss-like qualities to him other than being able to steal moves. He was just a lazy Shang Tsung. It wasn’t until Armageddon and Mortal Kombat 9 that they were able to make him seem like an actual threat.

Shinnok ends up jumping up the list a bit because of his depiction in Mortal Kombat X. Although he isn’t the end-all/be-all villain that Shao Kahn and Onaga were portrayed as, he was pretty fun as a hybrid of Emperor Palpatine and Loki, especially when he goes into an angry rant at being sucker-punched by Johnny Cage. Still looking like kind of a weenie at times, he at least has the terrifying Corrupted Shinnok final form to fall back on.

34. TAKEDA TAKASHI

First Appearance: Mortal Kombat X

Takeda’s character design might be a little too try-hard for my tastes without being able to thrive on his own merits. He looks cool and I absolutely love his more futuristic ninja weaponry (which in turn makes the Shirai-Ryu look smarter than the Lin Kuei for knowing the right way to embrace technology), but for a guy who is the forgotten son of Kenshi and the prized pupil of Scorpion, Takeda isn’t good enough to step out of their shadows. He works best as an accessory to Scorpion, finally giving him some semblance of family and helping to give him closure.

As mentioned earlier, his romantic exploits with Jacqui are there for the sake of scratching off a trope checkbox.

33. SONYA BLADE

First appearance: Mortal Kombat

Sonya is the weakest of the original seven characters. The first lady of Mortal Kombat fits right in the line of awkward outsiders and unfazed adventurers. On one hand, the whole Outworld invasion concept is so alien to her, but on the other hand, she’s dedicated to hunting down a drug cartel run by a man who looks like a battle-damaged Terminator.

As an individual, Sonya doesn’t have much going on, but she’s more defined with her rich relationships with Jax, Kano, and Johnny Cage. Her tendency to be a wet blanket hits critical in the new game, making it completely surprising that Johnny’s ego wasn’t the reason for their divorce. Then again, a lot of that is forgiven for that scene where she goes to town on Quan Chi and crushes his nuts.

Just like how Johnny would have wanted it.

Sonya was cut out of the Special Forces video game, and I can’t tell if that works for or against her on this list.

32. JAX

First appearance: Mortal Kombat II

Jax was cool as hell in his first couple of appearances, playing the super-strong army dude who would charismatically break your face. He’s also a victim of some hilarious irony, as the man known for ripping off arms in Mortal Kombat II would have his arms replaced with cybernetic limbs in the sequel.

After Mortal Kombat 3, Jax’s flame began to die down, even if his Mortal Kombat 4 ending is memorable for all the wrong reasons.

I was going to have Sonya above Jax until seeing his story in Unchained, the PSP upgrade of Deception. It’s incredibly badass.

Like the others killed in Deadly Alliance, he’s resurrected and mind-controlled by Onaga to be his soldier. Jax is freed from the mind control, but remembers the horrors of his actions, so he’s pissed. Then the ending had Shujinko narrate that having everyone’s abilities wasn’t enough for him to stop Onaga, but then Jax marched over and killed the Dragon King purely because he was so goddamn angry. He killed him by taking one of the artifacts that powered Onaga and shoved it straight through the monster’s forehead. That rules!

You know what else rules? Putting out cigars on your metal hand. Also, being reskinned as Carl Weathers in Predator.

31. SAREENA

First appearance: Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero

First appearance (fighting game): Mortal Kombat: Tournament Edition

Sareena showed up in Mythologies as a demon underling of Quan Chi. She is essentially the anti-Scorpion in that Sub-Zero chose not to kill her when given the chance, and it ended up having a positive outcome. She aided him against Quan Chi and then asked him to help her leave the Netherrealm.

Shinnok seemingly killed her, but as explained in the Deadly Alliance Game Boy Advance port Mortal Kombat: Tournament Edition, she was able to reform and escape from the realm. From there, she was an ally of the second Sub-Zero and tried to be a better person, despite her demonic origins. A way better redemption story than they tried with Ashrah, Sareena exists as the original Sub-Zero’s one moment of humanity snowballing into something meaningful.

