For a little over 20 years, since anime fans could come together on the internet, one source of heated discussion that continues on to this day is the concept of live action adaptations. Due to the disastrous results of Dragon Ball Evolution, Kite, and Attack on Titan, the idea of adapting a manga and/or anime for live action has understandably turned off a good percentage of the fan base for artistic reasons. However, thanks to the Rurouni Kenshin trilogy, it has given a number of fans some hope to the notion.
Due to the condensed nature of movies, the Rurouni Kenshin movies couldn't fully flesh out its stories and characters. In fact, it was originally intended to be a J-Drama where audiences can get a broader range of what a movie is unable to explore. Thanks to the J-Drama (or dorama based on Japanese phonetics) format, a surprising number of anime and manga have found immense success in Japan. So for this edition of Honey’s Top 10, we give you the Top 10 Best Live-Action Anime Dorama Adaptations.
10. The Next Generation -Patlabor-
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: April 2014 – January 2015
To start off this list, we have The Next Generation –Patlabor-. Though this may be a live action, it is by no means a direct adaptation of the original animated series, but is in fact a sequel (hence The Next Generation). If it makes some of you anime purists feel better, this series happens to be directed by Ishii Mamoru, most famous for the 1995 Ghost in the Shell movie, and has also directed installments of the original animated series of Patlabor. The only remaining character from the original anime series is Shiba Shigeo, who happens to be played by his original seiyuu himself, Chiba Shigeru (also famous as Buggy the Clown in One Piece and Kuwabara in Yuu Yuu Hakusho).
It maintains a good fraction of the charms of the original series, which is a police drama mixed in with some mechs (known as Labors). Though the CG isn't up to the standard of Michael Bay’s Transformers series, it is far superior in substance. The designs of the Labors are very true to the original series, as well as, their functions. Being a sequel to the original series, maybe some exposure to the Patlabor anime should be required to understand the context of the drama. If you want to see how humor from anime can work in a live-action context, this may be the model for you.
9. Antique Bakery
- Episodes: 11
- Aired: October 2001 – December 2001
Based on the series by Yoshinaga Fumi, Antique Bakery tells the story of four unique men who come from unique and diverse backgrounds working at Antique bakery. The first thing that can attract dorama addicts are the four main characters, who happen to be played by some of Japan’s biggest actors whose careers continue to flourish. With Shiina Kippei as Tachibana Keiichiro, Fujiki Naohito (you may recognize him in the 1998 GTO live action and the 1996 Hana Yori Dango movie) as Ono Yusuke, Abe Hiroshi (who voiced Kenshiro in the new Hokuto no Ken movie series) as Kobayakawa Chikage, and Takizawa Hideaki (who co-sung One Day, Dream, one of the opening themes to Inuyasha) as Kanda Eiji.
The cast, with their various ages and experiences, all bring a distinct performance that appropriately reflects the character of the original series it adapts. Even though some of the gay-related themes that were consistent in the original series are toned down in this adaptation, the dorama finds a way to work around it to explore the personalities and lives of the characters. However, the dynamic of four working men with their diverse backgrounds, who are just trying to get by and enjoy life and be of contribution to others, still manages to capture the spirit of Yoshinaga-sensei’s vision to the small screen. To top it off, legendary rock band, Mr. Children, happens to contribute to both the opening and ending themes of this series, which beautifully extends the themes of this show.
8. Itazura na Kiss 2013
- Episodes: 16
- Aired: March 2013 – July 2013
Based on the iconic series by Tada Kaoru, Itazura na Kiss is the foundation of the “senpai, please look at me” stories found only in anime and manga. Prior to this drama in 2013, it also had a drama back in 1996, (during the early days of this series) as well as a Taiwanese, Korean, and Thai adaptations. What manages to make this series successful, not this version but in many re-tellings, are that its themes and characters transcend all cultural barriers. *There is someone out there that is love, but may feel that person is unattainable*. But when the chips all fall into place, anything is possible. Whether it would be destiny, pure luck, or effective planning.
