Ninjas in popular culture

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Three people in black costumes
People dressed as ninjas during the 2009 Himeji Castle Festival in Himeji, Hyōgo, Japan

Ninjas are historically known as Japanese spies, assassins, or thieves who formed their own caste outside the usual feudal divisions of lords, and samurai serfs. They are often used as stock characters in Japanese and world popular culture.


Ninja killing a snake with a sword
Jiraiya battles a snake with the help of a toad; woodblock print on paper by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, about 1843
People posing in costume
Kyushu Ninja Preservation Society members in 2012

The ninja first entered popular culture in the Edo period. In modern Japan, ninjas are a national myth that stems from folk tales and continues through modern day popular culture.[1] Though many Japanese warriors performed amazing feats, there is no evidence that any of them were supernatural. Some of folk tales are based on historical figures, such as a daimyō (lord) challenging a ninja to prove his worth by stealing his pillow or weapon while he slept.[2]:14

Ninja-themed international media franchises include the 1980s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book and animated series, and the late-1990s Naruto manga and anime series.[3][4]

Legendary abilities[edit]

Superhuman or supernatural powers were sometimes associated with the ninja. Such powers include flight, invisibility, shapeshifting, the ability to "split" into multiple bodies, the summoning of animals, and control over the five classical elements. These notions stemmed from popular imagination regarding the ninja's mysterious status, as well as romantic ideas found in later Japanese art during the Edo period. Magical powers were sometimes rooted in the ninja's own efforts to disseminate fanciful information. For example, Nakagawa Shoshujin, the 17th-century founder of Nakagawa-ryū, or martial art style, claimed in his own writings (Okufuji Monogatari) that he had the ability to transform into birds and animals.[2]:13

Perceived control over the elements may be grounded in real tactics, which were categorized by association with forces of nature. For example, the practice of starting fires in order to cover a ninja's trail falls under katon-no-jutsu ("fire techniques").[5]

Actor portraying Nikki Danjō, a villain from the kabuki play Sendai Hagi. Shown with hands in a kuji-in seal, which allows him to transform into a giant rat. Woodblock print on paper. Kunisada, 1857.

The ninja's adaption of kites in espionage and warfare is another subject of legends. Accounts exist of ninjas being lifted into the air by kites, where they flew over hostile terrain and descended into or dropped bombs on enemy territory.[6] Kites were indeed used in Japanese warfare, but mostly for the purpose of sending messages and relaying signals.[7]:257 Turnbull suggests that kites lifting a man into midair might have been technically feasible, but states that the use of kites to form a human "hang glider" falls squarely in the realm of fantasy.[2]:22–23


Kuji-kiri is an esoteric religious practice which, when performed with an array of specified hand "seals" (kuji-in), or gestures, was meant to allow the ninja to interact with the spirit world and allow them to perform superhuman feats.

The kuji ("nine characters") is a concept originating from Taoism, where it was a string of nine words used in charms and incantations.[8]:2–3 In China, this tradition mixed with Buddhist beliefs, assigning each of the nine words to a Buddhist deity. The kuji may have arrived in Japan via Buddhism,8-11}} where it flourished within Shugendō.[8]:13 Here too, each word in the kuji was associated with Buddhist deities, animals from Taoist mythology, and later, Shinto kami.[8]:24–27 The mudrā, a series of hand symbols representing different Buddhas, was applied to the kuji by Buddhists, possibly through the esoteric Mikkyō teachings.[8]:24–25 The yamabushi ascetics of Shugendō adopted this practice, using the hand gestures in spiritual, healing, and exorcism rituals.[9]

Later, the use of kuji passed onto certain bujutsu (martial arts) and ninjutsu schools, where it was said to have many purposes.[8]:31–33 The application of kuji to produce a desired effect was called "cutting" (kiri) the kuji. Intended effects range from physical and mental concentration, to more incredible claims about rendering an opponent immobile, or even the casting of magical spells.[8]:31 These legends were captured in popular culture, which interpreted the kuji-kiri as a precursor to magical acts.[citation needed]


