So, you’re thinking of getting into Kamen Rider. Maybe you caught a few episodes of Black as a kid and got curious about the newer shows, or maybe your interest was piqued by the cool armored cosplayers you saw at a recent convention—but you’re also overwhelmed by just how many Kamen Rider shows there seem to be.
Let’s get some things straight: with a few exceptions, each Kamen Rider is designed as a standalone series, which means you can pick a title at random and still enjoy a complete story. They’re essentially live-action shonen anime, telling the stories of brave young protagonists who use their newfound superpowers to defeat villains and save the world.
If all that sounds good to you, read on for our recommendations for the perfect starter series:
If you like battle royale stories…
…Try Kamen Rider Ryuki, especially if you’re a fan of Gen “Urobutcher” Urobuchi’s writing on animes like Fate/Zero and Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Urobuchi has credited Ryuki with inspiring various aspects of his stories and thinks that “there are no battle royale-type works that have surpassed it“.
Ryuki tells the story of a down-on-his-luck journalist named Shinji Kido, who stumbles upon the Mirror World, an alternate universe hidden behind mirrors. The Mirror World is teeming with man-eating monsters, but those who survive their encounters may choose to form a contract with said monsters to become one of thirteen Kamen Riders. Shinji accepts his contract, and is drawn into a cut-throat war between the thirteen Riders where the winner will be granted a single wish.
This show has all the hallmarks of a great battle royale, from likable characters with compelling motivations, to the intriguing mystery of who created the Riders’ war to begin with.
If you’re a fan of Takeru Satoh…
...Try Kamen Rider Den-O. Takeru Satoh is a rising star in the Japanese acting world, having recently starred in the Rurouni Kenshin film adaptations and the highly acclaimed medical drama An Incurable Case of Love. Den-O is the series that catapulted him to fame, and we’d say it’s a must-watch if you’re curious to see why.
Satoh plays Ryotaro Nogami, an exceptionally unlucky man whose day goes from bad to worse when he gets swept up on a magical time-travelling train called the Denliner. Ryotaro ends up taking on the mantle of Kamen Rider Den-O, fixing crises through time with the help of the Denliner’s residents, four demons known as the Imagin and a mysterious girl named Hana. The Imagin also occasionally possess Ryotaro’s body, which leads to some funny hijinks that also allow Satoh to show off his acting chops.
Den-O is one of Kamen Rider’s best-loved series, with more spinoffs and movie specials than your average train line has stations. It’s a fun, wholesome show that also has its fair share of emotional moments and deep themes.
If you love Studio Trigger…
…Try Kamen Rider Fourze. Its head writer, Kazuki Nakashima, went on to write two of Trigger’s most popular works, Kill la Kill and Promare, and this show shares their blend of light-hearted comedic timing and high-octane action setpieces.
Fourze is the story of Kisaragi Gentarou, a transfer student at the nation’s leading astronomy school, Amanogawa High. Despite his delinquent-esque appearance, Gentarou’s only goal in life is to befriend everyone he meets. Unbeknownst to him, a dark secret lurks in the heart of his new school: an evil principal who turns his students into twisted reflections of themselves. As Kamen Rider Fourze, Gentarou takes it upon himself to save his classmates with the power of friendship.
If you’re looking for a fun, goofy ensemble comedy with a main cast plucked right out of The Breakfast Club, then this is the show for you. It was designed to cheer up all of Japan in the wake of the 2011 Tohoku natural disasters, which makes it a perfect watch in trying times.
If you’re looking for a buddy comedy…
…Try Kamen Rider W. This is another incredibly beloved instalment of the franchise, having inspired a slew of spinoff movies, novels and even a manga based on the series. It’s also responsible for being the debut role of a popular Japanese actor, Suda Masaki, who went on to portray Shinpachi in the live-action adaptation of Gintama.
W centers around a detective named Hidari Shoutarou and his assistant, a boy named Phillip who Shoutarou rescued from a mysterious lab. Together, they form the “two-in-one” Kamen Rider W, solving crimes while protecting the city of Fuuto from rampaging monsters. They soon discover that the monsters, the truth behind Phillip’s past, and even the death of Shoutarou’s former mentor are all linked, and it’s up to them to uncover the full truth and save the day.
This show blends sci-fi, detective noir, drama and comedy, and it’s all held together by the cast’s believable and endearing chemistry. It’s a solid place to start if you’re interested in checking out a Kamen Rider series for the first time.
So, these are our recommendations for getting into Kamen Rider. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!