There are two things that I have always loved: superhero comic books and pro wrestling. Now, imagine my two favorite forms of entertainment combined into one package. Sounds impossible? Well, allow me to introduce you to Kinnikuman! Kinnkuman is a Japanese manga that is the creation of Yudetomago and debuted back in 1979. Yudetamago is Japanese for “Boiled egg” and is the pen name for the manga duo comprised of Takashi Shimada and Yoshinori Nakai. Shimada is the writer and Nakai is the artist.
Kinnikuman is easily my favorite manga of all time. In fact, I was a fan of Kinnikuman before I knew about the manga. The reason for this is the complex history that the Kinnikuman franchise has had in the United States. In fact, you probably are more familiar with the Kinnikuman franchise than you think. At any rate, my goal with this column is to raise awareness of Kinnikuman and to explain the franchise’s history in Japan and in the United States. Of course, do I have selfish reasons in mind? Sure! I want enough people to get interested in Kinnikuman so that Shueisha licenses this manga in America, so we can get an official translation of Kinnikuman.
Manga Publication History
When dealing with a franchise like Kinnikuman with such a complicated past it is best to take a quick overview of the manga publication history. This will give a general sense of the franchise. The Kinnikuman franchise is composed of four different manga titles.
Kinnikuman: This is the original manga. It was published from 1979-1987 for a total of 36 volumes. This manga was made into an anime that aired in Japan from 1983 to 1986 but never made it to America.
Kinnikuman Nisei: This manga centered on Kinnikuman’s son and the next generation of Chojins. It was published from 1998-2005 for a total of 29 volumes. This manga was also made into an anime. But, unlike the original, this anime did make it over here to America. More on that later.
Kinnikuman Nisei: All Out Chojin Assault: This manga followed the second-generation characters. It was published from 2001-2007 for a total of 4 volumes.
Kinnikuman Nisei: Ultimate Chojin Tag: This manga had the second-generation characters travel back into the past and team up with the first-generation characters from the original Kinnikuman manga.
Kinnikuman: Yudetamago realized that the first-generation Kinnikuman characters were more popular than the second-generation characters. So, what did Yudetamago do? In 2011, Yudetamago went back to the original Kinnikuman manga and picked up where they had left off back in 1987! Kinnikuman has been published from 2011 up to the present for a total of 71 volumes and counting.
The new volumes of Kinnikuman have not been made into an anime. However, there is a huge social media push for a new Kinnikuman anime. We will see how that plays out in the future.
Unfortunately, Kinnikuman has never been licensed and translated for the American market. This leads fans like me to have to turn to scanlations for translated Kinnikuman manga. Luckily, there is a dedicated group of people who translate the latest chapters of Kinnikuman as they are published. This is where I once again beg Shueisha to give us translated Kinnikuman chapters as a part of their digital Shonen Jump membership. I’ll pay extra!
Kinnikuman Nisei: All Out Chojin Assault and Kinnikuman Nisei: Ultimate Chojin Tag have also never been licensed and translated for the American market. Again, you have to rely on scanlations for both manga series.
However, there was one Kinnikuman manga that was licensed and translated for the American market. And this now leads me to the next section of this article. The Kinnikuman franchise’s presence in the American market.
Kinnikuman in the United States
Remember when I said you may be familiar with Kinnikuman and not even realize it? Well, that is because while we never got either the Kinnikuman manga or anime in the United States, we certainly did get Kinnikuman over here in another form.
In 1985, Mattel got the license to bring Kinnikuman toys called Kinkeshi over here to the United States. However, since the manga and anime were never licensed for the United States, Mattel had to create a backstory for these Kinnikuman toys. Pro wrestling was huge in the 1980s so Mattel created this story of the good wrestler Muscleman and his allies called the Thug Busters in battle with Terri-Bull (Buffaloman as he is known in the manga/anime) and his evil wrestlers called the Cosmic Crunchers.
And thus was born the M.U.S.C.L.E.S. toy line. M.U.S.C.L.E.S. stood for Millions of Unusual Small Creatures Lurking Everywhere. The word M.U.S.C.L.E.S. was also a nod to Kinnikuman’s name which is Muscleman in English.
The M.U.S.L.E.S. toy line consisted of 233 different M.U.S.C.L.E.S. figures, a Battlin’ Belt carrying case that looked like a championship belt, and a Hard Knockin’ Rockin’ Ring Wrestling Arena, and a Mega-Match board game.