Anime and manga[edit]

Four people in costume
Ninja Hattori-kun cosplayers at Comiket 76
Young person in costume, holding a scroll and artist's brush
Cosplay of the Naruto character Sai

The following manga and anime series feature ninjas:

Sanpei Shirato has written ninja-themed manga, including Akame – The Red Eyes,[citation needed] Band of Ninja (Ninja Bugeicho) (later adapted into an anime film),[24] Kaze no Ishimaru,[25] Ninpou Hiwa, Ookami Kozou, Ninja Senpuu, The Legend of Kamui and Watari (later adapted into the live-action film Watari, the Ninja Boy).[26]

The following stories contain a ninja character, but are not ninja-themed:

Supporting ninja appearances include Ah! Itoshi no Banchousama (Hirayama Hayaka's ninja bodyguard), Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo (OVER's Ninja Assassin Corp and the Ultimate Five Assassins), Code Geass (Sayoko Shinozaki), Cutey Honey, Dinosaur King (episode "Ninja Nightmare"),[29] F-Zero: GP Legend (Dream), Hero Tales, Hunter x Hunter (Hanzo and Machi), Hyper Police (Kasumi), Kamen no Maid Guy (ninja maids Shizuku and Tsurara), King Arthur, Kinnikuman (the Ninja), Kirby: Right Back at Ya! (Kirby becomes a ninja and works with Benikage and Yamikage in the episode "Visiting Ninja, Benikage!"), Kotetsu no Daibouken (Kagari), Lone Wolf and Cub, Machine Robo: Battle Hackers, Magical Nyan Nyan Taruto (Rakugan), Magical Princess Minky Momo ("Ninja Arrived! Momo is Ninja"), Mega Man Star Force (the Tribe-On transformation Green Ninja), Metal Fighter Miku ("Pretty Four vs The Lady Ninjas"), Miami Guns, My-HiME/My-Otome (Akira Okuzaki), Nagasarete Airantou (Mikoto), Oh My Goddess! (Marller's ninja trio), Planetes (Tanabe's neighbors in "The Lunar Flying Squirrels"),[30] the Pokémon series and Pokémon: The Electric Tale of Pikachu (Aya, Koga-Kyō and Janine-Anzu), PQ Angels, Raimuiro Ryuukitan X (Kasuri Hattori), Ranma 1/2 (Konatsu, Sasuke Sarugakure, and Shirokuro), Saber Marionette, Sailor Moon (the villain of the week Oniwabandana[31]), Sakura Wars, Samurai Champloo ("Bogus Booty" and "Baseball Blues"), Samurai Girl: Real Bout High School, Sengoku Collection (Kotaro Fuuma), Sonic X (the E-91 Lady Ninja and Espio the Chameleon), Sorcerer Hunters, The King of Braves GaoGaiGar (Yūsha Ō GaoGaiGā) (Volfogg), Those Who Hunt Elves, Tower of Etruria (Palmyra),[32] Ultraman (Alien Baltan), Yami to Bōshi to Hon no Tabibito, Yakitate! Japan ("Nin Nin Nin!! My Way of Ninja!"), Yoshimune (Kunoichi) and YuYu Hakusho (Team Shadow Channelers).

Armed groups[edit]

Several paramilitary, police and militia groups use the names "Ninja" or "Ninjas":



Video games[edit]

In addition to video games, several game-development companies use "ninja" in their name: Ninja Studio, Ninja Theory, Ninjaforce, NinjaKiwi,[42] and Team Ninja. In massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs), "ninja", "loot ninja" or "ninja looter" pejoratively describes a player who has stolen something from another player.[43]

Traditional games[edit]

Ninja-themed role-playing games (RPGs) include:

Ninja ara also featured in collectible card games such as Legend of the Five Rings CCG, Magic: The Gathering (where the ability Ninjutsu was introduced in the set Betrayers of Kamigawa[48]) and Mortal Kombat Kard Game, and in some miniature wargaming games, such as Heroscape.[49]


Ninja-themed websites include:

In information technology, "cyber ninja" are sophisticated counter-hackers.[54]



Ninja-themed novels include:

Ninja have minor roles in Shōgun, Thief of Time, Vineland[60] and the Young Samurai series.

