Anime is constantly being adapted into live action for the big and small screens, and here's some you might not know of!
Anime is no stranger to the formula of live-action adaptations. Filmmakers and showrunners in both Hollywood and Japan have been bringing classic and popular anime stories to life for years. Whether you love them or hate them, they’ve been around for longer than you might think, and will continue to make their way to the big and small screens.
But outside of the recent hit Detective Pikachu movie, a Ghost in the Shell adaptation that received tepid critical and fan response, and the upcoming continuation of the Rurouni Kenshin films, there are plenty of adaptations of anime that you might not know about. These include plenty of Japan-only TV series, movie franchises, and even some dramas that you can view on Crunchyroll right now! Without further ado, here's a list of live-action anime adaptations that you may be surprised actually exist!
Mob Psycho 100 (2018 Netflix series)
The wildly-popular psychic action anime has a 12-episode series on Netflix. It tells the same story of Shigeo “Mob” Kageyama, a young boy trying to live a normal life and learning to understand his emotions while keeping his immense psychic powers at bay.
Though the show takes a few narrative liberties with some characters, including involving Ritsu in Mob’s fights with Dimple and Teru, the drama remains largely faithful to the entire first season of the anime. It even features some flashy effects-driven fights that benefited from impressive stunt coordination rather than traditional animation.
One of the more notable aspects of this adaptation is its cast, which is comprised largely of alumni actors in tokusatsu franchises such as Kamen Rider, Super Sentai, and Ultraman. The eponymous Mob is played by Tatsuomi Hamada, who played the titular main protagonist in 2017’s Ultraman Geed, which you can watch on Crunchyroll now! His self-proclaimed master and conman Reigen Arataka is played by Kazuki Namioka, who portrayed a villain in Kamen Rider Gaim in 2013. Kasumi Yamaya, who played president of the school Telepathy Club Tome Kurata, had a major role as Kasumi Momochi/MomoNinger, the pink ranger in 2015’s Shuriken Sentai Ninninger. Anyone who dabbles in tokusatsu may want to take a second look at most anyone else in the cast, because chances are you’ve seen them using fancy toys to transform into superheroes before!
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable (2017 film)
Right as part 4 of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure was airing, Warner Bros. and Toho announced a live-action adaptation of Josuke Higashikata’s adventures. The first movie was released in August in Japan and was planned to kick off a series of films that would adapt the whole story. The film told a largely abridged version of the original story, either splicing together various plot points or removing them altogether for the sake of brevity. These included placing Koichi’s Stand awakening during one of the original arc’s earliest fights with Keicho Nijimura, and Sheer Heart Attack replacing Red Hot Chili Pepper’s debut. The film was highly anticipated, but mixed reception left the future of the series in question.
The film stars award-winning Japanese actor Kento Yamazaki as Josuke, who coincidentally stars in several live-action adaptations. But more on him later. The true hero of the film might be Yusuke Iseya, who portrayed Jotaro Kujo in the film. A short-lived meme that emerged during the film's promotion revolved around just how Iseya achieved Jotaro’s signature hat-hair blend. The meme, which showed actor Asano Tadenobu with a large shaven bald spot in the middle of his head, suggested that Iseya might have had to do the same for his own hair in order for the hat to form around it. If true, that would make him one dedicated actor!
You might have heard of the series of live-action movies in Japan from 2006 that adapted the Death Note story. Perhaps you also caught wind the Netflix adaptation, a movie that sparked casting controversy and received some negative critical response. But did you also know about the 11-episode drama in 2015 that you can stream on Crunchyroll right now! This show tells a shortened version of Light Yagami’s story, but still adheres to his goal of using a magic death-dealing notebook to save the world.
In trying to condense a 37-episode story into 11 hour-long segments, the drama trimmed the narrative and made several interesting changes. This included introducing Near as a detective and L’s protege in the very first episode, making Mello into Near’s violent alternate personality, and a drastically different ending for L. A few changes were made with other pre-existing characters as well, such as making Misa Amane a pop idol instead of a model.
