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13 Live Action Anime Movies That Are Actually Worth Watching

There are actually some surprisingly good adaptations out there. Most of the best live action anime movies were made in Japan, but maybe someday the Western world will catch up and start making noteworthy live action anime movies.
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Rurouni Kenshin Live Action

Live action anime movies have a reputation for being terrible. This reputation is not unearned - anyone who has seen or even heard of the atrocious Netflix Death Note adaptation can see that much. Whether it's whitewashing characters or destroying complex plots in favor of nonsense, most live action anime adaptations just don't do a very good job of bringing their source material to life.

Despite their dire reputation, there are actually some surprisingly good adaptations out there. Most of the best live action anime movies were made in Japan, but maybe someday the Western world will catch up and start making noteworthy live action anime movies.

1. Rurouni Kenshin

The live action version of Rurouni Kenshin is, by some accounts, a nearly perfect film adaptation. Both the original anime and the film tell the story of Kenshin, a samurai who has resolved never to kill again after a lifetime of brutality.

Although the movie relies less on slapstick humor than its source material, it does retain the original's tone. The sword fights are beautifully choreographed, and the acting is spot on. One of its only flaws is that the leading lady, Emi Takei, is almost too pretty to play the plain Kaoru, which isn't much of a flaw.

2. Death Note

The American live action adaptation of Death Note was nothing short of awful, but fans who want to see their favorite characters portrayed by real people have another option, and it's actually really good. That option is the Death Note, and its sequel, Death Note 2: The Last Name.

These movies loosely follow the Death Note storyline, but with one key difference: the great Detective L actually survives. If that's not a good enough reason to check them out, these movies have won multiple awards, including the Pegasus Audience Award at the 2007 Brussels International Festival of Fantasy Film, the Hochi Film Award, and the Yokohama Film Festival Prize.

3. Lovely Complex

Lovely Complex is a rom-com about the relationship between an unusually short boy and an curiously tall girl. While the live action version can feel cliched at times and some of the characters can be a little unpleasant, these flaws also appear in the original series. Its quirky cinematography, combined with the acting prowess of Koike Teppei and Ema Fujisawa, make this a worthwhile anime adaptation for rom-com fans.

4. Fullmetal Alchemist

The live adaptation of Fullmetal Alchemist, which goes by the same title, is worth watching for two reasons. One, it closely follows the original storyline, so diehard fans won't be disappointed by nonsensical diversions. The director, Fumihiko Sori, told the press he was interested in staying as true to the source as possible:

"Since the original story consists of 27 volumes, I cut it down in to two hours, but we will stay faithful to the manga. I can’t tell you much details yet, but I think that you can guess what will be the main story based from the cast that was already announced. Since I’m a big fan of the original myself, I don’t plan to change the setting, the world view, and make a different story, so please don’t worry about that. Of course we will have the philosopher's stone coming out [somewhere in the story]."

Of course, faithfulness to the original isn't the only reason to watch a movie - if it were, you could just watch the original. What makes this movie worth your time is the awesome CGI and other special affects. Al's suit alone makes the whole movie worthwhile.

5. Black Butler

Rather than faithfully adapting the Black Butler anime, the live action film chooses to tell a new story in the same universe. Sebastian Michaelis, the demon butler, is no longer serving Ciel Phantomhive. Instead, he's attached to a movie-only character, Shiori Genpo, who also wants Sebastian to help her avenge her parents' murders.

The choice to take on a similar storyline allows viewers to enjoy a new adventure without worrying about how it stacks up against the original.

6. From Me To You

From Me to You, a live action film based on the slice of life drama Kimi ni Todoke, is a great choice if you're looking for a well-done teen romance. Both stories center on a shy high school student named Sawako who has a difficult time making friends due to her uncanny resembly to Sadako from the horror movie The Ring. Her solitude begins to crack when her classmate Shota decides he wants to be her friend.

The movie is just as funny and heartwarming as its anime predecessor, and the star actress, Mikako Tabe, uses twisted facial expressions and body language to show her physical likeness to Sadako.

7. Oldboy

Oldboy is a Korean film based on a Japanese manga by the same name. In both stories, a man is imprisoned and tortured for over a decade for reasons that are never explained. The film maintains the same general storyline, but Oldboy amps up the pain, creating a dark and miserable movie that will leave you shaking in your seat.

While the manga protagonist simply wants to reintegrate into society after his nightmarish experience, the movie protagonist comes out hellbent on revenge.

8. Your Lie In April

Your Lie in April follows roughly the same storyline as the anime, but with one key difference - in the live action film, the protagonists are in their second year of high school instead of middle school. This change does not detract from the story, but it does create a greater sense of emotional maturity, which is necessary for such a painful story.

The musical performances create the same sense of transcendent beauty that characterizes the original anime, and the ending will make you cry just as hard.

9. Mushishi Tokubetsu-hen: Hihamukage

What makes the live action version of Mushishi truly stand out is its scenery. Like its anime predecessor, it's a calm, atmospheric tale that will make you think deeply about how humanity relates to the natural world. The plot isn't always totally engaging for viewers unfamiliar with the universe - it follows the protagonist Ginko through his dealings with the magical mushi - but it's well worth watching for the visuals alone.

10. Bunny Drop

Bunny Drop focuses on Daikichi, a 30-year-old bachelor who suddenly finds himself raising his grandfather's illegitimate six-year-old daughter, Rin. It's a feel-good film about the bond between parent and child. The eight-year-old actress who plays Rin, Mana Ashida, is adorably well-cast.

This movie won't change your life, but it will definitely give you warm fuzzies, and sometimes, that's all you need.

11. Lone Wolf And Cub: Baby Cart At The River Styx

Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx is based on Lone Wolf and Cub, a 1970s manga by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima. It focuses on Ittou Ogami, who has to leave his position as the shogunate's chief executioner when he's falsely accused of treason. To make ends meet, he hits the road with his young son and becomes an assassin.

The movie features superb acting, masterful sword fights, and a bloody, gritty atmosphere that perfectly captures the mood of the original manga.

12. Lady Snowblood

Lady Snowblood is a brutal story of a young woman whose one goal is to get revenge on a group of thugs who murdered her family. The live action 2005 movie brings the 1970s tale to furious life. It's not an action-packed thrill ride - instead, its appeal is more cerebral. Viewers don't just get a deep dive in to the protagonist's mind - they also are privvy to gorgeous scenery and carefully researched costumes.

This movie actually served as a major inspiration for Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill.

13. Cromartie High – The Movie

Do you want to watch a high school student eat a handful of pencils? What about a the antics of a character based on Freddy Mercury? If that sounds good to you, then Cromartie High is right up your alley - and so is the live action adaptation.

The live action version of the bizarre story of the worst high school ever lives up to the original - it's just as ridiculous and fun.

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