Top 25 Best Anime Adapted From Light NovelsThis post may contain affiliate links. If you buy something we may get a small commission at no extra cost to you. (Learn more).
If there’s one thing I like more than watching anime, it’s reading books.
Whether it’s a Western novel, a Japanese light novel, or a Czechoslovakian short story, if it’s based on a book it’s likely denser than your average anime.
And my picks for this list of adapted anime are no exception!
It was tough, but I think I’ve got a definitive list of the best novel adaptations (whether that be for their faithfulness, or stylish approach). So let’s get into this!
25. My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU
Hachiman Hikigaya is a wallflower with a disdain towards socializing and optimism.
He doesn’t believe in anything, and his narcissistic personality gets in the way of any companionship. As a punishment for writing a sarcastic essay, he’s made to join a club that takes odd jobs from the student body.
It’s here where he meets Yukino Yukinoshita and Yui Yuigahama, two totally different girls who start to get Hachiman to open up.
Adapted from the light novel written by Wataru Watari, this anime will keep you immersed with its romantic melodrama and great characterization.
24. God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World!
Kazuma Satou is on his way home when he’s handed a pitiful, pathetic death.
He wakes up in limbo, and given two options from the obnoxious goddess, Aqua. He can proceed to heaven or be reincarnated in a video game-esque fantasy world. We’ve all heard this before, right?
Just before departing, she gives him the opportunity to take any one item with him in his quest.
To her dismay, he chooses her.
The original light novel (Natsume Akatsuki) is a fantastic parody of the oversaturated Isekai genre, choosing to illustrate a funny world that never takes itself too seriously.
One of my favorite Isekai, without a doubt.
Also, Aqua is Best Girl.
On the noisy streets of Ikebukuro, the night never truly stops. The headless Black Rider – a jet figure wielding a scythe atop a giant motorbike – has been seen driving near midnight. Gangsters start wars and provoke one another.
There’s a possessing demon blade, tainting the mind of the user, somewhere downtown.
The ongoing feud between a supernatural giant of a man and a cheeky sadist regularly shakes the lampposts and vending machines of the neighborhood.
This is all good news to the bored Mikado Ryuugamine, who just arrived and is eager to get involved.
Faithfully adapted from Suzuhito Yasuda’s long-running light novel series, Durarara!! and all its sequels features a giant cast of fleshed out, lovable characters, set across a city with just as much personality.
Arararagi is half-vampire and dedicates himself to uncovering and solving abnormal activities in and around his town.
When he meets Hitagi Senjougahara, he falls in love.
Bakemonogatari follows their romance. But also the supernatural relationships Arararagi develops throughout.
NISIOISIN’s bizarre characters, each with their own distinct shortcomings, dreams, and personalities, are brought to life thanks to Studio SHAFT.
Their gorgeously cinematic style accentuates the literary-thick narrative and dialogue to new artistic heights.
21. Howl’s Moving Castle
Howl is a wizard of great power and humility. His castle is a large monolith of industrialized mechanization, roaming the countryside and leaving smoke billowing in its wake.
The young Sophie Hatter finds herself rescued by Howl, before being turned into an old woman by the spiteful Witch of the Waste.
Howl’s Moving Castle chronicles Sophie trying to get her old body back in an eccentric and frightening fantasy land torn by raging wars. And it’s beautiful.
One of Studio Ghibli’s most celebrated works is based on the series by the wonderful Diana Wynne Jones.
Though it does not adapt the narrative too well, it recreates her world with a vivid and beautiful aesthetic. Just what you’d expect from a Ghibli film.
20. A Country Doctor
Summoned to the bedside of a patient at night, the country doctor struggles to find a horse.
He’s given one, but the stable hand subsequently abuses and then rushes off with his maid. Before the doctor can save her, he is galloped to his destination, and given the task of helping a man who doesn’t want help.
All the while, his mind is elsewhere.
Based on the short story by the Prague-born Franz Kafka, Inaka Isha is an overwhelming success at adapting the Kafkaesque.
Told with a bizarre, disturbing style, and a calming yet unusual pace, you’ll be left confused – but don’t worry, just try to interpret.
Because being confused is all part of the experience.
19. The Tatami Galaxy
The depressed Watashi finds himself regretting how he’s spent his university life.
He didn’t socialize, barely paid attention to his studies, didn’t confess to his crush, and never entered any clubs.
Luckily, he’s sent back in time to the beginning of his first year and given an opportunity to try again.
Based on the Tomihiko Morimi novel, this is one of Masaaki Yuasa’s greatest anime.
The surreal, rough art style and dreamlike soundtrack illustrates a wonderful carpe diem tale that only improves with age.
18. Perfect Blue
CHAM! was a J-pop idol band that saw overwhelming success.
When Mima Kirigoe decides to leave to focus on her acting ambitions, much to the ire of a obsessive fan who refuses to let her go.
Her career escalates in difficulty, an enigmatic website has started recording her from her room… yet she cannot find a camera. Slowly Mima falls into a paranoid spiral where reality and fiction blend together.
