Since the original Mortal Kombat hit arcades in 1992, the fighting game franchise has been built around the fiercest fighters in video game history. I over a dozen games, a large array of humans, gods, sorcerers, cyborgs, ninjas and cyborg ninjas have tested their might in brutal fights to the finish. When the Mortal Kombat phenomenon was at its peak, the controversial games inspired government hearings and a pair of cult-classic movies. Now, Lit Lists is counting down the strongest Mortal Kombat characters ever.
The main antagonist of Deception, the massive Onaga, also known as The Dragon King, was the original ruler of Outworld until one of his chief advisers, Shao Kahn, fatally poisoned him and took control of the beleaguered realm himself, but Onaga actually was able to retain consciousness from beyond the grave. Quite some time before Liu Kang’s victory over Shang Tsung at the Mortal Kombat tournament, Onaga communicated through death to Shujinko through an avatar named Damashi.
He persuaded Shujinko to embark on a quest to unite the Kamidogu from the six realms, claiming he was carrying out the urge of the Elder Gods. When the Dragon Egg hatches, its transfers its energy into Reptile, which fulfills the prophecy of Onaga’s return. The Dragon King, as such, uses Reptile’s transformed body as a host.
After defeating Quan Chi, Shang Tsung and Raiden, Onaga revives the Earth warriors, who were killed beforehand by the Deadly Alliance, as his pawns. He also forms an alliance with the Tarkatan horde to keep Edenia’s armies at bay while he searches for the spells that would allow him to fuse the Kamidogu together and grant him supreme power. However, Shujinko defeats Onaga, leaving Onaga with only Shinnok’s amulet as his sole form of protection.
Nightwolf seals Onaga’s soul within the realm, separating it from Reptile’s body. Some time later, Onaga is approached in the Netherrealm by Shinnok, who offers to restore Onaga’s rule over Outworld if Onaga helps Daegon defeat Blaze and gain godlike power. He is released from his bondage and returned to his own body. In MK: Armageddon Konquest mode, he is seen joining an alliance with Quan Chi, Shang Tsung and Shao Kahn for their plans to destroy Blaze.
2. Shao Kahn
Shao Kahn the Konqueror is represented as the embodiment of evil. In many respects, he resembles a large Asian warrior, and is well known amongst the roster of Mortal Kombat Kombatants for his godlike strength which rivals, if not outright exceeds, that of Raiden, the God of Thunder. He is also known for his extreme callousness, brutality, ferocity in battle, and his fondness of personal executions, though he has occasionally spared the lives of his subordinates, if they prove their worth, and his victims such as Sindel and Kitana, raising the latter like his own daughter and treating the former like his own wife.
However, his true power that has served him well and allowed him to rise above the image of a mere warlord is his high intelligence and profound knowledge of the black arts. Like his subordinate Shang Tsung, he has the power to consume other souls. It is revealed in Mortal Kombat Deception that Shao Kahn is of the same race as Raiden, which would make him a God, as well as the former protector of Outworld during Onaga’s rule.
Perhaps Shao Kahn’s greatest strength lies in his ability to work towards his goals with great tenacity and his ability to organize. However, his greatest weakness is his arrogance and overconfidence. Shao Kahn has often underestimated mankind, and therefore tried to conquer Earthrealm many times, with or without a queen (consort), to no success. He also possesses a blinding lust for conquest that can sometimes overwhelm his better judgment, allowing him to be manipulated by those that are cunning enough to exploit this weakness.
When Earthrealm was young, Raiden was its protector. He fought the rogue Elder God Shinnok, who wished to overthrow his fellow gods, in a war that threatened to destroy Earthrealm itself. One of the casualties of the war was the Saurian civilization (of which Reptile is a descendant), forcing the remaining survivors to emigrate to another world, which they named Zaterra. With the aid of the Elder Gods, Raiden managed to defeat Shinnok, then banished him to the Netherealm and secured Shinnok’s amulet of power in a secret location — a Temple of the Elements tucked away in the highest mountains of Nepal.
