5) Iron Man 007
1976's Iron Man 007 takes a pretty logical approach to making a really entertaining cartoon - it starts with the 5-man scientific ninja team Gatchaman and adds super robot Gaiking to the mix. To keep things nice and confusing, the good guys use Gaiking, while the bad guys, a creepy-looking race of horned aliens, have what looks like a bargain basement version of the Space Dragon from the series of the same name.
One thing that Iron Man 007, which is sadly Tony Stark-less, does alter is the hero costumes - the whole bird motif is toned down. But the characters inside are undeniably the Gatchaman team. It looks like they gave Ken a haircut, but it's the same dude, alright! To keep the Gatcha-motif going, the robot splits into five vehicles - which are, coincidentally, the same vehicles from Gatchaman! Even that big jerk Dr. Nambu shows up, with a transmutation wristband of his own.
The only drawback? No fat guy! A suitable ripoff of Ryu is mysteriously missing.
4) Mazinger X
Now here's a remarkably thorough ripoff - easily the biggest knockoff on this entire list. See, most of the titles you're seeing here are content to steal elements and character designs and rearrange them with remarkable creativity, but the theft shown in Mazinger X (which should not be confused with other original South Korean hits like Mazinger 3 and Mazinger 7) is remarkably blatant and extensive.
This film is almost a 1-to-1 redux of UFO Robot Grendizer, Go Nagai's famous saucer-riding robot (they call him Goldorak in France!). Same robot, same colors, same special attacks - even similar enemies. In fact, the only big change is the pilot, who looks a bit more like Mazinger Z's Koji than Grendizer's Duke Freed. It's all terribly confusing, not least of all because it just looks so much worse than an average episode of Grendizer. But it's one hell of a rip-off, that's for sure.
3) Space Gundam V
Is it a Gundam? It certainly doesn't look like a Gundam. It looks like a valkyrie from Macross (or, if you grew up with Robotech, a veritech). Nevertheless, it's Space Gundam V, a semi-sentient robot guardian with mystical weapons and a tough kid in the cockpit.
That's right - not only can the Space Gundam transform into the familiar plane and gerwalk forms, it's a magical thing, kinda like Reideen. The pilot wears a Macross helmet, but he looks kinda like Gundam hero Amuro Ray. And best of all, he fights a city-smashing demon empire, who lend the proceedings an appealingly Devilman-esque air.
2) Johnny Destiny, Space Ninja
You remember what I said above about wonderful, unexpected surprises? It just doesn't matter how strange and crummy old cartoons like this one are, because absolutely nothing can approximate the baffled, dizzy joy of a palette-swapped Char Aznable taking his helmet off to reveal the visage of Amuro Ray (for non-Gundam nerds, that's approximately like Doctor Doom taking the mask off to reveal Reed Richards).
The thing is, Johnny Destiny (as it was titled in the UK, where it got a videotape release, no less) has been around for a long time. When I first heard about it, the fans I was talking to (this was before the Internet was a big deal, so you had to actually go and meet anime fans in person) were convinced that this was a terrible, incomprehensible edit of the three original Gundam movies. But the reality is so much worse! There are no Gundams in this thing. Amuro/Char is accompanied by a Sayla knockoff, who dresses like the antagonistic Lady Kycillia in battle. The bad guys are led by a great big Frankenstein-green version of Dozul Zabi from Gundam. The adorable little kid sidekick looks kinda like Gundam's Hayato - only he's a robot. And then everyone fights with swords and kung fu. It's all quite magical.
1) Black Star vs. Golden Bat
Things just had to wind up with Batman, didn't they? There's absolutely no mistaking it - he might be wearing yellow, but that's the caped crusader, alright. This Batman is amazingly, hilariously different from the world's greatest detective, however - he can fly. He's strong enough to crush giant robots (one of 'em looks suspiciously like Dai Apollon) and rip his enemies limb from limb. He shoots goddamn lazers from his hands (that's "lazers" with a z, for sure). While he exhibits these crazy feats, he laughs maniacally.
This real ultimate weird Korean cartoon has an interesting backstory. One of the first TV anime productions to be broadcast in Korea was a 1967 series called Golden Bat, an enjoyably creepy superhero cartoon about an agent of justice, the last surviving Atlantean, and his struggle against evil - while wearing a grinning golden skull mask, of course. I guess Golden Bat was sort of a good-guy version of Skeletor. This program slipped South Korea's usual ban on Japanese productions, because its backgrounds were painted by a Korean company. Golden Bat was popular among Korean children for years, and eventually a domestic "reboot" was on the table. Thus, Golden Bat became Golden Batman, although they still call him Golden Bat in the Korean version.
Examples like Golden Batman, Wonder Princess, and the amazing fake Iron Man beg an interesting question: these characters may be copyright infringement, but just how damaging is it to DC and Marvel? If Batman wears the wrong colors, exhibits crazy super powers, and has a totally different origin story, is he still Batman at all? I'll leave you readers to ponder that question. As for these awesome old anime and superhero knockoffs, South Korea's animation biz has blossomed, but there are still a few dozen nutty old flicks just like these ones out there. Keep an eye out for them!