30. HAVIK

First appearance: Mortal Kombat: Deception

With Mortal Kombat 9 trying to ignore most of the post-Mortal Kombat 3 characters, it was no surprise that Havik, the Cleric of Chaos, was still thrown in there as part of Noob Saibot’s ending. While the whole Orderrealm/Chaosrealm subplot never quite caught on, Havik is strong enough to exist on his own.

He’s a perfect chaotic neutral to throw a wrench in everything. He saves Kabal’s life, but convinces him to turn back to being evil. He wants to stop Onaga from ruling the realms, but as a means to resurrect Shao Kahn because he liked his style as a conqueror. Havik’s the ultimate wild card in the Mortal Kombat lore and really deserves to get more play.

RELATED ARTICLE: The History of Mortal Kombat Comics

29. SINDEL

First appearance: Mortal Kombat 3

Sindel had a major role in Mortal Kombat 3, and the very idea of being able to play as Shao Kahn’s Queen was a novel one. She remained a relatively boring fixture in the series from there on, but then the reboot happened, and we got that scene in story mode with Sindel’s rampage.

Seriously, if you type “Sindel” into YouTube’s search bar, one of the top suggestions is, “Sindel kills everyone” and with good reason. Sindel takes a respectable leap up the ranks because holy shit that scene.

28. REPTILE

First appearance: Mortal Kombat

Reptile deserves nothing but respect for being the first secret character in fighting game history, but I feel he’s lost his edge from game to game.

In the first Mortal Kombat, he’s the holy grail of AI opponents. Then in Mortal Kombat II he’s shown to be a literal reptile with creepy reptilian attacks and Fatalities. In the games that follow, he starts devolving and no longer becomes much more than a throwaway villain. Setting him up as the host for Onaga in Deadly Alliance was an inspired twist, though, and I love his bandaged ninja redesign from Shaolin Monks.

Reptile becomes endearing in Mortal Kombat X, where for once he’s loyal to someone who doesn’t treat him like dirt on his heel.

27. SEKTOR

First appearance: Mortal Kombat 3

At first, Sektor and Cyrax were interchangeable outside of armor color and what kind of explosive device they liked more. As the games went further with Mortal Kombat Gold and Tournament Edition, we started to see some real contrast.

Cyrax was an honorable warrior, but Sektor was a straight-up jerk. He insisted upon being turned into a cyborg and presumably didn’t even need to be given any programming. While Cyrax, Smoke, and Sub-Zero were reluctant and horrified, Sektor relished being a robotic killing machine, eventually even starting his own Lin Kuei offshoot to force more ninjas into becoming robots in the hopes of world domination. That’s messed up.

Oh, and those noises he made in Mortal Kombat 3 were awesome.

26. QUAN CHI

First appearance: Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm

First appearance (game): Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero

First appearance (fighting game): Mortal Kombat 4

The true evil mastermind of the Mortal Kombat universe, Quan Chi is always three steps ahead of everyone else, while rarely ever taking the center stage. While he suffers from the writers trying to make him a little too slick and smart for his own good, it only makes it more pleasing when he finally gets his just desserts (go see Scorpion’s Mortal Kombat 9 ending for proof). The guy is just completely hateable, making it no surprise that NetherRealm Studios decided to include him in the reboot despite not actually appearing in the original trilogy.

Richard Divizio as Quan Chi as Alec Baldwin as Robert Deniro is something that will never get old.

I bet Noob Saibot does a mean Ray Liotta.

25. MOLOCH

First appearance: Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance

Moloch was boss. I mean, literally he was a boss, yes, but…you know what I mean.

The oni beast fit the Goro role in Deadly Alliance and brought some utter brutality that hadn’t been felt in a Mortal Kombat boss since Kintaro. It was pretty impressive too that they pulled it off while skipping away from the whole Shokan/centaur party and going with something completely new and different. Considering one of Quan Chi’s pre-fight intros in Mortal Kombat X shows him casually carrying around Moloch’s disembodied head, I guess we won’t be hearing from him anymore.

