Hollywood Movies

8 Live-Action Anime Adaptations That Could Give Hollywood Its New MCU

May 28, 20249 Mins Read


  • Shōnen anime, like One Piece, offers broad appeal with memorable characters, supernatural elements, and themes of friendship.
  • Adaptations like Naruto aim to replicate MCU success by bringing iconic anime stories to the big screen.
  • Series like Fullmetal Alchemist and Jujutsu Kaisen show potential for Hollywood to tap into the growing popularity of anime.

As Hollywood continues its ceaseless search for the next cash cow to give the MCU a run for its money, anime could just provide the next big IP producers are looking for. While always having a cult following to some degree in the West, the popularity of anime has exploded exponentially in recent years, no longer considered a niche medium and finding a wider audience. Household names like Netflix have certainly taken notice of this, with One Piece‘s success raising enough eyebrows to warrant a second season.

If movie studios are looking for an I.P. to eclipse the movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in popularity, they’ll need something with broad, four-quadrant appeal. The best anime and manga series to look to in this regard will likely be Shōnen anime, a sub-genre referring to stories aimed at middle school to high school-aged boys. Like the MCU, these series typically feature eclectic casts of memorable characters, supernatural elements, engaging fight scenes, and adventurous narratives with an emphasis on friendship or perseverance.

8 One Piece

An already-proven live-action success

One Piece Season 1 Monkey D Luffy Iñaki Godoy.
Custom Image by Debanjana Chowdhury.

Of course, there’s no denying that simply continuing the live-action adaptation of One Piece currently stands as Hollywood’s best shot at harnessing anime appreciation. The first season of Netflix’s 2023 hit took the world by storm, quickly winning over both newcomers and hardcore fans alike with its charm. Made in close collaboration with the writer and artist behind the worldwide sensation of the ongoing One Piece manga, Eiichiro Oda, the show tells the story of Monkey D. Luffy, a spunky kid with elastic powers and big dreams of becoming the King of the Pirates.

What’s remarkable about One Piece is how well it’s able to bring Oda’s cartoonish world to reality, even with the limited budget of a Netflix series. With over 1,100 chapters being released since the manga’s debut in 1999, One Piece has no shortage of content to draw from, the live-action adaptation having barely dipped its toes in the waters of the series’ bizarre setting. It’s easy to imagine feature films being released alongside the show, quickly gathering the momentum to match the hype of the MCU if managed carefully enough.

7 Naruto

Forever one of the “Big Three” for a good reason

Naruto from the anime adaptation against a colorful orange background

From the mind of Masashi Kishimoto, Naruto is nearly synonymous with anime, forever leaving its mark on the art form as one of the most influential series of all time. The story of Naruto follows its titular lead, a young ninja-in-training ostracized for his connection to a legendary demon. Though the main series concluded some time ago, transforming into Naruto Shippuden after a time skip, the legacy of the franchise remains today with Boruto, telling the story of Naruto’s son.

A Naruto live-action movie has already confirmed to be in the works, directed by Destin Daniel Cretton of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings fame. It’s clear that the producers at Lionsgate are eager to harness the same success as the Marvel Cinematic Universe with their directorial pick, possibly envisioning a similarly lengthy hold on the public consciousness. If the upcoming film can harness the same elements that made the Nartuo anime one of Shōnen’s “Big Three” alongside One Piece and Bleach, they stand a very reasonable shot at doing so.

A well-rounded fantasy story with an engaging magic system

Edward and Alphonse Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist

First serialized in manga form as early as 2001, Fullmetal Alchemist has long concluded, but remains an incredibly influential work to this day. Penned by mangaka Hiromu Arakawa, the narrative revolves around brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric, alchemists in an early 20th century fantasy world searching for the fabled philosopher’s stone in order to heal their semi-mechanical bodies. With an incredibly unique setting, well-defined power system, and curious exploration of political themes, Fullmetal Alchemist has remained an enduring anime classic.

Fullmetal Alchemist has had a brush with live-action adaptation before, with a trilogy of Japanese-produced feature films releasing in 2017 and 2022. The movies received mixed reviews, clearly biting off more than they could chew in terms of budget while still adhering to the source material as much as possible. With the backing of a full fledged Hollywood studio, the captivating tale of the Elric brothers could easily become a cinematic sensation.

5 Jujutsu Kaisen

A rising star in the anime world with no signs of stopping

Itadori as seen in the season two of Jujutsu Kaisen anime

Only released in 2019, Jujutsu Kaisen has had a stratospheric rise in popularity in only a short handful of years, quickly winning over scores of fans and becoming one of the most popular modern anime series currently running. Also known by its seldom-used English translated title, Sorcery Battle, the manga for the fast-growing franchise is also a relative newcomer, first releasing in 2017 under the title Tokyo Metropolitan Curse Technical School. The story centers around Yuji Itadori, a supernaturally strong high schooler who becomes swept up in the maddening world of Jujutsu sorcery after encountering a cursed spirit.

