The 1970s Sci-Fi Action Series That Launched The Superhero Craze Is Now Streaming

By Jonathan Klotz | Published

The popularity of superheroes has gone up and down over the decades, with different projects touching off years of interest, from the old Max Fleischer Superman serials to Batman ’66, X-Men ’92, and the launch of the MCU. One property that would spawn decades of spin-offs and movies and even inspire another franchise that’s still celebrated today. Kamen Rider isn’t a household name outside of Japan, but in its home country, the masked superhero has had decades of success, starting with the very first series in 1971.

Kamen Rider

The hero of Kamen Rider, which translates to “Masked Rider,” is Takeshi Hongo, a college student who loves science and motorcycles, sometimes in that order, who was experimented on by the evil Shocker, an organization trying to conquer Japan, and then, the world. Using a special Henshin Belt, Hongo could transform into the form of a masked superhero, modeled to look like a grasshopper, and use Shocker’s technology against them. In practice, this meant having martial arts fights with men in costumes before finishing them off with a special move, typically the dive kick.

Delightfully Goofy

I’ll admit, the original Kamen Rider should only be watched today by those looking for a goofy, old-school superhero show featuring monsters of the week like Spider-Man (not that one) and Bat-Man (also not that one). The special effects are atrocious, the acting is cheesy, and yet, the series ended up with 34 shows (and counting) over the span of 50 years.

But beyond the massive franchise with dozens of different riders, the series is also responsible for launching the second boom of Tokusatsu shows in Japan, and while most of them would mean nothing to you, this includes Super Sentai, or as it’s known in the West, Power Rangers.

Coming to America

Following the smash success of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Haim Saban brought over other similar shows, including Big Bad Beetleborgs, VR Troopers, and Masked Rider, the last of which adapted the Kamen Rider series, Kamen Rider Black RX, from 1988. The Americanized version of the franchise didn’t catch on like Power Rangers, with some partly blaming it on the series’s focus on a solo hero and not a team, which meant fewer merchandising opportunities.

The second American adaptation, Kamen Rider Dragon Knight, arrived in 2008 and it had more success, even earning an Emmy nomination for the stuntwork.

Two Riders Were Approaching

From the franchise’s beginning, Kamen Rider’s stunt work was on the cutting edge, thanks to the original Masked Rider, Hiroshi Fujioka. The actor was also an accomplished stuntman, able to play the hero and do all of his own stunt work. Unfortunately, Fujioka broke his legs in a motorcycle stunt gone wrong, forcing the producers to bring in a second Masked Rider, the character of Hayato Ichimonji, played by Takeshi Sasaki, to take over for 30 episodes.

It was a strange stroke of good luck, as the concept of more super-powered riders helped expand the world and laid the groundwork for future spin-offs.

Stream Most Of The Franchise For Free


The original Kamen Rider can be streamed right now for free on Tubi if you’re curious as to the start of the Japanese superhero boom, but for something a bit more modern, Kamen Rider Geats, which aired last year, brings together all the past riders into one series. While I found the acting incredibly corny, and the special effects are delightfully low-budget, there’s a charm about the original series earnestness that’s missing from most low-budget sci-fi today.