10 Adaptations of Cult Anime and Manga, Ranked from Masterpiece to Complete Disaster

10 Adaptations of Cult Anime and Manga, Ranked from Masterpiece to Complete Disaster
Image credit: Netflix, 20th Century Fox, Anchor Bay Entertainment, FilmDistrict, New Line Cinema, Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures

Some adaptations are so bad that they earn the title of worst movie in history, but some manage to break the trend and earn the love of even hardcore fans of the original.

Bringing anime to the big screen is a risky proposition. Even book adaptations are regularly subjected to harsh criticism, let alone the adaptation of Japanese animation projects, especially cult ones that have long had their own loyal army of fans.

10. Dragonball Evolution, 2009

The American adaptation of the famous anime and manga Dragon Ball is so bad that it is difficult to choose one thing that kills the project, but the fact that the movie managed to insult the entire fan community deserves special mention – perhaps no other project in the history of cinema has ever had such a poor reception.

And for good reason: the movie's plot did not stand up to any criticism, the special effects were worthy of the cheapest TV film, and in general, the movie did not even reach the level of the anime's pilot. Manga creator Akira Toriyama publicly disavowed the film, and screenwriter Ben Ramsey was forced to publicly apologize for his work.

9. Death Note, 2017

Death Note is one of the most unpredictable and witty detective works of this century. Its main strength lies in its intellectual games, which are cleverly thought out and truly astounding in their complexity.

The adaptation has lost all these strengths. Mental games just disappeared, and complex, multifaceted characters became flat. The creators of the Death Note adaptation have only managed to come up with an hour and a half action marathon that looks like an unnecessary fanfiction for the original anime and is inferior to it in every way.

8. Kite, 2014

The anime Kite is very controversial and provocative even by Japanese standards. It tells the story of an innocent girl who has lost her family and now dreams of destroying the killers, and she is helped in her training and search by her father's former partner.

While the anime was highly praised by critics – including Quentin Tarantino himself, who listed Kite as one of his favorite works – the full-length live-action version turned out to be a disaster. The adaptation completely lost the rigidity and uncompromising nature of the anime, and turned out to be simply bland and predictable.

7. Oldboy, 2013

The Japanese manga Oldboy, which belongs to the genre of psychological thrillers, is known to the audience mainly thanks to the South Korean adaptation directed by Park Chan-wook. The film differed from the original in many ways, but in the end it became a cult classic – the movie had suspense, mystery and impressive action.

The director of the American adaptation, Spike Lee, announced that his version would be closer to the original manga, but in reality the film with Josh Brolin turned out to be a bad copy of the South Korean counterpart – the plot wasn't tense, and the action turned out to be too inferior to the Korean version.

6. The Guyver, 1991

The manga and anime of the Guyver universe are considered some of the most iconic works in the combat fiction genre in Japan, ahead of their time in many ways – the main character enters into symbiosis with alien high-tech armor and becomes a warrior in the galactic battle between good and evil.

But the transfer of anime to the big screen turned out to be terrible – the 1991 movie received meager funding and failed to captivate either the creators or the audience. The only thing that can really be praised for this adaptation is the work of Screaming Mad George and Steve Wang, who managed to create extremely convincing monsters.

5. Ghost in the Shell, 2017

Ghost in the Shell is an incomparably better movie than all the previous ones, but perhaps even more soulless. The original anime, an existential cyberpunk action movie about a cyborg girl, had a significant influence on Hollywood cinema – without the work of Mamoru Oshii, neither The Matrix nor Avatar would have been made.

Director Rupert Sanders treated the world of Ghost in the Shell in such a way that it lost what made the manga and anime truly great – the philosophical component. However, the movie deserves admiration for its visuals. For connoisseurs of cyberpunk aesthetics, the adaptation is a real treat for the eyes – gloomy gray corners are neighboring streets full of bright holographic ads.

4. Speed Racer, 2008

Speed Racer is the first Japanese family-oriented animated series to achieve great popularity and even a rebirth in the US. Its author, Tatsuo Yoshida, one of the godfathers of anime, launched it in 1967 at his own studio, Tatsunoko Production.

And the Wachowskis managed to make the anime adaptation work better than anyone expected, even if it turned out to be a family film with no deep meaning at its core. John Gaeta, who worked on The Matrix, was responsible for the special effects – the film used innovative technologies that blurred the line between live action and animation, which still looks impressive today.

3. Edge of Tomorrow, 2014

Edge of Tomorrow is based on a Japanese novel called All You Need is Kill. The authors left the core of the plot unchanged – the idea of a time loop and the use of past experience in a new battle – but decided to experiment with some details.

Edge of Tomorrow is exactly the case when the movie initially fails at the box office, but over time it becomes a cult all over the world, and even fans of the original do not argue that the adaptation turned out to be good.

2. Alita: Battle Angel, 2019

Alita was directed by Robert Rodriguez, but it's actually James Cameron 's dream project. He's a fan of the manga Battle Angel Alita and had been dreaming of making a movie about it for a long time. The movie turned out to be perhaps even better than the anime of the same name.

Alita differs from the Ghost in the Shell adaptation in that it was made with obvious love for the source material – Cameron and Rodriguez wanted audiences to love this story and this heroine as much as they did – and they succeeded. This is a truly bright, vibrant and talented movie, with unforgettable villains, races and fights.

1. One Piece, 2023-…

After the disastrous Cowboy Bebop, Netflix has once again encroached on the sacred and taken on a live-action adaptation of another cult anime, One Piece, and this time it was a triumph – this is now arguably the best anime adaptation. One Piece captures the quirky feel of the anime and works as a standalone entertaining movie that can attract new viewers.

The writers of the new One Piece understand that the quirks of anime are not the show's drawbacks, but part of its charm. The series is not afraid to be silly and exaggerated, but at the same time it can be sad and even tragic.