Many video game franchises are ripe with fascinating characters that demand further exploration, and anime is often a natural fit to flesh out their stories and showcase those action-packed battles in pure cinematic form. But which ones are really worth your time? Some anime merely rehash the main narrative of their video game source material, while others flesh out characters with prequels or unique side stories. Truth be told, there’s value and entertainment in all types, and we’ve picked some of our favorites for you to enjoy.
Persona 4: The Animation
Persona 3, 4, and 5 have all had anime adaptations and are a delight in their own right, but Persona 4 serves as the best of the bunch. Persona 4’s cast was already a bit more lighthearted and fun to watch in-game, but the anime gets one new thing right: giving the previously silent main protagonist, Yu Narukami, more personality and development. From his shenanigans with Yosuke trying to pick up girls to bonding with the adorable Nanako, Yu is much more compelling in anime form – especially his deadpan snark. The anime follows the video game’s story, with Yu moving to rural Inaba and learning of the Midnight Channel and its connection to recent deaths. It is based on Golden, the enhanced Persona 4 port, which introduced new characters and new bonding scenes, so you can expect to see the fun snow trip and faces like Marie.
This Netflix series is merely influenced by Japanese animation and Ayami Kojima’s artwork, but it rightfully deserves a spot on this list as it’s one of the better video game adaptations in the animation space. The first two seasons adapt Konami’s 1989 hit Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, focusing on Trevor Belmont, Alucard, and Sypha Belnades as they contend with Dracula and his army of demons. But the series isn’t afraid to draw on other games, such as Castlevania: Curse of the Darkness for season two, and using Castlevania: Symphony of the Night for inspiration to flesh out Alucard’s backstory. A standout voice cast and four mostly solid seasons make this one worth watching. The vampiric lore was already strong, but Netflix’s Castlevania fully embraces it and has a refreshing self-awareness that makes it all work.
Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie
An oldie but goodie, we couldn’t resist including the movie based on the game that gave rise to the Street Fighter frenzy and popularity. It’s also a darn good animated movie, showcasing the sides of good and evil as we know it in the series. The movie centers on series mainstay Ryu as he continues to dominate on the fighting scene and garner more rivalries. However, things get more complicated when a mysterious crime syndicate, Shadowlaw, led by M. Bison, brings more dangers to the acclaimed fighter and other familiar franchise faces, such as Chun-Li, Guile, and Ken. The adrenaline-pumping fights and realistic action remain a highlight, as well as the fleshed-out backstories for many iconic characters. Fun fact: Many elements and designs from the movie were integrated into future Street Fighter games, including a nod to that intense Ryu/Ken showdown in Street Fighter Alpha 3.
The Phoenix Wright trilogy set the stage for the Ace Attorney series, reaching a high bar with its charismatic cast, silly cases, and surprising twists. The Ace Attorney anime is just another way to experience or relive all the great moments from the first three games, as it is a very faithful recreation of the subject matter. Watch Phoenix Wright open his law office’s doors, bond with his spirit-channeling assistant Maya, and face the undeniably ruthless Miles Edgeworth. The anime showcases Phoenix’s past and includes all the over-the-top witnesses, from talkative security officer Wendy Oldbag to fierce photographer Lotta Hart. Come for the humorous hijinks Phoenix gets wrapped up in, but stay for the emotional revelations and the realization that the characters are just making the best out of the worst situations.
The World Ends With You: The Animation
The World Ends With You has plenty of style and sick beats, and this anime is your chance to learn more about Neku’s story. It provides a concise way to experience the basic plot points of the original game, albeit with some slight differences, like using smartphones instead of flip phones, for modern times. If you need a refresher or have only played the recent sequel Neo: The World Ends With You, this is an excellent opportunity to see what was so powerful about Neku’s journey and learn more about previous characters. The anime especially shines a light on the different Reapers and their motivations, and it’s a bit darker in tone. Not only do the visuals look slick, but the action sequences are also fantastic. Bonus: the series’ catchy music is also there to enhance the experience.
We couldn’t make this list and not include a nod to Pokémon, which is often credited for helping popularize anime worldwide. The television series has more ongoing episodes than we know what to do with, but instead of pointing to those, we want to highlight a wonderful spin-off called Origins. This 90-minute special closely follows the plot of Pokémon Red and Blue, featuring characters and settings from it. Unlike the main series, it doesn’t star trainer Ash Ketchum, but instead has a different protagonist with Red and his rival Blue. The anime takes us from Red capturing his first Pokémon and winning the Pokémon League to his pursuit of the mythical Pokémon Mew. For those who want to watch Pokémon anime, but don’t want the demands of trying to keep up with the main series’ 1,000-plus episodes, this is a great alternative that pays homage to the subject matter and video game mechanics wonderfully.
Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai
The Dragon Quest series has an undeniable classic feel, and The Adventure of Dai fully captures that nostalgia with iconic monsters, sounds, and spells to keep fans smiling. Based on the manga series of the same name written by Riku Sanjo and illustrated by Koji Inada, the anime stars an unlikely hero named Dai, who was raised on a peaceful, remote island with monsters, who he also calls friends. With an innocence and heart of gold, Dai learns of the evils of the world as a demon threatens everything he holds dear. Seeing Dai figure out what it really means to be a hero is heartwarming, but there’s also plenty of fantastic reveals, such as the true evil force behind the demon’s arrival and Dai’s own hidden powers surfacing during big moments. Great music, stellar monster designs, and a fantastic script that stays true to the manga make this a story not to miss if you have affection for Dragon Quest in any capacity.
Tales of Vesperia: The First Strike
From Abyss to Zestiria, the Tales series has no shortage of anime adaptations, but prequel movie Tales of Vesperia: The First Strike adds fantastic backstory to an already beloved cast. The story centers on knights Yuri Lowell and Flynn Scifo, who couldn’t be more different but must work together to protect their town from deadly monsters. The movie shows Yuri’s reluctance to work with others and follow orders, with some terrific scenes showcasing his carefree attitude and the consequences it can bring. At the same time, you also see Yuri contend with the difficult decisions he must make in battle. However, let’s be honest, the real reason to watch is to see Repede as a puppy and learn how the pipe-smoking dog became Yuri’s ride or die.
This article originally appeared in Issue 341 of Game Informer.