The 51 Most Iconic Video Games Characters of All Time

Sega / Sony Interactive Entertainment / Xbox Game Studios / Nintendo / ONE37pm

You've seen them in random commercials for non-gaming-related products. You've spotted them on children's bookbags. You've even seen them on the front of cereal boxes, lunch boxes, and old cans of SpaghettiOs!

The characters we speak of are icons derived from the world of gaming. Ever since the interactive entertainment medium we love so much began dominating the world, fans far and wide have come to adore its most recognizable faces. Not a day goes by when at least one of these characters comes across your timeline, gets mentioned during a random conversation, or pops up into your head after listening to an associated song of some kind. We're here to honor 51 of the very best and honor their historic runs.

So without further ado, join us as we showcase the most iconic video game characters of all time.

1. Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man

pac man

First Appearances: 'Pac-Man' and 'Ms. Pac-Man'

Who knew that the image of a pizza pie with one slice removed would lead to the creation of one of gaming's earliest mascots? Toru Iwatani's yellow pellet-eating, ghost-chomping avatar Pac-Man is known far and wide. The same goes for the little yellow guy's equally popular female counterpart.

2. Nathan Drake

Sony Interactive Entertainment

First Appearance: 'Uncharted: Drake's Fortune'

Sony's very own treasure raider is your lovable everyman that endures himself to everyone he eventually befriends. And when he's not blasting baddies and escaping dangerous situations by the skin of his teeth, Nathan Drake can be seen featured on the big screen and other Sony-licensed titles. Nathan's scruffy world explorer design makes him incredibly easy to recognize.

3. Crash Bandicoot

CB4 Screenshot Reveal 13

First Appearance: 'Crash Bandicoot'

When Sony first launched the PlayStation, it came out the gate swinging at Nintendo and Sega with its prized platform mascot. That mascot ended up being the anthropomorphic orange marsupial known as Crash Bandicoot. Crash has been in his own highly-rated games, talked trash to Mario in commercials, invented his own dance, etc.

4. Spyro the Dragon

Running Through Idol Springs

First Appearance: 'Spyro the Dragon'

When Crash emerged as the frontman for the PS1, he was soon joined by a fellow platforming mascot that helped define Sony's first console as a hub for quality games geared towards younger audiences. Everyone got a kick out of Spyro the Dragon's whimsical adventures, which include fun bouts of headbutting, fire-breathing, gem collecting, and graceful flights. Spyro's iconic run has resulted in him appealing to two different audiences, which are fans of his retro platformers and followers of the Skylanders toys-to-life spinoff games.

5. Lara Croft

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Core Design

First Appearance: 'Tomb Raider'

Before Nathan Drake stepped up as gaming's premier tomb explorer, the great Lara Croft owned that distinct honor. The Tomb Raider franchise put her at the forefront of everyone's memories thanks to her iconic look, double pistol mastery, and overall cool factor. Lara's recognizability grew by leaps and bounds once Angelina Jolie played her in those big-budget Tomb Raider movie adaptations.

6. Donkey Kong

Donkey Kong 418a

First Appearance: 'Donkey Kong'

Nintendo's lovable ape was actually a bad guy at first - he terrorized Mario and his girlfriend back in the arcades at the start. Then he got to play the part of hero alongside his little brother Diddy Kong in the SNES classic known as Donkey Kong Country. Since then, the burly ape has been recognized as one of Nintendo's biggest stars thanks to his amazing platformers and featured roles in games such as Super Smash Bros., Mario Party, Mario Kart, etc.

7. Mario


First Appearance: 'Donkey Kong'

The plumber known around the world is none other than Mario. The platforming hero originally referred to as "Jumpman" has been a mainstream darling ever since he blew young gamers' minds back on the NES. Mario's getting his own animated movie with Chris Pratt of all people voicing him, which lets you know just how monumental Mario is in the world of entertainment.

7. Luigi

Super Mario Galaxy Luigi

First Appearance: 'Mario Bros.'

Mario's slimmer and much weirder brother has a major fanbase of his own. At first, he was just known as the Mario Bros. sibling which didn't differentiate too much from everything his sibling did. But then, games like Luigi's Mansion and Super Smash Bros. exposed the quirkier parts of his lovable personality. Now everyone adores him even more for standing apart from his chubbier counterpart.

8. Princess Peach


First Appearance: 'Super Mario Bros.'

Princess just used to be your usual gaming damsel in distress. But as the Mario Bros. franchise moved forward, the ruler of the Mushroom Kingdom began gaining even more popularity thanks to her appearances in a bevy of spinoff games. Peach's popularity even rivals that of Mario now! Her kart, tennis, golf, and other talents all make her a female gaming icon worth celebrating.

9. Solid Snake

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First Appearance: 'Metal Gear'

When Hideo Kojima dropped the very first Metal Gear Solid back in 1998, everyone who played it walked away from it singing the praises of its main protagonist. Solid Snake, the badass operative that has saved the world from militaristic threats on countless occasions, exudes a cool factor that's only rivaled by his stealthier compatriots. Snake is practically the mascot for all things stealth-based gameplay excellence.

