Panthera Awesome has a number of flavors, described below:
Lions:note The "King of Beasts" as far as the Western world is concerned. Lions were once the widest ranging large mammal on Earth; you could run across one in Europe, Asia and Africa, and there's evidence there was even an American counterpart! However, they went extinct in prehistoric (parts of Asia, Northern Europe, North America) or historic times (everywhere else they used to live, like ancient Greece and the rest of Europe and Asia) and now they're relegated to sub-Saharan Africa and the Gir Forest in India. Their powerful appearance is why the lion is commonly a national symbol in places very far from Africa or India, like England and Scotland (both national coats of arms feature lions), all of the Low Countries, Bulgaria, all three Scandinavian countries and Finland... Lions are the only social cat, forming prides consisting of one or two males and a number of females. (However, domesticated cats can form bonds and colonies, especially in the case of ferals; and brother cheetahs often stay together for life, so they can be considered social, too. It's still debatable though.) The main reason lions are so venerated is their image, the males are distinctive from the females with their shaggy manes and tend to be larger than said females. They live in savannas rather than jungles as was once commonly believed.
Tigers:note The largest of the big cats, native to Asia (not Darkest Africa). The largest population is in fact in the jungles of the Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia, but the largest variety, the Siberian Tiger, lives in, well, Siberia (actually in the Maritime Territory in the Russian Far East, which is not usually considered Siberia proper). They're one of the few cats still known to eat people, and, as such, in India, people living in the jungles will wear masks on the backs of their head to prevent tigers from sneaking up on them (yet man-eaters are known among lions and leopards as well); in fact, they are the only predator to kill more humans per year than vice versa. Mostly comes in color orange, while other variants are much rarer but confirmed: mainly the famous white, and then "golden tabby", blue, and black colored tigers. White tigers are somewhat common in captivity and almost unseen in the wild; some of this is probably due to the need for camouflage in the wild. The white color is a recessive trait, however, and thus captive white tigers tend to be very inbred, often suffering from eye problems, hip dysplasia, and cleft palates. "Black" tigers are extremely rare and their bloodlines may be extinct. Given the lack of any captive examples, it's unknown whether they are truly melanistic or if they simply have abnormally wide stripes that leave little room for orange fur between them. Many countries consider the tiger to be the King of Beasts instead of the lion (which makes sense in regions where the lion has never been a native animal, like East Asia), or even a god, symbolizing wrath, war, military generals or kings. Based on a survey of 73 countries, Tigers were also voted to be "The World's Favorite Animal", narrowly beating "man's best friend".
Jaguars:note It seems like a bigger leopard, but is more similar to a tiger in ecology and behaviour. The largest cat in the Americas, found from Mexico through northern Argentina - though as recently as the 19th century they were found as far north as Nebraska, and a family of jaguars lived in the Tehachapi Mountains of southern California during the Civil War era. If a writer is trying to accurately write about The Amazon, this is the cat they'll use. The Mayincatec worshipped jaguars, and to this day they're held in esteem South of the Border. More often than not, however, when you hear the word jaguar, they're talking about the car company. As an added note, Jaguars have the strongest bite of all felids and kills not through the neck like other big cats do, but through the bones of the skull with its canine teeth, piercing the brain. After the jaguar has killed its prey, it drags the dead carcass to a secluded area and always feasts on the chest area first, beginning with the lungs and heart. This brutal behavior has aptly earned them a place among Mesoamerican cultures as symbols of power, war, and protection. Amongst the Aztecs, they were used as Animal Motifs among the ocēlōtl, or Jaguar warriors, whose goal was to capture alive enemy soldiers to sacrifice to their gods.