Non-Japanese comics[edit]

Scantily-clad young woman with a sword
Psylocke cosplayer, 2014

In the Marvel Universe, ninjas have been heroes and villains. Examples include Spider-Man's foe White Ninja, X-Men members Psylocke, Revanche and supporting character Yukio, Ghost Rider's foes Deathwatch and Death Ninja, Wolverine's mentor Ogun, Hawkeye (as Ninja Ronin), the Punisher's friend Katherine Yakamoto (from Shadowmasters), and Pacific Overlords operative Kuroko (Aya Komatsu). In the Marvel Mangaverse, Spider-Man is the last member of a ninja clan. A sinister ninja cult, the Hand, appears in X-Men and Daredevil. The cult and its associates were responsible for the martial training of Psylocke, Elektra, Daredevil, Black Tarantula, Kitty Pryde, Lady Bullseye and Wolverine. The Hand's heroic counterpart is The Chaste, which struggles with its Korean offshoot the True Believers (including Dragonfly Meiko Yin).

Characters with mystical, superhuman martial-arts abilities attributed to ninja appear in the DC Universe. Bruce Wayne received ninja training prior to becoming Batman. Another character portrayed similarly to a ninja is master martial artist and assassin Lady Shiva; Shiva killed Armless Master, who trained Catwoman and Hellhound. One alternative-universe comic substitutes Batman with a Japanese female ninja named Komori (Bat).[61] An alternative version of Robin, Tengu, was raised by Cat-Ninja (Catwoman) in feudal Japan. DC's The New 52 introduced Kunoichi, a member of the Blackhawks.

In the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) series, the main characters and many of their friends and foes are ninja, mainly from the Foot Clan (a pastiche of Marvel's group, the Hand): Donatello, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, Splinter, Shredder and Karai.

The comic version of G.I. Joe has featured more ninja than the cartoon series. Story arcs involved Scarlett, Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow, Jinx, Kamakura, Firefly and the Arashikage ninja clan, an extended family of ninja characters. Cobra Commander's son, Billy Kessler, and the shape-shifter Zartan also received ninja training from the Arashikage clan and their associates.

Other ninja-themed comics include:

Short-lived titles include Codename: Ninja[citation needed] and Zombee.[64] The Amelia Rules! series included A Very Ninja Christmas.

Ninja have supporting roles in Karate Kommandos,[65] Lucha Libre Les Naufragés d'Ythaq,[citation needed] Masters of the Universe (Ninjor),[66] Rebirth (the hero's ally, Eiji Inaba),[67] Sam Noir (villains),[68] Scott Pilgrim (Roxanne "Roxie" Richter), Spike: Shadow Puppets, Sonic the Hedgehog (Uma Arachnis and the Arachne), The Order of the Stick (Therkla and others), The Tick (Oedipus),[69] and Usagi Yojimbo (ninja of the Neko,[70] Mogura and Komori clans, including Kashira Chizu).[71]


Several musicians and bands have the word "ninja" in their names:

A number of titles include "ninja" or "kunoichi":

