Over 70 fighters have done battle across Street Fighter's five core installments (plus spin-offs) and its Alpha trilogy (plus spin-offs), so narrowing them down was no easy feat. In order to determine who should make the cut, we looked at a combination of each fighter's actual power and ability-- or lack thereof-- within the Street Fighter canon as well as leveraging that a bit with how popular the characters are among the fans. Keeping the latter in mind, a character like Dan, despite being deliberately under-powered, wasn't included because his charm and humor makes him a fan favorite. This also meant that less-popular characters like Ono and Gill had to be included because their power within the actual Street Fighter universe can't be denied.
As one final note, only the aforementioned Street Fighter games' characters were considered for the list. Characters that only appeared in the Street Fighter EX series weren't eligible, nor were characters exclusive to Street Fighter: The Movie or Street Fighter 2010. We also decided not to pick on characters that were only ever in the first Street Fighter-- sometimes referred to as Fighting Street-- for fairly obvious reasons.
Here are the 8 Most Powerful (And 8 Most Useless) Street Fighter Characters, Ranked.
16 Most Useless: El Fuerte
While fans of the "extended universe" of Street Fighter might argue that the franchise has compelling stories and strong character development, in the games themselves both are largely forgettable. Basically, we have a bunch of people who come together for various arbitrary reasons to fight each other on their way to fighting [insert name of rival/main antagonist here].
Some fighters are driven by revenge or other noble pursuits. El Fuerte is on a mission to meet the greatest fighters in the world in order to... find out what they eat? It's tough to get excited about a character whose back story is built on being a subpar chef who only fights to learn new recipes.
Had El Fuerte also not been a bizarre character to play as - yet another wrestler in a cast already stuffed with far more interesting wrestlers - maybe he'd be less superfluous. Maybe.
15 Most powerful: Cody
In his Street Fighter debut, Final Fight's Cody initially felt like one of those novelty guest characters that were cool to have around but ultimately didn't figure into things within the SF world all that much. Appearing in a striped prison uniform and wearing shackles only furthered the notion that Cody might not be a fighter to take seriously.
As it turns out, dismissing Cody only comes at your own peril should you find yourself in a fight with him. Lore has it that he actually chooses to keep his handcuffs on as a way to handicap himself to ensure fair fights, and that he is among the most powerful members of the entire SF cast. Even Akuma remarked that defeating Cody is only a sure thing "as long as he holds back." If that isn't an endorsement of Cody's strength, then we don't know what else could be.
14 Most useless: Dee Jay
As exciting as it was to have four new playable characters added to the roster of the Street Fighter II cast we'd all been playing for years when Capcom released Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers, the quality of the new fighters was a very mixed bag. While Cammy has gone on to rightfully earn a place among the series' most popular characters, the other three newbies-- including Jamaican party animal Dee Jay-- have remained divisive.
The first-- and so far, only-- Street Fighter character to be created by Capcom's U.S. branch, Dee Jay isn't only problematic because of his cringey cultural stereotypes. He's a tough character to play as, has a boring fighting style and move set, and the way his persona is all about finding the party, dancing, and shaking maracas between matches all conspired to ensure that Capcom not let its American arm design any more characters.
13 Most powerful: Gill
After waiting for what felt like an eternity, the proper third installment in the series finally hit arcades in 1997. And reaction to the long-awaited sequel was mixed.
One of the biggest issues that fans initially had with Street Fighter III was its roster of new characters-- not so much because they were new, or even that they were necessarily bad, but because they were so darned weird. And one of the weirdest was the new main antagonist - a buff, scantily clad man with flowing blond hair and a body that is half red and half blue. Gill's appearance is designed to mimic that of an ancient Greek god, which is fitting because he has the power and immortality of a godlike being.
Given that SFIII is home to some of the franchise's absolute strongest characters, Gill's role as that game's final boss definitely proves just how powerful he must be.
12 Most useless: Juli/Juni
To be fair, Juni and Juli are technically separate characters with diverging stories, but as they are both useless for pretty much the same reasons-- and also debuted in the same game where they often fought in tandem-- it seemed acceptable to have this entry be a two-fer.
Juni and Juli are both members of M. Bison's "Shadaloo Dolls."
