A Guide to Kamen Rider
Not sure what season of Kamen Rider you want to begin with? Here’s an overview of each season to help you decide! Good starting points in general are the start of each era (so the initial Kamen Rider series that started the Showa era of Rider, or Kamen Rider Kuuga, the start of Heisei Riders), or Kamen Rider W, the start of what some call the “neo-Heisei” or the second half of Heisei (the first half of Heisei being the first 10 Heisei era-Riders).
Showa Era Riders
I haven’t had a chance to watch the Showa era, other than the very first episode of the original (thank you Shout TV! for having this available under your Roku app), so I will be fleshing this part of the guide out down the road.
Heisei Era Riders
Kamen Rider Kuuga
Kuuga was the first Rider on the air after a long gap, and was stylistically very different from the Showa era Riders, and different from the Riders that came after him. Kuuga was the only Heisei season to only have one Rider (multiple Riders each season has become very common), and so you really get to know the main character because the focus is all on him.
The season may seem to move a bit slow, and certainly he gets his final form much later than most Riders do, but it doesn’t really get boring. I dare you to watch Kuuga and not fall madly in love with Godai by the end. He is just such a sweet character and so determined to protect people that you can’t help but love him.
Kamen Rider Agito
Agito started off as a sequel to Kuuga, though whether or not it’s really a sequel is up for debate. There’s some very similar elements, like the policeman as support (but not done nearly as well as the Godai/Ichijo bromance). The main Rider, Souichi, is missing some of his memories and part of the season’s plot revolves around trying to learn what led to his amnesia and his becoming Agito. This season also introduced more Riders, including a man-made one, G3 (and later the upgrade, G3-X), which were supposedly developed to help fight the “unidentified lifeforms” that Kuuga fought. I didn’t enjoy this season as much as Kuuga, it felt too much like Kuuga-lite to me, but I know some people really enjoy it.
Kamen Rider Ryuki
From one Rider to four to thirteen, Ryuki introduced a huge cast of Riders and a battle scenario. Ryuki is definitely regarded as one of the better Rider seasons, and it is one of my favorites. While there are monsters, the battle is more between the various Riders and they just happen to stop some of the monsters along the way (if they don’t contract with them). The secondary Rider, Knight, has his powers first and is not too happy about Shinji joining in the battle, especially since Shinji isn’t interested in beating all the others. The Riders each contract with a mirror monster, which is the source of their powers, and the battles all take place in the mirror world.
Ryuki is definitely an interesting series, with enough different characters to keep things busy until the end. It is also one of only two Rider seasons to be adapted in the US, becoming Kamen Rider Dragon Knight and airing on The CW in 2009.
Kamen Rider 555 (Faiz)
Faiz is another popular season, both in Japan and the US, even to this day with a recent collaboration between Faiz and Hello Kitty as well as the main and secondary Riders appearing in Kamen Rider Zi-O. There are three Rider belts developed to fight the Orphenoch, which is the next stage of human evolution. Faiz is interesting in that the belts end up swapping users many times throughout the series, instead of one single person being the Rider. It also is a season with cell phones/communication as a focus (the belts all are activated by cell phones), but the characters are absolutely terrible at communicating. There are points in the series where the characters play a big game of telephone, twisting messages to each other and causing so much conflict. I think that was why I didn’t enjoy the season as much – as a communications major in college, the communication issues drove me batty! But don’t let my issues stop you – it is a solid season and very popular.
Kamen Rider Blade
Blade is a bit of a confusing season. The main enemies are the Undead, who originally all fought in a type of battle royale to determine the best Undead, which turned out to be the Human Undead. Thus humans inherited the earth. Now the Undead have all been unleashed and it’s the job of the Kamen Riders to seal the Undead. The Undead, once sealed, are trapped in playing cards that the Riders can use for powerups. The playing cards are important – the higher ranking cards are more powerful Undead (a Queen Undead is much more powerful than a 3), plus throughout the season there’s the prophecy that if the Joker Undead is the last one standing, the world will be destroyed. The plot points take quite a while to be revealed, and the overall plot seems very disjointed. Definitely not one of my favorite seasons, mostly because I spent a good 2/3 of it utterly confused.
Kamen Rider Hibiki
Hibiki is an interesting season. It’s very different because apparently it wasn’t really meant to be Kamen Rider. In fact it’s never called Kamen Rider within the show – the main “Riders” are actually Oni. The Oni use sound and music to defeat the monsters. The main Oni, Hibiki, is a drummer – he transforms with a tuning fork, but then he uses drumsticks as his weapons. Other Oni that work with him are a trumpet player and a guitarist, and their attacks work on different kinds of monsters because they are different kinds of sound. I am not quite finished with this season (I’m almost to the midway point where there were major staff changes), but so far it’s intriguing. It’s not my favorite but the main Rider is a nice guy and it’s hard not to like him. It’s just also not easy to really get hooked on the season.
