Confession time: I have a tiny pet peeve when it comes to otaku shenanigans and that is seeing reviews for anime where it’s stated that the original source material for the series or film was a manga, when in fact it was actually a full-length novel! It’s worse when I hear or read people refer to the novel being the an adaptation of the anime. This could be somewhat of an elitist shortcoming I have as either a bibliophile or a Japanophile (or both), but either way it drives me batty.
I don’t typically like to talk about my pet peeves and things because they are subjective and, honestly, I don’t want to receive a ton of heat for something that is entirely personal. Everybody is entitled to their own opinions, yet sometimes those opinions don’t sit well with others and I’m not trying to start any drama. Even so, I did bring it up today because rather than allow my frustrations to get the better of me, I thought it would be neat to point out a handful of anime titles that were adapted from novels as a way to spread some awareness for the original source materials, and, hopefully, inspire people to pick up the books if they enjoyed the serials and/or films!
I gathered a list of twelve anime that I have discovered many people don’t realise came from books. My information is based on the many conversations I have had with fellow otaku both online and in-real-life, both friends and (mostly) strangers alike. Chock this up as a post inspired by a lengthy observation of the community. For these titles, I’m proud to say that I have actually read almost all of the novels from the list and seen almost as many of the adaptations. I tried to steer away from the more popular titles because it’s the obscure ones that tend to get hidden away in the shadows, but a couple of them do make an appearance because I’m a basic ho for them.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time by Yasutaka Tsutsui is a science-fiction novel that released in 1967, thirty-nine years before it was turned into the highly popular anime film, courtesy of Madhouse and Mamoru Hosoda. It revolves around a high school girl who accidentally obtains the ability to time travel, which causes her to get stuck in a time loop. The novel is one of the most popular pieces of fiction from the author and has inspired many pieces of media, including a live-action film and even a song! Whenever I mention the book to fellow fans of the anime film, I’m stunned to see that most of them have never even heard of the novel counterpart. Having read the novel a couple of years ago, I can admit that it fares better as an anime, however. If you did enjoy the story of the film, I strongly believe the original source material is definitely worth checking out.
Another by Yukito Ayatsuji is a mystery horror novel that was published in 2009. The twelve-episode anime series would release approximately three years later, courtesy of P.A. Works and Tsutomu Mizushima. Another is one of the very first Japanese horror novels that I had ever read (I’m sad to admit that I found it after watching the anime) and it was my gateway into the genre of Japanese horror fiction. Such methodical and psychological storytelling that send chills up and down your spine with anticipation as to what the next page shall bring—this was my experience the first time I read as well as each and every re-read afterwards. While I’m obsessed with the anime series, I feel the novel does the story so much more justice than it’s serial adaptation. It’s far more insidious with its descriptives and alternating character perspectives. Plus, the ending wasn’t rushed at all and it also has a bit more content in it than the anime. So, if you were a fan of the TV series, you must check out the novels. It has established Ayatsuji-san as one of my favourite mystery authors to date.
The Legend of Galactic Heroes
Legend of Galactic Heroes is a series of hard science-fiction novels authored by Yoshiki Tanaka and released between 1982 and 1987. Knowledge of this incredibly large anime series being inspired by the novels isn’t really uncommon knowledge in the otaku community, but I still wanted to include it on the list because it’s such an outstanding work of fiction. It’s one of the first sets of novels that I read where the military strategy and political intrigue was so marvellously gripping that I couldn’t stop reading it. I was lucky enough to have a friend who had translated the novels into English one summer as part of a school project, so I got to read them before their official English releases courtesy of Viz starting in 2015. Legend of Galactic Heroes made me fall in love with space battles and sci-fi military intrigue so much that it became a surprisingly favoured subgenre of sci-fi for me. If you’re a fan of the anime franchise or kick-ass military sci-fi, then you definitely have to check out the books that inspired it.
The Tale of Genji
The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu (Lady Murasaki)is one of the most important novels to have ever been written. Many literature and cultural enthusiasts also credit this title to be the first original novel ever written (it was written prior to 1021, or during the Nara and Heian Eras). I have read two separate English translations of it and I can safely say that it’s one of my favourite works of classic Japanese literature, especially since it has significantly impacted literary writing, not only in Japan, but across the globe. This is a unique title to put on this list because it’s not that folx don’t know about the book, it’s more that they’re unaware that there was an anime adaptation of it. It released in 1987 via Group TAC (production company) and Gisaburō Sugii (Astro Boy, Lupin III Pilot Film, Dororo 1969) and was a feature film that covered about the first thirty percent of the book. I loved the art-style as it paid homage to the Heian Era artistry and was an all-around great adaptation. I only wish that the rest of the books were also adapted in film-form to create a sort of trilogy. Anyhoo, if you liked this book, then I recommend you hunt down the film, more so if you’re a fan of vintage and classic anime cinema and Japanese woodblock and calligraphy art styles.
