The billion-dollar Japanese animation industry continues to increase its popularity globally, thanks to more streaming programs supporting it. Outside of niche streaming services like Crunchyroll and Funimation, which have a sole focus on distributing anime, big-name companies like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon have also brought more Japanese animated shows to their respective platforms. We now have more options than ever to choose from, which is a good thing, because a wide variety of genres and themed shows have cropped up over the years. And to the delight of gamers, a lot of them involve video games in some way.
There’s no denying the crossover between anime and video game fans. After all, many video games are influenced by anime, having similar plotlines, complete with flashy action sequences and thrilling heroics. We picked some anime that involve video games in creative ways, from going inside the trials and tribulations of a development studio to being transported into an MMORPG and living a different life. Here are our recommendations if you’re looking for the perfect combination of your favorite hobby and the anime asthetic.
Most anime reference video games or show characters enjoying the hobby, but New Game! takes you into the world of game development, demonstrating the blood, sweat, and tears that go into the process. The narrative centers on the ambitious and bright-eyed Aoba, who starts her first day as a character designer for an all-female studio called Eagle Jump. Watching the team build a camaraderie as they work to make a sequel to their popular game is endearing, but there’s also something very charming about watching Aoba learn from her superiors and realize that it takes time to master any craft. Equal parts lighthearted and heart-warming, New Game! shows how the littlest details can transform games into something special.
The name (complete with exclamation point) says it all, putting the focus rightfully where it belongs. Gamers! is all about being a gamer and the bonds we build with others through our virtual pastime. The story focuses on a small group of students who are members of a game club at school. Expect trips to the arcade, video game shops, and seeing characters faceoff against each other in real games like fighter Persona 4 Arena Ultimax. Oh, and don’t forget some complicated feelings in the love department. Every good anime needs that type of drama on the side.
An adorable anime that pays homage to the classic ‘90s games many played at arcades, like Street Fighter II and Virtua Cop, Hi-Score Girl is the ultimate showcase of the competitive spirit and rivalries formed over getting our initials on the top-score display. Obsessed with games and bored with academia, Haruo meets his gaming match in Akira, the rich girl from his school. The two couldn’t be more different, but they both approach games in interesting ways with unique strategies to surpass the competition. Hi-School Girl touches on our gaming pride and accepting the success of others, while also captivating with the burgeoning bond between Haruo and Akira, who may just be exactly what each other needs as they face their own hardships.
What if you entered a video game world but couldn’t log out? .hack//Sign is one of the more classic picks on this list, but an essential addition as it set a high bar for anime, especially with how it portrays our relationship with video games in surprising and thoughtful ways. When main character Tsukasa logs into MMORPG The World, he wakes up in a dungeon with short-term memory loss and soon realizes he is unable to exit the game. The suspense coupled with the lure of unraveling the mysteries behind the MMORPG and Tsukasa’s real-world identity keeps you watching, but the larger topics of anxiety, escapism, and acceptance provide substance and meaning. Mostly, .hack//Sign just nails how people often assume certain roles in a virtual world to compensate for something missing in their real life.
Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki
As one of the newer anime on this list, Bottom-Tier Character follows Tomozaki, who ranks as the top in the world at a Smash Bros. clone called Attack Families, but struggles at playing the game of “life.” When he meets another high-ranking player, who just so happens to be a popular girl from his school, she decides to help level up his IRL abilities, so he can see how human interaction can be just as rewarding and fun as mastering video games. Seeing daily life presented as an RPG with stats to acquire and improve will bring a smile, as will Tomozaki’s unbridled passion for his favorite game and what it takes to excel at it.
Sword Art Online
In many ways, .hack opened the door for Sword Art Online, which modernizes the concept by having the characters visit virtual reality MMORPG worlds. SAO starts with Kirito logging into the first release of Sword Art Online with 10,000 other players using a VR device known as the NerveGear, which stimulates the brain directly. Not all is as it seems, as players soon discover that they cannot log out – and that if they fall in the game, they die in real life. Main character Kirito grinds through the 100-level Aincrad dungeon alongside his progression raid guild and love interest Asuna, to try and escape the game. SAO also features multiple spinoffs, with a fantasy VRMMO called Alfheim Online, a shooter called Gun Gale Online, and the newest spinoff, Alicization, which tackles some all-new topics, like raising interesting questions about artificial intelligence.
Accel World comes from the mind of Sword Art Online’s creator, Reki Kawahara, and also taps into futuristic concepts about technology. Protagonist Haru isn’t the most popular guy to walk his high school; overweight and bullied, he spends his time playing virtual squash alone on his school’s local network cyberspace. His life changes when his gaming skills catch the eye of the popular student council vice president, who introduces him to a secret program that allows its players to accelerate their cognition process to the point where time stops. Entitled Brain Burst, the ARMMO fighting game requires people to duel to obtain Burst Points, which can then be used for acceleration abilities in the real world. Watching Haru work toward the highest score in hopes of meeting the game’s creator for answers is a thrill, and the epic duels, which pull out all the stops in the flashy moves department, don’t disappoint.
Wotakoi: Love Is Hard For Otaku
Narumi and Hirotaka are all about keeping up appearances; Narumi works in a nice office, while Hirotaka is the epitome of a company man. However, when they’re both out of work, you can find Narumi obsessing over the latest yaoi manga, and Hirotaka glued to his latest video game adventure. Former middle school classmates, the two reconnect and confide in each other over how hard it is to find love because people tend to look down on their passions. The anime explores the ups and downs as the pair try to keep up their facades and also search for love – being each other’s shoulder to cry on for moral support – because, as the title says, love is hard for otaku.
And You Thought There Is Never A Girl Online?
Hideki Nishimura gets more than he bargained for when he finally meets his MMORPG guild in real life and discovers they’re all girl gamers from his high school. The group quickly forms a school club as a way to play the game together, but Hideki realizes he has his hands full with Ako, who has taken a special interest in him and struggles to separate the game from their relationship in real life. Full of humorous moments and relatable gaming mishaps, And You Thought There Is Never A Girl Online? captures what makes us enjoy playing games with others, while also showing how easy it is to get caught up in the fantasy to avoid facing our own hardships and feelings in life.
The World God Only Knows
Keima Katsuragi is a master at dating sims, wooing every 2D girl that comes his way. His reputation and skill precede him, so when he gets an email offering him a contract to “conquer” girls, he thinks of it as just another game challenge. Unfortunately for him, he’s just made a deal with a demon from Hell and now must honor his side of the agreement by helping her capture runaway spirits. The only way to draw these spirits out of the girls’ hearts they hide in? By making them fall in love. Now, Keima must get to know girls and why they are the way they are without being behind a video game screen. After all, it’s the only way to make these demons leave their side. As a bonus, the real humor comes from Keima’s interactions with his clumsy demon sidekick; never has a pair been more mismatched to combat the heart.
This article originally appeared in Issue 336 of Game Informer.