Since 1971, Toei Studios’ Kamen Rider franchise has been at the forefront of tokusatsu. (Kamen means “masked” for reference.) Despite not having the westernization of Super Sentai with Power Rangers, or the push into international markets like Ultraman, Kamen Rider has an amazingly fervent fanbase, perhaps the most of any toku in the west. Each season has its own, completely different Rider(s), and beginning in 2000, each has its own theme and focus. It’s easily the most varied of the big three.

The big team up begins in Kamen Rider Heisei Generations Forever

While only a few seasons are available through *traditional* means here in North America, it’s worth tracking the others down. They each offer something unique. Not all of them will work for you, but the action, characters, and suit designs always bring something of value. Below are my 10 favorite seasons, and ones that will give new fans some fun. Keep in mind each season is quite long, 40 episodes at least. So give them a couple episodes and see if you dig it.

10. Kamen Rider Gaim (2013-2014)


This season is certainly singular. Written by prolific and iconoclastic anime scribe Gen Urobuchi (Psycho-Pass), Kamen Rider Gaim is about rival dance teams who turn into fruit-themed samurai to fight against an evil organization hoping to use the forbidden fruit of a mystical forest to begin Ragnarok and remake the world. It’s a trip of a season for sure, made all the stranger given how much teen angst and drama it packs in. But Gaim is a blast and the armors are among the best in the show’s history.

9. Kamen Rider OOO (2010-2011)


One theme of the early seasons on my list is that they just evoke fun times. From the ska-punk theme song to the hero Eiji’s surfer vagabond vibe, OOO (said aloud like “Oze,” as in the letter O pluralized), is a delight. The concept follows the awakening of the Greeed (three Es), evil beings which feed on human desires. Ankh, the floating, disembodied arm of an ousted Greeed, takes over the body of a slain police officer and recruits Eiji to find and collect various Medals of power, giving the abilities of various animals.

When Eiji puts three in his belt, he can transform into Kamen Rider OOO. We also eventually get a secondary Rider in Kamen Rider Birth, a jovial mercenary who works for the mysterious Kougami Foundation. I confess, this season’s happy-go-lucky tone actually put me off at first, but eventually I had to give in. It’s fun, start to finish.

8. Kamen Rider Fourze (2011-2012)


If OOO put me off at first, you’d probably assume Fourze did too. But actually, nope! I knew what I was in for from the beginning. Set entirely in a high school, Fourze‘s lead character, Gentaro, is a bad-boy-styled transfer student who loudly decrees he’s going to make friends with everyone in the school. And through sheer force of will, he begins to do just that. At the same time, strange alien creatures called Zodiarts begin attacking the school, and Gentaro uses space-themed inventions to turn into rocket-ship-looking Kamen Rider Fourze.

If you go into this one with the right frame of mind, it’s a blast, often literally. It mimics American high school drama shows (including a beefy football player and mean girl cheerleader) while also having a theme of space travel and going to the moon. What a mix!

7. Kamen Rider (1971-1973)


The OG, the one that started it all. Toei didn’t have the money or the effects to compete with Tsuburaya’s Ultraman series, but what it did have was the iconic design and concept of mangaka Shotaro Ishinomori. Insect-themed cyborg hero fights other monster-like cyborgs while riding a motorcycle. It just works.

One of the easier shows to find in North America, I also need to warn new fans that, at 98 episodes, it’s a beast. Luckily, it easily splits up into different segments. The first 13 episodes follow motorcyclist collegiate genius Takeshi Hongo who is the latest experiment by evil organization Shocker to create cyborg threats. He manages to escape with all the strengths but with his mind his own. The is first arc relies heavily on mood and an almost horror movie atmosphere.

While filming these first episodes, actor Hiroshi Fujioka broke his leg doing a motorcycle stunt necessitating first a sidekick character in Taki (Jiro Chiba) and later a whole new main character in Hayato Ichimonji (Takeshi Sasaki). Ichimonji, a brash and stylish photographer, led the series as Kamen Rider 2 from episodes 14 through 52. These episodes lightened up the tone and incorporated children side characters as well as a group of Rider Club members. During the Ichimonji tenure, the show became a hit.

Fujioka returned for a couple of guest appearances before retaking the series beginning in episode 53, at which time Sasaki went to guest status on occasions. This second Hongo tenure is pure action and introduces the best main villain of the early franchise, Ambassador Hell.

Its lower placement on this list might indicate I don’t love it thoroughly. I do. But it’s very, very samey after a while. Watch 1-13, some from the middle 30s, the crossovers, and the final like 10 episodes and you’ll get the gist.

6. Kamen Rider Kuuga (2000-2001)


The first Rider season following a decade-long drought, Kamen Rider Kuuga needed to hit big to reestablish the franchise. And boy did it. Its mix of police procedural, J-drama, and mystical superhero adventure made it feel very modern. Didn’t hurt that lead actor Joe Odagiri was a favorite of women viewers.

The story follows young polymath adventurer Yusuke (Odagiri) who becomes preternaturally drawn to an artifact belt discovered at an archaeological dig site. The dig also releases the Grongi, a race of ancient creatures who take human form to once again conquer Earth. Yusuke puts on the belt and unleashes the power of Kuuga, the ancient warrior who defeated the Grongi millennia earlier. Helping him are police detective Ichijo, college researcher (and eventual love interest) Sakurako, and Yusuke’s younger sister Minori.

