Have Live-Action Anime Adaptations Ever Worked?

Ghost in the Shell poster with Scarlett Johansson (cropped)

As we've seen from Beauty and the Beast and Marvel's The Avengers, Hollywood loves turning animated movies, TV shows, and comic books into the next biggest film franchise. Anime and manga are no different, having served as the basis for several live-action adaptations. But just like comic book movies or live-action Disney revivals, movies based on anime are usually a pretty mixed bag.

Bellow you will find examples of films that successfully adapted their source material, and others that... well, not so much. Sometimes, a live-action remake can effortlessly capture the spirit of the original, providing well-rounded characters and a compelling story. Other times, the movie completely misses the mark, providing wooden acting, a disjointed plot, and lacking any motivation to follow the source material. For every great anime and manga adaptation, there is always another that is absolutely terrible.

Here are 8 Times Live-Action Adaptations of Anime Or Manga Worked, And 8 Times They Didn't.

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Oldboy with a Hammer
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15 Did Work - Oldboy

Oldboy with a Hammer

Oldboy is not just a fantastic live-action adaptation of a manga, but a fantastic movie that stands on its own merits. Released to widespread critical acclaim in 2003, it tells the story of Oh Dae-su, a man who has been locked in a mysterious prison for 15 years. Upon his release, Dae-su embarks on a perilous journey to find his captors and settle the score once and for all.

Directed by Chan-wook Park, Oldboy is a violent revenge tale on the surface, but a psychological character study of a broken man at its core. What starts as a mystery, quickly evolves into a tragedy in the classical sense. The twists and turns organically arise from the carefully laid out story, rather than just cropping up as generic plot beats. At the heart of the movie is Choi Min-Sik’s portrayal of Oh Dae-su, who is consumed with the thought of revenge to the point of animalistic rage.

Though there are other fantastic live-adaptations of manga on this list, Oldboy is truly in a league of its own thanks to the direction, the acting, the script, and wonderfully choreographed fight scenes. The infamous hallway fight, which is done in one glorious tracking shot, is worth the price of admission alone.

14 Didn't Work - Attack on Titan

Written and illustrated by Hajime Isayama, Attack on Titan quickly became one of the most popular mangas of the last decade. The cult phenomenon spawned a successful anime, countless pieces of merchandise, and two live action films in 2015. Though its plot about giant monsters called Titans destroying what remains of humanity is intriguing, what really elevated the manga and anime above standard pulp expectations were its brilliantly written characters. Like any effective anime, Attack on Titan offers food for thought, discussing important themes on morality and class distinctions.

However, the movies turn these rich, well-written characters into whiny, incoherent teenagers, leading to clashing tones that just don’t work. We’d by lying if we said the frequent irreverent humor meshes with the graphic scenes of humans getting torn apart by Titans. Though we give it props for using old school effects (real actors play the Titans with minor use of CGI) the movies are a big letdown of what an Attack on Titan adaptation could have been.

13 Did Work - Parasyte

When a group of alien parasites come to Earth and start to enter the bodies of human hosts, it leads to a number of mysterious murders all over the globe. However, one of the parasites fails to enter its human’s brain, and high school student Izumi Shinichi discovers that the organism has taken root in his hand. Izumi soon befriends his new symbiotic organism living off of him, and together they become vigilantes determined to confront the other parasites on Earth.

Parasyte was directed by Takashi Yamazaki, who does an excellent job of portraying the intense violence and slapstick humor from the source material. Parasyte doesn’t hold any punches with its level of gore. Yamazaki provides several unsettling scenes of aliens devouring humans, which are surprisingly effective given the movie's minimalist special effects. Like most of the films on this list, Parasyte changes certain story beats from its source material, but it works in its favor by providing a smoother and entertaining story.

12 Didn't Work - Kite

When it was released, the anime Kite (written and directed by Yasuomi Umetsu) was just as divisive is it was popular. It tells the story of a young girl who trains to be a bloodthirsty assassin after the death of her father. It was praised (and condemned) at the same time for its heavy use of violence and strong sexual subtext. Naturally, something as risqué as that was bound to get a feature length adaptation. The live-action version of Kite was released in 2014, but was not as a big of a hit with audiences as its predecessor.

While the anime got a pass for using certain story clichés, the film is another story. It failed to deliver the sweeping action sequences that made the anime so enjoyable, something even Quinten Tarantino admired about it. Instead, the action is uninspired, lifeless, and dull, which just brings to attention the endless problems like poor characterizations and a tired plot. Not even the usually charismatic Samuel L. Jackson can save this anime adapted bore from petering out into obscurity.

11 Did Work - Bunny Drop

Kaikichi Kawachi is a 27 year-old businessman who doesn’t have a whole lot to his name. After the death of his grandfather, he returns to his childhood home that he’s been avoiding going back to for years. At the funeral, Kaikichi is shocked to meet the illegitimate daughter of his grandfather, 6 year-old Rin Kaga. After Rin’s mother abandons her, and the rest of the family determined to give her up for adoption, Daikichi decides to take on the challenge and raise Rin as his own. He soon finds out that being a single parent is easier said than done.