That’s too bad. The guy palmed a wrecking ball for crying out loud.

24. BARAKA

First appearance: Mortal Kombat II

In the early days of arcade fighting games, there was this unwritten quota that your game needed to have some kind of token freak character. Street Fighter had Blanka. Samurai Shodown had Gen-An. Mortal Kombat had Baraka.

Looking like Nosferatu went through the Weapon X program, Baraka fit the evolved atmosphere of Mortal Kombat II perfectly. When the series got more outlandish, his novelty started to fade, outside of the always-fun Wolverine arm blades gimmick. He ended up in Mileena’s shadow and became nothing more than just another member of the rogues’ gallery, but during those first couple years of existence, he was the coolest thing about the series.

23. D’VORAH

First Appearance: Mortal Kombat X

I said that there would be spoilers, so here’s the big one: D’Vorah kills Mileena in Mortal Kombat X. It’s rather perfect, especially in the way that D’Vorah does her in with a kiss. Despite being girl-on-girl, it’s gross as hell and is in no way erotic. It’s like Mileena passing the torch to the new, grotesque, backstabbing female villain.

D’Vorah is a great new addition to the roster and is filled with all sorts of creepy surprises. Her various bug-based attacks, the way she’s always petting a larva that she keeps in her own stomach for safe-keeping, her tendency to describe herself as “this one,” and so on. She loses some charm once she’s depicted as just another follower of Shinnok, but at least she has her ridiculous ending with her Shinnok/bug babies running amok to make up for it.

22. LIU KANG

First appearance: Mortal Kombat

Liu Kang sucked for a long, long time. A Bruce Lee knockoff whose story was that he always won and Kitana wanted to jump his bones.

Midway realized how repetitive that was and killed him off at the beginning of Deadly Alliance, which was such a shocking moment and direction. Then he came back as a shambling zombie, which was just super. With the reboot, Liu Kang’s monotonous road to heroism took a nasty derail when he became completely insane and fed up with Raiden’s utter buffoonery, cursing Raiden’s name as he died in the god’s arms.

Liu Kang and Shang Tsung’s non-canon endings in Mortal Kombat 9 showed how far his distrust of Raiden would have gone, as Liu killed Raiden for the status of Protector of Earthrealm and became such a tyrant that Bo’ Rai Cho had to train Shang Tsung to stop him as a lesser evil. While that may not have come to pass, the canon path is just as sinister.

As of the end of Mortal Kombat X, a demonic Liu Kang rules Hell alongside Kitana. Intriguing…

21. KUNG LAO

First appearance: Mortal Kombat II

Kung Lao had the most stylish moveset, and his constant desire to redeem his ancestor’s loss was always a great source of inspiration when it came to generic hero types. In Deadly Alliance, they centered his story around avenging Liu’s death, but once he failed at that and they brought his buddy back anyway, they threw them into a friendly rivalry that was featured in various games.

Liu Kang or Kung Lao? Come on, bro. Kung Lao’s magic razor hat always trumped Liu Kang’s turkey voice, so putting him one spot above seems about right.

20. KURTIS STRYKER

First appearance: Mortal Kombat 3

Stryker was an unintentional joke in Mortal Kombat 3, looking less like a guy who would try and save the world and more like Randal from Clerks. He gradually became better over time, mostly due to being voiced by Ron Perlman on the Defenders of the Realm cartoon and that hilarious moment in the Armageddon intro where he sucker punched Mileena and cheesed it.

He really became something worth caring about in the reboot, where he came off as a likeable, disgruntled, smart-ass who seemed to have a better handle on his unorthodox cop weapons. His own win pose was him throwing a grenade onto his opponent and glaring at the player while ignoring the splatter. Stryker suddenly became the man.

I should also mention that his ending in Mortal Kombat 9 is the funniest thing. Poor Johnny.

