Ah, anime, the DNA of the soul. I love it, you love it, we all love it. Ah, but anime isn’t video games (and historically video games based on anime have been as good as you’d think they would be), so what is a person not having enough anime in their lives to do when they want to play video games instead? Well don’t you worry, I have a handy dandy list here of games that are, let’s say, anime-adjacent, so you can still enjoy animu, while you’re enjoying vidya.
Now the thing is, I’m not gonna just put here 10 licensed games based on actual anime series. For one thing, that would be boring. For another, like I said, these games are for the most part pretty bad, that’s the sort of curse that comes with licensing. No, I’m going to give you 10 games that evoke anime, but aren’t affiliated with any specific series IP and I’ll try to make it as varied in terms of genre and gameplay as possible. So, In order from the least anime, to the most anime. And no, Code Vein isn’t on the list, sadly, due to Capcom screwing up royally and pushing the release into 2019. Ikimashio!
The sexual content that got Steam’s panties in a twist.
So let’s start with something easy, and yet spicy. Huniepop is a game that has garnered a kind of controversial reputation, because yes, it is indeed an erotic game. A subject to staunch criticism, Huniepop managed to gather a cult audience anyway, and for solid reasons.
What the game boils down to, is a fusion of a match 3 game and a visual novel where you interact with various Huniepop ladies, catering to various kinks. Despite being overtly sexual, it manages to be surprisingly tasteful and heartfelt on occasion, not to mention exceedingly hilarious. It’s simple, yet satisfying, in all the right ways.
9. Tales of Symphonia
Japan finally opening up to the western PC markets.
A true classic that I had to include on this list and while it is indeed exceedingly anime, it has aged a bit over the years, which is why it isn’t higher on the list. Released by Namco back in 2003 it would be 13 years before it got a PC release, but it was an immediate success on Steam.
Tales of Symphonia tells an epic story of fantasy and adventure, but unlike the classic Final Fantasy games, it features a tactically complex, real-time combat system. However, the true selling point of the game is the beautiful art-style and graphics which miraculously didn’t age a single day due to sheer finesse of their craftsmanship.
8. Soulcalibur 5
The soul still burns.
With little effort I could have filled this entire list with fighting games, but that would be against the point of the article. Honorable mentions include Dead or Alive and Tekken, but I decided on Soulcalibur for two reasons: the character design is fantastic and the game features guest appearances from other franchises, in this case, Ezio of Assassin’s Creed fame.
Soulcalibur is a fighting game whose gimmick revolves around an idea that, unlike in most fighting games, characters in Soulcalibur use weapons. Like a lot of weapons. Sometimes very creative weapons like a giant Chakram and crotch spikes (oh, Voldo). It’s tight, complex and the latest part in the series has a very good multiplayer AND a character creator tool, so you can make your own, better anime, while you fight with very anime characters. Win-win.
It was a genuine toss-up between Bayonetta and Devil my Cry here and while it was very difficult not to give the devil his due on this, ultimately I had to give this one to Bayonetta because of the one anime element it beats DMC hands down on—fanservice. I mean the whole concept here is that the protagonist’s clothes are made from her hair and as she fights the costume gets skimpier and skimpier. This is such a staple of anime I had to give this one to the best girl.
Bayonetta is a spectacle fighter game that is all about fighting hordes of enemies and looking super cool and sexy while doing it. Sure, it also features a dramatic story and entertaining, whacky characters, but the big drive here is the sheer thrill of combat and the titular protagonist being both engaging and fantastically designed.
6. Guilty Gear Xrd
What is it with the Japanese and gears?
We have another fighting game on the list, only barely beating Soulcalibur, but it does so for very good reasons: the character design in this series is just fantastic. From straight forward characters like pirate girl May to whatever the hell Faust is (his special attack involves rectal probing with his fingers… I don’t know why), there isn’t one boring character in the roster and the game feels no shame about its musical references (which might be a Jojo reference, so here we are).
Guilty Gear is a series with much pedigree, but little actual renown outside of Japan. With 12 games total (before including the various remasters), the game is legendary. It would be impossible for me to explain its story, but it is best understood through these characters. It’s over the top with its fighters, with its mechanics, with its music and with its story. It’s also something of a guilty pleasure of mine (got it? Heh), so I had to put it in here.
5. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
You knew a Kojima game had to be on here. The man has this tendency to mock western storytelling with Japanese aesthetics in the most charming way. And while I could have put any of the Metal Gear games, I chose Revengeance, because of the sheer meme appeal of this game. Memes indeed are, the DNA of the soul, as Red Memesoon teaches us.
Revengeance is a fantastic action game oozing personality and style. Moreover, in a fashion of great anime it puts its themes and esoteric ideas first, wraps them up in aesthetics and only then concerns itself with a cohesive plot. The fighting is satisfying (the ingenious use of slow mo for in the Blade Mode is something else), the style is something to behold and the story gets strangely profound on occasion without once stopping the insanity.
4. Final Fantasy XV
The best road trip in video games.
I was reluctant to put Final Fantasy on this list, because while it is a staple of Japanese video games and each part of the series is (almost) entirely self-contained, these games are rather hard to approach for the western audience. But that is not true for Final Fantasy XV, which has enough western influences in the core mechanics to pull that kind of audience in and keep them entertained.
Ostensibly, it’s a game about four very pretty boys on a great road trip<, a journey of adventure and self-discovery. It’s a simple idea, but everything in the game works to make it shine. The turn-based combat of old FF games is replaced with a satisfying fighting engine occurring in real time and the visual presentation of the game is absolutely on-point. It’s something of a love letter to the west, combining Japanese style with western senses, making it a fantastic synthesis of cultures.
3. Doki Doki Literature Club
Yes, we’re here again.
I had to mention this gem again, I just had to. While a list of compelling visual novels would be something that could exist on its own (and it will, it’s still in my backlog), I couldn’t have just filled this list with them. But this one game, oh this one I had to include.
Doki Doki Literature Club is a masterpiece of clever subversion of genre—ostensibly a dating simulator, Doki Doki Literature Club lulls the player into a false sense of security with its colorful cast of cliché anime tropes of characters, bright colors and soothing music. And then the other shoe drops and the blast radius is enormous. Despite this, I chose this game specifically because doing what Doki Doki did is just so perfectly anime, which you know if you’ve watched a show like Madoka Magica. Though a fair word of warning: this one isn’t the best point of entry into the Visual Novel genre, you’re far better off starting with something much simpler like Stein’s Gate or Kindred Spirits on the Roof. But for the seasoned veterans, this one is a serious treat.
2. Monster Hunter: World
A cat is fine too.
You’ve heard about Monster Hunter World of course. I’m not just putting it on these lists because it’s a new hot thing, I put it here because I truly believe in the game and wish to spread its merit to all corners of the world. In essence I’m doing Capcom free promotion, but knowing them a copyright strike is already in the making… Aaaaanyway.
Monster Hunter World certainly presents its anime influences proudly, with fantastic monsters, beautifully rendered backgrounds, ridiculously oversized weapons, great fight sequences and perhaps most importantly the strange ways in which the game can shit its tone from a serious, dramatic hunt to a lighthearted, fanservicey mini-game involving cute cats and food. More so than most games, this one feels like what being inside anime would actually be like, which is why it could only have been bested by…
1. Nier Automata
Do Androids watch anime?
Ok, for one, 9S is my husbando and I will fight you to the death over this! <Ekhem> So. Nier Automata. A game that is criminally unrecognized for the genius that it is (at least as far as sales are considered). While I wouldn’t recommend this game to anyone having to play with mouse and keyboard, as long as you do have a controller, the PC port is surprisingly competent.
Everything in Automata works to establish a cohesive whole, from its dark and somber themes of destruction and rebirth and to its anime aesthetic. It also goes above and beyond what you would even expect a game to be with its meta-narrative, but herein we’re reaching spoilers. And honestly, how many games do you know where the game will actively change your camera orientation if you attempt to score a panty shot? That’s anime as hell, fam.
Weeaboo to your to your heart’s content!
There you have it, a list of anime-inspired games, specifically designed for the western audience. These games, sometimes classics, sometimes very experimental, but always having a serious cult following, are self-contained enough that one could enjoy them, without having consumed a ton of other products. Whether you’re a hardcore anime fan, or just a person starting out, these stand out as solitary works that can scratch that anime itch without you having to involve Crunchyroll.
You can look forward to more on the subject in the future, as the market for anime-adjacent games is a vast one and containing a lot of sub-genres, each of which could provide for a list entirely on its own. Whether it be fighting games, RPGs or VNs, all of these are connected by the shared approach to aesthetic and the cultural space they occupy.