With a Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse sequel announced for April 2022, and the newest Spider-Man for the film implied to be Toei’s 1970 live-action Spider-Man by producer Phil Lord, it makes me wonder exactly how many other Japanese iterations of Spider-Man exist, and how exactly did Spider-Man become popular in Japan?
To answer that last question, the first instances of American Spider-Man showed up in issues of Japanese Playboy. The images were heavily edited versions of the American comic issues and were sandwiched between articles, centerfold pages, and erotic manga.
This issue of Japanese Playboy is dated from 1976. By 1978, Marvel would enter into a partnership with Toei that allowed for a trade of properties between the companies. Toei decided to pick up the short-lived American live-action Spider-Man series of the time and transformed it into Supaidāman, a sentai series that saw a young man named Takuya Yamashiro of Earth-51778 become “The Emissary From Hell” and using the Spider Bracelet and a giant robot named Leopardo, fight the forces of the evil Professor Monster and his Iron Cross Army. Supaidāman only lasted for a season and a movie, but its creation, along with Marvel’s influence paved the way for countless sentai series, including Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger, which became the inspiration for Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers.
Outside of Toei’s series, most other Japanese versions of Spider-Man are comic-based and tend to follow the same formula as the original Spider-Man. These include Yu Komori of Spiderman: The Manga, Sho Amano of Spider-Man J, and Ninja Spider-Man from the Marvel Mangaverse. The only other Japanese Spider-Man to buck the narrative trend is Peni Parker or SP//dr, who instead shares a psychic link with both the radioactive spider and the mech she pilots instead of having spider-based powers. Also, she manages to get a cameo from some very familiar faces in her comic series.
The Spider-Man series has a long and rich history, and while it’ll be nice to see who else is added into the Spiderverse sequel, it’s just a shame we’ll have to wait so long to see exactly who those new characters are.