Ultraman: Japan’s premiere superhero | Sunday Observer

Ultraman: Japan’s premiere superhero

26 February, 2023

In the West there is Superman, but in Japan, it was Ultraman. The Ultraman franchise, better known colloquially as the Ultra Series, is a live action, special effects focused multi media pop culture juggernaut both in Japan and around the world.

Created in 1966 by Eiji Tsuburaya, the special effects director of the original Godzilla, Ultraman has since spawned an endless supply of TV shows, movies, comics and video games to this day. It is a pioneer in the tokusatsu, and kaiju genres, helping create, codify and popularize many of the staple tropes used to by those genres to this day.

However, while Ultraman and its many sequel heroes are universally iconic and immediately recognizable, most outside of Japan are unlikely to be aware of what the franchise is like, and its sheer impact on pop culture.

The Ultra Series is typically centered around humans who attain the ability to transform into giant humanoid aliens hailing from the Land of Light, an alien planet from the fictional M78 Nebula millions of light years away from Earth.

Each show would have their heroes fight the threats of invading aliens or rampaging kaiju, sometimes with the help of a scientific military human organization utilizing an array of sci-fi technology. The most popular of these heroes is the first iteration in the franchise, the eponymous Ultraman.

While Ultraman was the first of his kind seen on TV, he debuted in only the second Ultra Series show, titled Ultraman.

Light hearted

The show premiered just two weeks after the first, Ultra Q, which was a radically different Twilight Zone inspired monster of the week sci-fi horror series, centered around humans dealing with sci-fi scenarios and kaiju.

Ultraman had a much more light hearted tone, with more emphasis on action and comedy, appealing to children and becoming an instant success. The sequel series to Ultraman, Ultraseven, began airing almost immediately after the ending of the original series, and followed a brand new hero, the titular Ultraseven, as Ultraman’s direct successor.

With a more serious tone and more complex plots, Ultraseven had a broader appeal than its predecessor, and more importantly, set a precedent for successive series, with different Ultra heroes telling their own stories.

Since its debut in 1966, the Ultra Series has the Guiness World record for the most spin off shows, a record the franchise extends to this day. The latest series, Ultraman Decker, is the 34th mainline entry in the Ultraman Franchise, airing in 2022.

With a history spanning nearly 60 years, the Ultra Series has had a huge impact on Japanese pop culture. Having started around the peak of Japan’s Kaiju blockbusters, such as Godzilla and Gamera, Ultraman helped transition tokusatsu away from monsters of the Monster Boom era to the transforming heroes of the Henshin Boom era, paving the way for classic icons such as Kamen Rider and Super Sentai, the original Power Rangers.


Though Ultraman expectedly has the most influence in Japan, it also has a noticeable presence and impact internationally as well, having aired in many countries including the United States, Brazil, and all around East Asia.

Many high profile celebrities have spoken out about growing up on Ultraman, such as Will Smith, NSYNC’s Chris Kirkpatrick and Guillermo Del Toro. Del Toro specifically cited Ultraman as one of the many Japanese influences on Pacific Rim. The MCU’s Ant Man director Peyton Reed would also go on to credit Ultraman as a design influence for Ant Man’s costume.

As one of the most influential shows on Japanese TV, it’s no surprise that many of those who grew up on Ultraman, would go on to be inspired by it. Pokemon’s creator Satoshi Tajiri noted Ultraman as one of his influences, which could be seen by the Capsule Kaiju introduced by Ultraseven having a striking resemblance to Pokemon.

Hideaki Anno, of Neon Genesis Evangelion fame, is also a huge fan of Ultraman, with his directorial debut being on an Ultraman fan film he starred in. Anno would eventually go on to direct the recent remake Shin Ultraman (2022), even providing some of the motion capture as Ultraman himself.