Ninjas are cool — that's a simple, straightforward fact (unless you are a pirate), that seems to be almost universally recognized. They're also very, very Japanese. Or so you thought... just as McDonald's came out of the United States and conquered the world, so the ninja have set up local branches all over the globe.
The McNinja takes advantage of the comedy potential inherent in the non-Japanese ninja. Imposing the "ninja" template on a different culture can result in anything from ninja-waiters to ninja-doctors... especially if you invoke a national stereotype or two.
It's also a convenient visible shorthand. Ninjas have a reputation for being killing machines with nearly supernatural stealth. Showing someone like this conveys the idea without the need to explain it. Plus, people tend to think a ninja suit is quite suited to sneaking about, unless you stand in plain sight. In real life... Not so much. The traditional black suit of ninjas is actually horribly conspicuous, even at night. You want mottled grays for night stealth, solid black just silhouettes you. The "traditional" Ninja outfit isn't even the traditional garb of actual ninjas, who would actually have worn the everyday clothing of some low ranking nobody who had business being where they needed to go. It's the traditional garb of Japanese stage hands and signalled to theatre audiences that they were supposed to pretend the stage hand was invisible. In some plays, one of the "stage hands" would suddenly jump out and shank someone — thus revealing themselves to be an actual ninja actually there to shank someone.
Sometimes it's implied or stated outright that ninja started in Japan, but have since secretly branched out; after all, what do a group based around infiltration and stealth care about national borders?
Characters who are non-Japanese but explicitly were trained in ninjitsu by real Japanese ninja usually don't count as McNinja.
Fantasy worlds that have McNinjas might also be a case of Culture Chop Suey.
Named after Doctor McNinja, the Irish-American Ninja Doctor of webcomic fame.
A.K.A. Gaijinja as a portmanteau of gaijin (meaning foreigner) and ninja. note Although a redundant and meaning-lossy portmanteau, since 外人者, i.e. gaijinja would mean strictly "foreign person person".
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Anime & Manga
G Gundam had Schwarz Bruder, a German ninja. He even has a mask composed of the colours of the German flag. Well, okay, he was really a clone of a Japanese guy, Kyoji Kasshu, the main character's brother ("Schwarz Bruder" meaning "Black brother", though not quite correct). But he took the identity from the original Schwarz Bruder, who is a proper example.
Daredevil himself learned his moves from a ninja master, and is currently the leader of the diabolical Hand ninja clan.
G.I. Joe features actual Japanese and non-Japanese ninja fighting side by side on both sides.
A few bonus points go to Bushido, real name Lloyd Goldfine from Hollis, Queens. Also known as "the Snow Ninja" because he learned his moves in Iceland. Oh, and, according to his filecard, his grandfather was a samurai, and that's his helmet he wears as part of his outfit. In any case, one of the few Jewish ninjas you'll ever run across. There's probably a "Jew-jitsu" joke to be made here, but frankly this stuff's already hilarious.
Oh, and then there's Budo. Who is a samurai. Named Kyle. He's from Sacramento. He's an infantryman in GI Joe, and he serves wearing full samurai armor and wielding a katana.
Budo's filecard does have some fun with the concept (after all, Hasbro makes the toys, and Larry Hama has to make sense of them in the filecards), portraying him as a Harley-riding metalhead when he's off-duty.
Diabolik, the eponymous Villain Protagonist of a long-running Italian comic, wears a skin-tight black suit that leaves only his eyes exposed.
In a recent story we learn that Diabolik was taught martial arts and stealth in a ninja-like school in a fictional East-Asian country, and had to wear an Hollywood ninja suit during the lessons to keep his face a secret from the external students (the ones who were there to learn martial arts and not how to be better criminals). After being accidentally unmasked during a lesson, he crafted his trademark black suit because it makes him more difficult to unmask and makes grappling his clothes more difficult, as he explains when the teacher chastise him.
