Live action adaptations are plenty, and while they aren’t always properly done – or even actually watchable – it doesn’t mean that the chosen cast didn’t at least try to do their job. If you’re lucky, you’ll every now and then even bump into a performance that’s so high quality the character itself feels like it just walked straight out of the manga.
With a few Psycho-Drama favorites fitting that description, I started wondering whether other Japanese movie and drama fans had similar opinions than ours. A whole survey later, the answers are ready. We received no less than 755 eligible votes spread across 139 actors and actresses, and even more of their characters.
But who actually ended up getting the top spots?
#10 Miura Haruma – Kazehaya Shota (Kimi ni Todoke – 2010)
It’s been a decade since the release of Kimi ni Todoke but it seems fans have not forgotten about its existence.
The LA is based on a manga of the same name by Shiina Karuho, and tells the story of a girl named Sawako who is completely misunderstood by her classmates. Her resemblance to Ring‘s Sadako doesn’t help, and the rest of the students are all too easily tempted to use it instead of her real name. Because of being very calm and quiet herself, Sawako admires the class’ most popular guy, Kazehaya Shota, for his 100% refreshing personality. And, as with any regular shoujo, he ends up talking to her…
In 2010, the movie adaptation by director Kumazawa Naoto saw its release. Miura Haruma and Tabe Mikako were cast in the lead roles. It might even be one of Haruma’s most perfect castings of his whole career, as it felt that he completely embodied Kazehaya every second he was on the screen. Aside from its perfect casting, Kimi ni Todoke is still regarded as one of the nicest shoujo romance adaptations till this day as well.
Though Haruma made it into the top 10 for his role as Kazehaya, it wasn’t the only character name in the list as the late actor also received votes for his take on Bloody Monday‘s Falcon aka Takagi Fujimaru.
#09 Kamiki Ryunosuke – Kiriyama Rei (3-gatsu no Lion – 2017)
3-gatsu no Lion aka March Comes in Like a Lion is a series by Umino Chika, which received two anime seasons as well as two live action adaptations in the past four years.
The story revolves around Kiriyama Rei, a 17-year-old professional shogi player. Having lost his parents and sister when he was younger, Rei was taken in by an adoptive family, but the tense living situation eventually had him decide to leave and live on his own. Not long after the story starts, the high-schooler meets a trio of sisters who start caring for him and slowly but surely manage to have him open up and realize he needs to take better care of himself. Their lives become intertwined, and they continue to grow alongside each other, no matter the struggles that show up in their everyday lives.
When Kamiki was cast as Rei, I don’t think there were a lot of people who doubted he could become the character as the actor is known for his subtle and emotional acting. Rei, being an absolute emotional disaster, sounded pretty spot-on for that and, when eventually the movies came out, viewers could only agree with the casting choices made.
Aside from having been voted into the list as Kiriyama Rei, Kamiki was mentioned quite a few times for more than 10 different roles. The most known out of those are without a doubt the likes of Amaya Takeru (Kamisama no Iu Toori), Hirose Koichi (JJBA), Mashiro Moritaka (Bakuman), Numata Shinichi (Kazoku Game), and Seta Sojiro (Rurouni Kenshin).
#08 Yamazaki Kento – Shin (Kingdom – 2019) & Yoshizawa Ryo – Okita Sougo (Gintama – 2017)
Spot #08 is a shared one. Yamazaki Kento and Yoshizawa Ryo received the same amount of votes for their appearances as Shin in Kingdom and Okita Sougo in Gintama, respectively.
In Kingdom, we meet Shin (Kento), a war-orphaned slave, who has the dream of one day becoming a Great General of the Heavens. When fellow child-slave and close friend Hyou – amusingly, played by Ryo – leaves after having been recruited to work in the royal palace but then returns on the brink of death, Shin swears revenge. He heads out to find the king, and manages, yet it only means the beginning of a story soaked with blood and war, bringing him back to his initial quest of becoming a Great General.
The cast of Kingdom is as massive as it gets for an LA project of this size, and will surely only get bigger with the upcoming sequel(s?). Kento leads the pack as Shin, with Ryo being a close second. The former’s playfulness yet straightforward feelings show his intent on succeeding the main goal of the story, and Kento being Kento grasps that energy really well.
