- The Yakuza series has introduced multiple playable protagonists, offering unique fighting styles and gameplay mechanics.
- The series consistently creates likable and engaging protagonists, making them some of the best in any video game.
- Despite changes in the number of protagonists per game, the playable characters have made a lasting impact and are not forgotten.
The Yakuza series has been around since 2005 and has featured a ton of fantastic characters. Originally, Kiryu was the only star of the show up until Yakuza 4, where multiple playable protagonists were introduced.
This offered many unique fighting styles and gameplay mechanics that were unable to be explored if Kiryu remained the only protagonist. All featured characters are fantastic in their own right, and the Yakuza series has consistently been able to make some of the most likable protagonists in any video game. While the number of protagonists per game has dramatically been reduced, the ones that were playable have never been forgotten.
Updated on November 22, 2023 by Jon Eakin: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio continues to add to its Like A Dragon series, previously known as the Yakuza series in the West. With the newest entry, Like A Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name, and the upcoming Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth, it’s an exciting time to be a fan of the series and learn all about its numerous protagonists.
13 Takayuki Yagami
Yagami isn’t actually a protagonist in any Yakuza or Like A Dragon game, but his Judgement series is in the same fictional world, so you could consider this an honorable mention. He’s remarkably different from any other protagonist produced by RGG Studio, a former lawyer turned freelance detective.
What drives him most is his sense of justice, based largely on the notion of truth. If the truth can be brought to light then Yagami has faith that justice will follow. He’s an engaging protagonist, even if his leather jacket and skateboarding antics make it seem like he’s trying a little too hard to be cool.
12 Masaharu Kaito
Another honorable mention from Judgement, more specifically Lost Judgement. Kaito becomes a playable protagonist in The Kaito Files DLC. While normally the reliable best friend of Yagami, Kaito getting a leading role shows how he feels like a more natural fit for the Like A Dragon world than Yagami.
As an ex-yakuza, he feels like a more comfortable fit for the player, given the history of the series. Straightforward and charming, he breathes life into the series as a supporting character and is perfectly able to take center stage as a leading man too.
11 Sakamoto Ryoma
You would be forgiven for thinking the main character of Like A Dragon: Ishin is series stalwart Kazuma Kiryu. They share a face after all, and the same voice actor, but are two distinct characters. Not only is Ryoma from an entirely different time period, but there are differences between their characters.
Kiryu is mostly driven by his own sense of morality, but Ryoma is a character driven by vengeance. This makes him a fully realized character of his own, and this motivation is the focus of his story, lovingly recrafted for modern audiences.
Joryu is the main character of Like A Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name. A mysterious spy, he undergoes many trials and tribulations throughout the course of the story, the most difficult of which is constantly being mistaken for Kazuma Kiryu.
We know relatively little about Joryu, but we know for certain that he isn’t Kiryu. He isn’t the Dragon of Dojima and he most certainly isn’t the Fourth Chairman of the Tojo Clan. As much as we miss playing as Kiryu, Joryu is a breath of fresh air. Whoever he is.
9 Ryuji Goda
Goda was the main antagonist of Yakuza 2 and is widely considered to be one of the best the series has seen. While he grows as a character once he learns the truth behind his family, his story ends with Yakuza 2.
However, in the spin-off game Yakuza: Dead Souls, he joins the rest of the cast as a playable protagonist. He has a prosthetic arm that can also transform into a Gatling gun. He lives a more peaceful life after being given a takoyaki shop before the zombie outbreak puts a thorn in that plan. He helps the other characters and, while not the greatest protagonist, it’s nice to see more Goda.
8 Haruka Sawamura
Haruka has been a part of the Yakuza series since the very beginning. She’s the daughter of Kiryu’s first love Yumi, and after the events of the original Yakuza, Haruka becomes Kiryu’s adopted daughter.
Haruka was always an important character to the Yakuza story, but it wasn’t until Yakuza 5 that she became a full-fledged protagonist. It’s in Yakuza 5 that we finally see her shine on her own as a character, performing as an idol and moving away from Morning Glory. The events of Yakuza 5 show just how much Kiryu has rubbed off on her, putting her life on the line in order to find out the truth behind her mentor’s death.
