Best anime-based games

Cartoons for grown-ups to watch become games for you to play

The best anime-based games

In the West, the stories of gaming and anime go hand-in-hand: Since the 8-bit era, games have served as little pixellated bleeping Trojan Horses, smuggling in an appreciation for the animated stylings of the Far East. In our post-Pokemon world of blockbuster anime re-dubs and imports, the gaming and anime fandoms are more distinct--but that's not to say there isn't plenty of crossover.

While we love anime-inspired games like Catherine and Guilty Gear, we thought it would be cool to take a look back through Western-released games which draw specifically on existing anime and manga properties. Are anime-based games as hit-and-miss as titles based on hit movies? Will we turn up a few games worth playing even if you're not a fan of the source? Let's find out together!

10: Initial D Arcade Stage series

You can impress gearheads with your Forza setup or wow speed-freaks on Daytona USA, but making a name for yourself on Initial D is a bit more of a challenge. In manga and anime form, Initial D was teasing fast-paced drama from the world of illegal Japanese street-racing long before the scene went Hollywood; the games retain the series' focus on drift-based gameplay and remote mountainous locations based on real-world Japanese roads.

It's the RPG elements of Initial D, though, that have earned the series a cult following in arcades worldwide. Using magnetic memory cards, players are able to save their customized car--and the progress it's afforded them--for a persistent campaign that's so far spanned more than 10 years and seven games' worth of content. Without English conversions of the series' PS3 or PSP installments, the best way to play Initial D is still out in the open, with your styles being judged by all.

9: Ranma 1/2: Hard Battle

Rumiko Takahashi, creator of InuYasha and Urusei Yatsura (and reportedly one of the richest artists in the history of anime), first came to Western attention with properties like Ranma : her kung-fu soap opera about a boy who becomes a girl when he gets wet, an old man who's sometimes a panda, and a supporting cast every bit in keeping with the above.

While the manga plays out like Beverly Hills 90210 if Luke Perry's character was part minotaur and also a little bit octopus, Hard Battle made it onto Western SNES shelves when everything with more than two speaking characters was ripe for a one-on-one fighting adaptation. Still, while the game's mechanics may seldom rise above the ranks of the era's countless other SF2-alikes, a high quotient of authentic anime weirdness pervades throughout: why revisit Fatal Fury or Fighter's History when you could be slamming a psychopath transvestite with your swan-shaped bedpan? Exactly.

8: Dragonball Z: Budokai 3

Dragon Ball has come a long way from the days when collect the Dragon-balls! was a funny thing to hear in a cartoon; the property's a firm and long-running favorite in the West, with a generation of English-speaking kids having internalized the series' wacked-out take on Asian myth.

Hardcore series fans have a wealth of untranslated interactive adaptations to dig into, stretching all the way back to the series' debut on the Atari-esque Super Cassette Vision in the mid-80s. While the series saw European release with the admirably mental SNES brawler Dragon Ball Z: Super Butden, it's the Budokai series that's best-known. Budokai 3, the series' well-regarded final numbered installment will be packaged along with the 2002 original in an HD Collection, due on PS3 and Xbox 360 later this year.

7: Yu-Gi-Oh! World Championship 2007

Yu-Gi-Oh! enjoyed a brief mainstream moment in the early 2000s, when the property was positioned as something between Magic the Gathering for Japanophiles and the new Pokemon with all the pop-culture domination and ancillary revenue this entails. The series may never have broken Pikachu-level sales figures, but commands an ever-more dedicated following in the East and West alike.

Any videogame of Yu-Gi-Oh! faces the bizarre challenge of recreating a real-world card game, itself based on a similar game played within the universe of the anime and manga and doing it in such a way that won't be completely alienating for newcomers to either property. The 2007 edition of the long-running World Championship series is arguably the closest to that sweet spot, providing a coherent entry-point to the franchise with enough challenge to bring you in deep.

6: JoJo's Bizarre Adventure

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure carries a considerably higher pedigree than many of the anime-styled fighting titles it stood alongside on its Western release in 2000. Coming from a Capcom whose recent hits included Street Fighter III and the Darkstalkers titles, the game was of automatic interest to Western players--even those who'd never heard of the anime, which was most people. Meaning we were all as confused as each other?

Because JoJo's Bizarre Adventure (the manga and associated OVAs) is a freaking behemoth, and JoJo's Bizarre Adventure (the game) does its level best to replicate this. Following just one of the centuries-spanning series' story arcs, the game nevertheless incorporates nods toward JoJo's generations-long continuity, as well as the ghostly familiars (or Stands) that distinguish the manga's characters. The resultant dual-character battles were forerunners of every game with Tag in the title. The arcade original saw conversion to PS2 and Dreamcast, and this year got upgraded to HD for PSN and XBLA players.

