Ideas for anime series rarely come out of thin air. A large number of anime are adaptations of manga, light novels, visual novels, or video games. In addition to these media, there are anime adaptations of non-Japanese literature such as Franz Kafka’s ‘A Country Doctor’. While it is obvious when a foreign book gets a direct anime adaptation, it may not be as obvious when one inspires an anime. Here are some examples of famous foreign literature that helped to inspire anime.
Journey to the West
Written in 16th century China by Wu Cheng’en, Journey to the West is a tale of a monk named Xuanzang that travels to the western regions under instruction from the Buddha in order to obtain sacred Buddhist texts. On his journey, the monk is accompanied by Sun Wukong, a violent monkey; Zhu Bajie, a gluttonous pig; Sha Wujing, a quiet ogre; and Yulong, a horse and son of a dragon king.
Some elements of Journey to the West were taken to create the popular action anime, Dragon Ball. The main character, Goku, was based on the monkey, as evidenced by his tail and transformation. Like the monkey, Goku also fights with a staff and can ride on a cloud. Other Dragon Ball characters with comparable roles to Journey to the West characters are Bulma as Xuanzang, Oolong as Zhu Bajie, and Yamcha as Sha Wujing
A science fiction novel written by Arthur C. Clarke, Childhood’s End is a story of humanity’s evolution and demise. Aliens called Overlords arrive on Earth and offer to bring peace and prosperity to the people. After several decades, humanity enters a golden age where there are no wars and everyone lives comfortably, but soon children begin to develop telepathic and telekinetic powers. It is then revealed that the Overlords were preparing the human race to join the Overminid by merging the consciousness of humanity into one ultimate being.
Bringing the consciousness’s of humanity together into one ultimate being will probably sound familiar to anyone who watched Neon Genesis Evangelion. The Human Instrumentality Project was designed to consolidate the consciousness of different people into one godlike being, the next step in human evolution. This idea was likely taken from Clarke’s novel.
American author Stephen King is well-known for his horror novels. His second published novel, Salem’s Lot, was published in 1975 and focuses on the idea of a vampire invasion. Set in a small town in Maine, people start to mysteriously disappear after someone moves into an abandoned mansion. It is later revealed that vampires have chosen the town as their new home and intend to turn all of the residents into vampires. As the vampires increase in numbers, the residents that remain must either fight back or flee in order to survive.
In homage to King’s novel, Japanese author Fuyumi Ono wrote her own novel about vampires invading a small town, but set in Japan’s countryside. The novel by Ono was called Shiki, which was later adapted into an anime. Much like Salem’s Lot, Shiki involves mysterious deaths/disappearances after someone moves into a large mansion in the town. As the story progresses, it is revealed that the town’s residents are slowly being converted into vampires and the ones that haven’t struggle to survive the vampire onslaught.
The Sprawl Trilogy was written in the 1980’s by William Gibson and consists of Neumancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive. It takes place after the third world war and is characterized by the effects of technology on people and the emergence of artificial intelligence. One of the main concepts of the trilogy is the efforts of artificial intelligence to remove its hardwired limitations. The Sprawl Trilogy is considered to be an example of cyperpunk or post-cyberpunk.
Ghost in the Shell is a popular anime that has borrowed some aspects of the Sprawl Trilogy. Also set in a time after world war, Ghost in the Shell features advanced technology and focuses on the effect that they have on people. The emergence of artificial intelligence and its attempt to break free from its limitations is also a main theme of the series.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms
Romance of the Three Kingdoms is one of the most widely read novels in East Asia. It was written in the 14th century by Luo Guanzhong and takes place during the Three Kingdoms era in ancient China. The story consists of many different sub-plots generally revolving around conflict between groups. One of the highlights of the story was the Yellow Turban Rebellion, so-called for the yellow cloths worn by the rebels. Another highlight is the numerous battles faced by legendary figures such as Liu Bei and Cao Cao.
When you look at a trailer for the Ikkitousen anime, it looks nothing like Romance of the Three Kingdoms, but it is indeed inspired by the novel. In Ikkitousen, schools take the place of warring states and hot girls take the place of historic generals. Each of the main characters has a historic counterpart; for example, Hakafu Sonsaku’s counterpart is Sun Ce, who helped establish the Eastern Wu state.
