2024 Guide To NJPW For Beginners (New Japan Pro Wrestling)

Hamish Woodward

For fans looking to get into New Japan Pro Wrestling in 2024, it may be difficult to know where to start. The Japanese style of wrestling is so different to that in the United States that the way to watch NJPW is completely different to companies like AEW or WWE.

With the biggest show of the year, called Wrestle Kingdom, coming up in January, it is the perfect time to learn all about the New Japan Pro Wrestling and become a fan of one of the best wrestling promotions in the world.

Here is your guide to New Japan Pro Wrestling in 2024, where we explain what NJPW is and the history of the company, as well as the big events, championship titles, best wrestlers and best matches in the Japanese wrestling promotion.

What Is New Japan Pro Wrestling?

New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) is a professional wrestling promotion based in Japan. They are the biggest and most popular promotion in Japan, and are considered one of the best wrestling companies in the entire world, being ranked among WWE and AEW as the top wrestling promotions.

The company was formed in 1972 by Antonio Inoki, after he and Giant Baba left the Japan Pro Wrestling Alliance (JWA). Baba went on to form All Japan Pro Wrestling, while Inoki stamped his own philosophy onto pro wrestling by running the hugely successful NJPW. Inoki was fired by the JWA for attempting a hostile takeover of the company.

Enraged at the executives of the company being paid more than the wrestlers, as well as stashing away company profits to fund their exotic lifestyles, Antonio Inoki and fellow wrestler Hroshi “Umanosuke” Ueda attempted a coup of the JWA. They managed to convince Giant Baba to join them in their endeavour, although he was uncomfortable with the idea and did not follow through on Inoki’s plan.

Ueda eventually betrayed Inoki and told JWA leaders of his plan, which lead to Inoki being fired from the company. Everyone else involved also left the company, joining either Inoki’s NJPW or Baba’s AJPW. The following year, New Japan Pro Wrestling was formed, with Antonio Inoki as the biggest star and head booker of the company. Many JWA wrestlers joined him in this new promotion, and just 18-months later, the Japanese Pro-Wrestling Alliance had gone under.

New Japan Pro Wrestling sought to showcase Antonio Inoki’s vision of professional wrestling, which presented it as a real sport, as opposed to the “sports entertainment” that Vince McMahon calls it. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the company was reliant on big stars from the United States, with The Funks, Stan Hansen, Hulk Hogan and Bob Backlund all helping to carry the company on their tours (Hulk Hogan was the first IWGP Heavyweight Champion, after all).

The company has grown over the years into what is it today (although it almost died in the mid 2000s, with Inoki-ism nearly killing the company with his terrible booking style), and it remains the largest wrestling promotion in Japan. While the likes of AJPW and NOAH have challenged its crown over the years, NJPW remains the King of Sports in Japan, with its top wrestlers becoming celebrities in their home country.

The style of wrestling used in New Japan Pro Wrestling is called “Puroresu” (or “Puro”), which is a hard-hitting, technical style of wrestling that is a favorite of controversial wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer.

Learn more about Puroresu

NJPW Key Events

In the NJPW calendar, there are numerous huge events that showcase the biggest matches of the years. These pay per views are broadcast throughout the year, with the January 4th show – called Wrestle Kingdom – being the biggest of the year.

Unlike promotions like AEW and WWE, New Japan Pro Wrestling do not have a weekly TV show that builds up to their pay per views. Instead, they produce weeks-long tours in the run-up to the shows, wrestling in multi-man tag team matches to help build up to big pay per view bouts, and craft stories in ways that are easier on the wrestlers bodies.

These tours are a series of shows called “Road to (name of big event)”, with day 1/2/3 etc added as the prefix. These tours are mainly for the live crowd and showcase tag team matches between a mix of big stars and lower card wrestlers (with factions being a big part of Puro), to help build up hype for the upcoming big events.

While events may differ in certain years, the schedule for NJPW events in a regular year are as follows;

Wrestle Kingdom

The first show in the NJPW calendar is also their biggest. Wrestle Kingdom is their annual January 4th show (named after a video game) that is broadcast from the Tokyo Dome, in Tokyo. In recent years, the show has also had a second night on January 5th, but it seems like the company have reverted back to the one-night extravaganza.

Wrestle Kingdom is considered to be the WrestleMania of Japan. It is considered the end of the year in Japanese wrestling, with all the biggest storylines blowing off in front of 50,000 fans in the Tokyo Dome. All the yearly stories build up to this show, which 30+ minute matches the norm for the top stars in the company. The wrestlers go all out to perform the best they can at Wrestle Kingdom, leading to some of the best matches of the year happening in Tokyo.

The first Wrestle Kingdom event took place in 2007, with the main event showcasing Keiji Muto & Masahiro Chono vs Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima. However, the January 4 Tokyo Dome Show has been a fixture of the NJPW calender since 1992, although 2007 was the first time the name Wrestle Kingdom was given to the event.

Read about every Wrestle Kingdom star rating and the best Wrestle Kingdom matches ever.

