Gamers have come a long way since the days of OG fighters such as Karate Champ, Yie Ar Kung-Fu, and The Way of the Exploding Fist.
Since the smashing success of Street Fighter II, the fighting game genre has evolved into a mega force. It offers a nice variety of fighters to engage with that includes traditional 2D fighters, super-fast-paced anime fighters, methodical 3D fighters, expansive arena fighters, and multi-person platform party brawlers.
Fighting games have evolved from their arcade cabinet roots to take over the living room and major FGC tournaments that bring the hype of in-person events to everyone at home via live streams. Thanks to the ongoing fighting game excellence put forward by Capcom, NetherRealm, SNK, Arc System Works, and more, the genre has been given a wealth of classic titles that still get played religiously.
Now it’s time for us to show all the love in the world to 42 of the greatest fighting game ever made.
Street Fighter II kicked off a fighting game renaissance that filled arcades and random bodegas everywhere with rabid youngsters. And through its many iterations, Capcom has done an amazing job at adding more characters, stages, and mechanics to further improve it. The ultimate version is Super Street Fighter II Turbo and is recognized as the finest one to date thanks to its refined gameplay. The debut of super combos provided the final cherry on top of a game that’s damn near perfect. The fact that this game is still played competitively to this day is all the proof you need of its excellence.
Street Fighter Alpha went the prequel route by covering the events that take place prior to the Street Fighter II timeline. The best game in the series, in our opinion, is still Street Fighter Alpha II Gold. The regular rendition of Street Fighter Alpha II is already great on its own – its faster-paced combat, Custom Combo system, and Alpha Counters provide the deep mechanics that make it infinitely enjoyable. Street Fighter Alpha II Gold is an even better version of that game that adds the X-Men vs. Street Fighter version of Cammy into the mix, new moves, a wealth of character balance changes, and so much more. Make sure you seek out this pick on the PS2’s Street Fighter Alpha Anthology!
Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike didn’t get a whole lot of playtime and attention during its original launch back in 1999. But thanks to the FGC’s devotion to this game, it’s grown in popularity and gained recognition as one of the greatest examples of 2D fighting games. 3rd Strike’s fluid 2D art style, roster full of fan-favorite combatants, Godlike soundtrack, and Parry system are all part of the reasons why it’s held in such high regard. Just look up “Evo Moment 37” for all the proof you need of 3rd Strike’s ability to hype up a crowd!
Street Fighter IV has to be given all the credit in the world for reviving the fighting game genre and the FGC as a whole. And thanks to further iterations, Capcom’s triumphant Street Fighter comeback further progressed across its lengthy lifecycle. The final installment within Street Fighter IV arrived in the form of a quality “Ultra” version. Ultra Street Fighter IV comes jam-packed with so many additional goodies, which includes five extra characters, six new stages, the Ultra Double Combo, Red Focus Attack, etc. The extra character balances and “Omega Mode” moveset variations also did a commendable job of sending Street Fighter IV’s final iteration out on a high note.
We’re guessing Super Smash Bros. series creator Masahiro Sakurai had no idea that this sequel would endure long after its 2001 debut on the Nintendo GameCube. Because of its simple yet deceptively complex combat tools, Super Smash Bros. Melee still gets plenty of playtime from a very dedicated group of eSports competitors. There’s so much to love about this platform party fighter besides its addictive gameplay, though – its roster full of Nintendo icons, abundance of single-player modes, and high fun factor among the casual crowd adds to Melee’s legendary status.
“EVERYONE IS HERE!” Sakurai and the rest of the development team behind Super Smash Bros. Ultimate went the extra mile when it came to deciding the final roster for this biggest installment in the franchise to date. Each and every playable character from past series’ entries makes their return here, plus the additional Fighters Passes threw in even more incredible gaming legends to hop into battle with. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is simply a love letter to all of gaming that feels like the ultimate crossover fighter that 80s and 90s babies dreamed of back in the day. We just can’t see the next Super Smash Bros. getting even better than this!
The first Mortal Kombat was a definite game-changer due to its gratuitous violence and over-the-top Fatalities. Mortal Kombat II came around and offered an even bolder vision of Ed Boon & his development studio’s grand vision. This sequel got a huge jump in visual presentation that made its gory “kombat” look even more lifelike. The introduction of series regulars, such as Jax, Kung Lao, and Shao Khan, happened here. Mortal Kombat II still plays great and is the proper upgrade the Mortal Kombat franchise deserved during its early origins.