Another anime that draws inspiration from Romance of the Three Kingdoms is Durarara. Set in Ikebukuro, different groups vie for power over the city. One of the groups is called the Yellow Scarves and they identify themselves much like the Yellow Turban rebels in Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
The Hyperion Cantos is a set of books, Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion, written by Dan Simmons. The Hyperion Cantos can be a bit difficult to grasp given the way it is presented from the view of numerous different characters, but they are all inter-related. The story takes place in the 28th century when the Hegemony of Man has spread across the stars. They work with the TechnoCore, an agglomeration of artificial intelligences that seems nearly omniscient, to defend themselves against the Ousters, who are a group of “barbarians on the outskirts of Hegemony territory that shun all works of the TechnoCore. These three groups are all mysteriously affected by Time Tombs and creatures call Shrikes on the remote world of Hyperion.
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is largely inspired by the Hyperion Cantos. Like how different groups are drawn to and affected by conditions on Hyperion, different people are drawn to and affected by Haruhi. Time travel, religious worship, data analysis, and the view of a bystander that has more to do with the events of the story than they know are major elements of both series. In recognition of Haruhi’s roots, references can be seen to Dan Simmons’s works, as when Yuki Nagato was reading one of his books.
The Cthulhu Mythos is based on a series of works written by H.P. Lovecraft. It consists of many fictional locations and even more fictional deities. Those deities often took on forms that can only come from the wildest of imaginations and each have their own unique traits and personalities.
With an entire universe of fictional beings to work with, it’s no surprise that some anime have adopted the beings found in the Cthulhu Mythos. Both Demonbane and Haiyore Hyaruko-san have borrowed places and beings from the Cthulhu Mythos and incorporated them into their own stories.
Chronicles of Narnia
What childhood would be complete without reading the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis? With magic, kingdoms, talking animals, and all sorts of mythical beings, Narnia is the stuff child fantasies are made of. When four siblings are sent to the English countryside during WWII, they accidently discover a passageway to Narnia where they are prophesized to bring peace to the land. Reluctant at first, they soon embark on an adventure to save the world of Narnia from a witch with the guidance of a lion. Upon returning to their own world, they find that little time has passed since they first set foot in Narnia.
Digimon Adventure uses many of the same basic concepts as the Chronicles of Narnia. A group of children find themselves in the Digital World, where they are called the Digidestined, ones destined to save the world from evil. As with Narnia, the Digital World has also been enslaved by an evil being, which is the main antagonist of the series. When the children return to their own world, they find that time has passed at a much slower rate. In the second Narnia book, the two younger children are able to return to Narnia to defeat another enemy. Following suit, Digimon Adventure 2 has the two younger children from the first series return to the Digital World to also fight a new enemy.
Le Petit Prince
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is probably best known for his book, Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince). Unlike the other books I’ve mentioned thus far, there are only two major characters in Le Petit Prince: an aviator that has crashed in the Sahara desert, and a boy from space (the little prince). The boy tells the aviator of his travels through space, encountering a number of adults so obsessed with their desires that they don’t realize the folly of their logic. On Earth, before meeting the aviator, the boy encounters a yellow snake claiming to have the ability to send him home, rosebushes which made him realize that his rose back home was nothing special, a fox that the boy tames then parts ways with, and a railway switchman that complains of how passengers never bother to enjoy the journey.
Star Driver may not seem to have much in common with Le Petit Prince until you consider the details. The members of the Glittering Crux can be associated with the six adults that the boy encounters before landing on Earth. The leaders of the six divisions of the Glittering Crux; Emperor, Vanishing Age, Bougainvilleae, Adult Bank, Filament, and Science Guild can be attributed to the king, the conceited man, the drunkard, the businessman, the lamplighter and the geographer. Also of note is that the phrase “apprivoise” is French for “to tame”, which is a topic discussed between the boy and the fox.
The Lost Continent of Mu: Motherland of Man
James Churchward, the author of The Lost Continent of Mu, wrote that there existed a continent somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, called Mu, where humanity originally came from. The continent is said to be where the Garden of Eden is located and is home to an ancient civilization with technology that is much more advanced than our own. In his writings, Churchwood explains that the Egyptian god Ra is from Mu, and the word “Rah” can be used to describe the sun or gods.
The existence of the continent of Mu is what sets the basis for the series, RahXephon. The title of the anime comes from combining the words “Rah” for sun or god, “X” for X-factor, and “ephon” to indicate an instrument. The series also has many references to Pacific civilizations that Churchwood claims were former colonies of Mu. An example is the name Maya being used for the leader of the Mu in Tokyo, taken from the Mayan civilization.
I have only focused on books that have influenced TV anime here, but many non-Japanese books have also been the source of inspiration for anime films, such as Anne of Green Gables, Wuthering Heights, Dracula, and The Borrowers. In fact, many of Ghibli’s films are heavily influenced by foreign works. If you have a favourite book that has helped to inspire anime, feel free to discuss it in the comments.