Kamen Rider Kabuto
I haven’t watched this season yet, but I know this is a popular one. I’ll simply point to the Kamen Rider Wiki for a description of this season and flesh this out later when I watch it.
Kamen Rider Den-O
Time travel and comedy to the nth degree! I couldn’t wait to watch Den-O because I love time travel (big Doctor Who fan), and this season did not disappoint! It has a timeline that the Doctor would be proud of (tangled timelines worse than a pile of yarn barf), which kept me guessing until the very last episode. But once I got to that last episode it was like a gigantic light bulb went off and everything made sense. The main character, Ryotaro, is a very timid quiet young man. But then he meets Momotaros, the first of the Imagin he encounters. Imagin make a contract with people to fulfill a wish, and once they do (sometimes in very unexpected ways) they are able to use that person’s memories to travel to the past and mess up time. Ryotaro ends up teaming up with a crazy cast of characters and traveling on the Denliner to try and fix the chaos the Imagin are causing in time. This season is so much fun because of the cast – not only do you have Ryotaro (brilliantly played by Takeru Satoh, who has to play meek and mild Ryotaro but also the very different personalities of the Imagin when they overshadow Ryotaro), but there’s also his friends on the Denliner. Owner is the mysterious man who, well, owns the Denliner and loves to competitively eat fried rice (trust me, it’s great); Naomi is kind of the stewardess, serving up special coffee drinks to everyone on board; and Hana helps Ryotaro with his battles while also being a big part of the mystery that has to be solved. Definitely a great season to watch!
Kamen Rider Kiva
This is the other Heisei series I haven’t seen yet, but I know a few people who praise it. Again, I’ll point to the Kamen Rider Wiki page for it.
Kamen Rider Decade
Decade is named because he was the 10th Rider in the Heisei era (which began with Kuuga). Thus his season spends time visiting the other 9 Riders, so Tsukasa can supposedly take their powers and destroy their worlds. This season also marks a change – it is the last Rider season to debut in the spring, and is a shortened season. The following season, W, is the first to debut in the fall. Decade is a season with divided opinions – some love it, some really hate it. There are also differing opinions on whether or not the previous 9 Rider seasons should be viewed before watching Decade. I did not – I began watching them after I saw Decade, but I do plan to watch this season again once I finish the previous Riders. Others feel Decade makes more sense if you’ve seen the previous Riders. However, most of the Riders seen in Decade are alternate universe versions, some with only tiny differences to the originals and others with major changes. So it is possible to watch Decade and not be spoiled on previous seasons.
Kamen Rider W
Now, count up your sins! My absolute favorite season, above all. Take detective noir a la The Long Goodbye, mix in monsters and fun characters, and you have W. Wannabe hard core detective Shotaro finds himself teamed up with human encyclopedia Philip, using the power of Gaia Memories to fight various monsters that attack their tiny windy city of Fuuto.
Kamen Rider OOO
Count the medals, one, two, and three! I’m not a huge fan of OOO but the main Rider is definitely one of the most likable Riders in the whole series. Eiji is a wandering nomad who doesn’t need much, just tomorrow’s underwear. He ends up teaming up with the disembodied arm of a Greeed to fight the other Greeed that have awoken after a lengthy slumber to attack people.
Kamen Rider Fourze
Uchuu kitaaaaa!!! Space is awesome!!!! Fourze is probably the most upbeat Rider out there. Other than the ending, which I guarantee will make you cry (have tissues handy), it’s a very upbeat season and that’s mostly down to the main rider. Gentaro wants to be everyone’s friend. Period. Doesn’t matter who you are, he wants to be your friend. However there are some bad guys, the Zodiarts, sending monsters out so Gentaro takes the mantle of fighting them from his new friend Kengo, who physically is unable to wield the power of the Astro Switches. Also, they have a secret base on the moon called the Rabbit Hutch (which is a nod to the “rabbit in the moon” – the Japanese see a rabbit up there instead of the man that we see in the west).
Kamen Rider Wizard
If you love magic (whether it be Harry Potter or Mahou Sentai Magiranger or Power Rangers Mystic Force), you’ll enjoy Wizard! Many people aren’t wild about Wizard but I really enjoy it. The main Rider is a magician who uses his magic to try and heal people. It’s one of the longest seasons by episodes – it actually got 53 episodes, though the last two are kind of a filler fluff that has no bearing on the actual story, which ends in episode 51. I also love Wizard’s fighting style – because the gimmick of the season is rings, they didn’t want kids trying to punch each other with these big plastic rings on, so his style is very much kicks and flips and flinging magic spells. It makes for some visually interesting fights.