This was Satoshi Kon’s first work as a director, and he got it right in his first go.
Absolutely wonderful and disturbing in its presentation, Yoshikazu Takeuchi’s para-social horror novel was adapted perfectly.
The Fourth Holy Grail War commences, joining seven mages (masters) in a battle royal where the victor is granted any wish they desire.
To aid them in this, the mages are granted Heroic Spirits (servants) inspired by famous historic figures.
It’s dark, gritty, and addictive.
Not only did Gen Urobuchi author the original light novel as a prequel to his beloved visual novel Fate/stay night, but he also directed and produced the adaptation.
So it’s entirely faithful, and when paired with Ufotable’s incredible production quality, it quickly overshadows the source material.
After the young Megumi Shimizu is found dead, the village of Sotaba is launched into mania over the fear of an epidemic.
The doctor Toshio Ozaki investigates, only to stumble upon a vampiric secret that forces him to question how far he will go to protect the village.
Adapted from the critically acclaimed novel (Fuyumi Ono) and inspired by Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, Shiki tells a disturbing story of humanity and monsters.
The lines will blur in this wonderfully despairing tragedy.
Set in 1629 Shizuoka, there is a new tournament managed by the daimyou. Shigurui follows the first ever match between a one-armed swordsman with a dark past, and a blind samurai with ambition. We follow the buildup to that match, before discovering the victor.
Based on the initial chapter of Norio Nanjou’s Suruga-jou Gozen Jiai, The Sigururi anime is stylistically and thematically mature.
And it offers plenty of gore and body horror, all punctuated with sexual sequences and dense storytelling. Quite a riveting anime to check out.
14. Aoi Bungaku
Aoi Bungaku is a special case as it’s an anthology series, collecting six different short stories in animated format.
Osamu Dazai’s legendary ‘No Longer Human’ tells a dark story of melancholy, while his other short story ‘Run, Melos!’ discusses a playwright struggling with a betrayal.
‘Sakura no Mori no Mankai no Shita’ by Ango Sakaguchi is adapted in all its twisted glory.
‘Kokoro’ by Natsume Soseki is a tale of differing human perspectives.
And Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s ‘The Spider’s Thread’ (a grim portrayal of afterlife redemption and guilt) along with ‘Hell Screen’ round up the collection.
Each story ranges from a single episode to four episodes long, and is animated damn well.
The storytelling naturally varies – given the multitudinous authors – but this still stands as a fantastic recreation of many Japanese classics.
13. Spice and Wolf
Kraft Lawrence spent his days as a travelling merchant, until meeting a wolf-like woman sleeping in his wagon.
Holo the Wisewolf is a deity in charge of good harvest, no longer needed by the locals due to agricultural development.
She decides to head north back to her birthplace and kindly asks to join Kraft in is journeys.
Soon they become dependent on one another in a medieval world.
Holo and Kraft are two of my favorite characters in anime, with their stellar wit and endearing traits driving an endearing economic romance.
The anime is a brilliant adaptation of Isuna Hasekura’s fantasy romance.
However, we’ve been waiting a decade for a third season now!
12. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
Day in, day out, Okina slaves away as a bamboo cutter.
One day he cuts one down only to find a baby the size of a bean within it. He quickly rushes home and agrees with his wife to raise her as their own.
Okina feels she deserves something more royal than what her parents can offer. Their wish is granted when they find a fortune in the same forest, and elevate her to the position of princess, even though Kaguya wants the simple life she was raised in.
This is a Studio Ghibli interpretation of a 10th-century Japanese folktale.
There’s no other anime with an art style like this, using sparse white space effectively to create a colorful storybook aesthetic. Absolutely beautiful.
11. The Count of Monte Cristo
The year is 5053.
The viscount Albert de Morcerf is attending a festival when he meets the illusive, mysterious Count of Monte Cristo.
They befriend one another, and Albert is quickly thrown headfirst into a decade-spanning plot for revenge and validation, taking him through the seedy and dark world of aristocracy.
Alexandre Dumas’ celebrated story of cunning revenge is adapted into a Klimt-infused eye-feast.
Set in the future, many aspects have been altered to bring the original tale to the modern age.
This anime is pushing two decades old and still looks incredible. One of my favorites.
10. Welcome to the NHK!
Tatsuhiro Sato is a hikikomori, a drug abuser, a paranoid individual convinced there’s a conspiracy – the N.H.K conspiracy – out to get him.
A girl knocks on his door, and soon takes it upon herself to ‘fix’ him.
But she’s got damage of her own and doesn’t know about the impossible task she’s taken on.
Raw, wacky, endearing, conflicted.
Welcome to the NHK is a rare take on depression in anime form.
The original novel, authored by Tastuhiko Takimoto, feels deeply personal in its themes and message, which doesn’t get lost in adaptation.
Ryuuji Takasu ans Taiga Aisaka are very similar, but also completely different. He’s a tall, cold looking boy with a soft heart. Whereas she’s a small, timid looking girl overflowing with anger.