Songs with "ninja" in their titles include "Deadly Lethal Ninja Assassin" by Reuben (on We Should Have Gone To University), "Hoodie Ninja" by mc chris (on mc chris is dead), "Imaginary Ninjas" by Vince Dicola (on Falling off a Clef), "Inner Ninja" by Classified (on Classified),[74] "Ninja Goon" by Gruvis Malt (on Sound Soldiers), "Ninja Hi-skool" by Bis (on Play Some Real Songs: the Live Album), "We Are Ninja" by Frank Chickens (on We Are Frank Chickens), "Ninja Highschooool" by Peelander-Z (on P-Pop-High School), "Ninja Rap" by Vanilla Ice (on the TMNT II soundtrack), "Ninja Step" by RZA (on the Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai soundtrack), "Ninja Quiet" by Marco Beltrami (on World War Z: Music from the Motion Picture), "Supa Ninjaz" by Method Man (on The Pillage), and "This Secret Ninja" by AFI (on Very Proud of Ya). Ninja Tune is a London-based independent record label. Built by Ninjas is a music video production group formed by Jaret Reddick and Heath Balderston.[75][76] Fans of the rap group Insane Clown Posse, known as juggalos, sometimes refer to themselves as "ninja".[77]

Ninja appear in the music video for the Presidents of the United States of America's song, "Peaches". Cheryl Cole dressed as a female ninja and performed with a group of similarly-dressed dancers in the TV special, Cheryl Cole's Night In.[78] Members of Momoiro Clover Z dressed as ninja for the music video for "D' no Junjō".[79] Rika Adachi performed in a music video based on a song from Naruto.[80]


According to, there was a 7,000-percent increase in the number of job listings with the word "ninja" from 2006 to 2012.[81] A former Russian soldier who committed robberies in Italy in black attire and a bow was called a "Russian ninja" by the BBC.[82] The video-game series Tenchu was adapted for the Japanese stage.[83] In 2006, Miss Japan Kurara Chibana appeared in a ninja-samurai costume for the Miss Universe competition.[84][85] Goth Ninja, a type of Japanese street fashion, became popular in 2009.[86]


Products named for ninja include:

  • Ninja-IDE, a cross-platform integrated development environment
  • Fuwa Maru, "ninja snacks" by Tohato[87]
  • Lego Ninja Lego bricks, followed by Lego Ninjago
  • Lego Minifigures series one includes a ninja mini-figure.
  • Liquid Ninja, an energy drink[88]
  • N.I.N.J.A. MITES, an Italian bootleg keshi
  • Ninja, a series of sport bikes by Kawasaki
  • Ninja, a brand of food processors manufactured by Euro-Pro[89]
  • Ninja, a brand of web tools.[90]
  • Ninja 4WD, a competition buggy by Tokyo Marui
  • Ninja Blocks, a sensor-control system[91]
  • Ninja Paintball, a brand of paintball accessories[92]
  • Nodal Ninja, a photographic-equipment manufacturer[93]
  • Stage Ninja, a brand of music accessories[94]

Other products are CardNinja, a wallet phone case;[95] Majestouch NINJA Tenkeyless, a computer keyboard from Diatec Corp;[96] Modela Ninja Pibow, an enclosure for the Raspberry Pi computer;[97] Ninja Driver, a USB stick wrap;[98] Ninja Flex, a safety glove;[99] NINJA Plus, a CPU cooler by the Japanese company Scythe;[100] Ninja Remote, a television-control device and IR jammer[101] and SwimmingNinja, a swimbait lure.[102]

In software, CartNinja is a browser application;[103] Ninja Email Security is the former name of the VIPRE Email Security for Exchange antivirus and antispam filter;[104][105] Ninja Lite is a video telephony program,[106] and Photo Ninja is a RAW converter program.[107]


Iga F.C. Kunoichi is a Japanese L. League women's association football team.[108] The New Haven Ninjas are an American football team in New Haven, Connecticut. The American Ninja is the stage name of wrestler Brian Adams, and the Black Ninja is the stage name of wrestler Cocoa Samoa. The Canadian NINJAs are a professional wrestling tag team. "Ninja" is a nickname of Brazilian MMA fighter Murilo Rua, and "The Ninja" is the nickname of Filipino boxer Bert Batawang. Ninja Chops wrestles in the Naked Women's Wrestling League.[109] Super Ninja is a ring name of several professional wrestlers, including Keiji Mutoh and Rip Oliver.



