Superhero Otaku – enthusiasts of Japanese superheroes could argue for hours about which Japanese superhero is the greatest.
So, though it’s not possible to decide who the best is, the following 13 Japanese superheroes have all had a massive impact on Japanese culture.
Let’s take a look.
Table of Contents
Unlike the Western Superman, there isn’t just one Ultraman.
Rather, there are hundreds of them, and they’re known collectively as Ultra Crusaders.
These superheroes are super-humanoid space giants that run on solar power, and their purpose is to defend the world from aliens and monsters.
Ultra Crusaders possess many superpowers but there is a catch: they’re only able to stay earth-side for up to five minutes after which point their power is gone and then need to recharge in space.
Since the middle of the 1960s, there have been more than twenty Ultraman shows on TV and a similar number of movies.
The series is often referred to as the Ultra Series and is made by Tsuburaya Productions.
This series is one of the most prominent in the giant monster or daikaiju genre alongside Godzilla.
The main character in the TV series Ultraman, Ultraman’s real name is Shin Hayata.Booking.com
The story of his origin is one whereby an alien of giant proportions accidentally causes a human’s death and decides to rectify this mistake.
By bonding and sharing his life with his human counterpart, Shin Hayata transforms into Ultraman.
All superheroes have superpowers and Ultraman is no different. With powers of energy projection, super vision, teleportation, growth and strength, Ultraman is also skilled in Martial Arts.
In Battle – Ultraman’s chest glows with light signaling his power levels. When his energy levels drop, Ultraman’s light goes from blue to blinking red.
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2. Kamen Rider
The eponymous Kamen Rider is a superhuman that is a grasshopper-like motorcycle rider.
The character has appeared in many TV programs, movies, and manga as a one-man war to fight off some sort of malevolent terrorist organization set to dominate the world.
Kamen Rider is based on the word by Shotaro Ishinomori, a Japanese manga artist.
Rider’s powers originate from the very same technology as those malevolent forces, which forms a kind of moral vow for Rider to use the powers for good against evil.
The original Rider was created by a terrorist organization and was named “Shocker” and was a kind of super-soldier.
However, one such potential soldier called Takeshi Hongo escaped from the organization and has been fighting against Shocker ever since, recruiting others in his quest.
Kamen Rider is not a singular entity but rather a group of individuals within the series.
As improved ‘humans’ their superpowers include super strength, agility, and resilience, and they are adapted to enable them to fight a whole army.
The media franchise began in the early1970s with the TV show.
The plot follows Takeshi Hongo, who was a biochemistry student set to defeat the Shocker organization that created him, and many other super-soldiers like him.
There were many TV series and film sequels in the franchise and there were adaptations in Taiwan and the United States.
In terms of merchandising, there have been more than 14 million Kamen Rider belts sold in the last two decades.
3. Power Rangers aka Super Sentai
These superheroes made it across to the West in the form of the Power Rangers.
There have been dozens of movies, TV programs, and characters over the years.
The Japanese word sentai means ‘fighting squadron’ or ‘task force’ and the Super Sentai media franchise centers on live-action characters with special effects.
In this anime series, the protagonists form a team who each wear devices on their wrists that give them superpowers and transform them into superheroes.
With color-coded uniforms, fighting abilities, and signature weapons, the team battles against a group of supervillains who wish to take control of Earth.
A typical episode sees the Super Sentai thwart their adversaries’ plans and defeat them in battle.
Aimed at young families, the series belongs to the tokusatsu genre, which means there are bright special effects combined with a range of action characters.
Super Sentai was the source material for Power Rangers in North America.
The first series aired on April 5th, 1975 and included 84 episodes. In this series, the red, yellow, blue, pink, and green rangers debuted.
It wasn’t until February 1992 that the fifteenth series was made into the American adaptation of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
In this series, there was the first dinosaur-themed Ranger.
4. Sailor Moon
These superheroes are an all-female group of teens who transform into moon and planet-themed superheroes.
The series was originally released with the title Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon, then later as Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon.
It is based on the manga by the female manga artist Naoko Takeuchi, which was published during the 1990s.
The first airing of Sailor Moon was on 7th March 1992 on TV Asahi. It ran until 1997.
As well as the TV show, there have been three films and thirty-nine video games.
The titular protagonist, called Usagi Tsukino in real life, is a 14-year-old student at middle school who becomes part of the Sailor Soldiers that defend plant Earth from a range of villains.
The series draws parallels between a middle-school girl maturing into a young adult.
She first appears as Usagi Tsukino and converses with Luna, a talking cat, soon learning that she has been chosen to protect Earth with superpowers.
