You’ve heard of him. You’ve seen him. No, not that evil Superman doppelganger from Earth-3 or Anti-Matter!
The shiny silver boye from space! The one and only celestial superstar!
Yes! The Solar Sentinel From The Stars! The Luminary From The Land Of Light! The Monumental Messiah!
If you’re only familiar with the title and image of the iconic Japanese hero, who made his debut all the way back in 1966, and has kept going since, then let’s lay out some basics.
Who is Ultraman?
‘Ultraman’ is the title of many heroes across decades, rather than just belonging to a singular figure. It’s a long legacy, going all the way back to the first Ultraman. And it’s a legacy of a race of celestial beings known as THE ULTRAS.
The Ultras were originally akin to humans, but their world fell to darkness, as their sun died. In desperation, amidst the dark, the people of the world Nebula M78, soon to be known as The Land Of Light, built an artificial sun. An incredible source of power and light, this invention was known as The Plasma Spark. When activated, its light would transform the planet and its entire populus into the stellar beings we now know as The Ultras.
These are their adventures, their voyages. They traverse The Multiverse, they protect the cosmos, and are beings of light powered by light.
Created by Eiji Tsuburaya and Tohl Narita, Ultraman is a vital icon, who represents the absolute best of us. Here was a hero envisioned to fight the monsters that haunted us, to wrestle with our demons, quite literally, to represent us and our daily struggles.
But alongside all of that, Ultraman was also a character famously loaded with Christian ideas, subtext, and iconography, due to co-creator Eiji Tsuburaya being a Catholic. So if you like your angelic heroes from heavens above, you’re in for a fun ride.
Where Do I Start?
There are three paths here, and all of them are very doable, so let’s go through them!
Each of the titles will be carrying links to the work’s digital home (ie, where it can be read/watched), so be sure to take advantage of that. We’ve made this easy for you.
This is an easy way to do it, and it’s arguably the quickest. You have two options waiting for you.
This is an alternative-universe, think akin to The Ultimates or Earth One. But it’s basically a fresh start and a new spin/take on ‘Ultraman’, for a new generation. It takes the rough idea of Ultraman and the 1966 series and does completely its own thing here. In it, Ultraman existed, and then was gone. And now we follow the story of the boy who must succeed Ultraman.
It’s very akin to Spider-Man or Early Years Superman, and it feels like it’s made to appeal to that sensibility, as well as a wider, global audience that may not be familiar with Ultraman beyond the rough name and image.
[Fun Fact- Before this manga, the same creative was doing a Kamen Rider fan-comic, which KR’s owners Toei made sure to shut down. Tsuburaya Productions, the owners of Ultraman, would then offer the creative team a chance to officially do their thing with Ultraman instead, and voila, we have this!]
In 2020, Marvel Comics and Tsuburaya Productions came to an agreement, by which Marvel would publish Ultraman comics for a Western readership. The initiative would be spearheaded by Kyle Higgins, well-known for his success revitalizing Mighty Morphin Power Rangers over at BOOM! Studios, alongside Matt Groom.
Effectively a full-scale reboot of the original 1966 series, it’s a modernization of the entire affair for the 2020s. Every old character is made all-new and all-different again, offering readership a brand new start and entry point into Ultra mythology.
With Francesco Mann’s incredible artwork, it’s as solid an Ultra 101 as a new reader is going to get. It takes its time, decompressed in much the same way as Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man, but it’s got the solid character beats you want. Released in a series of mini-series, acting almost as ‘phases’, the roll out of this whole slow-building Ultraverse across Marvel has been interesting to watch. And certainly, it’s a way to dive into the mythos.
The TV Series
The classic way! The way! The way (Ultra) God intended! This is the premiere way of diving into Ultra.
Traditionally, you can watch any new, airing, current Ultra series, as they all take place on their own worlds, despite connective tissue. You can kinda just jump in headfirst. Or even beyond that, just take a look at any of the Ultras. Like the design and look of one? Just try out their series, and see how those episodes work for you.
[Note: Many Ultra-Series are available on ShoutFactory, and can be streamed there. The respective picks below bear direct links to be viewed.]
But beyond that general advice, let’s take a look at some recommendations to start with:
Do you like Cowboys? Do you love melancholic characters? Do you like leads with mysterious pasts? Well, boy howdy do I have an Ultra-series for you! The Ultra-cowboy, who walks about making melancholic music. The alien hero known as Gai Kurenai, aka Ultraman Orb, is a lone wanderer. A nomadic hero of secretive heroism, his past hides wounds. And things get interesting when that past confronts him once more.
