Who are the most popular video game characters of all time?
Video games are nothing without compelling, memorable characters, and there is no shortage of fantastic characters to choose from.
However, some characters stand out from the rest and stick with players long after they have moved on to other games.
Some are so iconic that even non-gamers can easily recognize them.
To highlight the impact that these incredible characters have had, we’ve compiled a list of the 25 most popular characters in video gaming history.
The Most Popular Video Game Characters Of All Time
Our ranked lists are created by researching and rounding up information from the most reputable web sources.
Here’s our list of the 25 most popular video game characters of all time:
Rayman is an iconic main character instantly recognizable to old-school gamers, and since 1995, 45 Rayman games have been released on numerous platforms.
Set in a magical world, Rayman may have no arms, legs, or neck, but he certainly knows how to throw a punch as he glides through the game propelled by his spinning helicopter hair.
Rayman was even fortunate enough to receive his own animated series in which the iconic Billy West voiced him!
24. Max Payne
As his name suggests, Max has seen a lot of pain in his life, but he also knows how to dish it out.
Set in a neo-noir world, Max is a detective-turned-vigilante who leaves the force to find those responsible for the murder of his wife and infant daughter.
As one of the most loved gaming characters, Max is instantly recognizable to many gamers, and the first game in the trilogy is by far one of the most interesting and compelling games of its time.
We’d be remiss to leave this Mortal Kombat character off the list, especially given how impactful the series as a whole has been in gaming history.
As a character, Sub-Zero is a heroic fighter, and gamers love his abilities and iconic fatality finishing moves.
Along with Scorpion, Sub-Zero is one of the most popular and easily recognizable characters in the entirety of the series, if not the whole fighting game genre.
Speaking of Scorpion, we can’t just mention him and not give him a place on this list.
As the main protagonist of Mortal Kombat, this undead ninja has appeared in nearly every installment.
In 2009, Game Informer even rated him as the third-best fighting game character, and series co-creator Ed Boon even regards Scorpion as his favorite character.
In terms of overall impact, this character holds his own both in-game and in the realm of gaming history.
21. Cloud Strife
Making his first appearance in Final Fantasy VII, Cloud Strife is often cited as one of the best examples of complex character writing in all of gaming.
Well received by critics and fans, the depiction of his psychological issues is strikingly well done without feeling fake, mocking, or overdone.
He was even named the fifth best video game character in the Guinness World Records Gamer’s Edition 2011.
Cloud is one of those characters that many gamers can instantly place, even if they’ve never played the Final Fantasy franchise.
20. John Marston
Hailing from Red Dead Redemption, John Marston is one of those gaming characters that players can’t help but become invested in.
As the playable protagonist of the 2010 game, he is forced to hunt down members of his old gang as the Wild West around him declines.
Not only is he a badass gunslinger, but the character is beautifully nuanced, which is made even more prominent by Rob Wiethoff’s mocap performance.
Since his debut, Marston has risen to be one of the most unforgettable gaming characters, and seeing his growth through Red Dead Redemption 1 and Red Dead Redemption 2 is something truly special.
19. Geralt of Rivia
From his humble beginnings in literature by Andrzej Sapkowski to the hit Netflix TV show today, it’s safe to say that Geralt has come a long way.
As a Witcher, Geralt is mutated to have extreme resistance to injury, disease, and poison, as well as a slowed aging progression.
With his anti-politics, no-bullshit stance on life, Geralt is the main character that you just can’t help but root for.
Sure, he might not make you feel the same emotions that John Marston does, but slicing through monsters with him just makes you feel like you can take on anything.
18. Joel Miller
There is no Ellie without Joel, and this is one of the few characters that — while morally questionable — will make any player emotional.
Joel is unquestionably someone that you’d want on your side during a fungus apocalypse, but his journey is what makes him one of the most popular characters in gaming.