Definitely a few from Ninja High School. In fact the mother of the main character isn't even Japanese, she's technically German.
Wait, wasn't she Russian?
In the first issue of the Immortal Iron Fist spinoff miniseries Immortal Weapons, a tale is spun of Fat Cobra's life, including the time he and a bunch of kung-fu commandos faced off against Hitler's private SS Ninja squadron, led by the nefarious Herr Samurai.
After her Race Lift (in which she bodyswitched accidentally with a fellow telepath), The once-English now-Japanese X-Man Psylocke does her best to be a psychic ninja. Unfortunately, it rarely works out that way, for onereasonoranother.
Until she joined Wolverine and Angel's unnoficial X-Force, where she shows just how deadly a psychic ninja can be.
The 2004 movie Ella Enchanted had this in the Red Guard, a group of Elite Mooks who appear to be Ninja in plate armor helmets and pressed military uniforms... In what is the generic Medieval setting of Middle Ages Europe. This includes the typical bright red outfits and "flipping out and killing people". Naturally, none of this was in the original novel.
The League of Shadows in The Dark Knight Saga appear to be an Equal-Opportunity Evil collection of these (an appropriate place for an American ninja to learn his trade), but with strong hints that the organisation is descended from the "original" ninja. In Batman Begins, the leader is apparently Japanese, though with an Arabic name, while his Dragon has an Irish accent (and turns out to be the real Ra's al-Ghul), and the various other members we see are very ethnically diverse. Their headquarters appears to be in the Himalayas.
Phantom Raiders features a McNinja training Vietnam Vets to be Mc Ninjas for mission that features ninja stars, grenades, and gunfire.
In Discworld, the black-clad Assassins give every appearance of being very English Ankh-Morporkian ninja.
Technically they are more in line with the Hashishin, also the Hashishin came first by three centuries.
Perhaps not quite accurate for this page, but there were also the Ninja agents being used (as a throwaway gag) by the Men In Saffron (History Monks) in Thief of Time. While the MIS did, admittedly, train their members in various martial arts, Lu Tze's opinion of the ninja isn't all that high. "Agatean for 'The Passing Wind'."
Interesting side note however, the best of them in both cases (Vetinari and Lu Tse) are those who ditch most/all the (stereo)typical ninja stuff.
Ninja make a token appearance in Interesting Times, even though the Agatean Empire is more Chinese than Japanese.
The 1989 Space Opera novel Not for Glory by Joel Rosenberg had a whole planet of mainly Jewish-Israeli descended mercenaries who also practiced ninjutsu, though they did have a small amount of Japanese ancestry mixed in. The main character was even named after a distant Japanese ancestor.
While the term is never explicitly tossed around, with their penchant for throat-slitting scout and stealth work, Gaunt's Ghosts are fairly ninja-ish. Their best member got a Crowning Moment of Awesome in out-stealthing a Mandrake, who should have had the Puny Human beat easily.
In Codex Alera, the Canim have a specialist caste of spies/assassins known as "hunters" whose purpose is to allow the Canim lords to bypass attempts by other Canim to abuse the law - in other words, they're there to allow their Canim lords to avoid being Lawful Stupid. In effect, this makes them wolfman ninjas.
Live Action TV
The Mythbusters Ninja episode featured noticeably more ninja-costumed footage of Tory (Belleci) than of Grant (Imahara).
On the other hand, all things considered, it makes PERFECT sense for Tory to be the one in the ninja costume. Playing ninja offers so many exciting new ways for Tory to injure himself.
Doctor Who has Scottish Ninja Monks at the start of one episode for no adequately explored reason.
The Robin Hood episode "Peace? Off!" featured Saracen ninja in 12th Century England. That's before there were ninja in Japan. But the Hashishim assassins were very much active. The word "assassin" comes from the name of their sect. They could conceivably have come on the boats returning from the crusades, like Robin Hood himself (and his Saracen bow.)
