Of the many niches proliferated by the age of Netflix and other streaming services, few have gotten a greater boost than anime. From Castlevania to the shockingly dark Godzilla anime trilogy, not to mention the host of titles boasted by Netflix’s anime section, it feels like anime is set for another international boom. Much like Godzilla, another tokusatsu favorite is making the transition to the world of 2D via Netflix — Ultraman, everyone’s favorite fish-faced monster killer.
This new series, Ultraman (sorry, ULTRAMAN), takes a slightly different spin on the space-bound hero. A direct sequel to the original 1966 series, the show (adapted from a 2017 manga) sees Shinjiro Hayata, the son of the original Ultraman, take on the mantle to fight a brand new alien invasion.
Of course, he’s not the only Ultraman in town: over the course of the tokusatsu series’ 50-year history, we’ve seen nearly 100 (!) different Ultra Heroes — other members of the advanced space-faring species who travel the universe battling giant rubber monsters. Their mythology is vast, convoluted, and prone to a million different retcons and reboots, so it’s best not to dive too deeply; still, it’s fascinating to see the different ways Tsuburaya Productions has kept the brand alive for so long.
Some of the main Ultraman heroes — known amusingly as the “Ultra Brothers” — have even shown up in bizarre Japanese commercials to... I think, turn off your cell phone before watching a movie?
The upcoming ULTRAMAN seems to be trafficking in this concept that Ultraman is just one of many helmeted heroes defending the galaxy, so we thought it’d be a good idea to skim through some of the most prominent Ultra Heroes in the series so far.
Grab your Color Timer, pull up a chair, and let’s whiz through a half-century of Ultraman history. (And for the love of Godzilla, don’t take a drink every time the word "ultra" shows up in this list. I care about you deeply.)
Host: Shin Hayata
First Appearance: Ultraman (1966), numerous other Ultraman series
The original and most iconic version of the character, the first Ultraman hid on Earth in human form as Shin Hayata (Susumu Korobe), a member of Earth’s Science Patrol who uses the Beta Capsule to transform into a skyscraper-sized superhero and pummel kaiju until he could finish them off by crossing his arms into the iconic Spacium Ray or the spinning Ultra Slash.
While his suit design is the simplest — essentially a grey and red leotard with a chest plate and smooth, Rocketeer-like mask — it would form the design basis for every Ultraman going forward.
Host: Dan Moroboshi
First Appearance: Ultra Seven (1967)
After the success of Ultraman, the 48-episode Ultra Seven created a new Ultra Hero in the form of Dan Moroboshi, an officer for the elite Ultra Guard of the Space Garrison who secretly turns into his alter ego of Ultraseven to help the Garrison defend the Earth.
With a spikier helmet, chest plate and shoulder pads, he kinda dresses like Ultraman on S&M night. But he proved popular enough that he’d continue to cameo in other series, and he even looks to be a supporting character in the Netflix anime.
Host: Hideki Goh
First Appearance: Return of Ultraman (1971)
Not to be confused with well-coiffed '70s disk jockey Wolfman Jack, Ultraman Jack looks a lot more similar to the original Ultraman than Ultraseven. However, he’s got a few tricks up his sleeve, including the deadly (yet fashionable) Ultra Bracelet, and the fact that Ultra host Hideki Goh doesn’t need a transformation device to suit up. Like previous Ultramen, Ultraman Jack acquired its host after Hideki was mortally wounded, melding with them symbiotically to save their lives. Does this mean that Ultraman Jack is walking around in someone else’s dead body? Yeesh.
Host(s): Seiji Hokuro, Yuko Minami
First Appearance: Ultraman Ace (1972)
Unlike the single hosts of previous Ultra Brothers, Ultraman Ace actually shares itself with two hosts, a man and a woman, to form one being that the Ultraman wiki describes as having “the courage of a man and a woman’s love for peace” — a phrase that, woof, has far too much to unpack for this here list.
Still, Ultraman Ace is one of the most powerful Ultra Brothers (Ultra Sister? Is Ultraman Ace non-binary? Sorry, the implications just pile up), having defeated its fair share of monsters with its Ultra Guillotine. From Ace’s choice of weapon, we can assume that Ultraman Ace would be a big hit on Left Twitter.
Host: Gen Ohtori
First Appearance: Ultraman Leo (1974)
While most Ultramen hail from the Land of Light, where Ultras live as beings of pure energy, Ultraman Leo is an alien prince from the fallen Planet 77, who falls to Earth after his homeworld is destroyed in order to make it his new home.
However, when the Alien Magma that destroyed L77 arrives on Earth, he suits up to join the Ultra Brothers (in a snazzy all-red suit with horned helmet) and fight off the planet’s new threat. While most of his powers are pretty straightforward for Ultraman, it might be best to not look too closely at the, ahem, “Leo Full-Body Emission.”
Host: Professor Ohtani
First Appearance: Ultraman (1966)
If your boss’s name was Zoffy, it might be hard for most of us to take him seriously. Still, as the leader of the Ultra Brothers and only the second Ultraman to appear in the series, Zoffy is a figure of great respect for the various Ultramen under his command. Making only the occasional appearance before taking a more regular role in Ultraman Ace, Zoffy only intermittently threw himself into the fray in his first few years of existence.
Of course, after he was thrown into a black hole (like you do), he re-emerged as the green-clad Andro Melos, fighting on his own like his fellow Ultramen.
Host: Takeshi Yamato
First Appearance: Ultraman 80 (1980)
With the arrival of the ‘80s came, paradoxically, a slimming down of the Ultraman design, which producers felt was getting too overdesigned in the late ‘70s. Thus, Ultraman 80 was born, with a more minimalist design featuring smoother embellishments on the helmet and slimmer red patches on the outfit.
The last of the nine original Ultra Brothers of the Showa Era of the series, Ultraman 80 brings some novel weapons to the table, like an Ultra Arrow he can fire from his hands and the sexy-sounding “Saxium Ray.” And of course, there’s the Buckle Beam, which emanates (rather suggestively, we might add) from the gold diamond near 80's crotch.
Host: Riku Asakura
First Appearance: Ultraman Geed (2017)
While the Ultra series would keep hurtling through the ‘80s and ‘90s, rebooting itself every season Super Sentai-style with dozens of new Ultramen, some of the most recent heroes deserve some mention as well. Geed is one of the most notable contemporaries of the character, having been formed from the genetic material of previous Ultraman Belial by Kei Fukuide, an evil sci-fi novelist/genetic scientist who served as the series’ main villain (no, seriously). With a sharper, more triangular design to his helmet and flashier powers and weapons like his multi-purpose Geed Claw.
Other Ultramen have come before and after Geed (the series that followed, Ultraman R/B, featured a pair of Ultramen as protagonists), and the series shows no signs of slowing down. But as Netflix’s ULTRAMAN draws closer, we can’t help but wonder where this long, complicated legacy of Ultra-people will fit into this soft sequel to the 1966 original.