One of the hurdles that newbies to NJPW must overcome is interpreting the irregular calendar. It’s hard to understand the level of importance of various calendar events. While the big fans will try to watch nearly all of it, casuals and new fans really need to understand what’s a necessity and what’s missable. This guide is a short intro into the New Japan calendar so you can plan your viewing.
The Essential Shows – Can’t Miss
Wrestle Kingdom is the end of the New Japan season and the largest show of the year. This is the equivalent to WrestleMania both in terms of pomp and importance. If you only watch one NJPW show a year, make it this one. All the belts will be defended and it tends to end a year’s worth of stories since this will the the last major show before contracts expire. Every title will be defended.
Dominion is opposite Wrestle Kingdom on the schedule and is the other megacard. It tends to be the best show of the year for the New Japan diehards. The Osaka crowd is the most hype in Japan and the matches here will tend to be among the very best matches of the year in any promotion.
G1 Climax is the 20-man heavyweight round robin tournament. It is easily the most elite wrestling tournament in the world with the winner getting the main event at Wrestle Kingdom. While I will tell you it’s extremely intimidating to sit and watch nineteen 3-hour shows, you’ll find it’s a can’t miss once you get into New Japan. If you’re not quite there, I made a guide for 12 can’t miss 2018 G1 Climax matches for you to get started with.
The thing that really makes the G1 essential is that normally singles matches are pretty tough to come by. Most of the minor shows are entirely tags with most shows maybe only having one singles match a show. There’s a lot of the roster that doesn’t get heavily featured during the year and in G1 all 20 get a chance to shine in 9 singles matches. When I say feature, I mean feature because most are between 12 and 20 minutes depending where they are on the card. Guys go mostly as hard as possible and the quality from match to match can be otherworldly.
Prior to the singles matches, the other block does tags against their opponents for the next night. This sets up all the story and are great teasers for the singles bangers that follow. The B block was the superstar block this year and the B block tags were as good as many other wrestling shows standalone.
The Major Shows – Shouldn’t Miss
New Year’s Dash
New Year’s Dash is a house show the day after Wrestle Kingdom. You won’t tune into this for great matches but crazy story stuff that will set up the year. This is very much the “RAW after Mania” that’s so infamous in WWE. This year amongst other things was the first overt movement toward a Golden Lovers reunion and Chris Jericho ambushing Tetsuya Naito.
Sakura Genesis, Power Struggle, and King of Pro Wrestling
These are the major single night shows akin to the major WWE shows like Survivor Series and Royal Rumble. All three generally feature tons of title defenses with Sakura Genesis and King of Pro Wrestling almost always featuring long feature title defenses of the IWGP Heavyweight championship and Power Struggle featuring a major Intercontinental defense and a defense of the rights to the WK main event.
New Japan Cup
A quick four-night single elimination tournament that wins you the rights to a belt challenge at Sakura Genesis. This is always good for a bunch of entertaining matches a generally signals a wrestler that will carry heat all year. 2018 was Zack Sabre’s coming out party and he’s racked up huge win after huge win this year since. It’s a coin flip whether someone will win the belt at Genesis so this is generally very important.
Best of the Super Juniors
The G1 but for Junior Heavyweights. This tournament is notably less essential than G1 Climax but has gotten higher profile with the general rise of NJPW, so it’s becoming slightly more critical to watch at least a selection of it every year.
Super J-Cup (irregular)
This is an irregularly run single elimination mega-tournament for Juniors. The last they’ve done one was 2016 but they will surely return to it in the future.
G1 Special and other major US shows
NJPW has only just now started running events in the US but the shows have been massive. Definitely keep and eye out for these.
The Minor Shows – Check the Cards
Destruction, Wrestling Dontaku / Wrestling Hinokuni, & The New Beginning
These are multi-night events where most or all of the belts will be defended over the various nights. They tend to be less essential night to night but always have must-see matches across all of them.
World Tag League
G1 but for tag teams. This might sound amazing but in practice most of it is fairly pedestrian. There’s a few good matches every year but we’re still kinda waiting for NJPW to invest in it.
Honor Rising: Japan
These are the Ring of Honor collaborative shows in Japan and generally they are awesome.
Global Wars/War of the Worlds
These are the collaborative shows New Japan does in the US with Ring of Honor. This is generally the easiest way to see major NJPW talent in the United States.
Global Wars UK
These are collaborative shows with Rev Pro in the UK.
These are collaborative shows with CMLL in Mexico.
Young Lions Cup / Lion’s Gate Project
These are shows for the Young Lions, who are rookies that train in the New Japan Dojo. If you get into the Young Lions while watching shows, they’re worth checking out.
Televised and untelevised shows leading up to major shows. Sometimes there’s essential stuff in here but you have to dig.
Themed house shows
Occasionally NJPW will televise a house show curated by a wrestler like the Blue Justice of Yuji Nagata or the TAKA and Taichi shows. They’re usually quite fun and weird.