10 Most Popular Cars from Japanese Anime
The vibrant, kinetic style of Japanese animation is the perfect form for depicting the emotion of driving. From thrilling, high-speed races to tense, emotionally-jarring confrontations, automobiles are an integral part of hand-drawn storytelling.
Just as anime shows and movies are filled with colorful human (and animal) characters, so are there many unforgettable cars that are characters in their own right. Here are the 10 most memorable cars from Japanese anime.
Do You Know Which Car Has the Game Pong Programmed in Its On-Board Computer? Find out this and other fun car facts…
The Devil Z (Wangan Midnight)
It’s not uncommon for manga and anime creators to use real-life cars in their stories and artwork (even for something as minor as the family car in Spirited Away). With such detail-oriented drawing and national pride in Japanese automakers, some stories even revolve around actual models, like Nissan’s Fairlady Z from Wangan Midnight.
But the more memorable vehicle from that manga–which was adapted into multiple anime films–is the cursed Devil Z, an S30 Z with a modified L28 motor that’s tricked out and milked to 600 horsepower. Much of the story focuses on the owner’s (Akio Asakura) rivalry with a Porsche 964 Turbo “Blackbird” and the Devil Z’s history of its drivers dying in horrible crashes.
Bumpety Boo (Hey! Bumboo)
A lighter, child-friendly entry on our list, Bumpety Boo (or Hey! Bumboo) was a children’s television show from the legendary Nippon Animation company that aired in 1985-1986. Although short-lived, the wacky adventures of the young boy Ken and his talking yellow car that hatched from an egg are very…original. The car–named Bumpety Boo or Bumboo, depending on the translation–gets its power from smelling flowers. As they travel the world in search of the car’s parents, they must evade the villainous Dr. Monkey who wants to steal the miraculous vehicle.
It’s trippy, to say the least, but there’s a memorable charm in its personality and wacky sound effects.
Catbus (My Neighbor Totoro)
Admittedly, it’s not a true automobile–flying instead of rolling and using legs instead of wheels–but this grinning, 12-legged feline bus is a treasured form of transportation in Hayao Miyazaki’s animated masterpiece. It’s idnicative of the fantastical potential behind real-world transportation when our imaginations run wild. The Catbus was even popular enough to have received its own spin-off short film.
Shiro’s F-1 (Tailenders)
Quite a startling set-up for an OVA, racer Tomoe Shiro crashes during a brutal race on an apocalyptic land and winds up on an operation table. Under the blade of a mad scientist, Shiro has been saved as his heart is replaced with the engine of the F1 race car he drove. Tasked with returning to the race and taking down his rival, Shiro’s struggle blurs the line between human and machine.
Trans AM (Redline)
One of the most white-knuckled racing spectacles to ever grace the screen, the 2009 full-length feature Redline from director Takeshi Koike is pure adrenaline. The protagonist, JP, and his yellow Trans AM 20000 WR are old-fashioned in a futuristic, hi-tech world, but JP’s passion makes him one of the best drivers in the intergalactic racing tournaments.
The film took seven years to animate and depicts every inch of the car–inside and out. You can read my full review of the movie here.
Kaneda’s Motorcycle (Akira)
Made popular by its prominence on the cover of Katsuhiro Otomo’s 1988 landmark film, Kaneda’s futuristic motorcycle is coveted by everyone who sees it. Although its specific make isn’t known, it’s covered in logos and insignias that add to its mystery. It’s easily the sleekest part of this gritty animated classic.
TIE: Lupin’s Fiat or Mercedes SSK (Lupin the 3rd)
I personally love Lupin the 3rd, for every aspect from its characters and wit to its retro style. While many animes prefer fast, futuristic sports cars or burly muscle cars, gentleman thief Lupin deserves an altogether different type of vehicle. Both his Mercedes SSK from the anime series and the Fiat 500 from the renowned The Castle of Cagliostro movie equally match the wily anti-hero’s mix of panache and goofiness.
You can read a more in-depth discussion on Lupin’s Fiat 500 here.
Capeta’s F1 Kart (Capeta)
Formula One racing is a recorruing inspiration in mangas, and one title to pay homage to F1 is the recent Capeta series that debuted a decade ago. Originally a manga, the 52-episode anime featured hero Kappeita Taira (or Capeta), a young boy with amazing driving skills who (with his dad) constructs a go-kart to race at a competitive track. While its sales weren’t impressive, Capeta become a cult classic among race fans.
AE86 (Initial D)
The Initial D franchise is filled with unforgettable vehicles, and its focus on illegal street racing influenced America’s Fast & Furious (which paid homage in Tokyo Drift). From the beginning, Initial D chose real, authentic cars to depict, making it the paramount “car anime” ever.
Choosing a “most recognizable” is difficult to pick, but the honor should arguably go to Takumi Fujiwara’s Toyota AE86, which he drives to make deliveries for his dad’s restaurant. While not a fancy car, the real-life model laid the foundation for street racing in Japan and has become a legend in that circle.
Mach 5 (Speed Racer)
Well-known around the world even to those who aren’t anime fans, Speed Racer‘s white Mach 5 has remained a pop culture icon since Mach GoGoGo was adapted into an anime in 1967. Filled with cool gadgets deployed by alphebetized buttons on the steering wheel, the Mach 5 was inspired by the design of classic Le Mans sports cars like the Ferrari 250 Testarossa.
It’s hard to find a more popular anime vehicle than this sleek, futuristic classic.
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- Aaron WidmarSenior Editor
Aaron is unashamed to be a native Clevelander and the proud driver of a 1995 Saturn SC-2 (knock on wood). He gleefully utilizes his background in theater, literature, and communication to dramatically recite his own articles to nearby youth. Mr. Widmar happily resides in Dayton, Ohio with his magnificent wife, Vicki, but is often on the road with her exploring new destinations. Aaron has high aspirations for his writing career but often gets distracted pondering the profound nature of the human condition and forgets what he was writing... See more articles by Aaron.