4: Bleach: Dark Souls

If you've read this far there's a chance you might like manga, and if you like manga we probably don't need to tell you too much about Bleach: The series is one of the most popular of the past decade, both in Japan and the US. However, if you got here while Googling early Nirvana records or effective laundry-whitening products, Bleach is sort of like X-Men, but instead of mutants it has Grim Reapers and instead of dorky misfits everyone is almost infuriatingly cool.

Bleach: Dark Souls is the best-regarded of the series' interactive adaptations. In our Bleach: Dark Souls reviewwe heaped praise upon the flashy fighter and recommended the title to anyone (not just Bleach fans) who likes a good, deep, fast-paced brawler. That's little surprise: if you want your cult license to go mainstream, give it to the mighty Treasure, because those guys will just go and make a classic game out of it. Sega went ahead and let Treasure make two Bleach games for the DS, and now fans are stuck sharing their games with everyone else who likes great brawlers.

5: Naruto: The Broken Bond

Naruto is Shueisha's action-adventure series about a plucky young warrior hampered in his quest to become the Ultimate Ninja by a childhood curse that sees him turn into a widely-despised supernatural fox-thingy. Obviously from that synopsis you'll have grasped the series' universal appeal: Naruto commands millions of fans worldwide, and what's really interesting is that each one of these fans has their very own Naruto game, because that's how many different Naruto videogames there are.

Okay, that's a slight exaggeration, but there are an awful lot of games with Naruto in the title and the people who love them tend to be fiercely loyal and fond of collecting ornamental weapons, so we won't say ill of any title in the series. However it's 2008's Naruto: The Broken Bond, sequel to the previous year's Rise of a Ninja, where the titles rose beyond fan-competent and into the realm of just plain high-quality fighting-ARPG fun. See our Naruto: The Broken Bond review for more.

3: UN Squadron

Capcom's 1989 arcade shooter made waves for its fast-paced, side-on twist on the formula established by stablemates like 1942. The game's popularity spread far and wide on computers of the day--which, being as the day was the late 1980s, meant everything from the ZX Spectrum to Amstrad CPC. It's probably fortunate, then, that the title's canonical appearance has become the SNES conversion, if only because that format remains comparatively accessible.

The manga on which UN Squadron's based, Area 88, ran for some 7 years in Japan, telling a character-centric tale of bromantic rivalry, romantic angst and high-altitude dogfights--a formula which would be winningly employed in the Hollywood movie Top Gun, released the same year Area 88 ended its run. The series also spawned a series of anime movies, which saw English-language release a few years back. Could this tangential shout-out be the justification for a long-overdue Virtual Console release? Not yet, but email your congressman and register your interest!

2: Astro Boy: Omega Factor

If you know anime, you know Astro Boy, and probably have a few points the game absolutely has to include. Is it going to do justice to the character's legacy, as one of the most recognizable and best-loved creations of manga grandaddy Osamu Tezuka? Will it be an exciting game in its own right? And will Astro Boy be able to shoot guns out of his ass?

And as you may be aware, Omega Factor developer Treasure isn't in the disappointment business. The game's graphics rank as some of the most artful and sumptuous on the format. It's laden with appreciation not just for Astro Boy but for the breadth of Tezuka's work as a whole. It plays not like a cartoon adaptation but as a Treasure shooter, with all the furious fisticuffsmanship and pitched gunplay that entails. And most crucially, yes indeed: You're damn right that boy's got machine guns hidden in his ass.

1: Capcom Vs Tatsunoko: Ultimate All-Stars

Fine, so maybe what you really want is to be a titan of the grey-marketing world with access to the critically beloved DS title Jump! Ultimate Stars, because that game's like a Super Smash Bros of anime that'll never see English release (half the characters are unknown to Westerners, and the other half are licensed to an irreconcilable array of big-name media outfits). But if we're sticking to Western-released titles, which we are because we want to go home sometime this week, Tatsunoko Vs Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars is far from a consolation prize.

Here you've got the distilled rush of Capcom's Vs series, updated for the 2000s and packed with a mix of well-known characters and less-familiar faces. Whether you're familiar with every exploit of the Science Team Gatchaman crew or just enjoy choosing that Ryu feller what does them hadoukens, Ultimate All-Stars provides a good mix of anime fan-service and the kind of gameplay that tends to happen whenever Capcom decides to have another go at the one-on-one fighter genre.

"How could you forget..."

These are but ten of the games based on anime and manga properties, and we've doubtless skimmed over a doozy or two--which is what we have you for, right? What are your favorite anime licenses? What Japan-only games do you think deserve a shot in the West? Hit us with a Kamehameha of knowledge, or show your game-preference Jutsu, or maybe just leave a comment below.

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