Jujutsu Kaisen fulfills a long-dormant itch for a modern fantasy series that could easily find success at the movies, existing in a genre niche that has long been dormant ever since the decline of the Harry Potter movies. A proper adaptation of Jujutsu Kaisen could be just as popular and more, with its engaging power system, well-written characters, and devastating death scenes. Without too much expensive VFX for a Shōnen series, Hollywood could look to the tale of cursed energy wielders as their next golden goose.

4 My Hero Academia

Could combine the enthusiasm of anime and superheroes

Class 1-A in season 7, episode 3

Just as anime has had a considerable influence on Western shows, films, and video games over the years, traditionally American genres have also certainly left their mark on Japan’s media as well. Enter My Hero Academia, a wildly popular anime set in a superpowered world not unlike the universes of Marvel or DC’s comic books. The series tells the story of Izuku Midoriya, a sensitive boy born with no powers in a world in which 80% of the population has some kind of ability, known as a Quirk, and his efforts to become a hero.

My Hero Academia could present a strange case of the influence of American comic books making its way back to the West after being iterated upon by a Japanese mangaka. A live-action My Hero Academia movie is currently gestating under the banner of Legendary Entertainment, who are already quickly gaining traction as the MCU’s major competitor with their exponentially-successful Monsterverse movies and shows. Combining the appeal of anime and superheroes, a My Hero Academia series could do incredibly well if adapted with care.

3 One Punch Man

A silly, but captivating tale of genre subversion

Tatsumaki crossing her arms and Saitama smiling in One Punch Man
Custom Image by Nick Bythrow

Like My Hero Academia, One Punch Man wears its influences on its sleeve, taking place in an even more high-powered world of superheroes and monsters. Among the chaos stands Saitama, an incomprehensibly powerful yet puzzlingly low profile hero who, like the title implies, can defeat any opponent in a single punch. Playing with audience expectations for a superhero story right out of the gate, One Punch Man subverts common tropes with its overpowered main character while heaping on the comedy, sprinkling in a few moments of genuine drama rendered through exciting animation.

The superhero appeal of One Punch Man is clear to Hollywood, with a live-action movie confirmed to be underway courtesy of Sony Pictures. The project has some impressive talent behind it familiar with crafting pop culture phenomena, with Dan Harmon and Heather Anne Campbell of Rick and Morty fame joining forces with the Fast and Furious series’ Justin Lin. One Punch Man has always had a knack for reaching outside the usual target demographic of average anime viewers, and could easily turn into a cinematic sensation if its irreverent humor is given room to breathe.

2 Attack On Titan

A weighty story that grows with its audience

Armin's Colossal Titan Form in Attack on Titan with fire and embers floating around him.

Attack on Titan‘s anime only drew to a close as recently as fall of 2023, still fresh in the minds of even the most surface-level anime fans. Built on a complex labyrinth of mysteries, the series tells the story of Eren Jaeger, a boy who lives in a world terrorized by colossal humanoid creatures, known as Titans, who dedicates his life to slaying them. From this simple premise, Attack on Titan gradually evolves into a new beast altogether, being one of the few Shōnen that can boast to have aged with its audience.

Shifting into a Seinen series, an anime or manga aimed at men of a demographic older than high school, Attack on Titan‘s thoughtful pivot from a simple monster slaying story to a head-spinning epic of intrigue and moral dilemmas presents a natural evolution as a cinematic universe. It helps that Eren’s journey later on in the series is similar to that of Dune‘s Paul Atreides, who has claimed a more than modest amount of success in theaters. If the SFX of the Titans could be thoroughly maintained, an Attack on Titan adaptation could be a force to be reckoned with.

1 Spy X Family

Could have some of the widest appeal of any adaptation

Classic Spy X Family cover pose with Loid, Anya, and Yor

Though technically considered a Shōnen series, the mass appeal of Spy x Family extends beyond creative battles or fantasy world-building. The anime centers on the Forger family, headed by Yor, an assassin hiding her true career from her husband, and Loid, a super spy from a neighboring country who creates a family out of necessity for deep cover. Between them is the adopted orphan girl Anya, a telepath and the only one who knows both secrets. A genius premise in its own right, Spy x Family‘s explosion in popularity lies in its execution.

With a healthy amount of trademark Shōnen action, Spy x Family is more concerned with the adorable dynamic of the Forger’s found family, questioning whether Loid can form a genuine bond with his façade of a wife and child despite initially only seeing them as a means to an end. The intersection of domesticity and cold war-era espionage makes for a stylish story capable of intriguing viewers from many different angles, meaning an respectful adaptation could garner some explosive popularity. Not even needing excessive CGI creations, Spy x Family might be Hollywood’s best shot at overtaking the MCU with anime.

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