Now let’s talk about Mortal Kombat 3! And more specifically, the updated version of the game we prefer the most. Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 brought along with it the already strong gameplay produced by the original version. And as far as new features go, this iteration of Mortal Kombat 3 marked the welcome return of some series favorites and introduced some very cool unlockables to up the fun factor even more. The 2v2 mode is still a blast here, by the way! We’ll take this version of Mortal Kombat 3 over Mortal Kombat Trilogy any day of the week.
After the 3D open arena experiment for Mortal Kombat came to a close, the series got back to its 2D plane roots with one of the finest gaming reboots the genre has ever played. 2011’s Mortal Kombat put forth an engaging story mode that brought together the first three game’s plots in a satisfying fashion. As for the gameplay itself, this return to form for Mortal Kombat lets players play with their favorites within incredibly fast-paced clashes that feel like a natural evolution of Mortal Kombat 3. The debut of X-Ray maneuvers, the tag team battles, and the usage of special guests such as Kratos and Freddy Krueger adds to this game’s worthwhile package.
Mortal Kombat X really pushed the series forward in a shocking way. Each character arrived with three variations that practically gave players three choices in one. The darker art style added to the game’s mature allure and made its jaw-dropping Fatalities and X-Ray supers look even more shocking than ever before. As far as combo-heavy Mortal Kombat series entries go, this one gets the nod for having the craziest ones we’ve seen to date. Which is part of the reason why it’s still being played in various FGC circles. Mortal Kombat X hits on every level as a great fighting game and another fine example of NetherRealm Studios’ attention to detail.
Mortal Kombat 11 slowed things down a bit to offer a more methodical and footsies-based fighter that evokes memories of Mortal Kombat II. Getting to customize every “kombatant” in the game to your liking via alternate costumes and special moves gave rise to so much player creativity. It’s still mindblowing for us to witness two different versions of Frost come to blows and utilize their own special abilities that differ from each other. Mortal Kombat 11 is easily the best-looking installment in the series to date and also gets a ton of love for offering a content-rich experience for everyone that hops into it.
The natural evolution of Soul Blade/Edge gave rise to the first-ever Soulcalibur, which ended up being one of the best Sega Dreamcast launch titles. This weapons-based fighter is a huge visual improvement over its predecessor that still looks crisp in motion to this very day. The game’s roster got overhauled for the better as it featured the best members of the first game and also threw in brand new faces that ended up becoming mainstays of the franchise. Playing Soulcalibur is a must for fans of 3D fighters – there’s still a lot of fun to be hand getting caught up in the combative origins of Ivy, Kilik, Nightmare, and more.
Soulcalibur II really took the guest character concept and did something unforgettable with it. On top of the already amazing array of global weapons wielders on offer from the game’s roster were three console-exclusive characters – Heihachi from Tekken (PS2), Spawn (Xbox), and Link from The Legend of Zelda (GameCube). Soulcalibur II’s awesome roster and a bevy of system changes birthed a sequel that raised the bar in every single way. Shout out to this game for bringing back the usage of alternate weapons from Soul Blade/Edge, too!
Soulcalibur V forced the IP to endure an uncomfortably long hiatus, sadly. 2018 marked the highly anticipated return of the greatest 3D weapons fighter via a sequel/reboot that pushed its lore forward while also revisiting the past events shaped around the game’s two most powerful blades. From a gameplay standpoint, Soulcalibur VI breathed new life into everything thanks to the addition of the always-hype Reversal Edge maneuver and a revamped usage of the Soul Charge mechanic. Soulcalibur came back in a major way thanks to this incredible return to form.
Capcom’s “Vs.” line of fighting games always pitted the very best of Marvel against Capcom’s mainstay stars. But then came the ultimate crossover war between both companies in the form of Marvel vs. Capcom 2, which blew everyone’s minds with a full character count of 56 heroes/villains. The 3v3 battles allow for fast and furious action that is just as exciting to play as it is to watch. This game is another example of an FGC entity that’s still played on a competitive level. And for good reason – Marvel vs. Capcom 2 is full of fun on a casual level and even more enticing on an expert one.