Leopards:note The most common big cat of the genus Panthera, ranging through most of Africa and Asia, as well as the smallest roaring cat. Often seen as stealthy more than anything else, and with good reason. A very common mistake is to portray leopards (both the spotted and the black ones) making the same scream of the cougar or roaring instead of the sounds the leopard actually makes, which sound far different. (This error also happens to jaguars, cheetahs, lynxes and sometimes even to tigers in fiction). See Disney's The Jungle Book again and you'll find we're right. Usually portrayed lounging in trees, which is Truth in Television as leopards are strong climbers and can carry prey heavier than themselves onto high branches.
Snow Leopards:note Snow leopards are notable for their extremely long, bushy tail (which are almost as long as their bodies), which acts like an extra layer of fur when they curl up to sleep. Given their shy disposition and making their home in the highest mountains in the world, they are rarely seen in the wild, and are the only one of the 'big cats' that's never been confirmed to have attacked a human. Despite it's name, snow leopards are more closely related to tigers rather than true leopards. Snow leopards are rather rare to see in media, and if they do, they might just roar.
Clouded Leopards:note Clouded Leopards are 2 very similar species known for their distinctive fur and incredible climbing skills, and for their particularly long canines as well, comparable in length to a tiger's despite belonging to a far smaller animal. Despite their name, they are even less closely related to the true leopard than the snow leopard above, and instead make up an early divergent branch of large cats adapted to life in the treetops.
Black Panthers: Not a separate species. Both leopards and jaguars (and occasionally other species) can be born with black coats, a condition called melanism. Expect writers to treat them as a separate species anyway. Often, especially in illustrated media, if a leopard or jaguar is used, it will be a black variant for two reasons. 1) It's easier to draw a solid black panther than a spotted one, and 2) It looks cooler that way.
Mountain Lions:note Also called cougars, pumas, panthers, catamounts, painters, and about forty other names (and that's just in English). Very technically panther and puma both only refer to black panther type (Melanistic) Mountain Lions, which have never been observed outside of stories, and many biologists doubt they actually exist. Ranges across the Americas from the Yukon to Tierra del Fuego and, thus, most likely to be used in an American setting. May be used as a source of non-sequitur subplots. They're not actually big cats in the biological sense; indeed, they're more closely related to lynx and caracals than to tigers. That said, they're almost as big as a jaguar, so the reason for confusion is obvious. They don't roar, and they do purr, because as previously mentioned, they are biologically small cats, and it's also related to the cheetah, both having a common ancestor from the Pleistocene.
Cheetahs:note Once believed a big cat, now seems to be a relative of the cougar. Over short distances, it's the fastest land animal on the planet. When you can reach freeway speed with the acceleration of a Lamborghini Murciélago Superveloce, you know you're awesome. Even if you do have a low life expectancy. The cheetah is also well-known for being the most docile and trainable of all the big cats (it was often trained to hunt fast prey by Persians and other Asian peoples, much like a greyhound). The King Cheetah is a much rarer variety with larger, more elaborate spots on its coat. Unfortunately for the cheetah, it's gone through a "genetic bottleneck", which is when a population drops so drastically that the species can only inbreed, and as such the cheetah suffers from genetic defects quite often.
Lynx: Not strictly big cats either, but people tend to lump them together, especially in Europe, where the Eurasian Lynx is indeed the largest wild cat. They look strong and crafty with their intense eyes, their "beard", and tufts on their ears that make them seem more pointed. Legends about their extremely powerful sight abound, and in many languages "having the eyes of a lynx" means being extremely sharp-sighted and (in a figurative sense) being very acute-minded and perceptive. Despite all these alleged abilities, lynxes are only about twice the size of a largish house cat (except for the Eurasian lynx, which is easily twice the size of other three lynx species, the Iberian Lynx, the Canada Lynx, and the bobcat) and are totally harmless to humans (if not provoked). And they are now one of the most charismatic species in many European environmental projects, with the same prestige as wolves and brown bears. The most common American lynx is more precisely called Bobcat. Interesting to note that the lynx is the only cat (other than, obviously, the lion) to be represented in a constellation.
