In a sea of superheroes and action stars, live-action anime movies are becoming the latest trend. With failures projects such as Dragonball Evolution and Speed Racer, fans tend to cringe when they hear their favorite anime will be taking the live-action route. While Japanese adaptations are praised for their action and design accuracy, American adaptations seem to be shrouded in controversial casting choices and directorial changes.
Ghost in the Shell, for example, has been surrounded by claims of whitewashing when the lead role of Major was given to Scarlett Johansson. Fan backlash has been non-stop since its announcement and has cast a negative view of the movie before it has even premiered.
Despite the controversies, anime fans will be surprised to know that many of their treasured anime have been live-action production for several years. Although some are stuck in the proverbial “production hell”, others have been fast-tracked and are hitting the big screen very soon. Though many are American projects, we have included some of the most popular Japenese adaptations as well. Here are the 15 Live-Action Anime Adaptations You Didn’t Know Were Coming.
15 Death Note
While Death Note has already had live-action movies and tv series and movies released in Japan, the American version is set to premiere on August 25 on Netflix. Based on the manga of the same name, Death Note explores the journey of Light Yagami (Light Turner in this adaptation) after he finds a supernatural notebook that can kill anyone when their name is written on its pages. The cast includes Nat Wolff as Light, Keith Stanfield as L, and Willem Dafoe as the voice of Ryuk.
Recently, fans expressed outrage over the casting of Light and L, though these announcements were made last year when the project was first announced. The change from two Asian characters to a Caucasian protagonist and African-American antagonist does not sit well with die-hard fans. Despite the recent controversy, we are interested to see how this adaptation will handle the suspenseful conflict between these two characters.
14 Alita: Battle Angel
Based on Yukito Kishiro's Battle Angel Alita manga, this adaptation is set in a 26th-century dystopian future in the former United States. Plagued with amnesia, the cyborg Alita is found in a scrap heap by Daisuke Ido and re-trained as a mercenary Hunter-Warrior. Though never turned into a full anime series, there was a two-episode original video animation (or OVA) produced back in 1993.
Produced by James Cameron and directed by Robert Rodriguez, the live-action movie will focus on the first four books of the manga. Rosa Salazar, known for her role in Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, will play the titular character. Django Unchained star Christoph Waltz take on the role of the renamed character Dr. Dyson Ido. The remaining cast includes Michelle Rodriguez, Mahershala Ali (who will be playing two roles), Lana Condor, Jorge Lendeborg, Jr., and Jennifer Connelly playing the role of a villain. Alita: Battle Angel is scheduled to premiere on July 20, 2018 via 20th Century Fox.
Premiering in 1985, Robotech has quite a unique history. The anime series was created from three other mecha shows: Macross, Southern Cross, and Mospeada. The rights for a live-action adaptation were originally acquired by Warner Bros in 2007. Actor Tobey McGuire’s production company was attached, however, the project did not make much progress.
In 2015, Sony acquired the rights to Robotech with hopes of starting the production quickly. These rights covered releasing the film worldwide - except for in Japan. Director James Wan was announced as director that same year but had a lot on his plate. At the time, he was attached to not only Furious 7 but was also named the director of Aquaman. Since Aquaman is not set to premiere until December 21, 2018, Robotech will not get started anytime soon.
However, producers Mark Canton and Gianni Nunnari announced via video message that they were currently working on the script. Reported by Crunchyroll last year, they stated, “We are really working every day to finish the new draft on Robotech," said Canton. "It's our priority." No further updates have been provided since then.
12 Blade of the Immortal
Set during the mid-Tokugawa Shogunate period, Blade of the Immortal follows Manji, a samurai cursed with immortality. Unhappy with his endless life, he sets out on a mission to kill 1000 evil men in order to become mortal again. In additional to the original manga of the same name (which was released from 1993 – 2012), there has been a novel, Blade of the Immortal: Legend of the Sword Demon, that was released in 2010 by Dark Horse Comics in the United States.
The Japanese live-action adaptation began production under Warner Bros. Pictures. The film’s director, Takashi Miike has a dubious reputation in Japan for his use of extreme violence and overstated drama in his productions. Some of his past projects include 13 Assassins and Audition. Actor Takuya Kimura (playing Manji) is no stranger to live-action adaptations. He starred in the Japanese adaptation of Space Battleship Yamato in 2010. He also voiced Howl in the Hayao Miyazaki anime Howl’s Moving Castle.
Blades of the Immortal will premiere April 29 in Japan.
The original 1984 version of Voltron spawned from source material from two other anime: Beast King GoLion and Armored Fleet Dairugger XV. With no ability to translate the Japanese dialogue to English, series creators John Teichmann and Peter Keefe created a new backstory and dialogue for its run in the United States. The series ultimately became a hit with audiences and led to subsequent projects, including additional movies and the 2016 Netflix reboot.
