The Beginners Guide to watching Cobra Kai

The former YouTube Red series, Cobra Kai, was picked up by Netflix for its 3rd season.  And trust me, though a season 4 release date is not scheduled yet, it’s on the way!

I never watched this series when it was on YouTube Red, so I finally gave it a shot when season 3 dropped earlier this month.  Admittedly, I had not watch The Karate Kid in decades, so I was a little worried that I would be lost while watching.  While I can say the show won’t be confusing to new viewers, I do strongly recommend some study before you watch the series.

Karate Kid (1984) – In preparation for watching the TV series, I had to rewatch the original movie.  It’s what introduces us to Cobra Kai’s primary players: Johnny LawrenceDaniel LaRusso and a returning character that would be a spoiler for the end of season 1.  You gain an appreciation for the rivalry of the two show leads and get to catch up with these teens decades later in the show.  Karate Kid is a MUST watch before starting Cobra Kai.

Karate Kid Part II (1986) – This movie starts with a VERY important scene that will matter when that aforementioned return occurs.  But, they do show that same scene in Cobra Kai.  All I’ll say about it is that it takes place RIGHT after the tournament at the end of ‘Karate Kid,’ and gives us some empathy for Johnny Lawrence that we definitely did not feel after the first movie.  I would argue that watching Karate Kid Part II does not become important until partway through season 3.  Though, there are notable callbacks to Daniel and Mr. Miyaigi‘s adventure in Japan before then.  I’m glad I watched Karate Kid Part II before I started Cobra Kai, but if you really want to start watching the show NOW, you can wait to see that movie before you start season 3.

Karate Kid Part III (1989) – It’s hard to dance around flat out naming that mystery character when talking about these movies.  He has a big role in Part 3 and his presence on the show is better felt having seen that movie.  You can go into Karate Kid Part III without having seen Part 2 and have very little confusion.  They even repeat that important first scene from Part 2 that I mentioned earlier.  So, no spoilers mentioned, watch Karate Kid Part III before you start season 2.  …You can always go back to Karate Kid Part II later.

The Next Karate Kid (1994) – Up to this point, there is no reference to this movie at all in Cobra Kai.  If I had to guess, I don’t think Hilary Swank‘s Julie will show up for season 4.  So, why watch, “The Next Karate Kid”?  After a binge of 3 Karate Kid movies, I loved Pat Morita‘s character of Mr. Miyaigi.  You watch The Next Karate Kid if you’re wanting to see more of him.  Daniel-san is no where to be seen in this film.  Otherwise, it’s a skip.

The Karate Kid (2010) – Uh…. so, there’s a Karate Kid remake starring Jackie Chan and Will Smith‘s son.  Go figure!  I don’t know if this is a controversial statement: it’s not a bad movie.  Jackie Chan is pretty great as Mr. Miyaigi and Jaden Smith isn’t bad either.  Purists will likely point out that it’s more kung-fu than karate and that some of the stunts can be kind of goofy, but I think it’s worth a watch… but not for a Cobra Kai binge.  So in that regard, skip this movie.  Fun fact: Will Smith is an executive producer on Cobra Kai.  So, maybe some sort of crossover or reference to the remake is in the realm of possibility.

Karate Kid Animated TV Series (1989) – Yep, this was a thing.  The hokey cartoon lasted a full 13 episodes.  It’s not canon to the Karate Kid movies or Cobra Kai, but there’s actually some references to it in the TV series…  Not worth watching it just for that though.  Unless you just want to be able to say that you’ve seen it all, skip this short-lived cartoon.