19. KITANA

First appearance: Mortal Kombat II

When they introduced the female ninjas in Mortal Kombat II, Kitana became one of the breakout stars of the series, easily having more meat on her character than Sonya ever did.

She’s a highly skilled assassin who has been alive several millennia, and only when the stakes are at their highest does she realize that her entire life is one big prank/conspiracy. While she’s a major victim of Shao Kahn’s treachery, Kahn becomes a victim of his own hubris. He could have snuffed her out as a child and probably should have. Instead, he chose to raise her as his prized assassin and make an evil clone out of her, never caring enough about how that could blow up in his face. And it totally did!

It is pretty funny to me how, after Kitana embraced being a princess, she went back to wearing a mask for no reason other than how it was iconic. Personally, I always liked her simpler Mortal Kombat II look the best instead of how elaborate it got in later games.

Kitana’s ending in Mortal Kombat X, which looks to be canon, is wonderful. Had Raiden not gone back in time to stop the events of Armageddon, Kitana would have eventually stopped Shao Kahn at the cost of Earthrealm being completely destroyed. Kitana gets a vision of this and the knowledge makes her furious at Raiden. I know we like to joke about Raiden being a screw-up, but it really shows how far gone the undead Kitana’s become when she can ignore the deaths of billions in order to be mad at Raiden for ruining her success and happiness.

18. SHANG TSUNG

First appearance: Mortal Kombat

Man, if any character was hurt from the move from sprites to computer-generated models, it’s Shang Tsung. The soul-eating shape-shifter was such a great villain, able to attack you with the repertoire of almost everyone in the game. A schemer who would posture at one moment and then beg and plead at Shao Kahn’s feet the next, he was the perfect second banana to Kahn’s dominant personality. His appearances in the first two games were the best, but it went downhill when he suddenly became thong-wearing Alice Cooper in Mortal Kombat 3. That was a strange phase.

Shang goes higher up the list because of the great job Mortal Kombat X does of building him back up as a major villain. He has a notable presence in various endings (Erron Black, Johnny Cage, Cassie Cage) and makes his return during Ermac’s. It’s a delightful swerve, considering Ermac’s story pointed at the return of Shao Kahn instead.

17. KANO

First appearance: Mortal Kombat

The Bullseye of Mortal Kombat, Kano is a special kind of scum, and the series is better for him existing. Even while his copycat, Jarek, was willing to team up with the good guys to stop the greater evil, Kano constantly offered his hand to invaders without thinking twice. He would sell out humankind for the sake of power, survival, and probably for a laugh.

It’s fitting that he’s the cockroach of the series in that when you think he’s gone for good, he creeps back in and shows that he simply won’t die. He’ll be taken off the board or even be considered dead every other game, but comes back slimier than ever.

The dude’s design is completely top-notch, and outside of him having a headbutt, I like that it took three games before they decided, “He has a metal implant taking up a third of his face with a glowing red eye. We should probably do something with that.”

He probably wouldn’t rank quite as high if not for Trevor Goddard’s rocking performance in the first movie.

16. KINTARO

First appearance: Mortal Kombat II

Sure, he was just a knockoff of Goro and has virtually no story to speak of outside of the recent retcon that he was the one who mutilated Kabal, but separated from that, Kintaro is just plain better. As great as Goro was when Mortal Kombat hit the scene, he also had kind of a Gumby/ClayFighter thing going on.

Kintaro’s design, model, and animation were leagues better, plus he made for a better gaming experience. Not to mention he came across as faster, tougher, and seemingly hit a hell of a lot harder. He’s a damn solid boss.

Unfortunately, he’s still trumped by Goro having NetherRealm behind him while Kintaro becomes increasingly obscure.

15. GORO

First appearance: Mortal Kombat

Before Scorpion became the poster boy of the series, Goro was the true icon of Mortal Kombat. He gelled well with the game’s digitized actors gimmick. You had all these real people to fight when suddenly – oh shit – here comes an eight-foot-tall monster with four arms made of stop-motion animation who shows up to kick your ass before the game can even go back to the ladder screen to show your next opponent.

