Superheroes: there’s just something about them that seems to appeal on a global scale. You’re unlikely to find someone who doesn’t know who Batman is in any country. Japan has many of their own iconic superheroes, from Sailor Moon to Kamen Rider, but American superheroes have done well in the country too. Sometimes American superheroes get adaptations with that give them a unique anime-ish and manga-ish spin. We’re talking a Spider-Man live-action show with giant robots and a Bat-manga where Batman battles Lord Death Man! So strap in for some of the most unique, and sometimes the most wacky, adaptations of superheroes Japan has to offer!
Jiro Kuwata's Bat-Manga
Jiro Kuwata’s Bat-Manga was written in the 1960’s. Thanks to the Adam West show, Batman was big in Japan at the time. However, the Batman in Kuwata’s manga is not really like the Adam West version. He kills a man, for one thing, though he’s no wanton murderer. The Bat-manga also features Batman going up against a ton of original villains. They include Lord Death-Man, who appears to die and come back to life and a mutant governor dubbed Karmak. These stories also focus a lot on weird science, which scientists developing devices that control the weather and so on in a way that inevitable leads to chaos (though the scientists aren’t really ever depicted as bad guys).
The Bat-Manga is definitely a very inventive romp- Comics Alliance calls it “. A strange combination of classic Batman comics, the 1960s Batman TV-show, Marvel-Age science-based storytelling, mysticism, cartoon physics, Tokusatsu, and of all things, Scooby-Doo”. The entire run of the manga has been released through Comixology as The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga.
It’s been released in a book called Bat-Manga! The Secret History of Batman in Japan. The Batman
: The Brave and the Bold cartoon also paid tribute to manga in a segment of the episode “Bat-Mite Presents: Batman’s Strangest Cases”! You can see a short clip of it here:Advertisement
The Spider-Man Manga
1970 bought us a manga recreation of Spider-Man. It was very similar to the Spider-Man we know, except set in Japan- Yu Komori was bitten by a radioactive spider like Peter Parker and lived with his Aunt Mei. Kosei Ono’s stories were faithful to the original comics, if slightly more melancholy. Spider-Man faced off against classic villains like Electro. However, halfway through the series, Kazumasa Hirai took over and created a series that was much more gruesome and sexual than the American counterpart. We see the main character having masturbatory fantasies and killing his enemies and so on.
The Spider-Man manga was reprinted as Spider-Man: The Manga by Marvel in the 90’s, though some scenes were edited for violence (which is hilarious considering the state of modern comics).
Kazue Koike's Hulk Manga
In 1970, there was also a manga about The Hulk. One of its writers was Kazuo Koike, best known for Lone Wolf and Cub, a very popular manga considered by many to be a masterpiece. Unfortunately, the series has never been republished or translated into English, so not much is known about it. The only info I can find is someone complaining about the Hulk crying . Shhh, no one tell him that’s happened in the main comics.
The Toei Spider-Man TV Series
Tokusatsu refers to any Japanese live-action television that features a lot of special effects, but it’s mostly commonly short hand for live action shows featuring colorful, transforming superheroes, often with giant robots and rubber-suit monsters. Think Power Rangers. And Toei’s 1978 live-action Spider-Man TV show was tokusastsu to a T. Though the show WAS about Spider-Man in the classic costume and everything, he was very different from the Spider-Man we know! For one thing, he piloted a giant robot called Leopardon. For another thing, he introduced himself as an emissary from hell.
That’s pretty amazing.
Really, the name. the costume and some of the main character’s powers was the show’s only relation to the source material. The show focus on a motorcycle racer named Takuya Yamashiro going up against an alien group that wants to dominate the world- Professor Monster and the Iron Cross Army. Takuya is injected with blood from the last surviving member of Planet Spider, who were wiped out by the Iron Cross Army, and gains spider powers as a result (as well as the ability to pilot the guy’s warship, which transforms into the aforementioned flying monster). And instead of it being Uncle Ben who was murdered, it was Takuya’s space archeologist dad.
This show is wacky in a lot of ways, especially if you’re used to the original Spider-man, and there’s a lot of campy fun to be had. Marvel has the series on their website and Comics Alliance did a breakdown-and-review series for the first nine episodes, starting here. There are 41 episodes of the series in all.
The Iron Man Anime
In 2010, Marvel Entertainment partnered with the Japanese animation studio Madhouse to create four twelve-episode series based on Marvel propertied. It should be noted that while the series were produced by Japan, Warren Ellis was the one who oversaw the writing. In fact, he was the one who wrote the first anime in the line, Iron Man.
The series has Tony creating a new prototype armor, “Iron Man Dio”, which can be used by someone else to replace him in his hero duties when he retires. He goes to Japan and showcases the armor, only for the armor to go out of control, brainwashing the person inside it. A villain named Scorpio is controlling the armor on behalf of the evil Zodiac order. Iron Man Dio is taken by them and now it’s up to Tony to stop their plans.