In one of the most random crossover fighting games of all time, Capcom pitted its most recognizable and severely underrated characters against the retro anime icons belonging to the Tatsunoko Production studio. And to everyone’s surprise, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars ended up being way better than it had any right to be. The 2v2 gameplay pretty much laid the blueprint for Marvel vs. Capcom 3, which is why it’s so easy to get caught up in all the fun this game basks in. The unique “Baroque Combo” feature is a great risk/reward mechanic that we’d love to see pop up in other fighters in the future. And we’ll always appreciate this game for giving players the ability to team up Chun-Li with Jun the Swan!
Tatsunoko vs. Capcom walked so Marvel vs. Capcom 3 could run. And after Marvel vs. Capcom 3 got in a great lap, it got boosted to offer even more to its dedicated player base. Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 increased the roster count to showcase series veterans and relative unknowns at the time. Strider-Hiryu, Firebrand, Ghost Rider, Nova, and more joined the 3v3 madness to make it even more of a can’t miss prospect. As far as crossover fighting games go, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 sits near the top of the mountain thanks to incredibly fun and blindingly fast gameplay.
Tekken 3 will forever be regarded as the best-selling fighting game of all time. When it finally made its way from the arcade to PlayStation consoles back in 1998, fighting game fans and even non-fans alike couldn’t help but get caught up in all the hype. Tekken 3 produced a massive leap in visual fidelity and character design, plus it offered more free-form gameplay thanks to the newly added sidestepping maneuver. This sequel did huge numbers when it came to sales simply because it was just too damn good to ignore. Tekken 3 is GOAT-tier material.
The Tekken series evolved across its fourth and fifth entries. The response to the Tekken 5 was hugely positive, which is why it came as no surprise that it got an upgraded version that gets credit for being the very best version. It’s pretty wild to fathom that Tekken 5 Dark Resurrection started life as a PlayStation Portable exclusive before it came to the PS3 with online functionality. We adore this game for debuting Lili and Dragunov while also bringing back Armor King. The strong gameplay introduced in the OG version of Tekken 5 is retained here while also throwing in a remixed OST and even more striking battlegrounds to freshen things up.
Tekken 7 is the longest-running game in the franchise when it comes to ongoing post-launch DLC support. Through constant character balances and roster updates, the 7th King of the Iron Fist Tournament has evolved into one of the best 3D fighting games of all time. The Tekken formula has been perfected in this iteration and introduced cool new features such as “Rage Arts, “the “Power Crush,” and “Rage Drive” moves. Plus we have to give props to Tekken 7 for its implementation of 2D fighting game characters and retrofitting them into a 3D fighter with ease. It’s still insane to watch Heihachi come to blows with Street Fighter’s Akuma in this game!
Before Tekken hit the scene, Sega embraced the realm of 3d fighters with the introduction of Virtua Fighter. Its sequel is the one that truly deserves all the love in the world for pushing the series and the fighting game genre itself forward to incredible horizons. Virtua Fighter 2’s graphical upgrades are many – the characters look way more smoothed out, the stages appear more fully realized from their conceptual stage, and the action that transpires onscreen moves at a more fluid pace. Virtua Fighter 2 feels and plays like everything its creators wished for during the series’ first foray into the fighting game genre. It’s practically a dream come true in playable form for 3D fighting game fans!
If you owned or still own a PS2, then Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution has to be sitting within your library. Simply put, it does everything the original Virtua Fighter 4 does and makes it its mission to do all those things even better. Besides improved visuals and a number of character balance adjustments, this updated follow-up came in hot with two new characters, a unique tournament quest mode that lets players compete against AI bots whose playstyles are modeled after legit Japanese pros, and a whole lot of cool character customization.
The latest incarnation of Virtua Fighter 5 is the very best yet. Sega’s in-house development house Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio (Yakuza, Judgment) went out of its way to make each member of the game’s roster and stages look even better, which ultimately makes Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown shine. The fighting mechanics themselves are still top of the line as it offers the most realistic demonstration of intense martial arts action the fighting game genre has ever seen. And with the inclusion of new online modes, this super updated edition of Virtua Fighter 5 feels and plays like its most complete form to date.
Guilty Gear XX has seen numerous version upgrades over time. The definitive edition of that Arc System Works classic is the one we’ve chosen to detail here. Guilty Gear XX: Accent Core Plus R offers the best upgrades to characters that were once perceived as being a bit weak while also introducing proper adjustments for the game’s stronger roster members. Kliff and Justice end up joining the fray to increase the full playable character count to 25, the single-player modes suite is plentiful, and the rollback netcode enhancement featured in the PC version pushed this anime fighter to levels of near perfection.
