Anime-based video games don't exactly have the best reputation. For decades now, players have had to slog through a seemingly endless stream of mediocre anime and manga titles that often serve as disservices to their typically solid animated series. Every once in a while, though, a rare diamond in the big-haired rough comes along to restore our faith in the genre and, in the process, reminding us of one the many reasons that we love Japan as much as we do.
To recognize this disparity, we've decided to compile—in no particular order—some of the greatest highs and most dishonorable lows that anime games have to offer. Please note that we've only chosen games based on pre-existing anime or manga, so kindly stifle your outrage when you don't see any Pokémon or Valkyria Chronicles titles—which only spawned anime after the games themselves were released—on the list. Also, no Hentai. Sorry, fellas.
Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3 (PlayStation 2)
There is perhaps no franchise more responsible for anime's massive popularity over the years than Akira Toriyama's Dragon Ball series. With over 350 million copies of the manga sold worldwide, a handful of hit TV anime shows, and even a (regrettable) live-action movie adaptation to its name, it's no wonder that so many people across the globe instantly associate the word "anime" with Dragon Ball.
It makes sense then, that Goku, Vegeta, and company have seen no shortage of video game tie-ins over the course of their days. While the majority of the many DB titles have ranged from mediocre to horrid (more on that later), there have been a few moments of greatness, chief among them the third installment in the popular Budokai fighting game series.
While not anywhere near as technical as fighters like Street Fighter or Tekken, 2004's Budokai 3 is fast-paced, stylish, and just a hell of a lot of fun. With over 40 playable characters spanning the entirety of the anime's lifespan, a heaping of game modes, and improved combat mechanics, Budokai 3 is more than just fan service; it's a damn good fighter in its own right.
Naruto: Rise of a Ninja (Xbox 360)
If we're counting Japan-only releases, there's almost too many Naruto-based video games to count. Like most anime games, most of those aren't even worth mentioning, so it wasn't until Ubisoft Montreal took the reins for this 2008 Xbox 360 exclusive that Naruto truly earned his spot at the good games table.
Blending the RPG, fighting game, and platformer genres together, Rise of a Ninja is surprisingly deep and thoroughly enjoyable. It's gorgeous too, with a cel-shaded style that makes you feel like you're actually watching the Naruto TV show while you're playing. Add to that an excellent story mode which faithfully retells the anime's opening arcs, a solid multiplayer component, and an easy-to-learn but difficult-to-master control scheme, and you have yourself one of the best anime games on the market.
Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars (Arcade, Wii)
We know, we know—this isn't purely an anime game, but it's close enough, and quite frankly it's just too good not to include here. Yes, this 2008 crossover brawler features such familiar Capcom faces as Ryu, Morrigan, and Viewtiful Joe, but characters such as Tekkaman, Polymar, and Gold Lightan—from the Yoshida brothers' famed animation company Tatsunoko Production—are equally essential to making this title as excellent as it is. Accessible to newcomers, yet rewarding to those who'd like to pick at its technical side, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom is just about a must-buy for any Wii-owning fighting game fan.
Astro Boy: Omega Factor (Game Boy Advance)
Astro Boy is the granddaddy of all anime. First published as a manga in the early 1950's by the "God of Manga" himself, Osamu Tezuka, Astro Boy's success went a long way towards legitimizing the art form, helping to lay the foundation for the behemoth it has become today.
And while the half-nude boy robot has had a couple of stinkers in the video game space, 2004's Astro Boy: Omega Factor for the GBA is still recognized to this day as one of the best action games ever made for Nintendo's handheld. Charming enough for fans of all ages to pick up and play, Omega Factor boasted stunning visuals for its time, and offers a satisfying challenge, an engaging plot, and satisfying, old school beat-em-up gameplay. Most will agree: Omega Factor is worthy of the prestigious Astro Boy name.
Bleach: Dark Souls (Nintendo DS)
This 2008 handheld fighter (2007 in Japan) expands and improves upon its wonderful predecessor, Bleach: The Blade of Fate. The original Dark Souls is endlessly playable, and features, among other upgrades, 44 separate characters, a couple new game modes, added combos and move sets, and an amended Wi-fi battle mode that makes beating up your friends online easier than ever. Sure, it doesn't change all that much from The Blade of Fate, but then again, it doesn't really need to. Ichigo Kurosaki and company struck gold for the second straight time with this one.