11 Manga Series That Should Never Be Live Action Movies

With Alita: Battle Angel in theaters this weekend, we’re thinking a lot about the twisted path that manga has taken to the silver screen. For the most part, live-action adaptations of Japanese comics are… pretty bad. Think about Netflix’s reviled Death Note, or the dismal Dragonball Evolution. As a preemptive strike, we wanted to dip into our tankoubon shelves and bring out 11 manga series that Hollywood should keep their filthy hands off of.

Planetes

Planetes

Makoto Yukimura’s hard sci-fi series is beloved by deep manga heads for the way it takes an unflinching look at the mental and emotional tolls of a life in space. Main character Hachimaki is the son of a famed engineer who is in charge of the first manned mission to Jupiter, but he doesn’t want to ride on his dad’s coattails. It’s the kind of story that would be perfect for a movie — personal, touching and aspirational — but the manga’s strongest features are its willingness to just stop and breathe in the majesty and intensity of the void. Somehow we doubt a live-action adaptation would be able to keep that stillness on the silver screen.

Baki The Grappler

Baki The Grappler

The steroidal, violent energy of Keisuke Itagaki’s Baki The Grappler is a perfect match for the manga medium, as young Baki trains and fights his way through a series of increasingly terrifying opponents. The series works great as an anime (you can watch it on Netflix) but it’s exactly the kind of thing that a live-action adaptation would blow. The magic of Baki is how over the top its action is — fighters deliver and absorb crippling blows and brutal takedowns that shake the Earth, and there’s just no way real fighters could do them without looking stupid.

What’s Michael?

What's Michael

Makoto Kobayashi’s What’s Michael? has been called a Japanese version of Garfield, replacing that orange feline’s gluttony and spite with a more nuanced, low-key exploration of the life of a house cat. That sounds all well and good until we think about how the live-action Garfield movies were tremendous stinkers. There’s just no way that a live action (and, let’s face it, probably a bunch of CGI) movie could capture the mixture of realism and gentle fantasy that made the manga so successful, and watching them fail would be painful.

Apocalypse Meow

Apocalypse Meow

One of the longest-rumored film adaptations in the Western comics world is Grant Morrison’s We3, the 2004 story of a trio of cybernetically-enhanced animals who escape from a lab and go on a journey together. Across the pond, a similar anthropomorphic manga that addresses the horrors of war was becoming successful — Cat Shit One, brought over here as Apocalypse Meow. Starring three rodents named Botasky, Perky and Rats who serve in an advance recon team, it’s a gripping and deeply weird take on the Vietnam War that would be deeply unsettling in all the worst ways as a live action film.

Silent Möbius

Silent Möbius

Kia Asamiya’s 1989 series is one of the keystones of the cyberpunk genre, a stylish and violent series about a future Earth where a portal to another world has been opened to rob them of their clean air and water, only to unleash a horde of monsters instead. An all-female team of police officers is the only thing protecting Tokyo from the malevolent Lucifer Hawks. After the unmitigated mess that was Ghost In The Shell, we’re loath to see any of that manga’s contemporaries get as adulterated for American audiences.

One-Punch Man

One-Punch Man

One of the biggest manga success stories of the past decade, One-Punch Man started out as a webcomic before becoming a multi-media juggernaut. With superhero stories making more money than anything else in Hollywood, it wouldn’t surprise us much to see some studio snap up the rights. If you’ve been living under a rock, One-Punch Man (watch it on Netflix) is about Saitama, a hero so strong he can defeat any foe with a single blow, and his struggles with boredom and complacency. It’s a totally unique reading experience that I don’t think any filmmaker could really do justice to — they’d either make the comedy too broad or cut it out entirely.

Welcome to the N.H.K.

Welcome to the N.H.K.

Movies revolving around conspiracy theories typically don’t work out all that well. The work it takes to put the viewer in the mental state of somebody who sees connections where none exist gets in the way of traditional narrative. It works fine in manga, as the hit Welcome to the N.H.K. shows. The series follows a man named Tatsuhiro Satō who dropped out of college four years ago and has been living as a NEET ever since. He becomes convinced that his lifestyle is part of a conspiracy to turn young Japanese men into house-bound rejects to give the rest of society something to look down on, and with the help of a mysterious young woman he tries to fix his own problems and get to the bottom of the conspiracy.

Naruto

Naruto

One of the most popular manga franchises of the 21st century, Naruto (watch it on Netflix) is a juggernaut of tie-in media including anime series and video games. So it’s sort of surprising that nobody’s optioned the damn thing for a disastrous live-action experience. There has certainly been talk, with The Greatest Showman director Michael Gracey at one point discussing it as his next movie. But doing a Hugh Jackman musical circus movie is pretty different from adapting a manga series that clocks in at 72 volumes plus spin-offs, and we don’t have a lot of hope that the jutsu-filled fights of the comic will work on the screen.

Bastard!!

Bastard!!

Science fiction is a pretty easy play to adapt to live-action film, but fantasy typically has a harder time. It’s difficult to present a world of magic and monsters that doesn’t look goofy, and we fear that an attempt to pull off Kazushi Hagiwara’s long-running Bastard!! would fall victim to the same curse that affected the Dungeons & Dragons movie. Since beginning serialization in 1988, Bastard!! has followed the exploits of the mighty wizard Dark Schneider, re-animated to defeat the Four Lords of Havoc. With tons of heavy metal references, this is an epic tale that crushes it on the page but would be way too goofy and incomprehensible when condensed down to two hours.

Gyo

Gyo

Junji Ito’s horror manga Uzumaki actually got a fairly decent live-action adaptation in 2000 from maverick director Higunchinsky, but I doubt his follow-up would work nearly as well. Gyo tells an apocalyptic story about dead fish and other sea life who come crawling out of the ocean on mysterious metal legs to attack humanity. The explanation is convoluted and ridiculous, but the set pieces of hordes of marine animals swarming up from the ocean is unforgettable. It’s the kind of thing that big-budget filmmakers would go nuts for, but the actual plot isn’t really enough to translate into a movie.

Akira

Akira

Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira is one of the touchstones of the manga medium, an insanely detailed tale of psychic powers, disaffected teens and grand conspiracies. An anime adaptation was visually stunning but didn’t come close to capturing the scale of the original, so we’re absolutely not psyched for a live-action version. Warner Brothers bought the rights in 2002 and it’s been in development hell ever since, with talents like the Hughes Brothers, Justin Lin and Taika Waititi attached. It sucks to say this but I hope it never happens — there’s no way the massive scope of Akira is going to work boiled down to a movie for Western audiences. Not to sound like a weeb or anything.

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