Kamen Rider Gaim
Gaim was my introduction to the world of Kamen Rider, thanks to a spring break crossover with Ressha Sentai ToQger, one of my favorite seasons of Sentai (and the first I watched week-to-week as it first aired). It’s a hugely popular season, and in fact just got another Gaim Gaiden movie (six years after the show ended). Gaim is a very interesting season that starts out seemingly fluffy (fruit Riders and dance teams), but then turns very serious and very dark. The head writer, Gen Urobuchi, is known for creating Madoka Magica and many have compared Gaim’s storyline to Madoka (I can’t vouch for this as I haven’t seen Madoka yet). It’s hard to describe Gaim in too much detail without spoiling it, so I’ll just say to watch it!
Kamen Rider Drive
Drive is the rare season where the main Rider doesn’t have a specialized motorcycle, but rather a pretty spiffy sportscar, which leads to many a joke (especially in crossover movies with other Riders) about his lack of a motorcycle. Part cop drama, Drive focuses on the crimes of Roidmudes, artificial intelligence creatures who can slow time. With the help of his own AI partner, Krim Steinbelt (a scientist who transferred his consciousness into a transformation belt), Shinnosuke investigates crimes and fights the bad guys.
Kamen Rider Ghost
Ghost is a season that is somewhat universally panned by the fandom, but I don’t think it’s quite as bad as most people. It definitely suffered a bit from poor planning (Takeru is told to retrieve 15 Eyecons and he hits that mark way too fast for a season planned for at least 45 episodes), and the writing wasn’t the best. But Takeru is a great main Rider, a very nice character, and he did get some better writing in crossover movies. I will say, this has one of the best opening themes in Rider (though I think it’s a smidge too upbeat for a season that starts with killing off its main character JUST SAYING).
Kamen Rider Ex-Aid
Video games and doctors! Ex-Aid focuses on a young resident doctor who has to take up the mantle of curing a very strange special illness, infection from video games. The Riders use videogames to transform and destroy the videogame virus that’s the main enemy. While there are some less upbeat moments, for the most part this is a pretty upbeat and happy season. The main Riders are all well fleshed out characters and get some growth and character development throughout the season. Plus, it’s hard to be sad when Poppy Pipopapo is on the screen!
Kamen Rider Build
Another very well liked season, Build had an amazing complex storyline and to me, some shades of Kamen Rider W in the suits (since he uses two bottles to transform so there’s a bit of half-in-half going on there). Set in an alternate universe to our own, a strange artifact from space split Japan into three warring territories divided by the Sky Wall. The main Rider is a scientist suffering from amnesia, and throughout the season he has to work on solving the mystery of just who he is, what caused the Sky Wall, and how to reunite the world. It’s a really great season with characters that you will quickly care about.
Kamen Rider Zi-O
Zi-O has the unique position of being an anniversary and a special year – it is the 20th Heisei Rider season (Heisei Rider started with Kuuga) and it also is the final Heisei Rider as the Emperor is stepping down in April, creating a new era. So, like Decade, Zi-O is visiting past Rider stories and connecting them together, though in a completely different way. It is still airing, but the show has already visited several past Riders (with actors returning from Ex-Aid, Build, Wizard, Ryuki, and more) as well as some future Riders. The timelines are tangled and the full plot likely won’t make sense until closer to the end, but so far it’s been interesting.
Reiwa Era Riders
Kamen Rider Zero-One
Zero-One is the start of a new era in Kamen Rider. With the change of emperor in Japan, the Heisei era officially ended during Zi-O’s run and the Reiwa era began. I haven’t quite finished watching this season (I got behind thanks to not having a commute to watch subtitled shows), but what I’ve seen has been fantastic. It’s not hugely different from some of the more recent Riders, but there is enough of a difference to be like yes, this is a new era. The main Rider, Aruto, inherits a business that builds very lifelike robots. Aruto reluctantly takes up the mantle of President, even though he would much rather be a comedian (I suspect that his jokes are even more terribly punny if you understand Japanese), and then ends up also having to become a Rider to stop robots that have been reprogrammed by the bad guys to become evil.
Kamen Rider Saber
This is the newest Kamen Rider, which just started back in September. I haven’t had a chance to watch it yet but from the trailers I’m excited – the Riders use BOOKS as their weapons! As a librarian, this makes me very happy. Books and swords, could it be any more me??