Top 10 anime musical theater live-action adaptations: Fruits Basket, Death Note and more

Poster for Death Note Musical.
Poster visual for Death Note musical. Pic credit:

As a true anime otaku it’s only natural to want to experience your favorite anime in every medium possible. While many anime series are turned into movies, manga (if a manga wasn’t the source material for the anime), spin-off novels, and now even musical stage plays.

Many may not be aware of the fact that there have been many popular live-action anime musicals, mostly in Japan, and now in 2022 and later in 2023, we can expect to see more anime musicals coming to the US and London.

Popular anime series like Naruto, Bleach, and Blue Exorcist were some of the few animes lucky enough to get a musical adaptation, but older shows such as The Prince of Tennis and Saint Seiya also had musicals. If you’re a die-hard anime fan you’d probably find it hard not to sing along with the songs in these musicals.

My Top 10 picks of anime musicals are the musicals that I thought brought out the true essence of the anime, captured its spirit, and brought its characters to life with the best performances and singing. Two of the musicals on my list haven’t opened yet, but due to the extreme hype for both plays and the enormous fanbase of those animes they made it onto this list.

10. Hunter X Hunter

Hunter X Hunter took the old “childhood adventure trope” and ran with it right off the cliff, so it’s no real surprise that it would be turned into a musical that is a bit “far out”. The musical takes place between the Yorknew City Arc and the beginning of Greed Isaldn Arc, and features an original story that doesn’t appear in the original anime.

Gon and his friends are hired to track down a group of missing musical performers. As one would expect it’s filled with adventure and of course, our favorite (most feared?) clown, Hisoka, is thrown into the mix. The actor who plays Hisoka was able to portray his eccentric personality perfectly, and his costume is completely accurate.

Hisoka’s dance from the play Hunter X Hunter.

9. Black Butler

Black Butler’s story centers around Ciel – a young aristocrat who is forced to make a deal with a demon named Sebastian in order to get out of a sticky situation. Sebastian agrees to help Ciel get revenge on the people who murdered his parents and according to their contract will get Ciel’s soul in return. Black Butler had four musicals: That Butler, Friendship, Musical Black Butler: The Most Beautiful Death in The World – A Thousand Souls and The Fallen Grim Reaper, Lycoris that Blazes the Earth, and Black Butler: Noah’s Ark Circus.

Highlights from the play Black Butler.

8. Sailor Moon

It should come as no surprise that the popular anime Sailor Moon had 31 musicals that have been performed over 800 times since 1993! The plays were originally staged by Bandai and performed three times a year. Their show times lined up with the Japanese school schedule so the high schoolers would be able to go and see it. They were held at the Sunshine Theatre in the Ikeburo district in Tokyo. Presently, the production has expanded, and now the actors tour all over Japan and occasionally even make appearances in China. I wouldn’t be surprised if a Sailor Moon Cosmos musical hits the stage sometime soon.

Highlights from the play Sailor Moon.

7. Bleach

Rock Musical Bleach, nicknamed “BuriMyu”, are rock musicals produced by Studio Pierrot and Nelke Planning. The musicals follow the storyline of the Bleach manga and anime closely but add original music. The plays have been going strong since 2015 with their most recent performance being held in 2016. The costumes are extremely accurate and the rock music gives the musical a dark vibe, which matches Bleach’s world where Shinigami, or “Soul Reapers”, are tracking down evil spirits called “Hollows”.

One of the rock songs from the play Bleach.

6. Pokemon

It’s surprising given Pokeman’s huge fanbase that there has only been one musical so far called Pokemon Live. The musical ran from September 22, 2000, to January 19, 2001. It had a unique plot but featured the unforgettable duo – Team Rocket. Team Rocket genetically engineers a Pokemon called MechaMew2 and as you can guess chaos ensues.

The play featured songs from Pokemon 2BA Master and Totally Pokemon soundtracks. There are mixed reviews for the play, but for diehard Pokemon fans I’m sure they’d find it a nice nostalgia trip.

Highlights from the play Pokemon.

5. Death Note

Death Note has had several adaptations: multiple live-action movies, a TV drama, an American Netflix adaptation, two spin-off novels, and a musical. Death Note: The Musical was scored by Frank Wildhorn and received positive reviews in Japan and Korea.

The play has only been staged in Japanese even though it was actually written in English. You can search YouTube and find all of the English soundtracks for the play. The songs are amazing! It’s interesting to note that one change to the plot is that L is the one to unmask Light’s true identity as Kira. The two musical scores are what sets this musical apart from the others and grant it the 5th spot on my list.

One of the English songs from the play Death Note.

4. Fruits Basket

The stage adaptation of the anime/manga series Fruits Basket The Stage became available to stream outside Japan in May 2022. It ran from March 4, 2022 to March 13, 2022 at Tokyo’s Nihonbashi Mitsui Hall. The best thing about this musical is definitely the casting. Toru is Toru and Ko is definitely Ko. The costumes are also very accurate.

You can watch some highlights from the play Fruits Basket The Stage here:

A scene from the play Fruits Basket.

3. Naruto

Naruto is one of the most popular animes in the world and has received three musicals with more sure to come. Live Spectacle Naruto: The Akatsuki Investigation opened in 2017 and featured music, dance, and acrobatics (martial arts). This particular adaptation seems to be the most accurate in bringing the ninja world of Naruto to life. The costumes are accurate, the acting on point, the singing very good, and the plot follows very closely to the original anime. The music stands out because the music from the anime has always been very distinctive. Toshio Masuda created the musical score for Naruto’s original soundtrack and it used traditional instruments like the shamisen and shakuhachi, but also modern instruments like the guitar, drums, bass, piano, and chanting.

An entire epic scene from the play Naruto.

2. My Neighbor Totoro

Gaining the number two spot on my list is the My Neighbor Totoro musical, which hasn’t opened yet, but wins this spot because of one thing – its composer. The Royal Shakespeare Company in London is teaming up with multi-award-winning composer Joe Hisaishi to ready a stage adaptation of Miyazaki Hayao’s whimsical 1988 Studio Ghibli film My Neighbor Totoro.

Joe Hisaishi has been associated with animator Hayao Miyazaki since 1984, having composed musical scores for all but one of his films: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Laputa: Castle in the sky, Porco Rosso, Princess Mononoke, My Neighbor Totoro and more! Joe Hisaishi’s musical scores were filled with whimsy and helped set the mood in these fantasy movies.

You can read more about the upcoming My Neighbor Totoro musical in my article here. Miyazaki Hayao’s My Neighbor Totoro gets London Stage musical theater play in 2022

1. Spy X Family

Another musical that hasn’t opened yet is the Spy X Family musical, but it gains the top spot because of the massive hype this production has gained. Due to Spy X Family’s rise in popularity due to its intriguing plot and lovable characters it has been announced that there are plans for a musical adaptation of the anime/manga series.

Toho Stage, the production company behind the stage adaptation of Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away, plans to release the musical adaptation of Spy X Family sometime in 2023. This will be the first musical that Imperial Theater has produced. The plan is to stick closely to the original story and Toho stage is already excited to unveil its vision of a Spy X Family musical to the public.

You can read more about the upcoming Spy X Family in my article here: Spy X Family 2023 musical theater adaptation has auditions for live-action Anya Forger

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