Already a noteworthy actor in his own right, the aforementioned Kento Yamazaki received praise for his role as fan favorite L. In 2016, Kento Yamazaki won the 39th Japan Academy Prize for Newcomer of the Year for his role in Orange, a film adaptation of a slice-of-life romance manga. Shortly after his work on Death Note, he coincidentally found roles in other live-action adaptations. Aside from JoJo's Bizarre Adventure and Death Note, these include a lead role in Saiki K., a starring role in a 2020 adaptation in Wotakoi, and a certain piano-playing high school student who we’ll talk about in just a bit.
His co-star and lead actor Masataka Kubota, who played Light Yagami, has also seen work in live-action versions of Rurouni Kenshin, Tokyo Ghoul, and Gintama to name a few. He also won Best Actor in the 86th The Television Drama Academy Awards for his role as Light.
Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon (2003 series)
As a worldwide cultural phenomenon, Sailor Moon has seen three movies, an anime remake in Sailor Moon Crystal, re-releases, stage musicals, and yes, a tokusatsu series in 2003. While it remains faithful to the overall plot of Usagi Tsukino and her friends transforming into Sailor Soldiers to fight evil, this 49+ episode show featured several plot points that are distinct from both the manga and the original anime, becoming its own unique story in the long run.
While originally, Minako Aino is a regular girl who dreams of fame, the live-action Minako balances an idol life, a school life, and being a Sailor Soldier. As Sailor Venus and a veteran Soldier, she’s notably harsher on her fellow Soldiers as she tries to make them understand their duties. Sailor Moon also has an exclusive super form called “Princess Sailor Moon,” a powerful yet dangerous form that combines Usagi and her past self.
The show also introduced two completely new characters in the form of Dark Mercury and Sailor Luna. A short arc in the show saw Ami Mizuno being brainwashed by the Dark Kingdom and turning against her friends. This caused her to take on a new, more evil Sailor Soldier form. Sailor Luna, on the other hand, came about after Luna gained the ability to become a young human girl (albeit with her feline nature still intact). Designed by Naoko Takeuchi herself, Luna replaces Chibusa/Sailor Chibi Moon in the story, as she starts living with Usagi as a human and transforms into a childish Sailor Soldier. Her design takes cues from both Sailor Chibi Moon and Luna's original human form as depicted in the manga and the Sailor Moon S film.
An amusing footnote of the series was Luna and Artemis often being portrayed with cute plushies during various scenes!
Your Lie in April (2016 film)
Kento Yamazaki continued his trend of working on live-action adaptations by portraying Kosei Arima in an adaptation of everyone’s favorite tear-inducing piano drama. This rendition came hot off the heels of the successful anime that ended in March of 2015.
Tonari no Seki-kun (2015 mini-series)
A hilarious short form anime in its own right, Tonari no Seki-kun saw an eight-episode mini-series. It stayed true to its original story of a schoolgirl sitting next to a classmate who does all manner of ridiculous activities on his desk except pay attention in class. The series stars the actress formerly known as Fumika Shimizu, who previously appeared in 2011's Kamen Rider Fourze and in the first Tokyo Ghoul live action film.
The short segments aired alongside another comedy called Rumi-chan no Jishou. Coincidentally enough, both shows starred girls named “Rumi” as main protagonists.
Ouran High School Host Club (2011 drama)
The popular romantic comedy about an androgynous young girl who gets caught up with the handsome and flamboyant boys who run her school’s host club was adapted into a live action series in 2011. The adaptation's popularity earned it a feature length movie in 2012 that took place after its broadcast, as well as a spin-off miniseries.
This 11-episode drama adapts a number of the anime episodes faithfully, with each character remaining true to the source material. But the show actually goes a step further to include plotlines from the original manga. Characters like Ayame Jounouchi are featured more prominently than they were in the anime, and the show’s final episode more closely adheres to the manga than the anime did. The 2012 film also uses a manga-only arc as its plot, while also taking creative liberties with its characters. If you wanted to check out the show for yourself, you'd be in for a fresh Ouran experience!
