At the worst of times, composing a definitive list of the best mobile games is a difficult and some would say uneasy task. Were talking about a system that encompasses hundreds of thousands of games across iOS and Android, covering a span of more than a dozen years.
So we decided to frame this discussion from a simple, if somewhat out-there, premise: If an alien would land tomorrow and request a crash course in gaming, which of the best mobile games would you encourage it to install first? Were not looking for obscure gems or necessarily run-away hits here. Were looking for important, genre-defining games that are critical to the history of smartphone gaming.
We only require that the game be active and enjoyable to play today. Were also limiting the number of games per series, so please go with the first rather than the finest.
Let's dive into the top mobile games on our list.
The best mobile games
For experienced gamers, it's easy to get a bit apprehensive about gacha RPGs. However, a surprising number of people seem to enjoy them, and Raid: Shadow Legends is the 800lb gorilla of this particular loved-and-loathed sub-genre.
Who is the greatest legend? Find out in our Raid: Shadow Legends tier list.
In fact, it's very difficult to ignore a game that looks this good, with stunning 3D graphics and screen-filling pyrotechnics accompanying your every PVE campaign mission or PVP Arena scrap.
Raid: Shadow Legend is a free game that lets you play it for free.
The majority of advertisements for Hero Wars are fairly well-known. Unfortunately, they are also quite misleading, as the sliding doors puzzle game they depict is only a small portion of what Hero Wars is all about. Despite this, the actual gameplay of the game is still enjoyable.
The game follows a standard that most mobile gamers will familiarize with: it's all about assembling a group of heroes and watching them navigate dungeons. If they're not up to the challenge, you have to grind and enhance them, or you have to unlock other heroes who might be better suited to the task. It's a game that's easy to get absorbed into, and those who play it will soon find it a part of their daily routine.
Play Hero Wars for free.
Mafia City is a game we'd like to recommend because of its unique blend of strategy gameplay and a narrative about becoming a new mafia boss.
This strategy game involves you running a crime syndicate in a modern day city, and it's pretty cool. You choose which buildings you want to build, and these give you new resources and opportunities for training new types of units. Then you choose whether you want to play cooperatively with friends to help you build your empires, or whether you want to fight and eliminate other players who stand in your way.
Mafia City is available for free on iPhone.
Mafia City is available for free on Android.
With a familiar anime-inspired fantasy world and action-RPG mechanics, Genshin Impact wears its The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild influence quite shamelessly.
Who is the best? Look at our Genshin Impact tier list.
Because it perfects the formula so well, and because it does so in the form of a free-to-play mobile game, you'll forgive the obvious tribute act. Which is quite astounding.
Genshin Impact is a free to play game.
Are you looking for a new free-to-play game to play on your commute? Are you into strategy and city-building? Well, boy oh boy, this game will suit you nicely.
The first is to complete an endless supply of quests that are given to you. Some of these are more specific, looping tasks that go along with the game. You may also choose to invest time in research, which will allow you to improve your cities and structures and grow more and more of your beautiful cities.
Play Elvenar for free.
This free-to-play mobile strategy game excels on several levels. First and foremost, you get the pleasure of constructing your own settlement, which you may modify as you wish, before moving on to other science fiction realms of the future.
Forge of Empires is one of those games that youll want to spend dozens of hours playing every day, whether it's strategy or history.
Forge of Empires is a free game.
Yes, this is the third game by Innogames that we have included in this list, but don't worry, this game will be expanded by other designers soon (we promise), and it definitely merits its place on the list. What exactly makes Rise of Cultures so special?
Rise of Cultures is a game that focuses on establishing a civilisation that evolves and expands throughout different periods of history (Innogames are good at doing this), but this time, you can take direct control of individual workers, giving them the most productive work schedules you can (including time for rest) and deploying them to enhance your city as you see fit.
Rise of Cultures is available for free on iOS.
Rise of Cultures is available for free on Android.
Remember when we said we would focus on games from other developers? Well guess what? We lied. In fact, we added those first three Innogames releases before we discovered Sunrise Village, and now we feel that it deserves a place on this list.
In Sunrise Village, you play as someone who's leaving the stressful city life behind in order to go and live a simpler existence on a farm in Sunrise Village. You gather crops and resources so that you can fulfill orders and purchase new items in order to expand your farm. Its a very enjoyable game that may easily be included into your day-to-day routine.