They’re also in love with each other’s best friend… and when they find this out, they decide to work together to win their respective hearts.
However, they soon become reliant on one another.
Adapted from Yuyuko Takemiya’s beloved romance light novel series with care and attention, Toradora! is one of the best romance anime out there.
This is because of the endearing characters and strong writing. It doesn’t pull any punches, all animated colorfully and accompanied by an energetic emotional soundtrack.
Decades ago, the 1000-blade swordsmith Shikizaki Kiki crafted twelve Deviant Blades possessing supernatural properties.
We follow Yasuri Shichika, a simple man who inherited one of them.
One day, the unusual Togame arrives at his island where he lives in exile. He’s requested to help retrieve the other 11.
Written by the always-witty NISIOISIN (Bakemonogatari), Katanagatari is an artistically brilliant and faithful adaptation.
Each episode moves at a brisk and stylish pace, and the characters drive the journey until the final, emotional, truly unforgettable conclusion.
7. The Garden of Sinners
Ever since receiving her Mystic Eyes of Death Perception, Shiki has been able to see death; its root cause, its path of causality.
She got them after waking from a coma. Before her accident, she struggled with two distinct personalities – one driven by bloodlust, the other mildly pacifistic.
But upon waking, they were gone.
She now needs to face the difficulty of possessing a third, new identity that she’s unsure of.
Based on the novels by Kinoko Nasu, and set in the Type-Moon universe, The Garden of Sinners encapsulates on everything that made the source material good.
In fact, it improves with a jaw dropping animation style (Ufotable) and bombastic yet emotional soundtrack.
6. Les Misérables
Fantine, a poor French woman, struggles to care for her daughter Cosette.
She decides to leave the girl with the Thernadier family – unknowingly condemning her to a life of servitude – to seek a job unhindered.
Cosette is approached by the mysterious Jean-Valjean, a man with great intentions and a harrowing past… and our story moves on from there.
Based on the famous Victor Hugo novel, the anime adaptation doesn’t skip on detail, painstakingly recreating every single scene to tell a thorough story (not the musical) about crime, corruption, wealth, and family.
5. Run with the Wind
Run with the Wind begins with the ace runner Kakeru Kurahara shoplifting, only to be confronted by a different pursuer on a bike – Haiji Kiyose.
He asks him to join him and eight others to compete in the Hakone Ekiden, an intensive marathon relay race.
They’re all given free lodgings in return and food, except most of them can’t run at all.
Probably one of the most inspiring anime I’ve ever seen, tackling a more mature tone to become one of the best complete (and short) sports series out there.
It improved on Shion Miura’s wonderful novel with stellar animation and a wonderful soundtrack. Definitely re-watching soon.
4. Grave of the Fireflies
At the end of the Second World War, the city of Kobe is firebombed.
Two young siblings, Seita and Setsuko, have everything taken from them and are forced to survive in the wreckage.
This movie is raw, brutal, dark-hearted, and well-meaning.
It succinctly immortalizes the suffering of those in Japan during WWII without feeling heavy-handed.
If you cry, it’s not because of manipulation – it’s because the tragedies experienced in those years were truly devastating.
Inspired by the despairing semi-autobiographical story by Akiyuki Nosaka, Grave of the Fireflies is one of Studio Ghibli’s greatest works and will go down in history as perhaps their magnum opus.
The studio is no stranger to tackling issues of warfare. But Grave of the Fireflies slams into the topic head-on without remorse.
3. Anne of Green Gables
Anne Shirley is an 11-year-old orphan, eagerly waiting for her new parents to pick her up from the train station.
The Cuthbert couple are two elderlies looking for a young and agile boy who can help them with their farm.
So when Matthew accidentally returns with a girl, Marilla isn’t exactly too happy.
We follow Anne through her childhood to early adulthood, making connections and growing as a person, all animated with such charm that the original classic by L. M. Montgomery almost pales in comparison.
2. From the New World
Enter a world where 0.1% of the population awakens their psychokinetic powers.
Centuries later, the 12-year-old Saki Watanabe begins her first day in the unified class, eager to hone her abilities. Soon classmates start disappearing; there’s a large cat stalking the village of Kamisu 66; the monster rates are becoming restless.
From the New World is a disturbing coming-of-age dystopic mystery, with incredible worldbuilding and constantly developing (and aging) characters. All adapted wonderfully from Yusuke Kishi’s novel.
1. Legend of the Galactic Heroes
We enter our story after 115 years of stalemating comes to a close when Wen-li Yang and Reinhard von Lohengramm meet on the battlefield of the stars.
The Galactic Empire and Free Planets Alliance are launched into a history-defining war.
This will decide the fate of the galaxy, and who governs it.
Legend of the Galactic Heroes is an anime adapted from Yoshiki Tanaka’s 10-book novel series.
It tells a story on a scale unseen in any other anime.
With over 300 voiced actors and tons of important characters, plus a narrative spanning multiple decades, this anime gets the Game of Thrones comparisons thrown around for a reason.
It’s a slow burn, but when it explodes – it really explodes.