Live-action anime adaptations are, traditionally and typically speaking, incredibly hard to make well while also sticking true to the source material. This is usually due to how difficult it is to capture the freedom an anime offers via a live-action adaptation of the same; recreating certain fantastical scenes or aspects of a series is much more difficult.
While many live-action anime adaptations usually end up falling short compared to their source material, there are a handful of productions that actually managed to do it well. Some anime series even see multiple live-action-adaptation attempts, some being much more successful and well-liked than others.
Here are five live-action anime adaptations that are universally hated and 5 more that are fairly well-liked.
2009’s Dragonball Evolution and four other disappointing live-action anime adaptations
1) Netflix’s Death Note
Kicking off the list is Netflix’s Death Note movie, with one of the worst receptions to a live-action anime adaptation ever. The film sees Light Yagami still picking up the eponymous, murderous device, but the focus of the film shifts from Light versus L (and later, Near) to Light’s life as a high schooler. There's even the addition of a romance plot.
Furthermore, the depiction of Light Yagami in the film is a staunch departure from the manga and anime series. Overall, it's a complete slap-in-the-face to its source material, resulting in heavy criticism from hardcore Death Note fans and professional reviewers alike.
2) Speed Racer (2008)
The Speed Racer live-action anime adaptation film from 2008 is an absolute trainwreck in every sense of the word. While the film did receive some praise for its use of CGI and visual effects, the shoehorned story was less than enjoyable, especially when considering the source material was already light in terms of story.
However, this obviously doesn’t work for a live-action film's narrative, meaning writers and directors, the Wachowskis, were forced to figure something out for the film’s story. This movie is the result of many bad choices from start to finish.
3) Dragonball Evolution
Easily the most iconic and one of the biggest failures among live-action anime adaptations is the infamous 2009 film Dragonball Evolution. The film takes an incredible amount of liberty with its source material, making Goku a high-school student and having Grandpa Gohan alive well into his young-adult years.
This is only the tip of the iceberg, with plenty more questionable and unnecessary changes made to the source material’s canon. It’s an incredibly confusing effort, and it falls flat in everything it tries to do, failing to even make the Kamehameha look good.
4) Kite (2014)
2014’s Kite is an adaptation of the 1998 anime of the same name, made by Yasuomi Umetsu. The live-action anime adaptation film, unfortunately, fails to live up to everything Umetsu’s original film series did right.
Nothing, from the motivations of the characters to the core themes and morals of the story, is successfully captured, resulting in a confusing web of messages with nothing important to say. It’s one of few films which, to this day, has a 0% Tomatometer score on Rotten Tomatoes.
5) Ghost in the Shell (2017)
Despite having incredible star power in its leading lady, 2017’s Ghost in the Shell, starring Scarlett Johansson, was an absolute flop in every sense of the word. Unfortunately, Johansson’s casting hurt more than it helped, with fans criticizing the film for white-washing its main star.
The film is also heavily critiqued for having a shallow plot, resulting in a cheap imitation of the source material. Similarly, the film’s attempts to touch on similar philosophical matters are also cheaply reproduced and lack depth. Overall, the adaptation was mishandled at every step of the production process.
2019’s Alita: Battle Angel and four other anime live-action adaptations fans like
1) Death Note (2006)
In contrast to Netflix’s Death Note, Japan’s 2006 live-action anime adaptation film of the popular series does everything right. It sticks incredibly close to its source in every way, from plot to characterization and even the appearance and mannerisms of its characters. This one only takes a few creative liberties.
Furthermore, the film received praise for doing an exceptional job of bringing the series’ horror aspects to life, which was an original intent of the anime adaptation. If anything can be learned from the 2006 Death Note film’s success, it’s that adaptations should always stick close to their source material.
2) Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop
Despite being canceled shortly after its premiere, Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop was fairly well-liked by fans of the original anime series. However, critics were much harsher in their reviews. That said, the most important metric of a live-action anime adaptation is typically how fans respond to the adaptation of source material.
In this case, Netflix succeeded enough to create more fans of its series than detractors. How the show didn't white-wash the cast was instantly praised, as was the extremely similar kinetic style of cinematography that the original anime also possesses. Despite having its shortcomings, like every adaptation, Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop was of relatively high quality.
3) Alita: Battle Angel (2019)
2019’s Alita: Battle Angel film is one of the few examples of Hollywood actually somewhat nailing a live-action anime movie. The film not only received praise from fans of the original manga and anime series but also from unfamiliar critics who were reviewing the film itself independently.
The dedication to the source material in this movie is palpable — likely contributing to the positive reviews — in everything from the setting to the mannerisms of the actors and actresses. Relative to others in the space, it’s undoubtedly one of the best live-action anime adaptations of all time.
4) JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable Chapter 1 (2017)
Similarly, the 2017 JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable Chapter 1 live-action film is hailed as one of the best of its kind. Even from sites known to be overly critical and harsh, the film received compliments for its use of visual effects as well as its overall uniqueness in the space.
While aspects of the film’s production are critiqued, all the major, necessary pieces received near-universal praise from critics. It is for good reason that many regard it as one of, if not the best live-action anime adaptation ever.
5) Assassination Classroom (2015)
Finally, 2015’s Assassination Classroom is a particularly interesting case, with the anime adaptation itself releasing the same year as the live-action anime adaptation. Despite the immense amount of pressure such timing would put on a production team and cast, the film is incredibly well-regarded for its overall quality and accomplishments.
The film’s major strengths are, undoubtedly, perfectly capturing the anime and manga’s quirky humour and overall feel. While the sequel film isn’t as highly praised, many critics and fans alike regard the original film as a fantastic adaptation of source material, calling it a welcome addition to the franchise.
Be sure to follow for more anime updates and manga news as 2023 progresses.
This article was modified on Sunday, June 25 at 16:39 PM.