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Top 20 greatest fighting games of all time

Fighting game franchises are some of the most iconic in gaming history, but which reigns supreme when punch comes to shove?

From Street Fighter to Mortal Kombat, fighting games have grown from arcade staples to robust packages which offer even more than multiplayer thrills. 

Whether you’re aiming to be the greatest player in the world, or simply show your friends a gruesome fatality, fighting games are the gaming cornerstone for the ultimate ego throwdown. 

The question of the best fighting game ever, however, is its own tussle for glory. So who comes out on top? Here's our rundown.

20. Skullgirls

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Skullgirls is an underrated fighter (Picture: Lab Zero Games) 

While controversy around developer Lab Zero Games has dampened enthusiasm around the title, Skullgirls still remains an excellent 2D fighter overloaded with style and personality. 

The definitive edition, Skullgirls 2nd Encore, adds more characters and boosts the play speed. Perhaps the game’s greatest achievement is how accessible it is, offering the kind of gateway fighter the genre sorely lacks.

 

19. BlazBlue: Central Fiction

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BlazBlue is one of the bigger anime fighting franchises (Picture: Arc System Works) 

The fourth title in the BlazBlue series is one of the best anime fighters you can buy, featuring an overwhelming amount of modes for a traditional 1v1 fighter. 

While the fluid combo flashes may look intimidating, there’s welcoming tutorials to onboard new players - acting as a more accessible sibling to the Guilty Gear franchise. 

 

18. Mortal Kombat X

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Mortal Kombat X put the franchise on a new trajectory (Picture: NetherRealm) 

From the franchises’s new wave, Mortal Kombat X is the entry which represented a significant new cornerstone for the series - packing tight combat mechanics to boot.

While follow-up Mortal Kombat 11 arguably built upon the story mode in even greater ways, X raised the bar for story modes in fighters across the board. 

 

17. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

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Ultimate is a gaming feast (Picture: Nintendo) 

The best in the franchise since Melee? Undoubtedly. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate lives up to its title with an exhaustive and varied roster, stacks of maps, and an abundance of modes to experiment with. 

While Melee might still be the high-point for competitive play, this strikes the healthiest balance between skill and chaos for everyone. With DLC characters like Minecraft’s Steve and Terry Bogard, this is one party which continues to deliver.

 

16. Killer Instinct

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Killer Instinct has a hardcore fanbase (Picture: Rare) 

Developer Rare entered the fighting arena with Killer Instinct, released in 1994 and later rebooted in 2013. While many likely played the title on SNES, Killer Instinct felt like a different beast in the arcades. 

While it borrowed heavily from Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, there was some unique touches too - including double energy bars instead of rounds, and automatic combos tied to a certain button. 

 

15. Super Street Fighter IV

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The best 3D Street Fighter? (Picture: Capcom) 

Largely responsible for reviving the franchise, and genre, for modern audiences, Street Fighter IV reached its definitive form in Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition - a souped-up version with balance adjustments and a huge roster of characters. 

After the divisive launch of its successor, this entry is widely recognised as the definitive 3D Street Fighter, whose strengths have only shined brighter through the passage of time. 

 

14. Virtua Fighter 5

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Virtua Fighter is intimidating and complex (Picture: Sega) 

While Virtua Fighter has tailed behind Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat in popularity, it arguably trumps both in depth and nuance which can make it intimidating to newcomers. 

Virtua Fighter 5 marked the latest and greatest entry in the series, coming together to feel like a fighting game in its purest form. The series looks set for a comeback too, if recent teasers from Sega are anything to go by. 

 

13. The King of Fighters ’98

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King of Fighters has had an overwhelming amount of instalments (Picture: SNK) 

Released in 1998, the fifth instalment in The King of Fighters series by SNK is the benchmark for the franchise - acting as an amalgamation of everything that’s come, and worked, before. 

It also strips back many of the combat complexities, adopting a back to basics approach which put the entire series on the map. 

 

12. Tekken 3

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Tekken 3 was a PlayStation classic (Picture: Bandai Namco) 

With 8.5 million copies sold, Tekken 3 is the third best-selling fighting game of all time behind for a reason. It was arguably the defining 3D fighter of its age, becoming synonymous with the original PlayStation. 

While it’s arguably been superseded by Tekken 7 since, this represents the biggest leap forward for the franchise in mechanics and cultural impact.

 

 

11. Garou: Mark of the Wolves

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Fatal Fury's crowning jewel (Picture: SNK) 

Also known as Fatal Fury: Mark of the Wolves, this 1999 title was the final instalment in the series which has become one of the most revered fighting games ever. 

In a similar vein to Street Fighter III, Mark of the Wolves marks a creative high-point, in visuals and complexity, for a franchise at a time when the industry was turning towards 3D technology. If you haven’t tried it, the game is now available on PS4 and Switch. 

 

10. Under Night In-Birth Exe: Late[st]

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Under Night In-Birth is an underrated gem (Picture: Sega) 

Created by Japanese developer French Bread in 2021, Under Night In-Birth’s hardcore fanbase has seen the title go far beyond expectations - resulting in a headline spot at EVO 2019. 