Reviewers seem to agree the story is fairly standard, but some found it enjoyable. It might be work a look as a mindless adventure.
The Wolverine Anime
The next in the Marvel Anime series was Wolverine, which premiered in 2011. The connection between Wolverine and Japan is pretty natural because he’s actually spent a lot of time in Japan and has dated a TON of Japanese women (who tend to suffer and/or die horribly …maybe he should be banned from Japan before his curse decimates the female population there). One of those love interests is Mariko Yashido. In the anime she has-surprise- been kidnapped and is being forced into a marriage by her criminal father. It’s up to Wolverine to save her!
The most noticeable thing about this series right off the bat is how it’s Wolverine is 100 percent typical anime pretty-boy in design, a far cry from the short and hairy gremlin he debuted as in the comics. However, I’d like to point out something a lot of moaning reviewers of this series seem to miss- pretty boy-fied Wolverine is not something unique to this anime version. Hugh Jackman’s tall and classically-attractive Wolverine is really what started this trend. Ever since his debut, we’ve seen quite a few pretty versions of Wolverine from various artists in the comics proper. He’s usually slightly more muscular than this, but it isn’t a HUGE leap.
This is another series that got lukewarm reviews with many calling it cliché.
The X-Men Anime
Did you think Marvel was content having only ONE anime with Wolverine in it? Nope! 2011 also bought us the X-Men anime.
The X-Men team in the anime consists Professor X, Cyclops, Wolverine, Storm, Armor and Beast. The premise of the series is that Xavier’s school has been shut down following the death of Jean Grey, but when a young mutant named Hisako Ichiki (Armor) goes missing, the team travels to Japan in order to find her. There they discover a villainous team called the U-Men is kidnapping mutants to harvest their organs.
The general consensus on X-Men among reviewers seems to be that it’s one of the better ones in the Marvel anime line, but still forgettable. The premise is thin, but the series can be mindlessly enjoyable. If you want to see an anime version of these characters, it might be worth a look, but don’t go in with high expectations, basically.
The Blade Anime
The last in the anime line was the story of Blade, the vampire hunter. It’s another 2011 production. The show has Blade, who was borne of a woman attacked by a vampire and has both human and vampire blood as a result. He’s in Japan hunting down the vampire who killed his mother. He runs into a villainous vampire organization called Existence.
Blade has pretty favorable reviews compared to the other Marvel anime- nothing gushing, but the action sequences espciallly are praised. It might be worth a look, especially if you’re a Blade fan.
All the Marvel Anime are available of DVD.
Powerpuff Girls Z
Produced in 2006, Powerpuff Girls Z is a 52-episode anime based on Cartoon Network’s Powerpuff Girls. The show considerably deviates from the source material, making the Powerpuff Girls oridinary girls who can transform into magical girls thanks to Chemical Z rather than sisters born with superpowers thanks to Chemical X. As you cans see above, the animation style is very different as well.
Many fans of the show were unhappy with the numerous changes, but it’s earned itself a few fans. If you’re a big fan of magical girl anime to begin with, it might be worth a look on that front.
Stan Lee's Heroman
This one isn’t technically an “adaptation” of American superheroes, but rather an original 2010 collaboration between Stan Lee and Japan’s Studio Bones to create an original superhero anime (Lee did the outlines for the scripts and even wrote the manga version). You can especially tell because Stan Lee makes regular cameos. The series follows a boy in a West Coast American city, who can control a SUPER AMERICAN LOOKING giant robot named Heroman. The plot is a really predictable comic story that you’ve seen from Stan Lee many times- we’ve got our orphaned luckless hero living with a grandmother-figure, the Flash-Thompson type bully, the scientist guy- it’s all there.
It is very amusing to see standard Stan Lee storytelling mixed with anime mecha elements though, and Studio Bones animation is very solid as always, so both anime and comic fans might find something to like. You can see the series on Crunchyroll.
The Witchblade Anime
Witchblade is a comic book series that was launched in 1995 by Top Cow. It stars a detective named Sara Pezzini who gets a bracelet that turns into a sentient weapon/armor- and of course this armor exposes as much of her flesh as possible, being essentially a bikini at BEST (she gained more coverage in later years). The 2006 anime adaptation follows in the series ridiculously fanservice-y footsteps, though it deviates from the original in several ways. Rather than Sarah Pezzini, the series focuses on an amnesiac woman named Masane Amaha, who accepts the Witchblade and task to hunt down superbeings to keep her child from being taken away by the government.
The Witchblade anime is available on Funimation’s website and Hulu.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Legend of the Super Mutant
Also known as Mutant Turtles: Superman Legend, this 1996 Original Video Animation was created to promote the Japanese-only Ninja Turtles toyline. It’s a decidedly Power Rangers-esque take on the characters, as the turtles can transform in “Super Turtles” for three minutues at a time and all four of them can even combine for their “ultimate form”- Turtle Saint. Pretty amusing.