Why Is Death Note Still So Popular? All About It and Its Adaptations

  • It’s been 10 years since its original run but Death Note’s popularity continues to rise and the creation of upcoming live action movies Death Note: Light Up the NEW World (デスノート Light up the NEW world) from Japan and Netflix’s Death Note from America prove it.

    Why is Death Note so popular?

    Death Note has long been hailed as one of the most captivating series ever created. It sounds like an exaggeration but many people agree for several reasons:

    1. Its simple yet thought-provoking narrative

    When a person is in danger, a notebook is definitely one of the last things one would ever grab to use as a weapon. But in Death Note, a seemingly harmless simple black notebook has the power to end lives in whatever way the user wants, anytime he/she wants. While the tool is simple, its anti-hero is intriguing and makes the audience question themselves if Kira (キラ) is someone to root for or fight against.

    2. The tension between its two leads

    When you pit two equally cunning characters against each other, the result is an exciting and unpredictable psychological one-upping. Unlike in most genres where good always wins over evil, there is a grey and gray morality presented in Death Note. The “good” seems subjective so it is difficult to know what will happen next and what will happen in the end. Either side might win. Sometimes, neither.

    3. Its quirky characters

    Death Note manages to balance its serious detective premise with some light-hearted moments brought about by its interesting characters.

    L (エル) is not your usual coat-wearing stereotypical detective a la Sherlock. He has quite a disheveled appearance that masks his brilliance. He has a weird posture and walks barefoot even in public. He is totally into sweets. It is just amazing to see someone so languid come up with such intelligent deductions.

    Then there’s Ryuk (リューク). He is Yagami Light(夜神月)’s equally bored Shinigami (死神 – “god of death” or “death spirit”). He loves apples as much as L loves sweets. He does crazy things like twisting his body when he doesn’t get to eat his apples. Ryuk’s dynamics with Yagami Light is a fun watch because while he is acting like the happy-go-lucky Shinigami, the latter puts on a serious malevolent face.

    4. Its high aesthetic value

    Admit it or not, the fact that both characters are good-looking also adds to one’s enthusiasm to start a series. Illustrator Takeshi Obata (小畑健), who is known to collaborate with a writer, is also the creator of Hikaru no Go (ヒカルの碁) and Bakuman (バクマン。). He even mentored some famous mangaka (漫画家 – manga artists) including Rurouni Kenshin(るろうに剣心)’s Nobuhiro Watsuki (和月伸宏).

    The Death Note anime is directed by Tetsuro Araki (荒木哲郎). He knows which aspects should be highlighted when adapting a written work into television. He emphasized Yagami Light’s inner thoughts and changed the order of some of the manga’s sequences to make the anime scenes more compelling. He also directed Shingeki no Kyojin(進撃の巨人)’s anime. As for the Death Note live action, the movie starred two of the most attractive and talented actors in Japan: Tatsuya Fujiwara (藤原竜也) and Kenichi Matsuyama (松山ケンイチ). The latter played his role to a tee as if L was really brought to life.


    Death Note, a shonen manga written by Tsugumi Ohba (大場つぐみ) and illustrated by Takeshi Obata, was first serialized for 108 chapters in the Weekly Shonen Jump (少年ジャンプ) manga magazine. It revolves around the story of Yagami Light, an initially apathetic high school prodigy who stumbled upon an otherworldly notebook guarded by a Shinigami who gives its mortal user the power to kill anyone by writing the target’s name on it. As Light’s power grew, so did his twisted sense of justice. He thinks that he is the chosen one who could cleanse the world.

    Eventually, people cheered him on and gave him the name Kira (derived from the Japanese pronunciation of “killer”). With this new persona, he continues his noble quest of getting rid of people whom he deemed morally unqualified to live. Enigmatic detective L opposes this action so he does everything he can to investigate the mysterious deaths and unmask Kira. That’s where the exciting mind games between two equally genius but differently principled young men begin.