The very last series to date to only have a single Rider. But, the story and characters are so good you’ll hardly miss it. Kuuga is really great, and if you can get passed the early 2000s video and CGI, it’s a very rewarding watch.

5. Kamen Rider V3 (1973-1974)


Everything I love about the original Kamen Rider but half the length. The direct sequel to the original has a young man named Shiro (tokusatsu legend Hiroshi Miyauchi) witness Destron (an offshoot of Gel-Shocker, an offshoot of Shocker) commit a murder. The villains pursue him and, not finding Shiro, slaughter his whole family. He seeks aid from the two Kamen Riders who turn him into a cyborg following a near-fatal wounding. He becomes V3, or Version 3, the third Kamen Rider, who takes up their mantle to protect Japan from evil.

I Showa-era tokusatsu a lot, and V3 has a lot less filler than its predecessor. The series eventually introduces Riderman, a Destron cyborg sent to kill V3 who slowly becomes an ally.

4. Kamen Rider Geats (2022-2023)


The most recent series on my list, I’m honestly shocked I love Geats as much as I do. The original concept was to capitalize on the global success of Squid Game with a series about contestants forced to compete in the Desire Grand Prix, a Battle Royale televised event in which Riders (each with animal-themed armor) fight plant-monsters called Jyamato who attack innocent people. The winner gets their true wish, no matter what it is. We quickly learn that the DGP is the plaything of wealthy people from the future who laugh at misfortune and drama.

At the center of the story is fox-themed Kamen Rider Geats, the alter-ego of Ace Ukiyo, the undefeated champion several DGP running. He knows there’s more to the games, and the mysterious overseers, than meets the eye and he’ll do whatever it takes to learn the truth. This goal puts him at odds with Kamen Rider Buffa who only wants to destroy Kamen Riders, and Kamen Riders Tycoon and Na-Go who are in it for more personal reasons.

This series just came to Blu-ray from Shout! Studios so I’d highly recommend picking it up.

3. Kamen Rider W (2009-2010)


Kamen Rider W (spoken “Kamen Rider Double”) has one of my favorite gimmicks ever. It follows a self-styled hard-boiled private detective named Shotaro and his “guy in the chair” Philip, who has a mysterious past and encyclopedic knowledge of everything. They work in Fuuto, or “Windy City,” and every two episodes is a different case involving monsters called Dopants arising from people implanting Gaia Memories. It’s basically like kaijin PCP. At the beginning of the series, Akiko Narumi, the daughter of the detectives’ mentor, arrives to take ownership of the agency and hit Shotaro with a shoe.

Luckily, our heroes have a method to battle Dopants without succumbing to the evil effects. They pool their abilities, Philip loses consciousness, and they become Kamen Rider Double, both minds inside of Shotaro’s body. I truly love this gimmick and these characters. Over a decade later, we’d get a manga and then anime follow-up to this series called Fuuto P.I.

2. Kamen Rider Black (1987-1988)


After a brief hiatus in the ’80s, the series returned with a pair of seasons that effectively rebooted the franchise, taking a darker and scarier tone. For the first season at least. Kamen Rider Black is awesome, eschewing the silly excesses of the ’70s for straightforward, more mature storytelling with great fights, stunts, and monsters. The hero is one of two brothers stolen by the evil organization and forced to undergo cyborg conversion. Like the original, he doesn’t lose his autonomy and fights against the baddies, while his brother dies… or does he. The season has a gorgeous Blu-ray release from Diskotek Media, so it’s relatively easy to watch.

The story continued with the following year’s Kamen Rider Black RX with the same lead character. However, it decides to turn fully back into a kid’s show and, while fine, it’s not great. It was also the Japanese footage that gave the U.S. the short-lived Saban’s Masked Rider, so it has a lot to answer for. Just stick to Black.

1. Kamen Rider Build (2017-2018)


My very favorite season of Kamen Rider, and not coincidentally its theme is science and experimentation. Build begins after Martian artifact causes a cataclysmic event, which splits Japan into three regions, separated by enormous walls. (Just go with it.) Along with complex socio political turmoil between regions, the event also unleashed creatures called Smash which terrorize everybody. Our hero is Sento, an amnesiac genius who was taken in by a cafe owner who gives him the Build Driver. The driver, which coupled with two bottles of power essences, turns him into Kamen Rider Build. Like W, each one of Build’s forms requires two different abilities combined.

The story of Kamen Rider Build has dozens of twists, turns, and double-crosses. Characters go from hero to villain or vice-versa. It’s one of the more emotionally resonant seasons, which gives it more heft than it could otherwise have. But what makes Build take my top spot, it’s that all of the characters work and have their own inner life and circumstances. I genuinely care what happens to all of them, and the final arc is heartbreaking in the best way. Plus Banjo, aka Kamen Rider Cross-Z, is the himbo we all want to root for.

Kyle Anderson is the Senior Editor for Nerdist. He hosts the weekly pop culture deep-dive podcast Laser Focus. You can find his film and TV reviews here. Follow him on Instagram and Letterboxd.