Superhero media has been around for decades, and it’s something that will always be around. From Batman, to Spider-Man, to the X-Men, and countless others, there are so many comic book superheroes that many people hold dear and will watch endless TV series and movies of. What about superheroes who didn’t originate in comic books, though? They’re just as valid and can be just as incredible as Superman, Wonder Woman, and the rest of the long list of heroes from inked pages. Let’s take a look at just some of the best superheroes in media who didn’t originate from comic books.
(For the intent of this article, the likes of Harley Quinn, Batgirl, and other DC and Marvel characters will not be included since they’re so heavily related to comic book media).
The Toxic Avenger
The Toxic Avenger (from the 1984 film of the same name, was a former dweeb who was transformed after falling into a drum of chemicals. Now, he may be disformed and monstrous in appearance, but he’s super strong and dishes out beatings to bullies and criminals. The Toxic Avenger is a hilarious B-movie that spawned a few sequels, an animated series, and even a stage musical. With his mop, fists, and surprisingly charismatic voice, gangsters and corrupt leaders better beware the might of the Toxic Avenger.
Ben Tennyson, otherwise known as Ben 10, is a young boy who acquires an alien device called the Omnitrix, which he wears on his wrist. He uses this Omnitrix to transform into several different alien species and use each of their powers and abilities to take on otherworldly threats. Not only is Ben 10 a fan-favorite Cartoon Network series, but it has spun-off into several other animated shows and TV movies.
Kamen Rider is a very long-running Japanese superhero series that started back in 1971 and is still going. The series has also spawned a couple of films. There have been several different Riders over the years, but they each use items and armor that allow them to transform and do battle with the world-conquering Shocker organization. Kamen Rider is often considered the older sister series to Super Sentai, which is where Power Rangers takes its Japanese footage from. Because of this, it shares some similarities to Power Rangers, but the heroes have more powers and ride motorcycles, which is especially cool for a superhero.
Cole MacGrath (inFAMOUS)
Stories of superpowered people choosing between the paths of good and evil can be a lot of fun, and one of the best is the inFAMOUS video game series. Cole MacGrath, the game’s protagonist, uses electricity-based superpowers to combat his foes. The game series has players choose if they want Cole (Delsin in inFAMOUS: Second Son) to do good or evil. Zapping people and mutants, riding on top of electrical wires, and hovering through the air are a ton of fun and make the player feel like they’re truly controlling a comic book hero. Plus, Cole is a genuinely relatable character despite having extraordinary powers.
The Wonderful Ones (The Wonderful 101)
The Wonderful Ones are a team of superheroes in the video game The Wonderful 101. There are one hundred of them and they have their own gimmicks and weapons. Led by the fearless Wonder-Red, they continuously build their superpowered army to defend the world from alien invaders. They each use a special power known as the Unite Morph to electronically combine their bodies together to create massive constructs. No superhero team embodies the idea of working together quite like the Wonderful Ones.
The Sidekicks (Sky High)
Sky High is a 2005 Disney film that features one of the most delightful superhero stories ever. The kids of world-famous superheroes attend a high school for superpowered teens. Of course, it’s not all excitement as they learn to use their powers; there’s a unique take on how super-abilities affect the status quo. The kids with powers deemed more useful are “heroes” and the ones with unfortunate powers, or none at all, are the “sidekicks.” The popular kids are labeled heroes while the dorks and rejects are labeled sidekicks. However, it’s the sidekicks who save the day. Their powers may not be the ones used in most superhero media and aren’t seen as the most useful, but they embrace their powers and use their personal strengths and what makes them special to save their school and the world despite the rest of the school putting them down. These sidekicks have in them what makes a hero a hero.
Led by Lion-O, the ThunderCats are the final members of the royal family from planet Thunera. The members each use unique powers, like super-speed, heightened senses, strength, and their own weaponry, to work together to protect their new home of Earth. They are fearless as they take on mutants and an ancient evil known as Mumm-Ra. They’re known for their multiple animated TV series, and there will likely be even more of them in the future. “ThunderCats, Ho!”
