With the recent announcement of The King Of Fighters XV, I’ve been thinking a lot about one of my all-time favorite fighting video game franchises. More specifically, I’ve been thinking long and hard about what my team is going to look like come launch day.
For those of you who don’t know, The King of Fighters franchise, also known simply as KOF, is one of the most beloved, fun, and successful titles in the fighting game genre.
KOF games have repeatedly innovated and pushed the genre forward in many ways, such as the introduction of a Team-based fighting system, and a Power Gauge system.
So, as both a sort of tribute and mental exercise, I’ve prepared a list of what I consider to be the top 10 best King of Fighters characters of all time.
This turned out to be much harder than I initially thought, since, on average, each KOF iteration of the franchise has a character roster that hovers around 50 fighters! Nevertheless, I’ve managed to come up with a well-rounded list of, what I honestly consider to be, the top 10 characters in the franchise.
The Top 10 King of Fighters Characters
Mai is one of the most iconic characters in the King of Fighters franchise, and she is most definitely the most popular female character. Case in point, Mai Shiranui has been repeatedly and consistently ranked among the “Hottest” and “Sexiest” video game characters ever created.
Game Informer has seen her several times in the top spots of their Top Ten Babes in Games list, and Gamespy lists her as one of the top spots in their Top Ten Hottest Girls of the 16-Bit Era.
While her personality is very bright and cheerful, though highly temperamental, her fighting style is vicious and effectively deadly.
Mai is an expert Kunoichi; in other words, Mai is a Bad-Ass Ninja! She is exceptionally agile and fleet-footed, and one of the most unexpectedly oppressive opponents you can face in the franchise. On top of her speed and agility, Mai also possesses a quasi-magical ability to produce and manipulate fire.
Her arsenal is full of moves and abilities which make great use of her “pyrokinesis” and other Ninja abilities. Perfect examples include a fiery lunge, a stunning arc, and the ability to project false images of herself.
If you are new to the franchise, Mai Shiranui is as important to The King of Fighters as Chun-Li is to Street Fighter.
Sie Kensou has been a fan-favorite since his arrival to the franchise in the original King of Fighters 94. An active member of the famed Psycho Soldiers team from SNK’s Psycho Soldier franchise, Sie Kensou is a very important member of the KOF roster and serves as one of the principal comedic characters.
Don’t let his playful and jovial demeanor fool you, however, because Sie Kensou learned his impressive fighting techniques during a tutelage under the legendary Chin Gentsai, Drunken Master Extraordinaire!
His style can only be described as highly acrobatic and precise. Most of his moves are based on real-life techniques found in the various Northern Shaolin martial arts traditions. These are characterized by stylized postures and fluid transitions that favor kicks and yield some truly forceful strikes.
In addition to his acrobatic legwork, Sie Kensou also boasts a rather impressive arsenal of moves based on his mastery of psychic powers. So, not only is this guy able to kick the ever-living crap out of your opponents, but he is also able to blow them to smithereens by summoning blue psychic-fire balls and Dragon Spirits!
If you take the time to master Sie Kensou, you can easily become an oppressive force on the battlefield by creating some truly impressive combos.
Ralf Jones perfectly embodies American Gun-Ho Aggressiveness!
Known as “The One Man Army”, Ralf is a Mercenary who was first introduced in the SNK video games Ikari Warriors and Metal Slug. Heavily inspired by Vietnam veteran John Rambo, of Hollywood fame, Ralf Jones is one of the most powerful and popular characters in the KOF roster.
Ralf’s aggressive, warring demeanor is backed by an arsenal of flurry punches (most of which result in small explosions of physical force), brutal elbow strikes, and even some potent wrestling moves that can quickly overwhelm his opponents.
He even has one of the most powerful moves in the entire franchise: the Galactica Phantom. This lunging, delayed power punch can knock up to 85% of an opponent’s life bar in one strike!