Viewers will no doubt be aware that the BBC adaptation of Robin Hood is not known for its historical accuracy.
The Super Sentai series Ninja Sentai Kakuranger featured Jiraiya (a.k.a. Ninja Black, therefore not that one), a But Not Too Foreign ninja who dressed as a stereotypical cowboy-hatted American and spoke in English most of the time (though his Japanese improved as the series went on.) The character's "foreignness" was often played up for laughs. For bonus points, he was played by Kane Kosugi, who is half-American himself.
Power Rangers Samurai seems similar, with only one Asian on the team (Mia); but they're all supposed to be descendants of actual samurai and were trained as such so probably don't count. But Sixth Ranger Antonio does count, being both self-taught and a bit of a Mexican-American stereotype. The original Japanese production, Samurai Sentai Shinkenger, also played with this trope by having an episode where an American Funny Foreigner wanted to learn to be a samurai.
Also, one of the villains in Power Rangers Operation Overdrive, Miratrix, is played by New Zealander actress Ria Vandervis. She and her boss Kamdor are also good at smoke exits and activate spells by throwing sutras. (Or, well, just making ninja hand-gestures and sutras come from... somewhere... it looks cool, okay?)
In season 3 of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers there's Ninjor, a bright blue alien Ninja with a body made of armored plates and a voice that could shatter glass; and then the Aquitian Rangers, who, due to footage from the aforementioned Kakuranger, have ninja-like suits and the powers used by the original team's Ninja Ranger forms. Of course, Ninjor's connected to them, too, so it makes in-universe sense, but still Aquatic Alien Power Ranger ninjas.
Mortal Kombat: Conquest features Chinese ninjas. This gets even more weird when all but a few of them are white.
Alarm für Cobra 11 has occasional episodes with villains in black ninja suits ("Die schwarze Madonna," "Unter Feuer"). The Polizei SWAT team dresses in ninja-like black as well.
Again not exactly ninjas, but John Belushi's samurai businesses (e.f. Samurai Optometrist) on the early years of Saturday Night Live.
Sekai Ninja Sen Jiraiya, the 1988 Metal Hero series, featured numerous foreign ninjas in addition to Japanese ones (hence the title of the series, "Jiraiya: War of the World Ninjas").
Portia Perez and Nicole Matthews, the "Canadian Ninjas", in SHIMMER.
WrestleCrap lists Kwang, a Puerto Ricannote Real name Juan Riviera, better known as Savio Vega ninja, among its inductees.
"I am Ninja", by German band the Neu. "I am ninja, you are ninja, we are ninja too..."
South African rap/comedy trio Die Antwoord are lead by MC Ninja... who sings about little else. In a thick Afrikaans accent. It's better than it sounds.
Kamikaze Highlander by Andrew of Songs To Wear Pants To is not exactly about Ninja, but champions this trope in spirit.
Ninja" by Europe is pretty much In Name Only, seeing as the song has a kind of "love during wartime" theme.
The Ninja class in a Dungeons & Dragons expansion can be taken by anybody capable of PC class levels, and the book itself states that ninja could be anyone. Given the nature of D&D settings, this means you may well encounter ninja wizards, ninja orcs, ninja Catfolk (the racial abilities really fit the class by the way), ninja barbarians (figure that one out), ninja Giants, ninja pirate zombies...
In The Complete Ninja's Handbook for AD&D's second edition, the ninja is an entirely separate class which was essentially a thief with reduced thief abilities, a new martial arts system, a clan, and a few new items. One kit was also capable of very limited magic, while another had a very gimped form of the fighter class's weapon specialization. Of course, for reasons unknown to posterity, elves could not be ninja, but dwarves could.
Not just a card game. There's a tabletop RPG done by 9th Level Games, too. There's even a McNinja clan among the possible clans your ninja can hail from!
Naturally, Ninja Burger's arch-rivals are Pirate Pizza.