In 1986, We got the Kinnikuman NES video game from Japan. Of course, in America, the NES game was rebranded Tag Team M.U.S.C.L.E. to better match up with the toy line in the United States. The big difference is that the Japanese NES game got Broken Jr. while the American version of the NES game got Geronimo.
Of course, like any super-hero-loving and pro-wrestling-loving young child in the 1980s, I had all the M.U.S.C.L.E.S. toys and the NES video game. Yeah, the video game sucked, but whatever. As a little kid, I liked it. The M.U.S.L.E.S. toy line was as cool as hell. At any rate, the M.U.S.L.E.S. toy line ended in 1988 but I always kept my treasured toys.
Now, fast-forward to 2002. It is Saturday morning and I am a bit hungover from the night before. I sit down with my desperately needed coffee and click on the TV to watch some cartoons. I flip some channels before landing on the FoxBox lineup of cartoons. As I sip down my coffee hoping to quiet the dull pounding in my skull, on my TV is the debut of a brand-new cartoon: Ultimate Muscle: The Kinnikuman Legacy.
I sat there bleary-eyed and experienced a feeling of deja-vu. Why in the world did I feel I had seen these characters before? Then it hit me. Are these related to my old M.U.S.C.L.E.S toys?! Well, a quick search of the internet confirmed the connection and also opened me to the glorious world of Kinnikuman. From there I read all the manga and watched the original anime. I was completely hooked.
As I stated, after 1988, Kinnikuman left the American market. It was not until 2002 that Kinnikuman returned to the United States with the debut of the Ultimate Muscle: The Kinnikuman Legacy cartoon. This was the Japanese anime that was licensed to 4Kids. And boy did 4Kids make a ton of changes to the story from changing characters’ names to changing large plot points.
The Ultimate Muscle: The Kinnikuman Legacy anime ran on American television from 2002-2004. In 2002, we also got an Ultimate Muscle: The Kinnikuman Legacy toy line by Bandai that consisted of some cool 6-inch tall articulated action figures as well as new Kinkeshi toys and an Ultimate Muscle card game.
In 2003, we got Galactic Wrestling: Featuring Ultimate Muscle for the Sony PlayStation 2. Also in 2003, we got Ultimate Muscle: Legends vs. New Generation for the Nintendo GameCube. I love these games. I still play them now.
In 2004, Viz got the license to the Kinnikuman Nisei manga and published it in the United States as Ultimate Muscle: The Kinnikuman Legacy. Viz translated and published the entire 29 volume run of this manga. Ultimate Muscle: The Kinnikuman Legacy Volume 29 was published in 2011. In fact, we did a review for Ultimate Muscle: The Kinnikuman Legacy Volume 11! Wow, that was fourteen years ago! Time flies. Anyway, since then, we have sadly been without anything Kinnikuman related. That needs to change!
The World of Kinnikuman
Kinnikuman is an action manga that delivers lots of silly and crude humor. To be sure, Kinnikuman is not recommended for sensitive readers. However, for everyone else, what Kinnikuman offers is a blend of superhero themes and pro-wrestling themes all wrapped up in some truly over-the-top comedy.
Our hero is Kinnikuman who initially starts out as an Ultraman parody. Kinnikuman is presented as a clumsy oaf who is rather stupid. In fact, Kinnikuman usually ends up beating the kaiju that he fights for stupid reasons. Honestly, Kinnikuman Volumes 1 and 2 are not that great. You can tell that Yudetamago are unsure of what they want to do with the manga. It is also obvious that they have not found their groove in terms of what world they are constructing and what type of manga they want to create. The Ultraman parody moments are okay, but they never really grab the reader’s interest. The first two volumes also lack any true creativity or uniqueness to the stories or characters.
However, all of that changes with Kinnikuman Volume 3. This is where Yudetamago get their feet under them and begin to flesh out their own unique world and populate it with their interesting characters. This is where Kinnikuman finally begins to get its own distinctive personality and flavor. From this point on, Yudetamago know that they want to deliver a manga that is a combination of superhero and pro-wrestling themes.
The main character is Kinnikuman. His real name is Kinniku Suguru, but he usually just goes by his codename Kinnikuman. Remember, Kinniku means Muscle in Japanese so his name makes more sense when you keep that in mind. With Kinnikuman Volume 3, the story is about Suguru growing and evolving from a clumsy coward to a brave champion and the single greatest chojin alive.
