Anime Adaptations Part 1: From East to West

Anime and manga have always been a very niche form of media; despite the wide appeal of their genres, animation types, variety of books and stories that have been told via this media, the size of the fan-base has constantly been a much smaller portion of a media-consumer base as a whole. This is due to the general public often viewing Japanese cartoons as either just porn, children’s shows or something that induces epilepsy – because there’s nothing in between, right? Well, that’s slowly starting to change, and in 2018, anime is on the precipice of becoming the focus for future entertainment and go-to place for material to adapt.

We’ve had multiple but infrequent anime adaptations in the past from the poorly received Dragonball movie to the misguided Ghost in the Shell film last year; even the most recent Netflix Death Note movie failed to really turn the tide on whether adaptations of anime or manga can work, despite there being a sequel supposedly in the works. But from this year alone, Sword Art Online’s live action Western TV series rights have moved over to Netflix, with the same company planning to adapt Cowboy Bebop into a full series with the original creator involved, and J.J. Abrams is producing an American version of the highest grossing anime film of all time, Your Name. Of course, it isn’t just a case of remaking Japanese cartoons into American versions for the masses; multiple streaming companies such as Amazon Prime and Netflix have begun to take on more anime to simulcast straight from Japan, as well as rescue old series, such as Neon Genesis Evangelion, that had been far too expensive for more dedicated anime streaming homes such as Crunchyroll to consider.

With all the news pouring in, it seems safe to say that Hollywood is taking Japanese entertainment a lot more seriously and we could, very possibly, begin to see more and more Western versions of anime and manga in the future. It’s a long running joke that Hollywood has ‘run out of ideas’ due to remaking and/or rebooting everything, or just constantly stealing from popular books and TV shows, so the idea of Hollywood turning to an untapped media pool in Japan is likely. Some of you, understandably, may frown upon this; whether it be because of the horrible track record that these adaptations have had in the past, or the unfortunate consequences of white-washing very Japanese stories to ‘appease’ the ‘white audience’ as it were. But that’s not to say that this influx of news is necessarily a bad thing; once upon a time, the thought of having a ‘good’ superhero movie was laughable, but the Marvel Cinematic Universe changed all that and now they dominate the cinema schedule more and more each passing year. So, is it time for anime/manga Western adaptions to shine?

Let’s play devil’s advocate and say that yes, Hollywood is desperate for the next big thing and comes knocking on Japan’s door. There’s a lot of options to consider, but as a little fun thought experiment, I’m going to list five anime/manga/light novel stories that I think would make for decent if not great Western Adaptations. I’m mostly going to focus on series that either are A) easily adaptable (for story and/or budget reasons) or are B) something that’s easily marketable to a currently existing audience. I’ve kept away from genres that are a little bit too ‘out there’ for Western producers to consider (such as Magical Girls) or would require a stupid amount of budget (giant robots, outside of Transformers, aren’t going to bring the bucks back, so Code Geass is off the table).

So, without further delay…let’s get thinking!

Summer Wars

Material to adapt: 1 film, just under 2 hours long

Synopsis: Kenji has been roped into visiting his friend Natsuki’s family in the countryside for his grandmother’s 90th birthday, but to save himself from boredom he brings along his computer so he’s still able to access OZ, a massive online virtual reality and social site. Via OZ Kenji receives an email with a mathematical code; accepting the challenge, Kenji breaks it and accidentally starts a ripple effect of letting an artificial intelligence cause untold damage across the OZ mainframe, and eventually the world. Can Kenji stop the AI from taking over?

Why adapt this? What do The Emoji Movie, Ralph Breaks the Internet and Ready Player One have in common? They all take place within the online world and heavily feature social networking and/or gaming. So, it makes total sense to make Summer Wars into a thing, but there’s something that this film has over those movies. The Emoji Movie and Wreck it Ralph centre on characters that come from the web/gaming space, and although their struggles reflect real issues, they are still within a world that is very different to ours and therefore separates anyone who doesn’t understand their logic. As for Ready Player One it has one boy who’s fully immersed in a fictional world but very detached from everything else aside from the geekiest of culture; a fun power fantasy but one that again leaves out everyone else who doesn’t get every 80s references. Summer Wars, however, is very different and much more inclusive. It starts as one boy in cyberspace trying to save everyone but it eventually includes a huge family and support system behind him; it becomes more than just what’s happening inside the virtual world but the outside as well. It includes family and friends who are not as clued up in the modern technology because in the end, it doesn’t matter, because it’s all about working together. That emotional core is what still resonates with anime fans today and it would transfer naturally to Western audiences as well.


Material to adapt: 18 volumes of manga, or 74 half hour episodes

Synopsis: Dr Kenzo Tenma is a young Japanese brain surgeon working in a German hospital, studying under a brilliant director and engaged to be married. That all changes one day when a little boy dying of a gunshot wound to his head is brought in the same day as the Mayor for emergency surgery. The hospital wants Tenma to operate on the Mayor for a better political standing, instead he saves the boy’s life. This one decision not only brings an end to all his previous good fortune, but he has unwittingly just saved the life of a future mass murderer…

Why adapt this? I’m technically half-cheating with this one, because an adaptation of this was originally picked up by New Line Cinema back in 2008, then in 2013 director Guillermo del Toro was planning to collaborate with HBO to create a full TV series, only for two years later to be passed off and we’ve had no news since. However, I hope this finds a way to come back because think this was make a fantastic series; it’s mystery/thriller that’s incredibly well written and intelligent story with a diverse cast, emotional and personal stakes with an overarching backdrop with lot of political intrigue. Plus, this series interestingly takes place in Germany during the 90s, which is a very different setting compared to most TV series. Plus, aside from our lead being half-Japanese, the rest is easier to adapt to Western audience without too much white-washing. Plus, del Toro has had experience  with adapting books to TV series before; granted it was his OWN book he adapted but he knows how to properly pace a story for a new medium and what are the important details to translate onto screen.

