Mizuno sells a vast assortment of shoe models, running included. But not in Canada. Or the United States. For that matter, not in Australia, Europe, New Zealand, or the UK.
After eliminating all those countries, we’re left with Japan. And that’s where Mizuno is at its best.
In Japan, Mizuno sells the Wave Skyrise, Aero 18, Wave Bolt, Duel Sonic – shoes that are alien to the rest of the world. Even the new Wave Shadow 4 is there, along with updated versions of the trail Hayate 6 and Daichi 5 with their Michelin rubber outsoles.
And we’re not even begun discussing other non-running categories that Mizuno so diligently services in the Japanese market.
We’re not sure why Mizuno offers a fraction of its shoe line outside its home base. Could it be low market demand, since Mizuno shoes are an acquired taste? Are retail channels harder to get into?
Whatever the reason, the entire Mizuno running shoe line outside Japan can be distilled into less than half a dozen models. Those would the evergreen pairing of the Wave Rider and Inspire, along with flankers like the Horizon and Wave Sky. The Wave Shadow 3 tags along as a road-racer, and rather reluctantly so.
The Prophecy and Creation are dinosaurs anyway, so their absence is no great loss.
So if all that’s new is the same old, is there anything we can look forward to in 2020?
Last year, the Wave Sky 3 – or now called the Wave Sky Waveknit 3 – was the successor to the Wave Sky but without the hard TPE plate. The new midsole had two different foam densities, with one layer shaped in a ‘wave’.
This meant that the Wave Sky 3 no longer possessed the characteristic ‘Wave’ snap. The all-foam midsole made the ride plusher, but different. With a midsole carried over from 2019, the Wave Sky 4 is nearly identical to the 3.
For 2020, the Horizon 4 has also switched to a ‘Waveless’ midsole design. The Wave Rider 24 has yet to go all-foam, but its Wave plate is shorter this year. That makes the Rider 24 softer than before. We haven’t seen the Inspire 17 yet, but we suspect it’s going to go the Rider 24 way.
And what of the $300 Mizuno Enerzy? Some may describe it as abstract art. To us, it looks like a shoe that accidentally entered stepped into a beehive and was stung by all of its inhabitants. That’s what the cluster of red globes reminds us of.
Needless to say, we haven’t included the Enerzy on this guide. But part of the shoe – namely the ‘Enerzy’ foam – does make it into other models.
For Mizuno, it’s worth pointing out that the ‘support’ and ‘neutral’ tags aren’t the same as other brands. Mizuno hasn’t used a medial post in over a decade so any categorization is determined by the design variation of the Wave plate. Even this area of distinction is a moot point now, given how Mizuno is swapping the Wave plate for foam.
The Inspire is supposedly a ‘support’ shoe because of the Wave plate’s more rigid structure on the medial side. While that is true for the Inspire, even the Rider 24 is equipped with a medially-biased Wave plate.
In short, when it comes to Mizuno, ’support’ and ‘neutral’ aren’t binary choices. You can trade one for another and be none the worse for it.
This curated guide distills Mizuno’s catalog into just five models. Note that there’s no trail shoe here – unless you live in Japan, that is.
1) Cushioned neutral trainer: Mizuno Wave Sky Waveknit 4
In what was an unexpected twist in 2019, the Wave Sky Waveknit 3 broke away from the tried and tested Mizuno template. Instead of the layered upper and Wave plate (of the Wave Sky 2), the upper had a knit design minus the Wave plate.
Regardless of the sweeping changes, the Wave Sky 3 was a very cushioned neutral trainer with plenty of midsole and upper plushness.
The Wave Sky 4 is almost identical to the 3 due to the shared midsole and outsole. The thick foam stack provides plenty of cushioning for the road and the thick insole feels plush under the foot.
The Wave Sky 3 and 4 do lose the characteristic snap of the Wave plate. Although the Sky 4 is still supportive due to its wide outsole footprint, its all-foam construction isn’t as rock-stable as the Wave-plated version.
However, we prefer the Wave Sky 3’s upper over the 4. For reasons best known to the Japanese brand, the Wave Sky 4 ditches the plush tongue flap while leaving the rest of the padding unchanged. Otherwise, the upper fit is smooth and holds the foot in a confidence-inspiring manner.
