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Given its status as a Long Runner, the Mario series was bound to get more than a handful of popular characters.

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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 and Wario's rivalry by giving Luigi an enemy, completely lacking a personality beyond being overconfident and narcissistic. Since then, Waluigi has steadily increased in popularity over the years, even earning himself several appearances in the Super Smash Bros. series 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 (and crazier and funnier) light. He also became more of a mischievous trickster with flairs of Tragic Villain and Butt-Monkey thrown in as more games came out to give him a better degree of characterization than just "rival to Luigi," got some awesome music and stages to his name (particularly Waluigi Pinball in Mario Kart DS), and was given increasingly hilarious mannerisms and roles in the games he appeared in (even serving as the Big Bad in Dance Dance Revolution Mario Mix). All of this combined with his early years as The Scrappy fading steadily into the realm of distant memory have earned him so much more positive reception in recent years that demand for him to be included as a playable fighter in Super Smash Bros. or even given his own game to star in is prevalent across the internet.
  • 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 (especially given the inclusion of her Tear Jerker backstory as an unlockable in the first Mario Galaxy). 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 probably the best example in all of video gaming 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 (to say nothing of that of Mario Kart 8) 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 enemy to get an amiibo, quite a while before the more prominent Goomba and Koopa did. Their leader King Boo is also very popular among fans, especially for his role as the Big Bad in the Luigi's Mansion series, to the point where he's one of the most well-known antagonists in the entire franchise—after all, when you become the archnemesis of the only guy who can hold a candle to Mario, you know you're doing something right. He was playable in Mario Kart: Double Dash!! and Mario Kart Wii, and appeared as a boss in Mario Kart DS. He returned to the series as a playable character in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, pleasing fans that were disappointed of his absence in Mario Kart 8.
  • Pauline has historically been a bit character in the Mario series, despite being important in a meta sense. She has, however, long sported a small but loyal fanbase who want her to appear in more games such as Mario Kart. Her reappearance in Super Mario Odyssey not only pleased many of her old fans, but earned her plenty of new ones thanks to her newfound independent streak compared to her previous appearances and dazzling stage presence and singing voice, leading many to predict (and desire) for her to effectively become "the new Rosalina" by becoming a staple in the Mario spinoff titles or even staying a recurring character in the main series. So far, Pauline will be making her playable debut in Mario Tennis Aces as a post-release playable character.
  • Piranha Plants, specifically the standard "moves-up-down-in-a-pipe" Piranha Plant, saw a rapid increase in popularity after a Piranha Plant was added as an Unexpected Character to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Since then, likely thanks to its endearing Ugly Cute depiction in Ultimate, the Piranha Plant has quickly shot up the ranks to become one of the Mario series' most popular mooks and its amiibo sold out across the board.
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    RPG characters 
  • 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 one of the most successful Big Bads in the series.
  • Popple also takes this status due to being an amusing Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain who keeps trying and failing to best the Mario Bros. People rejoiced when they discovered his return in Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, and even though he Took a Level in Jerkass, he's still well-liked in both appearances for the comedy factory alone.
  • The main group of baddies in Super Paper Mario tend to get this a lot to those who miss the deeper stories in Paper Mario games, but a few especially manage to stand out:
  • 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 Funny Moment. The two of them are often voted the most popular characters in the game and frequently get requested to return in future installments.
  • From the same game, Flavio. Initially, he was loved because of being haughty and arrogant, yet endearing, especially since nobody else in-game likes him. His popularity skyrocketed years after the game's release when it was discovered that, by using a few glitches to open up shortcuts to Keelhaul Key and Poshley Heights early, Flavio can be your guest in the party permanently, resulting in him showing up at particularly random times and places during cutscenes.
  • Goombella's been getting a fairly decent following in recent years for being a Badass Adorable Bookworm who provides plenty of the game's gut-busters through her Tattles. It also helps that she has the Multibonk like Goombario before her, enabling her to dish out some serious punishment. She even got a cameo in Sticker Star's localization that wasn't there in the original, alongside Parakarry.
  • 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 a more noticeable characterization. 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.
  • The Phantom (Tom Phan) in Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, for his epic opera song mocking Mario and his franchise's cliches.

    Yoshi characters 

    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 with much enthusiasm. (The fact that Dixie is almost universally considered the most useful helper Kong outside of Time Trials in that game and boasted a variety of adorable animations certainly didn't hurt.)
  • 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.
  • Lanky is the most popular of the Kongs introduced in DK64 due to his uniqueness, fun personality and the novelty of playing as a different type of ape.
  • Since then, though, the latest DK darkhorse seems to be Funky, who has been the fourth character in DK: King of Swing and DK: Jungle Climber, was unlockable alongside Diddy in Mario Kart Wii, and got an entire mode dedicated to playing as him in the Switch rerelease of Tropical Freeze.
  • Cranky Kong was always popular thanks to his snarky, fourth wall-breaking quips and gloriously meta character conceit (namely, he's the original arcade Donkey Kong, now past his prime and bitter that he doesn't get to star in games anymore). It's no coincidence, then, that he was chosen to join in alongside series all-stars Donkey, Diddy, and Dixie as the fourth playable character in Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, which many regarded as the best news to come out of VGX in 2013.
  • Due to once being series mainstays second only to the Kongs themselves that have been Put on a Bus since 2008, King K. Rool (and, by extension, the Kremlings in general) have tons of fans demanding their return. King K. Rool's playable debut in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has pleased older Donkey Kong Country fans, with his movesets that are based from the original DKC trilogy and DK64. Even Sakurai mentioned the Smash Ballot for his popularity.
  • Mad Jack, the Frantic Factory boss of DK64, is well-remembered for his terrifying nature.

    Wario characters 
  • 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.
  • 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?
    • 5-Volt has become quite popular as well, not only due to her surprisingly creepy behavior in the "Gamer" segment of Game & Wario, but outside of that segment, she is a pretty lady who's just as much into Nintendo as her son is, if not more so. She finally got her own scenario in WarioWare Gold, and even "Gamer" itself was adapted into a gameplay mode.
  • Mona has a lot of fans thanks to her quirky minigames.
  • Captain Syrup has a sizable fanbase for being the first female Big Bad in the Mario expanded universe.
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