Vampire Knight

Material to adapt: 19 manga volumes, or 26 anime episodes. Plus, sequel manga and light novels.

Synopsis: In Cross Academy, there are two sets of classes: the day class, which is populated by humans, and the night class, that is full of vampires. But the day class do not know the night class’s true nature, except for a few chosen students: Yuki Cross, who is the adopted daughter of the headmaster Kaien Cross, and Zero Kiryu, Yuki’s childhood friend who recently has started to pull away from Yuki…but why? Does he have a secret that perhaps only the night class could understand?

Why adapt this? Vampires may have mostly disappeared from the movie landscape, but in the land of TV and books they’re still going strong. They’re not as financially viable as they were during the years of Twilight hype, but that doesn’t mean that audiences aren’t still thirsty for more vampires. Vampire Knight got lumped with the Twi-hards crowd for its use of vampires and love triangle clichés but despite its flaws, the series has a lot more going for it. Including an active female lead, interesting takes on vampire lore and a diverse school system, it also has deeper, darker story going on in the background that becomes more prominent as the series progresses. It would work nicely as a teen-drama for Netflix or The CW network and it wouldn’t need an extravagant budget, but a decent writing team to help iron out some of the manga’s later issues would be ideal. We’ve had a resurgence of witches on TV recently from A Discovery of Witches to The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina – is it time for vampires to make a comeback too?

Read or Die

Material to adapt: 12 light novels, 3-part OVA or 26 half-hour episodes.

Synopsis: In an alternative history, where the superpower of the world belongs to the British Empire, an external intelligence agency working with the British Library hires agents with special gifts for certain missions. Enter Yomiko Readman, also known as ‘The Paper’, who has the special power to control all forms of paper, and just happens to love any and all books of the world.

Why adapt this? In a world of cinema dominated by superheroes at the moment, this is a bit of a no-brainer. A James Bond-vibe story that also has a hint of Marvel in it? Check. Action scenes featuring mixture of physical, firearms and magic? Check. Super powers that are unique and interesting with potential for incredibly cool effects? Check. Plenty of opportunities for diverse casting, including a female lead? Check. Using famous people and/or properties from our history that are within the realms of Public Domain? Checks all round! The OVA could translate nicely to a movie, whilst the anime series and light novels could be the TV series spin-off if successful enough to make its own ‘cinematic universe’ (which Hollywood is very much into right now).

Fate/Stay Night

Material to adapt: How long is a piece of string?

Synopsis: In an alternative world where magic exists, there is a great battle called ‘The Holy Grail War’ that occurs every 60 years in secret. During this war seven sorcerers (or magi) from any corner of the world may participate, with the aim to win the Holy Grail of legends that is said to grant any wish, no matter how great or small it may be. The magi however do not fight each other directly; they must summon beings known as Servants, who are actually legendary heroes from the past. Using the strengths of their chosen Servants, they must use their combined power to outwit the opponents and win the Grail, for only one pair of Master and Servant can win the right to use its ultimate magic.

Why adapt this? I can already hear you saying, ‘WHAT – ARE YOU CRAZY?!’ through the screen, but hear me out. It’s true that the Fate franchise is already a colossal mess that makes getting into it extremely difficult (I didn’t make this guide for no reason). This is due to the original visual novel being impossible to adapt without major rewrites or high budgets to cover all the routes. But perhaps having a US adaptation, including writers that are familiar with the material but not so attached that they feel the need to adapt frame-by-frame of the original visual novel, that could prove a winning combination to finally create a Fate/Stay Night that newbies and long-time fans could enjoy. Or if no Western developer feels brave enough to touch that wasps’ nest with a ten-foot pole, how about this; Fate/Apocrypha was an anime that was both for fans and friendly to newcomers because it took place in an alternative world, perhaps we could get a US series just like that? Imagine a parallel world where, during the Third Holy Grail War, the Holy Grail was instead captured by the Americans or taken to Clock Tower’s Mage Association in the UK, rather than being exclusively in Japan (or in Apocrypha’s case, Romania). You can absolutely still have the main mage houses such as Tohsaka in there to tie it in with the original series, but it also gives a legitimate excuse as to why suddenly the story is very American and/or English rather than white washing pre-existing characters. With a lore and world as vast as Fate, there’s so many directions a live action version could take it in, and that’s not even including the various Nasuverse spin-offs or possibilities.


Right, now that I’ve shared a few of my ideas and opened a huge can of worms, I ask you all: what anime, manga or light novel series do you think would make for a successful US adaptation? Is there one in the works now that you’re excited for?

Have a think and when I come back for Part 2, we plan to turn this on its head…see you soon!


By day, I work in the television industry. By night, I'm a writer for Anime UK News. Twitter: @lilithdarkstorm

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