Ninjas have been a mainstay of the Mortal Kombat universe ever since the introduction of iconic characters Sub-Zero and Scorpion in the first game in the series. From these humble beginnings, the number of ostensibly stealthy – yet inexplicably brightly-attired – warriors taking part in the franchise’s various tournaments has ballooned dramatically.
At first, the rationale for the rapid increase in ninjas featured in Mortal Kombat was purely a technical concern. Thanks to the limited amount of memory space available on video game cartridges (remember those?), the easiest way to add more fighters was to swap the colour palette of a masked character.
But even as technological advancements rendered storage space effectively a non-issue, the ninja aesthetic had become so ingrained in the Mortal Kombat mythology that more continued to be added. After all, who doesn’t love ninjas?
As you’d expect with this many shadowy assassins all populating the same fictional world, some stand out more than others – and the cream of the Mortal Kombat ninja crop all boast the best fighting moves, most gruesome finishing moves, coolest visuals and deepest backstories.
In a tip of the hat to Mortal Kombat’s spirit of (brutal) competition, here is Every Mortal Kombat Ninja Ranked From Best To Worst.
The thing about Chameleon isn’t that he’s all that bad a character, per se – it’s just that his only real claim to fame is being maybe the ultimate “palette swap” ninja in Mortal Kombat history. That means there’s nothing particularly distinctive or impressive about the poor guy.
Great moveset? Sure, but only because he can imitate the abilities of every other ninja in the game. Solid character design, incorporating a neat translucent effect? Well, yeah – but it’s only a mildly interesting riff on a previously established look anyway (and when he first appeared, he was virtually indistinguishable from Reptile).
Perhaps the final nail in the coffin for Chameleon is his character biography – or rather, his relative lack of one. When he first appears in Mortal Kombat Trilogy, we’re told only that he’s one of series big bad Shao Kahn’s top fighters, and while Armageddon would later add to this – retconning him as a shadowy behind-the-scenes figure – it all feels pretty thin, really.
We know what you’re thinking: obvious gender difference aside, aren’t Khameleon and Chameleon basically the same character? Well actually, no! Despite their vast number of similar attributes – Khameleon is also a “palette swap” copycat – these two warriors are hugely dissimilar in one key area: backstory.
Specifically, whereas Chameleon has only a vaguely defined personality and history, his female counterpart is a surprisingly fleshed-out character. As revealed in Armageddon, Khameleon (along with Reptile) is one of the last of a race called the Raptors, and she seeks revenge on Shao Kahn for his part in their extinction.
While she doesn’t bring anything new to the table in terms of skills or aesthetics, Khameleon at least sports an engaging angle – fighting against the darkness, but not exactly on the side of the angels – which saves her from the bottom spot.
Oh, Rain – how we all hate you! Seriously, though: Rain has become one of the Mortal Kombat franchise's real whipping boys over the years, and it’s has be said that he kind of deserves it.
Admittedly, his weather-based powers are fairly cool and his unique purple color scheme helps him to stand out.
But he has a cheap moveset – especially in Mortal Kombat Trilogy, where it’s ridiculously easy for him to execute juggle combos – and his Fatalities are wildly uneven, ranging from the genuinely grisly to the downright ludicrous.
Then there’s his backstory, which is as unsympathetic as they come. Essentially, he’s a conceited, entitled brat, who – thanks to his regal and divine heritage – thinks he’s better than everyone. So not exactly an easy guy to root for!
Of course, part of fans’ contempt for Rain likely stems from his origins as a devious hoax by series co-creator Ed Boon, which led fans to believe he was a secret character in Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 (he wasn’t). That’s why his name and costume are a reference to Prince (“Purple Rain”: because he was originally intended merely as a joke to build hype for the game.
So far, this list has placed a surprising amount of emphasis on the importance of a Mortal Kombat character’s backstory – but ultimately, what really matters is how fun they are to play as! After all, we’re talking about a fighting game here (not an RPG), and there are plenty of fans who flat-out ignore the frankly bonkers series mythology.
It’s for this reason that Tanya – who spices up the narrative by virtue of her penchant for betraying practically everyone – ranks so poorly: she’s just not that enjoyable to fight with. Her fighting style is nothing to write home about, and her Fatalities – with the exception of Deception’s “Kneebone Knife” – are largely uninspired.
This blandness extends to Tanya’s get-up, which can best be described as “meh”.
