Mecha (or mechs, if you prefer) have been a staple of anime and manga since the 1950s, so it's only natural that their popularity would spill over into the gaming world. For the purpose of this list, mecha is a catch-all term for manned machines that have limbs or other humanoid features. Mecha could easily be mistaken for giant robots, but it would be more accurate to describe them as stylish combat vehicles. Although they have biometric features and are usually helmed by a single individual, mecha should not be confused with form-fitting power armor. Whereas power armor functions as an exoskeleton for its user, mecha typically have proper cockpits. They can be useful for civilian purposes like heavy construction, but mecha are envisioned as fighting machines more often than not. The machines vary greatly in size and shape, so it's impossible to compare them like for like. On that note, this list focuses on the ace pilots who operate them as much as the mecha themselves.
Final Fantasy VI
In Final Fantasy VI, Magitek technology allows magical energy to be extracted from espers and imbued into humans and machines. The Empire used this technology to create an army of Magitek Knights, but no modifications were needed in the case of Terra Brandford since her half-esper heritage gave her innate aptitude for magic. Terra's unique abilities made her a key player in the war between the Empire and rebel forces, and she was arguably the most important figure in the game. Terra doesn't spend a lot of time in Magitek Armor, but it's the signature weaponry of Final Fantasy VI and she will forever be associated with it. She uses Magitek Armor during the game's opening, she's using the armor on the cover of the game in Japan, and in the game's official logo even highlights her tenure as a Magitek Armor pilot.
It's a common theme in anime for mecha to be piloted by teenage girls. In that sense, Lieutenant Elhaym Van Houten is one of the most traditional examples of a mecha pilot on this list. An elite member in the Solaris Military, Elly helms a custom-built mechanical battle suit called a Gear. Her Gear (ironically known as Vierge) was designed specifically for top-level ether users, and its sleek design is a perfect fit for Elly's sensibilities. Many of Vierge's attacks mirror Elly's own, and the Gear can become ridiculously overpowered if its equipped with the right weapons. Vierge can even destroy bosses with a single blow! There were a number of Xenogears characters that could have made this list, but Elly's a great fit. A conflicted character with a complicated past, Elly made a lasting impact even though she left the party early on into the adventure.
Xenoblade Chronicles X
Traversing the open world of Xenoblade Chronicles X would be nearly impossible without large humanoid robots called Skells. The Skells (known as "Dolls" in Japan) are invaluable tools since they have the ability to fly, traverse water, and transform into vehicles such as motorcycles. Many characters in the game pilot Skells, but few appreciate them more than Alexa. While others value them solely for their utility, Alexa practically views them as people. You'd never guess by looking at her, but the only love in Alexa's life is giant robots. She has actively worked to develop new Skell prototypes and weapons, and her obsession has led to some labeling her as a "Skell Nut." The prospect of encountering new Skells motivates Alexa to go exploring, and she's always looking to customize her Skells with the best possible equipment.
Jack Cooper is a rifleman with the Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation who aspired to pilot large exoskeletons known as Titans. He was called to action before his training was completed, however, and his Captain was killed in battle. Since his original pilot had died, the Titan BT-7274 bonded with Cooper and apparently broke protocol by allowing him to take the helm. Cooper has grappling hooks, zip lines, and invisibility cloaks at his disposal, but his Titan grants him more protection and increases his firepower significantly. As a Vanguard-class Titan, BT-7274 can synthesize weapons and abilities from other Titans he encounters. Cooper was bound to BT-7274 against the wishes of command, but the soldier and the Titan worked together against overwhelming odds to uphold a mission they were never meant to carry out.
Kirby: Planet Robobot
Kirby's trademark copy abilities allow him to meet almost any challenge, but more firepower was required after his home planet was invaded by alien forces. His friends were defeated and his planet was mechanized in the attack, so it was up to Kirby to set things right. Like always, Kirby could inhale his enemies to absorb their powers, but his abilities were enhanced after he acquired Robobot Armor. The armor adapts to Kirby's abilities and allows him to destroy obstacles, lift heavy objects, and defeat large enemies. Robobot Armor can also scan enemies to gain its own set of copy abilities that can be used to attack enemies or solve puzzles. The mysterious mech can be equipped with flame throwers, stone fists, laser swords, and many other weapons. With Kirby at the helm, Robobot Armor becomes a shape-shifting copy robot!