The Talislanta game features Mandalan Mystic Warriors and Mondre Khan Raiders in the Kang Empire, which is more Chinese than Japanese in flavor. The Rajan Assassin-Mage is apparently supposed to evoke the historical hashishin, yet carries a strong whiff of McNinja as well.
Pedro Cortes of Kessen III is a Spaniard and a ninja-class officer.
In Shadow Hearts: From the New World, one of your party members is a Brazilian ninja, who hails from a hidden ninja village deep in the Amazon rain forest. Brazilian-style ninjutsu apparently centers on turning any vaguely elongated object into a sword by sticking a hilt on it. This party member is also a Highly Visible Ninja, considering his bright red-blue costume(with a glowing deely-bopper antennae on the headpiece), and his habit of trying to hide... by holding up an American flag in front of himself. Did we mention he also works for the CIA?
Frank actually seems to be of Slavic descent, disappointing his father by leaving to study ninjutsu in the jungles of South America instead of taking over the family fireworks business. He later decides to bridge the eternal gap between fireworks and ninjas by sticking a hilt on a firework and using it as a sword. Even if he were less conspicuous, he's not a very good ninja, as he's constantly berated by his master — a giant talking cat who serves as second-in-command to Al Capone.
Ninjutsu seems to be a sport of world-wide popularity in that world, as he gains at least one skill by winning a Mini-Game against a ninja from a rival German ninjutsu school.
Vega, from the Street Fighter series, styles himself as a Spanish ninja. He's a cage fighter, so he can afford to be highly visible.
Sodom from Street Fighter and Final Fight may be trying to be a ninja, or a samurai, or something else entirely. It's hard to tell because he's so very bad at trying to be Japanese.
Guy (one of the three heroes of Final Fight and a member of the SF roster in morerecent games) plays this trope half-straight; he's a Japanese-born naturalized American, although you probably wouldn't have been able to tell this had it not been for supplementary materials.note Just to clarify, Guy's nationality was originally stated to be Japanese in Final Fight and his "real name" was even written in kanji in manuals and such. From the Alpha series and onward, his nationality was changed to American, but it is unknown if this was a retcon or if he became a naturalized American after Final Fight.
As of Super Street Fighter IV and Street Fighter x Tekken it's almost officially certain as being a retcon. His website lists his place of birth as the USA.
Sub-Zero, Frost, Smoke and a good number of other ninja-types from the Mortal Kombat series were members of the Lin Kuei, the Chinese equivalent of the ninja. Scorpion, however, was a Japanese ninja, as reflected in his suit changes and choice of sword in the 3D games.
The Lin Kuei claim the inverse of McNinja: the ninja tradition started when a Lin Kuei named Takeda absconded to Japan with their secrets.
To wit: Cyrax is Motswana (meaning he's from Botswana, a country in Southern Africa), the Sub-Zero brothers are of mixed Chinese-American ethnicity, and Smoke is Czech. And, while not stated outright, we can assume Sektor to be Chinese, what with being the son of the Grandmaster and all.
The automated Sektor, a former member of Lin Kuei, killed the clan's Grandmaster and briefly assumed leadership until the younger Sub-Zero cast him out. In response, Sektor created the Tekunin, a clan composed of cyborg ninjas. And yeah, these are (or were, as might be the case) based in Japan.
For the record, the Lin Kuei actually existed, and are obscure enough to qualify this as an example of Shown Their Work.
The Metal Gear series had quite a few: first there was the Black Ninja from Metal Gear 2, who was actually Kyle Schneider, the South African resistance leader who helped Snake in the first Metal Gear. Then there was the Cyborg Ninja in Metal Gear Solid, who was actually Gray Fox, Snake's combat buddy from the first two MSX games. And finally, there's Raiden in Metal Gear Solid 4, who helped Snake during the events of Metal Gear Solid 2, but became a Cyborg Ninja afterward (noticed a pattern?). There's also Olga Gurlukovich in MGS2, who was not actually a Cyborg Ninja, but was disguised as one when she helped out Raiden as a double agent. The Tengu Commandos in MGS2 are Elite Mooks who wear ninja-like high-tech equipment, but are all Russians.
