The Best Airsoft Brand of 2021 – What decades in the sport tell us
Not All Brands are Created Equal
Airsoft Core has been in the airsoft games since the 1990’s and we’ve seen our share of companies build their reputation from nothing, and seen others get complacent and fall. Some companies are known for a very specific thing, and some companies are known for been generically good with no specific standout.
What about the specific model lines? Some brands, like G&G, offer a more affordable line while maintaining a high end line (their top tech line) for better out-of-the-box performance.
Then to make it more complicated you’ll have airsoft companies like Elite Force, Echo 1, UK Arms, or Umarex who typically get other manufacturer’s products and place their own marketing on it.
I remember growing up during the days when airsoft gun brands like Echo 1 was a rebranded JG with an actual warranty. This was back when Tokyo Marui, as a company, was less than a few years old.
Things have changed – see below for a comprehensive list of the top airsoft brands:
Beginner / Starter Brands
Airsoft brands in this range are probably not going to win any awards for the best airsoft gun brands anytime soon, but they’re still solid entry level choices for new players in the sport.
They’re a HUGE leap up from the 20-40 dollar spring guns or low power AEG’s you’d find at a large sporting goods store. In fact, a number of companies here made it into our best airsoft rifles for beginners list.
A&K Airsoft was known for bringing more full metal guns to the market after the Tokyo Marui design was made more mainstream. You’ll find that this airsoft company is known for producing a product line mostly made up of all metal body models – M4’s, AK’s, MP5’s, M249’s you name it.
However, their internals always left a bit to be desired. They weren’t BAD they just weren’t anything special. They built most things to spec so they took upgrades well. We think their only standout internal part was their gears. Their gears were rock solid.
There’s one more thing about A&K, we found a lot of airsoft tech completely stripping all the internals and just using the body. This says a lot about how reliable and tough the externals are. Airsoft techs would custom build internals to fire at a reliable 350 fps at 30 rounds per second; all inside of a full metal A&K body.
A&K Airsoft’s Grade
A&K Airsoft receives a B- from us – especially for new players. However, their AK line full metal bodies receive an A- due to how common it is to make custom AK’s out of them.
JG (Jing Gong)
JG (Jing Gong) have come a long way since we started airsoft. When this airsoft manufacturer first came on the scene they were the low cost alternative to Tokyo Marui and Classic Army. Tokyo Marui guns were known for low power but reliable internals and Classic Army was known for full metal bodies with… okay internals.
JG then cloned the Tokyo Marui gearbox with Hong Kong manufactured parts and placed them inside an ABS plastic body to great one of the first budget friendly yet solid AEG’s. The rest is history as they went on to make all kinds of additional entry level AEG’s and variations on that first design.
From a tech perspective, JG gears are reliably tough and the parts are of overall decent quality. However, they always fit a little tight inside their gearbox and JG’s were known to be a little “whiney” as you shoot them.
Nonetheless, the reputation that JG had was that they were an airsoft company that built absolutely solid AEGs at an affordable price point replicating the famous V2 gearbox design. Their guns were fully upgrade-able as they took very few shortcuts to allow them to make the airsoft gun at a cheaper cost.
Interestingly, they make one of the most popular airsoft sniper rifles to date: the JG Bar 10.
JG Airsoft Grade
JG receives a B from us regarding their rugged internals, with their plastic bodies being a C+. The price point for their guns is usually quite competitive.
You could look at CYMA airsoft as a form of copycat maker or what we call in the business a clone manufacturer. They tend to focus a lot of creating entry level replicas of Tokyo Marui designed AEGs and bolt action spring airsoft guns.
Much like A&K, they’re known for producing a good AK line of full metal airsoft rifles. In fact, some people take CYMA and A&K and use them interchangeably when it comes to their AK bodies. Much like A&K, the internals are serviceable, but fully capable of taking loads of upgrades.
Another line that CYMA is famous for are their M14’s. The fact is, not too many manufacturers bothered making M14 and similar guns. Partly because the design is just not hugely popular and that the Version 7 gearbox is a pain to work with.
CYMA Airsoft Grade
CYMA receives a B- from us since their product line is well budgeted for newbies to the sport with their AK full metal bodies being an A-.
Winner: Lancer Tactical
Lancer Tactical has actually seen quite a bit of fluctuation in terms of quality. When this airsoft company first arrived on the scene they were known for an almost entirely plastic airsoft M4A1 platform with the only metal parts being some of the internals. Calling Lancer Tactical a budget brand was cutting them at a lot of slack at the time.
To be honest, most of us laughed. However, it was a very smart design decision on Lancer Tactical’s part that actually allowed them to price the AEG at below $100 at the time. There were airsoft players, mostly younglings, who wanted to get into the hobby but simply didn’t have the funds. All the other cheaper sub-$100 AEG didn’t not stand up at all to the Lancer Tactical M4’s.
Nowadays Lancer Tactical has improved their overall quality – moving away from the originally budget friendly, but cheap ABS plastic externals to something that will last much longer (and frankly now costs more).