What was impressive was that he was the boss everyone cared about despite not being THE boss. Shang Tsung was the big villain behind it all that you fought last, but it didn’t matter because compared to Goro, the game treated Shang like an afterthought.

Goro best represented the alien nature of Outworld, especially in the first game when it took place in Earthrealm and had minimum otherworldly craziness. Goro’s a lot like Baraka in that his staying power dwindled from game to game no matter how many times they tried to remind you of how cool he used to be. At least Goro got special treatment over the years, being an added character in the home ports of Mortal Kombat 4, the Gamecube port of Deception, and the pre-order bonus for Mortal Kombat X.

Originally, I had Goro below Kintaro on the list, but he’s so great in Mortal Kombat X. For the first time in years, they really have a good grasp on how to make him work. That apparently includes tearing random dudes in half in the middle of conversations.

14. KOTAL KAHN

First Appearance: Mortal Kombat X

Kotal Kahn at the very least represents a great idea: why do all the rulers of Outworld have to be complete monsters? Make no mistake, Kotal Kahn is no hero. He has people publicly executed for committing acts of desperate thievery and his lack of intent in challenging Shinnok paints him as a coward. But he’s still honorable, is a fairly strong leader, actually cares for his allies, and will do anything to protect his planetary kingdom. He’s essentially Mortal Kombat’s version of Black Adam and Namor.

Kotal’s painted in a better light in the Mortal Kombat X comic where we see that his journey into Earthrealm centuries ago led to him becoming recognized and worshipped as the Mayan god of war and sacrifice, something that fits well into his appearance and fighting style. He also has the most badass fight against Goro, where he rides in on a T-Rex, fries Rain by summoning an intense sun beam breaking through the clouds, tears Goro’s arms off, and then refuses to kill him because that would be a greater insult.

His ending in Mortal Kombat X suggests the main plot of the next game and I hope that’s the direction they’re going in. Kotal Kahn defending his world against Earthrealm in Mortal Kombat is a million dollar idea.

13. CYRAX

First appearance: Mortal Kombat 3

Cyrax is what Smoke should have been. He started off as interchangeable with Sektor in Mortal Kombat 3, but got the more haunting ending where he was beaten up by Sub-Zero, reprogrammed to kill Shao Kahn, and then malfunctioned and got lost in the desert, buried up to his neck in sand. Rather than just move on, they used that to give Cyrax a redemption arc where Jax and Sonya rescued him and helped him remember his humanity.

Cyrax became a Special Forces agent up until his death in Armageddon. Then the reboot happened and showed that much like Sub-Zero and Smoke, Cyrax also opposed the whole “turn everyone into robots” concept, which came off as more tragic because he was alone and his capture and transformation were only alluded to.

12. KABAL

First appearance: Mortal Kombat 3

If Star Wars has taught us anything, it’s that being covered in respirators doesn’t hurt your stature as long as you’re ominous and mysterious enough to offset the fact that you can keel over at any moment.

When introduced in Mortal Kombat 3, Kabal was the absolute definition of anti-hero. He had the striking appearance filled with mystique, the many scars, the sweet hookswords, and the evil-turned-good backstory. It just sucks that they chose not to really do anything with him for a while after that. He should have been in Mortal Kombat 4 or at least Gold.

Then they stealth killed him and brought him back as a villain again, which kind of ruined him. Then again, considering his history, it does say a lot that Kabal’s main quality is his complete lack of conviction. Even Kano will act proud of who he is. A man with no spine is dangerous in his own way.

11. CASSIE CAGE

First appearance: Mortal Kombat X

Finally, they did it. They introduced a new main hero character who is actually likeable.

