Many can agree that Superman’s debut in June of 1938 was the birth of the superhero genre. Shortly after he hit newsstands, other superheroes from DC Comics and other publishing companies were coming out of the woodworks. Before Superman fought intergalactic threats such as Darkseid with the Justice League, he fought against the KKK, spousal abusers, for labor rights, and against the Nazis. After that, he and other heroes would fight against muggers, the mafia, mad scientists, and finally aliens and other inter dimensional beings. As the superhero genre gained traction in the US, other nations started to contribute with their cultural influences, and that includes Japan. So, who are some of anime’s top superheroes? Read our list to find out!
10. Iron Man from Iron Man
- Episodes: 12
- Air Dates: October 1, 2010 – December 17, 2010
Kicking off this list, we’ll dive into the anime version to one of Marvel’s most recent popular heroes, Iron Man. You perfectly get an anime interpretation through Mad House’s take on the character. While Warren Ellis, a former Iron Man comic writer, supervised this series, you still get an effective anime representation of the character with the action sequences, coloring, presentation with the panning and dramatic flare, where anime is best at. Once again, you see Tony Stark don the armor as he fights the Zodiac, rogue terrorists who want to use his tech to take over the world. Complimenting Robert Downey, Jr’s cheeky interpretation of the character, we have Keiji Fujiwara, voicing Tony in the Japanese version to get an idea of how he doesn’t take situations seriously and just wants to be a genius – billionaire – playboy - philanthropist.
9. Zetman from Zetman
- Episodes: 13
- Air Dates: April 3, 2012 – June 26, 2012
Some are born to be heroes, and there are others that are created to be heroes because they really don’t have a choice. Some were given abilities against their will, and that’s the case with Jin Kanzaki, who was experimented on in his childhood by a science organization to fight other experiments known as Players (while he is often mistaken for one). As Zetman, Jin can transform in a super powered creature of size and strength. But just like the Hulk, the angrier you make him, the stronger you’re going to make him. And due to growing up homeless, as Jin, he is a capable street fighter. With his abilities as Zetman, it makes him even deadlier. Just like the Players, the villains of this series, Zetman is a hero that fights in the shadows to protect the people he care about. At first, Jin is reluctant to fight, but seeing how the things are in the balance, he has to do the right thing. At times, making the right choice when it can be the hardest thing to do is what makes someone a hero.
8. Cutie Honey from Cutie Honey Universe
- Episodes: 12
- Air Dates: April 8, 2018 – June 24, 2018
Taking more from Go Nagai’s original manga, Honey Kisaragi is an android designed to fight the evil forces of a mad science criminal organization, Panther Claw. School girl by day and transforming vigilante by night, Honey uses the power of her collar to transform into anything she wants to take evil down. Sometimes she’s a photographer, a rockstar, a model, or a motocross racer, but when she assumes the form of Cutie Honey, she’s a lean, mean fighting machine and more. Though Honey is an android, she is capable of having expressing every human emotion. She genuinely cares about the Hayami family who look after her, her classmates, and her best friend Natsuko, and the fact she fights to protect them and Tokyo shows excellent qualities of a hero.
7. Koichi Furumi from Babel Nisei (Babel II)
- Episodes: 39
- Air Dates: January 1, 1973 – September 24, 1973
If any anime superhero made the school uniform such as the gakuran for boys a popular trope in anime and manga, it is all thanks to Koichi Furumi from Babel II. As the title suggests, this anime takes influence from the Old Testament (or The Torah), the Tower of Babel. As opposed to being created by religious influences, the tower was constructed by an alien who wanted to phone home (and yes, there’s a super computer in this anime’s Tower of Babel), and Koichi happens to be a descendant of this alien, and has inherited his powers such as super strength and intellect.
In addition, he has three servants, Lodem (a transforming black panther), Ropross (a robot pterodactyl), and Poseidon (a robot that can come from the sea). However, Koichi learns he’s not the only descendant of Babel as Yomi, a leader of a terrorist empire who is set to conquer the world, has also inherited similar abilities. Now Koichi must battle Yomi’s robot army from carrying out its goals. The fact that a mere school boy takes on an evil empire shows he’s a one of a kind superhero.
