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Kyo Kusanagi (草薙くさなぎ きょう) is the main protagonist in SNK's The King of Fighters video game series. He was first introduced in The King of Fighters '94 as the leader of the Japan Team. He is the rival of Iori Yagami.

He was first introduced as a cocky delinquent high school student who is the heir of the Kusanagi clan, one of the three clans that sealed the legendary snake entity, Orochi, 1,800 years ago. His clan wields pyrokinetic powers, an inherited power that few members obtain. They, along with the Yasakani and Yata clans, keep one of the three sacred treasures used to contain Orochi long ago. His family's treasure is the Kusanagi Sword (草薙くさなぎつるぎ), and his family crest is the sun, represented in a stylized halo of fire.

His official nickname is "Scion of the Flame" (ほのお貴公子きこうし) [1][2] or "The Cleansing Exorcising Flame" (火炎かえん はらう ゆす).[2][3]

Aside from the main series, Kyo also has a spin-off manga story based on his adventure in The King of Fighters '96, entitled The King of Fighters: Kyo. A video game under the same name was also created to further expand his character. In addition, a number of image songs and audio dramas featuring Kyo's character have been released, including the contents of his own character image album consisting of all of his theme songs. He is a member of SNK's character image band, The Band of Fighters and also co-star alongside Iori in one of SNK's promotional series, Part Time Stories: Kyo & Iori.


Concept artwork from The King of Fighters '94, including sketches for Syo Kirishima (left)

When designing characters for the first The King of Fighters, developers wanted a new hip hero who would easily rival the Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting characters in style.[4] Through most of his development, Kyo was meant to be called Syo Kirishima, and was dressed in martial arts clothing common with fighting games at the time. But late in production, his name became Kyo Kusanagi, likely due to the KOF story's change in direction towards the Yamata no Orochi legend. When designing Syo, Shinichi Morioka (Kyo and Iori's creator) used Shotaro Kaneda from the Akira manga as inspiration. When Syo appears as a striker in KOF 2000, he would be voiced by Mitsuo Iwata who also voiced Kaneda.[5] The idea for his flames -as well as the other elemental powers for the rest of the Japan team- was derived from the anime Getter Robo; in the show, there were three featured heroes who served as the inspiration for the KOF trio: the protagonist had a "fiery" persona, his friend was "edgy and daring", and the third hero was the "down-to-earth giant". It is also a homage to a Japanese phrase of giving birth to fire (roughly translated as "lighting strikes the earth which sparks the flame").[6] Other influences include Jo Yabuki and Akira Fudo from the respectively series Ashita no Joe and Devilman.[4] While in charge of designing the character, Yuichiro Hiraki sought to contrast Kyo with Street Fighter character Ryu, he considered the character to be an "overwhelming rival or a wall." [7] He believed the latter was a popular character that couldn't be surpassed in the same field, so he made Kyo's characterization and design contrast Ryu so he could benefit from appealing to a broad demographic. He wanted Kyo to be a character who "dislikes training and was strong due to natural talent." [7]

His change in fighting style was also made as a part of the series's overhaul in The King of Fighters '96. To appease all fans, they also included an older version of Kyo from The King of Fighters '94 into The King of Fighters '97 and placed the '95 version of Kyo in '98, which made both versions of Kyo popular during location tests. The idea of having two versions of Kyo at once lead to the concept of his clones; during the early development stages of The King of Fighters '99, SNK planned to avoid adding any version of Kyo altogether, or Iori, to the game, as the story's focus was meant to center on the new protagonist, K'. However, they retracted this decision, as "they couldn't leave these popular characters in limbo".[8] Since then, veteran developers for the series admit that Kyo's repeated appearances in the series is due to the marketers and the main planners' insistence to add him, Iori, and other SNK regulars in every game, making it a challenge to decide the story for each title. Kyo's voice actor, Masahiro Nonaka, related greatly with his character as being young and reckless until he "grew up" in his later appearances. He then expressed some difficulty accepting Kyo on the same level.