It must be kept in mind that the world of Kinnikuman can be absurd. This is all part of its charm. Also, continuity nerds who let continuity gaffes drive them crazy and also demand logical explanations for everything that happens need to be warned. Yudetamago operate by a fly by the seat of the pants approach when it comes to creating the world for the Kinnikuman franchise. There is definitely a sense that Yudetamago are quickly making things up as they go. The result is that they may contradict themselves or simply may make continuity changes when they feel like it fits the story.
One example is how Brutal Chojins went from a group of evil chojins to a type of chojin that could exist in either the Justice Chojins or Evil Chojins. Also, things sometimes happen with little logic or rather flimsy logic. Characters always come back to life with little in the way of detailed explanations.
In the end, this all adds to the appeal of this unique manga. The emphasis is simply on having fun, entertaining, and delivering lots of kick-ass action between larger-than-life characters.
What is a chojin? Well, now is the time to really examine the world of Kinnikuman. This manga focuses on chojins. A chojin is basically Japanese for super-hero and is used in the same way. In this manga, a chojin is a separate species from humans. Chojins predate humans. Chojins come from a godly lineage and, therefore, have superpowers.
Now, there is another way to become a chojin outside of being born a chojin. It is extremely rare, but sometimes a human through intense training or the use of a talisman can become a chojin. Broken Jr. and Geronimo are two examples of this type of chojin.
Chojins are rare. This places them in a special category on Earth. Therefore, humans idolize them much like modern Americans idolize NFL and NBA superstars.
Chojins all have a Chojin Power number. This is the amount of power that the chojin possesses. It is also referred to as a Chojin Power Level sometimes. At any rate, not all chojins are equal. Some chojins have very high Chojin Power while other Chojins do not. The scale runs from 0 all the way to 100,000,000 Power. Only Chojin Gods have 100,000,000 Power.
It must be kept in mind that Chojin Power is not determinate of which chojin will win a battle. Chojin with lesser Chojin Power have beaten Chojin with greater Chojin Power. This can be due to training and technique. Chojins can also give their Chojin Power to another chojin to revive them.
A chojin’s Chojin Power Level is a static number. However, there is one exception to this: Kinnikuman. Normally Kinnikuman has a Chojin Power of 950,000. But, when he powers up to use his Burning Inner Strength (also referred to as Fire of Inner Strength or in America the Power of Ultimate Muscle) his Chojin Power increases up to 79,000,000.
Chojins all have special techniques or powers. These are based on their physical body types and on their training and techniques. Chojins are far stronger and far more impervious to damage compared to a human. Chojins can also heal at a super-fast rate. Think Wolverine.
Lastly, chojins settle all of their disputes by wrestling! Yup. Convenient, huh? If two chojins come into conflict with each other they do not simply just attack each other in the streets. Nope. The two chojin will meet in the squared circle and then battle each other.
Types of Chojins
There are four types of chojins. Brutal, Robot, Masked, and Mercenary. Brutal Chojins are known for being bloodthirsty and incredibly violent when fighting. Robot Chojins are either machines or cyborgs. Masked Chojins are like super-powered luchadores. Kinnikuman is a Masked Chojin. Most Masked Chojins lose their honor and right to fight if their true faces are ever seen. Mercenary Chojins are chojins who will fight for anyone in return for money. Mercenary Chojins have no sense of good and evil. They will fight for whoever pays them money.
Groups of Chojins
There are three main groups of chojins. Justice Chojins, Evil Chojins, and Time Chojins.
The Justice Chojins are the good guys. Kinnikuman is the de facto leader of the Justice Chojins. Now, the Justice Chojins are not a formal group like the Justice League. They are more like babyface wrestlers who have each other’s backs during wrestling matches and will team up with each other to take on the bad guys.
Now, among the Justice Chojins there is a select group of chojins called Idol Chojins. The Idol Chojins are the superstar Justice Chojins. The Idol Chojins are the most popular Justice Chojins and are the ones who the humans idolize. Kind of like how you have pro wrestlers like Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold, and The Rock who are at a much higher level than the rest of the pro wrestlers. Kinnikuman is not only a Justice Chojin he is also an Idol Chojin.
The Evil Chojin are…well…they don’t hide the ball. It’s in the name. These are the bad guys. Evil Chojin are separated into two distinct groups. The Devil Chojin and the Perfect Chojin. Again, the names clue you in about the two groups.