The Perfect Insider
Everything Becomes F: The Perfect Insider by Hiroshi Mori was a 1996 mystery novel that I have been dying to see an official English translation for. Earlier this year I watched and reviewed the 2015 anime adaptation, which I fucking swooned over. As I mentioned above, Japanese mysteries are beautifully fastidious and cerebral, and this is definitely no exception to it. I remember seeing a lot of people who hated the anime because they didn’t understand it or felt it was too convoluted or simply too slow to get to the point. That’s what makes it so damn brilliant, though. The anime unfolds as you’d expect the novel to unfold. In a slow-burn fashion that forces you to become intelligently connected with the storyline so you can engage with the many layers that formulate the backbone of the mystery. Unfortunately, while I highly recommend y’all check out the novel to get a better appreciation for the anime, it seems we’ll all have to wait for that official translation into English. Although, it has been translated into other languages, so at the very least, check to see if it’s available in your country! If so, definitely, definitely go read it!
Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui is a techno-thriller that released in 1993 and would then be made into an anime film about thirteen years later, courtesy of Madhouse and Satoshi Kon. Paprika was one of my earliest experiences with the techno-thriller genre, after William Gibson’s works. I remember how much of a mind-fuck it was and, admittedly, on my first reading, I didn’t really care for it. But after I delved into the sci-fi genre a bit more and developed a passion for it, I returned to Paprika and formulated a newfound love and admiration for the story and what the author accomplished with the novel, particularly with how he implemented futuristic technology in treating mental illnesses, subject matter that was still pretty taboo in the 90s. Satoshi Kon’s adaptation of the book was really quite fabulous and it’s become a sort of cult-favourite amongst my friends. If you’ve seen the Paprika anime film, then I highly recommend that y’all take time to read the novel as it has some extra elements that the film lacks and is also a fantastic feat of Japanese sci-fi writing.
Speaking of mind-fuck authors, Project Itō was probably my number one favourite literary creator from Japan (as you’ll see further down the list). Genocidal Organ was Itō’s science-fiction debut and was initially published in 2007 as a serial and then in 2010 as a paperback. The story revolves around the capital of Bosnia, Sarajevo, being destroyed by a homemade nuclear weapon. The aftereffects of this devastating tragedy led to the largest democracies in the world turning into total surveillance states with developing nations being ridden with wave after wave of genocides. The political intrigue and ramifications of such an unfathomable attack are a few of the reasons why I loved this book. While the notion of it may seem inconceivable on many levels, with the way the world is wreaking havoc on itself in the present times, Itō’s novel feels like a chilling eventuality in many ways, showcasing just how ahead of its time the story and the author were. While I haven’t had the chance to watch the anime film quite yet, I would recommend that any fans of this film or fans of tight-knit, political intrigue in a dystopian situations should definitely read this novel.
Mardock Scramble by Tō Ubukata is a 2006 cyberpunk novel series that was adapted into an anime film trilogy from 2010 to 2012, via Susumu Kudo and GoHands (studio). The film was also written by Ubukata-san. Mardock Scramble can be a dense reading experience as it really dives into probabilities and the highly technical and numerical aspects of counting cards (as well as other forms of cheating when it comes to gambling; form of training for plot reasons). The story itself is about a young girl who has been abused and then is left to die by the gangster who had abused her and employed her as a prostitute. Through certain circumstances, she ends up surviving and is transformed into a cyborg thanks to experimental technologies. Cyberpunk intrigues me for this very reason. Cyborgs and AI interfacing with human intelligence is utterly engrossing to me and it’s an awesome ride to see how it’s portrayed here. The dense bits are definitely worth trudging through because beyond the curious technological elements, we have this character who is naïve and unlearned in the brutal nature of the world until she’s attacked so violently. Watching how she grows and develops in the aftermath of it all is so fucking fascinating. I will confess that the anime film trilogy does a better job of expressing the story than the book, but again, there are portions in the book that didn’t make it to the films that are also very much worth reading.
