Video games and anime have been closely entwined for decades, to the point that it feels like almost every game is slated to receive an adaptation. In no particular order, here’s our favorite anime based on video games, and with one exception, they are easily bingable in a weekend.
A recent series, Castlevania, debuted on Netflix in 2017, drawing inspiration from the NES classic Castlevania III and the best-forgotten 3D game, Castlevania: Curse of Darkness. The first season was far too short, at only four episodes, which stopped the story from taking form. After that, though, the last three seasons were highly praised by audiences and critics, with gamers impressed that the series made the world of Castlevania, a series not known for good writing, exciting and able to hold up over 32 episodes.
A spin-off, Castlevania: Nocturne, recently started airing on Netflix, and this time, it’s adapting Castlevania: Rondo of Blood and the best game in the franchise, Symphony of the Night. Castlevania Season 4 and Nocturne both sport 100 percent ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, which is unheard of for an anime adaptation of a video game. If you only watch one from this list, it shouldn’t be this one, but if you watch only two, give Castlevania a look.
Gungrave holds the record for the fastest turn-around time from video game to anime, with the 2002 PlayStation 2 game becoming a 24-episode series in 2004. Game reviewers praised the character design and the dark revenge story, which became the basis for the series—following Brandon Heat, both in the past before he’s killed by his best friend and in the present, where he has been reborn as Beyond the Grave.
The pacing may seem slow compared to modern anime standards, but what it’s doing is slowly turning up the heat and getting the audience fully invested in Brandon’s mission. By the time that the final bullet is fired, viewers will be emotionally spent. However, Gungrave is one of the rare times that the anime is far superior to the video game, as even the recent Gungrave G.O.R.E. is considered “okay” at best.
One of the longest-running series in video game history, Dragon Quest, has a close relationship with anime, considering the character designs were done by Akira Toriyama, the creator of Dragon Ball. Over the last 30 years, there have been multiple series, starting with Dragon Quest: The Legend of Hero Abel, loosely based on Dragon Quest III, in 1989, and then Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai in 1991, adapting the manga series of the same name that ran for seven years.
Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai was such a success that it was remade, with the second series running from 2020 to 2022. In an odd twist, video games were later released, adapting The Adventures of Dai, making this a rare case of a video game inspiring an anime that then became a video game.
The Persona video game franchise has always been heavily influenced by anime, so it only makes sense that it would cross over with its own series. The last three Persona games each received an adaptation, though Persona 3 was in the form of four movies instead of a series. Out of all of them, we think Persona 4: The Animation is the best of them, and that’s not just because we love The Investigation Team, it’s because it has the best story.
The Phantom Thieves of Persona 5 are all classic characters, but the “Teenagers vs. Adults” dynamic became a little grating, and while the cast of Persona 4 may also be anime stereotypes, they have a bit more depth to them. Also, there’s no Mona. Sadly, the only version available for streaming in the United States is Persona 4: The Golden Animation, which is slightly different and adapts the remake, including the character of Marie, who isn’t as memroable as the original cast.
Pokemon has been an anime mainstay for almost 30 years, and there’s a chance that some people don’t remember the video game came before the anime. Pokemon Red and Blue took the world by storm in 1998, but the anime, in North America at least, technically did arrive first, coming out in syndication two weeks before the games released for the Game Boy.
Since then, audiences have been engrossed in Ash’s journey to become a Pokemon Master and win the championship. Along the way, there’s been multiple series, movies, and hundreds of new Pokemon added to the franchise. No video game adaptation has had the staying power of Pokemon, which doesn’t look like it’s going to go anywhere anytime soon.
This is the most obscure entry on the list unless you watched Toonami in the mid-2000s and remember Gungrave’s initial run, Fate/Stay Night, which started as a Japanese visual novel before branching out into a multimedia empire. Telling the story of the Fifth Holy Grail War, the series adapted the “Fate” path of the game, alluding to the alternative branches.
Trying to keep track of how the later games and series all intersect with one another requires a flowchart and a lot of patience with alternate timelines. For those willing to put in the time, there’s no video game adaptation as deep and involved as Fate/Stay Night. Even the games aren’t constrained by one genre, with Fate/Grand Order a turn-based RPG and Fate/Samurai Remnant an upcoming Action RPG.
Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is a prequel to Cyberpunk 2077, and the series was so well-received that CD Projekt Red credited it with reviving interest in the video game. Sadly, despite the success of the series, CD Projekt Red announced it would not receive a sequel. The story of David and Lucy was always intended to be “one and done.”
Despite the short run of episodes, Cyberpunk: Edgerunner expands on the setting of the video game with one of the best sci-fi anime series of recent years. Night City has never looked as colorful and vibrant as it does here. For cyberpunk fans, of both the game and the sci-fi genre, this is the new crown jewel that has achieved must-watch status.