Counterpicking still exists, though I have no idea how bad it is in MK these days, but it can still be done. Only a few are nightmares though(from what I understand, Guile vs Bipson, Sagat vs Gief, Sethko vs anyone, Online Blanka vs Anyone, offline Blanka vs Grapplers)
Ryu: One of the most solid characters to pick up, he is one of my Alts for this(though strictly U2 Ryu, I love punishing mistakes). Watch the crosscounter Air DVD(also on youtube) While lots of stuff won’t be 100% in 2012 anymore, it’s more about understanding the nuances Air talks about. Actually it’s a mustwatch even if you don’t play Ryu imho. Downside is everyone knows Ryu in and out due to proliferation, so you’ll suffer a lot with inexperience here at first.
Evil Ryu: The more fun Ryu to play, I prefer alting ERyu, but only vs better players, Regular Ryu is much better at punishing people with bad online habits and also has more health to make guesses. Better mixup and setups and damage though, worse(but still decent) fireball, compensated by also having shakunetsu hadou.
Akuma: Strongest mixup in the game barring Seth(but that’s only cause seth has an SPD and a very invincible DP.) Vortex options are great at shutting down lots of characters and Super allows him a command grab when bar is full of butter. Low health and effing ton of options will take time to master and make winning at first hard, but eventual payoff is great.
Rufus or Honda?(both strong characters, but opposites in play style)
Gouken: Somewhat shooting yourself in the foot(in any edition that isn’t 2012), but has a lot in common with Akuma. Just not as solid and strong as he is, but rewards with incredible damage and better health.
Gen: Lots of fun, but incredibly technical to master his stance changes.
I recco playing all those characters for a day and figure out who drew you the most. Then stick to him for a long time, becoming as familiar as you can with never switching to anyone else until you got him down(Or are just not feeling it and want to maybe make a big switch). Switching characters all day can be very bad for your advancement, but if it does work for you, who am I to argue