No Longer Human
No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai should be known by practically every otaku and Japanophile worldwide, more so if one is a bibliophile. Dazai was one of Japan’s foremost authors and is still considered to be one of the best writers of all-time, globally. No Longer Human, which released in 1948, is considered to be Dazai’s ultimate masterpiece. In many ways, it is an autobiographical telling of what Dazai struggled with including his suicidal ideation. It’s not an easy book to read as it can be slightly dense and intensely depressing, but from a literary standpoint, it’s supremely exceptional. Human Lost is the 2019 anime film adaptation of the novel via Polygon Pictures and Fuminori Kizaki, with the screenplay being written by Tō Ubukata (remember him from above?). It takes place in the future in the 2036 and centres on technological advancements in medicine, particularly where nanomachines are concerned. While the story feels vastly different on the surface, the main themes that Dazai discusses in his original novel create the backbone of the film and being able to see the comparisons and how they contribute to the creative ultramodern telling makes for an incredible watching experience, and thus the novel should not be missed, if you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, especially if you’re going to watch or have seen Human Lost.
The Empire of Corpses
The Empire of Corpses is another Project Itō novel, one he co-authored with Tō Enjō, who is also an author of speculative and science-fiction. The book released after the author died, and given the storyline, it feels a bit eerie reading it. The first time that I read it, I felt chills. The story, in its most basic form, is about how humanity has developed technology that can insert artificial souls into corpses, thanks to the efforts of a missing Victor Frankenstein. They’re used for an array of jobs, including forbidden experiments. Beneath this familiar veneer, there is so much political intrigue. Plus, it raises lots of questions on the future of medical technology and how rather than use said advances for the good of the people, there will always be some political power seeking to increase said power in malevolent ways. The story is reminiscent of many post-Second World War Japanese narratives that postulated on what would have happened to the world if Japan won the war, or if after the nuclear bombing, if Japan were permanently colonised and/or oppressed by the American and British nations. It’s such a contemplative piece of literature. The anime film, I believe, did a decent enough job of putting everything together. It was a bit hit-and-miss in certain areas, but overall, it gets the gist correct. However, to enjoy the full brilliance of the narrative, you have to read the book. Unfortunately, this is another one of those titles that doesn’t have an official English translation (it does have a French translation, and possible other language translations aside from English), so it’s a waiting game. (My friend translates novels for fun and this was one of the ones he translated, so I was lucky enough to read it.)
The Great Passage
Remember when I mentioned pet peeves way back up in the first paragraph? It mostly relates to this title. The Great Passage is an extremely beloved anime series. I haven’t spoken to a single otaku who has watched it that had anything bad or negative to say about it. Most of them believed that this was either an original title or an anime that spawned the novel. However, The Great Passage was a work of Japanese literature way before it was an anime. The novel released in 2009 and the anime adaptation followed suit about six or seven years later. One of the reasons I’m so passionate about people learning about the novel’s existence is because it is one of the best written Japanese works that I have ever read. The book encapsulates everything that I love about the genre and it’s such an extraordinary read. Shion Miura is an undeniably brilliant writer and I want the whole world to know about her. She also wrote Run with the Wind. I haven’t watched the anime for myself (yet; it’s on my winter watchlist), so I can’t make an honest comparison. Even so, I do urge any fans out there of The Great Passage anime series to pick up the novel that inspired that adaptation. It’s just so damn good, it deserves the all love and hype.
The Night is Short, Walk on Girl
The Night is Short, Walk on Girl is the most obscure title on this list. The novel was authored by Tomihiko Morimi (The Tatami Galaxy, The Eccentric Family, Penguin Highway) and was published in 2006, with the anime adaptation releasing about eleven years later via Science Saru (studio) and Masaaki Yuasa. The anime film was actually a wonderful feat of cinema. The animation style is absolutely stunning, the way the personalities of the characters are captured and rendered are phenomenal, the themes are loyal to the original novel and do a great job of bringing them to life on the screen, and much more. I’m not surprised it won so many awards. Most of the folx I’ve spoken to have enjoyed this very strange and eccentric film for a plethora of reasons. I had no idea there was an anime film adaptation until a few months ago, when I looked up the book online so I could purchase it as a gift for a friend. After watching it, I can see why it’s so beloved. My biggest issue with the film is that there are a few components that didn’t make the cut (understandably so) and those pieces give the story and even the characters quite a bit more depth than is provided in the anime. There’s just something so satisfying and fulfilling about reading the story of The Night is Short, Walk on Girl that one can’t quite receive from the film, and that’s why I highly recommend adorers of this title to hunt down the book if they are able to do so, especially if you’re a fan of quirky, mature Japanese fiction.
That does it for this massive list of anime serials and films that were originally novels! Even though I love anime down to my bones, books (especially Japanese literature) is the passion that sets my soul ablaze with so much joy and inspiration, and I just want everyone to read all these fantastic books. The more interest that we can show for translated works, the more likely those international works shall get legitimate Western translations. There are so many brilliant authors, not just in Japan, but also in many other parts of the world who deserve to have their stories shared with others and this is fantastic way to support that cause. So… go pick up these books (if you’re able to and if they’re available to ya)!