Best Anime Adapted From Visual Novels (Ranked)This post may contain affiliate links. If you buy something we may get a small commission at no extra cost to you. (Learn more).
Let me say this: I love visual novels, but they have a rough time in adaptation.
This is because most range from 10 to 50 hours to complete, with that number increasing with a slower reading speed.
Considering they’re so reliant on dialogue and descriptive language, their soul can be tampered with in translation.
However, they can still serve as good anime on their own, or even fantastic introductions to the original source material. Sometimes they improve over the original vision with stellar animation and a streamlined story structure.
So if you’re looking for some of the best anime that got adapted from visual novels, well you’ve found the right corner of the Internet!
10. Ace Attorney (Season One and Two)
The Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney games are a staple of the genre, combining mystery sleuthing and comedy perfectly.
The first season of the anime adaptation is a rushed job with weird pacing and questionable animation.
But it retains the fun storytelling and fantastic characters – even if you don’t get to uncover the clues yourself – and improves in the second season.
I love the Ace Attorney franchise, so I enjoyed this adaptation. However, it is overwhelming flawed, so I recommend the original game if you can.
9. Chaos;Head (and Chaos;Child)
In Chaos;Head, the New Generation Madness are a series of gruesome murders occurring across Shibuya.
Takumi Nishijou doesn’t pay them much attention, skipping school to play video games by himself, suffering from hallucinations and intense paranoia.
One day, he receives an image of a man horrifically nailed to a wall. He goes to an internet café to unwind and assumes it was a hoax… until he encounters the exact same scenario in an alleyway on the way home.
Chaos;Child is set six years in the future, after the incidents of the New Generation Madness killings. It follows Takeru Miyashiro as newer & darker murders start occurring again.
Him and his newspaper club decide to investigate, except they don’t know what they’re getting into.
Both adaptations are hugely flawed, failing to succinctly bridge the numerous alternate routes available and rushing two 50-hour games into 4-hour experiences, but they’re still entertaining if you’re never intending to play the original game.
8. Little Busters
After his parents tragically died, Riki Naoe developed narcolepsy and severe depression that followed him throughout his younger years.
When the charming Kyousuke invites him to join the Little Busters, a club aiming to vanquish evil and protect good, he accepted immediately.
Now in high school, Kyousuke reassembles the Little Busters to relive their youth and grow their bonds.
This simply told romantic drama is one of Key’s best for its colorful art style and design.
This is an honestly great adaptation that doesn’t remove too much in translation and streamlines the emotionally riveting story.
7. Danganronpa (and Danganronpa 3)
Hope’s Peak Academy is an elite school aiming to bring the most talented students together.
But when Makoto Nagai arrives, they are all rendered unconscious and forced into a deathmatch to decide who will be given freedom.
There are three mainline Danganronpa games (1, 2, and V3), and one spinoff (Ultra Despair Girls). They all clock in at 30-50 hours of playtime each.
The first anime adaptation adapts the first game in 4-hours, and the sequel anime Danganronpa 3 (NOT V3) aims to complete the story told in 1, 2, and UDG.
So… There’s a start and an end, but no middle.
Recommending the Danganronpa anime is a tough job. Because it is inferior in every single way to the brilliant source material.
Except the anime is what got me into the games, so they must have done something right!
6. Utawarerumono (and The False Faces)
Hakuroro is a mysterious man found in the woods. He can’t remember who he is, nor why there’s a mask fused with his face.
Slowly he adapts to the village he’s rescued to – eventually deciding to take a stand against the totalitarian emperor that threatens the lives of him and his new friends.
In the sequel, we follow Haku – a mysterious man found in the woods without recollection of his past, again – who’s named after the preceding protagonist. He seeks salvage in the city of Yamato, eventually becoming entangled with the political and alien aspects of his new society.
Both series are connected, constantly twisting, and feature stellar character designs.
Due to the linearity of the original strategic visual novel, not much except gameplay (and the more mature content) is lost in translation either.
Akiho Senomiya has a distinct dream: to repair and finish the GunPro1 mecha that Tanegashima High School Robotics Research Club has been slaving over.
Meanwhile, another member of the club received an unusual message sent by an artificial intelligence warning them of the future.
Set in the same Science-Adventure universe as Chaos;Head (and Child), this adaptation tells a sweeter, simpler story with brilliant production quality.
Some of the character interactions are lacking compared to the VN, but this is an otherwise stellar anime!
4. Higurashi: When They Cry (and Higurashi: Kai)
Keiichi Maebara moves to Hinamizawa – a quiet tiny countryside village – and quickly makes friends with the children that live there.
However, a string of murders, gruesome acts of torture, and a manic conspiracy going back decades quickly brings that quiet life to its knees.
This paranoia-inducing mystery adapts the original eight visual novels into a concise, bizarre story of disturbing mental and body horror.
There are some production issues, and the art style still isn’t perfect (though a huge improvement over the original). Yet it’s still worth a watch for sure. And we’re getting a remake too!
3. Clannad (and Clannad: After Story)
Another anime that I feel improves the visual novel is Clannad.
Tomoya Okazaki has a tumultuous relationship with his abusive father, and often skips school.
When he meets Nagisa Furukawa he falls in love, promising to help her reinstate the school drama club. Through this, he meets many friends who end up staying with him through the roughest parts of his life.
However, it’s the sequel After Story that steals the show.
Now following an adult Tomoya struggling with mature aspects of life, we get more intimately attached than ever before. Absolutely beautiful in every way.
2. Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works (and Heaven’s Feel)
The Fifth Holy Grail War is about to begin. A battle royale comprising masters and their mystical spirits fighting for the right to any wish they want.
Rin and Emiya are classmates who stumble their way into the competition and end up struggling to survive against five other Magi and their Heroic Spirits.
Unlimited Blade Works is an incredible reimagining of the cult classic route of the Fate/stay night game, featuring jaw-dropping Ufotable sakuga and a way more manageable pace and tone compared to the visual novel.
Once you’re done with that (and the prequel/sequel Fate/zero) make sure you check out the three Heaven’s Feel route adaptations, as they’re ridiculously well done.
1. Steins;Gate (and Steins;Gate 0)
One day, the delusional Okabe Rintarou and his friends (the self-proclaimed Future Gadget Laboratory) happen to invent a machine capable of sending text messages back in time.
What follows is a time travel mystery drama, taking us through quantum mechanics in a digestible way.
Interspersed throughout the narrative are otaku-internet allusions that increase the depth of the story, fleshing out the world of Akihabara and our characters.
Steins;Gate is my favorite visual novel; it’s also my favorite anime.
Each version is worth a try, with the game essentially expanding on the streamlined story of the adaptation.
We’re missing the alternate routes and endings, and some of the comedic elements and minor plot lines… but I’d even argue that’s for the better in order to concisely tell one of the most complex and emotionally engaging anime ever made.
An incredible adaptation.