This group of young women that M. Bison enlisted to both fight for him and also serve as vessels for his soul whenever he dies as he awaits a new clone body. It's actually a pretty cool backstory, but there's a problem-- the most interesting of the dolls, Cammy, already existed as a popular playable fighter. As it stands, Juni and Juli both just lesser versions of Cammy and there's really no reason for two more Cammy lookalike Dolls to exist as playable characters.
11 Most powerful: Gouken
Gouken is connected to three of Street Fighter's most powerful characters, having trained Ryu and Ken and also being the older brother of Akuma. If that sentence doesn't automatically hammer home just how powerful he himself must be, then you probably have no business reading this list in the first place.
Despite what must be Gouken's extremely advanced age by the time he made his debut as a playable character in Street Fighter IV, he is still an extremely formidable fighter, since everyone knows that age only makes you more powerful in martial arts fiction.
While his power pales slightly in comparison to his evil brother's since he chose to eliminate the darker aspects of the abilities they both learned from their master-- and evil power is usually stronger power in video games-- Gouken remains one of the strongest combatants in SF history, past and present.
10 Most useless: Dudley
After about 30 different variations/updates on Street Fighter II, Capcom felt that players might want something of a fresh start with franchise's next true sequel. They were so serious about that plan that Ryu and Ken weren't even going to be included in SFIII-- though they relented and at least put that iconic duo on the roster.
However, several of the new fighters were essentially just new "versions" of classic characters-- Remy was the stand-in for Guile, Sean is a younger version of Ken, and British boxer Dudley took over for Balrog. Once the original characters began to filter back into the lineup, the substitutes began to feel pointless, none more so than Dudley. SF doesn't really need multiple boxer characters, let alone one whose story is to find an antique car and pretty flowers for his garden. Yawn.
9 Most powerful: Rose
Like any well-balanced fighting game roster, Street Fighter thrives on having counterpart characters, often some sort of good/evil match-up. Rose was introduced to the SF lineup to be M. Bison's other half, literally: within the SF lore, it is said that Rose and Bison share two halves of the same soul.
Rose wields Soul Power, which is essentially the "good version" of Bison's Psycho Power.
Whole Rose's power isn't quite equal to Bison's, it comes very close-- and in her Street Fighter Alpha 3 ending, she punches a hole clear through his chest. Bison needs her dead in order to reclaim the other half of his soul and reach his full potential-- and Rose has been able to fight him off regardless of how badly he wants to achieve that goal. Very few people have been powerful enough to live for very long once Bison has them in his sights.
8 Most useless: Laura Matsuda
Fighting games and T&A have gone hand in hand for quite some time now, but Street Fighter seemed to resist that trend. While other series are filled with balloon-chested women literally fighting in bikinis, Street Fighter was more focused on the fighting.
After slowly getting a bit more fan-service-heavy in recent years, the series seemed to completely give in to the trend of barely-clothed fighting game ladies when it released Street Fighter V last year. While things got a little out of hand with R. Mika and her self-spanking and butt-sandwiching, she was at least an interesting, unique character (and one that had some history within the series).
In terms of Laura Matsuda, she seemed to be designed only to be hot and absurdly-dressed and not a character with any actual depth.
7 Most powerful: Ryu
Street Fighter's longtime "main character," Ryu is as iconic on his own as the games that made him famous. Like many of the game characters in the pantheon of great game characters, Ryu seems like a fairly basic, almost generic character when taken at face value-- but it's the experience that players have with him that elevates him to classic status.
A big part of that experience is how much butt players have kicked with Ryu (and his American counterpart, Ken). In addition to just being a well-designed character that is easy to play as, Ryu has remained one of SF's most popular characters for three decades because of his backstory of being one of the world's most powerful-- but also most humble-- warriors, able to topple characters of immense supernatural power by virtue of pure, concentrated martial arts mastery. Well, the fireballs and dragon punch don't hurt, either.
6 Most useless: T. Hawk
The other of the questionable additions to the SF cast introduced in Super Street Fighter II, T. Hawk was part of a trend among fighting game designers in the '90s of including cliched Native American-styled characters to their rosters. And while T. Hawk has arguably proved more enduring that Virtua Fighter's Wolf or Tekken's Chang family, he is still one of the lesser characters within the SF series.