The success of the first Transformers movie inspired the pursuit of the live-action version of this anime. The attempt to develop Voltron: Defender of the Universe: The Live-Action Movie began in 2005. Unfortunately, several lawsuits between World Event Productions and Toei Animations erupted in 2008. There was even a bidding war in 2011 for the movie rights.
As we reported in 2016, “producers on the Voltron animated series recently told Screen Rant at New York Comic-Con 2016 that the movie will be unaffiliated with the original show and its showrunners, unless something changes in the future.” Screenwriter David Hayter (X-Men, Watchmen) has also been added to the project. With the recent success of the Power Rangers movie, this project may find new life as audiences seem to be clamoring for more nostalgic shows from their childhood.
10 Sword Art Online
Popular anime Sword Art Online (or SAO) is the next anime in line for a live-action adaptation. Based on the Japanese light novel series of the same name, the story follows Kazuto "Kirito" Kirigaya as he explores the game Sword Art Online, the latest virtual reality MMORPG released in 2022. Things go awry as the first 10,000 players log in and find they cannot leave the game. They must complete all levels of the game or risk dying both in the game and real life.
Independent television company Skydance Media obtained the global live-action tv rights for SAO. According to Anime News Network, “Laeta Kalogridis (Avatar, Terminator Genisys) is writing the script and executive producing along with David Ellison, Dana Goldberg and Marcy Ross of Skydance.” This will serve as the first live-action adaptation of the hit anime worldwide. They are still finalizing the details, so there's currently no further information on the production.
9 JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure follows the stories of the members of the Joestar family as they discover their unique powers and fight against supernatural enemies. Based on the manga of the same name, the anime follows the adventure of a different family member in each season. The latest series, Diamond Is Unbreakable, focuses on Josuke Higashikata, the illegitimate son of Joseph Joestar. This series will serve as the focus of the upcoming live action adaptation.
Blade of the Immortal director Takashi Miike will also direct this film set to hit theaters this summer. Actor Kento Yamazaki will play the lead role of Josuke. No stranger to the world of anime adaptations, Yamazaki has also starred in the live-action TV series Death Note, playing the antagonist L and the live-action movie version of One Week Friends as Yuki Hase.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond in Unbreakable will premiere in Japan on August 4, with plans for worldwide release.
8 Tokyo Ghoul
Regarded as one of the top horror anime ever made, Tokyo Ghoul explores the on-going battle between humans and the ghouls that must eat them to survive. The series protagonist, Ken Kaneki, becomes the victim of ghoul Rize Kamishiro. After a fatal accident, Kaneki’s life is saved after receiving transplanted organs from Rize, leaving him a half-ghoul. He must now learn to survive in the ghoul world while keeping his new status a secret from his human friends.
Production for the live-action movie ran from July to September 2016 with Kentarō Hagiwara serving as director. Hagiwara is best known for his film Spectacled Tiger, winner of the 2013 Sundance/NHK International Filmmaker Award. Starring in the role of Kaneki will be Masataka Kubota. His acting credits include his lead role in the live-action tv series Death Note as protagonist Light Yagami and as Ogura Shōujirō in the 2010 samurai film 13 Assassins.
Tokyo Ghoul will be released in Japan on July 29, 2017.
7 Fullmetal Alchemist
Fullmetal Alchemist has long been regarded as a “must watch” series for any anime fan. The series follows two brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, as they learn the ancient art of alchemy and search for a way to reverse the mistakes of their past.
While attempting to resurrect their deceased mother, the two novice alchemists’ failure resulted in the loss of Edward’s arm and leg and Alphonse’s entire body (his soul is later attached to a suit of armor). After Edward successfully joins the mistrusted State Alchemist program, he uses his status as “a dog of the military” to gain access to the secrets of alchemy and its forbidden practices. Along with the original anime, a second series, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood was released in 2009 that more closely depicts the 27 volumes of the original manga. Two movies have also been released as continuations of the original anime.
Warner Bros. Pictures produced the live-action Japanese adaptation with Fumihiko Sori serving as director. His credits include Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker, the 2012 anime film based on the video game series Dragon Age. The film will premiere later this year on December 1 in Japan.
Praised for its ridiculous comedy and biting pop culture/anime parodies, the science fantasy anime Gintama has gained a very loyal fan base. Premiering in 2005, the series produced several sequels and movies with the latest iteration of the anime currently airing. The anime is set in an alternate late-Edo period where aliens called Amanta have taken control of Japan and banned the use of swords in the country, leaving the samurai powerless against them. To make ends meet, former samurai Gintoki Sakata starts an odd jobs company employing teens Shinpachi Shimura and Kagura.
The visuals for the upcoming Japanese adaptation capture every minute detail from the characters' depictions on the show. Director Yuichi Fukuda also also wrote the screenplay. Shun Oguri will lead the cast as Gintoki, Kagura will be played by Kanna Hashimoto, and finally, Masaki Suda will round out the trio as Shimura.
