The first game in the series, The King of Fighters '94, was released by SNK on August 25, 1994. The game featured characters from SNK's previous fighting game series Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting, as well as original characters (including characters from older games such as Ikari Warriors and Psycho Soldier, adapted for a versus fighting game). The success of the game led SNK to release yearly installments of the series and numbered the games for the year they were released. The King of Fighters '95 was released on July 25, 1995, with several ports being released the next year. In addition to adding new characters, this game also began the first story arc of the series titled "The Orochi Saga". KOF '95 was also the first game in the series that allowed the players to create their own team of three members, out of any character in the game. The King of Fighters '96, released on July 30, 1996, establishes the second part of "The Orochi Saga" and replaced the character sprites from the previous two years with newly drawn ones, improving the gameplay of the series as well. Depending on the playable characters in a team, an exclusive ending will be played. The King of Fighters '97, released on July 28, 1997, concluded "The Orochi Saga" story arc. The King of Fighters '98 was released on July 23, 1998, and unlike the previous games of the series, it did not feature a story. Instead, the game was promoted as a "Dream Match" game that allowed players to choose most of the characters available from the previous titles, including ones that were supposedly dead. SNK refitted the Dreamcast version and renamed it The King of Fighters: Dream Match 1999 with an extended cel animated introduction and 3D backgrounds.
On July 22, 1999, The King of Fighters '99 was released, which introduced a new story arc known as "The NESTS Chronicles". The game introduces several new characters into the series, as well as the rule of a fourth member being added to each team and that a new tactic is introduced in this game as well. The tactic would be that a specific person from a team would be an assistant called a "Striker" and that this person would be able to aid the team for a few seconds in combat. The Dreamcast version was titled The King of Fighters: Evolution, with several improvements in the game such as new strikers and better animation. The King of Fighters 2000 was released on July 26, 2000, and is the second part of "The NESTS Saga" as well as the last KOF game to be made by SNK before the bankruptcy. It adds a few new playable characters and a couple of Strikers (most of them being from previous KOF titles and other SNK titles as well such as Metal Slug and Kizuna Encounter). The King of Fighters 2001 was released on November 15, 2001, and ends the second story arc. Due to economic problems that SNK had at the time, the Korean company Eolith helped in the development of the game after SNK was bankrupted. The King of Fighters 2002, released on October 10, 2002, was created to reunite old characters from previous KOF games and featured no story, similar to KOF '98. It was also developed by Eolith.
A new KOF story arc called the "Tales of Ash" starts in The King of Fighters 2003, released on December 12, 2003 and this was the last game to be released for the Neo Geo system. It allowed the players to change characters while playing, but the number of team members was reduced back to three. SNK, now SNK-Playmore, returned to the franchise development in this entry. By 2004, SNK abandoned yearly releases of the series and numbered future games in a more traditional manner; the first main series game released as such was The King of Fighters XI, released on October 26, 2005. The King of Fighters XII was released in July 2009. KOF XII uses newly-drawn 2D sprites on detailed 2D backgrounds. Producers informed that the game is one hundred percent hand drawn. It is to be a storyless gathering of fighters, similar to KOFs '98 and 2002 before it. The latest story arc ends with The King of Fighters XIII, which features the entire roster from The King of Fighters XII as well as additional characters and was released during the summer of 2010.