Right off the bat, Tremor loses marks for his brown ensemble – yes, it reflects his earth elemental powers, but it’s also proof you can overcommit to a theme. Later games (like Mortal Kombat X) would redeem Tremor’s visual appeal somewhat – granting him a partially-craggy, rock-like exterior – but he still comes across as a little drab.
Fortunately, our guy’s moveset picks up the slack in the aesthetic department, as his terrain manipulation abilities are both visually interesting and a lot of fun. On the downside, he doesn’t offer much in the way of Fatalities – although his “Stone Tomb” finisher is kind of chilling – but makes up for it with a wealth of inventive Brutalities.
When it comes to his bio, Tremor is admittedly quite thinly drawn – all we really know is that he’s a devoted servant to chrome-domed mercenary Kano. Trevor's intended backstory was transferred to Rain (that guy again) after he was cut from Mortal Kombat Trilogy.
Frost is essentially a female Sub-Zero, and while that description sets expectations for a base level of awesomeness, this chilly ninja seems a little watered down. Such disappointment was perhaps inevitable, given that by her nature, Frost invites comparisons with one of Mortal Kombat’s most beloved fighters.
There’s not a lot wrong with Frost – in point of fact, there’s plenty to like about her – but every facet of her character has already been done, and better. Her ice-accented design is just a riff on Sub-Zero’s own style, and by the same token, her moveset is largely derived from that of her mentor, only less varied and far weaker.
She only has one Fatality to her name – and whilst it’s a doozy (freezing her opponent before shattering them), Sub-Zero has done it before, and better!
On the plus side, Frost sports a half-way decent backstory and characterization – she’s the arrogant former pupil of Sub-Zero, with a chip on her shoulder the size of Outworld – but again, there’s a sense this could have been developed further.
14 Takeda Takahashi
Another warrior who owes a pretty big debt of inspiration to one of his fellow ninjas, Takeda Takahashi seems destined to never fully shake the label of “poor man’s Scorpion”. Although the imitation on display here isn’t quite on the same level as that shown by Frost, Takeda was set up to fail by being based on another iconic MK character.
As with the previous entry, this level of similarity is to be expected – there’s a master/apprentice bond at work here, too – and this exemplified in Takeda’s fighting style, which basically revamps Scorpion’s kunai spear as a full-blown bladed whip.
Luckily, Takeda has more than just a gimmicky weapon going for him, and he deserves props for donning an outfit that merely references his connection to the Shirai Ryu clan rather than relying on the typical ninja wardrobe.
He can also lay claim to a properly pathos-laden backstory: he was raised by Scorpion after his warrior father left to avenge his mother’s death. Toss in his disarming sense of humour and mild telepathic powers, and you’re left with a character who’s easy to appreciate, if not entirely love.
There’s a goofy kind of awesomeness that surrounds a mash-up character like Triborg, who is, quite literally, the combination of all three of Mortal Kombat’s cyber ninjas (plus the cyborg version of Sub-Zero)! Of course, a half-baked creation like this doesn’t come with a whole lot of biographical depth, but what do you expect from this kind of DLC frivolity?
On the other hand, Triborg has a jaw-droppingly vast (albeit extremely derivative) moveset, thanks to his ability to morph his body’s attributes to match those of each of his cyber ninja sources. If that makes this cybernetic warrior more than a shade over-powered, it also means he comes with an impressive number of outfit variations – even if each look has been borrowed from one of his cybernetic donors!
Fan service can be a bit of a double-edged sword, and so it goes with a fighter like Skarlet. On the one hand, her inclusion in 2011’s soft reboot of the franchise is a neat shout out to longtime devotees who remember the (false) rumors of her inclusion in Mortal Kombat II. On the other hand, much like fellow DLC novelty character Triborg, Skarlet can’t avoid being a tad underdeveloped.
That said, she’s a sharp dresser and offers up her own unique fighting style that is appreciably different from that of her opponents, even if it has been described as unforgivably cheap. And although she only has three finishers, two are at the very least solid efforts – although that blood-drinking Babality of hers is just gross!
There’s a delightful accessibility to Sektor that really makes him work as a character: he’s an evil man-machine hybrid. That he embraces his robot-side – in contrast to Cyrax, who mourns his diminished humanity – only serves to make him more appealing. Emotional turmoil is compelling and all, but sometimes you just want your killer cyborgs to be unabashedly nasty!
It’s true that, in general, his combat abilities aren’t quite as amazing as those displayed by Cyrax, but he has some top shelf finishers, particularly those seen in the 2011 Mortal Kombat reboot. Sektor also comes out on top over his yellow-hued cyber ninja compatriot when it comes to his sartorial sense – the blood-red hue of his kit trumping the eye-watering yellow worn by Cyrax.
