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10. Cody: Considering how bored Cody is all the time and how mopey he tends to be, you wouldn't think he'd be one of the best characters in the series. But his disaffected attitude appeals to the slacker in all of us. If only we didn't have anything but breaking out of prison and fighting random people on the streets to worry about, we could throw rocks, slide around, and uppercut so hard we summon tornados. Cody's not too concerned about the world around him, and doesn't have to be, which makes him one of the most carefree people around.
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9. Guile: This American soldier is as known for his Sonic Booms as he is for his glorious blonde flat-top. Using boxing and grappling, Guile is as American as the flag tattooed on his bicep. Rising up through the ranks throughout the series, he gradually becomes Major Guile, and is dead-set on destroying Shadaloo. Also, did I mention that Guile has literally the best stage song ever? Everything about Guile is over-the-top, and that makes him both endearing and a key staple of the Street Fighter roster.
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8. R. Mika: Joshi puro wrestler Rainbow Mika won't let you stop her. In defiance of the odds, of all the bad guys with Psycho Power, Shoryukens and teleporting magic, R. Mika will win through good, old-fashioned Irish Whips and dropkicks. And despite her humble origins, her style is effective. In Street Fighter V, specifically, she relies on pitting her opponent in the corner and making them guess what she'll do next. This can get her killed by more knowledgeable opponents, but even three right guesses in a row will practically hand her a round. R. Mika throws caution to the wind and just goes for it, making her a fun character to play and a riveting one to watch.
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7. Juri: Though she doesn't technically throw fireballs (they're more like crescents), Juri takes the fireball character to its logical extreme. She has Sagat's high and low fireballs, and even adds a third—an upwards fireball that can stop someone from jumping at her. She can wind them up and store them for later use, too, letting her implement them into long-winded combos. She can control space for a distance, but don't be fooled; she's as dangerous up close as well. This gives her a startling degree of adaptability, letting her change her gameplan to fit her opponent. The only thing she's missing is being able to change the speed of each kind of fireball, which would create all kinds of headaches for the traditional six-button layout.
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6. Chun-Li: One of the most iconic fighters in the series' history, Chun-Li was the first female warrior in the series with her debut in Street Fighter II, and has been a key part of Street Fighter since. Her rapid kicks are a signature of her fast, rapid playstyle, a stark contrast to many of the slower fighters. Even Chun-Li's clothing, a Chinese dress called a qipao, has become iconic and immortalized alongside her character. It's hard to imagine a Street Fighter game without Chun-Li, as she's become an icon as both a strong woman and a compelling, endearing protagonist for Street Fighter.
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5. Dhalsim: If fighting games had not evolved on the back of characters like Ryu and Ken, we may have seen more characters like Dhalsim. He defies the archetypes of most fighting game characters, the differences between which often lie in their special moves. Each of Dhalsim's six regular attacks, most of which have him lash out at opponents from afar with this stretched-out limbs, helps in keeping his opponents away, creating a frustrating wall of denial. In Street Fighter V, his divergence is even more pronounced, as his fireballs arch upwards, and his ability to float in the air is augmented by actual levitation. There are Street Fighter players, grappler players, and Dhalsim players, and that says magnitudes.
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4. Yun: Though his aesthetic screams "late-90s X-games teen and also Hong Kong," no Street Fighter character overwhelms their opponents through sheer force quite like Yun. By divekick, by throw, or by Genei Jin-fueled flurry of blows, Yun will get the hit he needs to devastate you, and few characters are as fun to watch. Like Sagat, his character design is such that he's guaranteed a spot near the top of the tier list in any game he's in, and his strong batting average in this sense might make him a heel. But even his most ardent detractors can't deny watching Yun work makes Street Fighter look cool. He turns combos into Jjzz, where improvised movements augment muscle memory. What could be cooler?
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3. Zangief: The Red Tornado's appearance in Wreck-It Ralph says a lot about how memorable the flying Russian wrestler became after his induction in Street Fighter II. Zangief uses an interesting series of inputs, like half and full-circles, to unleash grappling domination upon his foes. He was the first instance of a grappler in the series, and his intimidating presence and lovable demeanor made him a standout of the original World Warrior line-up.
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2. Ryu: The hardest choice on this list was deciding where to put Ryu. Call it cheesy, but it's easy to call Ryu the original fighting game character. The moody user of the Satsui no Hado embodies not just the legacy of the series, but also the way that Street Fighter (more specifically II) changed fighting games forever. His Hadoken move became the foundation for special moves to come, with many players calling a quarter-circle-forward punch a "fireball motion." The Shoryuken is the classic uppercut, and his Tatsu spin-kick rounds out a kit that would be imitated and expanded upon for years. Ryu may seem like an eye-rolling, easy pick for the top of this list, but that shows just how influential he's been from inception. Ryu embodies not just Street Fighter, but fighting games in general as a blueprint for the years to come.
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1. Ken: No joke: when our panel of experts compiled their initial rankings for this list, Ken and Ryu tied for the top spot. We flipped a coin and Ken won. Despite being a result of pure luck, I like to think his victory was well-earned. Ryu has always been Street Fighter's poster boy (sometimes literally), but that comes with expectations; Ryu needs to be the introductory character for anyone getting into fighting games, so he can't change much game-to-game. Ken on the other hand is free to do whatever he wants. And as the series continues, Ken moves further out of his friend and rival's shadow.
Where Ryu is the series' Freddie Mercury—an ageless classic—Ken is its David Bowie. From his long locks in Alpha, glam rock 'do in Street Fighter II, surfer boy look in Street Fighter III, to whatever he's going for in Street Fighter V, Ken has always found ways to reinvent himself while staying true to his spirit. He's long been the pick for people looking for an alternative to the norm, for those looking for change instead of stagnation. This makes him the best character in all of Street Fighter, and the coin we flipped agrees.