New Year Dash

The first show in the new “season” for NJPW is New Year Dash. Since 2014, it has been held every year on the day following Wrestle Kingdom, and signifying a new beginning for a year of storylines in the company. It is said that Gedo (the booker for the company) books his shows a year in advance, starting with New Year Dash.

While Wrestle Kingdom is a big spectacle with huge matches, New Year Dash focuses more on building up new wrestlers and beginning new storylines for the wrestlers, and is seen as similar to the first episode of Monday Night Raw after WrestleMania.

Many debuts have taken place at the event, but more recently it has seen the final appearance of a number of wrestlers. Most notably in 2016, when AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson all had their last appearance at New Year Dash, before making the move to the United States to sign with the WWE.

Title matches are a rarity at the event, with the show mainly composed of tag team matches. New Year Dash 2023 saw Kenny Omega teaming with Kazuchika Okada to take on the United Empire, a team which nobody ever thought they’d get to see.

New Beginning

The first bigger event for NJPW after Wrestle Kingdom is the New Beginning show. Taking place in late January or early February, New Beginning is the first time the big titles (like the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship will be on the line). While it is usually a place to establish a new champion, shocks have happened at the show.

In 2019, Jay White defeated new IWGP Heavyweight Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi to win his first world championship, in a shock victory. Tanahashi had yet to defend his title, having beaten Kenny Omega just a month earlier at Wrestle Kingdom 13 to win the belt, so the victory came as a massive shock to everybody.

Because of events like this, NJPW fans always have to be on their toes when viewing this event, with anything possible and shocks likely to happen at NJPW New Beginnings.

Anniversary Show

The beginning of match brings the NJPW Anniversary show. It marks the anniversary of the first ever show put on by Antonio Inoki, which was the Opening Series event that took place on March 6, 1972. Since 2012, the event has taken place every year, celebrating the first show NJPW ever put on.

In the past few years, the main event of the show has pitted the IWGP Heavyweight Champion vs the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion. While the two divisions rarely clash in NJPW, this provides a truly special match that can elevate the Junior’s to the level of the top heavyweight talent, as was seen in Kazuchika Okada’s match with Will Ospreay in the 2018 edition.

New Japan Cup

Probably the second-biggest tournament in the NJPW calendar is the New Japan Cup. This is a knockout tournament that has been put on by New Japan since 2005, with the winner of the cup earning a shot against the IWGP World Heavyweight Champion.

The amount of wrestlers appearing in the New Japan cup varies from year to year. Traditionally, it has been a 16-man tournament that features a mix of heavyweight and junior heavyweight talent. However, in 2019 and 2020 they had 32 men in the tournament, rising to 48 for the 2022 edition (although 2023 saw a reduction to just 24).

The winner of the New Japan Cup always goes on to face the IWGP World Heavyweight Champion in a title shot at Sakura Genesis (formerly Invasion Attack). The winners have a good chance of walking away with the world title, with winners like Sanada (2023), Will Ospreay (2021) and EVIL (2020) all winning the IWGP World Heavyweight title after victory in the New Japan Cup.

Learn more about every New Japan Cup winner.

Sakura Genesis

Formerly known as Invasion Attack, NJPW Sakura Genesis has been the follow-up to the New Japan cup since 2017. Usually taking place in early April, the show is built around the clash between the New Japan Cup winner and the reigning IWGP World Heavyweight Champion, with this being the first big risk toward a new champions title reign.

Sakura Gensis was also the site of one of the greatest wrestling matches of all time. The 2017 edition of the event saw Katuyori Shibata challenge Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. This match is famous for two things – an almost perfect wrestling match that has topped Cagematch’s rating for the best match ever, and a headbutt that almost killed Shibata and forced him into retirement for half a decade.

Wrestling Dontaku

While the winner of the New Japan Cup gets their title shot the month prior, the May show – which is called Wrestling Dontaku – usually sees the runner up of the tournament facing the champion. This rarely ends in a title change, and the event is usally seen as a “B-level” pay per view, really just filling space until the Best of the Super Jr and Dominion shows.

Best of the Super Jr

One of the biggest tournaments in the calendar is the Best of the Super Jrs. This is a round robin tournament, in the same vein as the G1 Climax and AEW Continental Classic, in which a selection of wrestlers in multiple groups will wrestle each other once, with the winners going on to face each other in the finals.

The BOSJ has been held since 1994, with some all-time great wrestlers having taken home the trophy. Legends like Jushin Liger, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero and Will Ospreay have all won the tournament, with Hiromu Takahashi’s four victories being the record number of victories for one man.

This tournament is only for the Junior Heavyweight wrestlers, with the tournament taking place from May to June. The tournament ends at a special Best of the Super Jrs event, where the two finalists battle it out in what is usually a classic match. Last year’s event saw Master Wato beat Titan to earn a shot at the Junior Heavyweight Champion at the next pay per view.

Dominion

One of the biggest events of the year for NJPW is their Dominion event, which takes place in early June, and features all of the biggest wrestlers in the company, with the majority of the title belts on the line. It is considered the second most important show of the year, just behind Wrestle Kingdom in January.