Kyo's appearance and sketch in The King of Fighters XIII, by Ogura

According to Nobuyuki Kuroki, the staff wanted to provide a new design that would captivate new fans.[9] Despite Kyo being the main character, they decided to drastically change his hair and outfit. Fearing fans would not like Kyo's new appearance, the staff commented that they aimed it as a challenge, they also mention that old players from the series would understand he is still the same character despite cosmetic changes.[10] This new design, alongside Iori's, provoked major controversy during the time it was revealed. However in an interview, The King of Fighters XIV director Yasuyuki Oda said the team wanted the characters to carry a new look due to the game being set in a new story arc.[11] Oda also notes that Kyo became more macho as the games progressed, so they decided to alter his physique so he won't look as aggressive as he did in KOF XIII.[12]

Kyo, along with his rival, Iori, has been noted by several of the series's designers as being one of the most difficult characters to illustrate because of his popularity amongst fans.[13][14] In Gamest Mook Vol.197, Nona comments that he found it difficult to draw Kyo in a heroic image, since he draws Kyo in the image of Devilman's Akira Fudo.[15]


Kyo is the over-confident but well meaning protagonist of the series, more interested in enjoying life than having to partake in any particular responsibilities. He is quick to dismiss subjects that don't interest him and will often carry out his actions with a devil-may-care attitude. Despite his seemingly arrogant and rude demeanor, he treasures his friends and family, enjoying their presence and particularly doting on his girlfriend, Yuki. His extreme disinterest in studies has led to his chronic inability to graduate from high school (which has become subject to in-jokes). Although he is confident in his poetic talent, most of his poems aren't considered to be good by his listeners.

Kyo takes his clan's responsibilities on a more personal level, disregarding ancient legends and predestined events as any reason for his actions. His strong sense of justice and his zeal to fight stronger opponents are what he believes to drive him to carry out his destiny. His rivalry with Iori Yagami is one of mutual hatred and was hardly spurred by their clans' history. When Kyo and Iori join forces, it is often begrudgingly and as a last resort solution to the conflict at hand.


  • Pyrokinesis - Due to his Kusanagi heritage, Kyo can control fire. He can create fire from thin air, create fire balls, deliver punches of fire, create pillars of fire and put his own body on fire. However, he is neither immune to other types of fire nor able to control other fires that he didn't create. Also, the flames he wields are nothing more than just ordinary fire: it does not have the mystical 'trapping' ability of Iori's purple holy flames.


  • Motorcycle Driving - Kyo likes to ride his motorcycle around the streets of Japan. Some official pictures depict Kyo driving a scooter.
  • Poetry - Kyo likes to write poetry as a hobby, though his poetry is generally not much liked by his listeners.
  • Ice Hockey - Although representing the element of fire, Kyo likes ice hockey.
  • Musical Instrument - Kyo is also an accomplished guitarist, as seen in The Band of Fighters

Fighting Style

Kyo fights using the Kusanagi style of ancient martial arts, a Japanese style of empty handed combat taught only to the Kusanagi clan members. Like most of the clan members in modern times, these are labeled as Method/Style with numbers; numbers that actually use alternate kanji different from their originals. These examples are 108 Shiki: Yami Barai (Method 108: Darkness Sweeper), etc. with "Reverse Methods" being stronger versions of other attacks such as Kyo's signature DM, Ura 108 Shiki: Orochinagi (Reverse Method 108: Great Serpent Mower) being an example. In some sources, this even applies to his "unnamed" normal attacks.

Kyo also knows Kenpo, and uses it in most of his normal attacks. Kyo's moveset emphasizes Kenpo from KOF '96 onwards, discarding his 108 Shiki: Yami Barai and 101 Shiki: Oboroguruma (Method 101: Hazy Wheel), instead focusing on two of the clan's other techniques, the 114 Shiki: Aragami (Method 114: Wild Bite) and 115 Shiki: Dokugami (Method 115: Poison Bite). However, Kyo adds varying amount of original followup techniques from these moves that range from kicks-to-elbow dropping attacks which are also types of notable moves in Kenpo. The names of these new moves are anything but vague and simple names (such as 402 Shiki: Batsu Yomi/Method 402: Punish Recital and 125 Shiki: Nanase/Method 125: Seven Rapids), possibly due to Kyo's taste for poetry.

Thus, Kyo is a strong combo character that takes a while to master as his moveset from KOF '96 and following games explodes to ridiculous levels. Mastering it though allowed players to more easily adapt to use other characters that had more diverse movesets. Kyo made way for archetypes with moves that not only had multiple inputs, but each followup had its own unique features. This would also pave way for powerful mixups and combos if pressure was well-setup. Story-wise, this was possibly due to his initial defeat by Goenitz, Kyo reformed his style into a more-offensive focus via his original followups from the Aragami and Dokugami.

