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There are multiple Shout Outs to various Anime, Manga, and Toku present within the series. Here's the place for every Continuity Nod, Mythology Gag, No Celebrities Were Harmed, Captain Ersatz, Expy, and Shout-Out in The King of Fighters.
Characters and stuff introduced in the Rugal Saga ('94)
- The creation of the Japan Team, their elemental powers, and their personalities are based off of the heroes from Getter Robo. This, in turn is a Homage to a Japanese phrase of giving birth to fire (roughly translated as "lighting strikes the earth which sparks the flame").
- Kyo's design is lifted straight from Ricky Jones, the main character of the early Neo Geo Beat'Em Up Mutation Nation. See here.
- His striker (and prototype design), Syo Kirishima, was meant to resemble common fighting games martial artists (in terms of clothes) at the time.
- Cosplayer Kyoko (Shingo's striker from 2000) is an in-universe nod to fangirls who love to Cosplay as Kyo at conventions.
- In Maximum Impact 2, he has an alternate costume that makes him resemble Yuki, the Original Generation male protagonist of Neo Geo Battle Coliseum.
- Starting in Maximum Impact 2, there exists a separate version of Kyo known as Kyo Kusanagi Classic, who is garbed in Kyo's attire from The Orochi Saga (Normal)/The NESTS Chronicles (Another). He uses all of Kyo's moves from 94 to 98, as well as his Style 108 from 99 onward. Additionally, as a nod to the earlier KOF titles, his roll is his replaced by a sidestepping dodge (a la 94 and 95) and holding down the taunt button allows Kyo to charge up his meter (a la 94-'96, complete with the same charging pose).
- One of his alternate color schemes in XIII is none other than Rock Howard. The activation of his Neo MAX is similar to his intro with Ryu in Capcom vs. SNK 2.
- He has another color based on Rouga Zanma.
- Benimaru Nikaido was modeled after Jean-Pierre Polnareff, in terms of appearance and personality. He is even jokingly called Polnareff by the dev team.
- "Shinkuu Katategoma", "Handou Sandangeri", and "Genei Hurricane" moves are inspired by Hurricane Polymar.
- Other attacks have their namesakes in various anime and manga, including the Benimaru Collider/Corridor (Gunbuster), Elec-Trigger (Super Robot Red Baron), Flying Drill and Raijinken (Neo Human Casshern), and Iai Geri (Kako Teito: Ore wa Shubei!). 
- Heidern is an Expy of Rolento and the God's Army Colonel.
- He shares some physical characteristics with Brocken Jr. from Kinnikuman and even takes a few moves from him.
- His character is based off of (if not an alternate version of) the commander of the Ikari Warriors from Ikari III: The Rescue.
- His namesake is a character from Space Battleship Yamato.
- In the XI backstory, Adel gives Heidern the nickname "Heidi", the eponymous protagonist of a German novel.
- Stormbringer. That is all.
- Ralf's Ikari Warriors appearance (used in XII with some alterations, which was originally meant to be used in '94) was stated to be based off of the titular hero of Rambo.
- From KOF '96 to '98, his intro with Clark ("CROSS CHANGER!") mimic Choujin Sentai Jetman.
- One of his outfits in Maximum Impact 2 is based of of Marco Rossi's from Metal Slug, complete with the wavy forelock of light brown hair.
- Many of Clark's moves come from Kinnikuman, such as a variation of the Finishing Moves of The Hero of the final arc of the series: the "Clark Spark". He has now the Clark Special, copying Robin Mask instead of King Muscle.
- One of his alternate costumes in Maximum Impact 2 was modeled in the image of Tarma Roving from Metal Slug.
- Ryo Sakazaki and Robert Garcia have win quotes in KOF 2002 that reference Little Shop of Horrors.
- Robert Garcia is SNK's Alternate Company Equivalent to Ken Masters. Both are rich-out-their-ass playboys who are friendly rivals to their respective best friends, although Robert dresses like he's rich. Also, both of their styles emphasize stylish kicking. Of note is that Robert was introduced that way whereas Ken had developed this after Art of Fighting came out.
- He was also visually modeled after Steven Seagal and Andy Garcia.
- In 2000, his alternate striker is himself, but dressed like Capcom's Alternate Company Equivalent, Dan "The Man" Hibiki, who was conceived as a Take That to SNK. Note that their hair is already similar to begin with.
- During the NESTS saga, two of his moves changed to look more and more like Guile's Sonic Boom and Flash Kick, to the point of being charge attacks as well.