Unlike other entries on this list, Bunny Drop doesn’t have supernatural elements or overly violent instances of gore. The movie is more of a character study focusing on the father-daughter relationship between the two key players. It’s a fantastic combination of drama and comedy, and manages to capture the feel and tone of the original manga by Yumi Unita. The direction and acting here is top notch, with Mana Ashida, who plays young Rin, stealing every scene she’s in.

10 Didn't Work - Blood: The Last Vampire

What the anime Blood: The Last Vampire lacked in writing and dialog, it more than made up for with its endless amount of action and gore. With a title like the one it had, one can only expect gratuitous amounts of violence, which the show delivered in spades. It picked up such a cult following that it quickly generated a string of various spin-offs, a manga, and a feature length film in 2009. Unfortunately, the big screen interpretation was not as successful.

For a film about the undead, that’s exactly what Blood: The Last Vampire is: lifeless. The movie is a horrendously stilted production that fails to capture the tongue-and-cheek tone of the anime, and isn’t helped by the shoddy CGI effects. The cast does a decent enough job despite the fact that the script they were given gives them almost nothing to work with. The only character slightly compelling is played by Liam Cunningham (Ser Davos to all you Game of Thrones fans) who, unfortunately, dies halfway through the movie.

9 Did Work - Rurouni Kenshin

Like the popular anime and manga it’s based on, the Ruroni Kenshin trilogy follows the adventures of Himura Kenshin, a masterless samurai who has vowed never to kill again after his violent past as a government assassin. The former assassin is eventually brought out of retirement when Makoto Shishio and his gang of thugs plan to overthrow the Japanese government and plunge the country into pure anarchy. Together with his new band of allies, Kenshin becomes determined to pick up his sword to fight once again.

If you enjoyed the manga and anime of the same name, then chances are you’re going to adore the Ruroni Kenshin trilogy. A big part of that is due to the fantastic casting for the iconic characters with actors like Tatsuya Fujiwara, Emi Taki and Teruyuki Kagawa effortlessly portraying their roles. Director Keishi Ohtomo manages to properly retain every element of what made the source material so engaging, including the characters, action, romance, and story, making this series of movies one of the best examples of adapted anime done right.

8 Didn't Work - Lupin III

Created by manga artist Kazuhiko Kato (who writes under the name Monkey Punch), Lupin III follows the escapades of master thief Arsene Lupin III. Thanks to its signature blend of slapstick comedy and action, it was a hit with audiences, making its way onto several “Best Anime of All Time” lists. The same could not be said of its live-action counterpart, which debuted in 2014 and garnered generally negative reviews. The film came under attack for its supporting characters, which were flat, its cinematography, which was bland, and its costume design, which was comically outlandish.

All that considered, the worst thing about Lupin III has to be the action sequences. A mishmash of quick cuts, closeups and crash zooms barrage the senses, making it clear that director Ryuhei Kitamura is completely out of his element. It’s all captured by a nauseating amount of shaky cam, which has become the go-to technique to disguise poorly choreographed fight scenes as good ones. Let’s hope the eventual sequel will do the source material justice.

7 Did Work - My Love Story

Anime and manga have a certain fondness for romantic-comedies. Even more action based adventures have some sort of comedic or dreamy element to them. One of the more popular examples is My Love Story!!, a serialized manga written by Kazune Kawahara. The series plays with the usual romantic-comedy tropes using its unique brand of satirical humor. Its 2015 live-action adaptation follows the same path, telling the story of Takeo Goda, a brutish looking high school student who’s really a romantic at heart.

One day, the kind-hearted Takeo ends up saving a girl named Rinko Yamato. While Takeo doesn’t usually have much luck with women (they almost always fall for his best friend, Makoto), he’s stunned when he discovers that Rinko is interested in him. The movie plays as a situational comedy that draws the viewers in thanks to its clever writing and even cleverer characters. While it may not have parasitic aliens or deadly ninja assassins, My Love Story!! is a solid adaptation with plenty of heart well worth your time.

6 Didn't Work - Speed Racer

The poster for Speed Racer (2008)

It’s easy to forget, but Speed Racer started out as a manga that was later adapted into an anime known as Mach GoGoGo. That means that the Wichowski Sibling’s 2008 adapted disaster is a viable candidate for this list. Starring Emile Hirsch as the titular young driver, the movie was a candy colored nightmare that was a miss with critics and a dud with audiences, only earning a third back of its enormous $120 million budget.

There are a number of reasons why Speed Racer didn’t measure up as a live-action adaptation. While the “Matrix” directors do a superb job with the visuals, they're often overwhelming, providing a sort of fakeness that dampens any real excitement. The computer-generated frenzy makes it more noticeable that the movie is missing a compelling story and that the characters are mostly one note. Speed Racer might be a fantastic piece of eye candy, but aside from that, there’s little reason to revisit this big budget anime adaptation.

