While most video game adaptations are either mediocre or downright bad, there are plenty of anime adaptations that are actually outstanding. From Castlevania to Dangenrompa, various anime adaptations of video games have clearly outperformed live-action versions.
Animation usually allows for better creativity, better control over the action, and better visuals over live action. As a result, anime adaptations are highly recognized and celebrated by fans. Whether it's the aforementioned visuals, creative decisions that expand upon the well trodden events of the game, or a stunningly great voice cast, there are plenty of anime adaptations of video games that are considered better than the games themselves sometimes.
This article will highlight 10 examples of video game anime adaptations that are universally praised and beloved beyond measure.
Disclaimer: As this list discusses video games and their anime adaptations, there will be spoilers included for all of the anime discussed. Likewise, the opinions contained therein reflect only the author's opinion.
10 video game anime adaptations that fans rank highly
A list like this would be remiss if the Netflix-exclusive anime adaptation Castlevania didn't make it in. One of the biggest surprises in recent anime adaptations, Castlevania took anime fans by storm with its glorious animation, mature-rated content, horrific imagery, and stellar characters.
To put it simply, the anime adaptation of the classic action horror game series revolves around Trevor Belmont, the last living member of the disgraced Belmont clan of superpowered vampire slayers. When Dracula resurfaces in Eastern Europe, Trevor must follow his path of destruction to bring an end to the Prince of Darkness' tyranny.
Castlevania is a beloved anime adaptation for several reasons, including it, not requiring any prior knowledge of the series beforehand. Most fans also praise the simplicity of watching as the first season moves rapidly for a 12-episode season, and the action sequences are spectacular.
2) Persona 4: The Animation
Of all the entries in the Persona line of video games, Personas 3 and 4 are generally considered the ones with the most adaptations. From stage plays to manga, Personas 3 and 4 are considered milestones since they catapulted the series into its current popularity. Hence, this entry will focus on Persona 4's anime adaptation.
The story follows Yu Narukami, a teen who's spending a year with his Uncle Dojima and his niece Nanako in a town called Inaba that's slowly being terrorized by random gruesome serial killings. After awakening to a mysterious power called a Persona, Yu gathers a group of friends to investigate the mysterious killings alongside getting to know his friends and the town better.
Persona 4: The Animation hits every high note an anime adaption needs to hit: the animation is stellar, the voice acting and English dub especially are superb, and the way the story is conveyed makes it a good watch for fans and non-fans alike. By far, the biggest highlight is Yu Narukami going from a silent protagonist to a funny and charismatic character all his own.
Steins;Gate is considered far more successful in anime format than in video game format. To be fair, the anime does a better job of introducing the audience to the protagonists, the plot is sound, and the aesthetics are enjoyable.
Steins;Gate focuses on the antics of self-proclaimed mad scientist Rintarou Okabe and the concept of time travel. Events likewise follow the members of the Future Gadget Lab as they investigate the endless possibilities and sometimes horrifying consequences of time travel, with some being threatened with being erased from time permanently.
Steins;Gate is considered one of the most popular anime on websites like MyAnime List by over a million people. At the time of writing, it was still ranked fourth on that website, barely above Gintama.
4) Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works
Numerous anime adaptations and video games in the Fate series are extensive, nuanced, and challenging in their own right. Stay Night was chosen for this list because it's most people's introduction to the Fate series in general. With this animation, Studio Ufotable pioneered a realistic aesthetic blended with the fantasy element that every Fate fan adores.
To summarize, every so often a competition called the Holy Grail War takes place in which chosen sorcerors are to summon Servants and battle until only one remains to claim the Holy Grail. In Stay Night's case, a girl named Rin Toosaka enters alongside her Servant, Archer. She's forced to team up with a classmate of hers named Shirou Emiya after he accidentally enters and gains Saber as a Servant.
This particular series is noted for being a good entry point into the series. The concepts of Servants are well explained, the story moves along reasonably for a 12-episode series, and it concludes nicely. Likewise, the mystery surrounding the Servants and their true names is also a hook for many people to watch the series.
5) Final Fantasy 7: Advent Children
While somewhat older compared to the more recent anime adaptation of Final Fantasy XV or even the XIV OVA, Advent Children still rings as a classic for Final Fantasy VII fans. Considered a sequel to the original Final Fantasy VII, this isn't a straight adaptation of the game but involves the same characters trying to save the planet and is a canon to the series pre-remake.
In Advent Children, three villains attempt to resurrect the planet by killing Jenova and Sephiroth using spells from a mysterious disease two years following the events of Final Fantasy VII. As Cloud Strife is afflicted by this illness, he reunites with Tifa and Barret as they investigate the trio and eventually fight them.
Above all else, Advent Children is renowned for its visuals. The realistic visuals serve as something of a precursor to Final Fantasy VII's Remake, and Cloud and Tifa's black outfits became iconic to the characters to the point where they showed up in Kingdom Hearts in those outfits. Likewise, the fight against Sephiroth still manages to take many people's breath away all these years later.
