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Main series characters
- Bowser's original seven children, the Koopalings, were a well loved Quirky Miniboss Squad that appeared before being replaced by Bowser Jr. Their surprise return in New Super Mario Bros. Wii made many nostalgic fans happy, even if some are annoyed that they appeared in so many games after that.
- Waluigi started out as a character solely to mirror Mario & Wario's rivalry by giving Luigi an enemy and completely lacking a personality beyond being overconfident and narcissistic. Since then, Waluigi has steadily increased in popularity over the years, even earning himself an appearance in Super Smash Bros. Brawl as an Assist Trophy. The biggest reason he's so popular is thanks to Brawl in the Family, where the fans of the series were able to see Waluigi in a different (crazier and funnier) look. He also became more of a mischievous trickster with some bits of Tragic Villain and Butt Monkey as more games came out, giving him an overall better characterization other than just being a "rival to Luigi", got awesome music and stages to his name (particularly Waluigi Pinball in Mario Kart DS), and got more hilarious animations and roles in the games he appeared in. All of this with the Mario series constantly pulling in new fans who didn't have to deal with his early Scrappy moments, have been responsible for his more positive reception, even if he still is a Base-Breaking Character.
- Wart, the Big Bad from Super Mario Bros. 2 has many fans eagerly awaiting for him to make a return. The only other appearance he makes is a cameo in The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, and a mention in Paper Mario: Color Splash.
- Rosalina is very popular among the fans of the series, mainly thanks to her being one of the only, if not the only female in the main series that is not a Damsel in Distress and has more character and personality to her. Since her debut, she has appeared in several spin-off titles, was an unlockable character in Super Mario 3D World, and even became playable in Super Smash Bros., possibly the highest honor for any Nintendo character.
- In addition to being one in-universe, Luigi used to be one, and the best example at that. However, Nintendo caught on, and he's now presented as an equal partner to Mario, to the point that The Year of Luigi was celebrated in his honor. He's also been a perfect attendee in Super Smash Bros. as an unlockable character in the first three to prominently featuring in the fourth's advertising as a reflection of his huge popularity (The first game even states he's secretly popular in his biography).
- Less a character and more a species, but Boos have been hugely popular for years with their Creepy Cute design. Notably, they're the first (and so far only) enemy to get an amiibo. Their leader King Boo is also very popular among fans, especially for his role as the Big Bad in the Luigi's Mansion series. Many fans were disappointed when he didn't return in Mario Kart 8, as he was playable in Mario Kart: Double Dash!! and Mario Kart Wii, and appeared as a boss in Mario Kart DS.
- No discussion about Mario darkhorses is complete without mention of Fawful, Cackletta's Engrish-spewing sidekick from the Mario & Luigi RPG series. He's gone from Dragon, to Cameo, to... wait for it...Big Bad.
- Popple will also be taking this status, see?
- Dimentio has gotten this treatment from the fans as well, due to his effectiveness as a Manipulative Bastard, his cheerful disposition, his numerous weird similes, and his ... MAGIC! Many are desperately hoping for his return in later games.
- Fans have been begging for Super Mario RPG's Geno to make another appearance anywhere, but he has yet to show up outside his role in the original RPG. He got a cameo in Mario & Luigi, but beyond that, the reason he hasn't appeared is likely due to Squeenix still holding the rights to the character. Many years later, Geno is remembered in Super Smash Bros. 4 when he comes along with the Chocobo Hat and Cloud Strife as a Mii Fighter costume.
- Vivian and Doopliss from Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door are this. The former for being an Anti-Villain who is constantly mistreated by her sisters, which she eventually has had enough of and makes her switch sides to fight alongside Mario. It also helps that she is really cute and arguably one of the best partners in the game. The latter is appreciated for being a villain who is both savvy and a walking, talking Crowning Moment of Funny. The two of them are often voted the most popular characters in the game and frequently get requested to return in future installments.
- Mizzter Blizzard from Paper Mario: Sticker Star is this due to being a Tragic Monster who also happens to be the only character in the game with any characterization whatsoever. To a lot of fans, he's one of the few redeemable things about the game.
- The Massifs in Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, with their Large Ham personalities, their generally badass attitudes, and their penchant for talking about BEEF.
- Antasma from the same game as the Massifs has a huge, adoring fandom which refuses to accept the fact that Bowser hijacked the plot from him and cheated him out of the chance to be Fawful's successor. His awesome battle theme also helps.
- Paper Mario: Color Splash has the Shy Guy on the Sunset Express that can be talked to. By questioning his role as a member of Bowser's army he acts as a rare example of What Measure Is a Mook? in the Mario series and a deconstruction of a Punch Clock Villain. His death should you end up fighting him later on in the game is also a tear jerker.
- Birdo's appearance in Color Splash is also met with praise thanks to being both funny and featuring a reference to Doki Doki Panic.
- Kamek has a huge fanbase, and he's even gotten the distinction of having several appearances of unnamed Magikoopas in other games be considered to be him: a cut playable Magikoopa in Mario Kart 64, Yoshi's Safari, Super Mario RPG, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, Super Paper Mario, Bowsers Inside Story, and an official trading card◊ even confirms his appearance in Super Mario Galaxy.
- Yoshi's Island has Raphael the Raven, a boss character that proved popular enough with the fans that he reappeared in Paper Mario with a Heel–Face Turn despite becoming a constellation in his original game. He also got his own trophy in Super Smash Bros. Melee.
- How about Yoshi himself? Pretty much defined the idea of a Power-Up Mount, and was popular enough to get his own series.
Donkey Kong characters
- In the first Donkey Kong Country game, Rare gave the world Diddy Kong. Diddy would become the star of the sequel and have to rescue his former co-star Donkey.
- Diddy would then have the same thing happen to him because his co-star Dixie, along with being a girl, could use her hair to make jumps easier. Dixie was so popular that many were upset that she didn't appear in DK64 or Donkey Kong Country Returns and welcomed her return in Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze.
- DK64 gave us Chunky, who is liked more than his younger brother Kiddy from Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble! for having a more developed personality. There is also Lanky. No doubt because the two provide most of the comedy in game and the DK Rap.
- Tiny Kong also counts for those that didn't hate her being an Expy of Dixie and for those that like her teenage appearance in later games.
- Since then though, the latest DK Darkhorse seems to be Funky, who has been the 4th character in DK King Of Swing and DK Jungle Climber and was unlockable alongside Diddy in Mario Kart Wii.
- Cranky Kong was always popular thanks to his 4th-wall breaking snarky quips. And then it was announced that he'd be playable in Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, which many regarded as the best news to come out of VGX in 2013.
- Fans have been begging to see King K. Rool (and, by extension, the Kremlings in general) come back for years now.
- What about DK himself? Arguably the reason for Nintendo's success, he's appeared in over 50 games and is Lightning Bruiser incarnate! Then again, Everything's Better with Monkeys, right?
- Wario was one until he became a Breakout Character and got his own series. He's particularly well-liked due to his Awesome Ego and anti-heroic qualities, making him a rare gray character in the Marioverse.
- Ashley the Cute Witch from the WarioWare series has only appeared in a few games to date, but she's easily one of the most popular characters in the franchise. As are 9-Volt and 18-Volt. Why? Because their mini games are all based on classic Nintendo franchises. How can anyone not like mini games/microgames based on Super Mario Bros., Zelda and Metroid?
- Captain Syrup has a sizable fanbase for being the first female Big Bad in the Mario expanded universe.