Anime, as a form of entertainment, has become so popular over the decades that the world collectively refers to this one country’s animated content by name, rather than simply calling them Japanese cartoons the way we would any other country. Perhaps this comes from the uniquely stylised art, or perhaps from the sheer number of anime series produced over the years, or perhaps a combination of the two. But just where are anime producers finding the material for this much? There is a constant stream of new material, with anywhere from 2 to 10 new anime released each month. Anime can only come from two places: original ideas, or adapted from another source. Original ideas, though not scarce, are not nearly as commonplace as adaptions. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the various sources anime can be adapted from.
Almost every anime is adapted from manga. As a term in Japan, ‘manga’ simply refers to any comic done in Japanese, much the same way ‘anime’ refers to all animation released in Japan. Outside of Japan, the term has come to be recognised as a specific type of comic, with certain traits and art styles shared by all. These traits and art styles have been a heavy influence on the world, from Chinese ‘manhua’ to the French movement ‘la nouvelle manga.’ Manga covers a wide range of genres and story types, from long-running action epics to simple, one-shot love stories. While it is rare to see an anime adapted from a one-shot, almost every manga with even a shred of popularity will get an anime adaption.
Not every manga, however, is published the same way anymore. With the rise of the Internet came a new way to share material, and the rise of ‘webmanga’ began. These are manga published online, sometimes serialized in online magazines and sometimes published entirely by the author themselves. Most webmanga that reach a certain popularity level, and thus productivity level, become published as manga and adapted into anime. Two of the most notable examples are the recent Monthly Girl’s Nozaki-kun, and Hetalia: Axis Powers.
Along with this new age comes a new form of storytelling: the visual novel. Most people who have never used a visual novel before have a hard time grasping the concept. It’s much like a video game, but with the structure of a book. Remember those choose-your-own-adventure books you read so much as a kid? Visual novels are the same idea, only told all through illustrations and presented electronically. Visual novels are a prime material from anime adaptions. As the novels follow multiple storylines, the anime will usually choose to adapt the “perfect” or most popular option, leaving the other storylines as possibilities for second seasons or special episodes.
Another medium is the video game itself. One of the most popular and enduring anime is Pokémon. Originally beginning as a pair of video games, Pokémon has grown into a franchise that spans all across the globe. And it isn’t the only popular anime to come from a game. Persona, Dragon Age, Final Fantasy and Tales of Symphonia name a few.
Occasionally, anime will be adapted from actual books. This isn’t much of a popular option; more likely than book series are the light novels, a genre of short novellas often accompanied by illustrations. But classic literature has also been seen adapted, like Romeo x Juliet, The Count of Monte Cristo, and almost as many Alice in Wonderland interpretations as there are in Western entertainment.
So far, all anime source materials we’ve seen come from Japan, and it is true that anime producers like their content home-grown. Every once in a while, an anime from an outside source will come along. Comics such as Iron Man and X-Men have had their own short-lived anime adaptions. One notable venture lies in Deltora Quest, an anime based off a series of popular Australian children’s novels.
The possibilities for anime adaptions have been growing greater and greater over the years. While classic manga will continue to be the largest contributor, it is possible that sourcing for anime will grow past its borders, possibly even to the Western hemisphere, and that is a possibility to look forward to – admit it, you’ve always wanted to see your favorite book series adapted as an anime.