City secured their first league title since 1968 in May and lead the Premier League contingent, with Mario Balotelli, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero all in contention.
Manchester United are represented by Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney. The Englishman - a surprise inclusion - has scored 25 goals in 2012 to Messi's 73, did not win a domestic trophy and failed to make an impact for England at Euro 2012.
Chelsea's achievements last season are recognised with a nomination for Didier Drogba, who now plays for Shanghai Shenhua.
While the Premier League is responsible for six of the names on the shortlist, La Liga leads the way with 12 representatives.
Barcelona forward Lionel Messi won the inaugural FIFA Ballon d'Or award in 2010 and retained the award last year. His remarkable tally for club and country in 2012 so far make him a strong contender to make it a hat-trick, though he won only the Copa del Rey with Barcelona last season.
Team-mate Andres Iniesta, who also inspired Spain to Euro 2012 glory, won UEFA's Best Player in Europe Award in August, beating Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to the prize. Both he and Ronaldo, whose 46 goals helped Real Madrid win La Liga, will be among the favourites again.
However, Messi is currently odds-on favourite. The Argentina star scored a barely credible 50 goals in La Liga last season and already has 17 in 14 in all competitions in the 2012-13 campaign. He won both the Ballon d'Or and FIFA World Player of the Year in 2009 in the final year before the awards merged, meaning he has been officially named the globe's best player for the past three years.
The sole representative from outside Europe, Drogba aside, is Santos striker Neymar, who has scored 38 goals in 43 games in 2012 for the Brazilian side, many of them spectacular.
Ten managers have also been shortlisted for the FIFA World Coach of the Year award.
Vicente del Bosque's success in extending Spain's dominance to a record third consecutive victory at an international tournament makes him a leading contender, though Germany's Joachim Loew and Italy's Cesare Prandelli also make the cut.
Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini is recognised for winning the league title and Roberto Di Matteo unsurprisingly is in contention after winning the FA Cup and Champions League with Chelsea last season.
Jose Mourinho won the award in 2010 and was succeeded by Pep Guardiola in 2011. Both coaches are on the shortlist once again.
The 23-man shortlist for the Ballon d'Or award
Sergio Aguero (Manchester City and Argentina); Mario Balotelli (Manchester City and Italy); Karim Benzema (Real Madrid and France); Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus and Italy); Sergio Busquets (Barcelona and Spain); Iker Casillas (Real Madrid and Spain); Didier Drogba (Chelsea/Shanghai Shenhua and Ivory Coast); Radamel Falcao (Atletico Madrid and Colombia); Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Paris Saint-Germain/Milan and Sweden); Andres Iniesta (Barcelona and Spain); Lionel Messi (Barcelona and Argentina); Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich and Germany); Neymar (Santos and Brazil); Mesut Ozil (Real Madrid and Germany); Gerard Pique (Barcelona and Spain); Andrea Pirlo (Juventus and Italy); Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid and Spain); Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid and Portugal); Wayne Rooney (Manchester United and England); Yaya Toure (Manchester City and Ivory Coast); Robin van Persie (Manchester United/Arsenal and Netherlands); Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid and Spain); Xavi (Barcelona and Spain)
The 10-man shortlist for the FIFA World Coach of the Year award
Vicente del Bosque (Spain); Roberto Di Matteo (Chelsea); Sir Alex Ferguson (Manchester United); Pep Guardiola (Barcelona, now unemployed); Jupp Heynckes (Bayern Munich); Juergen Klopp (Borussia Dortmund); Joachim Loew (Germany); Roberto Mancini (Manchester City); Jose Mourinho (Real Madrid); Cesare Prandelli (Italy)