Hollywood hasn’t had a great track record with adapting anime or manga. Accusations of whitewashing and cultural appropriation have dogged some recent adaptations, and the resulting works are often rejected by critics as confusing and uncommitted, and by fans as sloppy, compromised, and disrespectful to the original work. This might partly be due to the stories studios are choosing to adapt. Original works like Ghost in the Shell or Death Note have the advantage of a built-in fandom and name recognition, but they’re also fundamentally based in Japanese culture and Japanese characters. Their ideas and settings are difficult to reinterpret without losing the core of what made the original story intriguing or satisfying.
And even when content isn’t a problem, costs can be. While past attempts like the 1995 film adaptation of Fist of the North Star are fairly faithful to their source material, the filmmakers lacked the resources to fully flesh out their visions. Anime stories focused on spectacle require a lot of money to put on the screen in live action — and it’s harder to get that money for a title that doesn’t come with name recognition. But name recognition comes with fan expectations, and letting the fans down is a fast route to resentment.
It’s similar to the problem Hollywood has long had with films based on comic books. In the pre-Marvel Studios days, producers often chose to adapt works that were perhaps better-known to mainstream audiences, but did not easily translate to the big screen. It costs the same for a comic artist to draw an explosive battle scene as it does to draw a conversation, but that isn’t the case for filmmakers.
So instead, studios found some success adapting comic books that are more grounded in reality, even if they aren’t as well-known. A History of Violence, Road to Perdition, and Atomic Blonde are all based on comics, and were all adapted into critically respected films. None of them were Marvel-sized blockbusters, but they didn’t aim to be.
So rather than adapting the most popular anime titles in sight, perhaps Hollywood should start looking to works that are easier to move into a Western cultural setting. A number of anime series are already set in North American / European locations, and wouldn’t need much alteration to connect with Western audiences..
This 2016 series is a revenge story set in a fictional Illinois city during Prohibition. As a child, Angelo saw his family murdered, but managed to escape. Years later, he receives a letter with the names of those responsible, which draws him out of his self-imposed exile. As a young man, he aims for revenge, infiltrating the mafia family they belong to.
The anime has a lot of great character drama, and intelligent characters pursuing their goals in clever ways. The anime was only 12 episodes, which could easily work as a multi-season TV series, or be condensed into a movie.
The series is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Department
ACCA is a 2017 political drama set in the fictional Kingdom of Dowa, which is divided into 13 distinct districts. The show follows Jean Otus, a internal government inspector, as he visits the different districts, and is investigated as a potential part of a coup to overthrow the king.
The show’s most difficult aspect wouldn’t be its setting, which is clearly inspired by modern parts of North America and Europe. It would be its slow-burn political drama, which takes time to unfold and reveal itself. ACCA is a pretty relaxing show, without a constant threat to worry about. It would likely work best as a TV series, where the writers could dive into the districts’ individual stories and politics while revealing Jean’s past and his motives.
The series is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Set mostly in a Prohibition-era New York City, 2007’s Baccano follows an eclectic group of characters featuring gangsters, journalists, alchemists, a nihilistic acrobat, an immortal cult leader, young revolutionaries, artificial humans, demons, and a comedically inept but successful thieving couple. Their lives and paths criss-cross due to fate, or maybe just dumb luck.
The anime series consists of a number of different major storylines happening at different places, in different times. They could be separated into seasons of a show, or into a series of movies. In either case, there’s a large cast to explore here, and stories that skip from genre to genre.
Delicious in Dungeon
In this ongoing manga series, launched in 2014, a party of adventurers encounter a dragon at the bottom of a dungeon. It promptly eats their cleric, but then they’re teleported to safety. Determined to rescue their cleric, but ill-equipped, they enlist the help of a knowledgeable dwarf, who teaches them how to live off the dungeon’s monsters of the dungeon by turning them into delicious meals.
Despite the dark setup, it’s a rather charming comedy. And while it’s less grounded in reality as the other things on this list, it’s heavily inspired by Dungeon & Dragons / Lord of the Rings style fantasy tropes while also not requiring Lord of the Rings or even Game of Thrones levels of special effects. It would work great as a TV series, potentially on a cooking / food channel, where it could teach real cooking techniques with fictional food.
This anime series is set after a future war involving humans and Twilights, humans with powers gained through the use of a specific drug. 2015’s Gangsta follows Worick and Nic, two “Handymen,” who work as neutral parties between the police and mafia families of a fictional Italian city. Over the course of the series, events in the city slowly upset the precarious balance between police, the mafia, and Twilights.
Gangsta, perhaps more than some of the others on this list, feels like a Hollywood-friendly story. The protagonists have dark backstories, and occupy a moral grey area. It would make a solid supernatural crime drama, focused on exploring the characters, but it could also be slimmed down into a single action movie.
The series is currently streaming on Hulu.
Taichi Hiraga-Keaton, the title character of 1998’s Master Keaton, is an Oxford-educated archaeologist and former survival instructor for the British Army’s Special Air Service. To fund his archaeological work, he works part-time as an insurance investigator for Lloyd’s of London on some of their more high-profile claims. He’s well-regarded as an investigator, in spite of the unorthodox ways he goes about approaching cases.
The original comic, and its anime adaptation, both center around the insurance investigations he undertakes around Europe, which tend to be either dramatic thriller stories, or mysteries with action moments. They’d make for a conventional but approachable episodic mystery series, or a film series.
Running from 2004 to 2005, Monster is set in Germany not long after the Cold War. Japanese brain surgeon Dr. Tenma saves the life of a child, Johan, instead of treating a prominent politician, since the child arrived at the hospital first. Years later, Tenma encounters Johan, now an adult, and learns he’s become a serial killer. Johan spares Tenma out of gratitude, but the doctor abandons his normal life in order to take responsibility and stop Johan, even if that means going against his Hippocratic oath.
It’s an engrossing story, full of great character drama, as the doctor struggles with what he’s going to do, and as the context for these events becomes more and more apparent. Monster may actually get a live-action adaptation at some point — Guillermo del Toro acquired the adaptation rights around 2012, and has been looking to produce it as a TV series since then.