Since then, they’ve actually dived into other products within airsoft, namely tactical gear and airsoft accessories like optics and flashlights. Where was Lancer Tactical sourcing this stuff? It was hard to say – but definitely from some cheap tactical gear or firearms accessory manufacturer out of China. Nonetheless, they provided low-priced protective gear that, for the time, was of enough quality to go out play airsoft with.
Now, you can say that Lancer Tactical is synonymous with “starting the hobby seriously” type players. These buyers really beyond the plinking and goofing off phase and are really interested in giving this sport a go and buying a good quality AEG.
If we want to keep this hobby alive, we need new players, and Lancer Tactical, of all the airsoft companies, has done wonders in helping that happen.
Lancer Tactical Final Grade (Award for #1 Beginner Brand as well)
Lancer Tactical receives an A+ – due to their ability to bring in new players to the hobby with affordable airsoft guns.
Intermediate / Enthusiasts Brands
The brands in this range take airsoft guns up to the next level in terms of quality of parts and consistency of build. These companies have better than average QA processes. You can also expect them to be a bit more expensive as well.
These brands are often considered “very safe” choices when it comes to out-of-the-box performance.
ICS (I Chih Shivan)
ICS is a manufacturer of airsoft guns that is based in Taiwan. You’ll find that a lot of their airsoft products are known throughout the industry for being reliable with full metal bodies.
The main standout feature that ISC brought to the game was the split gearbox, a huge innovation to Tokyo Marui’s V2 gearbox. The gearbox could be split between the air compression components and the locomotive components (visually it looks like a top half and bottom half). This means that ICS guns can actually have good quality compression parts for a field gun firing at 400 fps and have another set for CQB at 350 fps. It would only take about 1-2 minutes to mix and match the top halves of your gearbox and you’d be set to go. This also made the gearbox easy to maintain.
For the time – ICS guns were extremely innovative.
Unfortunately, this means that the main knock on I Chih Shivan is that some of their parts don’t tend to match well with those coming from other brands. This is going to make it tougher to mix and match different pieces for your ISC gun rather than purchasing brand new components.
ICS Final Grade
ICS receives a B in terms of quality of internal and external parts with the split gearbox being their main standout feature. If you like that feature for the ability to change compression parts for to be easy to maintain, then an ICS gun is an easy sell.
Classic Army dates back a long time ago to when Tokyo Marui first brought their innovative version 2 gearbox to airsoft. At the time, Tokyo Marui was known for their outstanding and reliable internals while CA brought the high quality full metal bodies to the airsoft rifles. During those days, you either had the money to go an airsoft company like Tokyo Marui for quality automatic electric guns, or you spent less on a CA for more unreliable internals but sporting a metal receiver.
Since then, their internals have improved and currently they are a solid intermediate brand. Their bodies are still some of the highest sought after in the industry, but they are facing difficultly in staying super relative in this current airsoft age.
One of the stand out airsoft products from CA are their machine guns. They offer a line of M249 and M240 type airsoft machine guns, and are probably the best manufacturers for that specific type.
Classic Army Final Grade
Classic Army receives a B- from us since their internals are about what you should expect at their current price point, and their full metal bodies are still far above average.
Winner: G&G (Guay & Guay)
G&G was one of our first introductions in the world of airsoft. They are well known for good quality automatic electric guns built from the beginning to be fully compatible with almost all the upgrade parts that exist. They innovated the use of plastic receivers in airsoft by being one of the first to use fiber nylon polymer instead of ABS plastic like many other makers before them.
Simultaneously, they built out the combat machine line of AEG’s, which were their budget level M4s that included a rail system and a crane stock with a rear wired V2 gearbox. These were offered at a very affordable price and were a gateway airsoft gun for new players in the hobby due to their decent performance, accracy, and long range.
In addition to this, they carried the “Top Tech” line of high quality AEGs with pre-upgraded parts fully capable of taking on a Li-Po battery.
G&G Final Grade: Award for #1 Intermediate Brand
G&G gets a A- in terms of the affordability and performance of their budget combat machine line. Their Top Tech line is good, but the out-of-the-box performance doesn’t quite make it to the first class tier currently – so they receive a B+ in that regard.
G&G is also our pick for the best intermediate brand.
First Class Airsoft Brands
The airsoft guns we’re about to mention now are for extremely experienced airsoft players or newbies looking to get the most advantage they can. High end guns from an airsoft company in this category do require more money than models from the other ranges, however.
Except for one of these high end brands (you’ll soon see which) are all able to take the more effective and powerful lipo batteries straight out of the box. But, keep in mind that could void some warranties so you’ll want to touch base with the manufacturer of these airsoft rifles first.
Some of these brands are even known to be marketed as law enforcement and military training weapons. However, we opted out of some of those choices like SYSTEMA and PTS. PTS mainly because they’re more like a wild card brand and SYSTEMA’s professional training airsoft platforms are overshadowed HEAVILY by the gas blow back rifles currently on the market.
Tokyo Marui is based out of Japan and when it comes to airsoft guns they are well known to be one of the best in the industry…. 20+ years ago.