- His intro poses with Kensou in KOF '97 and '98 are a common Kansai Regional Accent shtick.
Kensou: "Donnai de ka?" ("How's it going?")
Robert: "Bochi bochi, denna." ("So-so, y'know?"/"Alright, I guess.")
- Ryo is SNK's Alternate Company Equivalent to Ryu and Ken, at least at first.
Ryo: "Kyokugenryu-ougi! ORAORAORAORAORA!!! Moratta!"
- Expect Takuma to throw in the occassional battle cry of "CHESTO!".
- The upper portion of his new (if not somewhat goofy-looking) stance in XIII seems to be taken from Doppo Orochi. His Kyokugen Kuzure Geki Neo MAX from the same game ends with a brutal chop similar to Akuma's Capcom vs. SNK-exclusive Misogi.
- Like Ryo, he too gets a Shin Akuma-themed outfit in XIII.
- Not to mention that Kyoukugenryu Karate in general is heavily based on Masutatsu Oyama's Kyokushi Karate.
- Yuri's taunt in KOF '96 is "Anta baka?" (Asuka's Catch Phrase) and one of her winposes had her saying "Service, service" (like Misato).
- Word of God has likened Sie Kensou's powers to that of Koichi's in Babel II.
- His XII/XIII outfit is the same one he wore back in Psycho Soldier.
- The Psycho Soldier team's ending in XIII is a parody of Gatchaman, right down to the silly costumes worn by Kensou (Red), Athena (Blue), Bao (Yellow), and Momoko (Pink). This additionally has led to the Fan Nickname of "Psycho Rangers" (no, not them), complete with a Super Sentai-esque naming scheme for the characters (i.e. Kensou = Psycho Red).
- In XIII, his pre-fight conversation with Maxima references the Over 9000 meme from Dragon Ball Z.
- Athena Asamiya was inspired by Saori aka Athena from Saint Seiya. She even has the same hair color and similar hairdo.
- One of Athena's throws has her raise a finger into the air as her psychic powers toss the enemy skywards, this move is almost identical to Tackle's Electro-Wave Throw.
- One of her edit team endings in KOF '97 had her wearing the bikini from the original Athena game
- From KOF '98 onwards, the MAX version of her "Shining Crystal Bit" DM has her randomly appearing in the bikini as well.
- One of her win poses also consists of a very Sailor Moon-ish pose: a V-for-victory sign and a wink.
- The blue schoolgirl uniform she wears in XII and XIII (complete with pink hair and Moeness) dates back to her origin game, Psycho Soldier.
- XIII also adds a meter that keeps track of how many drinks Chin Gentsai has stomached, much like Shun Di.
- XIII gives Andy a color scheme resembling Son Goku.
- Terry's Rising Force HSDM in 2002 was taken from Rock Howard.
- Terry's "Stand up!" finger point win pose (lifted from his older self in Garou: Mark of the Wolves) is evocative of one of Jotaro Kujo's signature poses, which can be seen in the games based on JoJo's.
- One of Mai's color variations in Maximum Impact 2 is that of Cham Cham. In that same game, she borrows Andy's Chou Reppa Dan for her Level 3.
- Brian Battler is an Expy of Johnny Maximum from World Heroes 2, who is also a heavy-hitting, aggressive power player. In fact, Brian's design was altered in order to differentiate him in terms of looks from Johnny, making this something of a Shout-Out as well.
- Lucky Glauber's prototype design and fighting style were based on the character Hakim in the martial arts film, Game of Death. His later design might come from Dunk Dream/Street Hoop/Street Slam, a sports game for the Neo Geo made by Data East.
- Don't confuse Heavy D! with the rapper of the same name.
- Choi is a Captain Ersatz of Freddy Krueger. An alternate version of him called "Cool Choi" resembles Freddy even more. Made funnier when a bonus illustration in KOF '98 involves Choi having an encounter with Freddy Krueger.
- When speaking of Rugal's prized "trophies" there is one of note that is interesting. It's of a man with a familar hairdo, a sleeveless shirt, with military fatigue pants and boots. Sadly this man is nameless, but he does have a rather eerie resemblance to a U.S. special forces officer named Guile. Apparently, the point of the resemblance was not lost since in Capcom Vs. SNK the two have an intro of said "trophy" is standing between them and them destroying it.
- There are also statues clearly meant to resemble Zangief, Akuma, and Fei Long. Clearly, Rugal really likes Street Fighter.
