The best visual novels in existence have been transformed into these beautiful anime!
While you might not realize it due to the sheer amount of them that are released every year in Japan, the general concept of visual novels has only been around since the 1990s when a handful of games were released by companies such as Chunsoft, Leaf and ELF. Since that time, visual novels have become a booming industry and a mainstay of otaku culture.
What many people outside of Japan don't realize however is just how many different popular anime titles started out as visual novels (some of which were aimed at an adult only audience). This is why we've compiled a comprehensive list to help you understand which series started off as visual novels before making the leap into the world of anime.
Here are 10 of the best anime adaptations of visual novel!
MAL Rated 9.17, Ranked #3 | Aired Spring 2011 | Produced by White Fox
Originally released by 5pb and Nitroplus in the latter part of 2009, Steins;Gate caught on with fans quickly thanks to its epic story and memorable characters. In the original visual novel, a group of friends led by the self proclaimed mad scientist Rintaro Okabe are able to rig their microwave to be able to send text messages into the past which gives them what is essentially a time machine. Unfortunately an organization called SERN has caught wind of their achievement and is now after all of the lab members. Eventually this title was adapted into an anime in the spring of 2011 where it found an even bigger audience who have almost universally hailed it as one of the finest science fiction stories of the last decade.
MAL Rated 8.37, Ranked #167 | Aired Fall 2007 | Produced by Kyoto Animation
Developed by a studio that literally makes its money by making you cry buckets, Key, the next title on this list is a little release called Clannad. In this story that hit store shelves in Japan back in 2004, this drama follows a third year high school student named Tomoya who has built a wall up around himself due to his tragic personal history. One day he meets a girl named Nagisa and while he doesn't want to get involved with her, he finds himself drawn to her and slowly but surely his life begins to change.
What's interesting about this title is that while fans absolutely adored it (it was voted the best bishoujo game ever by a wide margin in a 2007 magazine poll), it didn't receive an anime adaptation until 2007 when a movie was released shortly before a full length TV series hit the airwaves. Almost a decade later, it is still entirely possible to find die hard fans of this series on both sides of the Pacific and a recent Kickstarter campaign to translate the game into English was able to raise almost $550,000 from over 5,000 backers.
MAL Rated 7.62, Ranked #1198 | Aired Winter 2006 | Produced by Studio Deen
One of the most famous visual novels of all time, Fate/Stay Night first hit store shelves in 2004 (though a trial edition was released in early 2003 before the full version was released a year later). Developed by Type-Moon, Fate/Stay Night has become one of their tentpole franchises spawning many, many spinoffs and alternate stories over the last 10+ years.
In this action story, the main idea is that every few years, a group of magic users call forth epic heroes from history who fight against each other in a tournament to the death. The winner of this tournament gets the legendary Holy Grail which will grant them and their servant any wish they desire. In the previous Holy Grail War, a terrible tragedy occurred which led to a massive fire in the city of Fuyuki. One of the survivors of that fire is now a master in the new Holy Grail War despite being a complete novice when it comes to magic.
After becoming one of the top selling visual novels in 2004, the game seemed destined to cross the line into the world of anime and while it took two years for it to happen, the first anime series to adapt the visual novel aired in January 2006. Since that initial airing, the series has been animated many times over with more adaptations still planned for the near future.
MAL Rated 8.22, Ranked #275 | Aired Spring 2006 | Produced by Studio Deen
So far on this list we've talked about some pretty major titles developed by pretty serious companies. But sometimes, you don't need a huge budget or a lot of staff members to make something popular as was proven by the doujin game Higurashi no Naku Koro ni released in eight parts from 2002 to 2006.
Taking place in the fictional village of Hinamizawa in the year 1983, the story begins shortly after a new transfer student named Keiichi Maebara moves to the village with his family. He makes friends with a few of the other kids in the village but eventually learns about the secret, bloody history of his new home and that his friends may be hiding more than a few secrets of their own.
The first season of the anime adaptation hit Japanese airwaves in the spring of 2006 and ran for 26 episodes with the second season airing a little over a year later in the summer of 2007.
MAL Rated 7.66, Ranked #1099 | Aired Fall 2012 | Produced by J.C. Staff
In 2007, Key let loose another visual novel aimed at tugging at the heartstrings of their audience with the title Little Busters!. This game focuses on a character named Riki who lost his parents as a child but was saved from his depression by four other kids who referred to themselves as the Little Busters. Now that they're all in high school, the group still hangs out together and has fun. However, eventually Riki learns that something isn't quite right with their lives.
As with other Key titles, this release seemed destined for an anime adaptation but fans had to wait five whole years for the adaptation to hit Japanese airwaves. With animation produced by J.C. Staff, the 26 episode series ran from late 2012 to early 2013.
MAL Rated 7.37, Ranked #2014 | Aired Summer 2005 | Produced by Xebec, Asread
Developed by Navel and released in 2004, the next visual novel on our list is Shuffle!. In this title, the main character lives in a world where humans live alongside divine gods and devils. While sitting in class one day, he discovers that he's been chosen by the leader of both the gods and the devils to be a potential mate for their respective daughters and he must choose between them.
Interestingly, unlike many other visual novel titles, fans did not have to wait long for an anime adaptation. While the game first hit store shelves in early 2004, the 24 episode anime adaptation hit the airwaves in the summer of 2005.
