Back in the day when we didn’t have mobile phones or lightning-speed internet connections, the best thing that happened after school was getting to watch the next episode of your favourite cartoons on TVB. Incidentally, most of the cartoons that aired were all Japanese anime instead of Hong Kong shows, as TVB bought the rights for a lot of them and had them dubbed in Cantonese. These shows had ingenious plotlines, compelling characters, and silly gags, and soon the endearing cartoons blended seamlessly into the popular culture of Hong Kong. From Doraemon and Dragon Ball to Dr Slump, how many of these can you remember from your Hong Kong childhood?
Nobita might not have been the sharpest tool in the shed, but we all envied him immensely—who doesn’t want a personal assistant robot from the future armed with gadgets for any situation? If only we could get our hands on some of that Memory Bread before a test, or have our own Anywhere Door to go anyplace we’ve ever dreamed of! While Doraemon originally aired all the way back in 1973, it remains a wildly popular children’s show even now, and not just in Hong Kong, but all around Asia. Why, Time Asia even christened our highly recognisable, Dorayaki-loving chap as “The Cuddliest Hero in Asia!”
Heroine Usagi Tsukino might be a crybaby, a lazy high schooler, and a hopeless klutz, but it’s her huge heart and awesome girl power that established her as the pop culture icon she is today. Even those who have never watched the show would recognise the trademark cosplay; the Japanese schoolgirl outfit is a common sight at costume parties and anime conventions.
Based on a manga series written and illustrated by Naoko Takeuchi, Sailor Moon follows the story of Usagi and her Sailor Guardians as they fight to protect the world from all kinds of magical evil. While the original series aired from 1991 to 1997, the franchise has enjoyed multiple reruns over the years, and a reboot titled Sailor Moon Crystal was released in 2014 as well. Fans will be delighted to know that in addition to the stage musical, a new Sailor Moon ice-skating show will be debuting next summer.
This one needs no explanation, we hope; chances are that even the elderly are in the know after witnessing Pokémon GO crowds milling about in the parks! But long before the sprawling franchise made its way onto our mobile phones, it was on every kid’s Nintendo device and swapped around at school in the form of Pokémon cards.
It might feel like Ash, Pikachu, and their ragtag bunch of friends have been around for forever, but in fact, Pokémon made its first debut just two decades ago in 1996 as a game on the Nintendo Game Boy. The first anime season followed a year later and made the popularity of Pokémon even more widespread, which engendered more games, which in turn led to more anime shows—and the cycle continues to this day, with over 1,110 episodes and 13 seasons under the franchise’s belt.
Shinichi Kudo was just your typical crime-solving high schooler when he was forced by some bad guys to ingest poison, regressing his body to that of a child’s. From then on, he adopts a new identity as Conan Edogawa—a tribute to mystery writers Arthur Conan Doyle and Edogawa Ranpo—and continues his detective work while hiding his true identity from everyone else. Though the genius Conan looked like a total prepubescent nerd, we all thought he was super cool. Who can forget that voice-changing bowtie of his or those super sneakers that help him land stylish kicks?
After a tiring day at school, it’s truly comforting to crash on the couch, flip on TVB’s After School ICU (放學 ICU), and enjoy the day’s episode of the light-hearted Chibi Maruko-chan. There’s something charming about the simple art style and slice-of-life plotlines, as well as nine-year-old Maruko’s heartwarming interactions with her friends and family. Even so, she’s no golden girl, and can be prone to laziness and awkwardness just like the rest of us. That, along with the catchy “bili bala bili bala” theme song, makes Chibi Maruko-chan a true childhood classic.
As its name hints, Cardcaptor Sakura follows the journey of ten-year-old Sakura and her motley crew of allies as she battles and captures card spirits using her magical powers, leading some to dub the show as “Pokémon for girls.“ Just as how every boy wanted a Pokéball back then, every girl wished to wield Sakura’s magic staff.
Perhaps the series’ popularity here may in part be explained by its link to Hong Kong. While the story takes place in Japan—spoiler alert—Sakura’s rival-turned-love-interest Syaoran Li is from the 852, and a movie spin-off takes place in the city as well. The next time you go for a nostalgic rewatch (which might be soon, as Cardcaptor Sakura is currently streaming on Netflix), try spotting all the city landmarks the Cardcaptor gang visits and enjoy the rooftop showdown on top of the Bank of China building!
Fondly dubbed “Professor IQ” (IQ博士) in Cantonese, the wacky comedy series documents the adventures of a genius inventor and his invention Arale, an android built in the image of a human girl. Each episode revolves around Arale’s misunderstanding of humanity, with a generous helping of puns and poop jokes so dumb you can’t help but laugh. Arale’s antics take place in Penguin Village, where humans co-exist with all sorts of bizarre creatures such as Godzilla. Yet perhaps even more bizarre is the peppy and memorable Cantonese opening song, sung by none other than Anita Mui herself.
Three months after he finished writing Dr Slump, manga artist Akira Toriyama began working on Dragon Ball, which would go on to become one of the highest-grossing media franchises of all time. The series follows martial arts prodigy Goku as he travels the world in search of seven wish-granting Dragon Balls, progressing through martial arts tournaments and facing down overpowered villains along the way.
Dragon Ball was initially inspired by the Chinese classic Journey to the West, with Goku’s monkey tail being a nod to the iconic Monkey King. Toriyama was a big fan of Hong Kong martial arts films as well; the title of the series was inspired by Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon, and Goku’s (spoiler alert!) Super Saiyan transformation was based on Bruce Lee’s intense glower.
Remember when after-school football was all the rage? That was in part thanks to Captain Tsubasa, a riveting tale of soccer prodigy Tsubasa’s rapid rise to the top of the football world. Tsubasa’s dream, grit, and determination have inspired kids and adults around the world, including FC Barcelona’s Andrés Iniesta and Japan’s Hidetoshi Nakata. On a more local level, the flashy football moves in the anime gave acclaimed filmmaker Stephen Chow the idea for the hit comedy Shaolin Soccer (2001), where the protagonist’s team uses over-the-top kung fu moves to progress in a string of football tournaments.
While the West had Superman, Hong Kong and the East had Ultraman. The Ultramen are a technologically advanced alien species who have committed to battling all kinds of monster baddies on Earth—though his fighting powers are limited to three minutes at a time.
Old-timers would be quick to recognise Ultraman’s famous “Specium Ray” pose, where he crosses his arms together to make a plus sign, and reminisce on the carefully crafted miniature buildings that made Ultraman look like a titan in the live-action series. In Hong Kong, the hero is lovingly nicknamed as the “Salted Egg Superman” (鹹蛋超人) in Cantonese because of how his yellow oval eyes resemble salted egg yolks.