10. Master Chief

Xbox Game Studios

First Appearance: 'Halo: Combat Evolved'

Halo's superheroic Spartan has been fighting the good fight against humanity's alien foes since 2001. And everyone has grown to adore him ever since. Master Chief has never revealed what he actually looks like, which is why there's such an air of mystery surrounding him to this very day. Even still, Master Chief's cool factor has remained intact as he continues being the armor-sporting savior of the UNSC. We can't wait to see him in action on his Paramount+ live-action series!

11. Kratos

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Sony Interactive Entertainment

First Appearance: 'God of War'

"Alpha male" is an overused term, but it definitely applies to this mountain of a man. Kratos spent his first three mainline games offing the Greek gods, so you couldn't help but get caught up in all his reckless behavior and unmatched brutality. God of War (2018) added extra wrinkles to Sony's unbridled god killer, which makes him even more of a likable protagonist these days.

12. Sonic the Hedgehog


First Appearance: 'Sonic the Hedgehog'

"Sega does what Nintendon't!" And at the very front of that fiery marketing campaign, Sega's "Blue Blur" came out swinging against Nintendo's portly plumber. To this very day, Sonic the Hedgehog remains an entertainment staple - he even got his very own float at the Thanksgiving Day Parade! The platforming icon that always wants to go fast is featured on anything and everything, which makes him super easy to pick out of a lineup.

13. Link


First Appearance: 'The Legend of Zelda'

Nintendo's green tunic-wearing hero is known far and wide as the savior of the kingdom of "Hyrule." Link's been through it all with his forever nemesis Ganondorf, but he's always managed to eliminate him with his trusty "Master Sword" and "Hylian Shield" by his side. Link's legendary status will forever stay intact thanks to his strong track record of truly amazing action/adventure epics.

14. Samus Aran

metroid dread art

First Appearance: 'Metroid'

Imagine the shock and awe written all over everyone's faces when they found out that the hero of Metroid was actually a heroine! Ever since then, gamers have given Samus Aran all the respect in the world for being a fine representative of female main characters in gaming. The intergalactic bounty hunter who lets her "Plasma Gun" do the talking will always remain a megastar.

15. Kirby

H2x1 Kirby Hub V2 image1600w

First Appearance: 'Kirby's Dream Land'

Nintendo sure has a long line of iconic characters, doesn't it? Next on our list from the "Big N" is the pink puffball that makes for the perfect plush doll. Kirby sucks up his enemies, copies their abilities, and overcomes the sorts of enormous baddies you'd think would pound him into a pulp. You can't help but appreciate Kirby's insatiable appetite and expansive suite of powerful (and sometimes quirky!) abilities.

16. Bowser

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First Appearance: 'Super Mario Bros.'

The mega lizard menace that's been terrorizing Mario and the other inhabitants of the "Mushroom Kingdom" for decades is this guy. Bowser's the ultimate video game big boss that's been at the forefront of Nintendo's biggest franchise right alongside its lovable protagonist. Side note - Bowser's definitely one of our mains in Smash!

17. Pikachu


First Appearance: 'Pokémon Red Version' and 'Pokémon Blue Version'

You know Pikachu is a notable piece of video game/mainstream royalty since most folks can mimic his voice with relative ease. That's because the most popular Pokémon of all time is still at the forefront of everyone's memory. The lovable yellow mouse we've all come to adore is just so darn cute! The little guy even has his own movie, so you can never doubt "Pika Pika's" popularity.

18. Mega Man

MegaMan11 Art

First Appearance: 'Mega Man'

Capcom's "Blue Bomber" dominated everyone's attention back on the NES. And even though he's had a ton of character changes in the years since, everyone still refers to Mega Man's OG model as the most recognizable. He's small, but he's a powerhouse that's done work in his 0wn games and a bunch of Capcom crossover titles. His 90s cartoon and its theme song are still the stuff of legend!

19. Yoshi

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First Appearance: 'Super Mario World'

Once gamers got introduced to Yoshi back in Super Mario World, a new star was born. Now that the super helpful dinosaur is sporting legs, he's even more of a superstar within the halls of Nintendo. Yoshi's done everything from taking care of a crying Baby Mario to hitting holes-in-one across dozens of Mario Golf courses, so he's clearly an anthropomorphic legend out here.

20. Ryu


First Appearance: 'Street Fighter'

The original "World Warrior" and the fighting game mascot that will never be surpassed is none other than Ryu himself. You've probably heard someone randomly yell out "HADOUKEN!" out in public and instantly know who that term is connected to. And that's because Street Fighter's master of "Shotokan-style Karate" is a pop culture commodity.

21. Chun-Li

chun li

First Appearance: 'Street Fighter II: The World Warrior'

And when the topic of the lady rep that gets the most love in Street Fighter, it's undoubtedly Chun-Li. Her signature character design has been cosplayed by many (even Jackie Chan!) and is recognizable far & wide. You know Chun-Li is truly an icon out here when Nicki Minaj even has a whole song named after the "Lighting Legs" user.