Non-anime, ninja-themed TV series include:

Ninja-themed Super Sentai and Power Rangers shows include Ninja Sentai Kakuranger, Ninpū Sentai Hurricaneger and Shuriken Sentai Ninninger; footage from Kakuranger was used in season three of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Hurricaneger was adapted into Power Rangers Ninja Storm, and Ninninger was adapted to Power Rangers Ninja Steel and Power Rangers Super Ninja Steel. Ninja villains appear in other Super Sentai series, such as GoGo Sentai Boukenger (Negative Syndicate's Dark Shadow clan: Gekkou, Yaiba and Shizuka), Power Rangers: Operation Overdrive (Miratrix and other Kamdor henchmen), Hyakujuu Sentai Gaoranger (Ninja Org Duke Dorodoro; Onikage in Power Rangers: Wild Force), Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger (Dora Ninja; Dark Warrior in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers season one), and Mahou Sentai Magiranger (Kirikage).

Ninja characters appeared in the live-action series Arrow ("League of Assassins"), Baretta ("The Ninja"), Big Wolf on Campus ("Play It Again, Samurai"), Castle ("The Way of the Ninja"), Charmed ("Awakened"), Criminal Minds ("True Night"), Danger Theatre ("Lethal Luau"), Dude, What Would Happen ("Ninja Slicing"), Hawaii Five-O (1968) ("To Hell with Babe Ruth"), Knight Rider (1982) ("Knight of the Rising Sun"), Kyojuu Tokusou Juspion (the Five Space Ninjas), Kung Fu ("The Assassin"), Loiter Squad, Lost Girl ("Big in Japan"), Magnum P.I. ("The Arrow That is Not Aimed"), Martial Law ("Bad Seed") and ("This Shogun For Hire"), Mito Kōmon (Tsuge no Tobizaru and Kagerō Ogin), Mortal Kombat: Konquest (alternative versions of Kitana, Mileena, Reptile, Scorpion and Sub-Zero), My Name is Earl ("Creative Writing"), Quincy, M.E. ("Touch of Death"), She Spies ("Fondles"), Shōgun,[118] Simon & Simon ("Opposites Attack"), Space Sheriff Shaider (Girls' Army), That '70s Show ("Jackie Moves On"), The Greatest American Hero ("Thirty Seconds Over Little Tokyo"), Gridman the Hyper Agent (Shinobilar), Verbotene Liebe.

They appeared in the non-anime cartoon series The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius ("Crouching Jimmy, Hidden Sheen"), Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog ("Robo-Ninja"), The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3 ("Sneaky Lying Cheating Giant Ninja Koopas"), American Dragon: Jake Long (Huntsman and Rose), Batman Beyond (Curaré of the League of Assassins[119]), Batman: The Animated Series (Kyodai Ken in "Night of the Ninja" and "Day of the Samurai"),[120] Beware the Batman ("Family" and "Sacrifice"), Black Dynamite ("Just Beat It or Jackson Five Across Yo' Eyes"),[121] Chop Socky Chooks (Ninja Chimps),[122] Karate Kommandos (Super Ninja), Code Monkeys ("Revenge of Matsui"), Codename: Kids Next Door (Teen Ninjas), Conan the Adventurer ("Shadow Walkers",[123] "Dragon's Breath" and "Sword, Sai and Shuriken"), Danny Phantom (Bertrand), Digimon Savers (Falcomon), Eon Kid (Black Beauty and her ninja robot army), Family Guy (in "Wasted Talent" and "I Take Thee Quagmire"), Happy Tree Friends (Generic Tee Ninjas), Jackie Chan Adventures (the Shadowkhan), Johnny Test (one of Johnny's transformation is Ninja Johnny), Kim Possible (the Yamanouchi ninja school), The Legend of Prince Valiant ("The Ghost"),[124] The Legend of Zelda (Sing), The Penguins of Madagascar ("Mental Hen/Siege the Day" and "Street Smarts/Nighty Night Ninja"), Phineas and Ferb ("What a Croc!/Ferb TV"), Planet Sketch (Ninja Handyman),[125] The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest ("Night of the Zinja"),[citation needed] Robot Chicken, Road Rovers ("Let Sleeping Dogs Lie"), Samurai Jack ("Samurai versus Ninja"), The Simpsons (in "The Telltale Head" Bart Simpson disguises as a ninja; in "Treehouse of Horror XVIII" one of the aliens is dressed as a ninja, in "Husbands and Knives" the Comic Book Guy has ninja weapons, and in "Yokel Chords" Bart plays a spoof video game with a female ninja), Skunk Fu (Ninja Monkeys), South Park ("Good Times with Weapons" and "Fantastic Easter Special"), Stroker and Hoop ("Ninja Worrier" and "Chopping Spree"),[126] Superman: The Animated Series (Death Fist Ninja), Teen Titans (in "Masks", Beast Boy has a video game "Super Ninja Showdown 8"), The Transformers (Greatshot, Nightbird and Prowl), The Venture Bros. (Otaku Senzuri), Wolverine and the X-Men and Xiaolin Showdown (Tubbimura).