To be honest though, nowadays their name carries more “magic” in it than anything. Tokyo Marui AEG’s are woefully underperforming and they still carry ABS plastic bodies that are liable to break. Overall, their AEG’s line has been passed up in nearly every way, in our opinion. Let’s not be too harsh though, it was the Tokyo Marui Version 2 gearbox design that absolutely revolutionized the industry. The fact is though, other manufacturers have caught up.
Their gas blow back pistol line however is still considered to be quite top line… sort of. Many users end up upgrading the heck out of their Tokyo Marui gas blow back pistols until they’re basically no longer Tokyo Marui’s. We’ve found that Tokyo Marui pistol buckings are just fantastic and work better than even proprietary buckings from other companies.
Tokyo Marui guns still go for quite a pretty penny though, if only because their name is synonymous with quality in the past.
Tokyo Marui Final Grade
Tokyo Marui’s AEG’s get a C. Their gas blow back pistol lines get a B. Perhaps it is sacrilege to say, but we do think other airsoft brands have not only caught up, but surpassed TM in quality and value, especially at the high end pricing. We leave them here in the top tier though, if only for nostalgia’s sake.
G&P is a Hong Kong based manufacturer of high end airsoft guns with the quirk of being picky with aftermarket parts. They never quite fit right to the point some airsoft tech have a running list of G&P compatible parts versus normal compatible parts.
Not that you really need to upgrade their guns. G&P is known for producing AEGs that are some of the best performing guns straight out of the box. Their internals are just outstanding with performance levels outdoing even some airsoft tech’s upgraded kits.
Additionally, they’re known for bringing more interesting airsoft products to the market, like their own line of quality high quality airsoft shotguns and airsoft grenade launchers.
G&P Final Grade
They get an A- for top quality internals & externals. Their ability to be upgraded though is more like a C.
KWA was known for two major quality products back in the 90’s. They had an outstanding gas blow back line for both pistols and rifles while also having high end electric airsoft guns. Usually if it came from KWA you knew it was going to be long lasting, well made, and perform like a champ straight out of the box.
Much like G&P, however, they chose to go a slightly different direction in their design from the classic Tokyo Marui rifles. For example, their high quality gearboxes are reinforced and fit weirdly in other full metal airsoft guns. Additionally, their bucking and hop up units are unique to their brand – and were incapable of being upgraded at all.
However, chances of you needing an upgrade with a KWA were slim, as both their gas blow back and electric gun lines were just performing great from the start. Additionally, their gas blow back rifles are some of the best in the business. Those in law enforcement or former military have commented before that their LM4 line is extremely close to the real thing in handling and details. You could use it as training weapon, it is so realistic.
We do think the best airsoft pistol is made by KWA.
KWA Final Grade
KWA receives an A for great internal parts & external build quality. They also get a C+ in terms of upgrade ability.
Krytac is probably one of the newest airsoft companies to come out. Their new products are absolutely top quality partly because they are a subset of an actual firearms manufacturer (KRISS) with the intent to being alternatives to .22lr training weapons. Their external build quality is very good but probably not the best on this list.
Their internal build quality though? Holy smokes is that something else. Most people won’t need to upgrade their Krytac as these guns are performing at the top 10% of most guns you’ll see on the airsoft field any given day.
The word is that a number of the old techs from KWA had migrated over to Krytac when they first launched, and so they had a lot of great ideas implemented to build the best high quality guns they could. You can tell that the people designing the Krytac line handle real guns themselves.
If we did have a complaint, it would be that their M4 line (the Trident) is all “tacticooled” out with modular keymod hand guards and all the fixings. You will not be able to just get a classic M4 from them.
Krytac original tried to set themselves apart by appealing to the law enforcement and military crowd as an alternative to sim-munitions or real steel rounds. We’re not entirely certain if that took off.
Krytac Final Grade : Award for #1 Expert Brand
Krytac gets an A from us for building some outstanding quality products. Additionally, they get the award for the top airsoft brand of 2021. When someone asks, “what is the best airsoft company?” – our answer will be Krytac.
Wild Card Airsoft Brands
What exactly is a wild card company you ask? Well – it’s the sort of brand that you’re never sure what you’re going to get when you buy their product. What we mean is that this kind of airsoft company often OEM out (original equipment manufacturer) out their products.
Companies like this are:
- Elite Force / Umarex
- UK Arms
- Echo 1
- Magpul PTS
So, even though it’s brand “ABC”, what you might be getting is brand “XYZ” repackaged in “ABC’s” clothes. You especially see this in the LPEG (low powered electric gun), spring powered pistols, gas blow back pistols, and bolt action spring rifle world.
Other Airsoft brands – Airsoft Core couldn’t review them all.
Also don’t be afraid to ask around if you are going to go with an airsoft manufacturer that doesn’t have a long and good track record. Odds are someone has experience dealing with that brand and can tell you the honest truth about their experiences.
Your experience ultimately will vary. Everyone’s list of the top airsoft brands will be somewhat different.
As a heads up, we do plan to creating a similar brand guide for tactical gear – so be on standby for that.