With the success of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and with DC’s being a work in progress after Man of Steel, along with the overwhelmingly positive reception of TV adaptation’s such as DC’s Arrow and The Flash, and Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter, a certain fraction of anime fans believe that anime is capable of having the same quality of live action adaptations as well.
Unfortunately, most of Hollywood’s notable attempts of adapting popular anime such as Dragon Ball and Kite have been met with negative reception considering Hollywood has the biggest influence in creating new fans based on numerous franchises whether they be anime or not. FUNimation, the North American licensor of Dragon Ball, have even made public statements denouncing Dragon Ball Evolution. Not too long ago, Toriyama-sensei stated he didn't like it either.
Despite the critical failures of Dragon Ball Evolution and Kite, other successful Hollywood movies such as Inception (Paprika), The Matrix (Ghost in the Shell), and Black Swan (Perfect Blue) have taken influences from anime itself. Firefly, the cult sci-fi series, shares numerous similarities to western space opera such as Outlaw Star and Cowboy Bebop.
So today's list will explore what can hypothetically be adapted as a live action TV series and/or movie if it is done right with proper direction and faithfulness to its original concept.
10. Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: January 2011 – April 2011
After a commercial featuring idol group Nogizaka46 in character as the cast of Madoka, some fans became open to the idea of the probability of a live action version. Another group of fans even made their own entertaining fan film trailer as well. As ridiculous as it sounds, if a simple commercial such as the Nike one featuring NBA legend Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny can pave way for Space Jam, why can't the same apply to a popular anime becoming a live action.
The commercial was a good representation of the setting, visuals, and action sequences. On a foundational level, it can potentially work in the right hands. If Chris Nahon has improved since his stint with the live action Blood The Last Vampire, it is possible he can make pull it off. Considering that Madoka represents a genre (along with its portrayal that is already distinct and unique to long time anime fans) not familiar to general western audiences. Finding the right person can be hard.
Considering that Nicholas Meyer, who had no familiarity with Star Trek made Wrath of Khan, the best Star Trek movie ever, maybe someone with no familiarity can make it work. Considering Christopher Nolan’s work with unique visuals, someone with his talent and vision can make it happen as well.
9. Angel Beats!
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: April 2010 – June 2010
If you can have the entire plot as something akin to the ending of Lost at a high school, as opposed to an island (and a church), then on some basis, you got Angel Beats!. Since Joss Whedon once responded about his belief in God by calling him the Sky Bully in a joking manner, someone of his craft can make this series work.
Despite being an open atheist, Whedon has shown respect to religion in his works such as Shepard Book from Firefly. So the idea of fighting against God would certainly be something Whedon can approach in a tasteful manner.
Whedon has a talent for making a group of rag tag weirdoes of various backgrounds come together as a team, which is another reason why he is best suited for this task. He has a talent of portraying strong female characters and knows how to portray teenage angst in a way that's not annoying, but for audiences of all ages to relate to.
Last, let’s hope it keeps the soundtrack from the anime.
8. Tokyo Ghoul
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: July 2015 – September 2014
On a semi-foundational definition, Tokyo Ghoul is something similar to The Eye. However, Tokyo Ghoul takes that concept to a whole new level. With Asian supernatural movies gaining traction in Hollywood such as, Ring and Ju-on, Tokyo Ghoul would probably be another decent shot at expanding Asian horror as a whole. Its themes of identity and maintaining one’s sanity are also a universal theme that can make it appealing to all audiences.
If anyone can make Tokyo Ghoul work, it is most likely Kitamura Ryuhei, most famous for Versus and Lupin III in Japan, and The Midnight Meat Train in Hollywood. He also worked with Hideo Kojima on a good number of Metal Gear Solid titles. His ability to combine the supernatural with exciting action is what makes him the perfect man for the job.
7. Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood
- Episodes: 64
- Aired: April 2009 – July 2010
Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood has the ingredients to be a great live action Netflix series. For those who have siblings, the relationship between Ed and Al is very relatable which is the strongest reason why it works beyond the anime format.
In addition to its themes, its elaborate and tactical action sequences can be adapted as well. If anyone can make the elements of this series work under the principles of equivalent exchange, it is probably the Russo brothers, who gained fame for Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Considering its setting and characters being of all backgrounds, Fullmetal Alchemist is one of those series where virtually anyone with the look and talent can play the respective characters. As for the soundtrack, it would be nice to bring back L’Arc~en~ciel from the 2003 series.