Raiden charged four gods with guarding the amulet — the gods of Wind (Fujin), Fire, Earth and Water. When the elder Sub-Zero stole Shinnok’s amulet from the temple for Quan Chi millions of years later, Raiden appeared before the Lin Kuei warrior and instructed him to enter the Netherealm and steal it back, lest Shinnok use it to free himself. Raiden could not retrieve it himself as his powers would dissipate in the Netherealm. Sub-Zero’s mission into the Netherealm was a success and Shinnok was, for a time, no longer a threat. Though it was later revealed that the sorcerer Quan Chi had given Sub Zero a false amulet, Raiden never realized the counterfeit and Quan Chi would remain in possession of the true amulet for years.
In the original Mortal Kombat, Raiden was invited to compete in the Mortal Kombat tournament, by Shang Tsung himself. Raiden accepted the invitation and took human form to compete. In Mortal Kombat II, watching events unfold from high above, Raiden realized the grim intentions of Shao Kahn. Raiden warned the last remaining members of the Shaolin tournament Liu Kang and Kung Lao of Shao Kahn’s threat. Raiden then disappeared and ventured to Outworld alone.
Despite Shao Kahn taking every soul on Earth as his own, Raiden was able to protect the souls of Liu Kang and other chosen warriors. At first unable to participate due to the merger of both realms, Raiden decided to sacrifice his own immortality in order to help his chances against Kahn after the Elder Gods refused to assist him in Mortal Kombat Trilogy. In the end, Kahn’s forces were defeated, repelling the invasion back into Outworld and restoring Earthrealm to its rightful state.
Shinnok is one of the most evil beings in Mortal Kombat. A vengeful and powerful fallen Elder God of Death, Shinnok appeared in Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero, Mortal Kombat 4/Mortal Kombat Gold, and Mortal Kombat X as the main antagonist. He has also made an appearance in Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, seemingly leading the side of evil.
Unlike Shao Kahn, Shinnok relies less on brute strength and fear-mongering, but more on magical powers, ancient artifacts and manipulation. He is the ruler of the Netherrealm, possessing millions of years’ worth of knowledge and power. He can impersonate any other beings of his choosing, as well as to transform into an immense demon.
He also possesses extreme cunning, as well as the ability to manipulate events through others. For example, he had Quan Chi convince Shao Kahn to merge Earthrealm with Outworld against the Elder Gods’ will. As a result, both realms were severely weakened and left vulnerable to invasion by the Netherrealm.
Shinnok demands unwavering faith and loyalty from his followers and will not hesitate to kill anyone who doubts, challenges, or even represents a potential threat to him. He may even be more brutal and heartless than Shao Kahn.
He is the son of Kronika, titan and original Keeper of Time, and brother of the Elder God Cetrion. During Mortal Kombat 11, it’s revealed that Kronika has designed for both of her children to be tangled in an intricate game where Shinnok defends death and darkness and Cetrion defends life and light.
Kronika is the Keeper of Time, Architect of the Destiny of the Universe and mother of Shinnok, the Elder God of Death and Darkness, and Cetrion, the Elder God of Life and Light.
Due to Raiden’s new brutal policy in crushing potential evil forces that threaten Earthrealm, with its apex at the beheading of her own son, Shinnok, she sees it as an imbalance between the forces of good and evil and seeks to force equilibrium it by erasing the timeline and rewriting a new one from the very beginning. These events would set in motion her plan to fix the time flow, creating a New Era and leading consequentially to the past merging with the present.
According to Raiden, as the Keeper of Time, Kronika is the only one capable of tampering with the forces of time to the point of present and past to collide, and also states that she has restarted the timeline many times in order to find perfection.
Cetrion is an Elder God who is the sister and counterpart of Shinnok and she is one of the deities responsible of banishing Shinnok to the Netherrealm. She is also the daughter of Kronika.