Mixing the aerial combat of Guilty Gear with Street Fighter’s grounded tussles, the franchise has earned its cult status for a reason. It’s also surprisingly accessible, despite it’s flashy visuals. 

 

9. Dragon Ball FighterZ

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The best Dragon Ball game ever made (Picture: Bandai Namco) 

After delivering many acclaimed anime fighters, developer Arc System Works applied their skills to the Dragon Ball franchise with spectacular results in Dragon Ball FighterZ

The incredible visuals aren’t the only impressive aspect here, with the tag-team mechanics and emphasis on jump dashes carving out an identity all of its own. The best Dragon Ball game ever? Undoubtedly. 

 

8. Mortal Kombat 2

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Mortal Kombat II paved the way for the franchise today (Picture: NetherRealm) 

While newer entries like Mortal Kombat X may be more suitable for modern audiences, the second instalment was arguably the biggest jump forward for the franchise and cemented its place in history. 

Just like every great sequel, it was bigger and bolder in practically every way - introducing Babality and Friendships on top of an increased roster of Fatalities. While mainstream media obsessed over the violence, players were digging into one of the finest fighting games ever made. 

 

7. Guilty Gear Xrd

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Guilty Gear is the best anime fighter around (Picture: Arc System Works) 

Guilty Gear, developed by Arc System Works, has quietly been one of the best fighting games around since 1998 - featuring complex battle systems and some of the best animation in any fighter ever. 

The definition edition in the franchise is Guilty Gear Xrd Rev 2, which packs all the previous DLC and includes enhancements to the original Xrd. With Guilty Gear Strive set to release next year, it’s the perfect entry-point to a franchise which is only set to balloon in popularity. 

 

6. Soulcalibur II

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Soulcalibur II had different fighters for different console versions (Picture: Bandai Namco) 

The high point of the Soulcalibur series saw each console platform have their own unique fighter, split between Zelda’s Link on Nintendo Gamecube, Tekken’s Heihachi on PlayStation and, er, Spawn on Microsoft’s Xbox.

The sequel is the main reason Soulcalibur is a thriving franchise to this day, and even received the HD remake treatment 10 years following its release. 

 

5. Tekken 7

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Tekken 7 is the best Tekken yet (Picture: Bandai Namco) 

Bandai Namco achieved the defining entry in the franchise with Tekken 7, representing the culmination of everything that’s come before to become the most balanced title yet. 

While it didn’t initially have the impact of predecessors like Tekken 3, the seventh instalment has only grown more popular with age - with major updates in the fourth season, including new characters and improved online, on the horizon. 

 

4. Super Street Fighter II Turbo

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Street Fighter 2 put the series on the map (Picture: Capcom) 

A culmination of one of the most important fighting games in history, Super Street Fighter II Turbo is considered the most refined version of an absolute classic. 

This also marked the introduction of Akuma into the franchise, along with adjustable speed settings and a wealth of combo additions. For Street Fighter veterans who remember pouring over arcade cabinets, this is the ultimate version of their beloved tales of yore. 

 

3. Super Smash Bros. Melee

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Melee is the king of Smash (Picture: Nintendo) 

The undisputed king from the Super Smash Bros. franchise, Melee has maintained a strong fanbase due to its lightning-fast gameplay and strong competitive edge. 

This was the entry where it transformed from cute Nintendo crossover to a legitimate fighting behemoth, perhaps by accident - with players over the years discovering new tricks and unintentional tactics. Never forget the Ice Climbers’ Wobble. 

While some may scorn Smash’s unique mechanics when compared to traditional fighters, it’s hard to deny the franchise’s position, thanks to Melee, as one of the most influential fighting games of the century. 

 

2. Marvel Vs Capcom 2: Age of Heroes

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Marvel Vs Capcom 2 is the ultimate mash-up (Picture: Capcom) 

Chaotic? Absolutely. Broken? To some degree. Yet Marvel vs Capcom 2 is the ultimate fighting game when it comes to managing madness. 

Packing a huge 56 fighters on the roster from Capcom and Marvel’s history, the tag-team fighter was all about overwhelming your opponent with huge combo strings and screen-filling attacks. 

As a fighter, it’s the ultimate spectator title with punchy visuals, flashy attacks and liquid fluidity - helping to keep the FGC’s popularity alive at a time when arcades were falling out of a fashion. 

 

1. Street Fighter III: Third Strike

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Street Fighter 3 is the pinnacle of the series (Picture: Capcom) 

Released in 1999, Street Fighter III: Third Strike is the franchise at its most mechanically complex and satisfying to master. 

Coming out around when 3D fighters like Tekken and Virtua Fighter were taking the spotlight, Third Strike was largely overlooked at the time with its 2D throwback visuals. The years since, however, have seen Third Strike rightly lifted into the pantheon of all-time greats.

The introduction of the parry is the game’s lasting legacy, which opened the doors to incredible, FGC-defining moments like Daigo Umehara’s comeback against Justin Wong, famously titled ‘Evo Moment #37’. Street Fighter has always been one of the seminal fighting game franchises, and it’s never been better than Third Strike.

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