A lot of people enjoy "tank" characters in fighting games, and SF has plenty to choose from in that area-- Hugo, Rufus, Birdie, newcomer Abigail, and of course, trusty ol' Zangief. And T. Hawk is probably the worst of the bunch. He isn't an especially effective fighter, with little reason to choose him over one of the aforementioned large characters, and his tired "Native fighting to reclaim his land" trope isn't all that interesting.
5 Most powerful: M. Bison
While the original Street Fighter is largely forgotten-- and for good reason-- one thing that stood out was how formidable final boss Sagat was. He also made his triumphant return to SFII and remained as tough to beat as ever. He wasn't even that game's final boss.
It takes a dangerous man like M. Bison to reduce Sagat to being a sub-boss.
It also takes a formidable opponent to be able to take on Ryu and Ken at the same time and easily hold his own. Couple that with having magic known as "Psycho Power," and it's easy to see why M. Bison is such a feared presence both within the SF lore and among real-life players. Even as fighters with ever-increasing power-- some literally godlike-- have been introduced to the series, Bison has remained an intimidating figure in SF and beyond.
4 Most useless: Sean Matsuda
Why are we picking on the poor Matusda family? Because they kind of suck, that's why. While sister Laura at least has a fairly unique fighting style-- and was obviously designed to be, um, pleasing to watch-- Sean is little more than a second-rate Ken and Ryu clone without any of the charm of fun-loving scrub Dan Hibiki. Sean was originally meant to fulfill the Ken role in the initially Ken-free roster of Street Fighter III.
Sean is essentially Ken's less-skilled but even more cocky protégé.
In other words, he has less of what makes Ken great and way more of what makes Ken annoying-- why did anyone think that was the formula for a great character? Sean was instantly obsolete once it was decided that Ken would be appearing in SFIII after all. That he has continued to hang around makes no sense.
3 Most powerful: Oro
The first time players put a quarter into a Street Fighter III arcade machine, they were faced with a selection of fairly normal-looking martial artists mixed in with some truly bizarre-looking characters. One of those characters was a squatting, old, trollesque character that appeared to only have one arm. And that character turned out to be ridiculously powerful-- with an interesting twist.
Not only is Oro already among the strongest fighters in the entire SF canon, but he isn't even fighting to the full extent of his ability. In a Princess Bride-esque "I'm actually right handed!" move, Oro-- like Cody-- deliberately handicaps himself, choosing to keep his dominant hand covered and out of commission during battles.
Evidently, that is the only reason he's even able to compete in a fighting tournament and keep things competitive without instantly obliterating all comers in a matter of seconds.
2 Most useless: Seth
One of the things that has always set Street Fighter apart from most fighting games is that its bosses have typically been fairly well-balanced characters that are able to sit alongside the rest of the roster and not resort to gimmickry. All of that went out the window with the introduction of new main antagonist Seth in Street Fighter IV.
Taking a page from final bosses in games like Mortal Kombat, Virtua Fighter, and Eternal Champions, Seth lazily just does the moves of other characters in the game while adding a few ridiculously overpowered original moves.
Following genuinely unique and diverse bosses like Sagat, M. Bison, and Akuma, it felt like a major step backward for the series to have a cheap, stunt-style boss. Coupled with his completely bland design that makes him look like a second-rate Dr. Manhattan, Seth was easily the worst part of an otherwise triumphant sequel.
1 Most powerful: Akuma
Adding a new main antagonist to Street Fighter after years of doing battle with the iconic M. Bison was a major gamble on Capcom's part, but they absolutely knocked it out of the part with Akuma. Playing like a darker, much more powerful version of Ryu, Akuma quickly became both a fan favorite and also one of those characters that serious players hated because it allowed lesser players to be disproportionately powerful.
As powerful and nearly-unbeatable as Akuma already is, when he evolves into "Oni," he becomes one of the most powerful creatures in all of gaming. But whether he is Oni, Akuma, or something in-between (Shin Akuma, for instance), the dark master easily proves that he is at the top of the SF heap in terms of both in-universe power and effectiveness among players who have mastered using him.
Who's your favorite Street Fighter character? Let us know in the comments!