Nothing more than a typical, clumsy teenage girl with a penchant for the boys, she becomes Sailor Moon.
She is tasked with finding the reincarnation of a princess named Princess Serenity, not realizing that she, herself, is the princess.
Clumsy and awkward, Sailor Moon fights against evil and is helped by a mystery man called Tuxedo Mask.
Eventually, she finds others like herself called the Sailor Senshi who are also reincarnations of other princesses. Sailor Moon learns, in time, of her true identity as well as that of the handsome Tuxedo, a rival at school.
5. Space Sheriffs (Metal Heroes)
These heroes are a part of a TV series that features a range of humans, cyborgs, and androids – all of whom wear metal suits.
Essentially, these Uchu Keiji (Space Sheriffs) enforce justice and peace for the Galaxy Federal Police.
Each Space Sheriff has a specific partner but sometimes only one has access to the combat suit.
Popular in the 1980s, Space Sheriffs was soon exported to Europe where it became popular in France and was renamed X-OR. It also became popular in Brazil as well as other parts of Asia.
The plot of the series is based on an invasion of Earth by a criminal organization called Makuu with their leader Don Horror. Don has already destroyed a colony near Earth.
With his desire for universal domination, Don Horror targets Earth as his next domain.
In Response – Space Sheriff Gavan is sent to Earth from the Galactic Union Police to defend the planet, the place that his mother called home.
He’s helped in his quest by Mimi and settles in disguise on Earth as Retsu Ichijouji, finding work at a Youth Club. Gavan is an athletic type with a wide variety of weapons to hand.
The original Space Sheriffs were:
- and Shaider
Don Horror is the leader of Makuu – a criminal organization that wants to dominate the universe.
It’s up to the space sheriffs to defend it.
The series first aired in 1982 and was responsible for launching the Metal Hero franchise.
There have been four movies based on the series and its characters.
6. Astro Boy
Astro Boy was firstly a manga that went on sale in the 1950s.
The story tells how Astro Boy is created by a scientist, Dr Tenma, who is struggling to cope with the loss of his son so tries to resurrect him in robot form.
Disappointed that the robot boy is not really his son, he sells him to Hamegg, the owner of a circus where he is later discovered by a professor who convinces the circus owner to give him to him.
From that moment, Astro Boy is treated as one of the family. The professor soon learns of his abilities and powers and how he can also feel emotions too.
Not long after, Astro puts his powers to good use and helps people and mankind, becoming the world’s best superhero.
The story takes place in the future where humans live alongside robots. The eponymous character is a robot who is able to express emotions.
His task is to defend humans from anyone who seeks to cause them harm, including aliens, other humans, and deranged robots.
The original name for the manga was Mighty Atom. It was illustrated and written by Osamu Tezuka, who earned many titles like ‘the God of manga’ and ‘the father of manga’.
The manga was published between 1952 and 1968. It was then serialized in a newspaper until 1981.
The anime of the same name was launched as a TV series in 1963.
It premiered on January 1st, 1962 and was the first such animated TV series that embodied the ‘anime’ aesthetic that has since become so popular.
At its height, the Astro Boy anime was watched by around 40% of Japanese television owners.
7. Science Ninja Team Gatchaman
This team of superheroes is all young ninjas whose task is to protect the planet and its resources from gigantic robot monsters.
This anime franchise, called Kagaku Ninja Tai Gatchaman in Japanese, is about a team of five ninja superheroes.
It debuted in 1972 and was adapted into English in 1978 as Battle of the Planets. Its main recurring themes are environmentalism, conservation, and using technology responsibly.
Since It Debuted – It has spawned lots of other different productions, including a live-action film in 2013.
8. Mazinger Z
This giant superhero robot is made of Alloy Z – a super metal containing a new element called Japanium that is only found in a reservoir inside Mount Fuji.
Built by a professor named Juzo Kabuto, Mazinger’s role was as a secret weapon to fight evil forces – Dr Hell’s Mechanical Beasts.
Killed in an unscrupulous attack, Professor Kabuto manages to tell his grandson Koji all about Mazinger just in time.
Koji then becomes Mazinger’s pilot, battling against Dr Hell and the mechanical monsters.
Mazinger Z, Majinga Zetto in Japanese, was illustrated and written by Go Nagai.
It began in 1972 and was popular throughout the 70s as a TV show on Fuji TV.
In 2018, there was a theatre release called Mazinger Z: Infinity.
9. Pegas (Tekkaman)
A Tekkaman is a human with super strength who has an indestructible suit and a huge range of tools and weapons.
Tekkaman is the eponymous character of the anime, which was made in 1975.
