Abstract This paper focuses on the problem of direct adaptive fuzzy control for nonlinear strict-feedback systems with time-varying delays. Based on the Razumikhin function approach, a novel adaptive fuzzy controller is designed. The proposed controller guarantees that the system output converges to a small neighborhood of the reference signal and all the signals in the closed-loop system remain bounded. Different from the existing adaptive fuzzy control methodology, the fuzzy logic systems are used to model the desired but unknown control signals rather than the unknown nonlinear functions in the systems. As a result, the proposed adaptive controller has a simpler form and requires fewer adaptation parameters.