6. Sailor Moon from Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon (Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon)
- Episodes: 200
- Air Dates: March 7, 1992 – February 8, 1997
Even prior to the debut of Sailor Moon, the magical girl genre already existed for a little over a decade, but it was this series that solidified it both domestically and internationally. It popularized Japanese sailor school girl uniforms around the world, and the series served as an inspiration to audiences of numerous backgrounds. As Usagi (or Serena), she just wants to be an ordinary girl, but she is given the responsibility of Sailor Moon as the reincarnation of the Moon Princess, Serenity. When threats from Queen Beryl to Sailor Galaxia threaten the peace of Tokyo, she takes responsibility to protect the world.
Usagi has been criticized for being an academic underachiever, a klutz, and being emotional. She has been bashed for being such things, but what’s wrong with having a superhero with relatable flaws? When you put all of her negative qualities aside, she makes up with a pure heart. She genuinely cares about the victims the wicked prey on, and is the first to be there for her friends, or be a friend to someone who needs one. The fact that she puts others before herself when it counts is what makes her an amazing hero. Even when she faces certain enemies, as opposed to just eliminating them, she does her best to solve conflicts by talking it out and using her powers to eliminate any malice from certain villains such as Ali and En, the Ayakashi Sisters, and Sailor Galaxia. The fact that she uses the power of friendship and love to save the day is what makes her an ideal hero.
5. Seiya Pegasus from Saint Seiya
- Episodes: 114
- Air Dates: October 11, 1986 – April 1, 1989
Saint Seiya may have never gotten the same attention in the US that it got in Western Europe and Latin America, but without a doubt, Seiya is one of anime’s biggest heroes of all time. As he fights the forces of evil with his cosmos, he can crush any foe with his Pegasus Ryu Sei Ken, punches that can produce meteor like effects. Throughout the series, him and his fellow bronze saints (later revealed to be his half-brothers) face enemies taken from Greek and Norse mythology as they seek to conquer the world. Even when Seiya is pushed to his limits, he finds the strength necessary to defeat whoever stands to rule the world. What ultimately makes him a hero is his love for Saori, the reincarnation of Athena. Though their relationship starts off a little rocky, he would do anything to protect her and proves it in the Hades ending, and in turn saves the world.
4. Kinnikuman from Kinnikuman
- Episodes: 137
- Air Dates: April 3, 1983 – October 1, 1986
Kinnikuman is the people’s champion of the Planet Kinniku (meaning muscle in Japanese), which produces the greatest superheroes throughout the universe. Even so, he does have some tendencies that are comparable to that of Donald Trump, who happens to be a WWE Hall of Fame inductee. Since Kinnikuman tends to present himself as a klutz and as an idiot, he must fight for his right to the throne not on the streets of Tokyo, but in the squared circle of professional wrestling against Choujins, or Super Beings who wish to expand their dastardly deeds. Some of these villains include Nazis, mutant crabs, a Kung Fu wrestler named Ramenman, and other characters that represent stereotypes that will probably send snowflakes to their nearest safe space. But what can be more heroic than fighting Nazis? Thanks to Kinnikuman coming from a planet of superheroes, he has super strength, agility, speed, and stamina. And when you’re crushed by his Kinniku Buster (a moved that’s actually banned in the WWE), you’re out for the 3 count!
3. Wild Tiger from Tiger and Bunny
- Episodes: 25
- Air Dates: April 3, 2011 – September 18, 2011
Wild Tiger, aka Kotetsu, is a hero for all the right reasons. He does have an amazing super power in which he can increase his physical abilities 100x normal capacity, but can only work for five minutes and he must recharge for an hour after use. Even so, he naturally trains his body to peak physical condition. He doesn’t care about money, fame, or glory. He does it because he genuinely wants to make his community a better place, and at times, he’ll play by his own rules to get that done. Kotetsu may not always have himself together mentally, but his heart is always in the right place. As opposed to doing PR, he could be doing the best kind of PR and that’s helping out his fellow man, but at times, his enthusiasm can cause unintentional property damage, which does anger some sponsors (SoftBank, one of Japan’s leading cell phone providers) of his. A wiseman once said it’s nice to have an open mind, but it’s even better to have an open heart, and that’s what Kotetsu perfectly demonstrates as a hero.
