Kamen Rider: How to Get Started With the Tokusatsu Icon

With a legacy spanning as far back as the 1970s, Kamen Rider is one of Japan's premiere superheroes and pop culture icons. The Kamen Rider franchise, known for its insect motif and arsenal of many licensed motorcycles, is the brainchild of Shotaro Ishinomori. Ishinomori was the godfather of the broader tokusatsu genre, later going on to create Kamen Rider's rival Super Sentai, which would eventually become Power Rangers.

Kamen Rider has three distinct eras, all of which are filled with loosely related movies and TV shows spanning five decades. With the franchise recently hitting its 50th anniversary, here's a look back at the history of the bike-riding bugs, their general premise and where international audiences can catch up on the longstanding classic.

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What is Kamen Rider?

Kamen Rider's title translates as "Masked Rider," although the term Helmet Rider might be more accurate. The heroes of these shows range from full-on cyborgs to people who don powerful armored costumes -- though they all typically share an insect or grasshopper motif in their design. These forms would be accessed whenever the Rider said a phrase such as "Henshin," transforming into their superheroic alter ego. They also employ gadgets and powerful finishing moves such as the iconic Rider Kick to defeat the legions of unearthly monsters that they fight.

The original series featured Takeshi Hongo and later Hayato Ichimonji, victims of the Neo-Nazi terrorist organization Shocker, and used their new cyborg powers and abilities to combat the sinister regime. This series would be followed up by Kamen Rider V3, which featured a new Rider. From there, the original "Showa Era" would diverge into a connected but mostly distinct continuity, with each new Rider being unrelated to the previous. Mainstays of the franchise included Tachibana, who acted as a mentor for the various disparate Riders.

Though several manga were released as well, the Showa Era would eventually end in a whimper with several movie releases in the '90s. The series would finally get a hi-tech reboot in Kamen Rider Kuuga, which began the Heisei Era. These shows replaced the former cyborg concept with mere robotic belts and armor -- also doing away with the connected continuity of the old shows.

As rival franchise Super Sentai gradually became more kid-friendly, Kamen Rider experimented with darker, more introspective and even horror elements in shows like Kamen Rider Faiz, Kamen Rider Den-O and Kamen Rider Kiva. There were also film remakes of the first two shows, reimagining Takeshi Hongo and Hayato Ichimonji for a new generation. Since then, the franchise has continued to grow, expanding with new TV shows and even crossovers with other tokusatsu series.

Where to Watch Kamen Rider

Kamen Rider Kuuga flames Cropped

The Kamen Rider series was completely looked over in the West despite its immense popularity in Japan. Exceptions included the reviled Saban's Masked Rider, a Power Rangers-esque adaptation of an already controversial Showa Era series, as well as the much more positively received but still niche Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight. With the tokusatsu fandom in the West only growing in recent years, more and more options have opened up for international audiences to enjoy Japan's motorcycle riding hero. These avenues have typically been courtesy of Shout! Factory, which has licensing deals with several major companies.

Perhaps the easiest way to watch the franchise's various shows would be streaming, which is now easier than ever. Shout! Factory has an ancillary service called TokuSHOUTsu, which brings classic tokusatsu shows to international streaming services like Pluto TV and Tubi TV. The entries available include the original Kamen Rider, Kamen Rider Kuuga and the movie Kamen Rider Heisei Generations Forever. In addition, two other shows have recently been announced to be on the way, with one being from the Heisei Era and the other from the even more recent Reiwa Era. These are Kamen Rider Ryuki, which served as the basis for the aforementioned Dragon Knight, and 2019's Kamen Rider Zero-One.

TokuSHOUTsu subscribers can watch these aforementioned shows on Amazon Prime Video, which is also the exclusive home to Amazon Riders. This series was a loose remake of the experimental Showa Era series Kamen Rider Amazon and ran for two seasons. Amazon also had DVD collections of entries such as V3 available for sale, although these collections are rather pricey.

There is also the upcoming Fuuto Pi, an anime adaptation of a manga sequel to Kamen Rider W, available through Funimation. With the franchise's fandom growing, more of Ishinomori's grasshopper heroes will soon be riding to the West.