In the 2013 version, Honoka Miki splendidly captures the underachieving and yet, spirited qualities of Kotoko, while Furukawa Yuki as Naoki, appropriately comes across as charismatic and yet, egotistical, but is capable of opening his heart. The cast captures all the qualities of the relationships portrayed in the original source material in context, whether the situation would be dramatic, comedic, and/or romantic.
7. Angel Heart
- Episodes: 9
- Aired: October 2015 – December 2015
Though City Hunter got a Hong Kong live action movie with Jackie Chan and was also given a more serious approach with a K-Drama, Saeba Ryo, the King of Mokkori, finally graces Japanese small screens in Angel Heart, which Hojo-sensei (the original creator) saying it's an alternate universe sequel to City Hunter.
The series does a great job of capturing the deadly but yet emotionally fragile Glass Heart, or Xiang-Ying (played by Miyoshi Ayaka), thanks to the influence of receiving Kaori’s heart from a black market operation. Kamikawa Takayama, playing Saeba Ryo, does a great job of portraying him as a paternal figure to Glass Heart and shares a believable physical resemblance to the character from both the anime and manga. The rest of the cast have some believable resemblance to the characters they are based on and also pays homage to City Hunter through some of its flashbacks (such as how Ryo first met Kaori).
What makes this series qualify as an effective adaptation is the presentation of how the original material is also a great story of moving beyond personal tragedies and re-discovering what it means to love while kicking some ass.
6. Detective Conan Kudo Shinichi He no Chousenjou
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: July 2011 – September 2011
This series serves more as a prequel to the anime, prior to Shinichi becoming the child renamed as Edogawa Conan. The teenage Shinichi is played by Mizobata Junpei, while the child Conan that made the brand iconic is not present. However, Mizobata’s brings physicality to the role by using the same gestures as his animated counterpart. He also does an excellent job of conveying the character’s curiosity, dedication, and intelligence.
But if this series can win over fans regardless of familiarity with the original series, it would certainly be his chemistry with Kutsuna Shiori as Mouri Ran. They make such a cute couple and they excellently play off each other. You can easily see them as equals and how they need each other when they are on the case.
5. Honey and Clover
- Episodes: 11
- Aired: January 2008 – March 2008
Two years prior to the premiere of this series, Honey and Clover also had a live action movie. As stated earlier, a movie in itself isn’t enough to fully explore the story and characters of. Shortly after the Japanese drama ended, a Taiwanese version was also made. The reason why this series succeeds as a Dorama is not because of the complex nature of the individualities and relationships of the cast (excellently played by Ikuta Toma as Yuta, Narumi Rika as Hagumi, Nariyama Hiroki as Shinobu, Mukai Osamu as Takumi, and Harada Natsuki as Ayumi).
In their own ways, they bring their roles to life and don’t take it to the exaggeration that you would see in anime, but keep it realistic and believable. Granted it may not be able to cover as much ground as the anime, the series still teaches its audience that sometimes, things don’t go the way you planned and there is always room to grow and improve as a person while still pursuing your dreams. Last, the addition of Canvas, the emotional power ending theme by Hirai Ken, will most certainly bring a tear to your eye.
4. Hana Yori Dango 2005
- Episodes: 9
- Aired: October 2005 – December 2005
Between the 1990s and the mid-2000s, Hana Yori Dango was a top Shoujo series (along with Itazura na Kiss). Prior to the 2005 drama, there was a 1995 live action movie and a Taiwanese drama re-branded as Meteor Garden. The 2005 drama is very faithful to the story and themes of its source material. But being faithful in a core sense is not what defines this series, it's the appealing cast consisting of Inoue Mao as Tsukushi, Matsumoto Jun as Tsukasa, Oguri Shun as Rui, Matsuda Shota as Soujiro, and Abe Tsuyoshi as Akira, that makes this drama work and capture your emotions.
Inoue as Tsukushi manages to perform her working class background and how she feels isolated from her peers. The rest of the cast playing the infamous Flower 4, or F4 for short, come across as stuck up snobs but also capture the quirks of their individual personalities. Inoue’s chemistry with Matsumoto and Oguri also nails the nature of the relationship from the original series. Thanks to the success of this drama, the series managed not only a second season but a Korean adaptation as well.
