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A Brief History of Shoto Characters

Femi Famutimi
7 min

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A Brief History of Shoto Characters
People seem hard pressed to define what these characters are, so, lets answer that

What is a shoto?

This is a question you could ask in a gathering of fighting game nerds, walk away, and know that you have just started a civil war with your simple question. 

The term ‘shoto’ in fighting games is one that seems easy enough, but grows more and more complex as the years have gone by. Some time ago, there was a whole issue about Kazuya from Tekken joining the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate roster and how that meant the fighting game that many people do not agree is a fighting game, now had traditional fighting styles in it. 

So, in this article, we’ll talk about where the term comes from, and how it has become a pretty difficult thing to define nowadays. 


When Ryu and Ken were first introduced in Street Fighter, they featured their iconic moves: the hadoken, which was a projectile that went across the screen. The shoryuken, a rising uppercut that acted as a means to cut off an opponent’s approach from the air and knock them back, and the Tatsumaki Senpuu Kyaku which was a horizontally progressing kick that hit characters and caused damage. These moves came to define the duo through all their time in the Street Fighter franchise and there has never been a time when Ryu and Ken did not have these three basic moves (except for that one time in Street Fighter EX where the tatsu was a little weird although a lot of people will still rightfully argue that it counts as a tatsu).

Then Capcom USA stepped in.

The thing with USA and Japan when it came to Street Fighter in that time was that they seemed to have different interpretation of stuff and this caused a lot of confusion as to the origin of characters. For instance, it was the English version of Street Fighter II that said that Dhalsim’s fighting style was Kabaddi, or that his yoga fire had something to do with his curry diet. These little differences between the Japanese and American version led to the ultimate confusion when it came to the names of the villains of the game, M. Bison, Balrog, and Vega (for some reason Sagat was fine). 

What does this have to do with Shotos? Well, when the American team for Street Fighter were to list the fighting style of Ken and Ryu, it was stated that they practiced Shotokan Karate. Their source? No idea!

Shotokan Karate is a real martial arts, but it is nothing like what Ken and Ryu do, so this was clearly a misunderstanding. However, this is how western audiences came to understand the protagonists of one of the greatest games ever made. 

So, from that time, people simply referred to Ken and Ryu as shotokan characters. It was later shortened to shoto and it was understood that any character that had the principal moves that the Street Fighter duo possessed could be called a shoto character.

The Rise of Shotos

So, Street Fighter II changed the world and suddenly everyone had a fighting game. Many other incredible titles came out including Tekken, Mortal Kombat, King of Fighters, and so on. With Street Fighter as the pioneer, we started to see characters that also have a projectile, a rising uppercut, and a horizontal move that did damage, and so these characters were also called Shotos because they were clones of Ryu and Ken. 

Street Fighter would add other shoto characters including Sakura, Sean, Dan and most notably, Akuma. All these characters were a little different, but they still mostly felt like playing Ryu. 

Soon the shoto character was considered the archetypal fighting game character and they were the default tool given to players to use. This made shotos the most popular archetype in fighting games as they were accessible, strong, and fun to use. 

The Current Problem

So, why is the term ‘shoto’ controversial? It has an easy enough definition, and should be settled. But, there is still a problem— what is a shoto today?

See, when Ryu and Ken were released at the end of the 80s into the 90s, fighting games were a simpler concept. Characters had moves that looked like Ryu’s and they were shotos, that’s the end of it. But, as games evolved, including Street Fighter, we started to see character either diverge, or possess these moves but feel… different. 

For instance, Sol Badguy from the Guilty Gear series has the fireball, rising uppercup and the horizontal move, but it would be hard to call him a shoto. Sakura has a weaker fireball that doesn’t go across the entire screen,  Kyo Kusanagi lost his projectile and instead acquired a chain punch. It became clear that there were several characters that had all the things that should make them a shoto, but for some reason they don’t ‘feel’ like shotos. Like something was missing. 

What is this missing thing? It might be lore related, maybe characters that are from a certain universe that have a certain storyline fit better the idea of shotos, or maybe it was from a design standpoint, like with Mario and Luigi from Super Smash Bros who have all the things that make a shoto but people will be loathe to describe them as that. 

Some Examples of Shoto Characters

  1. Ryu: The main protagonist of the Street Fighter series.
  2. Ken: His best friend and rival, the two were trained by the same master.
  3. Sakura: Sakura's shoto status is considered suspect, but she does have everything that makes a shoto character.
  4. Fulgore: A robot from Killer Instinct. He was created by Ultratech.
  5. Haohmaru:  A samurai with a heart of gold.
  6. Iori Yagami: Kyo's rival in the KOF series. His family are heavily involved with the Orochi demon. He has acted as both a villain and something of an anti-hero.
  7. Ky Kiske: One of the main characters in Guilty Gear. He is a rival to Sol Badguy. A bit of a stickler for the rules, he is a former member of the Sacred Order of Holy Knights.
  8. Luigi: Mario's brother and a shoto in Smash Bros. Ultimate.
  9. Sean Matsuda: A boy who wants to train under Ken. He is a lot weaker, and his sister, Laura, is introduced in Street Fighter V.
  10. Akuma: The brother of Gouken, Ryu and Ken's master, but he was taken over by the dark side and is looking for the ultimate challenge.


So, how can we define a shoto today? Well, maybe there is more a need for the label anymore as characters are so varied that they are simply their own person now. The term shoto will not be disappearing anytime soon, and will still be used as a general term, but will always become more problematic the more specific it becomes. 

If you are interested in understanding the history of Street Fighter, you can check out our comprehensive timeline here

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