7 Taiga Saejima
Saejima spends both games he’s playable in as an escaped convict, serving time after the murder of 18 members of the Ueno Seiwa Clan. He befriends the other protagonists along the way, though spends most of the series in prison.
Saejima is an absolute tank and has the strongest fighting style out of any of the other protagonists. He holds yakuza honor and tradition in high regard, sometimes to a flaw. Gameplay-wise, Saejima also has the unfortunate honor of being a part of some of the weakest chapters in the games he’s in, bogged down by jail segments.
6 Masayoshi Tanimura
Tanimura was one of the new protagonists featured in Yakuza 4, and the only one that has yet to return. He has a bit of a gambling addiction and frequents Mahjong parlors. He joined the police force to search for the culprit of his father’s murder when he was a child.
Tanimura’s strong sense of justice and his resolve are part of the reasons why he is such a likable protagonist. He has a unique fighting style as well, focusing on grappling rather than fists. His personal story is one of the most engaging of all the protagonists and is one of the driving forces of Yakuza 4.
5 Tatsuo Shinada
Shinada is a protagonist exclusive to Yakuza 5, and perhaps the goofiest one out of them all. He is a former baseball player who, after being fired, starts a job as a sex journalist. He’s broke and barely able to get by, often building up debt and tabs.
Over the course of Yakuza 5, he rapidly grows into one of the most loveable characters in the entire series. While at first hesitant to search for the truth behind his firing, he stays with the cause until the very end, even after his job is done. He even helps save the day at the very end and is given one of the best endings of any protagonist.
4 Goro Majima
Majima is one of the most iconic characters in the entire series, but it wasn’t until Yakuza 0 that he was a playable protagonist. He wasn’t his usual wild self, but it explores the reason why Majima became the man we know and love him for.
Majima is quick to help those who need him the most, even going against his orders to try and save them. He has his fair share of goofiness, including utilizing weaponized breakdancing. More of Majima’s story is shown off in Yakuza Kiwami 2’s Majima Saga, where we see how the woman he loved is able to ground him to his Yakuza 0 self.
3 Shun Akiyama
Akiyama had the biggest shoes to fill out of any new protagonist, as he was the one who introduced Yakuza 4, the first game where Kiryu wasn’t the exclusive star. He does so to tremendous success and is one of the most stylish protagonists out of the lot.
Rather than fighting with fists, he fights with kicks. Akiyama runs Sky Finance, a money lending company in Kamurocho where he gives out no-interest loans. He often finds himself in yakuza affairs and becomes one of Kiryu’s most trusted allies. Charming, witty, and stylish, Akiyama showed that Yakuza could thrive without Kiryu taking all the spotlight.
2 Ichiban Kasuga
After Yakuza 6, Kiryu stepped down as the main protagonist of the series. The one who filled his shoes would be Ichiban, and after his first showing in Yakuza: Like A Dragon, proved he is more than worthy to take on the role.
Ichiban is goofy, loveable, and charismatic. He draws characters in the game towards him, eventually joining his party. Like Kiryu, he is always willing to lend a hand to those who need it. Ichiban sees the world as an RPG like Dragon Quest, his favorite video game that made him want to become a hero. Ichiban is hopeful and optimistic, and that rubs off on anyone close to him.
1 Kazuma Kiryu
The Dragon of Dojima, Kiryu was the star of the Yakuza series before handing off the reigns to Ichiban. Kiryu helped shape the series into what it is today. He’s stoic, serious, and noble. He never falters in the face of danger, willing to die for the ones he loves.
His stone-faced personality doesn’t save him from getting into silly situations either, whether it be running a blog or helping train a dominatrix. Kiryu is a mentor and beacon of strength and hope to many in the Yakuza universe, legends passing through channels to boost the Dragon of Dojima to maximum heights.
Next: Every Mainline Yakuza Game, Ranked