2. Saitama from One Punch Man
- Episodes: 12+
- Air Dates: October 5, 2015 - Present
So, maybe Saitama wasn’t drifted from another planet, wasn’t exposed to gamma radiation, or not just simply born with his crazy strength. At one point, we are highly likely to face a midlife crisis shortly before we turn 40. For others, that may also show up as a quarter life crisis in their mid-20s, and that’s what happened with Saitama. After being bored living an ordinary life, he figured he’d screw the system, and train his body to become a superhero. So after a year of doing 100 pushups, situps, squats, and running 10km a day, he gains the power to defeat his enemies with a single punch. Not only does he have super strength, he has super speed, heightened senses, immune to heat oriented attacks, general invulnerability, and can fight psychics. What makes Saitama a hero is that he just pursues it as a personal passion, and not to get rich and famous. He lets other people take the credit for his work, and he doesn’t mind, just don’t make fun of the fact that he’s bald.
1. All Might from Boku no Hero Academia (My Hero Academia)
- Episodes: 63+
- Air Dates: April 3, 2016 - Ongoing
As for our number one pick, we had to go with All Might from Boku no Hero Academia. He’s an excellent balance of American and Japanese superheroes. His over-enthusiastic personality with his Mr. Universe body just manages to find a way to captivate viewers of all background. Beyond that, he’s what being a superhero is all about, he genuinely cares about making the world a better place, and when people are down, he’s there to cheer them up. Even when he’s past his prime and slowly fading out due to past injuries, he still puts others before himself in order to save ordinary citizens.
Like Izuku, the main character, he wasn’t born with a quirk, or the series way of saying superpowers. Even so, he was chosen to inherit the greatest quirk ever, All For One, which gives its user super strength. Every time he throws a punch, he likes to name them after US cities or states followed by smash just to show some American influence to his gimmick. Despite his showmanship whenever he’s in public, All Might is very humble and is willing to share his wisdom with others. He’s not afraid to admit when he fails, and is willing to learn from his failure and ask for help when necessary. When he sees how much of an influence he has on children can lead to a negative path (such as Bakugo’s conflict with Izuku), he owns up to his reputation as a role model and sees what he can do to fix it. The fact that he takes responsibility even when he doesn’t have to shows what ultimately makes All Might one of the greatest heroes in not just anime and manga, but to the superhero genre as a whole.
Some may dispute Son Gokuu of Dragon Ball fame as a superhero and if you grew up on the English dub (or depending on the dub of your native language), it is understandably arguable to list him as one. Of course, many fans enjoy the never ending debate on who would win, Gokuu or Superman? As to why we didn’t list Gokuu, it comes down to Toriyama personally admitting he doesn’t consider him a superhero. Usually, a hero puts others before themselves and when Gokuu fights the likes of Freeza, Toriyama says Gokuu’s primary motivation for fighting is because he wants to fight strong opponents, not to save the universe. The English dub is rather guilty of this when Gokuu first turns Super Saiyan, and says he is the hope of the universe and that he’s the answer to all living things that cry out for peace. In the Japanese version, he just simply says he’s a Saiyan raised on Earth, and that he was pushed to his limits by rage to become the legendary Super Saiyan. Gokuu’s actions at times does save the world and universe, but it’s not what drives him. Plus, some of Gokuu’s well intended actions have had consequences, such as transporting Cell to King Kai’s planet only to kill King Kai in the process.
Yes, heroes can make mistake, but we wanted to concentrate on heroes who are purely motivated to help their communities or world (or universe) to become a better place. So, what are some of your favorite superheroes in the world of Japanese anime? Leave your thoughts in the comments!