In case you haven't realized it, I'm a fan of ninjas. While samurai abide by a code of honor, wearing either sweet plate armor or comfy pajamas, and use really cool swords, ninja are better described as spies or mercenaries. They're commonly characterized with high mobility, their skill in stealth, and in a lot of cases a strong case for skill and power. They're not brute strength in media like games or movies but rather the agile type. They're masters of misdirection and assassination. In other words for games, a high skill ceiling. It's not hard to see why they're so cool. Sure samurai have cool swords but myths and legends of ninja depict them clinging to walls, running over water, throwing everything from knifes to grenades, and stabbing people in general. And they're just cool. No matter how you characterize them, whether they're stoic badasses or tongue in cheek goofballs, there's denying how awesome it would be to disappear in a puff of smoke only to reappear to stab people in the back.
There are a lot of awesome ninja to list. But what is a ninja? And how can we (and by we, I mean I) be more selective to make a list have more punch and finality? First, let's casually google ninja.
A ninja (忍者?) or shinobi (忍び?) was a covert agent or mercenary in feudal Japan. The functions of the ninja included espionage, sabotage, infiltration, and assassination, and open combat in certain situations. Their covert methods of waging war contrasted the ninja with the samurai, who observed strict rules about honor and combat. The shinobi proper, a specially trained group of spies and mercenaries, appeared in the Sengoku or "warring states" period, in the 15th century
We can safely establish that pop culture has obviously given ninja a lot of legendary characteristics such as elemental magic, the mysterious teleportation, and let's not forget the ability to ride man-sized kites to infiltrate enemy territory. For the purposes of picking out some of my favorite ninjas from an endless list of possible choices, the best are going to be picked by very basic criteria and rating them on a scale to five.
Mobility: Can the ninja outmaneuver his opponents in such a way that it gives him a strategic advantage?
Stealth: A ninja is, at their core, a spy. How well can the ninja hide their presence when they are in a situation where they are unwanted?
Raw power: A ninja is also basically a mercenary, which means deadly force is necessary. When running and hiding isn't an option, can the ninja even lift, bro?
Let's get the most obvious choice out of the way and hold him as an example.
One of Capcom's cult classic icons. Despite near obscurity from a lack of games, Strider's name was never completely forgotten thanks to his inclusion in the Vs. Capcom series. Along with his unique games which featured nearly complete freedom in movement, the tagline to his most recent game is an excellent reminder: legends never die.
Strider Hiryu or simply Strider is apart of a worldwide mercenary organization of futuristic cyber-ninjas known as the Striders. Hiryu is the youngest to achieve their highest rank, Special-A, and is oftentimes depicted as the only Strider left as the organization has since been eradicated.
Mobility: Hiryu is well known for his agility. In almost any game, whether it's an action game or a fighting game, Hiryu is capable of air jumping twice to extend his range or simply change direction in mid-air. He has high foot speed and can climb nearly any surface thanks to his climbing hooks.
Stealth: Strider's games have never been about stealth, though they sometimes start with him entering enemy territory quietly. While he's usually seen swords a-swinging, it does stand to reason that his climbing hooks, which let him even climb hand-under-hand on the ceiling, can let him move about somewhat inconspicuously.
Raw power: Hiryu is described as being in possession of superhuman strength but it's never outwardly displayed. He is however, in possession of a sword that generates plasma so he can cut through anything. Not only that, he can arc it outward to create long reaching energy arcs.
Chosen over Ibuki as a much more interesting ninja, I call Guy The Sneaker Ninja. Originating from Final Fight before making a comfortable transition to Street Fighter, Guy is a no-nonsense, stoic ninja who is contrasted by his bright red gi and striking sneakers, not to mentioning hanging out with a hoodlum with a rap sheet and a mayor who moonlights as a wrestler.
Guy is best known for his command run, floaty jumps, an izuna drop, and his Seppuu Kyaku which is basically a Hurricane Kick that goes straight up with invincibility frames.
Mobility: Other than his command run which covers long distances fast, Guy is also known for his fast walk speed. This is also contrasted by his awfully casual yet intimidating walking posture. Nothing fancy but don't expect to keep him out with projectiles with his foot speed.
Stealh: Guy is from a beat'em up, so stealth has never been his thing despite having formal training in Bushinryu ninjutsu. The extent of stealth for him is if he'll walk by some oil drum or flying kick through them.
Raw power: On the other hand for Bushinryu, it's stated to be a blend of ninjutsu and street brawling. Despite a calm and composed fighting stance, Guy can deliver some powerful back hands, shoulder checks, and back drops. He basically goes from zero to kicking your ass in 0.5 seconds.
Using the name of a sort of Robin Hood figure from Japanese folklore, Goemon of Mystical Ninja fame is both a goofy caricature of a ninja and a badass who throws coins as shurikens and owns a robot.
Named Kid Yang in the West, Goemon usually embarks on a grand journey with his friend, Ebisumaru, to stop some unintimidating yet dangerous force from taking over the land of Nippon. And he usually does it by smacking a lot of people with a smoking pipe.
