When anime fans hear that their favorite manga is getting turned into a live action movie or series, most of them cry out in horror. That’s because most of the live action versions just aren’t what we fans expect. But do we really have to be so horrified by live action series?
Lately, there are more and more manga being adapted into series and movies. I am here to prove that there are some good live action adaptations out there! Let me introduce to you my Top 5 Live Action Japanese TV series that were adapted from shojo manga...
My credentials? I have been watching J-dramas – a.k.a. doramas – for about 10 years now and have watched over 500 series and movies from Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. While not all of them are based on manga/anime, a good portion is, and I have decided to share with you which adaptation I consider the best.
Here is a short introduction for those who are not familiar with the term. Doramas are not only series from Japan. Booming for years now are series from Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Hong Kong, and mainland China. I only watch series from Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. However, because the budget and style of doramas is different for each country, I will limit my list to series from Japan.
By the way, you probably know the word ‘live action’ to mean anything that isn’t ‘animation’. However, in the dorama fan community, the word ‘live-action’ is actually a sub-genre of dorama. A ‘live action adaptation’ is based on a source material, such as a manga!
Before I start my ranking, here is a short disclaimer: this is a very personal ranking and just my opinion. There are a lot of good series based on anime or manga and there is no way that I could have seen all of them. When I say top 5, I mean my personal favorites and might and probably will not be liked by everyone. If you have your own Top 5, please share it in the comments!
5. Zettai Kareshi
Based on the manga Zettai Kareshi (Absolute Boyfriend) by Yuu Watase Aired date: 15 April – 24 June 2008 on Fuji TV Episodes: 11 and one special episode
Riiko (Saki Aibu) has a proper job and many dreams she strives for, but her experience with love is lacking. When her confession to a co-worker fails, she tries to forget her worries by drowning them in alcohol at a bar. There she meets a strange guy from ‘Kronos Heaven’, who sells her a robot that looks like a hot guy (Mokomichi Hayami). The robot moves and talks like a human and he is just her type. And he keeps talking about being her perfect boyfriend.
The series is based on a manga by Yuu Watase, a classic manga author if, like me, you grew up with shojo manga published in German. The crazy story seems like a good start to any series, because who wouldn’t want to program their perfect boyfriend? The story does what any good shojo manga should do: make your heart skip a beat. And we even get to see the beautiful body of the hot robot, Night. Even though it is based on the manga of the same name, there were many changes done to this series. We deal with adults instead of 16-year olds and Soushi’s character was adjusted to be playful instead of dead serious. But let me tell you, I really like the changes. The manga seems a bit strange: a high school girl has a sex robot and is alone at home. The situation seems awkward and I welcomed the change to a more realistic setting that as a reader of the manga I could understand. Having Soushi change so much was not really necessary, so I have to say it was just at the convenience of the writers. He was still lovable enough and the changes fit the story.
However, I still thinksome parts weretoo strange and not realistic (as far as a robot-is-your-lover story can be realistic). The series, however, was produced so well that I can still think back to this series as one of the best shojo manga turned dorama. The main happenings from the manga are still in there. As a fan of shojo stories, I can also say that there were so many romantic scenes, I wouldn’t know where to start if I had to count them. I also liked the love triangle. For once, even thedramatic problems the main characters had with the support characters were fun to watch and not as annoying as they can get at times. And can I just give a shout out to Mokomichi and his body? I think he was the perfect choice for Night, because even though you can do a lot with make-up, as often as he undresses, it was needed that he had a good body base.
4. Ouran High School Host Club
Based on the manga Ouran Koukou Host Club (Ouran High School Host Club) by Bisco Hatori Air date: 22 July – 30 September 2011 on TBS Episodes: 11 Official Website: http://www.tbs.co.jp/ouran2011/
Haruhi (Haruna Kawaguchi) just wants to do one thing:graduate from her high school for the rich without any problems and without too much attention. But then she gets lost at school, enters the school’s own host club and knocks over a vase, which costs more than all the money she could earn throughout the whole school year. To pay for the vase, she has to work at the host club because Tamaki (Yusuke Yamamoto), the club leader, mistakes her for a boy.