    From Print to Screen

    After the manga, a 12-volume tankobon (単行本 – standalone book) was put together using Death Note’s individual chapters. In 2005, it was translated into English and licensed for an international release. In 2006, an encyclopedia-like guidebook for the manga was published by the original author and artist. This includes a bonus pilot chapter of the manga, L’s real name, Ryuk’s Human Observation Journal, and other interesting features about the characters and the manga’s creators. In the same year, a light novel called Death Note Another Note: The Los Angeles BB Murder Cases (DEATH NOTE アナザーノート ロサンゼルスBB連続殺人事件) written by Nisio Isin (西尾維新) was released and serves as a prequel to the manga series.

    37 twenty-minute anime episodes began airing from October 2006 until June 2007 in Japan. Following the regular series are two animated specials, namely Death Note Relight: Visions of a God and Death Note: Relight: L’s Successors. Several Death Note video games were also developed for the Nintendo DS.

    Live Action Adaptations

    Death Note Films

    The live action films solidified Death Note’s popularity in and outside Japan. The 2006 Death Note movie starring Tatsuya Fujiwara as Yagami Light and Kenichi Matsuyama as L topped the Japanese box office records for two weeks. As expected for popular movies, Death Note got its sequel entitled Death Note 2: The Last Name (デスノート the Last name).

    Death Note Series

    Starring Masataka Kubota (窪田正孝) as Yagami Light and Yamazaki Kento (山崎賢人) as L, the 2015 series follows the same story but with a few tweaks in the characters. Some of the most noticeable changes include Yagami Light being a regular student instead of a wunderkind; Yagami also reciprocated Amane Misa(弥海砂)’s affection more than the original; L has a different posture and has lessened his sweets addiction; N is played by an actress and is a merged character of Near (ニア) and Mello (メロ).

    Other New Adaptations

    Death Note: New Generation

    Shown via Hulu Japan in September 2016, this is a mini-series with just three episodes featuring the backstories of the three main characters of Death Note: Light Up the NEW World. It serves as the bridge to connect the previous Death Note films to the upcoming Light Up the NEW World.

    Death Note: Light Up the NEW World

    Original Misa Amane, Erika Toda (戸田恵梨香), will reprise her role in this movie which is set 10 years after Kira and L’s battle. Masahiro Higashide (東出昌大) plays a Death Note task force investigator just like Matsuda 10 years ago, Sosuke Ikematsu (池松壮亮) plays a renowned detective just like L, and Masaki Suda (菅田将暉) plays the cyber terrorist Yuki Shien. The movie will open in Japan on October 29, 2016.

    Death Note American Remake

    Nat Wolff, who played the lead in Paper Towns and supporting in The Fault in Our Stars, is cast as Yagami Light in this American feature film that will be streamed on Netflix in 2017 following the original Kira vs. L story. This particular adaptation is surrounded by controversies due to the whitewashing of Japanese actors, the rejection of Asian actors who auditioned, the casting of Keith Stanfield as L, and the announcement that it will be rated R.

    Death Note: The Musical

    A second Japanese production of the musical is planned for 2017. The first was performed in 2015 with music by Broadway composer Frank Wildhorn and lyrics by Jack Murphy. The songs were written in English and translated into Japanese and Korean. The leads for the Japanese cast are Kenji Urai (浦井健治) and Hayato Kakizawa (柿澤勇人) as Yagami Light, and Teppei Koike (小池徹平) as L.

    Just like every other story, Death Note has its flaws. It has its own inconsistencies and subtle misogyny but it has all the elements of a perfect Shonen Jump formula that outweigh the negative. The show knows how to be deep and intelligent without being excruciatingly complicated and it presents exciting battles without cheap gimmicks or gratuitous fanservice which is why even after a decade, it hasn’t lost its charms. And I’m quite certain that it will remain just as popular for another decade more. But do you think producers should continue making Death Note adaptations? Or would it be best to just leave it alone?

    Death Note Official Website

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