12 Anime Based on Classic Literature

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The vast majority of manga and anime nowadays are based on manga or Japanese light novels – but this isn’t always the case. A few decades ago, there was a trend of adapting classic Western works of literature. Occasionally, anime give their own fresh takes on well-loved classics, providing new and intriguing stories. If you are looking for such works, here are 12 anime that are based on classic literature:

  1. Akage no Anne

    In the 1970s, it became a trend in shojo anime to adapt classic novels, particularly ones penned by female authors, with girls as the main characters. Akage no Anne is no different.

    Based on the classic novel series by Canadian author Lucy Maude Montgomery, it tells the well-known story of an imaginative red-haired girl who is accidentally adopted by two elderly siblings, instead of the boy they’d hoped for – and the way she changes their lives forever.

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  2. Alps no Shoujo no Heidi

    Another of the most well-known shojo anime based on children’s classics be female authors, Alps no Shoujo no Heidi adapts Johanna Spyri’s 1880 novel, Heidi. The design, themes, and overall themes of the anime might feel a little outdated now, but many of us grew up with it, and its impossible to hear the opening without feeling nostalgic.

  3. Les Miserables: Shoujo Cosette

    Few classics have been adapted as often as Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, and as such, it couldn’t be missing from the world of anime. Following the trend of shojo anime based on classics, it focuses on Cosette a bit more than other adaptations.

    Still, with 52 episodes, the show gave itself enough time to illustrate the other characters’ stories as well, making it a satisfying adaptation for those who just can’t have enough of Les Mis.

  4. Aoi Bungaku

    If you’d like to delve more deeply into Japanese literature, Aoi Bungaku might be for you. The anime adapts celebrated Japanese short stories including but not limited to No Longer Human, by Osamu Dazai and Hell Screen, by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa.

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  5. Banana Fish

    Banana Fish feels very contemporary, especially since the anime adaptation upgraded the manga’s 80s aesthetics, bringing it into the 21st century. The plot of Banana Fish focuses on Ash, a teenage gang leader, Eiji, a Japanese student who gets caught up in the former’s investigation of a drug known as “banana fish,” and the heart-breaking, romantic friendship between the two.

    On a second level, the anime is a study in Modernist literature. The title comes from J. D. Salinger’s short story "A Perfect Day for Bananafish." Each episode of the shojo anime is titled after a different Modernist short story or novel such as Tender Is the Night, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” and As I Lay Dying – and they are just as painful and sad.

  6. Bungou Stray Dogs

    If you’ve just gotten into Japanese literature and would enjoy all the references, Bungou Stray Dogs is for you. The seinen anime isn’t based on literature as such, but the main characters – members of a detective agency unlike any you’ve seen – are based on famous Japanese authors such as Osamu Dazai, Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Atsushi Nakajima, and others.

    The characters’ magical abilities are often based on literature by these authors. Even better, they fight against characters based on Anglophone authors such as Francis Scott Fitzgerald and Lucy Maud Montgomery in later episodes!

  7. Moriarty the Patriot

    Moriarty the Patriot might not be exactly based on a work of classic literature, but it exists because of one.

    Fans of Sherlock Holmes know of his nemesis, William James Moriarty, but what’s his backstory, and how did he come to be the way he is in the Holmes stories? Such are the answers Moriarty the Patriot attempts to answer

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  8. Arrietty

    If you’ve ever been tempted to give a supernatural explanation to all your little things that have gone missing, you likely enjoyed Arietty by Studio Ghibli. But did you know it’s based on a 1952 book by British author Mary Norton?

    In the book, little Arietty and her people are known as the Borrowers. These miniature humans live hidden in houses and gardens and they make a living by “borrowing” small things from us humans and repurposing them to serve their needs. If you’d like to delve more deeply into Arietty’s world – and post-war British themes – this is a must-read.

  9. Howl's Moving Castle

    A 1980s book might be a bit too recent to be considered a classic, but Diana Wynne Jones is one of the most beloved British authors of children’s books, and Howl’s Moving Castle (1986) is one of her best and funniest works.

    If you found the Ghibli film a little disjointed, Jones’ book of the same name is your go-to for much deeper insights into the two main characters, as well as side characters who were not in the anime, all of whom are endearing in their own right.

  10. Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo

    Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo has a very different art style from your typical adaptation. It is one of the least faithful adaptations in this list, as it takes the Count into the far, far future, and takes liberties with the source material, but it’s still a unique work, worth checking out whether or not you enjoy Alexandre Dumas’ works.

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  11. Requiem of the Rose King

    If Shakespearean vibes – and drama! – are your cup of tea, Requiem of the Rose King is ideal for you. The anime loosely adapts William Shakespeare’s Henry IV and Richard III.

    In this version, Richard is intersex bringing much-needed lgbtq+ representation to the world of anime. This isn’t the most accurate adaptation of a Shakespearean work, of course, and, if you are interested, we recommend checking the Requiem of the Rose King manga first.

  12. Romeo X Juliet

    Another Shakespearean adaptation; albeit a loose one, with lots of science fiction elements. In this version, the feud unfolds on a floating island, Neo Verona.

    With so many great versions of one of Shakespeare’s most adapted work, Romeo X Juliet isn’t the most charming work on this list, though it will definitely appeal to some fans of the original - and of romance anime.