Video game adaptations are hard to do, as the multitude of flopped video game movies can attest to. But there’s a slightly better shot of a video game adaptation being worth watching if it’s an anime rather than a movie. The format gives the sometimes sprawling story a little more room to breathe and video game action and logic translates a little better to animation than it does to real world settings.
There’s a surprising amount of anime based on video games out there, likely for this very reason. Some of it is lackluster, but there are also a few gems. So out of all the video game anime out there, what’s the cream of the crop? Which are actually worth watching? And what is it that makes them work? Let’s find out together.
Please note that I’ve already given a rundown of the best anime movies based on video games on My Top 10 Least Awful Video Game Movies list, so those won’t be included on the list. In order to avoid repeating myself, we’re just sticking to television series.
Viewtiful Joe (Adapted from Viewtiful Joe)
Viewtiful Joe is a 2004 anime based on the 2003 beat-em-up sidescroller of the same name. Joe’s girlfriend is kidnapped and transported into his favorite action movie and Joe goes after her and becomes an action hero in his own right. This anime stays true to the source material in all it’s silly, tongue-in-cheek glory. It’s notable for having a fairly unique art style for an anime with its bold colors and thick lines being accurate to the original game’s aesthetics. The anime is full of manic energy and has some pretty funny parody episodes.Advertisement
Monster Rancher (Adapted from Monster Rancher)
The 1999 Monster Rancher anime was based off the 1997 monster-breeding and battling RPG game of the same name. Monster Rancher took an interesting approach of having the video game actually exist within the world of the anime. The protagonist, Genki Sakura, is a champion player of the game. Then he finds himself suddenly transported into the game’s world. It cleverly combines the “trapped in an RPG” premise of many anime with an actual video game.
The anime really fleshed out the world of the game and was generally solid kids fare. And unlike Pokemon, it didn’t go on for eternity. There were some pretty intense battles and it was a lot of fun.
Gungrave (Adapted from Gungrave)
The 2003 Gungrave anime adapts the 2002 game of the same name. It follows a gunslinger on his quest for vengeance. The short and repetitive gameplay of Gungrave the game was criticized, but many loved its anime-like character design courtesy of the creator of Trigun and the creator behind Oh My Goddess! As you can imagine, this character design translated well into an actual anime. The series is backed with dark action scenes and also boasts from great voice acting as well as a killer soundtrack.
Rage of Bahamut: Genesis (Adapted from Rage of Bahamut)
Rage of Bahamut: Genesis is a 2014 anime based on the wildly popular 2012 mobile battle card game, Rage of Bahamut. The most notable thing about the series and what makes it worth watching is it’s absolutely breathtaking animation. Sure, the plot isn’t all that impressive, but that’s not surprising considering the game didn’t really have a plot to begin with.
What Rage of Bahamut: Genesis lacks in depth though, it makes up for in astounding visuals that are beyond anything the game had to offer. Most video-game-based anime struggle when it comes to animation budget, but the popularity of the original mobile game means the animation team for this one had money to burn. It resulted in gorgeous fight scenes, awesomely detailed character designs, elaborate fantasy creatures and lovely colors. It’s easy to just turn off your brain while watching this anime and soak in all the prettiness. The soundtrack is also varied, intense and exciting.
The Pokemon Anime (Adapted from the Pokemon video game franchise)
When it comes to anime based on video games, Pokemon is likely the first one that comes to mind for many people. The anime first debuted in 1997, loosely adapting the storyline of Pokemon: Red and Blue. Since then, it’s one through six separate series that adapted all the subsequent Pokemon games.
While it’s gotten formulaic over the years and never stuck very close to the games, there’s no denying how beloved and successful the Pokemon anime is. It drew bought many kids on the Pokemon hype train with its fun characters, colorful designs and vibrant world. The anime transformed Team Rocket into goofy, likeable, sympathetic villains that were often the funniest part of the show. It also showed the bond between a Pokemon and a trainer in ways the earlier games couldn’t get across quite as well.
For many kids, Pokemon was their gateway into anime and video games. The silliness and cheesiness of it all was part of the fun. Whatever you think of the anime these days, you can’t deny that it started out as an extremely solid kids show and it’s kept on truckin’ right up to the present day.
Valkyria Chronicles (Adapted from Valkyria Chronicles)
The 2009 Valkyria Chronicles anime is based on the tactical role-playing game of the same name by SEGA. The anime takes place in an alternate history during 1935 and tells of a war. The anime follows the game fairly well and is notable for the strength and quality of it’s characterization.
Unusually for the type of story it’s based on, this is a very character driven anime that features a cast of diverse personalities. None of the cast is pointless or overly stereotypical and both the art and fight scenes are very solid. The anime used the game’s soundtrack as its main ost and it works well for the most part.
Steins;Gate (Adapted from Steins;Gate)
Steins;Gate is a 2011 anime based on the 2009 visual novel about time travel. The dramatic storyline of the original game translates extremely well to an anime series. While the original game had multiple endings which differed based on who the protagonist ended up getting cozy with, the anime wisely adapts only the “true ending” and makes it a cohesive story with a solid climax.
Visual novels make for good anime if they’re done right- they’re dialogue heavy and tend to have a lot of character building and plot. The character designs and archetypes are usually already pretty anime-ish to begin with. Steins;Gate’s strong storylines and quirky comedy shine through well in the anime and the animation is nice for the most part.
Persona 4: The Animation (Adapted from Persona 4)
Persona 4: The Animation is a 2011 anime that adapts the 2009 Persona 4 game which focused on a group of teenagers who were transported to a dangerous TV world. The bold colors and solid visuals of the anime serve it well and a lot of the dialogue is taken straight from the games. The game is still way better, but this series is pretty close for an adaptation.
The anime was also notable for fleshing out the protagonist more than the game did, since he was the typical silent protagonist in the original games. In the anime, he has a bit of a snarky side. The anime retains the intriguing mystery, likeable characters and suspense of the game. The soundtrack is also pretty nice. While there are a few eyeroll-worthy scenes that could have stood to be cut out, the show is overall a good experience.
Clannad and Clannad: After Story (Adapted from Clannad)
The 2007 anime Clannad and its 2008 follow-up anime Clannad: After Story are based on the 2004 fantasy-romance-drama visual novel game Clannad. The series follows a high school delinquent who forges relationships with several girls.
The Clannad anime, particularly Clannad: After Story, is regarded as one of the saddest anime ever made- it made my top tragic anime list. The delicious tragedy of the series will definitely make most people cry their eyes out and that’s enough to tell you that the animes did a good job translating the gripping and emotional storyline of the game. This anime tops many people’s favorite lists, so it’s worth checking out.
The 'Tales Of' Anime (Adapted from the 'Tales of' Video Games)
The Tales games are popular fantasy RPGs in Japan, spanning from 1995 to the present day. Most of them have been adapted into an anime. Anime based on the Tales series are: Tales of Abyss, Tales of Eternia, Tales of Phantasia, Tales of Vesperia: The First Strike, Tales of Symphonia the Animation, Tales of Zestiria Dawn of the Shepard and Tales of Zestiria The X. The Tales anime are typically acknowledged of being solid adaptations of the games, perhaps helped by the game generally having a pretty straightforward plot.
Out of the vast array of series, Tales of Abyss, Tales of Symphonia and Tales of Zestiria the X are generally the most acclaimed. Tales of Zestiria the X came out last year and was particularly praised for its awesome visuals and gorgeous CG animation. It also cut out some of the dumber scenes of the game, so good on it for that.