As if that weren’t enough, expert players can follow up the Galactica Phantom with a precise counter that, if timed perfectly, can INSTANTLY knock out the opponent and net them a decisive victory.
If you are looking for a brute force approach on your path to victory, Ralf Jones’ overwhelming strength and surprisingly fast punch-combos are the way to go.
Like Sie Kensou above, the next member of the King of Fighters roster has a strong predilection for kicks and other powerful leg techniques. However, her style is quite distinct from Sie’s and all her own.
King, known as “The Beautiful Kick’s Illusion” in Japan, is the second female character to grace our list. While King is significantly less popular than Mai (her design is admittedly less sexy), in the hands of an experienced player she can be much more rewarding to play.
Originally modeled after Dutch Muay Thai fighter Saskia Van Rijswijk, her fighting style throughout the series cannot really be considered traditionally Muay Thai. In fact, a few other characters in the roster point out this fact in an attempt to ridicule King during their pre-fight banter.
When you play as King you have access to a rather impressive list of high, mid, and low kicks, peppered with some surprising knee strikes.
King’s move set can only be described as acrobatic, with much of your combos consisting of lighting-fast kicks combined with flips, dashes, and jumps. If you get caught by one of her flurry-like combos, you can expect King to chew through more than 50% of your health bar in a heartbeat.
Her character’s rather masculine design provides her with very long legs that allow King to attack at range very effectively. When you fight against the King, the only way to stay safe is to stay as far away from her as possible!
Known as “The Scion of the Flame”, Kyo Kusanagi is one of the main protagonists of the KOF franchise, first appearing in the original The King of Fighters 1994. Remaining very popular throughout the various games of the series, Kyo has undergone a few iterations that have added quite a bit of replayability across titles.
Kyo’s combat style has drastically changed throughout the years. Initially, he possessed some very useful projectile attacks and one of the most powerful anti-air counters in the series’ history.
However, as the franchise matured so did Kyo’s move set. Each title kept adding more depth and nuance to his fighting techniques, which resulted in Kyo being one of the most difficult characters in KOF.
Depending on who you ask, Kyo Kusanagi may be considered the most difficult character to master in the entire franchise. His move set is very robust, with some of the fancier combos requiring very precise and complicated sequences. However, Kyo is also one of the most devastating characters when played correctly.
Most importantly, however, is the fact that if you like to keep things fresh and love learning new moves and combos with each new title in the series, Kyo is your guy.
Mary Ryan, best known in the world of KOF as Blue Mary, is one of my favorite characters in a fighting video game franchise ever.
Blue Mary is one of the most unique and versatile characters in The King of Fighters franchise. While her design is somewhat nondescript, her fighting style and move set is anything but.
You see, Blue Mary has access to a very effective, and varied list of moves that are based on the real world’s Soviet martial art known as Sambo. This means that Blue Mary players gain access to a plethora of brutal punches, kicks, elbow strikes, and knee strikes, as well as a variety of grappling techniques such as throws, chokes, and limb-breaking locks.
She’s also able to quickly pivot in position, sliding behind her opponent with a flick of the controller. This means that Blue Mary is the perfect character for players looking for a character with a heavy emphasis on counters and outsmarting their opponents.
Virtually every combo in her move list can be capped with a brutal arm or leg bar that eats up the enemy’s health bar.
If you are looking for an “outside the box” experience, Blue Mary is my number one recommendation. There is a very good reason why she was one of the most popular characters in the KOF XIV’s competitive scene.
Iori Yagami is a very important pillar of the overarching KOF narrative. Initially introduced in the second entry of the series, Iori is a violent rude boy who is not at all interested in making friends. He is more of the sadistic, “kick-ass, and take names” variety.
While I’m not particularly fond of his in-universe personality, from a gameplay standpoint Iori is one of the series best and most well-balanced characters. He has access to a variety of highly damaging yet relatively easy-to-pull-off combos.
