The Best Live-Action Anime Adaptations, Ranked

Spiked hair of all colors in the rainbow, grotesque proportions of human (and non-human) bodies, bizarre angles and poses, and absurdly cutesy expressions — anime is never grounded and deliberately defies reality, which makes it especially hard to adapt in live- action.

Most live-action adaptations have a limited budget that makes it especially hard to accurately adapt scenes to truly grandiose and visually stunning levels. Some adaptations seem like they are almost ashamed of their origins and reject all weirdness and suspension of disbelief, the end product coming out reprehensibly bland. Others don’t quite respect their audiences, thinking it’s necessary to try to Americanize distinctly Japanese stories for western viewers to understand them, which results in forgettable, generic movies that are also often borderline offensive.

While (unfortunately) there’s a bad reputation for live-action anime adaptations, there are actually many great movies based on anime. They manage to distill the tension, the style, and the fun of their source without losing its uniqueness, enjoyable for both fans and those who’ve never heard of it before. Here are the best of the live action anime adaptations.


9 Kingdom

A historical war fantasy about two slaves who become generals, Kingdom does its source material justice. This movie works as a stand-alone wuxia gem, too, so it just might bring new fans to check out the anime and manga it was based on. Performances are delightfully solemn and over the top, music is epic, and costumes, described by Variety, are “a combination of Game of Thrones and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome with African and Chinese influences” — what’s there not to like?

8 Inuyashiki

As often happens in the world of fiction, witnessing an explosion (especially one of extraterrestrial origin) results in incredible powers. After that happens to an old friendless salaryman and a promising teenager conveniently named Hiro, one of them turns into a literal hero and another goes on a rampage against anyone who even slightly wronged him in his life. In a subversion of genre conventions, it is the meek old man who tries to save the day from the kid who becomes a frenzied supervillain. Inuyashiki is an anti-ageist superhero flick that, according to Asian Movie Pulse “manages to tell an incredibly human story in one of the most vain and characterless genres in cinema.”

7 Assassination Classroom

A nearly unkillable tentacled creature almost destroys the moon, after which it happily announces that it will do the same to Earth — but first it’ll teach high schoolers maths. The high schoolers have to complete not one but two of the missions impossible: pass the midterms and kill their teacher before their graduation. The live action Assassination Classroom is unapologetically weird, true to the manga and anime it’s adapting, and what is more of a challenge in itself, manages to smoothly translate this weirdness to live-action. Described by We Got This Covered as “an apocalyptic bit of J-pop mayhem that’s an underdog story at heart, but an alien invasion film in practice,” this movie manages to be absolutely ridiculous and surprisingly heartwarming at the same time.

Related: ODDTAXI: Anime Meets Tarantino and Scorsese in the Japanese Sensation

6 Bleach

While fans are patiently waiting for the revival, wondering how the manga’s final arc will be adapted, a great way to quench the thirst for new Bleach content is to (re)watch Netflix’s live-action movie. This version of Bleach is surprisingly faithful to the source material and manages to capture its silliness and groove. Netflix’s Bleach embraces its premise and balances trademark self-irony and soulfulness pretty well, emphasizing components that are exactly what fans love about the original: the stylish, visually striking fights, elements of urban fantasy, and of course the main characters. Ichigo and Rukia’s relationship will always be the heart of the show, and in the movie, their chemistry is off the charts, with Sota Fukushi’s angsty no-nonsense persona playing spectacularly against Hana Sugisaki’s intensity and sweet cluelessness.

5 Ace Attorney

Turning the obnoxiousness of the courtroom drama to 11, Ace Attorney proves that adapting video games and anime can not only be a fun branching-out for the fan base but also enrich the fandom experience as a whole. Focusing on the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney cases, this story follows a rookie defense attorney who tries to solve the murder of his mentor, teaming up with her psychic-in-training little sister in the process. Takashi Miike, the maestro of pulp, was the perfect choice for the director, as he brought his own cartoonish action flair and doubled down on Ace Attorney’s zany, high camp moments.

4 Death Note

Death Note has a tortuous history, as it produced both one of the worst, revolting, and completely unsuccessful movies but also one of the best, exemplar live-action anime adaptations. The great 2006 version is a slow-paced suspenseful psychological thriller that follows a brilliant student Light Yagami who picks up a notebook that gives him the power to kill just about anyone in the world. He decides to make the world a better place by murdering criminals (and soon anyone who tries to stop him) but his brand of justice causes more fear than happiness. A mysterious detective sets out to stop him, and the game of cat and mouse ensues…

3 Blade of the Immortal

Blade of the Immortal is a blood-soaked tragic tale of masterful rōnin Manji, a man with a secret: he cannot be killed. Manji’s immortality is a curse of an 800-year-old nun, and he is compelled to kill 1,000 evil men to end it. During his quest, he meets an orphan girl and promises to help her avenge her parents. Another gory masterpiece from Takashi Miike, this spectacular action epic, which is also his 100th film, is a must-see for lovers of samurai movies and gruesomely violent boss battles. Note to self: not for those with weak stomachs!

Related: Akira Kurosawa: The Best Films From His Middle Period

2 Rurouni Kenshin

Offering everything — awesome fight choreography, achingly beautiful cinematography, intricate sets, and charismatic leads — Rurouni Kenshin is widely recognized as “the decade’s best live-action Japanese action saga.” Among the little changes between the anime and its adaptation is a slight tonal shift. The live-action movie parted with farcical humor and cuteness, allowing some lightheartedness but overall going for a more gloomy attitude, fitting for a story of a samurai that longs for peace and vows to never kill again — but confronted with the ghosts of his past , again and again, forced to take up his sword to defend the innocent.

1 Alita: Battle Angel

Based on manga gunnm and its anime adaptation titled Battle Angel, Alita: Battle Angel is a kickass cyberpunk epic. Deriving its artistic influences not only from the source material but also from the generous multitude of great sci-fi classics, this mecha-girl blockbuster comes into its own and boasts a loyal following that patiently awaits a continuation. a Pinocchio story on steroids, Battle Angel is an excessive action-packed rollercoaster that at its core is a powerful and surprisingly sweet coming-of-age story. The decision to digitally enhanced Rosa Salazar may be a controversial one to some, but she gives a commanding, stylish, and incredible performance in this underrated film.

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