Anime and stage plays aren't a new thing as adaptations go as far back as Sailor Moon's musicals in 1993, and further back with The Rose of Versailles in 1974. Plenty of such work exists, from Sailor Moon to Bungou Stray Dogs and even Jujutsu Kaisen. While sounding like a very niche adaptation of a manga, several of them are quite popular.
From the aforementioned Sailor Moon adaptations to Haikyuu!! and further forward, plenty of these stage adaptations have proved popular. They prove popular owing to the costuming, acting, stories they tell, and the music. This article will catalog 10 anime series with the most popular stage adaptations.
Disclaimer: As these are adaptations of various anime, the article will contain spoilers for both the anime and stage adaptations. The opinions expressed herein are exclusive to fans and the author.
10 most popular anime stage adaptations: Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, Death Note, and more
1) Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon
As mentioned in the introduction, Sailor Moon is a a veteren at having adaptations based off it, including musicals, a live-action show, and video games. The plays started back in 1993, playing over 500 shows, which was rather impressive for the time, and haven't stopped going since then.
This magical girl series has well over 31 different musicals, collectively performing well over 800 performances from 1993 to 2005. It's still ongoing as of 2022 with the 30th anniversary special. The musicals expand on the stories and plot elements present in the series like the romance between the Sailor Guardians and four princes.
2) Death Note
Believe it or not, Death Note does have a musical. It premiered in 2015 and generally generated quite a popular response given the anticipation it garnered in both Japan and Korea. While the musical is an overall adaptation of the anime, there are more than a few changes.
These changes include things like L shooting himself in the stage play, Light burning to death in a warehouse, and other things like the latter's body count being significantly lesser. The songs are all catchy, with regluar focus on Light's solos, with "Where is the Justice?" taking center stage in most fans' minds.
3) The Prince of Tennis
Prince of Tennis' initial 2003 debut into musical theater didn't sell out with its first performance, but word of mouth and emergent social media helped skyrocket this anime adaptation. Each performance covered an arc in the manga storyline, with each major performance lasting several years.
The first season stretched from 2003 to 2010, the second from 2011 to 2013, the third from 2015 to 2020, and current and fourth from 2021 to the present day. This musical has been credited with a growing interest in what has been dubbed 2.5D musicals or otherwise known as anime musicals. It likewise attracted more than two million people during its initial run.
4) Rose of Versailles
Rose of Versailles is an older, but no less important example to the musical theater history of anime. Not only was it the first significant shojo manga to gain mainstream critical and commercial success, the musicals triggered a huge surge in the Takarazuka Revue musical theatre troupe's popularity.
These musicals wrote new stories, focusing on either the Oscar-Andre relationship, or the Fersen-Marie Antoinette relationship. This means the French Revolution plot was usually in the background to focus on the characters' relationships with each other, usually through song in this case. The musicals played from 1974 to 2015, becoming one of the longer lasting ones.
5) Revue Starlight
The anime Revue Starlight is already catered to the stage, as it involves Stage Girls performing songs, hand-to-hand combat, and other theatrical bits of stagecraft. It started as a stage play series that started in 2017, and blossomed into a franchise with an ongoing manga, a 12 episode anime, and two movies.
Seeing as it was popular enough in Japan to spawn all of those spinoffs, with everything being based off stage plays, it stands to reason that it's popular enough to warrant being on the list. The music, combined with the hand-to-hand combat, makes the duets a joy to watch.
6) Black Butler
With five musicals based off it, and more than 32 million manga copies in circulation as of July 2022, Black Butler still has some staying power despite starting all the way back in 2006. It revolves around Ciel Phantomhive, a young detective solving crimes in the underworld of Victorian England and his contract with the demon butler Sebastian Michaelis.
As for the musicals themselves, since there are five of them, they are very popular online and in person. Opinions vary between which one is better than the other, but most fans at least agree that they have good songs and great performances, especially with Sebastian's various actors. The story being set in a musical might be weird, but so is the anime in question.
7) My Hero Academia
Even an anime as recent as My Hero Academia has more than a few stage plays to its name. While the second stage play had COVID-19 delay it multiple times, livestreaming kept it going in 2021. The various plays focused on the first few arcs of My Hero Academia.
Troubled production aside, the stage adaptations capture the humor in live action fairly well, with sudden stops and starts and the actors clearly enjoying the parts they play. Special mention for many livestreamers goes to Iida and Aoyama's actors for their seemingly boundless displays of energy.
8) Hunter x Hunter
A real dark horse for branching out into stage plays, Hunter x Hunter's first display of musical theater goes into a new story that it makes up itself. It takes place between the Yorknew City arc and the beginning of the Greed Island arc. Gon and friends are tasked with locating a group of missing musical performers.
The most popular one is titled The Nightmare of Zoldyck, where Gon, Kurapika, and Leorio chase after Killua following the Hunter Exam. The musical features many of the voice actors from the anime, and premiered in August 2022. A new stage play has been announced for the anime and is set to premiere in May 2023.
A more unique take on stage plays is the adaptation of Haikyuu!!. It follows the first half of the Karasuno High Team Formation arc, and is very unique in how it combines manga, live action, and video. All three focused on stage direction, the technology used helped to add to the immersion of the acrobatics, timed with the music being played.
The stage play amassed a total of 320,000 attendees during the runs from 2015 to 2019. The state of emergency in Tokyo following COVID-19 may have cancelled the finale performance in 2021. However, audiences proved so receptive to the stage plays that they were cited as one of the most popular based on anime in 2018 and DVD sales helped the word of mouth spread.
There are nine Bleach stage play adaptations, one of which being Rock Musical Bleach. They ran from 2005 to 2016, with the 2016 performance being the 15th anniversary of the anime. The show is known for being a rather loud rock opera style affair, with new music being performed and scripted for each performance.
It was considered an absolute hit among Bleach fans for the music, the dances, and the weird sight of the many serious Gotei 13 members dancing alongside Kenpachi. Words don't describe how weird that sight is, as the clip from the first performance above will demonstrate.
This concludes the 10 most popular stage plays based on anime. All of these have something of the uniqueness that each series brings to the table: My Hero Academia's comedy, Haikyuu!!'s acrobatics, and Death Note's sense of melancholy.
These are only 10 examples from the numerous stage plays that exist for anime, video games, and other media. If readers feel any obvious examples were missed, they are encouraged to list them in the comments.