In the original games (especially in KOF '95), Kyo followed the "Ryu and Ken" archetype with Iori, as Kyo's moves differ slightly from game to game in the same manner as Iori, mainly their Desperation Moves. Changes in KOF '96 and onwards made them vastly different from each other. Alternate versions of Kyo would retain his old movesets from older games for nostalgia's sake, though each alternate version would be notably different from game to game. The 100 Shiki: Oniyaki (Method 100: Ogre Baker) is the one technique both Kyo and Iori still share to this day.

In KOF 99 onwards, Kyo even applies more personal touches derived from his father's techniques of the Kusanagi style, via his Hikigane (Plowing Iron) mimicking Saisyu's Kamukakari (Divine Consult) and even adapting his father's Nata Guruma (Hatchet Wheel) attack in KOF: Maximum Impact 2.

In KOF 2003, Kyo, Iori, and Chizuru's LDM's are all named the San Shingi (Three Divine Arts), taking after their clans, destinies, and treasures. Kyo's San Shingi no Ichi (Three Divine Arts No. 1) however, is his SDM version Saishuu Kessen Ougi: Mu Shiki (Final Play-Off Secret Skill: No Method), as opposed to Iori and Chizuru's versions being original attacks.

In The King of Fighters XII and XIII, his default self switches back to his old KOF '94/'95 moveset. His Neo Max in XIII, the Ama-No-Murakumo (Gathering Clouds of Heaven) is a reference to the original name of his heirloom. His NESTS-Style version uses his traditional "Kenpo chain punch" moveset, and is given a Neo Max named Saishuu Kessen Hiougi: Totsuka (Final Play-Off Hidden Secret Skill: Ten Fists), a nod to the famous Totsuka-no-Tsurugi (Sword of Ten Fists). Another possible nod is his 182 Shiki/Method 182, a powerful flaming punch attack, which may be the finishing blow dealt by Kyo to Orochi in the Orochi Saga's end (though in some other games, the 182 has a different animation, while its SDM version in XIV is a combination of its two different animations).

Also, two other new moves in XIV that compliment his poetic taste are an overhead finishing move to his new low-attacking Munotsuchi (Six Mallets) followup from Aragami, and his Climax DM; they are respectively known as Tsurube Otoshi (Well Bucket Dropper; a term for sinking quickly) and Yaegaki (Double Fences; a term for fences over fences). The aforementioned Yaegaki is also very similar in motion to his father's SDM-version 1127 Shiki: Tsumugari (All-Eyes Reaper) as yet another nod to him, as it is Kyo's own "Reverse Method" version of it as well. The term "Yaegaki" also derives from the "Yaegaki no Tsurugi" (Sword/Saber of Doubled Fences), another name for his family's heirloom.



  • ESAKA - The King of Fighters '94 and a remixed version in KOF '98 and '98 UM
  • FUNKY ESAKA - The King of Fighters '95, '98: UM (as EX Kyo, with Benimaru and Daimon)
  • ESAKA? - The King of Fighters '96, '98, R-2, XIV (as Classic Kyo, as Classic Iori's opponent)
  • ESAKA FOREVER - The King of Fighters '97, '98 (against Iori), '98 UM (against Iori), R-1, SNK vs. Capcom: The Match of the Millennium
  • Cool JAM ~Arashi no Saxophone 3~ - The King of Fighters '98 (as Iori's opponent), The King of Fighters '98: Ultimate Match (as Iori's opponent)
  • Tears - The King of Fighters 99, 2002
  • Good Bye ESAKA - The King of Fighters 2000, EX2, XIII (as EX Kyo in console version)
  • Inner Shade - The King of Fighters EX
  • Flame of Invincibility - The King of Fighters 2001, Maximum Impact 2 (against Seth in the Neo Geo Land stage)
  • Blaze - The King of Fighters 2003
  • New Order - The King of Fighters XI
  • ESAKA ~Acid Remix~ The King of Fighters XI (as EX Kyo in Playstation 2), XIII (when the music is set to "Type B", console version only, shared with Benimaru Nikaido and Goro Daimon)
  • ESAKA? '08 - The King of Fighters XII
  • Esaka Continues... - The King of Fighters XIII
  • Yappari ESAKA - The King of Fighters XIV
  • Yappari ESAKA? - The King of Fighters XIV (as Iori's opponent, when Kyo is the Player 2, and only in DLC Classic Costumes)
  • Fictitious or Real - The King of Fighters XV
  • ~New Order KOF XIV ver.~ - The King of Fighters XIV (as Iori's opponent)
  • ~Stormy Saxophone -KOF XIV ver.~ - The King of Fighters XIV (as Iori's opponent, when Kyo is the Player 1, and only in DLC Classic Costumes)
  • ESAKA!! - The King of Fighters 2002: Unlimited Match
  • E-Groove (DJ Turbo's Paradise Mix) - K.O.F. Dance Trax
  • R.E.D. Run - Days of Memories