His real name is Joji Minami but transforms into Tekkaman, a space knight, to protect humanity.
His main enemy is Waldaster, an evil organization responsible for his father’s death.
In terms of appearance, Tekkaman has a muscular build and wears a white suit of armor that has red, yellow, and blue accents.
He is always carrying his Space Lance. When he’s wearing his armor, his physical strength is 10,000 times stronger.
As well as the Space Lance, he has the Tek Win (also called the Space Lariat), the Power Crush, the Voltekka (a beam of powerful light from the emblem on his forehead), and the Spur Cutter.
Pegas is his robot whom he rides for going into battle.
10. Honey Kisaragi
This superhero is a sixteen-year-old who makes the discovery that she is a super-android.
She is the main character in the franchise Cutie Honey.
Until her father is killed by an organization called Panther Claw, Honey is a regular schoolgirl.
Honey wants revenge against Panther Claw. The organization is ruled by Panther Zora, an ancient evil persona with a younger sister named Jill.
Zora is desperately trying to get hold of Honey’s device whilst her sister desires riches and has a soft spot for Honey.
Aided by Danbei Hayami and his sons, Honey has the powers of super speed and strength and can withstand extreme temperatures.
After he is killed, she learns the truth: her father created her as an android and inside she possesses a device that creates matter from the air.
When she cries “Honey Flash!”, she uses this device to turn into the red-haired, sword-wielding superhero Cutie Honey.
She can use this to transform herself into her superhero alias, Cutie Honey, with her flaming red hair and sword.
Another popular anime series from the 1970s is Inazuman.
This TV series aired between 1973 and 1974 and had twenty-five episodes. Outside of Japan, it was also popular in Hawaii.
In terms of the plot, two friends (Marume Gosaku and Watari Goro) are walking home from class when they come across some children being attacked by mutants.
As they try to fight the attackers, they learn that they belong to the Youth League, which is a group of children that have secret bases everywhere.
It turns out that Goro is a mutant, and the Youth League activates his abilities so that he can summon power.
12. Japanese Spiderman
The Japanese TV company Toei licensed Japanese Spiderman from Marvel Comics in 1978 and produced 41 episodes in total.
This production company is behind other successful Japanese superheroes like Super Sentai and Kamen Rider.
As you can imagine, this version of Spiderman was very different to the American title.
In Fact – Japanese Spiderman controls a huge robot that goes by the name of Leopardon.
Leopardon is sixty meters tall and is controlled by a remote.
Spiderman himself isn’t as powerful as the American version, though there are similarities in that he is an awkward 22-year-old with a secret identity.
You won’t see him swinging between buildings though – he’s more of a sports car driver or an airplane pilot!
Japanese Spider-Man is loosely based on Marvel’s creation and features a motocross racer called Takuya Yamashiro.
Takuya sees a spacecraft falling from Space and his father who is a Space Archaeologist investigates it.
However, his father is sadly killed when he finds the ship. An alien group that desires universal control is attracted by the incident.
Takuya discovers a survivor called Garia, the last warrior from Planet Spider.
Professor Monster along with his alien group, Iron Cross Army, has already destroyed Garia’s home planet. Garia injects Takuya with his blood which gives him super spider powers.
He’s also given a bracelet that, when activated, covers him in his protective Spider-Man costume. He can then shoot webs and control the ship. Takuya, as Japanese Spider-Man, fights against the army and Professor Monster.
The manga and anime series One Punch Man is the origin of superhero Tatsumaki, the Japanese word for ‘tornado’.
Tatsumaki was born with psychic powers but, unfortunately, this is what leads her to be removed from her family aged seven so that she can be studied by a team of scientists.
Rewarded with toys and candy (and her adopted family paid off), Tatsumaki is never allowed outside. Instead, she’s locked up in a cell when she refuses to comply and use her powers.
A petite woman, Tatsumaki is often thought of as younger. Emerald green eyes and a sweet, adolescent face, she wears a fitted black, long-sleeved dress with four leg slits and black shoes with a low heel.
As far as her personality, she’s a little moody and brash with a dash of impatience (but then wouldn’t you be if you’d been ripped from your family and put in a cell?).
Despite her personality flaws, Tatsumaki defeats monsters and even goes looking for them in her free time as she gets a bit bored.
She has a strong dislike for things that remind her of her difficult childhood. With the power of psychokinesis, she is a Master Psychic Combatant.
Final Thoughts on Japanese Superheroes
It’s safe to say that Japan has many wonderful superhero characters all with their unique charm.
It’s no wonder that Japan’s manga and anime creations have spread far and wide.
Which is the best?
We’re completely undecided!
But, it’s safe to say they’re all great creations!
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