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: April 2002 – July 2002
In number 3, is the live action version of Gokusen. Though the anime was only one season with a small handful of episodes, its live action adaptation managed to spawn three seasons from 2002 to 2008 with a final movie in 2009. In a physical sense, Nakama Yukie truly brings the Yamaguchi Kumiko character from ink to life. She has the look and ability to pull off the character. Nakama does an effective job of the character coming off as unassuming in all of her portrayals for Kumiko.
The writers, the director, and the actress herself, all do an excellent job of capturing who Kumiko is as a teacher, and as the heir to a yakuza gang. The series also has a great share of action and you see how Kumiko is one tough lady you don't want to mess with. Another great contributor to this series is most certainly the casting of Matsumoto Jun of Arashi (one of Japan’s biggest boy bands) as Sawada Shin. Matsumoto has his own unique charisma that makes you believe he is the leader of a ragtag group of delinquents at the toughest boys’ school in town.
In addition to the individual abilities of Matsumoto and Nakama, their chemistry captures a suggested sense of forbidden feelings between each other, which was also at times, hinted in the original anime and manga. On one surprising note, this drama also features Oguri Shun, a famous actor who also made his breakout role in GTO as a bullied student. But in Gokusen, he’s the delinquent.
2. Nodame Cantabile
- Episodes: 11
- Aired: October 2006 – December 2006
In a very close second, we have the romantic music comedy, Nodame Cantabile. Watch this series along with the anime and you’ll see the live action version is very faithful to its source material. If anything, hardcore fans of this series have a very strong case that maybe the dorama could be superior to the anime. What makes this dorama successful are the portrayals and chemistry of Ueno Juri as Noda Megumi and Tamaki Hiroshi as Chiaki Shinichi. They not only nail the characters they play but do an excellent job of capturing the magic of their unique relationship that starts from a big brother/little sister-like relationship to a budding romance.
Noda Megumi excellently displays Megumi’s childish and eccentric qualities, and Tamaki Hiroshi masterfully captures Chiaki’s superiority complex as the drama manages to find that balance in their relationship. Just like it was in the anime, the series also emphasizes the First Movement or Andante Cantabile, from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. And if there were any more reasons to watch this drama, it would most certainly be Takenaka Naoto’s performance of Stresemann, which you have to see for yourself.
1. GTO 1998
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: July 1998 – September 1998
If any dorama were to make this list at number 1, it would naturally be the 1998 GTO, short for Great Teacher Onizuka. Granted there was a version made in 2012, the 1998 version still resonates with fans to this day. Though the 2012 version manages to adapt more material long after the airing of the original anime and publication of the manga, what makes the 1998 GTO hold up to this day is mostly thanks to Sorimachi Takashi’s portrayal of Onizuka.
Sorimachi’s charisma brings a much appropriate performance for live action and the chemistry with his cast mates, such as Matsushima Nanako (who would later become husband and wife) as Fuyutsuki, would be one part that would define the heart of this series. At the core, the character is still a reformed delinquent who has an unorthodox way of reaching his troubled students and would come to be an influence to his peers with the long-term positive results he gains.
The series excellently critiques the roles within Japanese society in where students, parents, teachers and administrators have a responsibility of making education meaningful beyond the competitive exam system. Sorimachi’s portrayal of Onizuka has a very touching reason with his motivations for becoming a teacher and he values education in a way that may seem idealistic to the Japanese but are the norm for most systems around the world. Sorimachi’s version of Onizuka gives the audience of a very immersing journey in what it means to live a meaningful life and making a difference towards oneself and others.
These are our Top 10 Doramas based on series that have an anime adaptation. If anything, these series prove that live action adaptations are not only possible but can be likable and live up to the source material despite some changes here and there. On one hand, the appeal of Japanese anime is that it really challenges reality in creative ways that break barriers within our imagination.
Another reason for why anime is universal to all audiences outside of the Land of the Rising Sun is that the characters and the themes of the stories are relatable and realistically attainable, which is why we chose these doramas. But if anything, it takes a great leading cast to make the characters believable. So what do you think? Is there anything you want to add? Feel free to leave a comment.