Cassie is the best of both worlds between her parents. She has Sonya’s military leadership and access to all sorts of fun government weaponry, but with Johnny’s swagger, sense of humor, and tendency to hit people in the junk. Similarly, she follows up Johnny’s autograph signing Friendship by doing a Fatality based on her doing a selfie. Usually something like that would come off as too corny and forced, but they go so over-the-top with it, to the point of showing a Facebook knockoff page with scrolling comments from other kombatants, and it’s one of the true highlights of the new game. Sonya’s exasperation that Cassie is online friends with Kano is amusing to no end.

Cassie is everything you’d want out of a good female protagonist and it’s wonderful that NetherRealm was able to hit the potential on such a fun character design. Adding to that, her ending shows her killing Shujinko and that in itself gets her ranked above Kotal at the very least.

10. ERRON BLACK

First appearance: Mortal Kombat X

Erron Black is the Boba Fett of Mortal Kombat. He gets punked out in the main story, but he’s still this mysterious and menacing mercenary bastard dressed in an outdated outfit. Everything about him just oozes cool.

He’s nigh-immortal as payment for assassinating a would-be Mortal Kombat contender back in the 1800s. He was kidnapped by Tarkatans back during the events of Mortal Kombat 3, but killed them all and chose to remain in Outworld as a gun for hire anyway. He wears a mask purely for style points. Not only does he use outdated – yet effective – Wild West weaponry, but also sand grenades and a sword fashioned out of a Tarkatan arm (which may very well be Baraka’s if you look at the chronology).

Yet nothing beats Erron Black’s X-Ray attack where he literally has a bullet with your name written on it. How fitting that the breakout character from Mortal Kombat X would be #10.

9. RAIDEN

First appearance: Mortal Kombat

I could basically just explain Raiden’s spot in the top ten with Christopher Lambert saying, “The fate of billions will depend upon you, heh heh heh… Sorry,” in the movie, but I might as well go on.

Originally introduced as a one-dimensional villain, Raiden was retconned into being Earthrealm’s go-to mentor character in Mortal Kombat II. Despite having a presence in nearly every game, they’ve done a fantastic job keeping him fresh. He wasn’t in Mortal Kombat 3 or Ultimate, which only hyped him up for Trilogy where they just used his sprites from Mortal Kombat II and added a lame new move. He took center stage in Mortal Kombat 4and by Deadly Alliance, his leader shtick was starting to get a little tired.

Deception suddenly reinvented him. He died and was reborn as a corrupt parody of himself. No longer a compassionate god with the heart of a human, he instead became cold and merciless, wiping out anyone he deemed a threat to Earthrealm. He went back to his classic self in the reboot, which painted him as the biggest screw-up. It was hilarious! He kept trying to change history and nearly every time, he just proceeded to make things worse. In fact, here’s Mortal Kombat 9 summed up.

Accidentally killing off most of the cast? You better believe that’s a paddlin’!

8. SUB-ZERO I/NOOB SAIBOT

First appearance (as Sub-Zero): Mortal Kombat

First appearance (as Noob Saibot): Mortal Kombat II

Bi-Han is the older Sub-Zero and the one to appear in Mortal Kombat and his own spin-off game. While Mythologies: Sub-Zero was pretty mediocre, the storyline was actually quite good and reminds me a lot of Vincent Vega’s downfall in Pulp Fiction.

Sub-Zero did a mission that blew up in his face, and when he tried to make things right, he was told by a higher power that he was capable of being a good person if he strayed away from his life as an assassin. He chose not to and his sins caught up with him. Had he gone away from the Lin Kuei, he would have not only become something more, but he wouldn’t have been killed by Scorpion, much like how if Vega had left the life of crime behind like Jules did, he wouldn’t have been shot dead on the crapper.

Noob Saibot represents the dark sickness that comes from the cycle of violence. As explained in the reboot, by giving into his thirst for vengeance, Scorpion unleashed something horrible onto the world. Interestingly enough, the two have never had any interaction despite their relationship and how they were both on Quan Chi’s payroll at the same time (say what you will, Quan’s fantastic at management). Regardless, Bi-Han makes for a great foil for Scorpion and the other Sub-Zero.

