There’s a popular belief that ninjas are inherently awesome. On the surface, this viewpoint seems fairly logical. What isn’t there to love about a group of master warriors who are experts in stealth, combat, and fashion? Ninjas may be cool as a general rule, but not all of them are created equally. For every legendary master of the shadow arts, there is another private army of so-called ninjas who are easily dispatched by generic hero X or bland mercenary Y. While this discrepancy in ninja quality has affected all forms of entertainment, the comic book world has taken it particularly hard on the chin. Too often, comic book ninjas rarely get to play a role that extends beyond allowing Batman to warm-up his fists for The Joker.
Occasionally, a ninja comes along and breaks the mold. A great comic book ninja isn’t just a great warrior; they’re a great character who so happens to be a ninja. This legion of legendary warriors may be easily identified by their ninja moves, ninja looks, and ninja mindset, but it what truly separates them from is the way that their brilliance isn’t dependent upon their ninja status. Yes, ninjas are inherently awesome to a degree, but characters like these remind us of why that is.
Here are the 15 Greatest Comic Book Ninjas Ever, Ranked.
15 Duncan (aka Cowboy Ninja Viking)
While we sympathize with those who argue that this character’s affiliation with cowboys and vikings should perhaps disqualify him as a comic book ninja, we dare them to blame us for paying brief homage to just a compelling character. Cowboy Ninja Viking (real name Duncan) is the titular hero of a comic book about a man who leads a counter-intelligence group comprised solely of individuals with multiple personality disorder. When the organization falls apart and many of its members turn to freelance work, Duncan is tasked with tracking down the group’s former agents. Given that he possesses qualities of a cowboy, Viking, and ninja, he’s more than up to the task.
In case you were wondering, Cowboy Ninja Viking is just as awesome as you assume it might be. While Duncan taps into all of his personalities to get the job done, his expert utilization of his ninja capabilities more than justifies his place on this list. Oh, and just to make sure you leave this entry with a smile, John Wick directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski are in discussions to create a film adaptation of Cowboy Ninja Viking, with Chris Pratt in the leading role.
Shi’s run in the comic book world was brief but memorable. Shi is the name given to a young girl named Ana Ishikawa whose father was a great Japanese warrior and whose mother was a Catholic missionary. When Ishikawa was young, she watched helplessly as the Yakuza murdered her parents. To enact her revenge, Ishikawa learned the ways of the warrior and became a deadly ninja assassin. At some point, she chose to spiritually forgo her ties to humanity and become the warrior Shi (meaning “death” in Japanese).
Shi is an oddly spiritual character who sometimes isn’t sure whether she should embrace the path of the closed fist, as her father may have done, or accept the benefits of the open palm, as her mother would have wanted. However, this conflict does relatively little to diminish the bloodlust within Ishikawa or her ability to perform expert ninja-like assassinations. Shi is a stylish and fascinating take on the traditional ninja assassin.
Cheshire is a member of the League of Shadows who has traditionally served as one of the Teen Titans' greatest villains. The daughter of Sportsmaster and Huntress, Cheshire comes from a very capable family, though neither of her parents possesses her unique blend of ninja-like skills. Through poisonous weapons and old-fashioned martial arts, Cheshire strikes fear into the hearts of heroes everywhere. She’s like a shadow that looms in the shadows, or the recovery sentence after a failed analogy inserted to distract you from the botched comparison.
Cheshire doesn’t technically possess superpowers, but that rarely comes into play given how capable she is overall. You could make the argument that she’s not a technical ninja, given that she is rarely referred to one outright, but her appearance, skill set, and training are all things acquired from walking the path of the ninja, so we’re going to go ahead and rule in favor of her considerable credentials.
Here’s another character whose classification as a ninja is actually a bit of a running joke. Whisper wasn’t conceived as a ninja in the strictest sense of the word, and has often been presented as someone who merely exhibits the skills of a ninja rather than walking the path of one. Nevertheless, few who possess the abilities of a ninja have ever accomplished as much as Whisper has throughout her comic career. Whisper was trained to be a ninja from birth but a series of circumstances - dang those circumstances - prevented her from completing her full formal training and led her down a different path entirely.
Have you ever known someone who was naturally talented at something but fundamentally unsure of what they were doing? That’s Whisper in a nutshell. Her ninja skills are unquestionable, but, much like Indiana Jones, she’s kind of figuring out this whole assassin and hero thing as she goes. All in all, however, she does a pretty great job at it.