Ocelots:note Not nearly as large as most of the cats on this page, being closer in size to the domestic cat (they can apparently be kept as pets—Salvador Dalí had one named Babou—though as with most wild felids, it's not advised), ocelots can currently be found in South America, though are now very rare in the US. Nevertheless they do show up every now and then. The smaller Margay from the same locations is often confused with this one. Despite it's generic name, it is not closely related to the leopard.
Servalsnote and Caracalsnote : Rather similar to the lynxes, but with a tropical distribution ranging across Africa and, in the case of Caracals, in Asia as well. They are long-legged and more slender than other cats of similar size. Servals resemble miniaturized cheetahs, while caracals have a more cougar-like look but with lynx-like ears and a bob tail. The latter used to be domesticated in India. Servals and caracals are each other's closest relatives, as well as the African golden cat. Servals can jump 10 to 12 feet in the air from a standing start, and take birds out of the air.
Wild cats: There are several subspecies of them across the world, but the prototypal ones are the European Wild cat and the African Wild Cat. The former is one of the three felines native to the European environment and is very rare; the latter is the ancestor of our domestic friend. Both are technically the same species as the domestic cat; all three are subspecies of Felis silvestris. There are also several other species of wild cat not much larger than a housecat, such as the Central Asian manul or the South American jaguarundi.
Iriomote Cats: This cat is Japan's only native wild cat and it's highly endangered.
Saber-Toothed Cats: Not actually called saber-toothed tigers, but fit the motif. There were a large number of saber-toothed cats throughout the world at various geologic periods (along with scimitar-toothed cats, dirk-toothed cats, as well as Thylacosmilus, a marsupial carnivore that wasn't related to the cat family, but does slightly resemble one. Even an ancestor of mammals, Gorgonops, bore a sort of saber-tooth), but the one most familiar to people is Smilodon, and specifically Smilodon fatalis, a Pleistocene species that ranged down the west coast of the Americas as far south as Peru. Smilodon was about the size of a lion, but much more compact and muscular, kind of like a jaguar. The two enlarged canine teeth allowed the saber-tooth to hunt extremely large prey, but were very fragile and prone to breaking quite easily. If you want to make a present-day cat appear older, or just more badass, you just need to add some overgrown fangs. Sabertooths were cats, being part of the Felidae family, but they belonged to a different branch of the cat family tree, and left no living descendants. And they're NOT to be confused with the Marvel supervillain of the same name.
Ligers, Pumapards and Other Hybrids: Ligers are a hybrid of a female tiger (Panthera tigris) and a male lion (Panthera leo)note . Typically gets bigger than either of its parents, especially if the liger is male. Though long thought to be sterile, female ligers are capable of breeding. Their male counterparts are sterile, though. There are many other big cat hybrids that are possible, but ligers are the most famous and probably the most common, due to their impressive size. Unfortunately, the male liger does not have a mane, nor does a liger of either gender have markings as distinct as a tiger's. Fictional depictions may show them that way anyway, for obvious reasons.
Another hybrid is the Pumapard, a cross between a leopard (Panthera pardus) and a cougar (Puma concolor). Generally, pumapards are far smaller than the liger, and have a tendency to express dwarfism, growing to only half the size of either parent. Pumapards have a long body and short legs, and sport either a greyish, sandy or tawny coat with brown, chestnut or "faded" rossetes.
Leopons are hybrids between a male leopard (Panthera pardus) and female lion (Panthera leo), and it has a head similar to a lion, and the rest of the body is similar to a leopard. The term "lipard" or "liard" are both names for the reverse of a leopon; a male lion mating with a female leopard. Leopons are more common than lipards, due to the size difference between male leopards and lionesses being far less than between a male lion and a leopardess. Leopons are fertile, and can even breed with the female another hybrid; the liguar.
Liguars are similar to leopons, but are the result of a crossbreed between a female jaguar (Panthera onca) and a male lion (Panthera leo). One liguar was once displayed in a circus menagerie, and the circus owners tried to pass it off as a new species called the "Congolese lion."