MAL Rated 7.43, Ranked #1802 | Aired Summer 2011 | Produced by A-1 Pictures
One common misconception among people is that the only visual novels to be released are aimed at a male audience or that visual novels that are aimed at a female audience aren't popular; both of these thoughts are incorrect however, as proven by the hit franchise Uta no Prince Sama and its subsequent anime adaptation, Uta no☆Prince-sama♪ Maji Love 1000%.
Developed by Nippon Ichi and released in 2010, this otome game is about a girl who joins a very special academy which is aimed at training aspiring idols and songwriters. The girl, Haruka Nanami, joins the songwriting track and while she has trouble at first, her talent quickly becomes evident and she attracts the attention of various males who all want her to become their exclusive songwriter. The only catch is that the school forbids romantic relationships between idols and songwriters.
Much like the above mentioned Shuffle!, fans of this game did not have to wait long for an anime adaptation. Just barely over a year after the game first hit store shelves, the first of three seasons (so far) was aired on television in Japan.
MAL Rated 7.34, Ranked #2104 | Aired Summer 2012 | Produced by AIC Build
Not every visual novel that gets adapted into an anime is a super huge mainstream success. Some titles are more niche as is the case with the 2010 release of Koi to Senkyo to Chocolate developed by sprite. In this game, the hero is a high school student named Yuuki who, along with his friends, are in the Food Club at school. This seemingly normal club is actually just a gathering of students who sit around each day chatting while eating junk food. Unfortunately troubling times are on the horizon as one of the leading candidates to be the next student council president says that if she is elected, she will shut down clubs that she deems serve no purpose or do nothing. In order to save their club, Yuuki must now get into the race himself.
A little under two years after the title was first released as a visual novel, an anime adaptation was aired on television starting in the summer of 2012. As with the original source material, the anime adaptation received some praise but has been mostly forgotten by fans over the last couple of years.
MAL Rated 6.44, Ranked #5227 | Aired Summer 2012 | Produced by J.C. Staff
As with anime and manga, the world of visual novels can be based in all sorts of different settings and feature characters from all walks of life which is part of what makes them so entertaining. In the 2011 game developed by HuneX titled Arcana Famiglia, the characters belong to an Italian mafia family and all possess special powers.
In the anime adaptation, which aired less than a year after the game was released, the story follows the main heroine Felicita who is more than capable of taking care of herself. One night though, the leader of the family announces that a special tournament will be taking place in which the winner of the tournament will not only become the next head of the family but will also get to marry Felicita. She objects strongly to this and enters the tournament herself.
This visual novel and anime stands out from many others which are released thanks to a very strong and capable female main character who is perfectly capable of holding her own in a fight. What also makes this visual novel stand out against the pack is that it received a direct sequel in 2013 (which sadly was never adapted into an anime).
MAL Rated 6.89, Ranked #3617 | Aired Winter 2016 | *Produced by Gonzo
The trend of adapting visual novels into anime is one that is not going away at any point in the near future. If you need evidence of this, all you have to do is look at the current season of anime which features an adaptation of the 2014 visual novel developed by sprite, Ao no Kanata no Four Rhythm.
In this futuristic story, humans have developed special shoes which allow people to fly through the skies easily. This has led to the rise of a sport called Flying Circus which involves flying through the air while attempting to either touch goals or your opponent's back. The main character of the game once loved being involved with the sport but left for personal reasons. What brings him back in is meeting a girl named Asuka.
With the vast number of visual novels that have been released over the years, it's impossible for every single one to be turned into an anime series despite being deserving of an adaptation. Here are some honorable mentions that we would love to see someday get an anime adaptation.
The best visual novels will definitely make the best anime adaptations!
Sometimes it seems like there is no real logic at all in determining which games will get adapted into an anime and Princess Waltz is a prime example of that. Developed by Pulltop and released in 2006, Princess Waltz features a fantastic story about a violent tournament between princesses to determine who will be the next queen of Seven Central in the world of Eldelant. The story begins with the main character Arata meeting a new transfer student named Chris Northfield, but it seems that there is more to this new student than he claims. This chance meeting pulls Arata into the tournament that he didn't know existed until now.
A more traditional love story that takes place in the snowy city of Hokkaido, this game, developed by D.O. and released in 2003, always felt like it was perfect for an anime adaptation. It features a large variety of likable characters and has story elements that could please fans of many different traditional genres including those who enjoy slice of life stories, comedies or straight up romances.
Yume Miru Kusuri (A Drug That Makes You Dream)
Sometimes you can absolutely understand why a game wasn't adapted into an anime despite how much you wish that it were. Yume Miru Kusuri is a very dark game, developed by ruf and released in 2005, which features sex, drugs and violence. In one story branch, a heroine is being bullied ruthlessly, in another one a seemingly perfect girl is tired of life and tries her best to spice things up which leads to many misadventures and, finally, there is a more fantastical branch which includes an odd heroine who seems to live in her own world.
What does the future hold for light novel to anime adaptations?
Visual novels have been surging in popularity around the world over the last few years thanks to hard working companies translating the games and bringing them over to brand new markets. Will this lead to a renaissance for the medium? If it means great anime series like these will continue to be produced, we can certainly hope so!