Image Songs

Voice Actors


Live Action



The King of Fighters series





  • Kyo and Iori were designed by Shinichi Morioka. He would later depart from the company to work on The Fallen Angels (堕落天使, Daraku Tenshi) a game that would heavily influence the designs for K' and Maxima.
  • Early artwork shows Kyo and Saisyu having the Kusanagi symbol on their foreheads. This idea was referenced in one of the KOF Manhua's.
  • When Daimon uses Jirai Shin in KOF '95-'98, Kyo and Benimaru are the only background characters who'll jump.
  • Kyo, Benimaru and Daimon are the winners of all The King of Fighters tournaments hosted in Orochi Saga. And the most recent ones in XIII and XIV. Their victories are confirmed in Team Stories, Light Novels and cutscenes. However after the tournament is over, the canon team for KoF 97 is the Three Sacred Treasures Team.
  • In Neo-Geo Freak 1998, the characters in KOF '98 have their own interviews. Here are Kyo's response to the questions.[16]
    • What is your aspiration in this competition? - "It's only about dealing with the person standing on opposite side."
    • Who would you like to fight the most? - "No one really. But there are quite a lot of guys who want to try me out?"
    • Who would you like to team up with? / Who would you not like to team up with? - "They are the people I'm most comfortable with. Who do I not want to team up with? I don't want to answer that."
    • What is "KOF" for you? - "A big time killer."
    • Finally, please give a word to your fans. - "It's definitely me who resolves things in a blink of an eye. I don't have time to sleep!"
  • In Gamest's 1997 Heroes Collection, Kyo was voted as the staff's second favorite character. In the Neo Geo Freak's 1997 Volume 8 character poll, he was voted as the favourite character overall, with a total of 2,160 votes,[17] with 620 votes from the male fans and 1,540 votes from the female fans.[18]
    • And in Neo Geo Freak's August 1998 issue, he was ranked as the 3rd best character.[19]
    • In a 2005 poll made by SNK-Playmore USA, he was voted as the sixth fan favorite character with a total of 176 votes. In the character popularity poll on Neo Geo Freak's website, he was voted as the third favorite character with a total of 2,574 votes.
  • In an interview with one of the manhua artist and authors, Wing Yan, he replies that Kyo is his favorite original character in the series.[20]
  • Garou: Mark of the Wolves planner and The King of Fighters XIV producer Yasuyuki Oda states that Kyo and Leona are his favourite characters in The King of Fighters series.[21]
  • Yuichiro Hiraki was the pixel artist for Kyo in KOF '94 and Iori in KOF '95. Although he left SNK in 1997 to work on The Fallen Angels, he was asked by Kaname Fujioka to do Kyo and Iori's pixel art once more for Capcom vs. SNK.[22]
  • In the Maximum Impact games, Kyo is the only character whose select-number-of Stylish Arts are styled akin to a majority of crouching light kick-to-light punch normal attacks in the original 2D games (though the input windows are fairly tight).
  • At Vigamus,[23] a museum of videogames sponsored by the municipality of Rome, a special illustration lists Kyo as the mascot of the mid-90's era of Neo Geo.[24]

Similar Characters


  • The name Kyo means "capital city" (京).
  • Kyo's surname Kusanagi means "grass, herb, weed" (草) (kusa) and "mow" (薙) (nagi).


