In 1972, the Magnavox Odyssey, the first ever in-home video gaming console, successfully brought the thrill of the arcade into the living room. Now, video gaming represents an industry worth over $155 billion dollars, and the humble Odyssey has birthed nearly 1,000 gaming consoles in its image, including:
Not to mention all the Segas and Gameboys and Switches in between.
You’ve welcomed those iconic consoles into your home as furniture, but it’s the famous video game characters who’ve become family. You know them. You’ve grown up with them. You’ve followed their various storylines and sagas and costume changes.
But who are the most iconic video game characters of all time?
Topping any list of iconic video game characters must be this mustachioed plumber from Italy. Since arriving on the scene in 1983—likely via a sewage tube—Mario has become one of the biggest video game character names, appearing in over 200 video games and even starring in his own big-screen movie adaptation.
Despite the modest appearance in his character design—he’s known for his regular uniform of plumber’s overalls and red cap—Mario is an innovator of his field. His long history comes with several impressive firsts. Not only did he pioneer the platform game or “run-n-jump” genre, but he’s also the first to offer gamers 3D play.
And as the frontman of the most successful video game franchise of all time, his rightful place is at the top of this list.
Close on Mario’s heels is Link, from the iconic video game “Zelda.” Sworn protector of Hyrule and its often imperiled Princess Zelda, Link is one of those famous characters we can’t seem to get enough of.
As legend has it, Link is not one person but a hero spirit constantly reincarnated by the Golden Goddesses as a protector of Hyrule, the fictional medieval world where “Zelda” is set.
Across universes, Link has gone by a few different names:
- Hero of Time
- Hero of Wind
- Hero of Light
- Hero of the Wild
- Hero of Tracks
That’s a lot of titles. But as the chosen bearer of the magical Triforce and the Master Sword, they’re all well earned. And across incarnations, Link has had a fairly steady appearance, making them one of the most recognizable characters in video game history.
#3 Sonic the Hedgehog
‘90s kids can attest to the fanaticism surrounding this racing hedgehog during the first decade of his reign. Despite its simple, slightly absurd concept—a super-fast hedgehog races through various gaming levels collecting golden rings and avoiding obstacles like spikes, drop-offs, and pits filled with spikes—Sonic the Hedgehog became the flagship game of Sega Genesis.
Sometimes it’s possible to judge a character’s impact based on its prevalence in popular culture. Few characters have so infiltrated the zeitgeist as Sonic the Hedgehog, with his blue mane of spines and white racing shoes. Appearing on everything from t-shirts to book bags to tennis shoes, Sonic was also the face of his own TV series and two movie adaptations, solidifying his status among A-list video game characters.
No list of iconic video game characters would be complete without Pac-Man, one of the original video game celebrities. A popular fixture of video arcades since the 1980s, Pac-Man fronts one of the most recognizable and successful video games of all time, having generated more than $14 billion in revenue since its launch and shaping the experiences of generations within the gaming world.
But Pac-Man himself isn’t the only icon associated with his namesake game. The popularity of the franchise has made stars of Pac-Man’s nemeses, too—those blinking ghosts he finds so delicious, Inky, Blinky, Pinky, and Clyde. He’s also responsible for a host of sequels and video game series remakes, including:
- Ms. Pac-Man
- Jr. Pac-Man
- Professor Pac-Man
- Pac-Man World
#5 Lara Croft
The audience within the gaming world is over 40% female, but until Lara Croft burst onto the scene in 1996, women were woefully underrepresented on the virtual side of the screen. And even then, she was a sometimes contradictory cross between superhero and objectified female character.
Although she was always known for her above-average intelligence and athleticism, these qualities were somewhat obscured by her character design and outfits.
Since her early days, though, the British archeologist has become a role model and example of female empowerment for generations of young women—especially following a 2013 reboot that traded in Croft’s short shorts for more practical cargo pants.
World-renowned tomb raider, holder of the Guinness World Record for Most Recognizable Female Character, and the star of three feature films, various comic books, and even her own animated video game series, Lara Croft is easily one of the most iconic video game characters ever—male or female.