I think this series tried to stay closest to its original. There is even a Honey-senpai shrinking to the size of a doll when he jumps into the arms of Mori-kun. And even though it seems ridiculous when you see it for the first time, it fits the overall craziness of the series. Kawaguchi is plain enough to fit the role of Haruhi perfectly and is the much needed balance next to theover-actingof the rest of the host club. Most series try to get away from the anime comedy. Most of the times they use it so badly that they mess up the whole story. Fortunately, the producers here did well. There are only a few serious characters and story elements, so they could afford to go over the top with the effects and comedy. It’s the essence of the story, and it is so much fun to watch.
The reason I didn’t rank this series higher was thelack of romance. For a few scenes my heart was skipping a beat and there were more many cheesy moments… but not enough. I wanted to see the host club more in action, to make me swoon and sigh without the laughing fits. For a shojo manga live action adaptation, there just wasn’t enough romance to rank it higher. But that doesn’t make it a bad drama. It gets 10 out of 10 for sticking to the atmosphere of theoriginal.
3. Kimi wa Pet
Based on the manga Tramps Like Us (Kimi wa Pet) by Yayoi Ogawa Air date: 16 April – 18 June 2003 on TBS Episodes: 10
Jun Matsumoto as Momo/Takeshi Goda
Sumire (Koyuki) is strong and confident but horribly lonely, because nobody dares to approach her. On a particularly lonely day, her boyfriend breaks up with her and she has totransfer from her dream job to another department because she hit a higher-up in the face. That night, she finds a box outside her door with a boy in it. Since he was wounded, she took him in andtended to him, but when Takeshi (Jun Matsumoto) wakes up, he says he would do anything to be able to stayat her place. Not being used to someone around her, she just wants him gone already. To make him leave, she decides to hurt his pride with a ridiculous suggestion no sane person could accept: she tells him he could stay as her human pet. Heagrees.
The brilliance of this story lies in its realistic aspects. First, it’s not about schoolchildren. Second, the idea of having a person sitting at home and waiting for you like a pet is unique and hilarious. I thought it was crazy at first, but this dorama got me hooked instantly. Matsumoto Jun did a great job as Momo. His dancing is brilliant, he has the shaggy hair I associate with a dog and he played the role back when he was reallyyoung and cute. Koyuki is also perfectly cast, because she manages to show the problems that Sumire has: the stony face which can easily be misunderstood as anger or arrogance.
The series has some bad points as well. Sometimes the story drags, especially with her second love interest and the big drama at the end. And if we compare the dorama to the manga, then we have to say that it is lacking in many aspects. That doesn’t make it a worse drama. It’s just that if you are a fan of both, you might feel the lack of instant trustand comfort Momo and Sumire have with each other in the manga. Their relationship in the manga feels right from the beginning, while in the dorama it is not as clear that Momo can be the only one for her, as he is the only one where she stops pretending to be someone she isn’t. But what the cast has is tension. Especially sexual tension, which is rather rare for a dorama and what makes it stand out from the rest.
2. Itazura na Kiss: Love in Tokyo (2013)
Based on the manga Itazura na Kiss by Kaoru Tada Air date: 30 March – 29 June 2013 on Fuji TV, currently available on Netflix Episodes: 16
Kotoko Aihara (Miki Honoka) is a cute and purehigh school girl, if a bit stupid. Okay, very stupid. And she is hopelessly in love with Naoki Irie (Yuuki Furukawa), the genius of her school. One day, she confesses her love but gets humiliated by him and swears she will try to forget him. But then, her house collapses and when a friend of her father invites them to live with them until their house is repaired, she realizes in horror that the friend’s son is in fact Naoki! Now she has to deal with him everyday and it doesn’t make it easier for her to forget him when he issleeping next door.
Itazura na Kiss is another one of those heart-skips-a-beat stories. What gives the series the second place is Kotoko. She is so stupidat times that one has to stop the video and be ashamed for her, because she won’t be. Despite her idiocy, there are many good scenes and the storyflows well. It includes many different characters, who are all lovable.
