Super Mario is more than just a gaming series; it's a genuine global phenomenon with millions of fans across the world, making it one of the most recognizable franchises in pop culture history.
With countless video games, TV shows, and movies—both live-action and animated—to his name, it might seem like there's nothing the world's most famous plumber can't do. But he didn't get here alone.
The Super Mario franchise is special for many reasons, but part of its success comes down to its vast array of lovable characters.
Who are the absolute best characters in the Super Mario franchise? Here are my picks from across more than 40 years of its history.
Who doesn't love a bad boy? Wario is a crude, cruel, and greedy version of Mario who has served as both rival and antagonist over the years.
Everything that makes Mario great is flipped on its head for this character, making Wario a dark reflection of the plumber.
In the wonderfully subtle way that the franchise handles its storytelling, Wario gives you everything you need in a villain even without any big backstories or grand plans.
9. Donkey Kong
Did you know that Mario's first video game appearance wasn't even technically a Super Mario game?
Indeed, the plumber first appeared in the arcade mega-hit Donkey Kong, jumping over barrels and smashing his way to rescue his girlfriend Pauline. (That's right, Pauline came before Peach!)
One could easily argue that without Donkey Kong—who himself has gone on to become a staple of multiple Nintendo series—there wouldn't be a Super Mario franchise to celebrate at all.
8. Princess Daisy
While Princess Peach was the first princess Mario had to rescue, Princess Daisy was the first damsel-in-distress with real depth to her.
She was feisty, confident, and full of energy, right from her very first appearance in Super Mario Land on the Game Boy. Since then, she's appeared in a few other Super Mario games, usually with her eye on Mario's taller brother, Luigi.
Other princesses have gotten more screen time than her, but Princess Daisy never fails to leave her mark on a game.
Pauline first appeared in the original Donkey Kong, and she's arguably had the most development of any of the women in Mario's life. She's been in the Super Mario franchise longer than even Luigi!
Most recently, Pauline was the fierce mayor of New Donk City in Super Mario Odyssey, providing the game with some much-needed style and one of the catchiest video game soundtracks of all time in the form of "Jump Up, Super Star!"
Since his introduction in Super Mario World on the SNES, Yoshi quickly became a fan favorite of the Super Mario franchise—so much so that he got his own game shortly after in the form of Yoshi's Island.
These days, it's hard to imagine a Super Mario game without the lovable green dinosaur, which is why whenever a new game is announced, there are always questions about whether Yoshi will make an appearance.
5. Princess Rosalina
Super Mario Galaxy came out in 2007 and easily remains one of the best games of the entire Super Mario franchise. Part of that was due to excellent controls, unique worlds to explore, and plain fun gameplay.
But an even bigger part of the game's success was Princess Rosalina, who immediately rose through the ranks and became one of the best Super Mario characters ever.
Most of the other princesses rule over mere kingdoms, while Rosalina has an entire galaxy to keep in check. And even though she's one of the more recent additions to the franchise, Rosalina has already cemented herself as a staple of spin-offs, including Mario Kart and Super Smash Brothers.
4. Princess Peach
Princess Peach wasn't the first woman in Mario's life, but she's certainly one of the most important female characters in video game history.
Her journey from classic damsel-in-distress to smart, strong, independent woman who can rescue herself is one that we saw play out over countless gaming appearances.
Although she's most famous for needing constant saving, Princess Peach has shown a willingness to whip out her umbrella and lay down the hurt when she needs to, a trend dating back to Super Mario Bros 2.
3. King Bowser
Bowser is the King of the Koopas, the greatest threat the Mushroom Kingdom has ever known, and one of the most devious go-kart racers in the entire Super Mario franchise.
On top of all that, Bowser is one of the most iconic villains in video game history—and as we all know, a great hero is only as good as his greatest enemy. Bowser is one reason why Mario shines so brightly.
His first appearance in 1985's Super Mario Bros on the original Nintendo Entertainment System helped skyrocket both the console and Nintendo into the highest realms of pop culture.
Where would Mario be without his brother? Luigi has been by Mario's side since their first arcade appearance together in 1983.
Luigi is usually relegated to Player 2 status, making him the favorite of younger siblings who wanted to play but were sadly never allowed to assume Mario himself.
But Luigi is more than just a support character now. The Luigi's Mansion games are some of the best of the Super Mario franchise, which are absolutely worth playing if you haven't yet.
Luigi's cowardly ways don't always make him the coolest character, but we can't imagine the Super Mario universe without him.
Who else could possibly top this list? To many, Mario is gaming.
In fact, if you showed his picture to random people on the street, most would recognize his bright red hat, blue overalls, and mustache without a moment's hesitation.
Mario isn't just the best character in the Super Mario franchise; he's arguably the most iconic and most important character in gaming history. Not bad for a simple plumber from Brooklyn!