During the events of the aforementioned game, it is revealed that Cetrion, much like Shinnok, was a sleeping agent of Kronika among her fellow Elder Gods, and both played for eons an intricate game where she defends life, virtue and light in reality, and he defends death, corruption and darkness. While siblings, both are rivals, and Kronika’s plans are that both keep existing and keeping balance of these essential aspects of the universe, having both fighting at an endgame.
However, once Raiden caused massive and irreversible unbalance between good and evil by beheading Shinnok – and therefore taking him out of the game forever -, like her brother, she also betrayed her fellow Elder Gods in order to join her mother’s plan of creating a New Era, an age where she and Shinnok would once again prey in the conflicts between realms.
Cetrion’s dominion is Nature and Life, allowing her to control the elements of Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Light. She stands as a bastion of peace, light and good, though her actions in Mortal Kombat 11 have shown these notions to be relative in the eyes of the goddess, leading her even to destroy her counterparts as mentioned before and support the temporal Armageddon. This way, Cetrion’s morality and virtues usually are shown to be hypocritical, and in a way she is as cruel and dark as Shinnok.
Still, much like Kronika, Cetrion’s actions are not moved by grief or vengeance, but a very relativist and divine concept of equilibrium that strongly require she and her brother to keep tangling the realms into their conflict, a vision firmly opposed by Raiden. At her own end in Mortal Kombat 11’s timeline, Liu Kang is able to spot that Cetrion while a goddess of virtue gets weaker by following Kronika’s vision, since they go directly against what this principle stands for, therefore making her heart betray her in battle.
Nonetheless, Cetrion believes that the greatest virtue is to abide her mother’s will, and the Shaolin proves in kombat that indeed her heart is not enough to support such folly. This way, it stays subtle that she – and maybe even Shinnok, considering some intros between she and Raiden – might merely be puppets of Kronika herself, being oblivious to be part of a greater design.
It is known that his father, a former member of the Shirai Ryu, forbade his son from joining the clan, as he did not wish for his son to live the life of an assassin. However, Hanzo joined in spite of his father’s wishes in order to provide his wife and son with a comfortable life.
Now Scorpion is a hell-spawned spectre, inexorably seeking vengeance against those responsible for the destruction of his clan and the death of his own family. Despite his malevolent appearance, he is not inherently evil. He joins the forces of evil when promised a means of resurrecting his clan on Earth, or the chance to inflict his wrath against those who butchered them. Scorpion has also (indirectly) assisted the game’s protagonists to fulfill these motives.
Scorpion is perceived by fans as the title’s foremost anti-hero. He undertakes actions that benefit the forces of good, albeit in his own gruesome and vigilante manner. His attitude, appearance and self-reliance have all contributed to his popularity. Compared to the purely virtuous “good guys”, and the diabolically evil “bad guys”, Scorpion’s moral neutrality is unique. Although he is featured alongside the forces of evil in the opening scene of Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, he remains neutral because of his fierce hatred of Quan Chi.
Scorpion appears human when masked, though this is merely an illusion. Only his skull remains when in his true form, sometimes ablaze. However, he can fully regain his human appearance if he conquers his own demons. Scorpion’s most popular and recognized skill is his famous spear attack, which is used to draw an opponent toward him. This attack will also stun the opponent for a short amount of time. Scorpion will shout, “Get over here!” or “Come here!”, while executing this technique.
Although Scorpion is often strict and wrathful, at times he shows a caring side and is very honorable. In the original timeline, when he discovers the Sub-Zero in the second tournament isn’t Bi-Han and in fact his more merciful brother, Scorpion vows to protect Kuai Liang instead for killing his kin. In the second timeline, Scorpion truly intended to spare the first Sub-Zero in exchange for the resurrection of his clan, but Quan Chi prevented this.