Guilty Gear Xrd marks a true evolution point for the series that helped make it even more of a destination fighter for the FGC. Once it reached its final stage, it put forth its best iteration via REV 2. This version of the game marks the hype return of the lady samurai known as Baiken and the debut of the shinobi assistant known as Answer. The gameplay itself feels as rewarding as it’s ever been, plus the many balance changes and animations added to the game helped it reach its final improved stage. Guilty Gear Xrd REV 2 is one of Arc System Works’…well, finest works to date.
The FGC didn’t even know it wanted a Persona fighting game until the original Persona 4 Arena eventually came through. And to the surprise of no one, that anime fighter got the updated treatment with the introduction of Ultimax. The roster increased by eight with the addition of several familiar faces, plus Shadow versions of each character were featured to add even more playable options to master. The entertainment value attached to this all-Persona battler is extremely high thanks to a mix of slick, fast-paced combat and the best aspects of the JRPG spinoff series itself.
SNK’s weapons-based fighter gets a ton of acclaim thanks to its slower-paced gameplay that rewards patient players that pick their spots more carefully. The very best version of that playstyle is front and center in Samurai Shodown V Special, which is an updated version of the fifth mainline entry in the series. What’s on offer here is the most balanced version of the game, more characters to master, and a wealth of satisfying gory finishers that adds even more weight to each clash. Samurai Shodown V Special is the peak of the 2D entries within the franchise.
Like Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike, Garou: Mark of the Wolves marks a sharp turn for the Fatal Fury series. Thankfully, that change in presentation and gameplay style ended up being a welcome evolution that fans gravitated to. Series frontman Terry Bogard got a new look and went to battle with a new collective of fighters that fit right into the ongoing Fatal Fury mythos. With the “Just Defense” and “Tactical Offense Position” (T.O.P.) systems put in place, Garou: Mark of the Wolves remains a high point for the series that offers tactical gameplay in the most rewarding way possible.
We sure do miss the rivalry that persisted between the two biggest fighting game makers back in the day. Capcom and SNK kicked off the playable feud between them with Capcom Vs. SNK: Millennium Fight 2000. But that playable grudge match improved by leaps and bounds with the release of Capcom vs. SNK 2: Mark of the Millennium 2001. New characters from Samurai Shodown, The Last Blade, Rival Schools, and Final Fight ran into the ring for this sequel. Plus the tweaks made to the first game’s “Ratio” system and the debut of the “Grooves” meter mechanics gave way to plenty of player creativity to bask in.
For years before this game became a reality, avid Dragon Ball Z fans lamented the lack of a true 2D fighting game that pitted Super Saiyans against their very worst villains. Arc System Works took on that dream scenario and made it a reality with the release of Dragon Ball FighterZ. We’re happy to say that that this quality anime fighter does everything fans expected it to do – it features gorgeous visuals on par with the anime itself, stars a who’s who of characters from different story arcs of the show, and relies on 3v3 team-based mechanics that mimic the best aspects of Marvel vs. Capcom 3.
During Capcom’s creative zenith, it developed a fighting game that included horror movie archetypes with an anime edge to them all. Once Darkstalkers reached its third entry, it reached its highest point of recognizability and fan adoration. Darkstalkers 3 retained the amazing 2D gameplay of past games in the series while also adding in the signature “Dark Force System” to give each character an awesome gimmick super move to gain the advantage with. Darkstalkers 3 also earns a nod on this list thanks to its introduction of the best new series entrants we’ve ever seen – Jedah, Lilith, Q-Bee, and B. B. Hood are top of the line when it comes to original Capcom characters!
The first dream match that took place within SNK’s premier fighting game series is this bonafide classic. The King of Fighters ’98: Ultimate Match is pretty much the definitive edition of the base game thanks to additional roster members and a wealth of gameplay changes that have been made for the better. It feels so good to take advantage of the three-meter variations with boss characters such as Geese and Wolfgang at the ready. Shout out to this game for throwing in some sweet 3D backgrounds for the console version, too!