Many of his moves have a rush-down component that allows Iori players to quickly chase and control flighty opponents. A very cool detail that I love about Iori is that many of his moves make use of various claw attacks with some slight blue-flame pyrokinesis thrown in to boot.
Iori is particularly interesting because he’s the “perfect” character for both veteran players and newcomers to the franchise. This is because his powerful move set has been balanced in such a way that he can be extremely rewarding to play at the highest levels of mastery while remaining accessible to the lower tiers of players.
As a result, Iori has remained one of the most consistently popular characters in the franchise’s roster.
I have a giant soft spot for this giant of a man. While the majority of characters in the KOF roster proudly display their tight, chiseled physiques, poor old Chang cannot. He’s a giant lummox of a man, with a belly to match.
Oh, and did I forget to mention that he fights using a large, cast-iron ball and chain?
Storywise, Chang Koehan has one of the grittier backgrounds in the franchise. Chang Koehan was a brutal, violent, and irreverent criminal in his homeland of Korea.
Throughout the various games, Chang Koehan jumps back and forth between rehabilitation and a life of crime. This can be easily read in his character design, as he wears a prison jumpsuit (of varying colors across the various titles in the series) and a cast-iron ball and chain.
Gameplaywise, his fighting style does his character design justice. Basically, every single move available to Chang Koehan revolves around using the large metal ball to strike his opponents or using the rather substantial heft of his body to dominate and subjugate them.
This guy has a move, where he bashes you with his buttcheeks. Don’t expect a nimble character when controlling Chang Koehan. His large size gives the unshakeable impression that Chang Koehan is a slow, hulking character. When he is not destroying opponents with the metal ball, Chang Koehan’s moves revert to short, powerful punches and low-kicks.
Najd is one of the latest characters to join the extensive roster of the King of Fighters franchise. Introduced in The King of Fighters XIV DLC content drop, Najd has quickly become of the most rewarding and most played characters across various skill tiers.
Najd’s backstory is very interesting, she is a Saudi college student by day turned justice-seeking vigilante by night. Her entire character arc is based on punishment and retribution. In other words, Najd is a certified BADASS!
From a gameplay standpoint, Najd is one of the most unique characters because the vast majority of her moves are based on her manipulation of shadow energy. That’s right, Najd controls and attacks with living shadows. I told you that she was a badass!
Her move set is fast and furious, with many attacks providing her with respectable reach. She is very hard to fight against due to the speed of her attacks as well as the complex animations used to animate them.
Many of her attacks have the potential to do TONS of damage because they hit hard and lead well into each other, which allows skilled players to chain very long combos. The emphasis here is on “skilled” because Najd is not an easy character to play since most of her effective combos require very tight timing.
Nevertheless, if you have the patience and perseverance to learn Najd and eventually master her subtleties, she can be a devastating presence on the battlefield.
If Najd qualifies as one of the hardest characters to play, our top pick for this list is on the opposite end of the spectrum by being one of the easiest characters to master. My favorite character from all 14 mainline games in The King of Fighters franchise is Athena Asamiya.
What makes Athena such a fantastic character? Well, while her outfits completely change between every main game in the franchise, her move set has never strayed far from the original concept and design.
Her cheerful and outgoing personality translates very well to the gameplay side of things. Her combat style is very straightforward with very little flare added in, but she is a very fast and nimble character, which makes her very effective and efficient.
However, Athena has a slick little card up her sleeve. She’s a very powerful psychic, capable of unleashing some very powerful and handy psionic power moves.
Some of my favorites are the psychic uppercut that helps her easily set up longer combos, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it teleport that allows her to manipulate the battlefield, a psychic barrier that can quickly reflect incoming projectile attacks, etc.
Whatever your experience level with this franchise, whatever your skill level as a fighting game player, Athena is a perfect character. She’s easy to play and she’s easy to master, but don’t let her simple design fool you. Athena can be a dominating force on the battlefield, and she’s our top King of Fighters character.