When you look into the Japanese adaptations of manga, anime and video games, it may completely surprise you how many of them there are. Often times we only hear about the bad ones, but in truth, there have been some great adaptations of anime, manga and video games coming out of Japan. So let’s do a breakdown of some of the biggest ones and whether they’re worth watching.
This list is meant to show you that there’s no reason to assume the worst about your favorite manga being adapted to live-action in Japan- just like in the US, there’s good and bad adaptations.
What are your favorite live action adaptations? Did any of them not make this list? Talk about them in the comments!
The Lady Snowblood Movie
Lady Snowblood is a 1973 thriller based on a manga called “Shuriyuki-hime” (a pun on “(princess) Snow White”, translating to “carnage princess” instead) about a woman named Yuki seeking revenge on the men who destroyed her mother’s family and violated her mother. The film was a wildly inventive cult classic that was successful enough to earn sequels and was in incredibly influential in American action cinema- it heavily inspired Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, to the point where several shots were copied from the movie and the end credits theme to the first movie is actually the theme from Lady Snowblood.
Is it worth watching? Yes- especially if you’re a devotee to action cinema and into Tarantino’s stuff. This film is an essential part of action movie history.Advertisement
The Lone Wolf and Cub Movies
The Lone Wolf and Cub movies, starting with the 1972 film Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance, were adapted the manga of the same name and there was even a TV series to boot. The series followed a disgraced man working as an assassin, who had to haul his three-year-old-son to work with him. Considering the sheer amount of films in the series, it’s safe to say they were pretty successful. They’re still well-regarded to this day for their slick cinematography and stylized violence.
We all know Tarantino loves Japanese cinema, because this was another inspiration for the Kill Bill Movies- to the point where we actually see his characters watching the dubbed compilation of some of the Lone Wolf and Cub movies, Shogun Assassin, in the films themselves.
Is it worth watching? Once again, if you’re an action cinema devotee, this is definitely an important part of action movie history beloved to this day.
The Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon TV Show
This 2003 live-action television series based on the classic magical girl manga has low-budget effects and hokey fight scenes, but more than makes up for that with its stellar characterization and cool take on the old story. The live-action series explores the backstory of the main characters and develops the relationships between the girls in ways the original manga and anime didn’t and also pulls off some exciting plot twists that give a whole new look at the story. It’s well-cast for the most part and shows a lot of love for the source material.
Is it worth watching? Though there’s some cheesiness that takes some getting used to, I’d say this show is a must for any Sailor Moon fan, magical girl fan or fan of interesting superhero stories. It really adds a lot to the Sailor Moon franchise.
The Mushishi Movie
The common consensus about the 2006 film based on Mushishi, the manga and anime about a traveler named Ginko who solves problems involving supernatural beings called “mushi”, is it probably would have worked better as a miniseries. Many have praised the film for its nice visuals and atmosphere and the acting of the lead, but also pointed out the plot ends up convoluted and dull feeling.
Is it worth watching? Probably not, though the movie has its strengths, the anime or manga is definitely considered a much less confusing and dull ride.Advertisement
Cutie Honey the Live and the Cutie Honey Movie
The famously raunchy magical girl manga has been adapted both into a 2007 live-action tv series called Cutie Honey the Live and a 2004 film. Both of them are firmly campy and kitschy, just like the source material. They tone down the fanservice compared to the original material out of necessity, but “tone down” still means there’s a hell of a lot of it and it’s even more uncomfortably sleazy with real people if you’re not into that sort of thing.
Both live versions are often criticized for being “tamer” than the original anime and manga, but you honestly couldn’t expect otherwise- if it had tried to seriously have naked women running around, the rating would be sky-high.
The live action film was actually so influential that is got an anime retelling by Studio Gainax in the form of Re: Cutie Honey. That version definitely ups the weird raunchiness and also adds in additional character development.
Is it worth watching? If you don’t mind low-budget camp and like the source material, it’s definitely worth a look.
The Dororo Movie
The 2007 movie makes a lot of changes to the original manga by Osamu Tezuka, most notably making the title character a woman. The story about a samurai who searching for 48 demons who stole 48 of his body parts translates to a fun flick, even if it can’t quite capture the sprawling original story. It's often campy and ridiculous, though it's hard to tell if that was intentional or not. It does at least have a more satisfying conclusion than the original manga, despite ending on a "to be continued" note and the leads have nice chemistry. (There are apparently sequels that get pretty bizarre, but I haven't seen them). Overall, it it holds together as a fine popcorn movie.