Mobility: By himself, Goemon's only notable agility is a fast worm crawl that lowers his profile significantly. However, Goemon can learn several jutsus that let him ride a tiger or even fly!
Stealth: Even Goemon's jumps tends to have a comical springing sound effect, which makes it difficult to be quiet in his endeavors.
Raw power: Like before, Goemon is capable of learning powerful jutsus that can clear the screen. He can extend his reach considerably with an extending chain pipe, but he loses it pretty easily after taking damage.
Galford D. Weller
There were two ninja in SNK's oft under represented Samurai Showdown, not counting the pseudo-Hokkaido ninja Nakoruru. While Hanzo was a more tradiitonal take on ninja, I've always thought Galford's garish appearance was more fun. Not only does he have an attack husky (who pile drives his opponents) but his back story is amazing.
Galford was born and raised in Texas. But one day his father was shot dead by a bandit. During his time as sailor with a stain of grief in his heart, he discovered ninjutsu in Japan, and studied it to uphold his father's sense of justice. He took the bullet that killed his father and smelted it into the ninjato he uses now. Wow.
Mobility: One of Galford's main strategies and gimmicks is to teleport near his opponent before throwing them. He was no slouch in the running department too.
Stealth: I liked Galford because he's more colorful than Hanzo but a loudmouth with a bright blue gi isn't going to go unnoticed. Galford fancies himself more as a hero of justice than an actual ninja so he's more likely to shout out evil doers than slink into the darkness to take them by surprise.
Raw power: Galford cheats a little bit. While he has his own martial training, most of Galford's power comes from his husky, Poppy. Poppy can charge at his opponent to headbutt, bite, and even pile drive people somehow. This duo ain't no slouch but keep those dog treats handy.
You know a character is from Guilty Gear when they have stupidly awesome names. Chipp Zanuff is a lot like Galford, not being strictly Japanese but becoming enamoured by ninjutsu. Unlike Galford's noble intentions, Chipp sounds like a weeaboo, shouting generic Japanese words while fighting. SUSHI! GEISHA! BANZAI!
Chipp was a lowly thug until ninja master Tsyoshi wandered into his life to set him straight. But then an assassin killed him, so Chipp set out for revenge. He also has some of the best character themes.
Mobility: If nothing else, Chipp is the absolute fastest and most nimble of Guilty Gear's characters. Quick run speed, triple air jump and dashes, and razor fast teleports that are core to his mix up game. Teleport right into their face, above them for a high attack, or up and behind them for a quick cross-up. If Chipp is standing still, he's either blocking or dead.
Stealth: Chipp isn't exactly the quiet type. I'm beginning to see a pattern in ninjas in fighting games. A lot of Chipp's special attacks are also quite bright and flashy. He does however have a move that makes him invisible on screen and he can even disappear into a flurry of leaves before slicing his opponent's neck.
Raw power: Not only can you beat Chipp in one and half combos, but he hits about as hard as a china plate in a world of cinder blocks and steel rebar. He certainly has some explosive attacks but they're mostly for the show, not the damage.
Half Kamen Rider's belt, half honor bound warrior ninja, all manly muscle, Bang Shishigami has got an obnoxious mouth on him but he has the moves to back up his talk in Blazblue.
A ninja serving his lord until the war against NOL drove him and his clan underground. Now they wait patiently to strike back. Until then, righteous hero of love and justice Bang Shishigami will be there to punch evil in the gut!
Mobility: Bang isn't the fastest out there, but he can literally run through the air. He has an air kick specifically meant to cross-up and he has an attack where he uppercuts his opponent and teleports multipletimes to them to deliver a series of punches and kicks. Of course, if he can land four flaming punches with their seals, he unlocks his secret technique, the Fūrinkazan (風林火山). This state trades the ability to block normally with the ability to dash and air dash so fast and so many times that Bang to perform impossible combos by hitting them on one side and quickly dashing to the other side. He literally has combos in this form that become Dragonball Z episodes of pinballing people around the air.
Stealth: Bang is a ninja that exposes his abs and holds a giant nail on his back. He shouts a lot and his most defining attacks are burning, exploding punches. You take a guess.
Raw power: Likewise, Bang can punch explosions into people. He has a variety of trick shurikens to add to his offense like spider darts with extra hit stun and triple shurikens to lock his opponent down, and his ougi (finisher move) impales his nail into his opponent before delivering a supercharged hammer-punch to them, which of course explodes and somehow leaves him in his undies.
Mark of the Ninja
The unnamed ninja from Mark of the Ninja is tattooed with a mystical ink that bestows great power in exchange for his eventual sanity. While not great with future employment options, it certainly makes him the best there is for espionage and assassination.
Mobility: This ninja has all the great movement of a ninja. Good run, double jump, wall run, spider hang, ceiling cling, and even a grappling hook! Strangely, no one else on this list seems to have a Spider-Man like grappling hook ability.
Stealth: Depending on his equipment, he can run completely silently, perfectly hide in shadows, and navigate around the peripheral vision of his foes perfectly.
