Whether it’s Among Us, Ace Attorney or, most recently, Genshin Impact, some of the most popular manga series created in the past few years have been adapted from video games rather than the other way around. While some of those manga are, in turn, adapted into TV show anime, others remain print-only versions that continue to amuse and entertain fans of the genre by pushing the narrative forward with rich characterizations and mythological backstories.
Some video games boast their own compelling storylines and gameplay, but the most memorable ones adapted into manga series tend to flesh out the characters and advance the plot even further.
Perhaps not as popular in North America as it is in Japan, Danganronpa is one of the most acclaimed video game franchises to be turned into an equally satisfying manga series. Fusing dark horror, adventure, detective, and fantasy elements to create an unforgettable experience, the story concerns a group of high school students forced to kill each other by a robotic stuffed animal named Monokuma.
The first printed adaptation of the 2010 video game ran from June 2011 to October 2013, serving as a fascinating sequel of sorts told from the perspective of the other students rather than Makoto. Beyond mirroring the vibrant visual aesthetic of the game with brilliant artwork, Danganronpa provides a lot of answers and fills in several unclear storylines left in the game, making it feel like a natural continuation of the story rather than a simple rehash.
Dragon Quest: The Adventure Of Dai
With 11 mainline games to date, Dragon Quest is one of the longest-running and most popular RPG franchises on record. Of the various manga adaptions to date, none were more comprehensive or exhaustive than The Adventure of Dai, which ran from 1989 to 1996 by keeping fans glued to the pages for its classic retro style and compelling character arc.
The story challenges protagonist Dai to come of age on an epic hero’s journey when his land is overrun by evil monsters, forcing him to confront his past, embrace his inner hero, and overcome his timid reluctance to become a truly heroic figure. The volumes are so rich and readable that The Adventure of Dai is one of Weekly Shonen Jump’s best-selling manga series of all time (Comipress).
First released in 2004, the mega-popular Fate/Stay Night video game series saw its excellent manga adaptation run from February 2006 to December 2012. The story traces Japanese high school students in Fuyuki City where a young mage named Shirou must fight in the Fifth Holy Grail War.
Part of what makes the Fate/Stay Night manga series so gripping for fans of the game is the way in which it blends scenarios from Fate and Unlimited Blade Works and Heaven’s Feel to create a wonderfully imaginative creative crossover that feels organic and just exhilarating as the games themselves.
When it comes to the qualitative breadth of storytelling married with lifelike imagery, few gaming franchises have been as memorable as the mega-popular sci-fi RPG franchise, Final Fantasy. And while various manga adaptions have been hit or miss, when done right, it’s hard to think of a more compelling continuation of the mythological foundations laid from screen to print.
With 15 mainline FF games leading to various novel and manga adaptations since 1989, the most recommendable manga for fans to check out is Final Fantasy III, published in 1992, which provides a fascinating history of Luneth and their relationship with the other three orphans. Once fans read through that, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles (2004) will help fill in over two decades worth of story gaps, character secrets, and other eye-opening revelations the games rarely touched on.
The Final Fantasy spinoff franchise, Kingdom Hearts, has also enjoyed a well-received manga adaptation that ran from 2003 to 2012, giving fans of the franchise endless material to bury their noses in order to make heads or tails of the complex storylines. Considering how nonsensical the games have been criticized for, boning up on the interstitial content will pay dividends for fans of the series.
While much of the Kingdom Hearts manga remains faithful to the game’s structure, Volume 4 and Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days branch out to give fans extra details on the full expanse of the universe in which the stories take place. As such, Volume 4 was named by USA Today as one of the Top 150 best-selling manga.
One of the most beloved Japanese video game franchises of all time, Persona has been adapted into manga form over a dozen times since 1996, with the last coming via Persona Volume 5 in 2008. While the entire series is recommended for fans of the games who want to learn more about the characters, their motivations, and how they’ve evolved over time, the best adaptation is Persona 4, which has also been turned into a highly-acclaimed anime.
Once fans get through Persona 4, Volume 5 will have fans flipping through the pages as fast as possible thanks to Joker’s mysterious past being revealed in ways that make the protagonist more sympathetic and easier to root for. The breathtaking artwork is faithful to the game, but also pushes the aesthetic forward to make the whole world more immersive.
Arguably the most recognizable multimedia brand to begin as a video game franchise, Pokémon took the world by storm in the mid-90s and never let go of its global stranglehold. Meant as a must-read tie-in about which The Pokemon Company CEO Tsunekazu Ishihara said, “I want every Pokémon fan to read this comic!” (Viz Media), Pokemon Adventures is essential for fans of the franchise who want to complete all the various storylines.
With adorable yet high-quality artwork sure to sate children and nostalgic adults who grew up on the games, Pokémon Adventures features 56 volumes of in-depth storytelling, allowing major story arcs for such beloved characters as Kanto, Johto, Hoenn, Sinnoh, Kalos, Galar, and others for fans to learn all about.
A cerebral sci-fi adventure series, Steins;Gate was first released in 2009 and saw its first manga adaptation published shortly after. Boasting a nonlinear branching scenario gameplay, the game follows several students who create the technology to alter the past, providing a rife backdrop for extended storylines on the page where super crazy things take place in the Steins;Gate universe.
With its gripping central premise, the manga adaptation entitled Steins;Gate ran from 2009 to 2013 and drew praise for its time-travel element, fun characterizations that went beyond the scope of the game, accessible storytelling, breathless pacing, and exciting cliffhanger conclusion.
Tales Of Berseria
Like Dragon Quest and Persona, the Tales series is one of the all-time greatest video game franchises in Japanese history. Several worthy adaptations have come about, including Tales Of Berseria, which was published in 2019 and continues the adventurous exploits of Velvet, the video game protagonist with revenge on her mind.
While some manga adaptations of video games simply fail to capture the magic by regurgitating old storylines, Tales Of Berseria does a wonderful job of explaining Velvet’s dogged thirst for revenge, while also giving Magilou a much more well-rounded and fully developed character arc that was lacking in the game.
The Legend Of Zelda
Be it Majora’s Mask, Ocarina of Time, or Four Swords, the manga based on The Legend Of Zelda are must-reads for fans of all things Hyrule. However, when it comes to the most groundbreaking manga based on the beloved fantasy RPG franchise, Twilight Princess is hard to beat.
With 11 volumes released from 2016 to 2022 and counting, Twilight Princess has been hailed for its easy-to-read accessibility bound to appeal to expert and newbie gamers alike, stellar artwork, character arcs, and juicy melodrama that the game rarely entertains. As such, the manga was listed by Amazon as one of its best comics/graphic novels in 2017 (AnimeNewsNetwork).