Japan: the true King of Death Games

The title already makes it clear: Japan is the true King of Death Games. Now, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t to say that Japan’s the only country that sees death games as an important part of its media landscape – nor is it the real origin of it – but when you think death games, Japan’s definitely King.

It’s been pretty hard to avoid these past years, as the world has latched onto a new hype which appeared in the form of a South-Korean Netflix series called Squid Game. Mainstream media ate it up and has talked about all sides of the series’ violence while it’s essentially people playing children’s games – just with a slightly more harrowing result. The show inspired a more reality/variety version with its own related drama, and it’s also even gotten that far that the US, as always, wants to make its own version. But there’s much more out there, and you don’t have to be the most seasoned movie/drama watcher to know that it’s not just a new thing put to people’s attention because the streaming platform happened to serve not one but two on a platter in the same year – and of course people couldn’t stop comparing them as if they’re the only two in existence.

It’s a void

Savanna Game, Darwin’s Game, DoubtBtooom!JudgeTenkuu Shinpan (High Rise Invasion), Ousama Game, Real Account – and I could probably go on for another few hours if I’d truly dive into the never-ending pit of novels and manga Japan has to offer about and around the death game concept.

Obviously, Japan also wouldn’t be Japan if it hadn’t brought any of these stories to life yet by now. And by brought to life I am not just talking animation. Japan has it all: survival games – aka Sabage – where friends team up paintball-wise to battle another team till no one remains – without the deaths, of course; variety game shows where celebrities try to convince each other they aren’t the killer/werewolf of the group; but, without a doubt, it’s the live action versions that get the most attention.

It’s always time to kill or be killed, obviously

Where else to start but with fan favorite and cult film Battle Royale. Based on a controversial novel by Takami Koushun – which came into existence after a combination of a half-awake dream, a reimagined pro-wrestling battle royal, and a bit of Stephen King’s The Long WalkBattle Royale was adapted to the big screen way back in 2000. It is currently still known as one of the best – if not the best – in the genre, and a must on movie fans’ watching lists.

Set in a fictional fascist version of Japan – known as the Republic of Greater East Asia – everything is controlled by the government, including a military program called The Battle Experiment. The program consists out of 50 randomly selected third year middle school classes getting dropped in 50 different remote locations with only one task: kill or be killed. The whole purpose of the game is to instill distrust and fear, letting citizens know no one is to trust and anyone – especially one considered family or friends – would be able to kill you at any given time. Rebellion is out of the question.

The main story follows the experiences of one specific class, and while the novel gave every single student its own focus depending on the chapter – including one seeing the whole experience as a console game before they meet their untimely death – the movie stuck with a few specific characters. Each one of them portrayed by actors and actresses who are still big in the industry now. Think Fujiwara Tatsuya, Ando Masanobu, Shibasaki Kou, or Kuriyama Chiaki – or even politician Yamamoto Taro. But at the time the movie came out, they were merely (late) teens themselves, and let that inexperience be the perfect canvas for absolute chaos in the face of death. There is no polished glamour, no 4K camera quality. It is raw and rough. But perhaps that’s what still makes it feel so real. Battle Royale never dies!

Twenty-something years later, we know the novel and movie set a trend, and what was kicked off as a dystopian kill-’em-all scenario still remains a consistent part of the entertainment industry now. This even to the degree that every single type of twist on the general basic death game you’d be able to come up with, likely already exists in some form of media. That doesn’t mean, however, that Battle Royale itself doesn’t still show up every so often.

Quentin Tarantino, for instance, is known to have pulled quite a bit of inspiration from the movie. He went as far as to hire actress Kuriyama Chiaki to play a role (Yubari Gogo) similar to her Battle Royale one for the director’s Kill Bill projects. Many other Western and Asian works as well – yes, Squid Game is one of them – have clearly shown influence or have been told to have gotten influenced by the cult novel/movie. Many of your favorite TV-shows, games, and novels even! – though not everyone is as eager to come clean about it. Guess perhaps they might be ‘hungry’ for attention of their own.

Battle Royale itself also went on to spawn a movie sequel in 2003 – but let’s not get into that one, it’s better left forgotten.

Times are changing – or not quite

Whether it’s 2000 or 2024, it doesn’t really make much difference. The death game and Battle Royale influenced media just keeps coming, and with its recent popularity in the rest of the world, it doesn’t look like it’s going to quickly die out either.

With the hype over the sea creature addition to the genre a while back – and a second season coming up – I can only wonder how Japan will react. Will they do anything special, or will they just continue as usual since for them it’s nothing new. Perhaps that American GANTZ remake will finally start production? I have no idea. All we know is that Alice in Borderland‘s third season is on the way, and that – regardless of worldwide popularity – Japan is still the death game king.

Of course we can’t leave you without listing some of Japan’s most known and best – and some others, for the fun of it – within the genre. And if you’d prefer reading, the novel or manga writers have been added as well!


