Animation opens up a world not possible to fully realize in live-action, and that’s as true for martial arts as it is for any other genre. With a level of free reign granted to the physics that often rises to the level of metaphysics, animation can bring to life an entirely new realm of action and adventure that’s no less thrilling than its live-action counterpart. While we tend to wrongly associate animation with purely the space of children, anyone well-versed in it can tell you that’s far from the case.
However, one area where the little tykes get much less credit in the animated realm is in their own capabilities as young warriors, which often rivals that which we see in live-action. Naturally, KFK couldn’t only count down the butt-kicking kids only found in the live-action realm, and that of course, can only mean its time for another countdown.
So make sure you’ve got that child or adolescent guardian from our previous countdown back on board because here, in descending order, are KFK’s Top 5 Animated Kung Fu Kids (which, just like the last list previous to this one, can itself be shortened to K-F-K)!
- Damian Wayne — Batman Ninja (2018)
- Shun — Street Fighter Alpha: The Animation (1999)
- Alita — Alita: Battle Angel (2019)
- Korra — The Legend of Korra (2012)
Few superheroes are as ideally suited to time-travel back to feudal Japan as Batman is, but that’s no less true for the entire Bat-family, whom “Batman: Ninja” is sure to allow to tag along too.
All of the men who have adopted the mantle of Robin are here to fight alongside the Dark Knight, including Bruce Wayne’s own son Damian.
A more recent addition to the Batman canon, Damian gets the same Ninja-style, medieval Japanese makeover as his fellow heroes, and the training he’s received has seldom been showcased this well.
Damian’s youth gives his fight sequences an added dimension of childhood wish-fulfilment and adventurous wonder. What’s more, seeing him slashing a sword alongside not just Batman but the older Robins who are effectively his older brothers, Dick Grayson and Tim Drake, is the stuff every young Batman fan dreams of, with Damian as the ultimate audience surrogate for viewers ten and under.
Batman’s passed his skill set on to many young warriors in his time as the Dark Knight, and with his appearance in “Batman: Ninja”, Damian shows that he is fully worthy of being his father’s apprentice.
The “Street Fighter” franchise moved into possibly its darkest chapter yet with 1999’s “Street Fighter: Alpha – The Animation”, specifically in its introduction of the young Shun. Arriving out of nowhere as the long lost “brother” of Ryu, Shun sticks to our hero like glue and trains tirelessly alongside him in the ancient martial art of Ansatsuken.
As we see over the course of the film, Shun’s relationship with Ryu is both heartwarming, and ultimately doomed, as he fights the same internal battle against the “Dark Hado” within him.
What’s undeniable, however, is that Shun is a very worthy addition to the “Street Fighter” canon. Like his fellow young warrior Sakura, he utterly idolizes Ryu, and he’s more than capable of holding his own even against the likes of Zangief. Any doubt of him lacking that capability is put to rest after he leaves a skyscraper in ruins at the conclusion of their epic battle.
Shun is also the most tragic entry on this list, for reasons that will be left unspoiled for those who haven’t seen the film. Nevertheless, his determination to become as strong a street fighter as Ryu and just how strong he already is from the start is what ultimately makes Shun one of the greatest animated Kung Fu Kids of all time!
This entry slightly bends the rules, but at its core, the story of Alita is very much one of our heroine experiencing a brave new world through the eyes of a “child”.
Yukito Kishiro’s acclaimed manga series has only ever seen a single, two-episode anime adaptation, and all the way back in 1993, no less. That’s more than a little surprising, given that Alita is unquestionably one of the greatest characters in all of manga or anime.
Discovered in a pile of rubble and rebuilt to her new self, Alita emerges into the dystopian Earth essentially as a child, albeit one with a total mastery over the martial art of cyborg’s known as “Panzer Kunst” (German for “Armoured Art”.)
Needless to say, Alita’s might as a young warrior is beyond dispute, as would surely be the case for anyone who can literally chop their enemies in two with the clean precision that she does. Alita would also serve as the basis for the undisputed greatest live-action manga/anime adaptation in the form of James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez’s “Alita: Battle Angel” earlier this year.
If you haven’t checked it out yet, you’re missing out on something truly special, but Alita’s brief-but-equally-unforgettable anime adaptation deserves lots of love, too!
As the legacy of one Avatar ends, the journey of the next begins, and as we see in the opening of Nickelodeon’s “The Legend of Korra”, the new Avatar is just about ready to conquer the world from the age of five.
Korra, voiced by Janet Varney, stands in total contrast to her successor as the Avatar, Aang. Brought up as a monk of the Southern Air Temple, Aang mastered the spiritual aspects of becoming the Avatar very swiftly, while the physical side of mastering all the elements proved his greatest challenge.
Korra, on the other hand, is born in the next cycle of the Avatar’s reincarnation, the Southern Water Tribe, and already has total mastery of three out of four of the elements before she’s even learned to read. It’s the spiritual side of becoming the Avatar that proves to be the greatest hurdle for Korra to overcome, and as we see throughout the series, she’s prone to frustration in her training much more than Aang ever was.
However, that’s the very thing that makes us root for her, since we know she’s rising to the challenge of becoming the new Avatar with a whole new set of challenges ahead of her. She’s also a total natural at the MMA of the Four Nations, the sport of “Pro-Bending” and (with both Korra and “Avatar” fans also being a little older than Aang was) the series also puts her through much closer brushes with death that saddle her with genuine PTSD at points.
A sequel to one of the greatest animated series’ ever produced could only stand up if carried on the shoulders of a truly worthy leading heroine. And like Aang before her, Korra rises to the mantle of the Avatar, and takes her place among the world’s greatest Animated Kung Fu Kids!
…and in at #1 is…
Aang — Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005)
“Avatar: The Last Airbender” would never have earned the rapturous acclaim it received throughout its entire run without Aang.
The child who was destined to master all four elements and bring balance to the world of the Four Nations, Aang was crowned to be a hero from the day he was born. However, that’s a lot for a twelve year-old take in, leading Aang, voiced by Zach Tyler Eisen, to flee the Southern Air Temple with his flying bison Appa, only for them to run into a storm and be frozen in a glacier for a century.
When Aang is finally thawed out, it’s up to him to put a stop to the Fire Nation’s conquest of the entire world, with a little help from his friends Katara, Sokka, Toph, and Suki. However, it’s Aang’s greatest enemy, the Fire Prince Zuko, voiced by Dante Basco, who becomes his greatest ally.
Determined to win back his cruel father’s love by capturing the Avatar, Zuko eventually sides with Aang to end the war and restore honor to the Fire Nation.
Aang’s training mastering the elements along with his action scenes in deploying them, are leaps and bounds above what had been seen in any animated series up to the debut of “Avatar”.
What’s more, Aang’s combination of the enlightenment he’s received from the Air monks and his own goofy personality made fans falling in love with him an inevitability. However, when he finally joins forces with Zuko, Aang’s true strength as the Avatar is revealed in his ability to redeem a lost soul.
Zuko also proves instrumental in Aang’s eventual mastery of Firebending, and their friendship is one of the most heartwarming aspects of the whole show. Nevertheless, it remains up to the young Avatar to put a stop to the world-spanning conquest of Fire Lord Ozai, voiced by Mark Hamill (of “Star Wars” fame) with the end result being just about the most stunning animated martial arts battle ever created.
“Avatar: The Last Airbender” remains an undisputed classic among animated shows, while its rambunctious-but-noble hero Aang, takes the throne as the world’s greatest Animated Kung Fu Kid (a throne that the upcoming live-action Netflix reboot of “Avatar” is hopefully able to appropriately honor, as well)!