Few things arouse more cynicism among anime fans than American live-action anime adaptations. While some, like Speed Racer and Alita: Battle Angel, have become cult favorites, disasters like Dragon Ball: Evolution and the 2017 Ghost in the Shell movie loom large in the cultural memory. Unless you count the primarily game-based Pokemon: Detective Pikachu as an "anime adaptation," not a single Hollywood anime adaptation has been a commercial hit.
Nonetheless, American film and television companies are still developing many live-action anime adaptations. However, most of these won't get made if the history of anime adaptations stuck in development hell is anything to go by. Plus, many of them are incredibly questionable ideas for live-action adaptations in the first place. Even so, some will get released, and the hope is that at least a couple find success.
The following five Hollywood anime adaptations have the best odds of breaking the curse this genre seems to bring with it, thanks to the right combinations of promising material and great behind-the-scenes talent.
Out of all the entries on this list, Netflix's live-action Cowboy Bebop series is the one you can be most confident that you'll actually get to see. After several delays due to on-set injuries and the COVID-19 pandemic, filming was completed in March, and the series will likely be streamable before the end of the year.
Given the Bebop anime's universal adoration, we're not expecting the live-action version to match the original's one-of-a-kind quality. However, with a great cast led by John Cho as Spike Spiegel, Yoko Kanno's music and original director Shinichiro Watanabe involved as a consultant, there's reason to hope this will at least be entertaining. Unlike, say, One Piece (which Netflix is inexplicably also adapting to live-action), the world of Bebop can translate easily to live-action. Plus, the episodic format offers plenty of opportunity for new stories instead of repeating those seen in the anime.
Attack on Titan
If Cowboy Bebop is the entry on this list closest to completion, the American Attack on Titan movie seems to be the furthest from it. Director Andy Muschietti signed on to adapt Hajime Isayama's manga in 2018. However, he's still busy with the constantly-delayed Flash movie and other projects competing for his commitment (including another anime adaptation in the form of a Robotech movie). So this movie may fall by the wayside.
Still, Attack on Titan is well suited for the Hollywood blockbuster treatment. The humans-vs-giants premise has ready-made hooks for both action and horror, and the European-inspired setting would be easy for Hollywood to handle properly. A Hollywood Attack on Titan might end up simplified, but that could be a good thing, given how messy and questionable the manga's story gets. At the very least, we expect this to be way better than the live-action Japanese films were.
It's a little bit disappointing that Netflix ended up winning the bidding war for Legendary Pictures' live-action Gundam movie simply because it has the potential to be an incredible big-screen experience. The Gundam cameo in Ready Player One was the most entertaining part of the whole movie, and it would have been great to feel more of that excitement in the movie theater. Hopefully, it will follow in Army of the Dead's footsteps of getting a wide theatrical release before streaming.
While there are many ways a Hollywood Gundam movie could go wrong, Brian K. Vaughn's screenwriter credit is a good reason to be optimistic. Some fans are worried about Hollywood neutering the franchise's anti-war political edge, but it seems extremely unlikely that the author of Saga would fail to capture those central themes. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts is a serious anime fan, too, and the Gundam franchise offers such a wealth of material for this movie to draw inspiration from.
Truth be told, Your Name really doesn't need a remake. Makoto Shinkai's original animated film is pretty much perfect as-is, and it's easy to imagine many ways a remake could end fall flat in comparison. No American movie could successfully copy the cultural nuances that made the original movie work, nor could any live-action film recreate the animation's specific sense of beauty.
Even so, there are two major reasons to be excited for the Hollywood version of Your Name, which is being retitled Magic Hour. The first is the amazing team working on the movie: Minari's Lee Isaac Chung is directing and co-writing the script with Emily Gordon (The Big Sick) and Eric Heisserer (Arrival). The second is the promise that, even though the story is being Americanized, it is not being whitewashed like far too many anime adaptations have in the past.
The Promised Neverland
When Amazon Prime's live-action adaptation of The Promised Neverland was announced in development last year, reactions were somewhat muted. The involvement of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse director Rodney Rothman was promising. However, at the time, there was a general feeling that such an adaptation was unnecessary, given the anime was still going strong.
Then The Promised Neverland Season 2 came out, and it turned out the anime was not going strong. Suddenly the Amazon adaptation became our only hope at seeing a screen adaptation of The Promised Neverland with a good ending. The manga source material is so good and Season 2 of the anime is so utterly disappointing that the live-action version is almost guaranteed to improve the anime after the Grace Field arc. At the very least, we can be pretty confident the live-action version's ending won't devolve into a slideshow of unintroduced characters and unexplained plot points.