2) Cushioned neutral daily trainer: Mizuno Wave Rider 24
The 24th version of the Rider still has most of what makes a Mizuno a Mizuno. The side profile has the plastic Wave plate sandwiched under the rearfoot.
Turn the shoe over on its outsole, and that’s where things get interesting. The midfoot no longer has the shank that previously used to be a part of the Wave plate. The 2020 model has a much smaller Wave plate and a softer midsole.
As a result, the Wave Rider 24 is the softest Rider to date. Sure, the Wave plate under the heel delivers a familiar sensation. At the same time, something’s different. The new Rider feels good to go right out of the box; there is no break-in required. Even the forefoot is softer and easier to work with.
Not much has changed on the upper. The fit quality is characteristically Mizuno, meaning that it has a spacious and smooth lock-down with plushness packed into the heel and tongue.
We think that the softer Rider 24 will make itself appealing to a larger group of runners than the 23 or 22. The pleasing blend of cushioning and support makes the Rider a versatile everyday trainer.
3) Lightweight road racer: Mizuno Wave Shadow 3
If the Wave Rider or the Inspire feel too much of a shoe, get the lighter Shadow 3. It’s an excellent Mizuno for fast training runs and half marathons. The Shadow is a relatively new shoe (in its 4th year) but think of it as a cross between the Mizuno Sayonara and the Hitogami.
The snug and conforming upper fit feels just right for speed workouts, and the midsole provides adequate insulation without slowing you down. The Wave Shadow 3 has the same sole as the V2 but with a smoother upper without the midfoot overlay.
The Wave Shadow 4 is out now, but its availability appears to be limited to Japan and Europe.
Also see: The Mizuno Wave Sonic (on Amazon.com)
4) Cushioned mild-support: Mizuno Wave Horizon 4
If the Wave Sky 4 is Mizuno’s top-end neutral shoe, the Horizon 4 is its stability counterpart.
Until last year, the Wave Horizon had a humongous and rigid Wave plate which gave it exceptional stability shoe manners.
2020 is a different story though. Just like the Wave Sky 4, the redesigned Horizon 4 uses an all-foam midsole. A firmer layer is interlocked with a softer foam, and somewhere within all this is a Polyurethane insert that Mizuno calls ‘Xpop.’
With these changes come a ride quality so different that it’s unrecognizable from the Horizon 3.
This is a softer Horizon with no trace of the rigid Wave plate. It is, however, a very neutral and supportive shoe that offers plenty of stability. But if you’re looking for the traditional ‘motion-control’ ride experience, you won’t find it in the Horizon. The knit upper fits plushly without any slippage, so nothing’s changed there – at least on a fundamental level.
This shoe is best used as a long-distance plodder or an everyday trainer at slow speeds. After all, this is an 11-ounce, ‘all-frills’ running shoe. If you’re looking for something more agile, consider the Wave Inspire 16.
5) Cushioned mild-support: Mizuno Wave Inspire 16
Finally. This Inspire update ditches the sewn-on layers and logos. This means that you no longer have to deal with the less-than-ideal inner seams. The interiors are a lot smoother because of the fused logos and overlays. The flat laces (instead of round) complete the minimal look, and the wider gap between the second-last eyelets is also new for the Inspire.
The upper fit is still a Mizuno – you get plenty of room inside along with comfort features such as the padded tongue and feel. The engineered mesh forefoot is generously perforated for ventilation.
Is there any difference in the ride? No, that part hasn’t changed as both the Inspire 15 and 16 share the same midsole and outsole. Hence, the underfoot area has the familiar Wave plate experience – one that melds cushioning with lots of stability.
The plush insole hasn’t changed either, so there’s a nice layer of step-in comfort.
Though the inner side of the Wave plate has more aggressive ‘crests’ than the Rider 24, both the models are options for neutral runners as well. We’re saying this because Mizuno is marketed as a stability shoe – don’t let that scare you away.
Also see: The Wave Inspire 16 Waveknit – this variant of the Inspire ditches the traditional upper design for a knit kind without external overlays.