The next dream match within The King of Fighters timeline arrived with this next pick on our list. The King of Fighters 2002 Unlimited Match features a long list of the most beloved characters from past entries and adds in the mysterious Nameless to really up the ante. Each character comes with new and old moves that make their moveset more expansive than ever before. It feels so good to play both KOF dream matches online through flawless rollback netcode.
One of the prettiest fighting games we’ve ever laid eyes on is the 13th mainline entry in The King of Fighters series. The refreshed art style seen in this 2D fighter popped up in The King of Fighters XII (man, what a disappointment that was…), which means it got applied to other series regulars that made them look their very best. The introduction of the EX Mode, Hyper Drive mode, and Neo Max Desperation Move threw in some awe-inspiring moves that birthed some super hype (and hard to pull off!) combos.
Now we have so many warm memories attached to Rare’s original Killer Instinct games. But the rebooted 3D evolution of the combo- and counter-heavy fighter stands out as our absolute fave. The combined efforts of development studios Double Helix Games and Iron Galaxy helped turn this Killer Instinct revival into a comeback well worth hopping into. The original roster is all in tow, plus the newly added characters and guests fit in perfectly with the overall theme of Killer Instinct. This reboot is one of the deepest fighters ever made thanks to its systems that implement combo breakers and massive combo strings that can end a match in seconds.
It’s always gratifying to see a project created by an independent development studio come to fruition and succeed. With the amazing work put forth by a multitude of studios, Skullgirls has reached its strongest point to date through the 2nd Encore update. This 2D fighter is an amalgamation of the best parts from the “Vs.” series and also incorporates some of the most uniquely designed lady brawlers ever featured in fighting games. By the time Skullgirls 2nd Encore releases its final DLC character, it’ll be ranked among the greatest of all time within the FGC.
Once Arc Sys moved away from Guilty Gear for a while to produce something new yet similar to its marquee IP, the Japanese studio blessed the FGC with the BlazBlue series. The final major update within that IP is Central Fiction, which is widely recognized as the best version that’s still played by passionately. This game offers a fitting conclusion to the “Azure Saga” storyline, adds eight more warriors into the mix, and improves upon everything that came before. BlazBlue: Central Fiction is a masterclass in the anime fight game subgenre.
Japanese publisher Koei Tecmo and developer Team Ninja’s fighting game magnum opus is the Dead or Alive series. Fans have regularly flocked to each franchise entry thanks to its easy to play, hard to master gameplay. Plus its…well, “titillating” lady character models have also earned the game plenty of attention. The highest point of quality within Dead or Alive is the final version of the fifth game, which is Dead or Alive 5 Last Round. The roster is massive as its filled with series regulars and guests from Virtua Fighter, Samurai Warriors, and Ninja Gaiden. The fluid action that happens onscreen still looks crisp and the fun factor will forever remain high within this quality 3D brawler.
Injustice: Gods Among Us gave players the ability to act out their dream DC Comics clashes while getting caught up in an emotional storyline that pitted heroes against heroes. Then came the sequel that offered welcome upgrades in every area imaginable. Injustice 2 shined the spotlight on lesser-known saviors and baddies, plus it even called on some surprising guests to join in on all the superpowered battles. Its story mode is just as good as the one featured in its predecessor, mixing & matching outfits for each character is highly addictive, and the explosive battles that take place within this all-DC fighter look & feel superior to everything that came before it.
Arc System Works successfully went back to the drawing board on its standout anime fighter while also incorporating legacy elements that fans have come to adore. While the omission of Instant Kills in this game is disheartening, Guilty Gear -Strive- still holds up due to its usage of the combo extending Roman Cancel and combo breaking Psych Burst. The debut of awesome-looking and even better-playing characters such as Nagoriyuki and Giovanna introduces new styles of play, while the returning cast arrives with new tools and even new looks to compliment them. Guilty Gear -Strive- is an incredible return to form for the anime fighter that’s always backed by a headbanger’s soundtrack.
It’s hard to believe that SNK’s signature 3v3, team elimination fighter has been around long enough to be on its 15th main series entry. But thank the heavens because it managed to turn into a quality 2.5D fighter that respects the series’ past while also pushing forward into the future. Our expectations were certainly shattered due to the return of formerly deceased characters such as Ash, plus the usage of new mechanics such as the Focus Attack-like Shatter Strike and MAX Mode variations. Pulling off big combos is easier, the game’s roster is amazing, and the super flashy Climax Super Special Moves all add up to make playing The King of Fighters XV feel like a dream.