Is it worth watching? Don’t expect anything too deep, but the movie is a decent time if you're okay with silliness and B-Movie type bits.
The Death Note Movies
The first movie based on the manga about a boy who finds a notebook that gives him the power to kill anyone whose name he writers in it came out in 2008. Death Note movies fall pretty squarely into “middling” as far as live action adaptations go. My reaction to seeing the first movie was a solid “eh” and I never felt particularly motivated to see the second one, though that one is reportedly better. It wasn’t a bad movie but it wasn’t particularly good either. The acting was okay, the cgi-ification of the floating monsters looked kind of silly and the plot changes and structure of the movie were pretty mediocre.
“Middling” describes the reaction of reviewers overall to the series- some love it, some hate it. There was no doubt it was pretty successful, earning a bunch a sequels. A fourth movie is on its way.
Is it worth watching? If you like Death Note, it’s probably worth checking out just to see how you like it.
The 20th Century Boys movies
This film trilogy started with the 2008 film 20th Century Boys: The Beginning of the End. It adapted the story of a guy named Kenji and his friends, who have the stop a cult-leader named “Friend” and deal with the outbreak of a deadly virus. The trilogy received mixed critical reception, with some saying the cast and story are too convoluted-but they were undeniably a huge success, with most of the movies being number one at the Japanese box office. The way the series emulates the manga and looks very close to it is often praised and the original mangaka contributed to the script.
Is it worth watching? It may be confusing for newcomers, but is probably worth at least a look for fans of the source material.
The Ouran High School Host Club TV Series and Movie
The popular manga Ouran High SchoolHost Club about a crossdressing girl working for a club that entertains girls, got an 11-episode live action series and movie follow-up in in 2012. The live action did a great job capturing the humor and ridiculousness of the manga, even including anime-esque silly sound effects. While there were some missed opportunities, it overall really captured the spirit of the series.
Is it worth watching? It’s a lot of fun and stays true to the spirit of the story, so I’d recommend it.
The Rurouni Kenshin Movie
This 2012 adaptation of the manga about a wandering former-samurai has been successful enough to earn some follow-up films. The films have received positive reviews overall and many have pointed to them as an example of a successful transition of manga to the big screen. The acting, fight scenes and recreation of the manga’s setting are all widely praised. While of course some parts of the original story are left unexplored, it’s overall very true to spirit of the original work.
Is it worth watching? Yes, it’s a solid adaptation and good movie.
The Ace Attorney Movie
The 2012 Ace Attorney movie is a solid adaptation of the first game in the franchise. The director, Takashi Miike, did not tone down the ridiculous courtroom antics of the game at all and it’s both amazing and hilarious to see these characters bought to life on the big screen in all their spikey-haired glory. While some parts are a little weak (like the characterization of Mayoi/Maya, who is a lot more fun in the game), it’s an overall faithful adaptation.
Is it worth watching? This is a fun movie to watch, especially if you like the games to begin with.
The Silver Spoon Movie
This adaptation of Hiromu Arakawa’s manga about a boy at a farming school falls short. It fails to capture the character driven story of the original and actually throws out the character arc of the lead altogether. The story is hollow as a result.
Is it worth watching? Nope, it’s better to read the manga or watch the anime.
The Princess Jellyfish Movie
The 2014 film is based on a manga about a group of nerd girls in danger of losing their apartment and the interference of their crossdressing male friend. The characters of the manga are amazingly bought to life on the big screen, and the humor and warmth of the original series shines through here too. It manages to cover most of the events the anime covered coherently, as well.
Is it worth watching? It definitely is. You can mark this one as an example of a good manga-to-movie adaptation.
The Attack on Titan Movies
The 2015 two-part Attack on Titan movie, based on the manga about a world where humanity is being decimated by man-eating giants, was a success commercially at first (though the second part underperformed) but received pretty poor reception critically. It was called melodramatic and badly acted, not to mention fairly all over the place and disconnected with the source material. Critic Toru Sano called out the second film for bad structure and pacing. The characters were also drastically changed in ways that weakened them. For many reviewers, the standout elements of the film were the Titans.
The filmmakers themselves were so upset by this criticism they even fired back. But in the end for many, Attack on Titan was Titan-sized flop.
Is it worth watching? I wouldn’t bother.