When asked, many authors will say that story ideas can come from anywhere. In a medium as diverse as anime, which uses everything from video games and manga to novels and even toys for inspiration, this is especially true. As in Western cinema, anime creators have often taken inspiration from classic literature.
A series need not be a direct adaptation to pay homage to iconic works. While there are doubtless countless references to Japanese classics in series that fail some to recognize, many anime also reference English and European canon. Sometimes the nods are subtle, and sometimes they are blatant, but these adaptations reaffirm once again the resonant power of these classic pieces of literature.
10 Psycho-Pass: The Works Of Philip K. Dick
The villain blatantly tells another character to read Philip K. Dick‘s seminal classic, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, better known to some as Blade Runner. The Sybil System, the criminal-identifying AI network at the heart of Psycho-Pass, is a direct homage to a similar system featured in Minority Report. There are also references to other modern classics ranging from William Gibson‘s Neuromancer to George Orwell‘s 1984.
9 Banana Fish: “A Fine Day For Banana Fish” by J.D. Salinger
There’s no denying the indelible impact J.D. Salinger’s works, especially The Catcher in the Rye, which critics consider one of the first young adult novels ever written. Salinger had a knack for commenting on youth culture and the traumas of growing up. These themes were clearly a driving force in Banana Fish. The manga, originally published in the 80s, became an adolescent trailblazer in its own right and is among one of the first BL series that was not explicitly a romance.
Banana Fish wears its influences proudly, acknowledging in the first episode that the turn of phrase is a reference to a Salinger short story in which the main character comes to a tragic end. Fans following Ash’s quest to escape an abusive lifestyle in New York City watch in the hopes that he will meet a better fate than the character that inspired him.
8 Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Gankutsuou is a truly one-of-a-kind viewing experience, which is especially impressive considering the story is an adaptation of one of the world’s most famous and frequently-adapted novels, The Count of Monte Cristo. This 2003 adaptation borrows the heart of the Dumas novel and twists it into a new kind of art.
The story is transported from France and into outer space in the year 5053, and recasts the count himself as a kind of astral vampire alien. Strange as all this sound, the central themes of the beloved novel are very much intact, and in fact invigorated by this unique retelling.
7 Snow White with the Red Hair: “Snow White” By The Brothers Grimm
While there are numerous anime inspired by fairy tales, such as Ponyo and even Fairy Tail, few have retold their source material in a way that feels as refreshing as in Snow White With The Red Hair. The shoujo series, based only loosely on the classic story, gives Snow (or Shirayuki in this case), a lot more agency than she had in the original telling.
Shirayuki, an herbalist who flees a forced marriage and begins working for the palace in a neighboring kingdom, is anything but helpless. Her ministrations help countless others and make for one of the most rewarding story arcs in recent fantasy anime memory.
6 Magi: 1001 Nights by Various Authors
To call Magi a loose adaptation of 1001 Nights would be misleading because loose is not loose enough a word. Yes, there are characters named after famed heroes Ali Baba, Sinbad, and Aladdin. Yes, the story is set in a magical desert complete with Djinni and palaces. Beyond that, however, the series is classic Shonen to its core.
Magi gained a lot of devoted fans as it aired, especially once the storyline and characters matured during its second season. And if this isn’t a straight retelling of 1001 Nights, it is worth noting that the original story collection itself was a compilation curated or even stolen from countless cultures and authors.
5 Aku No Hana: Flowers of Evil By Charlest Baudelaire
The Flowers of Evil is the title of a book of semi-erotic poetry by one of literature’s most iconic modernists, Charles Baudelaire. The original book of poems was directly inspired by the shifting views of society during the industrial revolution in 19th-century Paris and featured intertwined themes of death and sex that many readers found scandalous.
Aku No Hana, the anime of the same name, features a protagonist who is enamored with these poems or perhaps even tainted by them, and worse, obsessed with a classmate. Some horrors are perennial.
4 Fate/Stay Night: Tales of King Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory
This list would be remiss if it did not mention one of the most popular franchises in anime history. While the Fate series borrows characters from both history in fiction, Saber is based on King Arthur and the central struggle in the series is the Holy Grail War.
All of the Servants are familiar names from world culture, as the series borrows its favorite bits of storytelling from both fact and fiction across the ages. And why not? Where else can audiences watch Heracles and Sasaki Kojiro fight King Arthur?
3 Moriarty the Patriot: Various Sherlock Holmes Stories By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The number of properties inspired by Sherlock Holmes is impossible to determine, and now that all of the original stories are entering the public domain, this trend is bound to continue. The charm of Moriarty the Patriot, then, is not in its inspiration, but in its voice.
Serving as a prequel to the Holmes stories and casting Holmes’s notorious rival, James Moriarty, as both the protagonist at a romantic interest is a clever stroke, though not unheard of. What is more resonant, however, are the themes of social justice that propel the anime.
2 Bungou Stray Dogs: Osamu Dazai, Edogawa Rampo, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Many More
An entirely separate list has been written about the literary influences found in Bungou Stray Dogs. Every one of the main characters is inspired by real authors, mostly from early or mid-20th-century Japan. But in no way is the series biographical.
While characters like Dazai exhibit some traits of their namesakes, sometimes in questionable taste, the series is endeavoring to pay tribute to these people, not tell their actual stories.
1 Hellsing, Castlevania, and Many More: Dracula by Bram Stoker
It seems a little silly to acknowledge that both writers of Hellsing and Castlevania independently chose to name lead characters Alucard, which is of course Dracula spelled backward. And yet both Alucards have attracted fans for decades. As in films and live-action television, vampire stories remain prevalent in anime.
In all fairness, the list of anime directly inspired by Dracula is dwarfed only by the list of everything else in the world also inspired by Dracula. Bram Stoker more or less invented the most fertile horror genre in history, and there are few signs of the bloodsucking abetting any time soon.
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