The Devil Chojin usually look demonic or monstrous. The Devil Chojin either reside in the Demon World or have sold themselves to Satan.
The Perfect Chojin can look more like a regular Chojin. The Perfect Chojins possess god-like strength and exiled themselves to the heavens since they could not find anyone worth fighting on Earth.
Some Devil Chojin will join up with each other and form a stable. Perfect Chojin may also form a stable with other Perfect Chojin. There are also times when both Devil Chojin and Perfect Chojin may join to form a super stable. The d.M.p. (Demon Making Plant) is one example of this type of super stable that we got in Kinnikuman Nisei.
Another thing to keep in mind is that Chojins can change sides. Often, Kinnikuman’s enemies are so overwhelmed by his heart and his power of friendship that once Kinnikuman defeats them these chojins renounce their evil ways. Buffaloman is a good example of a Devil Chojin who reformed and became a Justice Chojin.
The Time Chojins are peaceful chojins who wrestle for entertainment. Time Chojins can also time travel.
The four types of chojins listed above (Brutal, Robot, Masked, and Mercenary) can be found in all three main groups of chojins.
Kinnikuman Story Elements
All four manga titles in the Kinnikuman franchise have the same basic story elements. There are three core themes that run through all the Kinnikuman manga titles. Comedy, Fighting, and Friendship. These are the staples of any Kinnikuman manga.
Comedy is important. Kinnikuman is supposed to be fun and silly. Now, to be clear, there are serious moments. The Kinnikuman manga titles can get rather bloody and violent. And characters get killed all the time. But, the Kinnikuman franchise is supposed to be fun so there is always going to be comedic relief in any Kinnikuman story.
Fighting is the main draw for any of the manga titles in the Kinnikuman franchise. These manga titles are not going to be full of talking heads and dive into deep contemplative subjects. Nope. The Kinnikuman manga titles are going to load up the reader with non-stop fighting. The Kinnikuman franchise is tailor-made for action junkies. There is never a dull or boring moment.
Of course, in the end, friendship is the single greatest theme in any Kinnikuman manga. All the stories revolve around the bonds of friendship. All the fights center on the power of friendship. Friendship is honored and revered. It is quite admirable and makes Kinnikuman a manga that has a real moral to the story. It is always through the power of friendship that Kinnikuman can find the strength inside his spirit to win the fight.
All the Kinnikuman franchise mangas follow a similar story arc construction. Each story arc contains its own unique tournament or challenge. Every once in a while you may get a one-off match. But, usually, each story arc is a tournament of some sort with a prize at stake. These tournaments can be either a series of solo matches or tag team matches.
The prize can come in many forms. Other times it is for a championship belt or trophy. Sometimes it is to rescue a particular character. Other times it can be for the protection of Earth. Once it was for the throne of Planet Kinniku. Another time it was for the mastery of the power of Ultimate Muscle.
Sometimes, the tournament can be a recurring one. The Chojin Olympics where all the Justice Chojins compete against each other has been done several times. However, usually, it is a tournament pitting our Justice Chojin against various Evil Chojins.
The Kinnikuman franchise is similar to the Dragon Ball franchise in that these fights take a long time. One match may run as long as 8-10 chapters. Each story arc can run anywhere between 40-100 chapters. Needless to say, Yudetamago clearly understand fight psychology. Every match is well-constructed and tells a proper story.
The moves that the various chojins pull off also contribute to the wild nature of this manga. The chojins’ moves and attacks defy the laws of physics. Chojins regularly pull off moves that make the reader’s mouth drop. The craziness of the moves is another aspect of what makes the Kinnikuman franchise so much fun.
Of course, it is not just the characters and the moves that are over-the-top. It is also the settings for these fights! You have rings that are set up high in the air, over bottomless chasms, in the ocean, at a volcano, or even a six-ring cube with a gravity machine inside it so the chojin can battle in any of the rings. The settings for the matches are always insane and help to add to the excitement of the story.
That wraps up our overall primer on the Kinnikuman franchise. Of course, there is so much more to discuss than what this general introductory article delivers. But, that is for a later day. I will continue to deliver articles that spotlight various characters from the Kinnikuman franchise. And, now that I have added manga reviews to the Comic Book Revolution I think I will start reviewing the latest chapters of Kinnikuman. Maybe this will nudge Shueisha to finally start giving us an official translation of this awesome manga!