Battle Royale (2000)
* Novel by Takami Koushun
Kitano Takeshi, Fujiwara Tatsuya, Kuriyama Chiaki, Shibasaki Kou, Ando Masanobu, etc.

Tokyo 10+01 (2002)
Ando Masanobu, Sasai Eisuke, Kato Natsuki, etc

Kaiji (2009)
* Manga by Fukumoto Nobuyuki
Fujiwara Tatsuya, Amami Yuki, Kagawa Teruyuki, Yamamoto Taro, Matsuyama Kenichi, etc

Death Game Park (2010)
Matsuzaka Tori, Inoue Masahiro, Mano Erina, Aibu Saki, etc.

Liar Game: The Final Stage (2010)
* Manga by Kaitani Shinobu
Toda Erika, Matsuda Shota, Akimoto Yuki, Tanabe Seiichi, Kichise Michiko, etc.

The Incite Mill (2010)
* Novel by Yonezawa Honobu
Fujiwara Tatsuya, Ayase Haruka, Kitaoji Kinya, Ishihara Satomi, etc.

GANTZ (2011)
* Manga by Oku Hiroya
Ninomiya Kazunari, Matsuyama Kenichi, Yoshitaka Yuriko, Natsuna, Hongo Kanata, etc.

GANTZ: Perfect Answer (2011)
* Manga by Oku Hiroya
Ninomiya Kazunari, Matsuyama Kenichi, Yoshitaka Yuriko, Natsuna, Hongo Kanata, etc.

Kaiji 2 (2011)
* Manga by Fukumoto Nobuyuki
Fujiwara Tatsuya, Kagawa Teruyuki, Iseya Yusuke, Yoshitaka Yuriko, Namase Katsuhisa, etc.

Ousama Game (2011)
* Novel by Kanazawa Nobuaki
Sakurada Dori, Suzuki Airi, Kumai Yurina, Shimizu Saiki, etc.

Joker Game (2012)
Kitahara Rie, Takatsuki Sara, Koike Yui, Okubo Shotaro, etc.

Liar Game: Reborn (2012)
* Manga by Kaitani Shinobu
Matsuda Shota, Tabe Mikako, Koike Eiko, Suzuki Kosuke, Nonami Maho, etc.

THE QUIZ (2012)
* Novel by Sugimoto Takashi
Lewis Jesse, Yamashita Rio, Hagiya Keigo, Iwamoto Hikaru, Yamamoto Mizuki, etc

Ikenie no Dilemma Top/Middle/Bottom (2013)
* Novel by Dobashi Shinjiro
Yamamoto Hikaru, Suga Kenta, Haruka, Takeuchi Toshi, Kasamatsu Sho, Kinomoto Minehiro, etc

Joker Game Escape (2013)
Suzuki Hirono, Matsuno Rina, Miyatake Mio, Yoshida Madoka, etc

Judge (2013)
* Manga by Tonogai Yoshiki
Seto Koji, Arimura Kasumi, Sato Jiro, Tanaka Sotaro, Kawate Fukino, etc.

Dorei-ku: Boku to 23-nin no Dorei (2014)
* Novel by Okada Shinichi
Hongo Kanata, Akimoto Sayaka, Yamada Yuki, Kubota Yuki, Anzu Sayuri, etc.

Kamisama no Iutoori/As the Gods Will (2014)
* Manga by Kaneshiro Muneyuki
Fukushi Sota, Kamiki Ryunosuke, Yamazaki Hirona, Sometani Shota, Yamamoto Ryosuke, etc.

Tomodachi Game: The Movie (2017) [RV]
* Manga by Yamaguchi Mikoto, Satou Yuuki
Yoshizawa Ryo, Yamada Yuki, Uchida Rio, Okura Shimon, Nemoto Nagi, etc.

Tomodachi Game: The Movie Final (2017) [RV]
* Manga by Yamaguchi Mikoto, Satou Yuuki
Yoshizawa Ryo, Yamada Yuki, Uchida Rio, Uragami Seishuu, Zaiki Takuma, etc.

Kaiji: Final Game (2020)
* Manga by Fukumoto Nobuyuki
Fujiwara Tatsuya, Fukushi Sota, Arata Mackenyu, Yoshida Kotaro, Sekimizu Nagisa, etc.

Signal 100 (2020)
* Manga by Miyatsuki Arata, Kondou Shigure
Hashimoto Kanna, Koseki Yuta, Seto Toshiki, Kai Shouma, Nakao Masaki, etc.


Liar Game (2007)
* Manga by Kaitani Shinobu
Toda Erika, Matsuda Shota, Suzuki Kosuke, Kichise Michiko, etc.

Liar Game 2 (2009)
* Manga by Kaitani Shinobu
Toda Erika, Matsuda Shota, Kikuchi Rinko, Takei Emi, Mashima Hidekazu, etc.