5 Did Work - Deathnote

After Light Yagami stumbles upon a supernatural notebook, he’s shocked to discover that it has the power to kill anyone whose name he writes down. Choosing to use the “Death Note” for something constructive, Light uses it to create a utopia by killing the world’s criminals. The world’s greatest detective, “L”, is soon in pursuit, and a battle for the fate of the world begins.

It’s not easy to adapt such a beloved property like Death Note, revered by fans and critics as one of the best supernatural/horror animes ever created. However, director Shûsuke Kaneko manages to do the source material justice. The film largely follows the manga and anime by accurately representing the characters Light and the detective known as L. The acting is mostly convincing, and even thought the effects leave something to be desired, the story is strong enough to carry the movie across the finish line.

If this 2005 version wasn't enough to win fans over, a new adaptation of Death Note will be hitting Netflix on August 25, directed by Adam Wingard (Blair Witch).

4 Didn't Work - The Guyver

The Guyver Dark Hero

Based on the manga Bio-Booster Armor Guyver, The Guyver tells the story of high schooler Sean Barker, a normal kid who is given amazing powers when he stumbles upon an ancient alien tech known as the Guyver. Using his new found abilities, he sets off to do battle with the Kronos Corporation, a gang of evil creatures who plan on using the Guyver for world domination.

Though the plot isn’t too far off from the recent Power Rangers reboot, where The Guyver falls incredibly short is in its execution. Besides a very confused looking Mark Hamill, it’s filled with actors who are about as charismatic as a bowl of noodles. Perhaps the film’s most glaring issue is its tonal inconsistencies. One moment it’s a wacky comedy, the next moment it’s a deeply horrifying creature feature (one scene in particular with Mark Hamill turning into a giant cockroach is guaranteed to give you nightmares). Truly, the only thing this movie owes to its anime counterpart is one third of its title.

3 Did Work - Lone Wolf and Cub

Lone Wolf and Cub English-language movie remake

Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima’s Lone Wolf and Cub might be the most influential mangas ever created, having spawned four stage plays, two television series, and six movies. The film series tells the story of Ogami Itto, a Shogun’s executioner who is framed and disgraced by the Yagyu clain. He is forced to leave the palace with his 3-year-old-son, and together they embark on a path of revenge on their enemies as they wander from place to place.

Lone Wolf and Cub is not just one great adaptation, but several great adaptations, with six films released between 1972 and 1980. While there is a certain level of camp, it’s a franchise that has skyrocketed in popularity thanks to the magnetic presence from Tomisaburo Wakayama, who plays the legendary ronin. The battle scenes still hold up, with director Kenji MIsumi retaining the violent and dramatic overtones of the manga. The films have picked up a healthy cult following over the years, one of its biggest supports being Pulp Fiction director Quintin Tarantino.

2 Didn't Work - Dragon Ball Evolution

James Marsters as Piccolo in Dragon Ball EvolutionJames Marsters as Piccolo in Dragon Ball Evolution

No live-action anime adaptation is more despised by its fans than Dragon Ball Evolution. We dare you to try to come up with another title as reviled as this one. Go on, try. Can’t do it, can you? That’s because Evolution took one of the most beloved animes of all time and turned it into a bastardized commercial replica for Western audiences, and for nothing more than to make a quick buck on the Dragon Ball name brand.

Gone is the vibrant animated world of Dragon Ball. In its place is a collage of hollow, lifeless set pieces straight out of the set of a 80s B movie. The captivating roster of characters from the anime have vanished, leaving behind only dull caricatures that remain flat despite the cast’s best efforts. The story is overcrowded, borrowing certain elements from the source material while changing and completely ignoring others. Dragon Ball Evolution is a hodgepodge of half-baked ideas, stories, and characterizations, making this the absolute worst anime adaptation of all time, and one that still haunts the memories of moviegoers to this day.

1 Did and Didn't Work - Ghost in the Shell

Ghost in the Shell - Scarlett Johansson wakes up

One of the most anticipated movies this month was Ghost in the Shell, which hit theaters this past weekend. The movie has a lot to live up to; the original anime is widely considered one of the best of its kind, serving as the inspiration behind Hollywood blockbusters like The Matrix and Minority Report. Given its highly influential status, fans of the 1995 original movie (which itself was based on a manga) were clamoring to find out if the modern update would become just another botched adaptation or something truly remarkable.

Having now laid eyes on the film, we can say that Ghost in the Shell isn't a terrible movie, but it isn't something that completely works either. For starters, it is a visual masterpiece. The set design and special effects truly are something to behold, but visuals can only carry a movie so far. In truth, this adaptation waters down a lot of the though-provoking concepts that made the original such a captivating experience. It's hard to get emotionally invested in most of the characters, and there are large portions where the film comes to a grinding halt. Though it does provide a few solid action sequences, Ghost in the Shell ultimately comes across as a hollow homage to the animated classic it's based on.

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