11 Michiyo Watanabe
Michiyo Watanabe is a somewhat frustrating character to discuss due to the simple fact that we know relatively little about her. She first appeared during the 2004/2005 Tomb of Dracula arc, in which we saw Blade team up with Van Helsing in order to prevent Dracula from achieving godlike powers. Well...more godlike powers, we suppose. Along the way, Watanabe joins the group and proves to be an invaluable asset. Her expert use of swords, stealth, and poisonous weapons make her a particularly effective vampire hunting ninja who sometimes rivals Blade’s special set of skills.
While much of Watanabe’s history remains a mystery - and she has frustratingly been limited to a rather brief run - we’d again like to emphasize the whole “vampire hunting ninja” section of her resume. That’s just awesome. In fact, we’re not entirely sure how it was decided that Watanabe should be put on the shelf so quickly after her debut, but we can’t help but feel the world is missing out on her adventures.
10 Psylocke (as Lady Mandarin)
We’re not exactly sure how it is that the X-Men keep running into so many ninjas, but given the amount of high-quality storylines and characters that relationship has resulted in, we’re also not too quick to complain about the association. Psylocke wasn’t conceived as a ninja, but relatively early into her run, the character known as Elizabeth Braddock had her mind inserted into the body of a Japanese ninja known as Kwannon. She then took the name Lady Mandarin and used her psychic skills to become a ninja assassin the likes of which the world has never really seen before.
It's here that Psylocke’s ninja credentials take a bit of a turn. Technically, Psylocke recovered her memories and ditched the Lady Mandarin persona. However, she has always exhibited ninja tendencies and skill sets which were - at least subconsciously - amplified by writers ever since her time as an actual ninja warrior. At the very least, the Lady Mandarin persona deserves consideration, but Psylocke herself definitely trends more in the direction of a ninja.
9 Zen The Intergalactic Ninja
We bet you thought that ninjas only existed on Earth. Clearly, you have never heard of the legendary exploits of Zen! Well, legendary may be a bit of a stretch in this instance, but Zen is certainly a character who deserved a little more attention than he has traditionally received. Raised on the planet Baltoon as a genetic experiment, Zen was rescued by a scientist who had him transported to the Om system. There, he was raised by a group of ancient warriors who taught him the ways of the space ninja (they didn’t actually refer to it as such; an obvious missed opportunity there). From there, Zen became a ninja mercenary who delivered justice and roundhouse kicks across the universe.
Zen’s inherent psychic abilities mean that he has several rather unique advantages in combat. You try getting the better of someone who knows you’re to going to punch them before you even woke up that morning. Even without his advantages, he’d still be an incredibly talented fighter.
8 Lady Shiva
Batman’s life would have been much easier if he didn’t run afoul of so many assassins, but there’s no denying that his misfortunes have resulted in a series of compelling characters. Lady Shiva was initially conceived as a character in the Richard Dragon, Kung-Fu Fighter series, where she was portrayed as a more traditional ninja. Eventually, she made the transition to the Batman series, where she morphed into more of a general assassin and supposedly the world’s greatest martial artist. Throughout it all, however, she has retained her ninja training and techniques.
Shiva is another character who doesn’t possess technical superpowers, but at a certain point, we really should just start considering considerable martial arts skills to be a superpower. After all, many a traditional superhero has ended up being bested by Shiva thanks to her expert training and unwillingness to be bested. She is one of the most capable warriors of her kind.
We’re not entirely sure why it is that so many comic book ninjas began their ninjutsu training following the death of a parent, but there’s certainly a link there that is well worth studying. Ninjak was born Colin King, the son of a spy for the British government whose job led him to the Orient (the comic's words, not ours). Colin was never really accepted in this part of the world, but when his father died, young master King found a ninja master that trained him in the ancient arts. From there, he became a renowned operative.
Along with the usual ninja niceties (master of every weapon, stealth tactics, and hand-to-hand combat) King regularly exhibits a level of intelligence that ranks him among the world’s smartest men. His intellect and training allow King to recognize potential threats in and out of direct conflicts and quickly formulate a strategy on how to best deal with them. Ninjak even has a web series on the way.
6 Amiko Kobayashi
For as much as Wolverine balks at the idea of being a father, he sure does seem to find himself in the role of father figure quite often. We’ll skip the convoluted full history of how Amiko Kobayashi came to join the X-Men universe - it involves dragons - and skip to the part where Wolverine promises Amiko’s dying mother that he will look after her daughter. Wolverine did so in the short term, but decided to leave the child behind. Amiko then entered into foster care and was adopted by an abusive family. Wolverine eventually got word of her situation, rescued the child, and left her in the care of the ninja assassin Yukio.
