16 Anime Based on Classic Literature

Anime Based on Classic Literature Banana Fish Ash
Credit: MAPPA

Anime Based on Classic Literature Banana Fish Ash
Credit: MAPPA

The vast majority of manga and anime nowadays are based on manga or Japanese light novels – but this isn’t always the case. Here are some anime that are based on classic literature.

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, and we've found some such works for you.

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  1. Akage no Anne

    In the 1970s, it became a trend in shoujo 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.

  2. Alps no Shoujo no Heidi

    Another of the most well-known shoujo anime based on children’s classics by female authors, Alps no Shoujo no Heidi adapts Johanna Spyri’s 1880 novel, Heidi.

    The design and overall themes of the anime might feel a little outdated now, but many of us grew up with it, and it's impossible to hear the opening without feeling nostalgic.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, the story couldn’t be missing from the world of anime.

    Following the trend of shoujo 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.

  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, and 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 shoujo 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.

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  6. Bungou Stray Dogs

    If you’ve just gotten into Japanese literature and would enjoy all the references, Bungou Stray Dogs is right 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 more.

    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!

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  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!

  8. Arrietty

    If you’ve ever been tempted to give a supernatural explanation for all your little things that have gone missing, you likely enjoyed Arrietty by Studio Ghibli.

    But did you know it’s based on a 1952 book by British author Mary Norton?

    In the book, little Arrietty 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 Arrietty's world – and post-war British themes – this is a must-watch.

  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.

    READ MORE: Howl's Moving Castle Movie vs. Book Differences Explained

  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.

    It's worth checking out whether or not you enjoy Alexandre Dumas’ works.

  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, but if you are interested, we recommend checking the Requiem of the Rose King manga first.

  12. Romeo x Juliet

    Here's 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 works, 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.

  13. RWBY

    RWBY is not based on a single classic novel, but you will find many fairy tales, mythology, and children's books references.

    Ruby and her team are too well-developed to be considered fairy tale characters, but their original aesthetics were based on Red Riding Hood, Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, and Goldilocks.

    Those who are interested in actual classic books will be happy to know that Ozpin and his inner circle are modeled after The Wizard of Oz, asking what would happen if the characters did not overcome their weaknesses.

    Ozpin is, of course, the Wizard of Oz, Lionheart is the lion if he had not learned to be brave, and Ironwood is the Tin Man if he'd failed to acquire a heart.

    Qrow is, of course, based on the Scarecrow, though he's a more three-dimensional character that moves past his allusion, while Glynda is based on Glinda the Good Witch of the South.

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  14. Snow White with the Red Hair

    Fairy tales do not have a single "classic" version, but you'll often find the Brothers' Grimm version of Snow White in the Classics section, and Snow White with the Red Hair is definitely influenced by this story.

    In this anime, a young red-haired woman tries to build a happy and independent life for herself after escaping from a monarch who wanted to make her his concubine.

    ALSO READ: The Best Romance Anime With a Female Lead

  15. Black Butler

    Black Butler isn't based on any single classic novel, but it will often make you feel like you're watching a Victorian gothic novel adaptation or a Sherlock Holmes-like mystery.

    One of the arcs that have been adapted into an anime, known as Black Butler: Book of Murder focuses on such a mystery, and a fictionalized version of Arthur Conan Doyle actually makes an appearance. 

    In it, the author is presented as a poor occultist and struggling writer who finds unexpected inspiration in the Phantomhive manor.

  16. The Flowers of Evil: Aku No Hana

    The Flowers of Evil: Aku no Hana might not be an outright retelling, but the anime does draw inspiration from Charles Baudelaire's transgressive poetry collection, Flowers of Evil or Les Fleurs du Mal.

    The main character, Takao Kasuga, is a bookworm who's obsessed with the titular poetry collection.

    One day, he forgets his copy of Les Fleurs du Mal in the classroom. When he goes back to retrieve it, he steals the sports clothes of Nanako Saeki, a classmate he idolizes.

    Takao regrets it almost instantly but, to make matters worse, he realizes his act was seen by Sawa Nakamura, another classmate who now uses this knowledge to blackmail him.

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