Mega Man Legends Series
An engineering genius who creates everything from small robots to flying battleships, Tron Bonne travels the world in the hopes of striking it rich. The temperamental air pirate relies heavily on all-purpose support robots called Servbots to do her bidding, but she also pilots a versatile fighting mecha called the Gustaff. This machine was first seen in The Misadventures of Tron Bonne, and the walking battle tank puts her on equal footing with superheroes and legendary fighters in the Marvel vs. Capcom games and other crossover titles. The Gustaff can attack with flamethrowers, soundwaves, electric spheres, and excavator buckets, and it's legs can also transform to mimic a traditional tank. Tron openly mocks her opponents even when she's losing, but the Gustaff gives her a reason to boast.
Zone of the Enders Series
Leo Stenbuck grew up on a space colony orbiting Jupiter and was the target of constant bullying from his peers. When the colony was invaded by Martian rebels, Leo stumbled upon an "orbital frame" called Jehuty while trying find refuge from the attack. Leo was an unlikely hero, but he used the mechanical suit to fend off the invasion and demonstrated a natural aptitude for combat. When he learned that Jehuty was the reason why the rebels came to the colony in the first place, Leo refused to hand over the experimental machine and chose instead to break through the enemy forces in order to safely deliver Jehuty to the United Nations Space Force. Jehuty is tremendously powerful and can effortlessly rip through lesser machines, but Leo's skills as a runner are apparent even when he's piloting inferior suits.
Lost Planet 3
Lost Planet 3 was met with a lukewarm reception, but its engaging narrative received near universal praise. Jim Peyton is a heavy machine operator who is dispatched to a frozen planet to mine for thermal energy. Although his job is unconventional, Jim is basically just a working stiff who is trying to support his family. There's nothing extraordinary about him, but that's what makes him so compelling. The utility rigs that he uses could easily be deployed as instruments of destruction, but Jim has no militaristic objectives and is just trying to do his job. Hydraulic claws and powerful drills are ideal for fending off hostile life forms, but Jim never planned on using the utility rigs as anything other than glorified bipedal forklifts. Even though he's deployed to a distant planet, Jim is one of gaming's most down-to-earth protagonists.
Nerf this! When a colossal robot rose from the depths of the ocean and attacked South Korea, the country responded by developing a mechanized armored drone unit called MEKA (Mobile Exo-Force of the Korean Army). After MEKA's drone-controlled networks were disrupted, the military was left scrambling to find suitable candidates to pilot the mechs. Although she was still a teenager, Hana Song's experience as a professional StarCraft player (under the name D.Va) gave her the necessary reflexes and instincts to operate the mechs' advanced weapons systems. D.Va is fiercely competitive and well-versed in the art of trash-talking, but she shows gratitude to her fans and is quick to thank her audience when she scores a victory. She's somewhat egotistical, but her skills speak for themselves and her fame is deserved. Winkyface!
Super Robot Wars Series
Super Robot Wars is a crossover series that features characters from popular mecha franchises like Gundam and Getter Robo. Sanger Zonvolt is arguably the most iconic original character created for the series. A true warrior who stands by his beliefs, Sanger describes himself as the sword that smites evil. The battle-hardened soldier talks, acts, and fights like a samurai, and his mecha is designed in a similar vein. His hallmark Dygenguar mecha has a number of onboard weapons, but its massive sword is the only one that Sanger uses. Who needs lasers when you have a giant katana? Most mecha pilots are confined to a cockpit at all times, but Dygenguar has a motion-linking system that can sync up to Sanger's movements. This gives Sanger direct control over the mecha and allows him to fight with his own sword skills.