As you might imagine, this unique upbringing led to Amiko becoming an ill-tempered teenager with the ability to more than hold her own in the various fights she started. To be honest, Yukio is probably the more gifted overall ninja warrior, but Amiko's mystical abilities and fascinating backstory have always made her one of Marvel’s most compelling ninjas, giving her the nod here.
5 The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
We just couldn’t break up the band. The ‘80s are considered by many who put stock in such things to be the golden era of fictional ninjas. The martial arts craze of the ‘60s and ‘70s had passed, but the ways of the ninja suddenly fascinated millions. For proof of the power of this craze, look no further than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; a group of turtles with teenage attitudes and ninja skills acquired following a run-in with some toxic waste and years of training.
Only a fool would deny that part of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' appeal lies in nostalgia, but there’s always been an underlying layer of brilliance to the TMNT concept which has kept it alive throughout the years. Whether you’re talking about their decidedly darker comic book origins or their slightly more popular animated adventures, the Turtles have always been presented in a way that taps directly into the joy of the basic ninja concept.
4 Storm Shadow/Snake Eyes
Speaking of breaking up the band, what should we do about the case of Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes? After all, they are really just two sides of the same coin, and one cannot really exist without the other. Even though you hear that a lot in comics, it seems especially fitting in the case of these two ninjas who ended up on different sides of the same conflict.
Even though the personality-driven nature of the G.I. Joe franchise means that many kids ended up having their own favorite soldiers, just about every child who was interested in the G.I. Joe universe ended up gravitating towards either Snake Eyes or Storm Shadow in some way. Some of that can certainly be traced back to the fact that they are ninjas and everyone loves ninjas, but the expanded G.I. Joe universe - particularly the comics - really does suggest that the dynamic between Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes truly is the complex core of the entire conflict.
In a world as twisted as Sin City, protectors are a precious commodity. Good is a relative concept in Frank Miller’s twisted world, but there are some characters who definitively fight for the side of good-ish. Few of those characters are as compelling as Miho. Miho came to serve as a protector of the Old Town prostitutes after Dwight rescues her from almost certain death. She seems to have no love for men - except Dwight, for whom she owes a life debt - but Miho really only strikes down those who would dare bring violence and hate into Old Town.
Much of the fascination surrounding Miho can be traced back to how little we know about her. How did she come to be so proficient in the ancient ninja arts? What is she really thinking? Miho could have easily been a villain in this same world, but her apparent sense of principles prevents her from ever going too far in that direction.
Everyone who knew Tomi Shishido from a young age knew that the boy was special. When he was just a toddler, he exhibited a level of intelligence that most adults could never hope to even aspire to. Unfortunately, it turned out that Shishido’s intelligence was the result of a particularly powerful mutant gene that also caused him to turn bitter at a very young age. When he was only 18, he killed his family in order to capture the attention of the ninja clan known as The Hand. Once he did so, he eventually assumed the name of the Mighty Gorgon and became known as the world’s most dangerous swordsman.
Like many characters on this list, Gorgon actually borrows some elements from both samurai and ninjas. That being said, he’s traditionally leaned towards the ninja side of things with his overall skill set and training regiment. However you choose to characterize him, many come to the conclusion that Gorgon is one of the most complete comic book villains that has ever walked the path of the ninja.
As previously mentioned, the ‘80s were a real boom period for fictional ninjas everywhere. While this era resulted in a fair few memorable ninjas, many of them proved to be flash in the pan creations that didn’t leave much of an impact on their respective mediums. Elektra is a glowing exception to that rule. Elektra began life as a one-off ninja creation, but Frank Miller eventually turned her into the embodiment of Daredevil’s twisted bid for normality. She was perhaps his most compelling love interest, but she was more so a dangerous and fiercely independent warrior, one incapable of ever being anything less than a great combatant.
Since her debut, Elektra has appeared in a variety of comics - including quite a few of her own - and has rarely been portrayed as anything less than one of the most fiercely capable characters in all of comics. From the depths of her abilities to the depths of her mythology, Elektra remains the comic book world’s most iconic ninja.
Feel free to ignore that Jennifer Garner-starring solo movie, though.
Did we miss any of the comic book world's finest ninjas? Sound off in the comments.