Ermac’s creation represents yet another instance of fan service by the Mortal Kombat developers – as an abbreviation for “error macro” in the original game’s code led fans to believe he was a hidden fighter. While he arguably started out as a bit of a lazy character – yet another unremarkable “palette swap” ninja – Ermac has since evolved into an authentically interesting and fun-to-use warrior.
For starters, his style became more atypical in Deadly Alliance, and by the time Mortal Kombat X arrived, prominently featured telekinetic assaults and unpredictable stealth attacks. This drastic overhaul applied to his Fatalities as well, and Ermac is responsible for possibly the most horrific finisher – the blood-curdling “Inner Workings” – in the series’ history.
The icing on the Ermac cake would have to be his biography, though: he’s actually the combined spiritual essence of numerous dead warriors, given form by Shao Kahn to serve as his enforcer. This might sound a little one-dimensional, but it’s been used cleverly in the past, when one of the benevolent souls inside Ermac took over the ninja’s body.
Considering we’ve already heaped praises on Sektor, you might be wondering why Cyrax ranks so much higher? There’s a simple answer for this: he’s way more entertaining to play! This is because of his amazing – Mortal Kombat 3 fans might say “insanely cheap” – moveset, with its unblockable explosives and anti-air offensive assaults.
Admittedly, Cyrax’s Fatalities over the years haven’t exactly rated as the stuff of legend, but his Mortal Kombat 3 finishers are classics – especially “Self-Destruct”, which is equal parts clever, amusing, and baffling!
Then there’s his characterization as a reluctant cyborg, troubled by how much of his humanity he’s sacrificed, which – although it can be a little dreary and heavy-handed at times – boosts this guy’s likeability, lending him an undeniable air of tragedy.
8 Noob Saibot
Not even an inescapably terrible name was enough to stop Noob Saibot from cracking the Top 10 for this list – another example of a thinly-drawn “palette swap” ninja who grew into something much greater.
First appearing as a non-playable secret character in Mortal Kombat II, Noob Saibot – whose name is borrowed from the surnames of series co-creators Ed Boon and John Tobias, in reverse – started off as a generic demon warrior. It wasn’t until Mortal Kombat: Deception that he would be revealed as the original Sub-Zero, murdered by Scorpion and re-animated as a terrifying wraith – which is a pretty tough backstory to beat!
Noob Saibot’s moveset has also matured alongside his characterization. If his spectral powers have occasionally led to accusations of him being an overpowered fighter, his macabre Fatalities – most notably “Make A Wish”, which garnered serious media attention – more than make up for it.
Continuing the run of secret characters who debuted in Mortal Kombat II, Jade compensates for a fairly boring moveset – yes, we know she wields a bo staff! – and tired, sexed-up outfit in two ways.
The first is her creative finishers, with her Fatality highlights including the “Head Kabob” and the “Head-A-Rang” – the latter of which relies on the stylish use of her boomerang projectile. The second is her backstory, which has seen her develop from an uncomplicated assassin in Shao Kahn’s employ into a conflicted figure ultimately redeemed by her friendship with Kitana.
It’s also worth nothing that, despite what we said about Jade’s stereotypical attire, she’s a firm favorite among cosplayers. Indeed, fans dressed in her signature emerald get-up are a regular fixture on the convention circuit.
Bringing the run of Mortal Kombat II hidden fighters to a close is Smoke, who gets extra credit right out of the gate for having rocked both the traditional and cyber ninja motif. From there, things only get better!
First and foremost, there’s his great moveset, which – although it started out both derivative and wildly unbalanced in Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 – quickly settled into its current visually arresting, more fair-minded form.
Speaking of visuals, that leads us neatly onto the subject of his threads. Smoke admittedly drops a few points here thanks to his less-than-inspiring grey ninja duds, but he gains a few of those points back with his cybernetic couture, cutting quite the figure in blue and silver.
Then there’s his incredible array of Fatalities, which range from him melting his opponents from the inside out to blowing up the entire planet!
Last, but certainly not least, Smoke possesses one of the best biographies the franchise has to offer. As if being a clan buddy of the second Sub-Zero weren’t enough, he later goes on the run with his frigid friend to avoid becoming a robot, and once he is converted, still manages to keep his soul intact.
Ushering in the Top 5 rankings is the lovely (and very much deadly) Princess Kitana! Whilst in many ways, she’s easily written off as “Mileena Lite”, Kitana is every inch as awesome as her twin - for several reasons.