The Crimson Bolt and Boltie (Super)
After his wife leaves him for a drug kingpin, an ordinary guy dons his own hand-made superhero outfit to beat up criminals with a pipe wrench. That’s the premise of James Gunn’s cult classic 2010 film, Super. Now calling himself the Crimson Bolt, he and his sidekick named Boltie make people afraid of committing crimes. They may not be the best at fighting bad guys, and certainly aren’t the most ethical crimefighters around, but they do it for the right reasons and actively try to save his wife while taking down a crime lord. They’re also a solid “realistic” example of what would happen if actual people tried to become superheroes.
Created by Hanna-Barbera, Space Ghost’s original series had him battle evil in outer space with the help of a couple of young sidekicks and a pet monkey. He used his powers of flight, invisibility, and the ability to fire beams from his power bands to fight a variety of intergalactic villains like Zorak, Creature King, and Brak, and protect the universe. However, in the 90s and into the 2000s, Space Ghost was used as an animated superhero late night talk show host in the series Space Ghost Coast to Coast. If that’s not a unique superhero, then what is?
Viewtiful Joe is the protagonist in the side scrolling beat-’em-up video game series by the same name. The hit video games eventually spawned an anime series. While on a movie date, his girlfriend, Silvia, is kidnapped and taken into the big screen to Movieland. Joe, having the heart of a hero, rushes in to save her. He’s given a special “V-Watch” by his favorite movie hero, Captain Blue, that allows him to transform into his superhero persona known as Viewtiful Joe. He’s able to speed up and slow down time, as well as being a rather formidable fighter. Viewtiful Joe feels like a celebration of superheroes while also being a fantastic superhero himself.
RoboCop is one of the most fascinating characters on this list. He’s a former cop turned police cyborg who uses his expert marksmanship, super strength, endurance, and built-in face scanner and computer to fight crime and take on large robots. Despite being an officer of the law and being programmed to take orders and be controlled, he’s able to overcome that because of his human half. This human half allows him to combat the idea that civilians need to be controlled and actually fight for what’s right and not just what’s illegal, truly making him a hero.
Danny Phantom is a superhero with some of the most unique powers out there. He’s a kid who’s half ghost thanks to his parents’ ghosthunting tech. He can fly, pass through solid objects, turn invisible, and fire blasts of Ecto-Energy. There have been times when he’s possessed other living beings. He protects the world of the living from the malicious ghosts who escape the Ghost Zone with the help of his best friends. Danny Phantom is easily one of the greatest series Nickelodeon has ever put out.
Sonic the Hedgehog
Yes, this speedy blue hedgehog is a superhero. He has superpowers, fights against evil, and protects the world because it’s the right thing to do. That’s the very definition of a superhero. Sonic the Hedgehog is one of the most beloved and recognizable video game characters of all time. He’s even starred in several animated TV series and a couple of live action movies, as well as appearing in other media, like in a short anime film and even Wreck-It Ralph. His super speed makes him unbeatable, and his ability to use the Chaos Emeralds to become Super Sonic to take on threats like Dr. Eggman, Chaos, Infinite, and others make him unmatched.
Anyone who grew up in the 90s or later has seen Power Rangers. There are now thirty seasons of the iconic series with almost as many different teams of Rangers. They may seem like everyday folks, but when they morph, they gain special powers, like enhanced strength and reflexes. Plus, they get handy weapons like blasters, swords, and bows. Let’s not forget their amazing giant mechs, called Zords, that can combine to form the Megazord. They protect the world from alien threats, and given that they’re thirty seasons in, they’ll be doing that for a very long time to come.
The Incredibles are Pixar’s family of superheroes who try their best to live an ordinary life in the suburbs, but are forced to use their powers for the greater good when a villain strikes. In the world of the animated film, superheroes used to be respected, but have become outlawed. This makes for an interesting story and world for a superhero film to take place in. Everyone relates to at least one member of this family, which is impressive for a tale about people who are capable of extraordinary feats, like lifting a car over their head or creating a forcefield by bending light. The Incredibles fight to save the world regardless if the government wants them to hide their powers or not, which is absolutely inspiring. Both of their films have been just as incredible as their name implies, and they’ve even starred in their very own video game.
There are plenty of other superheroes out there who did not originate in comic books. It’s worth keeping an eye out for such stories if you ever want something new outside of Marvel, DC, and the like.