The most generally accepted "roster" of the beasts is as follows:
- Qīnglóng or Seiryū, the Azure/Blue/Green Dragon, guardian of the East and given the element of wood
- Zhū Què or Suzaku, the Vermillion Sparrow, guardian of the South and given the element of fire
- Xuánwǔ or Genbu, the Black Tortoise, guardian of the North and given the element of water
- Bái Hǔ or Byakko, the White Tiger, guardian of the West and given the element of metal
Additionally, the four are ruled by Huánglóng or Ōryū, the Yellow Dragon of the center and given the element of earth. Due to the redundancy of two dragons, he sometimes replaces Qīnglóng in popular fiction representations.
Some incarnations replace Bái Hǔ with the Qílín or Kirin, although it lacks the elemental and color association its contemporaries have.