Through out the Ultra series, there have been many different types of heroes, there's the cocky hero- Dyna, the rookies- Mebius and Neos, the stubborn and brash- Zero and the mature and serious-right now, every live action Showa Ultra and more. However, some heroes have proven to be more popular than others, it is well known that the most popular Ultras of their times are Ultraman Tiga of the Heisei era, Ultraseven of the Showa era and Ultraman Nexus of the Neo Heisei Era (Ultraman Cosmos to Mebius).
Now what do these three Ultras have in common, for starters all three had shows that were dark at times, especially Nexus. All three dealt with emotional drama for the main characters, not just for the hero and finally all three were what I like to describe as The Suffering Hero.
A Mature Series
Now some may wonder why a kid's series like Ultraman would bother with mature subject matter and by mature I don't mean anything rated-R. By mature I mean they had episodes that dealt complicated subjects, Seven's entire premise was interplanetary intrigue, something similar to the complicated relations between nations in reality. It took a look at human failings and often served as morality lessons.
Tiga also had mature episodes, often each episode, each monster could be seen as a metaphor for something, much like the original Godzilla. Human failings and the Human condition were often looked at from the safety of metaphors we fans call Seijin and Kaiju (lit Star People, referring to Aliens and Monsters for those new).
Nexus often delved into the human condition, the monsters could be seen as representative of darker aspects of the human mind (the monsters fed on fear and other dark emotions, especially those directed towards their kind) and the hero was seen as hope (Each main bearer of the mantle of Ultraman had to overcome their own fears and failings, the first two ended their terms with revelations about themselves and the power they possessed) and other positive emotions.
The fact remains that, save Nexus, these series presented mature and complex ideas in a format accessible to kids, this meant that fans, when they grew up could come back and watch these episodes and see new things that previously went over their heads and the fact that they can watch them with their own kids means that new generations of fans are being born and raised to love the shows.
Not every show has this, shows like Cosmos, which was the most popular and kid friendly are not as critically acclaimed as these three since they were very kid friendly nature means that older fans are not going to flock to it, having grown up and developed different and more mature interests and expectations from their media.
Emotional Drama is important for any and every form of story telling, like the ancient Greek Gods, people became interested in them due to their great powers, but as time went on they wanted to know more about these fantastic beings, their strength, fears desires, the same can be said of Super Heroes which have been argued are just a modern form of myth.
Within each series, there has been varying levels of emotional drama and it has been done well! Drama, stops being good when it's over done and seemingly just thrown into the viewer's/reader's face. In Seven, many characters had issues to deal with that were emotional, the fear of failure, a loved one gone missing, a friend betrays them. These people acted like people and you felt for them. The hero himself had moral dilemmas he himself had to answer, there were at times, outcomes that left a bitter taste in his mouth, for example Nonmalt and Starbem Gyeron, two instances that didn't end on a happy note.
Each show had the fear of death about them if the heroes failed, something that would be present if these were real life situations.
Tiga was full of drama, it didn't always revolve around Daigo, in fact not much of it did, often it was someone else in the team that had an emotional investment to the resolution of the crisis, Shingo lost friends several times, his sister's fiance died, Rena met the father that left her and her mother, she was later held hostage by Alien Deshmonia to be used as a pilot for a mechanical monster, Daigo nearly died between saving her, stopping the monster and stopping the unaware GUTS members from killing her. Horri's friend was transformed into a monster, died, he had to help his other friend who was mourning his death and save her and his girlfriend/ future wife in an incident that reminded them of their dead comrade. Yazumi formed an emotional bond with a girl who turned out to be a killer robot and convinced her to stop her rampage only for her to die. Megumi was forced to deal with her domestic problems during the Kilalien's second attempt to conquer mankind.
These were emotional issues they had to face, but they did not feel as though they were simply there for the sake of the story, they showed the characters as real, having lives and back stories beyond and before the start of the series and it showed they were not 2-dimensional character archetypes, something I've complained about in another series.
Ultraman Nexus was the most drama heavy of any series, many of the main characters had their own emotional baggage and tribulations to deal with, Jun Himeya had intense guilt which was what drove him to fight as Ultraman, Nagi was driven by her deep rooted trauma concerning the death of her parents, which was what ultimately determined her personality, the captain worried about his team like a father, Komon had to overcome his own insecurities and depression twice after the horrifying revelation and death of his girlfriend and being tricked into nearly killing a little girl. Ren, the second Ultraman, faced his short life span and mortality by having no concern for his life when he fought trying to avoid leaving behind those that would miss and mourn him. Even the Chief of TLT Japan, only tried to experiment on the Deunamists (Hosts of Ultraman Nexus) because he was trying to find answers, it could be argued he was a man trying to justify the untimely death of his wife during the battle of Shinjuku between Ultraman and the first Space Beast. That's something anyone who has lost a loved one could understand, who could say no when the answer to 'why did they have to die' was right in front of you waiting to be revealed. So while I did not agree with his actions, I certainly didn't hate him for them, I actually felt sorry for him.
No one but the last villain was simply evil and no one but the silent Ultraman who merged with people, was 'perfect'. Emotional drama creates a bond between the characters of the work and the viewers/readers, in that we can identify with these people, care and thus be engrossed in the story and the flow of events taking place before us.
The Suffering Hero
The Suffering Hero does not refer to a hero that simply suffers, it refers to a protagonist that is forced to make decisions and/or put into situations that no sensible reader/viewer would ever want to be in. Being the hero is great and all but actually having that responsibility is not a laughing matter. Some people could go mad if they knew they carried the weight of the world on their shoulders. The terms also means that the hero has to overcome tribulations, either in decisions they make or situations they are forced to endure. The suffering Hero is a hero we can root for, the kind whose adventures are not so formulaic as to bore the viewer/reader and gives us reason to be emotionally invested in their exploits. I said before that Daigo did not have as much emotional drama as other characters in Tiga, but he did have to deal with the fact he was Ultraman, savior of mankind who alone had to stop an almost biblical prophecy of the world's destruction, that was getting closer and closer. Now would anyone want to be in his situation? Daigo also had to deal with drama as Tiga, some of his opponents were vicious some of his fights cut it very close between victory and absolute defeat. One episode (49) with a Psychic jealous of Daigo's status and recognition as Ultraman, emphasized that being Ultraman, being the hero is not always or meant to be glamorous. as our hero fought monsters that obviously were trying to kill him, each battle was a battle for the world and his own life. Seven is a good example of this, he dealt with issues that had to be resolved and in his last two episodes had to deal with his injuries. How would you like to be the hero that has to save Earth from a monster and invading aliens and your powers are being retarded by your surplus of physical injuries, not a nice situation to be in. Nexus also had the suffering hero, Komon who had to deal with his emotional issues, Jun Himeya, whose injuries were getting worse with each battle like Seven, only faster, Ren Senjyu had a short life span and his battles and transformations were eating up and what little time he had left. Each hero suffered in some or fashion, being what they were heroes and overcame these trials, in doing so inspired us to be more.
As you can see there are clear reasons why these three shows are so popular and/or acclaimed above the others, which of these shows was the best is a question for another time, but all three are excellent works of art in my opinion.
I sincerely hope that those Users on Ultra-Fan Wiki read this and get some ideas about writing some good fan fiction over there.