One of the strongest points of the series is how close the dorama sticks to the manga. The manga is a masterpiece and I will never get over the fact that It never ended. Aside from the ending, where the directors took some liberty and added a few scenes to let it end without questions, it is exactly like the manga. That will have fans of the original rejoice in happiness.
What also gets me is the cuteness of all the actors. Miki Honoka might have been a bit too young for Furukawa and in general for Kotoko in the second season, but she did a good job playing the character. She was perfect as the clumsy girl. And Furukawa was a perfect Naoki, because seeing his rare smile could make the sun shine brighter. When seen together, however, there were times when I missed some chemistry. I still think they worked out very well and that they were a convincing couple. But the kissing… Let’s just say I have seen better on-screen kisses.
There are things the series could have done better, but it still had theperfect story. The flow was good and the cast was amazing. We got a great dorama adaptation of a shojo manga and I can only be happy with it.
1. Hana Yori Dango
Based on the manga Hana Yori Dango by Yoko Kamio Air date: 21 October – 16 December 2005 on TBS Episodes: 9
Makino Tsukushi (Mao Inoue) just wanted to graduate in peace. But then she defended a classmate who got bullied byF4(=Flower 4): the 4 richest, coolest, most handsome and strongest boys at school. She then became their target, but she doesn’t plan to give up to some rich brats bullying her and quit school when her family is so proud of her going to a prestigious school.
Welcome to the classic of classics. An oldie but a goodie. I could make it easy and say that there is nothing left to discuss, but let me get into detail about what exactly makes this story so fantastic. The original story is already a masterpiece. It is hard to mess it up, as long as you keep the main elements. And while I am not fond of the whole bullying and then falling in love, I think there are so many moments where my heart skipped a beat. This story makes it fine to ignore that normally you wouldn’t want to fall in love with your bully.
The thing that made my heart flutter is, I am convinced, 99% thanks to the good chemistry of the cast. After all, it has been 12 years since the first season aired and there are still rumors going on about Mao Inoue and Jun Matsumoto beingsecretly a couple or (planning to get) married etc.Not only does the main couple have a good chemistry, but we also get to see the perfect friendship between the members of F4 and see how Makino builds a relationship with them and the other people that are involved with her two love interests, like their sisters and mothers. She also has her own family, friends, and part-time job. They didn’t have to disappear to make it easier for the storyline or use less budget on the actors. The money spent on them was money well spent.
All of the actors are a perfect fit for their role. Jun Matsumoto as Tsukasa Domiyouji, Mao Inoue as Tsukushi Makino, Shun Oguri as Rui Hanazawa, and Shota Matsuda as Soujiro Nishikado, to only name a few. They were all cast with such care. It is hard to see them in new roles after watching Hana Yori Dango. And if you are not convinced, just a look at Matsumoto’s face when he is saying, “It’s HamingYAY! Read the book,…the book.”. It is magic. And thecharacters are both relatable and lovable. What makes this story so great is that for once Makino is not a pure-hearted stupid girl, but a pure-hearted power girl. We are still in thecliché of ‘rich boy, poor girl’, ‘a girl changing the boy through love’ etc. But here she fights for what is right and that doesn’t change throughout the series. She always knows where she should be and only grows with the things that happen to her.
There are still many other reasons that make Hana Yori Dango the best dorama adaptation out there. But I think it would be better for you to watch it yourself, or at least read the manga. The series sticks close to the original, and not without reason. It is so popular that has been adapted in Korea (‘Boys Before Flowers’), Taiwan (‘Meteor Garden’) and Hong Kong (‘Let’s Go Watch the Meteor Shower’).
My Best Live Action Shojo Manga Adaptations
Thank you for reading through my personal ranking. There are many really good live action series out there that don’t deserve the annoyed outcries of some manga fans. After all, there are things that work well in a manga but don’t work well in a TV show. I hope this ranking makes you want to watch a live action dorama.
What are your thoughts on this ranking? And what are the live action series you think are the best and why? I would be happy to hear your opinion! It is impossible to watch everything out there, so I would welcome suggestions.
In the meantime, I will also work on a ranking of the worst live action doramas. If you are interested in a different live action movie ranking, it would be great to hear about it in the comments!