Recently, visual novels have been making a bigger impact in the anime world. In the late 90’s visual novels have been steadily adapted into anime. Few have become cult favorites. However, it wasn’t until recently that adaptations received wide popularity and critical acclaim.
If you’re a typical anime fan, then you’ve probably seen a few shows that were based off of visual novels. More than likely, you didn’t know they were an adaption. So, here we’ve got a list of the top 10 visual novels that have been adapted into anime. A few of these may seem obscure. But, I guarantee there’s at least one series in here that you’ve seen blow up in the last year or two.
Let’s kick it off with #10!
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Oct 2008 - Dec 2008
Takumi Nishijou is a high school student at the prestigious Private Suimei Academy. But he is far from an ideal student. He is set in his otaku ways and prefers not to go out and interact with others. He barely receives passing grades in his classes and he only leaves his house to buy the newest figurines.
One night, he’s chatting with his online friend “Grim”. As “Grim” leaves the chatroom a new user arrives “Shogun”. This person shows Takumi images of a gruesome death. Shaken up, Takumi leaves the chat and tries to sleep it off. Things get stranger for him the next day. As he walks down an alley he finds a man impaled to a wall with metal stakes. It’s the exact same scene he saw in this pictures from “Shogun”. Takumi’s world is turned upside down and he begins to have trouble differentiating reality from delusions.
This show probably has the worst reviews out of the other selections on this list. However, I feel that it had the potential to be great. A reality-bending battle, the safety of the world at stake, murders, suicides… there’s so much going on that it needed to be dealt with meticulously and believably. It was ambitious in its goals and it fell short.
If the producers had tried to create a dark comedy instead of a straight dramatic series it might have been well-received. There is a sequel, Chaos; Child, in the works so hopefully they can take some elements of this show and execute them much better.
9. When They Cry (Higurashi no Naku Koro ni)
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: Apr 2006 - Sep 2006
Maebara Keiichi is a young boy who has just moved into the peaceful town of Hinamizawa. This town seems completely normal at first glance. However, he learns about a murder that took place in this unassuming town. At that point things take a turn for the worst and danger lurks around every corner. He quickly learns that places and people are never what they appear to be.
Mystery, suspense, and the surprise factor all pull you into this horror series. The little girls in the show look innocent and naïve so it shocks you even more when you see them commit heinous acts of torture and brutality. The show isn’t really scary. It’s more of a mystery filled with twists.
You’ll keep trying to piece together clues to figure out what exactly is going on in this town. You’ll hit a few dead-ends in the process, but this show will take you on a ride you won’t soon forget.
8. Little Busters
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: Oct 2012 - Apr 2013
Riki Naoe suffered a terrible loss as young child. He was in a bad place and the way he was able to overcome grief was with the help of the Little Busters. This group consisted of four children who dreamed of fighting for justice. They recruited Riki and became his closest friends.
Fast-forward to high school and this small group is still close. Riki is tasked with recruiting more members, particularly girls. However he is also working on something else. He and Rin (currently the only girl in the Little Busters) have been receiving strange messages. Someone is giving them certain “missions” to accomplish and hinting that there may actually be another world out there.
Needless to say, Riki and the other Busters are eager to solve this mystery that they’ve been waiting for since they were little children.
7. Ef: A Tale of Memories
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Oct 2007 - Dec 2007
A Tale of Memories dives into the stories of several different and unique characters. A few of the interesting characters you’ll meet are: Hiro Hirono, Miyako Miyamura, Renji Asaou, and Chihiro Shindou.
Hiro meets Miyako on Christmas Eve when she steals his bike. She was chasing someone who had stolen her purse. Unable to apprehend the perpetrator, Hiro and Miyako spend the remainder of Christmas Eve together. The two of them become close and a love triangle forms when Kei Shindou (one of Hiro’s childhood friends) becomes jealous of the two of them.
Renji is an aspiring novelist who is unsure of his career choice. One day he meets Chihiro (Kei’s twin sister) at an abandoned train station. They decide to meet up with each other every day at the station. Renji learns that Chihiro has a problem with her short-term memory: her memory lasts for only 13 hours. She reveals to him that her dream is to write a novel.
This series tells the stories of these gentle souls. The characters and events that unfold are heartfelt and inspirational. This is definitely a must-watch anime for fans of the romance genre.
6. The Fruit of Grisaia (Grisaia no Kajitsu)
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: Oct 2014 - Dec 2014
Mihama Academy is a school for delinquent students, or “bad fruit” who have fallen far from the tree. Things are pretty normal there for the five female students, but their school life makes a sudden shift when newcomer, Kazami Yuji, enters the school. He’s the only male student so it takes some time for him to find his place there.
It turns out that each student has a particular reason and interesting backstory for why they attend Mihama Academy. None of them had hopes of leaving and going on to a regular school life. But, perhaps Kazami’s presence will spark a change for the better.
This appears to be a typical harem scenario where a man enters a school filled with women. They start to develop feelings for him. Then, they fight over his affection. That IS exactly what Grisaia is about. Even though their character archetypes have been portrayed over and over… these women vying for his attention actually have interesting backstories. That is the redeeming factor and core strength of the show.