7. KENSHI

First appearance: Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance

Without a doubt, the best design to come out past the original trilogy, and I can’t imagine too many would disagree with me. With a look that feels like Solid Snake mixed with Daredevil, Kenshi showed up in Deadly Alliance as a completely fitting warrior with some serious staying power.

The blind swordsman is dedicated to exacting revenge on Shang Tsung for tricking him, removing his sight, and feasting on the souls of his ancestors. He’s more than a man of vengeance, though, as he’s also a member of the Special Forces and honorably works towards their ends.

Despite being revealed as a good buddy of both Sub-Zero and Scorpion, Kenshi is far from a Mary Sue character. In fact, in his first appearance, he canonically gets his ass handed to him by Mavado and spends the next game healing from his injuries. His ending in Armageddon is also a bit of a downer.

6. ERMAC

First appearance: Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3

Originally a false rumor, Ermac first made an official appearance in Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 as a ninja with telekinetic attacks who had zero story. Really, his ending was a lame thing about how he only beat up Shao Kahn to prove he existed. Wonderful.

In Trilogy, they finally gave him an identity as a being made entirely of warrior souls that Shao Kahn had collected over the years. That made him unique enough, as one of Kahn’s enforcers, but Ermac didn’t really come into his own until Deadly Alliance (where he was mentioned, though not actually in the game) and Deception, where he broke the bonds of Kahn and became the series’ new, wise mentor character, replacing the darkened Raiden while sporting a sweet, red mummy/ninja outfit. They also made him powerful enough to take on Kung Lao, Kitana, Jax, Sonya, and Johnny Cage all by himself.

NetherRealm added to his concept in the reboot. It was revealed that not only was Ermac the one responsible for Jax needing metal arm replacements, but – in a really ingenious twist – of all the souls residing in Ermac, one of them is King Jerrod, Kitana’s father. That’s why without Kahn controlling his will, Ermac’s more heroic. Jerrod is the dominant personality.

5. MILEENA

First appearance: Mortal Kombat II

Mortal Kombat gets some well-deserved guff for the way the female characters are over-sexualized, but I always thought it was pretty funny of them to focus the male gaze on the monster-faced woman. Really, back when Deception came out, they released an official image of a topless (albeit covered) Mileena, and in Mortal Kombat 9, the reward for completing Challenge Tower is an outfit where Mileena wears some strategically-placed bandages with her ass hanging out. Yet at the same time, she’s facially nightmare fuel. While having Kitana and Sindel walk around in bathing suits is cheesy, there’s a creepy, succubus-like feel to it when it’s Mileena.

Despite being defined by her jealousy of Kitana and her relationship with Baraka, Mileena finds a way to outshine them both. She’s playful, entitled, psychotic, and completely unpredictable. Despite her bloodthirsty nature, and the fact that she was created to be the ultimate killing machine, Kitana’s Mortal Kombat 9 ending shows that even Mileena has the potential to do good. Especially when you move her away from Kitana, Mileena has a freaky charisma to her that would make nearly any story direction an interesting one.

4. SHAO KAHN

First appearance: Mortal Kombat II

When they announced Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, everyone talked about how silly a matchup it was, but not me. I knew the reason why these two worlds would collide: there is nobody in the realm of fiction more fitting a counterpart to Darkseid than Shao Kahn. Piss off, Thanos. You don’t even rank.

Shao Kahn the Konqueror is such a wonderful villain. A barbarian sorcerer pimp who will stop beating the everloving hell out of you just to tell you how much better he is. I already mentioned his hubris in Kitana’s entry, but really, his only downfall is that he’ll give you the slightest chance to win by stopping, pointing, and saying, “You weak, pathetic fool!” And yet, he’d still probably take you out with a magic sledgehammer to the skull.

There’s a reason why Kahn keeps being brought back to the forefront and why he immediately came back in Mortal Kombat 3 instead of trying to replace him with a bigger threat. Simply put, you can’t get better than Kahn. They peaked too early.