Take her fighting style, which incorporates maybe the most iconic weapon in the series – razor-sharp ornamental fans – outside of Scorpion’s spear. While her devastating capabilities have been toned down since her first outing in Mortal Kombat II, Kitana can still bring the hurt, and her Fatalities over the years have turned decapitation into a virtual art form.
Next, consider her visual design – it might not seem that noteworthy, but Kitana’s look is credited by Boon and Tobias with spawning that of almost every female ninja who followed her.
Finally, there’s Kitana’s ace backstory, which includes being the virtuous stepdaughter of Shao Khan, a sibling rivalry with sister/clone Mileena, and a touching romance with series hero Liu Kang.
Remember how we said there were only two ninjas in the first Mortal Kombat? Well, actually, there were three, but only very skilled players ever properly encountered Reptile! This is because our scaly friend was a hidden character – the first ever in the franchise’s history, which has to count for something!
Originally a green “palette swap” of Scorpion and Sub-Zero, Reptile initially utilized a moveset cherry-picked from both ninjas. Upon his return in Mortal Kombat II – this time as a playable character – he was gifted his own unique fighting style, introducing cool techniques like spitting acid and turning invisible.
Reptile’s aesthetic has also steadily improved over the course of the series, and by Mortal Kombat 4, he had taken on his now familiar lizard-like physiology. In addition to this, his character bio has become one of the mythology’s strongest – setting him up as the steadfast defender of his species – and he played a major role in the events of Mortal Kombat: Deception.
When it comes to baddies, it’s hard to beat the “evil twin” archetype, which might explain how ultimate bad girl Mileena cracked this list’s Top 3. Then again, her status as the more interesting version of Kitana probably didn’t hurt, either.
A considerable part of Mileena’s appeal comes from how subversive she is, taking the sexy “femme fatale” visual stereotype and turning it on its head whenever she reveals her hideous, fang-filled kisser.
It’s not just her unique looks that make her great though – thanks to her twin sai daggers, she’s a force to be reckoned with, and due to her cannibalistic finishers, she’s never less than memorable.
Mileena’s backstory is also a huge amount of fun, especially her bitter jealousy towards “golden child” Kitana, surprising romance with monster-man Baraka, and just generally psychotic disposition!
For many Mortal Kombat fans, Scorpion is the epitome of what a ninja should be, and unreservedly deserves the top spot. While it’s true this undead warrior has come in as first runner up, rest assured he very nearly finished on top.
Let’s face it: everything about Scorpion is unbelievably cool. He started out with a killer moveset in the first Mortal Kombat – the rewarding feeling of spearing an opponent and reeling them in never fades – and somehow managed to better it in subsequent franchise instalments.
Scorpion is also no slouch in the finishing move department, either. Of these, “Toasty” – his signature Fatality, where he whips off his mask to reveal a skull, before breathing hellfire on his opponent – is an undisputed classic.
Then there’s Scorpion’s arresting characterization as an anti-hero, murdered by the original Sub-Zero and resurrected seeking to avenge not only his own demise, but the deaths of his family and fellow clan members. Combine all of this with a streamlined yet compelling visual hook – ninja crossed with demon from Hell – you've got an all-time great.
Sub-Zero – we’ll talk about both of them as if they’re one guy – totally deserves the Number 1 ranking on this list, not simply because of how iconic the character is, but owing largely to his versatility as well.
This cold-blooded fighter undoubtedly ticks all the boxes when it comes to being a Mortal Kombat legend. His moveset is hands-down one of the finest the franchise has to offer, and there are few gaming moments more satisfying than freezing an opponent for the first time.
Sub-Zero’s finishers are just as supremo, with his first ever effort – the “Spine Rip” – notorious for the part it played in the formation of the video games rating system.
Then there’s his character design – which couples a spot-on color scheme with a subtle ice motif – and backstory, which manages to incorporate themes of brotherly love, unwavering friendship, and pragmatic heroism.
But all of this aside, Sub-Zero is truly remarkable due to the amount of revision he has undergone, without ever becoming broken. The series’ developers have split him into two characters, messed with his design – remember the shirtless suspenders and facial scar era? – and powers, and even made him a cyborg!
Yet through it all, he’s remained one of the most beloved fighters Mortal Kombat has ever seen, and that’s why we’ve ranked him as the franchise’s best ever ninja.
Agree with our Mortal Kombat rankings? Disagree? Let us know in the comments!