6. Black Lagoon
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: April 2006 – June 2006
Due to its intense nature and its excessive cursing in the dub (which should be kept), Black Lagoon would work best as a Netflix series. If anyone can make a live action Black Lagoon work, it's Michael Jai White, who is most famous for Spawn and Black Dynamite. Not only is he an actor, he's a director, writer, and holds numerous black belts. In addition, he’d make the perfect, Dutch. After seeing Black Dynamite, it shows he can do action and dark comedy.
As for Rock, despite the physical differences, Masi Oki of Heroes can make the character work. He has this more realistic look that accurately portrays everyday Japanese salarymen and his mannerisms as Hiro shows he can play Rock. Sometimes, the look isn't everything and if the actor can still capture the spirit of the character, then it should be fine.
For Revy, Chloe Bennett from Agents of SHIELD would be nice for the role considering her development as an action actress and being of Chinese decent like Revy(and even did a few songs in China).
5. Hajime no Ippo
- Episodes: 75
- Aired: October 2000 – March 2002
In considerations to the success of boxing movies such as Rocky, or those based on true stories such as Raging Bull and The Fighter, Hajime no Ippo is the series that is relatively easy to adapt with its realistic approach to the sweet science.
If a hypothetical cast can show the same dedication and physicality such as what Jake Gyllenhall showed for Southpaw, a live action Hajime no Ippo would be the best thing ever. Considering Hajime no Ippo’s strong similarities to the old school Karate Kid movies, John G. Avildsen, who directed both Rocky and The Karate Kid could certainly get this to work.
His cinematography would work great with Hajime no Ippo. Plus, Bill Conti (who did the music for both Rocky and The Karate Kid) and Imahori Tsuneo (who did the first season of Hajime no Ippo and Trigun) would make a great soundtrack if they could work together. Ippo and Kamogawa’s relationship is a lot like Daniel and Mr. Miyagi’s.
Last, The Karate Kid was one of the first movies to positively portray single parent households. Hajime no Ippo does a great job of that considering that single parent households are still negatively looked down upon in Japan and could further help boost the image of single parents.
4. Neon Genesis Evangelion
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: October 1995 – March 1996
For the longest time, the notion of a live action Evangelion has been a source of resistance. But after seeing Gullimero Del Toro’s Pacific Rim, and how it took influence from Evangelion, it made people re-evaluate that. If Anno and Del Toro collaborated, a live action Evangelion has a fighting chance. Though, Pacific Rim only made cult status in America, it did find success overseas.
Granted, the mechs in Eva are more organic in movements, with the right choreographer, such as Wo Ping, known for Jet Li’s Fist of Legend, Zhang Ziyi’s Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, and The Matrix trilogy, there is a path to success in portraying the action sequences.
In addition, its thematic imagery is both a source of discussion and controversy, and a successful adaptation could further expand that debate. The movie is also a great metaphor of children in war and what can be scarier than putting teenagers who are barely going through puberty than giving them the fate of the world?
The sole remaining obstacle is to find the perfect casting. For Gendo, Sanada Hiroyuki from The Last Samurai, Rush Hour 3, and The Wolverine in the role. He has the beard, and the way he composes himself in his other roles is a good representation of Gendo. For Kaji, Kaneshiro Takeshi, who is most famous as being the model of the main character in Capcom’s Onimusha PS2 series, would be perfect.
For Kung Fu movie buffs, he was one of the male co-leads on House of Flying Daggers. He has that look and voice that perfectly captures the charm of Kaji.
3. Cowboy Bebop
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: April 1998 – April 1999
There has been talk for years with Keanu Reeves as Spike and the reaction has been overwhelmingly negative by the fans. But besides Keanu Reeves, the idea of a live action Cowboy Bebop (as in a bit of sci-fi, action, and comedy) is strongly possible and has been proven thanks to Firefly. Cowboy Bebop is very universal so the controversy of appropriately casting someone based on ethnic background is not all relevant.
As for someone who can make it work, maybe Drew Goddard who did the Netflix Daredevil series can do it. The way Daredevil is filmed, angles and lighting, would work excellently with Cowboy Bebop. The action has also been excellently received and the choreographer for that show can be of great contribution to adapting the action sequences.