Samurai Shodown has Galford and Earthquake, from California and Texas, respectively (despite both states being Spanish and Mexican territories at the time).
Chipp Zanuff of Guilty Gear is an American ninja. He isn't too happy about that, either, and often bugs the Japanese native Anji to teach him Japanese so that he can at least act the part. He learn the art from a Japanese assassin (a feat in itself considering they're short in supply in-series).
A Canadian ninja: Raven from Tekken 5. Humorously, he's far more of a proper shinobi than Japanese "ninja" Yoshimitsu (who acts more like a cross between a shugenja and a samurai).
Return To Castle Wolfenstein was originally supposed to have Nazi Ninjas, but they didn't make it into the final product due to time constraints.
The sequel delivered, though, converting the female Elite Guards into agile, ninja-like martial artists. There's even a piece of concept art that shows they were supposed to carry swastika-shaped shurikens, but unfortunately, they ultimately went unused.
F.E.A.R. has clone ninjas in the form of the Replica Assassins. Although their nationality is unknown (they're Faceless Mooks), they are produced by an American corporation.
Mass Effect 3 has these of the cyborg variety: Cerberus Phantoms. They have biotic barriers, flip around constantly, have guns built into their gauntlets, have an instant kill melee sword combo, can Overload your shields, and can cloak once their barrier comes down. This follows the increased focus on close combat in the third game.
The Star WarsExpanded Universe (particularly the Revenge of the Sith video game) has Clone Assassins, Clone Troopers who have received ninja training to allow them to fight in melee combat against Jedi.
Rome: Total War features the Arcani, a secret society of fanatics who worship Jupiter. Armed with twin gladii, they wear intimidatingmasks, black shrouds and well-crafted armour. They can hide practically anywhere in the wilderness, they have exceptional stamina, fighting ability, speed and morale. To round it all off, they operate with less than half the number of a more conventional unit type, perhaps invoking the law of Conservation of Ninjutsu. Their role is to flank and ambush the enemy, and perform the least capably in a straight-up fight against superior numbers.
Are we even playing the same game? If Arcani units get the armor and weapon bonuses of a well-built-up city, they can stand their ground against Gladiators and Praetorians without much trouble. Urban Cohorts not so much.
The Adventures of Dr. McNinja: The trope namer. In addition to the shamrock shuriken-throwing Irish-American ninja-doctor of the title, there is Frans Rayner — a former Danish ninja — and his army of American ninja mooks. Who eventually come back from the dead as zombie ninjas.
Girl Genius has Smoke Knights, who seem to be the stealth branch of Knights of Jove. So far Velchen, Violetta, Tarvek and Zola demonstrated asome impressive training. Also, one Smoke Knight in the hospital "gets herself killed trying to off the Baron, but it's not clear which in the pile of wannabe assassins' corpses (except perhaps the first fake nurse, as she neither was already infiltrated nor remembered to stab first and scream never).
Also, Wulfenbachs had the Black Squad as a high-tech variety and Stealth Fighters as commandos variety. The former gave a good fright to Wooster and were mopped up by Zola's minions (i.e. Knights of Jove's operatives) prepared to face them, and the latter ended up at the wrong end of Conservation of Ninjutsu in an overt mission where they ran into bunch of Jägergenerals and one Smoke Knight.
This strip of The Order of the Stick features a waitress that suddenly appears next to the table, causing Vaarsuvius to angrily exclaim about waiters that sneak up on you. The waitress explains that she's putting herself through ninja school.
While Azure City is effectively Japan, nothing on earth could justify Redcloak's (now deceased) Goblin ninja. Replaced by Hobgoblin Ninja.
