Video games show up in plenty of anime series, many are even centered on games. Some of the most well known fall into the “transported to another world” anime subgenre known as “isekai,” but there is so much more to gaming anime than that.
Let’s take a look at five gaming anime that manage to bring both the best of both worlds together. Some of them focus on a specific subgenre, like fighting games or Esports. Most of these shows highlight how gaming can impact people for the better, but at least one shows the opposite.
High Score Girl
Adapted from the manga by Rensuke Oshikiri, this 2019 romantic comedy is uniquely set in the 90s when 2D fighting games and arcades were all the rage. Sixth grader Harou prefers playing video games over doing homework, while Akira plays video games to escape from a strict home environment. When the two of them meet at a local arcade, Harou finds a worthy gaming rival, and they bond over Street Fighter II. Akira’s top-level skills and Harou’s passionate and competitive spirit allow the two to strike up a friendship, but they develop unspoken feelings for each other over time.
As the years pass, and the games evolve from 2D to 3D, Harou also evolves as a person thanks to the positive influence of Akira. Harou’s mutual respect for Akira allows him to see the importance of balancing work and life with their hobby. In turn, Akira’s desire to play video games with Harou gives her personal freedom, friendship, and a much-needed outlet. Both characters show what can happen when players appreciate each other and when folks who don’t play games can learn to understand or respect the form. With a truckload of nostalgia, slapstick comedy, and an incredible score by legendary video game music composer Yoko Shimomura, this anime is a hidden gem and a must-watch.
Recovery of An MMO Junkie
Originally airing in 2017 and based on Rin Kokuyō’s manga of the same name, the series title is a bit of a misnomer — really, it’s a romantic comedy. At first glance, the premise seems to be about how a 30-year-old online gamer named Morioka Moriko recovers from gaming addiction.
After quitting her stressful office job, Morioka signs up for an online RPG called Fruits De Mer, creating a male avatar rather than a feminine one for a more relaxed experience. After meeting and befriending a woman healer character named Lily, Morioka becomes much more lively and happier than she has been in ages and eventually develops a crush. Little does she know that Lily is played by a male gamer named Sakurai Yuta. Unaware of each other’s game identity, the two run into each other in real life and that’s where things get really fun.
This anime is special in that it shows how online gamers can provide a safe space through anonymity and community. As a male character in Fruits De Mer, Morioka doesn’t have to worry about the anxiety she faces in real life as a woman in her thirties. She can mess around and level up without anyone giving her a hard time. As time passes, Morioka makes other friends online besides Lily by joining a guild, and this leads to her getting comfortable enough to socialize again in real life.
No longer stuck in the office drone role she felt stifled in, Morioka uses confidence gained in her hobby to start taking initiative. The most authentic aspect of this series is how online gaming is never presented as a “miraculous cure-all,” but rather a coping mechanism for Morioka’s ongoing battle with anxiety.
The oldest entry on this list aired in 2002 and was directed by Rin Kokuyō and produced by the animation company Bee Train. Serving as the prequel to what would become the .hack//sign video game series, this series tells the story of an anti-social player named Tsukasa who suddenly wakes up inside the online game known as The World. With no memory of how he got there and no way to log out of the game, Tsukasa soon finds himself embroiled in a series of events surrounding the mystery of an item known as “The Key of Twilight.”
Grudgingly accepting the help of other players such as the heavy-blade-wielding Mimuru and the caring blade master Bear, Tsukasa must figure out how he ended up in his current circumstances and whether or not he is willing to return to the real world.
Although isekai is a pretty popular anime subgenre now, this anime took the concept a bit further by not only trapping its protagonist Tsukasa, but also making him so intertwined with the game that he can feel physical pain when someone hurts him.
In the very first episode, Tsukasa is shocked that he can’t log out, and is dismayed that he can feel physical pain, but he’s also glad he doesn’t have to return to the real world. As difficult details about Tsukasa are revealed in later episodes, it becomes clear that escapism is his major coping mechanism. Yet, the series is honest about that double-edged sword. Tsukasa must figure out whether reality is worth acknowledging despite his pain, and whether he can form positive interpersonal relationships and receive the healthy support he needs.
Bofuri: I Don’t Want To Get Hurt So I’ll Max Out My Defense
Premiering earlier this year, and adapted from a 2016 light novel, this charming mouthful of an anime title is almost exactly what it sounds like. On the recommendation of a friend, Kaede Honjō joins the multi-player online role playing game New World Online (no relation to Sword Art Online) as the character Maple. To avoid taking damage, Maple becomes a shield user with a maxed-out defense stat that slows her movements, but allows her to take most hits with no damage. Inexplicably, Maple fumbles her way through the game but gains new friends and gradually becomes one of the most powerful players.
If you know even the slightest detail about playing any RPGs, you’d know that maxing out your defense isn’t something that most players would do. Since Maple isn’t like most characters and Kaede is unfamiliar with gaming conventions, this allows for some pretty unique and creative gameplay methods.
For example, she kills a dragon and gains its powers by using lots of health potions and biting it to death! Best of all, Maple isn’t shamed or shunned for being new to gaming or for not playing the game “the correct way.” Instead, Maple ends up amassing a powerful guild with almost everyone she meets. Bofuri makes gaming way more fun by going off the beaten path, and the result is a wildly charming experience.
The King’s Avatar
Unlike the other shows on this list, this one is a donghua (i.e. a Chinese animated series) based on the light novel by Hu Dielan. Inspired by the Chinese Esports scene, this 2017 series revolves around a fictional MMPORPG game called Glory. Ye Xiu is the top professional player of Glory and the captain of the Esports team Excellent Era. After being forced to resign from the team, he goes to work at Happy Internet Cafe, keeping his identity as Ye Xiu a secret. There, he plays Glory as an entirely new character, eventually gaining new allies that will assist with his return to the Esports scene through a new team.
By starting from scratch, Ye Xiu gains a new perspective about Glory from everyday players. He learns that everyone is seeking some form of actual glory by playing, whether it is solace from a crappy job or climbing to the top of the leaderboards.
At the same time, he also learns why everyday players glorify Ye Xiu. Both of these perspectives come together as he climbs the leaderboards and handpicks certain players for his new team. He picks them because they have drive and respect for Glory; a desire to upstage the guy who replaced Ye Xiu in Team Excellent Era doesn’t hurt either. Once the roster is filled out, the team must learn to cooperate and work together by bridging their passion as everyday gamers with the finesse of a professional Esports player. This web series shows that even though Esports players and everyday players may game for different reasons, they can share the same ambition.