Meanwhile in Gintama, Ryo plays Okita Sougo – also called King of the Planet of Sadists by Hijikata. Based on the actual existence of historical figure Okita Souji, Sougo is the 1st Division Captain of the Shinsengumi, a special police force under control of the Shogunate. As their main task is to find and arrest terrorists as well as doing patrol and crime duties, they run into the lead characters fairly often, and end up in the weirdest, most humorous situations. Sougo, being one of the best swordsmen, also never steps back from a fight – unless it’s to throw the danger at Hijikata, of course.
Much as with other perfect castings I never saw anyone say anything against Ryo as Sougo. I think it’s pretty much a given that an actor who’s known to be a little aloof and calm when not on the job, yet on fire when he needs to be, would be able to show a perfect live action version of Okita Sougo. Add some brattiness, a pair of killer eyes, and 9+ years of Kendo experience, and the choice was probably easily made.
Both Kento and Ryo received lots of votes for other live action castings as well, such as Arisu Ryohei (Alice in Borderland), Josuke (JJBA), and Terasaka Rita (Heroine Shikkaku), on Kento’s side, and Kaido Shun (Saiki Kusuo no Psi-nan), Katagiri Yuuichi (Tomodachi Game), and Eisei/Hyou (Kingdom), on Ryo’s.
#07 Yamazaki Kento – Naruse Kakeru (Orange – 2015)
And of course the current prince of live actions couldn’t just have one role in the top 10. Kento got enough votes for another one of his characters to make it, as shoujo romance lead boy Naruse Kakeru seems to have been able to gather quite a bit of support.
Orange brings us to a group of friends at the start of their second year of high school, as lead girl Naho receives an envelope from her own future self talking about a transfer student who is set to appear very soon. Initially not paying much attention or even believing a word of its contents, the letter gets a bit forgotten, but when Naruse Kakeru really transfers into their class, Naho has to do a double take. With the events of the letter overlapping her own experience of the past few days, Naho can’t do anything but admit it’s probably real, so when she reads the warning her future self left, the girl sets off to change the future. It takes us along a story of friendship, trust, and support, and – hopefully – a brighter future where Kakeru is still among them.
Around the release of Orange, Kento was in the middle of a shoujo romance live action adaptation rush, and there were quite some people for and against it. But at the end of it, Orange was probably one of the more celebrated releases of those, and that’s in part because of how fitting Kento was for the role of Kakeru. Troubled, very emotional eyes – a bit mysterious even – but a good kid who just wants to be happy and do the right thing, it all easily fell in place. So Kakeru making it to the list of perfect castings definitely isn’t the weirdest!
Next to Kakeru and Shin, Kento received the most votes for Oreki Houtarou (Hyouka), Nifuji Hirotaka (Wotakoi), and Arima Kousei (Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso).
#06 Oguri Shun – Sakata Gintoki (Gintama – 2017)
We had Okita Sougo before, but now it’s Sakata Gintoki’s time!
As Japan is invaded by aliens known as Amanto, and an attempt by samurai to fight them eventually results in their own surrender, a new agreement between the Shogunate and the Amanto brings the country into a new era. While swords are banned – and samurai effectively put out of a job – Sakata Gintoki refuses to have his own samurai spirit stripped. Carrying a wooden sword, the former samurai is joined by Shinpachi, alien Kagura, and big dog Sadaharu, as he sets up Yorozuya to take care of odd jobs around town.
Gintama is a comical take on the end of the samurai era and the historical figures that were a part of it. It heavily mixes in pop culture, resulting in often absurd situations. It’s because of that it’s generally regarded as something that is either loved or disliked, with no in-between. When it was revealed as the subject of an upcoming live action, there was a lot of worry that the humor wouldn’t translate well, but with Oguri Shun as Gintoki himself, the movie proved successful enough to receive not only a supporting drama focusing on Okita Sougo’s older sister, but also a sequel movie two years later.
People also voted for his roles as the titular Lupin III in Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro, and Hanazawa Rui in Hana Yori Dango.
#05 Hongo Kanata – Nishi Joichiro (GANTZ – 2011)
I guess even near a decade after its release, Hongo Kanata’s portrayal of Nishi still leaves an impression to the point it made it to #05 in the rankings.