Sunrise Village is a free iOS game.
Sunrise Village is available for free on Android.
When you think of your favorite mobile game, crossword puzzles may not be the first thing you think of, but thats the beauty of mobile gaming: it encompasses just about everything, including casual games like Daily Themed Crossword Puzzles, and this is one of the best of its kind.
This is a crossword puzzle app that we suspect to be uninteresting, but it's exactly what it claims to be. You can spend in-game coins to solve more puzzles, and you can watch commercials to get clues (if you don't mind that).
Daily Themed Crossword Puzzles are available for free play.
Monument Valley and its subsequent sequel, Monument Valley 2, are among the few video games that have crossed over into the mainstream, such as those used in TV commercials and played even by non-gamers.
Thats not to diminish its exquisite Escher-like spatial puzzles or its achingly beautiful art style, but to simply state that a large number of people, including us, enjoy it very much.
If there is a mobile game that has kept users coming back for as long as Pokemon Go, you must remind us what it is. It's still going strong, although it was launched in 2016.
Do you want more like this? Check out our top Pokemon Go games list!
As you battle and capture adorable critters near real-world landmarks, this was the game that truly made a point of AR and location-based gameplay.
When the ultimate deck-building card game arrived on mobile, it felt like it had finally returned. Several other mobile games have completely lifted the Slay the Spires formula, some of them quite successfully.
Slay the Spire's intuitive yet unimaginably complex card-based combat system remains the roost.
If Jetpack Joyride represents the endless runner's glorious past, Altos Odyssey is its stylish present. The first thing you'll notice is a sharp and silky-smooth art style that's appropriate for a magazine cover.
Mais it plays out equally fantastically, with a reward-driven system that keeps you coming back for just one more time.
Call of Duty: Mobile is without a doubt the most powerful online shooter on Android and iOS. It combines a fast-paced multiplayer shooter with an expanded Battle Royale mode.
With top-notch controller support and a slew of modes to try, it all looks and moves beautifully.
MOBAs are still big news in the world of eSports, and on mobile as well as PC, League of Legends is the king. Choose your hero and embark on a classic 5v5 lane-running clash with your fellow players.
Whats remarkable is how true to the original script this mobile version is. If you're interested in trying it out, check out our League of Legends: Wild Rift tier list.
There are a slew of fast, attractive arcade racers out there that want to emulate the console experience on mobile devices. However, only one has actually achieved a straight 1:1 conversion.
Grid Autosport is a complete console racing game, restored to your phone in all its glory. It's still a remarkable achievement.
Jetpack Joyride wasn't the first endless runner to hit mobile (shout out to Canabalt), but it was one of the first and greatest. It's still going strong, thanks to legendary developer Halfbrick.
As hero Barry Steakfried, run, fly, and smash your way as far as you can, making use of surprising abilities and random hazards.
Wayward Souls is a roguelike action RPG that takes the classic top-down action of Zelda 16-bit and adds procedurally generated magic to it.
As you hack, slash, explore, and die, no two runs are the same. Repeatedly.
Like The Room, you can take any entry from the four-strong Kingdom Rush series and you'll have a shining example of the genre in this instance, tower defense.
Countless mobile games involve you in carefully positioning and upgrading defensive units in order to fend off waves of enemies, yet none do it with as much charm or attention to detail as Kingdom Rush.
Among Us is a free-to-play online whodunnit that takes a fresh and oh-so-modern approach to online multiplayer gameplay that demands careful communication and no small amount of skulduggery.
Join your fellow astronauts in preparing your spaceship for its departure, but beware of the imposter. Unless it is you, go right ahead and murder your crew.
Clash Royale, the game that spawned a thousand imitators, combines card-battling strategy with MOBA-like base raiding. Playing cards here creates 3D units on a simple two-lane battlefield.
The presentation, learning curve, and balance, as with Supercells games, are absolutely perfect.
Three Reigns games are available on iOS and Android, and all are brilliant examples of how to adapt the narrative-driven adventure genre for a modern mobile gaming audience.
The trick, it appears, was to enliven a hefty smack of humour and install a card-swiping control mechanism straight from the Grindr dating app. Who knew?
Feel free to browse our best mobile role-playing games and best iOS games lists for more content like this.