If you’re someone into great protagonist-antagonist dynamics, especially with them as Old Friends/Bitter-Exes, then Ultraman Orb will be pleasing for you.
It’s a nomadic hero, on the ground, trying to reform connections, and become complete after whatever it is that happened to him. He’s a man haunted by his past, trying to move forward.
If you’re a Doctor Who person, think of Gai Kurenai as akin to the 9th Doctor, played by Christopher Eccleston, but younger, and hotter.
The Sunset Wanderer, as he’s called, is one worth spending time with. Here’s the first full episode for free, uploaded officially, on Youtube. Try it, and see if it’s your speed.
Ultraman Orb also happens to be available on Crunchyroll, so that is also an option.
The Son Of The Devil vs The Devil!
Who is Riku Asakura? And what plans does his demonic father, Ultraman Belial, have in store for him? That’s what Ultraman Geed is about. Perhaps the most achingly sincere Ultraman series of all, it’s a tale of found family, about defying fate, about nurture against nature, and the ability we all have within us to write our stories. Geed is the tale of a man who tries to define himself, even against the controlling influence of his cosmic devil dad.
If you love your Devils, father-son stories, and stories about identity, you’ll enjoy this one. Here’s the first full episode for free, uploaded officially, on Youtube. Try it, and see if it works for you.
Much like Orb, Geed also happens to be available on Crunchyroll, so that is also an option.
The 13-episode adaptation of the aforementioned Ultraman manga! It’s a bit different from the manga, with some alterations and changes, and is one season in, with a season two greenlit and coming.
If you’ve got a Netflix subscription and some free time to kill, this is an easy option by which to sample the whole enterprise. Though, like with the manga, do keep in mind that it’s quite (deliberately) different from most of what you get in Ultraman elsewhere.
Before Ultraman, there was Ultra Q, a sort of Twilight Zone-esque sci-fi show featuring people investigating incidents and cases involving strange monsters. Ultraman is the successor show to Ultra Q, so in a way, it all goes back to this one.
If you like classic sci-fi stuff, old procedurals, this is a great one, and a ton of fun. It’s all available on ShoutFactory, as linked above, and it’s a great ride. But also, above all, it’s an astonishing piece of cultural history.
The original! The first! The classic! The one begat all the rest of them! The moment Ultraman was introduced to the world, and the series after which a cultural icon would be born, now and forever.
It’s the foundation upon which everything is built, and watching something so iconic and known now manifest from the start has a special joy to it. It’s like going back and reading those early superhero books of The Golden Age. But just the historical fascination aside, it’s a really fun, solid show, much like Ultra Q.
It’s up for viewing on Shout, but also, here’s that iconic first episode for free, officially, on Youtube. Try it and see if it feels like something you might be into.
The multiversal event-epic about the war against The Devil, Ultraman Belial! This movie stars the most important and popular Ultra hero of the modern era, Ultraman Zero, and is his definitive, defining story. A legacy hero, Ultraman Zero is forced to go out on his own, carrying the hopes and dreams of his people, all those who came before him, to save all of reality.
Revenge Of Belial (also called Return Of Belial) is, frankly speaking, one of the best modern live-action superhero films out there. A delightfully sincere space opera epic that is packed to the brim with wondrously weird ideas and characters, it plays like the best event comics you’ve read. It feels massive, it feels cool, and by the end, it makes you cheer. It’s all the colorfully bright, deeply dumb, utterly unashamed superhero storytelling that so many Hollywood blockbusters would be too embarrassed to do. And it rules, as our hero confronts The Devil determined to destroy all of existence.
It’s a great character piece for Ultraman Zero, but beyond that, it’s a great romp for all to enjoy.
Also, it’s up on Youtube, in full, with Tsuburaya monetizing the video. So click away and experience a story full of great music and super-wrestling.
Shin Ultraman (2021)
If none of these feel like your vibe or the route you wanna know, fear not! Later this year, Shinji Higuchi and Hideaki Anno, the team who brought us Shin Gojira, the best Godzilla movie since the very first, are reuniting to do Shin Ultraman. With Anno writing and producing, and Higuchi directing, it’s going to be a brand new, modernized entry point into Ultraman.
There’s no date yet, but it is set to hit later this year, and if Shin Gojira was any indication, it’s going to be astonishing.
What Do I Do After All These?
Why, explore, of course! Have fun! Try out whatever Ultra series looks cool to you. Whatever seems pleasing is worth a shot. Maybe give Ultraseven a watch? Or Perhaps you’d like Return Of Ultraman? Or maybe Ultraman X for something more recent? There’s over 55 years of stuff for you to dive into. The sky’s the limit!