The winner of the Best of the Super Jr Tournament faces off with the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion at this event, but this rarely – if ever – goes on last. The main event of the show usually sees the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship on the line, such as when Kazuchika Okada fought AJ Styles (2015) and Kenny Omega (2018) for the world title at Dominion.

G1 Climax

The biggest tournament in NJPW is the G1 Climax, as it sets the stage for the main event of Wrestle Kingdom. Since 1983, it has been a round-robin tournament to decide who the best wrestle in the company is. While the G1 Climax was originally contested for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship (first won by Hulk Hogan in 1983), in the modern day the winner wins a very special briefcase.

Mimicking the WWE’s Money in the Bank briefcase, the winner of the G1 Climax earns themselves a briefcase that contains a title shot at the world champion. This match is guaranteed for the main event of Wrestle Kingdom (although a fan vote once cost Tetusya Natio the main event), although other wrestlers can challenge the winner for their briefcase in the lead up to the event.

The G1 Climax winner usually defends their briefcase at Destruction, King of Pro-Wrestling and Power Struggle, although only once has a winner lost their title shot. Jay White beat Kota Ibushi at Power Struggle 2020 to steal his title shot, although Ibushi walked out of Wrestle Kingdom 15 as the IWGP World Champion.

Destruction

The Destruction event is another B-level show, with no real pattern as to what will happen at the event. It happens after the G1 Climax in September, and looks to continue building up stories for Wrestle Kingdom at the beginning of the following.

In the past, the G1 Climax briefcase has been on the line, but that is not garunteed every year. Usually the biggest match featuring the most popular wrestlers goes on last in the main event, although the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship isn’t often on the line.

King of Pro-Wrestling

The NJPW King of Pro Wrestling stands out as a premier A-level event, ranking as the third or fourth largest spectacle of the year and typically taking place in mid-October. During this electrifying event, the coveted Heavyweight title and its accompanying briefcase are fiercely contested.

Notably, the outcome of these high-stakes matches usually determines the main event for Wrestle Kingdom, adding an extra layer of anticipation to the culmination of the evening’s intense competition. However, Power Struggle the following month can also have a big impact on Wrestle Kingdom.

Power Struggle

The last big stop before Wrestle Kingdom is the Power Struggle show, which is shown in late October or early November. It usually has the secondary titles on the line (like the IWGP United States Championship or NJPW Television Championship), helping to round out the mid card matches for Wrestle Kingdom.

NJPW also have the G1 Climax briefcase on the line occasionally in this event. This was the case, as previously mentioned, at Power Struggle 2020, when Jay White won a Wrestle Kingdom title shot in a controversial match against Kota Ibushi.

Read about NJPW’s schedule for 2024

Where to Watch NJPW?

NJPW events are broadcast online on their streaming service, New Japan World. It is their equivalent of the WWE Network, although some occasional events require additional payment to watch. It also includes the entire back catalog of NJPW, so you can watch Japanese legends like Antonio Inoki, Jushin Liger and The Great Muta, among many others.

Championships

There are a number of championship belts currently in New Japan Pro Wrestling, covering two distinct weight classes. While the company has historically always been a male-only company (due to the popularity of female wrestling companies in Japan), 2023 saw the debut of the first female championship in the company’s history.

The two weight classes in NJPW are the heavyweight division and the junior heavyweight division. While there is no strictly enforced weight class, with many junior heavyweights making the move up to heavyweight over the years, the two divisions have their own distinct style of wrestling.

The main title of NJPW is the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship. This was created when the IWGP Heavyweight Championship was unified with the IWGP Intercontinental Championship by Kota Ibushi in 2021. This is one of the most prestigious titles in wrestling, with champions like Kota Ibushi, Kazuchika Okada and Will Ospreay defending the belt in some tremendous bouts.

The junior division equivilent is the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship. Only junior heavyweight can win this belt, although it is never position above the heavyweight title on the cards. The matches are more fast-paced and high-flying than heavyweight ones, differentiateing the IWGP Junior Heavyweight title from its peers.

The IWGP United States Championship was introduced by Kenny Omega in 2017, and is meant to be a way for the company to make waves in the US. However, with the birth of AEW in 2019, this became impossible for NJPW, and the title belt simply took the place of the Intercontinental Championship. In 2023, Will Ospreay renamed it to the IWGP United Kingdom Championship.

Tournaments

One of the key things that separate NJPW from promotions like AEW and WWE is their yearly tournament schedule. These contests are key to the company’s booking philosophy, with the tournaments being an important part of building up rivalries for future PPV matches.

As previously mentioned, some of the biggest and most important tournaments in NJPW include:

  • G1 Climax
  • New Japan Cup
  • Best of the Super Jrs
  • World Tag League

Best NJPW Wrestlers

Some of the best wrestlers in NJPW today include:

  • Kazichuka Okada
  • Tetusuya Naito
  • SANADA
  • Hiroshi Tanahashi
  • Will Ospreay
  • EVIL
  • Shota Umino
  • Zack Sabre Jr
  • Shingo Tagaki
  • Hiromu Takahashi
  • Tomohiro Ishii

Learn more about the best Japanese wrestlers in history.

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