Indeed, it's right here. One of the gods thought they would be fun. Done and done.
The prequel book Start of Darkness contains what may be the most horrifying ninja sub-breed ever conceived... Ninja Clowns.
Sam and Fuzzy includes an international brotherhood of ninjas, most of whom are McNinjas.
Wikkity from Panda Xpress. Although he claims that the only real American ninja is Michael Dudikoff.
Quantum Ninja, in an otherwise European medieval fantasy dimension in Casey and Andy.
Homestuck Dave and his Bro, self-described as "ironic rapping roof ninjas". The two employ katanas and Flash Step techniques in hash-rap battles on the rooftops of Houston, considering themselves governed solely by Rule Of Cool.
Ask a Ninja doesn't quite count as this, but his theme song does.
Nex of the Whateley Universe. Ruthless mutant-powered ninja killer. Who happens to be English. Also, the 'ninjas' at Superhero School Whateley Academy tend to be Americans and Europeans, not Asian at all.
The public library in Jacob Two-Two has a squad of highly-trained "Library Ninja" specialized in recovering overdue books.
Snake-Eyes from G.I. Joe a blond-haired blue-eyed white American who trained in Japan under the same master as Storm Shadow (who is a full blooded Japanese), although his backstory was not given as much emphasis in the cartoons as it was in the comics.
And by "not as much emphasis" we mean "none at all", at least in the Sunbow episodes. It didn't help that following the first two miniseries, the cartoon's writers had a hard time using a fully-maskedmute ninja commando, so they put him in the background. The DiC seasons featured Snake-Eyes more, and he's been a core character in Sigma 6 and Renegades.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were explicitly trained by a Japanese ninja, who had moved to New York and got turned into a rat. However, they are in every other way 100% American.
More commonly in adaptations, Splinter was always a rat who watched his former Ninja owner and learned from him before being mutated into a humanoid.
Embarrassment Ninjas in Kim Possible. Drakken even lampshades this quoting "I guess in their profession, it pays to specialize."
Prowl and Jazz of Transformers Animated. Alien robot ninja, masters of metallikato and circuitsu. Prowl's still working on mastering processor-over-matter to unlock the really cool stuff, though.
Family Guy In one Peter Griffin Imagine Spot, he pretends he's the star of a nineties situational comedy called "My Black Son"; the theme song ends with the claim "also, he's a ninja!"
Ninjas themselves could be considered the 14th-century-onwards equivalent of the 11th century Hashishin, now Nizari.
So ninjas are hasshashin-san.
And the equivalent of many special forces units like SAS, Navy SEAL s, Spetznaz — what do the JSDF have?
The JGSDF's SF unit is the Special Forces Group, modeled after Delta Force. The JMSDF has the Special Boarding Unit, modeled after the British SBS. The latter had requested Navy SEAL assistance, but they didn't have the time to do so which is why they turned to the British instead.
Bizarrely, a lot of American ninjutsu enthusiasts actually went to the trouble of learning Ninjutsu from actual Japanese practitioners. These practitioners learned it in clear lines of delineation from Masaaki Hatsumi himself. Effectively, this means that there actually are a bunch of guys in Kentucky and other VERY American places who knows ninjutsu as much as any of the "legitimate" practitioners in Japan today.
It should be noted that Masaaki Hatsumi's version of ninjutsu is unverified as legitimately descended from whatever form was practiced in older times. Then again, so is everybody else's, since the ninja were careful to not leave detailed records
Some would say that being able to convince the world that his particular variety of ninjutsu was actually descended from ninja proves that - as a properly trained ninja is a master of deception - even if it isn't, he still qualifies as a true ninja.
Knife and martial arts enthusiasts tend to refer to people who seem to have more interest in being cool than practical as "mall ninjas", and their concept of martial arts as "bullshido". The terms are obviously not complimentary.