22. Scorpion

scorpion 1
Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

First Appearance: 'Mortal Kombat'

"GET OVER HERE!" Plenty of kids on the playground uttered that furious phrase during the height of Mortal Kombat fandom. And even now, people continue to quote the yellow ninja that's fueled by rage and powered by hellfire. Scorpion is the quintessential video game ninja that's been featured in movies, comic books, cartoons, and so much more.

23. Sub-Zero

Sub Zero Mortal Kombat 11 Tips 1
Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

First Appearance: 'Mortal Kombat'

The other side of the signature Mortal Kombat ninja coin always flips to Socrpion's "frozen" rival. Sub-Zero is held in very high regard thanks to his "cool" demeanor and the abundance of slick alternate costumes he's sported over the past couple of decades. And that foreboding voice? It's just another factor that makes Sub-Zero such a beloved fighting game legend.

24. Cloud Strife

Square Enix

First Appearance: 'Final Fantasy VII'

Cloud Strife and his weighty "Buster Sword" caused a whole generation of gamers to embrace role-playing games during the 1997 launch of Final Fantasy VII. Square Enix has pushed Cloud out into the mainstream via a wealth of additional content dedicated to one of the most revered entries in the Final Fantasy franchise. Cloud's also showcased his sword-swinging excellence in Super Smash Bros. and even Kingdom Hearts, which are two spinoff roles that point to his immense fan acclaim.

25. Sephiroth

Square Enix

First Appearance: 'Final Fantasy VII'

And here we have the penultimate JRPG baddie that has his own massive fanbase opposite his eternal foe Cloud. Sephiroth and his unbelievably long "Masamune" katana can still be seen in various parts of the media. The guy just exudes immense swag and has the sort of voice that commands everyone's attention. His featured roles in various FF VII-themed games, Super Smash Bros., Kingdom Hearts, Ehrgeiz, etc. have made him even more of an undeniable star.

26. Duke Nukem

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2K Games

First Appearance: 'Duke Nukem'

"Your face, your ass - what's the difference?"

"Your ass is grass, and I've got the weed whacker."

"My boot, your face; the perfect couple."

Those 90s action movie quotables actually originated from a video game centered around a brash, gun-toting alien buster. And the man that uttered those wild catchphrases and many more outlandish lines is Duke Nukem, the blond-haired dynamo who shoots first and asks questions later. 90s babies recognize this dude at first sight and definitely remember his dominance of first-person shooters as soon as they hear his iconic deep voice.

Honorable Mentions

27. Earthworm Jim

earthworm jim
Interplay Entertainment

First Appearance: 'Earthworm Jim'

28. Jill Valentine

jill valentine

First Appearance: 'Resident Evil'

29. Waluigi

Waluigi Featured

First Appearance: 'Mario Tennis'

30. Bill and Lance

2 494
Level Infinite

First Appearance: 'Contra'

31. Leon S. Kennedy


First Appearance: 'Resident Evil 2'

32. Claire Redfield

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First Appearance: 'Resident Evil 2'

33. Wario


First Appearance: 'Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins'

34. Fox McCloud


First Appearance: 'StarFox'

35. Billy and Jimmy Lee

double dragon neon hero.0
Majesco Entertainment

First Appearance: 'Double Dragon'

36. Rash, Zitz, and Pimple

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Xbox Game Studios

First Appearance: 'Battletoads'

37. Bub and Bob

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First Appearance: 'Bubble Bobble'

38. Commander Shepard

mass effect commander shepard return
Electronic Arts

First Appearance: 'Mass Effect'

39. Diddy Kong

Diddy Kong SSBB

First Appearance: 'Donkey Kong Country'

40. M. Bison

m bison

First Appearance: 'Street Fighter II: The World Warrior'

41. Tracer

tracer ptr buff overwatch
Blizzard Entertainment

First Appearance: 'Overwatch'

42. Ryu Hayabusa

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Koei Tecmo

First Appearance: 'Ninja Gaiden'

43. Agent 47

agent 47
IO Interactive

First Appearance: 'Hitman: Codename 47'

44. Geralt of Rivia

CD Projekt

First Appearance: 'The Witcher'

45. Gordon Freeman

gordon freeman

First Appearance: 'Half-Life'

46. Q*bert

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LOOT Interactive

First Appearance: 'Q*bert'

47. Sam Fisher

sam fisher

First Appearance: 'Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell'

48. Joel

Sony Interactive Entertainment

First Appearance: 'The Last of Us'

49. Ellie

The Last of Us Part 2 1
Sony Interactive Entertainment

First Appearance: 'The Last of Us'

50. Big Daddy

bioshock the collection switch screenshot02

First Appearance: 'BioShock'

51. Ratchet & Clank

RC RiftApart Heroes PS5 scaled 1
Sony Interactive Entertainment

First Appearance: 'Ratchet & Clank'

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