The story of GANTZ starts with the death of Kurono Kei, its lead character. He wakes up in a room with a giant black globe, and multiple – mostly clueless – people around. Before he realizes it well, an entity they call GANTZ – and resides within the black ball – throws him into a game fighting aliens and robots with a slight chance of getting his life back but only if he can gather enough points to do so. One of his fellow players is Nishi Joichiro, a veteran of the game who’s been a part of its cycle for over a year. Calm and – mostly – collected, the young student just sticks to playing the game, but bit by bit his cold, blunt, sadistic, and uncaring personality comes out.
While director Sato Shinsuke might be doing the rounds with that other Stardust guy at the moment, there was a time when he – and the mangaka of GANTZ – decided that if they were doing an LA series of GANTZ, no one but Hongo Kanata should be playing Nishi Joichiro. It proved to be quite the perfect choice, and to this day people still speak highly of how he seemed to have walked straight out of the manga. The interesting bit is that this last part is an opinion of fans and industry people alike. GANTZ‘s mangaka Oku Hiroya even brought him back in a panel in his next series, Inuyashiki, and when it became time to adapt that one for the big screen as well, both Kanata and Sato Shinsuke were once again part of the crew.
Kanata was also nominated for his roles as Akagi (Akagi), Echizen Ryoma (Prince of Tennis), Envy (Fullmetal Alchemist), Kamiyama Itsuki (GOTH), and Seikyou (Kingdom), among others. The latter of which being a role he’s expected to pick up again for the upcoming sequel.
#04 Hirose Suzu – Ayase Chihaya (Chihayafuru – 2016)
Our first – and only – female character in this top 10 goes to Hirose Suzu as Ayase Chihaya in Chihayafuru. By now there’s multiple installments in the live action series and who knows whether we’ll see more in the future.
A strong-willed and tomboyish girl, Chihaya ends up falling in love with competitive karuta after learning of its existence through transfer student Wataya Arata. Together with Arata, and her close friend Taichi, she joins the local karuta group, and their childhood is spent playing together until circumstances have them split up. Years later, Chihaya is still very much driven to become the best of Japan, but with no active karuta club at her high school, she has no choice but to set off to create her own.
While Suzu isn’t new to the live action scene, Chihaya is probably still her most known and celebrated role as it was the one which put her name in the spotlight. The young actress breathes life into the girl from the manga pages without it being too over the top, and you can’t help but feel like wanting to support her in her future endeavors – even if that means she’ll drag a bunch of unknowing students along with it. Suzu went on to star as the same character another two times after the release of the first movie in 2016, and I’m quite certain that if they want to do any more installments in what is now an example of a great live action adaptation series, there would still be a possibility to do such.
While Chihaya was without a doubt Suzu’s big votes catcher, she also received some for her portrayal as Miyazono Kaori in Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso which is also known under its English title, Your Lie in April.
#03 Matsuyama Kenichi – L (Death Note – 2006)
We can’t forget about the first live action L, can we?
When a god of death drops his Death Note into the human world after getting bored with his own everyday life, it gets picked up by high school student Yagami Light. Rather than being turned off by the message written inside – that those whose names are written in it shall die – Light gets amused, and subsequently tests its realness by writing down the name of a criminal appearing on TV. Upon the person’s death merely seconds later, Light has found a new challenge as he vows to rid the world of criminals and corruption through his newly acquired note. As the police eventually catches on, they enlist the help of the world’s greatest detective, L, to find an end to all of the killings.
Matsuyama Kenichi plays L, and I’m certain no one who’s ever seen even a second of the original Death Note LAs will ever forget about his portrayal. Much like Nishi in GANTZ, Kenichi’s L is known to be one of those castings where people just can’t imagine any other actor doing as well. It also meant a huge breakthrough for Kenichi as an actor, and to this date most people still relate him with the role and image of the mastermind detective.
Kenichi also got attention in our survey for his roles as Kato Masaru in GANTZ and Soichiro/Krauser in Detroit Metal City.
#02 Kamiki Ryunosuke – Seta Sojiro (Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno – 2014)
Mooooore Kamiki! And also our second character based on Okita Souji. A top 10 of perfect casted character just wouldn’t be complete without Seta Sojiro on it.
The illegitimate son of a businessman, Seta Sojiro faced nothing but abuse growing up as he was a living reminder of his father’s infidelity. One night, the child bumped into Shishio – a wanted man, hiding in a shed. Rather than telling on him, Sojiro supplies Shishio with food and bandages, and eventually receives a short sword – wakizashi – from him to kill his family. Though he believed being killed by a sword would hurt too much, Sojiro ends up using the weapon to defend himself from his abusers after he’d realized they were planning to kill him. With the idea that the strong live and the weak die etched on his mind, Sojiro murders his family, and eventually decides to go along with Shishio, becoming his right-hand man, as well as the most skilled swordsman on his force of elite warriors, the Juppongatana. When Shishio and Kenshin clash, Sojiro comes in direct contact with the former legendary assassin, and a new chapter of his life opens up.