3. JOHNNY CAGE

First appearance: Mortal Kombat

Until recently, the Mortal Kombat games have done a weak job expressing personality in its fighters in-game. Especially in the first game, we got a Fatality, a win pose, and the animated clip of each character during the bio screens when nobody was playing the game.

Sure, Scorpion had his, “GET OVER HERE!” but it’s not like it really meant anything to the character. Johnny Cage, though? He pumped his fist, pulled out his sunglasses, slipped them on, and posed with his arms crossed. With that and his legendary split-punch attack, you KNEW that he was a tremendous-yet-loveable douchebag. He would keep that going throughout the series.

Cage owes a lot to Linden Ashby’s performance in the movie, which gave a perfect idea of what he should be. While a goofball character, I’ve always loved the bittersweet storyline going on when they put him in Mortal Kombat Trilogy, where Johnny knew that destroying Kahn would ultimately cause his own death, but was determined to take him out anyway.

Regardless, we didn’t get peak Cage until the reboot, where his douchiness went completely critical: the glasses breaking during his new win pose, the fact that he has “JOHNNY” tattooed on his chest and “CAGE” on a belt buckle, the fact that he starred in a movie called Ninja Mime, his cheesy one-liners meant to woo Sonya…Cage went from pretty great to greatly great.

Mortal Kombat X shows that Johnny ages like fine wine. His many, many pre-match conversations make him all the more lovable.

2. SCORPION

First appearance: Mortal Kombat

Swerve! No, Scorpion isn’t #1, but it was close. It’s neat how such a secondary character became so likeable that no matter who they put in the main hero role, he was the one that everyone considered the true icon of the franchise. He was only missing in one fighting game, Mortal Kombat 3, and they were able to sell an upgrade mostly based on, “Hey, this one has Scorpion in it!”

Scorpion is all-purpose. He can be good, evil, somewhere in-between, but he’s always got that badass aura. No matter how gullible he gets, he’s still a fire-spitting, demon ninja from Hell. Mortal Kombat X finally gave him closure on the revenge front and took away his flaming skull by making him human again, but it’s okay because his new beard is pretty righteous.

1. SUB-ZERO II/CYBER SUB-ZERO

First appearance (as Sub-Zero): Mortal Kombat II

First appearance (as Cyber Sub-Zero): Mortal Kombat 9

In that DC crossover, they were very protective of Batman. Anyone could beat up Superman because they had an in-game explanation for that. Batman, though? He’s only human, but he’s the greatest human warrior there is, so nobody should be allowed to beat him in the story mode. At least nobody from a visiting reality where all people do is fight.

The second Sub-Zero, Kuai Liang, was the one Mortal Kombat character allowed to kick Batman’s ass. Then in his ending, Sub-Zero went on to don a cape and become the Batman of the Mortal Kombat world. Why? Because Sub-Zero is the best Mortal Kombat character.

There’s so many great things about Kuai Liang Sub-Zero. The fact that his first official appearance is in the Mortal Kombat II comic, where he steps out of a high-tech aircraft piloted by ninjas, only he’s wearing a 3-piece suit with sunglasses, and he’s handing out Lin Kuei business cards.

In Mortal Kombat 3, he’s so disgusted by the thought of being turned into a robot that he stops wearing his classic duds and instead becomes Henry Rollins with red paint over his eye. The whole idea that he tried to take over the Lin Kuei and turn them into an entire ninja clan of good guys. The fact that he started dressing up as the Shredder for kicks. Knowing that Luke Perry voiced him on the cartoon. That whole thing in Mortal Kombat 9 where, as Cyber Sub-Zero, he single handedly saved a bunch of soldiers from Kano, Goro, Kintaro, and Ermac, and the soldiers were all in awe about how rad he was.

All of that, and Sub-Zero had easily the best ending in Mortal Kombat history.

Agree? Disagree? Should Jarek have been in the top 10? Sound off in the comments below!

Gavin Jasper is disturbed by the amount of Sub-Zero/Elsa shipping fan art there is on the internet. No, really. That is a thing. Follow him on Twitter.

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