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: Jan 2005 - Apr 2005
Yukito Kunisaki is a young boy whose family has a long history of searching for the “Winged Maiden”. Yukito continues this tradition by using his incredible puppet skills passed down to him from his mother. He creates puppet shows that he shows to villagers in various towns. He searches for the Winged Maiden in each town he encounters.
Eventually, his travels take him to a coastal town where he meets a mysterious girl, Misuzu Kamio. She befriends him and he agrees to spend some additional time in the town. He puts his search on hold while he meets new people and helps them with their everyday problems. He finds that he enjoys Misuzu’s company and life within the Kamio residence. An uneasiness grows within him as he contemplates ever returning back to his inherited quest.
Air’s premise and characters are very enjoyable. The plot may be difficult to follow at times, but that’s a fault that a lot of visual novel adaptations fall prey to. Sometimes it’s difficult to cram 50+ hours of story into a 12 episode series. This show does it better than most.
4. Kanon 2006
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: Oct 2006 - Mar 2007
Kanon centers on Aizawa Yuuichi, a boy who has developed a slight case of amnesia. He’s lost most of his memories concerning his time in spent visiting his cousin in the city. Now, seven years later, he returns to the city to live with his aunt (Akiko) and his cousin (Nayuki).
He begins to meet and interact with people (mostly girls) who seem to have been close to him when he was a child. Yuuichi decides to spend time with them in order to uncover his lost memories. However, he begins to worry that his memories were repressed for a reason. Secrets and experiences shape who a person becomes… and not always for the better.
The story of Kanon is enjoyable if you’re into the slice of life genre. Near the end more supernatural elements come into play and they may seem out of place when compared to the first half of the series. The music is outstanding. The piano pieces are particularly memorable. Pachelbel’s Kanon D-dur, or Canon in D Major is used several times throughout the series.
- Episodes: 23
- Aired: Oct 2007 - Mar 2008
Clannad is the story of high school student, Okazaki Tomoya, who has become bored with his life. He skips out on classes and decides to waste the remainder of his school life. In the midst of this decision he meets a girl named Furukawa Nagisa. This peculiar girl decides to befriend Tomoya. He’s reluctant to the idea, but has no choice as he begins to encounter her more often throughout his day.
Tomoya learns that Nagisa has been held back a grade due to an illness. Because he has not much else going on, he takes on the task of helping her revive the school’s drama club. Through this project, and a few female friends he makes along the way, he slowly begins to discover that school and life may not be so boring after all.
2. Fate/stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Oct 2014 - Dec 2014
Unlimited Blade Works follow the story of seven legendary heroes fighting for the Holy Grail. These spirits are known as: Archer, Assassin, Berserker, Caster, Lancer, Rider, and Saber. Each of these heroic spirits (servants) is bound to a Master, or mage capable of utilizing magic for combat purposes.
This entry into the Fate/stay franchise focuses on Emiya Shirou and Rin Toosaka. These two masters use their servants fight off the other Masters in hopes of claiming the Holy Grail and having their deepest desires granted.
There are a multitude of anime adapted from the Fate/stay visual novels. This one made the list because it’s my personal favorite. This was actually my introduction to the Fate/stay universe. I was pulled in by the setting and the legendary heroes from various time periods. The fights between servants are filled with action and intensity.
The best part of the show, especially season 1, is the main character struggling to keep up with the powerful fighters all around him. He doesn’t use extremely powerful magic or abilities. Instead, he uses the little skill he has and immense amount of courage to make due and protect those he cares about.
1. Steins; Gate
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: Apr 2011 - Sep 2011
Self-proclaimed “Mad Scientist” Rintaro Okabe works tirelessly to invent eccentric and futuristic gadgets. Normally, he and his friend, Mayuri, come up with duds or nonsensical devices. Take for instance their latest invention: the Phone Microwave. It fails to perform its one function.
However an accident in the “lab” modifies the phone and allows it to send text messages to the past. Immediately, they realize they have created a potential dangerous device. The consequences of which could be catastrophic.
This is the most well-known anime from this Top 10 list. That’s one of the major reasons why it is placed at #1. But, it’s the most well-known because of how great the show is. Time travel stories are some of the most difficult to write and execute. Plot holes invariably arise. Steins; Gate manages to create a story with memorable characters and meaningful relationships while keeping the plot holes to a minimum.
If you’re going to try only 1 of the shows on this list, of course this would be the one to watch. Not only is it the best anime adaption from a visual novel, but a sequel is currently in the works: Steins; Gate 0.
Adapting manga into anime form has been the standard for decades. It’s actually surprising when an original anime is produced and received well by audiences and critics alike. Studios like to go for a sure thing, this is a business after all, and adapt a popular manga.
I feel that visual novel adaptations will soon stand next to manga adaptations. Studios are taking chances and finding out what works. Fate/stay Night and Steins; Gate were huge gains for fans of visual novels. Their success opens the doors even wider for visual novel fans to see their favorite games on the small screen.