Ninja appeared in commercials for Alior Sync bank,[127] Anime Network,[128] Bombay Sapphire,[129] Clamato,[130] Diet Coke,[131][132][133] FedEx,[134] Free Realms,[135] Honda Civic Si,[136] Honda Hurricane,[137] Mitsubishi UFJ Securities,[138],[139] Nicorette,[140] Nike,[141] Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection,[142] Oregon Lottery,[143] Pepsi,[144] Pop-Tarts,[145] and Sure.[146][147]


Subway train with cartoon characters and lettering on its side
Iga Railway Line ninja-themed trains in Mie Prefecture, Japan in 2010
Four young women dressed in black
Attendees of a 2011 one-day ninja camp in Koga Ninja Village, Kōka, Shiga[148]

Iga Ueno Ninja Festa, the annual ninja festival in Iga in the former province of Iga, has had ninja-inspired performances, competitions and opportunities to practice ninja skills since 1964.[149] Iga also has the Iga-ryu Ninja Museum, ninja-style restaurants and cafes.[1] In the United States, ninja-themed restaurants include Ninja New York in New York City[150] and the Flying Ninja sushi bar in San Francisco.[citation needed] There are American roller coasters named Ninja, such as Ninja in California and The Ninja in Missouri.

Other ninja attractions in Japan[1][151][152] include the Koga Ninja Village[153] and Kogaryu Ninjutsu Yashiki (Ninja Houses)[154] in Koga-gun, Shiga Prefecture, the Togakushi Ninja Village for children,[155] the Togakushi Ninpo Museum and Karakuri Yashiki (Ninja House)[156] in Togakushi, Nagano, the Edo Wonderland[157] theme park in Nikkō, Tochigi and the restaurants Men no Sato[158] and Ninja Akasaka in Tokyo[159] and Ninja Kyoto in Kyoto.[160][161]

Businesses include Ninja Jump, an American company producing licensed inflatables;[162] Web Ninja, an Australian e-commerce website-design team;[163] Ninja Message, an Australian direct-to-voicemail service;[164] Ninja Tracking Systems, a British GPS developer;[165] Ninja Polish, an online nail-polish retailer;[166] Ninja Pyrate, a fire-show-equipment workshop;[167] Crystal Ninja, a crystal design studio;[168] Lactose Ninja, a manufacturer of lactose-intolerance remedies[169] and the Ninja Company, a Eurasian toy manufacturer.[170]

1998 East Java ninja scare[edit]

The 1998 East Java ninja scare was an outbreak of mass hysteria in East Java, Indonesia, in which the local population believed they were being targeted by sorcerers known as ninja, who were blamed for mysterious killings of religious leaders by assassins dressed in black. As many as 150-300 “sorcerers” were killed between February and October, with the most deaths occurring between August and September.[171]

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]