Clone Baby (2010)
Matsuzaka Tori, Ichikawa Tomohiro, Yamazaki Kento, Sakurada Dori, etc

Tokyo 23 – Survival City (2010)
Yagira Yuya, Hongo Kanata, Denden, Tanaka Yoji, Nonami Maho, Takanashi Rin, etc

Mirai Nikki (2012)
* Original story (Original manga by Esuno Sakae)
Okada Masaki, Gouriki Ayame, Hongo Kanata, Kikuchi Fuma, Fukuda Mayuko, etc.

Meishi Game (2017)
* Novel by Suzuki Osamu
Tsutsumi Shinichi, Okada Masaki, Otomo Karen, Ochiai Motoki, Natsuna, etc.

Tomodachi Game (2017) [RV]
* Manga by Yamaguchi Mikoto, Satou Yuuki
Yoshizawa Ryo, Yamada Yuki, Uchida Rio, Okura Shimon, Nemoto Nagi, etc.

Zero: Ikkaku Senkin Game (2018)
Kato Shigeaki, Mamiya Shotaro, Koseki Yuta, Kato Ryo, Okayama Amane, Sugino Yosuke, etc.

GARO: Versus Road (2020)
Matsudai Koya, Toman, Yuhi, Shimizu Naoya, KKadoshita Shutaro, Hinami Kyoko, etc.

Imawa no Kuni no Alice/Alice in Borderland – (2020) [RV]
* Manga by Aso Haro
Yamazaki Kento, Tsuchiya Tao, Morinaga Yuki, Machida Keita, Murakami Nijiro, etc.

Imawa no Kuni no Alice/Alice in Borderland S2 – (2022)
* Manga by Aso Haro
Yamazaki Kento, Tsuchiya Tao, Murakami Nijiro, Asahina Aya, Miyoshi Ayaka, Sakurada Dori, etc.


Jinrou Game/Werewolf Game (Novel by Kawakami Ryo)

  • Villagers Side (Movie, 2013)
    Sakuraba Nanami, Nakano Taiga, Fujii Mina, Okayama Amane, etc.
  • The Beast Side (Movie, 2014)
    Tsuchiya Tao, Morikawa Aoi, Sakurada Dori, Fujiwara Kisetsu, Sakuma Yui, etc.
  • Crazy Fox (Movie, 2015)
    Takatsuki Sara, Tomite Ami, Masaki Reiya, Tomita Keisuke, Hagiwara Minori, etc.
  • Prison Break (Movie, 2016)
    Kojima Riria, Watanabe Yutaro, Kaneko Daichi, Shimizu Naoya, Okamoto Natsumi, etc.
  • Lovers (Movie, 2017)
    Furuhata Seika, Ikeda Junya, Saso Yuki, Maeda Koki, etc
  • Mad Land (Movie, 2017)
    Asakawa Nana, Kadoshita Shutaro, Matsunaga Arisa, Sana Hiroki, Kurihara Goro, etc.
  • Inferno (Movie, 2018)
    Takeda Rena, Ueno Yuuka, Ogura Yuka, Matsumoto Ukyo, Hiramatsu Kento, etc.
  • Lost Eden (Drama, 2018)
    Takeda Rena, Ueno Yuuka, Ogura Yuka, Matsumoto Ukyo, Hiramatsu Kento, etc.
  • Death Game’s Operator (Movie, 2020)
    Ogoe Yuki, Nakajima Ken, Uchikuri Uchikura, Hanayagi Nozomi, Sakanoue Akane, Miyama Ryoki (BE:FIRST) etc.

Real Onigokko/The Chasing World (Novel by Yamada Yusuke)

  • The Chasing World (Movie, 2008)
    Ishida Takuya, Tanimura Mitsuki, Daito Shunsuke, Matsumoto Rio, etc.
  • The Chasing World 2 (Movie, 2010)
    Ishida Takuya, Miura Shohei, Kirishima Reika, Takito Kenichi, etc.
  • The Chasing World 3 (Movie, 2012)
    Yamazaki Kento, Kishida Tatsuya, Endo Yuya, Yamaya Kasumi, etc
  • The Chasing World 4 (Movie, 2012)
    Sagara Itsuki, Yahagi Honoka, Inoue Masahiro, Asari Yosuke, etc.
  • The Chasing World 5 (Movie, 2012)
    Inoue Masahiro, Nakama Risa, Yahagi Honoka, Asari Yosuke, etc.
  • The Chasing World: The Origin (Drama, 2013)
    Hongo Kanata, Yokohama Ryusei, Yoshikawa Ai, Takenaka Naoto, etc.
  • Tag (Movie, 2015)
    Triendl Reina, Shinoda Mariko, Mano Rina, Sakurai Yuki, etc.
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