Story goes Kamiki was already acting out Seta Sojiro whenever he was near Takeru – Kenshin in the Rurouni Kenshin movies – without even knowing whether or not Sojiro would appear if a sequel would be made. So when the project eventually did push through, and casting for new roles was close to be unveiled, a lot of people were already certain of Kamiki’s inclusion. The actor’s love for the series, the character, as well as his subtle and detailed acting, left him as a perfect casting for the role – one that got him to even dye his hair for the first time!~
As mentioned on his previous listing, Kamiki was voted for quite a few times. Both novel and manga adaptations were included, showing that people enjoyed his roles such as Mashiro Moritaka in Bakuman, Numata Shinichi in Kazoku Game, as well as the previously noted Kiriyama Rei from Sangatsu no Lion, or March Comes in Like a Lion.
#01 Sato Takeru – Himura Kenshin (Rurouni Kenshin – 2012)
Honestly, who else but Himura Kenshin himself would be taking the throne these days anyway? Three movies in – and two on the way – it’s undoubtedly the biggest and most well accepted live action project of the past few decades.
Ten years after the end of Bakumatsu, an era of war and an uprising against the Tokugawa shogunate, a new age has arrived. Wandering samurai Himura Kenshin hopes the lives he’s once taken – as a ruthless and feared killer – to try and make a change will end up worth it, and the new era will only bring prosperity. Riddled with guilt for all the lives lost, though, Kenshin has sworn to never kill again. Yet new threats arise, and old acquaintances return, so just how long will it take before our wandering samurai will get pulled back into the life he once left behind.
Back when the news of a Rurouni Kenshin LA first came out early 2010s, a lot of people were highly skeptical about the project. Live action adaptations have existed for a very long time, but for something like Rurouni Kenshin to be brought to the big screen in any other form than animation, was probably a first. How would they do it? Would it have enough budget? Wouldn’t it look cheap? And most importantly, who would be acting in it?
Even when Sato Takeru was eventually cast as Kenshin himself, not everyone was completely on with the idea. While he might have been a visual match, the actor, at the time, was mainly known for side roles in dramas and a few movies – aside from Beck – as well as his run as Kamen Rider Den-O. People were worried whether he’d be able to shoulder the role. Fast forward to its release, though, and well… we all know where that ended.
Despite Kenshin without a doubt being his most famous LA casting, Takeru has been in a variety of live actions through the years. Roles such as Koyuki in Beck, Ogasawara Aki in Kanojo wa Uso o Aishisugiteru (aka The Liar and His Lover), Shishigami Hiro in Inuyashiki and the more recent Tendo Kairi in Koi Tsuzuku yo Dokomademo, also received votes!
- Sato Takeru – Himura Kenshin (Rurouni Kenshin – 48 votes)
- Kamiki Ryunosuke – Seta Sojiro (Rurouni Kenshin – 26 votes)
- Matsuyama Kenichi – L (Death Note – 25 votes)
- Hirose Suzu – Ayase Chihaya (Chihayafuru – 22 votes)
- Hongo Kanata – Nishi Joichiro (GANTZ – 21 votes)
- Oguri Shun – Gintoki (Gintama – 20 votes)
- Yamazaki Kento – Kakeru (Orange – 18 votes)
- Yamazaki Kento – Shin (Kingdom – 15 votes)
Yoshizawa Ryo – Okita (Gintama – 15 votes)
- Kamiki Ryunosuke – Kiriyama Rei (Sangatsu no Lion – 14 votes)
- Miura Haruma – Kazehaya (Kimi ni Todoke – 13 votes)
- Yamazaki Kento (71 votes)
- Sato Takeru (58 votes)
- Kamiki Ryunosuke (54 votes)
- Suda Masaki (38 votes)
- Yoshizawa Ryo (36 votes)
- Hongo Kanata (33 votes)
- Matsuyama Kenichi (29 votes)
- Hirose Suzu (25 votes)
- Oguri Shun (23 votes)
- Miura Haruma (18 votes)