The sheer amount of growth that he experiences, made even better by Troy Bakers’ mocap and vocal performance, is simply incredible.
It’s safe to say that the impact this character has made on the gaming industry isn’t going to fade anytime soon, and his popularity with fans certainly hasn’t waned.
17. Duke Nukem
He’s here to kick ass and chew bubblegum… and he’s all out of gum.
Iconically hilarious quotes aside, Duke Nukem is just one of those characters that will have you laughing nonstop as you beat down bad guys with this blonde cigar-smoking protagonist.
First appearing in 1991, almost every gamer knows his name even if they’ve never played a game with him in it.
While not the deepest, most complex character on this list, there’s no denying that this wise-cracking macho man is one of the most iconic and popular video game characters ever created.
16. Sam Fisher
As the main character of Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell series, Sam Fisher is a master of stealth — even when players are not.
This action man has been hailed as one of the biggest and most popular video game characters on Xbox, and his iconic night vision goggles immediately single him out from any others.
Essentially, he’s like the American James Bond, only stealthier and without all the girls.
15. Commander Shepard
Whether you play as maleshep or femshep, there’s no denying that this Commander is one of the most recognizable gaming characters, even when players customize their appearance.
Not only do Mark Meer and Jennifer Hale knock it out of the park in terms of voice acting, but who else in the galaxy is known for punching a reporter so many times?
Although some things are canonical across all interactions of this character, the way you can make specific choices to impact how their Shepard interacts with other characters and scenarios is why players often become so attached to this character.
While the ending may have been controversial, when gamers see the iconic N7 armor, it’s hard to stop those feelings of nostalgia from making them want to revisit this main character.
14. Jill Valentine
As one of the most popular characters from the original Resident Evil and one of the few characters of the female variety on this list, Valentine has been the protagonist of several games in the franchise.
Aside from being a capable and compelling character, she has also been praised for being a female character shown to be as skilled as the male characters around her without being overly sexualized.
When it comes to female representation in gaming, Jill is a great example of how popular, well-written, and designed characters can be.
13. Agent 47
Protagonist and antihero of the popular Hitman series, Agent 47 is an unrelenting assassin and 47th clone created to be the perfect killing machine.
There’s just something satisfying about completing a successful hit with this character, especially since some can be relatively difficult.
But between his bald head, stern face, and dapper suit, it’s hard to mistake this character for anyone else — even if anonymity is supposed to be his specialty.
Kratos is arguably one of the best video game characters, and the sheer scale of his legacy is hard to comprehend.
Not only does he have some of the most mind-blowing battle scenes, but his story is surprisingly moving.
Now tasked with guiding his son Atreus, Kratos undergoes an astonishing amount of character growth, and it’s hard for fans not to become emotionally invested in this God of War turned Dad of Boy.
With God of War: Ragnarok slated to release in 2022, fans eagerly wait to see where this iconic character will go next.
Pac-Man may not be taking down titans or slaying monsters, but almost everyone on the planet knows who he is.
You can’t just play one level, and his popularity is seen in his commercial success, which remains one of the highest-grossing of all time, having raked in more than $14 billion as of 2016.
Although the levels may not appear as complex as some open-world RPGs or modern FPS games, there’s no denying that Pac-Man is one of the greatest video games and characters of all time.
10. Solid Snake
As one of the most well-known characters from the Metal Gear series, Solid Snake is a soldier skilled in espionage and stealth.
Snake is often ranked as one of the most popular characters in video game history, and he is often loved by fans for his appealing personality and endurance, even under extreme punishment.
Even those who have never played Metal Gear Solid know his name, and his popularity has yet to die down.
9. Crash Bandicoot
The titular character of the franchise created by Naughty Dog, Crash has featured in many games and spin-offs.
While the popularity of the games may have waned in later years, the games still hold a special meaning to many gamers, and the popularity of the character himself is still going strong.