Raw power: This ninja depends on his tools and skills to remain hidden. While capable of assassination, this ninja is utterly outclassed in head to head confrontations. Usually he'll get knocked down before being riddled with bullets. Running away is preferable because I mean, what kind of ninja gets knocked down by patrol guards?
Possibly the only ninja that's not strictly a videogame character, though the Naruto series has had a load of videogames. Might Guy is best described as a ninja so bad at being a regular ninja that he trained himself to be the best unorthodox ninja there is. Rather than use techniques and ninjutsu, Might compensates his inability to use spell like attacks by punching things so hard that they shatter into billions of pieces.
Mobility: Most of the ninjas of the Naruto universe are pretty fast and agile in most aspects. Only Might can probably push himself to run like a sonic boom if he wanted to in addition to typical Naruto canon ninja techniques like teleportation, the kawarimi (that one where you switch places with a log), and wall clinging.
Stealth: Remember when I said Might Guy compensates for his weaknesses? Well, Guy isn't necessarily bad at stealth, since he isn't a respected jounin ninja for nothing. But he's never demonstrated any particular skill at being stealthy either. In fact, most times he enters a scene, he kicks someone in the face and yells, "DYNAMIC!"
Raw power: Might Guy breaks the system for power. Supersonic punches, mortal blows that burst into flames from the friction against the air alone, and a flying kick strong enough to distort the fabric of reality itself, rendering any defense useless. Uh, yeah, Might Guy can't breath fire or shoot lightning but he can kick you into literal oblivion.
A cyborg ninja that can cut just about anything with his high frequency sword, Raiden started out as a pitiful nerd in Metal Gear Solid 2. After becoming a cyborg however, Raiden became a legendary slicing machine, capable of cutting everything, enemies and Metal Gears alike, before cementing his status as an awesome warrior cyborg in Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.
Mobility: As a cyborg, Raiden is virtually tireless. Most notable is a technique literally called the ninja run, where Raiden speeds forward, automatically deflecting all bullets with his sword. While Raiden has low instantaneous burst speed, Raiden can match anything in terms of speed over the long term.
Stealth: Raiden and stealth is weird. He's capable of stealth but its hard to be proficient with his unique brand of stealth. Stealth to Raiden is hiding in boxes, walk in blind spots, and viscerally impaling his opponents on his sword. He isn't incapable of stealth but it's not recommended either.
Raw power: Raiden's zandatsu is capable of cutting anything. It's easy to mention how he can cut anything and parry anything with his swordsmanship and high frequency blade. But know that he once took the blade weapon off a three-story tall mecha and used it against it.
Some may say the original videogame ninja from Shinobi. In his reboot, Joe is capable of combining speed with swordplay to slash enemies apart and stylishly let them fall at once at the sheathing of his sword. That's more of a samurai thing but oh well, we've established that ninjas can be spies and mercenaries.
Mortal Kombat has no shortage of ninjas that aren't quite ninjas. Sub-Zero combines ninjutsu fighting with cryokinesis and freezing cold power. Worth mentioning is his eternal rival, Scorpion and lizard counterpart Reptile. But Sub-Zero's always been my personal favorite. Especially when he gained the attack that froze the floor and made his opponent's slip and slide like idiots.
The master ninja from a master class game in difficulty. Ryu Hayabusa carries plenty of weapons in the Ninja Gaiden series to dismember his opponents in a variety of ways. He's also been in more remakes of individual titles than I can count.
It's like she's wearing nothing at all! That aside, Taki from can jump circles around the rest of the Soul Calibur cast. One of my favorite attacks had her spinning her daggers like buzzsaws in her hands. She can also roll, flip, and create localized explosions to do juggle combos.
Unlike her sister Ayane, Kasumi has actually demonstrated the ability to teleport around her opponents to deliver powerful hand-to-hand attacks in Dead or Alive. Ayane in her own right delivers some powerful spinning punches and kicks, and both even guest star in Ninja Gaiden to become just as violent as Ryu.
The ninja themed frog from Pokemon Xand Y. In Smash Bros. he can teleport, create blades of water, and throw shurikens made of pressurized water. He's one of the fastest runners, true to ninja form, but also has one of the highest and fastest jumps, true to frog form. His counter even incorporates the Substitute move, both in Pokémon context and ninja context!
She looks like a ninja at least from Tales of Symphonia. But Sheena's actually more of a summoner than a ninja. She fights with paper seals that somehow hit with blunt force but most of her job is to summon really powerful creatures to the fight.
Espio is basically Guy from Final Fight but a chameleon in the Sonic world. People often forget he acts like a ninja in Team Chaotix. But not only does he run fast (everyone does in Sonic) but he can turn invisible. Plus I'm pretty sure he's thrown a kunai at least once.
Half nurse, half ninja, all cleavage. Her shout outs to ninja moves mixed with hospital theming is quite entertaining in Skullgirls. Instead of a plain izuna drop, she bags her opponents in a body bag and proceeds to izuna drop them.
More like a rogue than a ninja in terms of gameplay mechanics, or an assassin for the sake of Borderlands 2. At least he looks cool as a cyber ninja. He can turn invisible to gank enemies with his sword or to snipe enemies, but in both methods he gets a damage boost attacking out of cloak.