Much like the live-action Mob Psycho 100, this adaptation also included a considerable number of Kamen Rider and Super Sentai alumni actors in its main cast, as well as one who would move on to Sentai. Tamaki Suou was portrayed by Yusuke Yamamoto, who was previously known for his role in 2006’s Kamen Rider Kabuto as Tsurugi Kamishiro/Kamen Rider Sasword. Yamamoto also had a role in a 2012 live-action version of Great Teacher Onizuka.
The Hitachiin siblings were played by twin brothers Shinpei and Manpei Takagi, the latter of whom played Retsu Fukami/GekiBlue in 2007’s Juken Sentai Gekiranger. Shinpei Takagi had brief roles in Super Sentai history as well! The bunny-hugging Mitsukuni “Honey” Haninozuka and the gothic, photophobic Umehito Nekozawa were played by Yudai Chiba and Ryo Ryusei respectively, each of whom portrayed red Sentai rangers in their careers.
Future Diary: Another World (2012 drama series)
This version of the violent survival game anime is a vastly different take on the source material. While it borrows a few details from the original story, there are notable alterations throughout. Seven people (as opposed to 12) are given cellphones that predict the future and are thrust into a dangerous game where the last person standing can create a new future.
The protagonists of the original series have counterparts in the live-action characters, but with different names and personalities. A major example includes Yuno Furusaki, the counterpart to yandere mascot Yuno Gasai. Furusaki retains her stalker-like affection for protagonist Arata Hoshino and immediately resolves to defeat anyone who would do him harm, but she does not initially display any of the hyper-violent tendencies that her anime portrayal is infamous for. As its own original narrative, it's certainly worth checking out to see how unique it is from its predecessor.
Gegege no Kitaro (2007-2008 film series)
Gegege no Kitaro has seen several anime revivals and films over more than 50 years, including its most recent weekly-airing adaptation. It should come as no surprise that two live-action films came about in 2007 and 2008 (not to mention a live action drama in 1985). Portrayed as a young man rather than a boy as he is traditionally shown, Kitaro works with his yokai friends to defend the human world from evil yokai that would do them harm. Using this “monster-of-the-week” format, the live action movies were able to tell noticeably original stories, albeit borrowing from some of the franchise’s classic arcs. The first film reportedly earned more than 23.4 billion yen throughout its theatrical run.
Kitaro was portayed by Eiji Wentz, an American Japanese singer who also performed the theme song for the first film. Kitaro's father, Daddy Eyeball, was voiced by Isamu Tanonaka, who had voiced the character since 1968. He is known for voicing the character in almost every Gegege no Kitaro adaptation throughout his lifetime!
Black Butler (2014 film)
The demonic butler, Sebastian Michaelis, made a silver screen debut in 2014 with a live-action cast. He was portrayed Hiro Mizushima, who also co-wrote and co-produced the film. He is best known for his starring role in 2006’s Kamen Rider Kabuto. He also starred in the live action adaptations of Gokusen and Beck.
The overall plot remains the same, wherein a young child’s soul is bound to a demon in exchange for its eternal servitude, but it diverges from the source material in multiple respects. The film is set in a modern nation in the year 2020, a far cry from the anime’s original setting in Victorian-era London. Main protagonist Ciel Phantomhive became Shiori Genpou, a female descendant of the Phantomhives who disguises herself as a male descendant to retain her stake in the Phantomhive legacy. Characters like Angelina Dalles and Mey-Rin see Japanese name changes in their live-action counterparts. The film debuted at number 3 in the Japanese box office during its weekend premiere.
Live action adaptations are something of an institution in the anime world. The adaptations listed here are far from the only ones out there, and they'll likely be around for years to come. With adaptations of Cowboy Bebop and Your Name on the horizon, it'll be interesting to see how they'll stack up to the original works!
Have you checked out any of the live action anime adaptations listed here? What anime would you want to see receive the live-action treatment? Let us know in the comments!
Carlos is a freelance features writer for Crunchyroll. Their favorite genres range from magical girls to over-the-top robot action, yet their favorite characters are always the obscure ones. Check out some of their satirical work on The Hard Times.
Do you love writing? Do you love anime? If you have an idea for a features story, pitch it to Crunchyroll Features