8. Donkey Kong
Although he may have started out as an angry dude — er, gorilla — throwing barrels and kidnapping princesses, he eventually found a new path in Donkey Kong Country where he tries his best to nab bananas for his adorable nephew Diddy.
While his growth from an angry plumber-hating gorilla to lovable uncle may not sound compelling, it is considered one of the best platform games ever created, and it cemented this character’s popularity in gaming history.
Since its release, Donkey Kong has gone on to be one of the most memorable supporting characters in the Mario series.
7. Lara Croft
Lara Croft is synonymous with the incredibly popular Tomb Raider series, the first of which sold over six million copies.
Even those who have never picked up a controller or sat down at a gaming PC know who she is.
While her popularity did wane in the early 2000s, the Tomb Raider reboot in 2013 saw her popularity soar to new heights all over again.
It’s easy to say that Lara Croft is by far one of the best female characters in gaming, and for good reason.
6. Master Chief
The Halo series is by far one of the most played console games in history, and this is due in large part to Master Chief and his ongoing popularity.
While there have been games in the series without this emblematic character, such as Halo 5, even 343 Industries admit that leaving him out was a mistake.
Halo just isn’t Halo without Master Chief at the helm.
Although he may not be charismatic and the character is ultimately faceless (disregarding the tiny peek of his eyes that players get if they complete Halo 4 on legendary), there is something undeniably compelling about this deep-voiced protagonist that makes the Master Chief one of the most beloved characters of all time.
5. Michael, Franklin, and Trevor
It’s hard to choose a favorite between these three gaming characters because Grand Theft Auto V just wouldn’t be the same without them all.
As one of the most successful games of all time, even holding the records for the best-selling game of all time in the UK and the fastest-selling video game, Grand Theft Auto V owes a lot of its success to these three protagonists.
Each has its own unique personality, backstory, and goals, but they’re all compelling and hilarious when the timing calls for it. It’s easy to say that this trio isn’t going to fade into obscurity anytime soon.
Everyone, gamers and non-gamer alike, knows who Link is.
Even if he rarely talks or shows much personality at all, there is something just lovingly nostalgic about this character, and those who have played Breath of the Wild know just how impactful Link has been to gaming history.
3. Sonic The Hedgehog
The horrendous first design for the live-action movie aside, Sonic is a character every game knows immediately.
This speedy blue hedgehog saw immediate success in his first three games. While succeeding games haven’t been as successful, the character’s popularity as a whole has held strong.
Pokémon is something that anyone growing up in the late ’90s, and early 2000s will remember fondly, and by far, one of the most popular characters from the series is Pikachu.
The original Red, Blue, Green, and Yellow games sold over 59 million copies, and today, the proliferation of Pokémon Go helps hammer home the fact that this little yellow lightning hamster is still one of the most influential and most popular characters in gaming history.
It’s-a me, Mario!
Without a doubt, Mario takes the top spot when it comes to the most admired video game characters in history, and everyone — probably even your grandma — knows who he is.
Modern gamers owe a lot to this character and the Mario games in general, as they almost single-handedly helped establish the rise of video games in the West, and the number of games he has starred in is incredible.
Unlike some others on this list, his popularity hasn’t ceased — and it’s unlikely that it ever will.
These 25 characters are by far some of the most popular in video gaming history. All of them have cemented themselves in the minds of gamers across the globe.
While some may be more recognizable than others, there is no denying the impact that each of them has had on fans.
Here’s a quick recap of the 25 most popular video game characters of all time:
- Sonic the Hedgehog
- Michael, Franklin, and Trevor
- Master Chief
- Lara Croft
- Donkey Kong
- Crash Bandicoot
- Solid Snake
- Agent 47
- Jill Valentine
- Commander Shepard
- Sam Fisher
- Duke Nukem
- Joel Miller
- Geralt of Rivia
- John Marston
- Cloud Strife
- Max Payne
What’s your favorite video game character of all time? Leave a comment below.
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