- Given that SNK does enjoy having fun at Capcom's expense due to their competing fighters, this and the other tropes aboard the Blacknoah maybe part of a larger joke. Rugal is said to be attempting to become world's strongest fighter, now look at the sub-title of the first Street Fighter II..., after all of that... Look at the collection. Now do the math.
Characters and stuff introduced in the Orochi Saga ('95-'98)
- 96 and 97 contain numerous homages to the other hot property at the time, Neon Genesis Evangelion.
- Shermie has a special similar to the Stone Cold Stunner.
- Leona's Rebel Spark Super Move is frame-for-frame identical to Kamen Rider Black RX's Revolcrash, except that Leona uses her bare hand instead of a Laser Blade.
Characters and stuff introduced in the NESTS Saga ('99-2002)
- K9999 is pretty much Tetsuo with some Kusanagi DNA thrown in. He goes as far has having the same seiyuu, Nozomu Sasaki. This came full circle at a point, when Tetsuo's rival was Kusanagi's seiyuu, followed by them yelling at each other in their shared intro. Bear in mind where the quotes for this intro came. He indeed seems to have gone too far, as in The King of Fighters 2002: Unlimited Match he has been replaced by a very similar character called "Nameless".
- Western Shout-Outs also exist. For example, Angel uses the Rock Bottom and People's Elbow in 2002.
- Maxima is both an homage to the main character of the SNK Beat'Em Up Robo Army and an expy of Hary Ness from the obscure fighting game The Fallen Angels, whom his character designer worked on before joining SNK.
- Vanessa's Champion Puncher DM is a flurry of high-speed punches, followed by a Dempsey Roll, and ended with a blistering uppercut.
- May Lee's "Hero Mode" turns her into Kamen Rider.
- Clone Zero is a living shout out to Han the Rasho from the Shura saga. His infamous Zero Fart special resembles a method of how Han dispatched a mook in the series.
Characters and stuff introduced in the Ash Saga (2003-XIII)
- Compare this promotional poster for XII to that of promotional artwork for Street Fighter Alpha 3. Specifically, notice the positions of Terry/Ryo and Ryu/Cody.
- Ash has an intro with Kyo in Maximum Impact Regulation A that directly mimics Orochi Chris' intro.
- Bonne Jenet is a Pirate, there's the Bonne, and stalks a main character (Rock Howard in Mark of the Wolves and the Maximum Impact series). Yep, she seems to be SNK's matured version of Tron Bonne.
- When Billy Kane faces Saiki in XIII, he thinks his opponent looks like some kind of monster, and wonders what would happen if he could catch 'em all, even wondering if he'll be considered an Elite Trainer, too.
- Iori's winquote against Chin in the English console localisation seems to be a shout out to Botchamania of all things.
Iori: Everyone talks too much...at least die quietly.
Characters and stuff introduced in other games (Maximum Impact, Neowave, etc.)
- Rock Howard is a Captain Ersatz of Kaede. Lampshaded in Maximum Impact, where Kaede is his alternate costume.
- Makoto Mizoguchi is an Expy of Momotaro Tsurugi, the protagonist of Sakigake!! Otokojuku.
- Duke is a Shout-Out to Kazuya Mishima and Jin Kazama, specifically their Devil forms. You can give him devil wings and devil horns in Maximum Impact.
- Does anyone else get an Eddy vibe from Soiree Meira's "Another" outfit? If the colors were to be inverted, you even get the same color scheme as Eddy's default colors.
- Fio's namesake, as well as that of her teddy bear, is taken from the anime 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother.
- In Maximum Impact Regulation A, Hyena has a new super that originally belonged to Oswald. It's his Joker LDM where he pins you in the corner and throws 52 razor sharp cards at you.
- Jivatma is one to Krizalid in Maximum Impact Regulation A. He has a new super move where he shoots his arms out with blades on them and repeatedly stabs the opponent in the air. It looks similar to Krizalid's Desperate Overdrive SDM.
- Lilly Kane's "Another" costume is modeled after Billy's original outfit from Fatal Fury and KOF '95.
- One of her color variations for her default outfit is that of Hotaru Futaba from Garou: Mark of the Wolves. She also has an outfit homaging Snow White.
- One of Nagase's desperation attacks is based around one of Hanzo Hattori's special grabs. Doubly funny since Hanzo himself is unlockable.
- Xiao Lon is a rather blatant copy of Hsien-Ko/Lei-Lei in appearance and fighting style. Even developers acknowledged that she was based on a jiang-shi.