Most notably, in the Mortal Kombat X comic series, it’s shown he took in victims and survivors of the Netherrealm War into his iteration of the Shirai Ryu to now protect Earthrealm while also raising Takeda Takahashi. During this time, he treated Takeda like his own son, such as when he comforts Takeda after Fox’s death.
Before his death, Bi-Han was the original Sub-Zero, one of the most powerful and devout warriors of the Lin Kuei clan. While essentially neutral, he was a cold-blooded, vicious assassin whose soul had become corrupted from years of violence and remorseless killing.
At the end of the first Mortal Kombat tournament, Bi-Han was murdered by Scorpion in retaliation for his own death at the former’s hands. He then descended to the fifth plane of the Netherrealm where he was resurrected by the sorcerer, Quan Chi, who had earlier resurrected Scorpion. The evil within his soul was released by stripping him of pride, compassion, and everything else that made him human.
Reborn in the Netherrealm, Noob Saibot is the very incarnation of evil. He desires not only to remain in the Netherrealm, but to conquer and rule it. Although he has been seen in the service of evil warlords such as Shinnok and Shao Kahn, his ultimate allegiance is to himself.
Goro is one of the original characters debuting in the first Mortal Kombat arcade game as the sub-boss, and later appeared as the sub-boss of Mortal Kombat 4 (only available on home consoles). He first became playable in the Game Boy port of Mortal Kombat. He appeared as a four-armed Shokan warrior who had been the champion of the Mortal Kombat tournament for nine generations, remaining undefeated for 500 years. Goro is among Shao Kahn’s favorite warriors and is well known for his power and brutality. Goro helped the emperor grow closer to dominating Earthrealm, but he lost at the tenth while fighting against Liu Kang, who later defeated the sorcerer Shang Tsung.
Goro is one of the most powerful warriors in the history of Mortal Kombat, being able to win 9 consecutive Mortal Kombat tournaments, as well as defeating the Great Kung Lao in his first tournament – which Shang Tsung, in his younger form failed to do. He also served as commander of Outworld’s armies, crushing rebellions and aiding in the conquer of many new realms for the Emperor.
Goro’s fighting style always revolved around taking advantage of his brute strength and surprising agility. In the early games, Goro was an imbalanced character. All of his moves did far more damage than all of the other characters, and because of that, he was notoriously difficult to defeat in the first game. In the 3D games, he was toned down to make him more balanced.
His current depiction is being powerful, but slow. Goro is associated with the element of Fire. Like Kintaro, he could either project fireballs either from his mouth or his hands. In Shaolin Monks, he was able to shoot one fireball from each hand. He could also manipulate fire in his hands if he needed to attack using them.
10. Great Kung Lao
Being the first person on Earthrealm to represent the Order of Light in Mortal Kombat, he would do battle with the evil sorcerer and shapeshifter Shang Tsung, 500 years before Liu Kang would do the same.
Despite Tsung having the advantage of winning nine consecutive Mortal Kombat tournaments, The Great Kung Lao defeated him and became Grand Champion, saving Earthrealm in the process. While it is common for the victor to take his opponent’s life, Kung Lao spared the sorcerer. As champion, Lao could not age.
Fifty years later, Shang Tsung, the now-old man he spared half a century before, had corrupted the tournament. Kung Lao was defeated by Goro, the Shokan prince. Afterwards, his soul was taken by Tsung, an event that would lead up to the events of the first arcade game.
In Mortal Kombat: Deception, his soul was freed after Shang Tsung was killed by Raiden’s failed attempt to destroy the Dragon King, finally giving his soul peace after over five centuries of torment.
Kung Lao’s ending in Mortal Kombat (2011) states that he is the reincarnation of the Great Kung Lao. He learns this after touching his “ancestor’s” tombstone and being filled with his memories. He was reincarnated so that he could avenge his failings. As this has never been brought up in the main storyline it’s unknown whether or not it’s canon.