In Spike’s fights, a lot of his movement such as his basic stance, his footwork, and lunging are all based on Bruce Lee in his movies. Maybe casting an unknown might be the best thing. Anyone who can capture Bruce Lee’s unique movement (as in someone who has a background in Jeet Kune Do concepts) can do it, but at the same time try to capture Spike’s distant and charming character. Christopher Reeve was an unknown actor when he first played Superman, and he is still one of the best. Not because he had the look, but that he had an amazing talent as an actor.
Last, keep Yoko Kanno for the soundtrack. The Jazz is an important part of Cowboy Bebop’s identity and its appeal.
2. Ghost in the Shell
- Episodes: 1 (Movie)
- Aired: November 1995
Even though a GITS movie was recently announced starring Scarlett Johansen, at this point, like the Keanu Reeves Cowboy Bebop, it is just talk and nothing concrete. As stated, The Matrix took a lot of inspiration from Ghost in the Shell and seeing it in the flesh (no pun intended for those familiar with GITS) would be interesting.
The great thing about GITS is that it was an anime that was ahead of its time and will always be relevant as technology continues to progress (after hologram Tupac, we could be getting hologram anime in the next ten years for all we know). The original movie was released a little before the technological boom. The Internet was in little to no households and could only be accessed by dial-up. Its themes of technology and its relationship with human beings are very universal which is why it can succeed as a live action.
Its intense action sequences, realistic environments, political intrigue, and all the 1337 hacking are the perfect ingredients, but what this movie needs is the right chef, or director. At this point, if James Cameron wants to do the live action Battle Angel Alita, he can raise the bar with Ghost in the Shell. As opposed to Scarlett Johansen, Tao Okamoto from The Wolverine movie as Motoko Kusanagi would be appropriate if the character is still going to be Japanese. She has the face, frame, and physicality that could bring the character to life.
A good second choice is Chiaki Kuriyama from Kill Bill and Battle Royale. Plus, keep Yoko Kanno to compose the soundtrack.
- Episodes: 1 (movie)
- Aired: July 1988
With the Tokyo Olympics officially confirmed for 2020 (as the original anime movie somehow predicted), there could never be a more perfect time to take advantage of an opportunity to adapt Akira. Though, Hollywood has talked about it for YEARS, it is still all talk. Just like with Dragon Ball Evolution, fans fear that it will not be a representation of its original source material. Even George Takei of Star Trek, shares these concerns of changing the setting and characters.
The atmosphere of Neo Tokyo in the original anime does share a very similar vibe to the Tokyo of today. What could help make the movie and the franchise relevant beyond the 2020 Olympics are Abe Shinzo’s (Prime Minister upon publication of this article) controversial reforms of Japan’s military policies. Last, a good portion of the action scenes can be transitioned to live action and it would be awesome to see Kaneda’s power slide on the freeway with a real motorcycle.
If there is one person who can make a live action Akira work, it is someone like Pete Travis, the director of the most underrated comic book movies of all time, Dredd, starring Karl Urban. He did such a great job with Dredd to the point that John Wagner, one of the co-creators of the original comic, thought it was a perfect representation of the comic. Travis knows how to bring a sense of danger to his action sequences and can deliver non-stop intense adrenaline.
As for casting a live action Akira, for Col. Shikishima, Watanabe Ken just naturally fits the role. After seeing a fan film on YouTube, the cast from that film could probably work. Last, fans wouldn't mind if the movie maintained its intense soundtrack from the original movie.
It is understandable the notion of making this list is controversial. Some fans believe anime shouldn't be adapted as a live action and with excellent reasons. With animation, the only limit one can have is how far the imagination goes, and Japanese anime does an amazing job of that.
However, do not let the failures of Dragon Ball Evolution discourage you. Thanks to some impressive fan made films on YouTube, there is hope. Dragon Ball Z: Light of Hope is a very excellent film in re-telling the story of Future Trunks and it makes you re-think that a live action Dragon Ball is possible in the right hands.
Maybe someday, these amateur filmmakers will go pro and make anime adaptations to the same quality as Marvel’s and DC’s. If American comic book movies can recover from Shaq’s Steel, so can anime after Dragon Ball Evolution.