First invented in feudal Japan, the ninja is a covert special agent trained in the martial art of ninjitsu. Ninjas did all of the dirty, dishonourable tasks that the samurai wouldn't do, including various acts of espionage, sabotage and guerrilla warfare. They were also highly skilled at infiltrating locations and performing assassinations.
While this elite group was feared and renowned for their stealth abilities, in more recent times, ninjas have become major figures in popular culture. This naturally resulted in ninja games, ninja merchandise, as well as ninja-themed toys, and even ninja casinos. Some of the most prominent uses, though, have come in the form of ninja-themed television shows and movies. Here are some of the best.
It may sound incredibly surprising, but the physical test of being a ninja actually applies quite well to reality television. While people aren't asked to assassinate anyone or engage in espionage, the Ninja Warrior competition show tasks ordinary people with overcoming an elaborate obstacle course that requires real physical strength.
There are several variations of Ninja Warrior, including the incredibly popular United States version of Ninja Warrior, Ninja Warrior UK and Australian Ninja Warrior. Viewers love tuning in to watch contestants get knocked down by sweepers, defeated by steep walls, fall into pools of water, and more.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Making their first appearance in a comic book series in 1984, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise has been spun off into a series of movies and TV shows. This includes the animated series that began in 1987 and saw the turtles kick butt and eat pizza, as well as live-action feature films, including the one released in 2014 that featured the turtles alongside stars like Megan Fox and Will Arnett.
The 2014 movie was the 15th most profitable film of the year and made almost $500 million at the box office (on a $125 million budget), indicating that people are very excited about seeing some talking turtles wield nunchucks and keep the city safe.
Like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Naruto series has its origins in the form of books. The Naruto manga, which was first published in 1997, focuses on a young ninja named Naruto who fights hard for respect in order to be the Hokage (the leader) of his village.
The series has been turned into movies and TV shows, including Naruto Shippuden which is perhaps the most popular of the lot. The series began in 2007 and ended in 2017 after an impressive 500 episode run which saw it gain fans well outside the original audience of the manga, as well as a strong international fan base thanks to the way that it was available for streaming online with English subtitles an hour after it was released in Japan.
Lego Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu
Proving that ninjas aren't just for grown-ups, the Lego Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu animated television series is kid-friendly fare that has proved a hit with a younger audience. Based on the blocky Danish toys, Masters of Spinjitzu viewers are first introduced to Sensei Wu, who is trying to train four teenage ninjas.
Later, after Sensei Wu is defeated (spoiler alert!) by Dark Lord Garmadon, who then escapes through a time portal, it is up to these ninjas to train themselves for the day when Garmadon comes back. It won't be easy for the ninjas, but viewers certainly do enjoy watching them try.
Ninja in the Dragon's Den
The 1982 movie Ninja in the Dragon's Den is one of the most well-reviewed and one of the most well-known ninja themed movies of all time. A Hong Kong martial arts film that served as the directorial debut of Corey Yuen, the movie sees a ninja named Genbu escape to China with his wife after he kills samurai and government officials but leaves his clan to take the blame.
Not only does the film feature some amazing action sequences (which are also choreographed by Yuen), as well as twists and turns and a tale of redemption. It's no wonder why the game is so well loved.
According to io9, America has a ninja obsession which is due to the fascinating lore of the ninja and in Japanese culture in general, fostered by the Tokyo Summer Olympics in 1964 as well as video games. With such a wide potential audience, it seems likely that creators of ninja media will continue to produce it in order to capitalise.