When people talk about superhero comics, very rarely does the image of manga and anime come to mind. Sure, many manga feature intense action sequences and superpowers, but for them to be a full-blown superhero? Now that's far less common. Superheroes typically wear masks and fight crime with wild alter egos. Sure, there's the ol' "Who would win, Goku or Superman?" discussions, but Goku, mighty and awesome as he is, doesn't fit the mold of a superhero.
However, several manga and anime over the years have attempted to tell compelling superhero stories in the style of their American counterparts. Some are cerebral, others inspiring, and some are downright disturbing. Regardless, there are several superhero anime and manga you cannot afford to miss out on.
Oh, and there's no superhero anime directly adapting an American comic. So Witchblade and the Marvel anime are effectively not gonna appear here.
10. Cyborg 009
One of the oldest entries on this list, Cyborg 009 tells the tale of a group of cyborgs forced to fight together to survive. The group of nine cyborgs are forced to confront mad scientists hellbent on starting a new World War, ancient civilizations, and even deal with a crossover with other anime superheroes.
Cyborg 009 has had numerous adaptations over the years, but the most well-known may be Cyborg 009: The Cyborg Soldier, due in part to it airing on Cartoon Network's Toonami run. The series has survived the test of time due to its focus on sci-fi action and team dynamics in the face of insurmountable odds.
The late Stan Lee left an impact in superhero comics worldwide. He even worked on a few manga and anime. While Heroman isn't his first or last project from Japan, it is his most well-known.
Taking place in an alternate United States, the story centers on a boy named Joey who discovers a broken-down robot. After repairing the machine to its full glory, fate intervenes when lightning strikes the robot, which somehow enlarges the robot and makes it more powerful. Together, Joey and his robot—Heroman—will have to confront a force of invading aliens.
While the show itself is a fun little series aimed for young teens, it is admirable to see the creativity put on display in this pastiche of Western superhero tropes.
8. Samurai Flamenco
Male model Masayoshi Hazama doesn't have any superpowers, but he has always aspired to be one. So, one day, he decides to kick logic to the curb and do the impossible: he becomes a hero known only as Samurai Flamenco. Along the way, he encounters a police officer who encourages him on his absurd task. But soon, despite having no powers, Masayoshi will need to confront an insane enemy from beyond the stars.
Samurai Flamenco is often overshadowed by another superhero anime starring a boy with no superpowers aspiring to be a hero, so it falls under the radar quite often. However, the show offers comedy and heart, as well as some surprisingly intense moments.
7. One-Punch Man
One-Punch Man is a superhero anime. One-Punch Man is a gag anime. One-Punch Man is a way of life through which we may all find pure happiness.
Saitama is a hero living in a world full of absurd characters. Disasters seem to happen on a regular basis, and the world needs a hero. Saitama may not be the flashiest hero, but he has a gift: he can win every fight in one punch. Only downside? Saitama is bored. Very, very bored.
Very few anime are as effectively irreverent as One-Punch Man, which combines gorgeous animation with laugh-out-loud absurd humor.
6. Puella Magi Madoka Magica
How much would you give up to have your wish come true?
Puella Magi Madoka Magica follows the titular Madoka, who, along with her friend Sayaka, come in contact with an enigmatic entity known as Kyubey. Kyubey promises to grant any wish so long as they become magical girls who can fight nightmarish entities known as Witches. However, as the series unfolds, it becomes clear that nothing is as it seems. And why does that dark-haired girl tell Madoka to, under no circumstances, make a wish?
Madoka pretends it's all fluff, which hides its truly nightmarish nature. Some call it a deconstruction of the magical girl genre, while others refer to it as the anime equivalent of Goethe's Faust.
5. Guyver: The Bioboosted Armor
Guyver is one of the greatest superhero manga ever written. It has been adapted several times, including as a 12-episode OVA back in the '80s that was a staple in many old-school anime fans' collection.
However, in the 2000s adaptation, Guyver: The Bioboosted Armor is a far more complete telling of the story, which focuses on a biological suit known as a Guyver suit. Developed by an evil organization obsessed with genetic testing, the suit lands in the hands of Sho Fukamachi, who is forced to defend himself and his loved ones from the suit's inventors. The owners are also the same ones who are hell-bent on bringing it back under their control.
The series is brutal, dark, and sadistic, mixing superhero action with cyberpunk sensibilities. It remains a classic that's been adapted over and over again for a very good reason.
4. Devilman Crybaby
While there have been several adaptations of Go Nagai's Devilman manga, none captures the nihilistic horror of it all as effectively as Devilman Crybaby.
Akira is a wimpy kid who cries at the drop of a hat. However, after a chance encounter with his old friend, Ryo, Akira's spirit is intertwined with that of a brutal demon named Amon. From there, they become Devilman, fighting demons by moonlight and all that. But are the demons really the worst thing that can be thrown at Akira and his friends, or is the human heart the foulest thing on this rotten earth?
This short series is a brutal shot of nightmare fuel. Beautifully animated and dreadfully disturbing, this superhero anime will remain a classic to be watched and rewatched for years to come.
Also worth watching are the Devilman OVAs, which, while cheesy, offer a good dose of old school anime ultra-violence.
3. Tiger And Bunny
If superheroes were popular, they'd get sponsors.
Old-school hero Kotetsu Kaburagi (Wild Tiger) is an out-dated relic in an era where individuals are known as NEXTs—humans with superhuman abilities—fight crime for the sake of drawing publicity deals. Along the way, he meets Barnaby Brooks (Bunny), a new kid on the block fresh on the superhero business. Together, they work together to fight crime in a world that glorifies crime fighting.
What makes this superhero anime so unique is its focus on sponsorship. It treats the superhero business like the modern sports industry, which offers a colorful commentary on the cult of celebrity as well as what it really means to be a hero.
On top of that, Tiger and Bunny share a beautiful dynamic that, while often seen in stories, remains potent and effective.
2. My Hero Academia
Of the next generation of shönen anime and manga, no other has reached the level of worldwide popularity that My Hero Academia has.
The story stars Midoriya, a boy who lives in a world of people with wild powers and abilities called quirks. Midoriya dreams of being a hero like his idol All-Might one day. Only problem? He's one of the few people on earth without a power. However, after a chance meeting with his idol, Midoriya learns of a way that he too can be a hero. And not just any hero, but the best hero around.
This superhero anime can be best described as Marvel meets Hogwarts. We follow Midoriya through superhero high school, where he meets a cast of colorful, lovable characters and nightmarish villains. What sets My Hero Academia apart from the rest, however, is the story's heart.
If you are only going to watch one superhero anime, make it this one.
Or, maybe, the number one...
1. Sailor Moon
This is it: one of the most famous anime ever made.
Sailor Moon focuses on the adventures of one Usagi Tsukino, an immature crybaby who is in actuality the reincarnation of the Moon Princess Serenity. She, along with the reincarnations of Serenity's guardians, the Sailor Senshi, are tasked with defending the planet from ancient civilizations, time-traveling empires, outer-dimensional destroyers, evil circuses, and a cosmic overlord hellbent on blotting out the entire galaxy.
The series has remained ever popular since its inception in the early '90s, becoming one of the biggest influences on the anime genre in the years that followed. To this day, its characters remain iconic in a way rivaled by only Dragonball Z and Pokémon. Despite its sometimes choppy animation and occasionally underwhelming filler episodes, Sailor Moon has earned a place among the greatest anime of all time due in no small part to its iconic cast of characters and unforgettable moments. In a list of superhero anime, however, it easily takes the top spot.