6) Pokémon franchise
Yes, Pokémon has plenty of anime adaptations. Despite some detractors of Ash Ketchum's journey, a lot of fans still stand by the original series as something truly special. Still, others cite Generations, Origins, and Twilight Wings as the superior anime adaptations of the long-running video game franchise.
Each series has its own flair to it. The original long-running series starring Ash Ketchum and his rowdy Pikachu is finally coming to a close in 2023 after more than 25 years. Generations, Origins, and Twilight Wings, on the other hand, are comparable to shorter OVAs/original series that focus more on the game protagonists and are much shorter in length.
Regardless of whichever Pokémon fans think is superior, they all have their own strengths. The Ash Ketchum-focused series has longevity, it's the main franchise that's bumped up in animation, has many movies, and often is the first thing people think of when it comes to anime adaptations of video games. The rest of the series, according to fans, is a little more polished on the animation front and it's a blast seeing the games more straightforwardly adapted.
7) Digimon franchise
Digimon is second only to Pokémon in terms of memorability. However, similar to Fate series and Stein's Gate, most fans remember Digimon as an anime series rather than a game. This isn't meant to disparage the original Tamagotchi-style virtual pets or the video game series; rather, more people have seen the anime than they have played the game. It's the inverse of Yu-Gi-Oh!, where the card game outsold the anime.
The various Digimon anime adaptations focus on characters called the Digidestined: a group of five kids destined to save both the Digital and Human worlds. This formula gets changed up every now and then with Tamers focusing on a trio of kids, Tri focusing on the original Digidestined as adults, and so on.
The reason why this gets on the list is because of its longevity. Next to Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh!, Digimon has continued in anime form to this day. Its popularity may have declined since Frontier and Fusion, but its dedicated base remains to this day, especially after Tri brought it back. The anime adaptations are usually considered good for the introduction to Digimon, the Digital World, and the character drama that goes with it.
8) Danganronpa: The Animation
Speaking about character drama, the Danganronpa video game franchise is built around it. It's a mish-mash of humor, horror, and mystery. This anime series serves as an anime adaptation of the video game Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc. It's been shaved down to around the length of a 9-hour anime, despite the fact that the game itself may easily surpass 36 hours of content, as is common for a JRPG/visual novel.
The anime follows 16 elite home school students and an ordinary student named Makoto Naegi as they struggle to survive inside the horrid Hope's Peak academy. There's one way to leave: kill another student and be found innocent in the subsequent class trial, but there's a catch. If the class can find the murderer, said murderer will be killed. If the murderer isn't caught? The class will die and the murderer can leave.
If that summary doesn't fully convey the horror of the situation, there are plenty of deaths in this anime adaptation and game series. It's Saw meets anime, basically. To be fair, the point of both the anime adaptation and the game is to not give in to the despair that comes with all the death and betrayals.
9) Ace Attorney
Ace Attorney's anime adaptation makes it into this list with a healthy and hearty OBJECTION! While the Ace Attorney anime adaptation shares the Danganronpa anime's penchant for summarizing and condensing games that take an average of 23 hours to complete, it earns extra points for expanding on particular characters and the anime's willingness to take more creative liberties with the tale.
Ace Attorney revolves around Phoenix Wright as he defends people falsely accused of murder in court. It appears simple until you consider the outrageous testimony, such as cross-examining a parakeet, the twists and turns of a Sherlock Holmes mystery, and spirit mediums. Add to that the fact that Wright has always been the underdog, and you have Ace Attorney in a nutshell.
The anime adaptation adds more to characters like Larry Butz, Lotta Heart, and more by either downplaying their wacky nature or just making them a lot more helpful than they were in the game. Franziska Von Karma's character is a lot less aggressive, and having her better nature shown off more is considered one of the anime's finer aspects, whereas in the game she really whipped Phoenix all the time with an actual whip.
10) Cyberpunk: Edgerunners
As a precursor and side story of sorts in the Cyberpunk 2077 universe, Edgerunners has been lauded for almost singlehandedly reviving the fanbase of the video game it's based on. Massive controversies, including an extremely buggy release and generally underwhelming content at launch, nearly tanked Cyberpunk 2077 but Edgerunners seemed to bring people back.
Edgerunners focuses on a group of outcasts in the futuristic Night City. While the city itself seems glamorous on the surface, that facade is quickly torn asunder when a street kid named David loses his mother and is quickly plunged into the debt that she owed. He ends up joining the titular group just to survive.
Fans of this particular anime adaptation are quick to point out the astonishingly colorful visuals. Fans are instantly won over by its over-the-top visuals, action, and even characters like Rebecca. No wonder after the anime ended on a bittersweet note, many fans took to the game to defeat Adam Smasher themselves after the crew (Rebecca especially) got wrecked by him.
In the end, that's 10 anime adaptations of beloved video games that ultimately surpass the very high bar for video game adaptations. These are only 10, let us know which ones we missed or that you loved in the comments below!