The movie, another Warner Bros. Picture project, will release this summer on July 14, 2017 in Japan.
The live-action adaptation of the cyberpunk anime Akira has been a slow process. As we reported last year, it is one of many films stuck in what is called “production hell.” These films are often caught up in legal battles, creative team changes, and production issues.
In the case of Akira, adaptation rumors circulated as far back as 2002. Early contenders for director included George Miller (Mad Max franchise) and Justin Lin (The Fast and the Furious movies 3-6, Star Trek Beyond). Since then, we have reported that three new directors have been courted for adaptations of this groundbreaking anime. Directors David F. Sandberg (Lights Out), Daniel Espinosa (Life), and Jordan Peele (Get Out) are in the running for the position.
Considering the significance of this film in anime history, the perfect director will be essential to winning fan support for this adaptation. Originally debuting in 1988, Akira has since been considered a landmark movie in Japanimation. It has repeatedly appeared on top 10 lists as “greatest animated film of all time” and “greatest science fiction film of all time.”
4 Cowboy Bebop
In 2008, initial reports cited that Matrix actor Keanu Reeves would take on the lead role of Spike Spiegel in the live-action adaptation of Cowboy Bebop. Back then, we reported that the Fox Studios film was being fast tracked to release in 2010. We even confirmed in 2009 that “Sunrise Inc., producers of the anime series, will be involved during development. Sunrise’s Kenji Uchida and series director Shinichiro Watanabe will assume the role of associate producers along with Keiko Nobumoto, the series composition writer. Anime producer, Masahiko Minami, will fill the role of production consultant.”
There was hope until a 2010 interview with Reeves revealed that the cost of the script was upwards in the $500,000,000 range for the CGI effects. Ouch. Since then, very little news has trickled down concerning the movie’s status. The good news is the movie is still being considered for an adaptation, though, Reeves “believes he is too old to play the role of Spike,” according to a 2016 article on Lawyer Herald. The bad news is it is another victim of “production hell” for now.
Warner Bros. Pictures dominates when it comes to live-action anime adaptations in Japan. Their next undertaking: bringing the supernatural action anime Bleach to theaters.
Set for a 2018 release, the plan for the Japanese movie was originally announced in 2012. However, the principle photography for the film did not begin until this year. According to Kotaku.com, the first pictures of live production were taken “near Sagami-Ono Station in Kanagawa Prefecture”. Initial reactions to the set pictures have been lukewarm, with fans comparing the costumes to subpar cosplay. It's early in filming, so there is still hope for improvement overall.
The live-action adaptation will be directed by Shinsuke Sato. Sato’s live-action experience can be seen in the 2011 films Gantz and Gantz: Perfect Answer as well as the 2016 film Death Note: Light Up the New World. Set to play Kagehisa Anotsu in the earlier mentioned adaptation of Blade of the Immortal, Sota Fukushi will also portray lead character Ichigo Kurosaki on the big screen.
Thankfully, Bleach creator Tite Kubo will be involved with the project to ensure his vision accurately translates to the movie.
Naruto fans are currently in mourning as the final episode of the long-running anime concluded recently. Though fans can look forward to the upcoming anime Boruto (about Naruto's son), they can also look ahead to the live-action adaptation of their “number one favorite knucklehead ninja”.
Under development by Lionsgate, the American adaptation of the series was announced back in 2015. Since then, news has been released that Naruto creator Masashi Kishimoto will be involved with the project as well. We reported late last year that the film was “being directed by visual effects specialist turned filmmaker Michael Gracey.” Gracey is also attached to the upcoming Hugh Jackman movie The Greatest Showman and an Elton John biopic. No additional details have been given for casting or status of production.
Naruto and its sequel Naruto: Shippuden depict the journey of Naruto Uzumaki, an outcast in his home of Konoha, as he trains to become a ninja and, according to him, future Hokage (or the village leader). His adventures include the members of his squad, Sasuke, Uchiha, and Sakura Haruno, under the leadership of their sensei Kakashi Hatake.
1 Attack on Titan
After almost three long years, fans of the anime Attack on Titan are finally getting a second season to the hit series (which premieres on April 1). Since the first season, fans have (impatiently) waited and stayed entertained with several OVAs for the anime. In 2015, two live-action movie adaptations were produced in Japan for the series. The two films, Attack on Titan and Attack on Titan: End of World, covered the same material depicted in the original anime. Although the films garnered mixed reviews (and were fairly successful), Warner Bros. is, surprisingly, seeking to secure the rights to make American productions that will serve as the remakes of these two films.
As we reported earlier this year, the studio is working with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them producer David Heyman to lead the project. Heyman is also known for his work in the Harry Potter films as well as the 2013 sci-fi film Gravity. We will bring you further updates on the status of the project once they are made available.
Are you looking forward to any of these live-action anime adaptations? Let us know in the comments!