You won’t find a lot of sidekicks on this list, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t include at least one—Pikachu, of the enduringly popular “Pokémon” series. To understand the breadth and impact of Pikachu’s pik-appeal, just take a look at these statistics:
- 260 million – That’s how many copies of the various Pikachu-starring video games have sold in the 20 years since the series debuted.
- 21.5 billion – That’s how many “Pokémon” trading cards have been sold.
- 800 – That’s the number of episodes of the various Pokémon TV series that have aired.
- 17 – The number of feature films starring our favorite electric rodent.
Those are the kinds of numbers that only a true iconic character can boast. And when it comes to Pikachu, it’s easy to understand the romance. Despite his inhuman coloring and inability to say much more than his name, Pikachu’s cuteness, childlike energy, and love of food are lovable qualities all of us can relate to.
#7 Master Chief
Another virtually wordless main character who has nevertheless managed to capture the hearts and minds of gamers of every stripe is Master Chief, of Xbox’s revolutionary game series, “Halo.” Like Pikachu, Master Chief has very little to say—but his on-screen presence speaks volumes.
As Halo lore has it, Master Chief Petty Officer John-117 was born and raised to be an efficient and ruthless combat soldier, which helps explain his massive size and intimidating, affectless demeanor.
Appearing in all six Halo video games, plus a handful of linked books and graphic novels, Master Chief is routinely credited with the popularity of Halo and for making the Xbox itself such a successful gaming console—which only adds to his iconic video game character credentials.
Let’s face it: Mortal Kombat has no shortage of famous video game characters, from Katana to Sonya Blade to Sub-Zero. But standing heads and shoulders above the rest is one of the series’ most menacing characters, Scorpion.
Clad in an immediately recognizable yellow and black ninja suit and skeleton-like face mask and armed with some of the most terrifying fatalities in the “Mortal Kombat” universe—and a set of truly chilling Kunai that shoot out of both hands—Scorpion became an instant favorite among fans of “Mortal Kombat.” And it’s no wonder, as he has all the makings of a truly iconic villain:
- Backstory – Like all great villains, Scorpion’s origin story involves the brutal slaying of his entire family, which set off his carnal lust for blood.
- Terrifying powers – Aside from the razor-sharp Kunai, Scorpion can teleport and call up fire from hell, making him as formidable an opponent as he is iconic.
- Catchphrase – No iconic character is complete without a catchphrase. Scorpion’s trademark “Get over here!” is not just one of the most memorable things about Mortal Kombat, it has also entered the lexicon of untold millions of gamers as a shorthand for the inimitable assassin.
Get In On the Iconography With CultureFly
From tomb raiders to electric rodents, the world of video gaming has given us no shortage of iconic characters. For decades, these characters have been like trusted friends—and sometimes, menacing foes—for generations of gamers. And with the continued growth of the industry, you can imagine the number of new icons waiting in the wings.
In the meantime, why not show how much you love the iconic characters in your life by signing up for a video game subscription box with CultureFly? Not only is it the best way to get access to limited edition collectibles, it’s also an easy, two-step process:
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- Boxes come to you – Once you enroll, you’ll start getting your subscription boxes four times a year. Our boxes are filled with exclusive merchandise, apparel, and collectibles, and they’re curated by our in-house team of experts—avid gamers who are just as obsessed as you are—guaranteeing each box is filled with the best swag.
CultureFly offers some of the best gaming subscription boxes and nerd boxes that double as great gift ideas for gamers, and allow you to take your love of video games to the next level—and maybe even become an icon yourself.
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Obilisk. Top 10 Most Iconic Video Game Characters. https://www.obilisk.co/top-10-iconic-video-game-characters/
ZeldaWiki. Link. https://zelda.fandom.com/wiki/Link
Statista.com. Distribution of Video Gamers in the United States from 2006 - 2021, By Gender. https://www.statista.com/statistics/232383/gender-split-of-us-computer-and-video-gamers/
Polygon. Why Pikachu May Soon Be as Iconic as Mickey Mouse. https://www.polygon.com/pokemon/2014/8/21/6051183/pikachu-pokemon-mickey-mouse
Screenrant. The 15 Best Mortal Kombat Characters. https://screenrant.com/best-characters-mortal-kombat-game/