Exploring the Cultural Roots of Mortal Kombat: Chinese or Japanese Influence?

Mortal Kombat, a popular video game franchise known for its intense martial arts action and iconic characters, has captured the hearts of gamers worldwide since its inception in 1992. Over the years, the game's intricate lore and character designs have led to discussions regarding the cultural influences behind its creation. One such debate revolves around whether Mortal Kombat leans more towards Chinese or Japanese culture. While Mortal Kombat draws inspiration from various cultures, it predominantly showcases Chinese influences. In this article, we delve into the origins and artistic elements of Mortal Kombat to shed light on this intriguing question.

The Birth of Mortal Kombat

Created by Ed Boon and John Tobias, Mortal Kombat was first developed by Midway Games, an American video game company. While it is essential to acknowledge its American roots, it's clear that the game's creators drew inspiration from a diverse range of cultural sources to shape its distinctive universe.

Chinese Influence in Mortal Kombat

One of the most notable elements that suggest a Chinese influence in Mortal Kombat is the presence of several characters whose fighting styles and aesthetics align with traditional Chinese martial arts. For instance, Liu Kang, the franchise's iconic protagonist, embodies the quintessential "kung fu" warrior, drawing inspiration from Bruce Lee and other notable Chinese martial artists. His moveset and attire pay homage to various Chinese martial arts styles, such as Wing Chun and Shaolin Kung Fu.

In addition to Liu Kang, Mortal Kombat features other characters like Kung Lao, a Shaolin monk, and Shang Tsung, a sorcerer who embodies the mythical and mystical aspects often associated with Chinese folklore and history. These characters' abilities and backstories exhibit a fusion of Chinese martial arts, magic, and mythical elements.

Japanese Influence in Mortal Kombat

While the game predominantly showcases Chinese influences, it also incorporates certain Japanese cultural elements. The most prominent example is the character Scorpion, known for his iconic yellow attire and mask. Scorpion's fighting style, referred to as "ninjutsu," draws inspiration from Japanese martial arts, particularly the concept of a shinobi, or ninja. The use of throwing weapons, stealth, and teleportation in Scorpion's moveset reflects the influence of Japanese ninjutsu.

Furthermore, the inclusion of certain iconic weapons like katanas, which are traditional Japanese swords, is another indicator of Japanese cultural inspiration in Mortal Kombat. Characters such as Kitana and Kenshi prominently wield these weapons, showcasing their connection to Japanese weaponry and combat techniques.

Cultural Synthesis and Beyond

Rather than being strictly limited to one cultural influence, Mortal Kombat is a testament to the synthesis of various martial arts and cultural traditions. The game's creators consciously blended elements from Chinese and Japanese cultures to craft a unique and captivating universe that resonates with players from different backgrounds.

It's important to recognize that Mortal Kombat's cultural fusion extends beyond China and Japan. The game incorporates diverse elements from other regions, such as the Brazilian capoeira-inspired fighting style of Eddy Gordo and the Thai kickboxing of Sagat, paying homage to global martial arts traditions.


In conclusion, Mortal Kombat's rich tapestry of characters, fighting styles, and aesthetics draws inspiration from both Chinese and Japanese cultures. While Chinese influence dominates through characters like Liu Kang and their respective fighting styles, Japanese influence is present in characters like Scorpion and their connection to the art of ninjutsu.

Rather than being exclusively Chinese or Japanese, Mortal Kombat stands as a celebration of global martial arts traditions, showcasing a synthesis of diverse cultural elements. It is this harmonious fusion that has contributed to the franchise's enduring popularity and the worldwide appeal it continues to enjoy among gamers.

Ultimately, Mortal Kombat's cultural inspirations highlight the cross-pollination of ideas and the universal appeal of martial arts, transcending geographical boundaries to create a game that has become an integral part of gaming history.

Header image source: Mental Floss