  1. 1.0 1.1 Official character profile from The King of Fighters XII
  2. 2.0 2.1 Official character profile from KOF Maximum Impact Regulation "A"
  3. Official site for The King of Fighters XIII
  4. 4.0 4.1 - "The King of Fighters ’94 – Developer Interview" Archived from The original'
  5. From Air Duel and Last Resort to The King of Fighters ‘94 and Daraku Tenshi: the early years of Mitsuo Kodama from VGDensetsu
  6. Akihiko Ureshino, ed. (2005). The King of Fighters Perfect Reader (in Japanese). Nikkei Business Publications, Inc. pp. 136~139.
  7. 7.0 7.1 - ROUND 3: Yuichiro Hiraki Part 2 Archived from The original
  8. Official character profile from KOF anniversary website.
  9. Gamescom exclusive KOF XIV QA wih SNK Interview published on 23/8/2016
  10. THE KING OF FIGHTERS XIV Premium Art Book, p.021
  12. THE KING OF FIGHTERS XIV - Producer Yasuyuki Oda interview from Game Watch.
  13. KOF 10th anniversary website Tonko's interview.
  14. KOF 10th anniversary website Hiroaki's interview.
  15. Video Game Magazine GAMEST MOOK Vol.197, p.010
  16. Neo Geo Freak 1998-08 archive The King of Fighters '98 character interviews.
  17. Neo Geo Freak 1997-08 archive Neo Geo Freak character popularity poll results.
  18. Neo Geo Freak 1997-08 archive Number of votes from both genders, from Neo Geo Freak character popularity poll.
  19. Neo Geo Freak 1998-08 archive Neo Geo Freak 10 best character set original image collection.
  20. KOF 10th anniversary website Wing Yan and King Tung's interview.
  21. ArcadeAttack Interview Yasuyuki Oda (SNK) – Interview (30th November 2018)
  22. Devil May Cry: 3142 Graphic Arts. Capcom, Udon Entertainment. 2015. p. 198.
  23. Vigamus official website.
  24. SNK Legends at Italian Museum of Videogames, Vigamus! Archived from the original
The King of Fighters characters
KOF '94 Kyo KusanagiBenimaru NikaidoGoro DaimonTerry BogardAndy BogardJoe HigashiRyo SakazakiRobert GarciaTakuma SakazakiRalf JonesClark StillHeidernAthena AsamiyaSie KensouChin GentsaiKingMai ShiranuiYuri SakazakiKim KaphwanChang KoehanChoi BoungeHeavy-D!Lucky GlauberBrian BattlerRugal Bernstein
KOF '95 Iori YagamiBilly KaneEiji KisaragiSaisyu KusanagiOmega Rugal
KOF '96 Leona HeidernMatureViceKasumi TodohGeese HowardWolfgang KrauserMr. BigChizuru KaguraGoenitz
KOF '97 Shingo YabukiYashiro NanakaseShermieChrisBlue MaryRyuji YamazakiOrochi IoriOrochi LeonaOrochi YashiroOrochi ShermieOrochi ChrisOrochi
KOF '98UM Nightmare Geese
KOF '99 K'MaximaWhipBaoLi XiangfeiJhun HoonKyo-1Kyo-2Krizalid
KOF '99: Evolution VanessaSethSyo KirishimaAlfredFiolina GermiGai Tendo
KOF 2000 RamónLinHinako ShijouKula DiamondClone ZeroFoxyCandy DiamondAnother K'Another IoriAnother BenimaruAnother RobertCosplayer KyokoKang Bae DalSmart ChangCool ChoiKaoru WatabeBaitangDuck KingLilly KaneKim Jae HoonKim Dong HwanUnknownKing LionKim Sue-ilKaedeDuke EdwardsRockyAthenaNeo & GeoG-Mantle
KOF 2001 May Lee JinjuK9999AngelZeroRonGluganIgnizMistyNests
KOF 2002 Kusanagi
KOF 2002UM Nameless
KOF 2003 Ash CrimsonDuo LonShen WooTizocGatoMalinMaki KaguraAdelheid BernsteinMukai
KOF XI OswaldElisabeth BlanctorcheMomokoB. JenetShionMagakiSilberSho HayateJyazuHotaru FutabaTung Fu Rue
KOF XII Raiden
KOF XIII Hwa JaiSaikiEvil AshMr. Karate
KOF XIV Shun'eiMeitenkunGang-ilLuongXanaduSylvie Paula PaulaKukriMianNelsonZarinaBandeiras HattoriKing of DinosaursHeinNakoruruMamahahaMui MuiLove HeartAlice Garnet NakataAntonovVerseNajd
KOF XV Isla • Unnamed Female Character • Unnamed Boss
KOF EX: Neo Blood Moe Habana
KOF EX2: Howling Blood Reiji OogamiJun KagamiMiu KurosakiSinobu Amou
KOF: Maximum Impact Alba MeiraSoiree MeiraLien NevilleMignon BeartChae LimDukeRock Howard
KOF: Maximum Impact 2 Luise MeyrinkNagaseJivatmaNinon BeartHyenaHanzo HattoriKyo Kusanagi ClassicWild WolfMr. Karate IIArmor RalfRichard Meyer
KOF: Maximum Impact Regulation "A" Xiao LonMakoto Mizoguchi