Dungeons and Dragons (DnD for short) remains one of the most popular fantasy roleplaying games around. It has drawn inspiration from tons of fantasy literature--from Tolkein's Lord of the Rings to Michael Moorcock's Elric Saga. Fans of DnD often seek out fantasy books and films to recreate that rush of imagination and inspiration they feel while rolling a twenty-sided dice. So often, however, they neglect anime in their pursuit.
Anime is a hugely popular medium. They encompass all different sorts of genres--including fantasy. Some of them are adventure sagas that may be familiar territory to any role player who has ever rolled a d20. The experienced player of Dungeons and Dragons may find a few anime can bring to the screen adventures that may remind them of the fantastic roleplaying of a DnD game.
You ever play that goofy DnD Campaign that no one took seriously? You and your friends could play a group of adventurers who pass through a village, and lift up a castle to bat away dragons. All you need to do is roll high enough. Or, perhaps, you just cracked jokes while the vicious demons came running for you--only to blow them away with a magic missile spell at the last second.
The Slayers is that campaign in anime form. Based on a series of light novels, the series follows Lina Inverse--a young, egocentric mage who solves all her problems by blowing them up.
This anime serves as a parody of traditional fantasy. Accompanying Lina are a dopey yet strong barbarian, a feisty princess, and a nonhuman magic user/rogue with a dark and edgy past. Yes, Jeff, it is your DnD crew in animated form. Have fun watching them blow up dragons, fight evil wizards, and find magical artifacts.
If you want to see what your typical DnD adventure with your good friends would look like, watch The Slayers. It's a ton of fun.
Record of Lodoss War
From the goofy, fun campaign to the darker, more serious one, Record of Lodoss War is the high fantasy anime. Like The Slayers, it is based on a series of light novels. Intriguingly, the writer based the light novels on a series of tabletop campaigns he ran with his friends.
Record of Lodoss War is literally a DnD campaign.
The story focuses on a young knight sent on a noble quest. He assembles a gang of heroes--from a dwarf barbarian to a thief to an archer--but finds himself romantically involved with a lovely elf. They come into conflict with evil kings, orc armies, and dragons. In short, it ticks every box in the high fantasy cliche and trope checklist.
Lesser shows would come across as stilted and dull for following every cliche in the book, but Record of Lodoss War possesses this atmosphere of mystery and magic that keeps the whole thing from feeling cliche or overdone.
The Vision of Escaflowne
This fantasy anime from the mid-90s left quite an impact on the fandom at the time. This anime incorporates steampunk-esque mecha suits, magical dragons, wars between rival kingdoms, and... Isaac Newton, for some reason.
The Visions of Escaflowne presents a young girl named Hitomi, who has visions of a magical world of Gaea. One day, while running at a track meet, she ends up being teleporting to Gaea, and ends up embroiled in a massive war to defend Gaea from the Zaibach Empire and their continental conquest. Hitomi is caught in a love triangle between the king of Fanelia and Allen, a knight who pilots a giant robot comprised of dragon bones and fueled by a dragon's heart. And somehow Isaac Newton is behind everything. Because of course.
Ever play a DnD Campaign with friends where the Dungeon Master just threw out random ideas into the mix, yet somehow managed to make it work? And not just work, but make it feel grandiose and epic?
Yeah, then Visions of Escaflowne should be familiar territory.
If you play DnD, then you've played this campaign at least once in your lifetime. The Dungeon Master, unable to figure out a good reason to motivate your characters to go on a quest, has it so that you and your fellow players are all members of some sort of adventuring guild that goes out to fight monsters.
It's easy for the DM, because, in this case, you don't have to worry about motivating your characters with some goal or emotional stakes. You are adventuring for adventure's sake.
But good players will end up finding a way to make this generic setting dynamic by developing their characters, and finding that personal spark to carry on the story.
That's Fairy Tail.
The anime follows the Fairy Tail guild and its numerous colorful mage members as they go out on adventures to stop demons, cultists, bandits, and other powerful mages. The series starts off somewhat generic, but, as the series progresses, the at first one-dimensional characters start to become dynamic and fascinating.
But, ultimately, adventure is the primary focus. Beyond characters and motivation, the characters are motivated by the thirst for adventure.
The Seven Deadly Sins
One of the coolest parts about DnD is when you and your friends come up with some crazy over-powered characters. Not just crazy, but I mean ridiculously overpowered.
Of course, the only way to justify that in game is to say your characters have a long, storied past of adventuring.
Which brings us to The Seven Deadly Sins, a popular anime inspired heavily by Arthurian Lore, which, coincidentally enough, is also a huge inspiration behind Dungeons and Dragons.
The Seven Deadly Sins are seven powerful knights who used to defend the Kingdom of Britannia from evil, until, apparently, they murdered the king. Years later, a princess goes out to find them, to gather the strong warriors to combat a faction inside Britannia threatening to overtake it... and, along the way, uncovers a terrible conspiracy.
All the trappings of epic fantasy are present here. Great warriors, fantastic battles, incredible magic--the like. Giant pigs roam the countryside with taverns on their back, giants act like lovesick school girls, and swords can zip across countrysides despite being broken off at the hilt.
Oh, and stupid crazy endurance. Like, being stabbed is nothing too crazy.
It gets to the point that the DM has to come up with some insane enemies to stand a chance against the heroes. It leads to a zany, fun mess.
Maybe your DM wants to try something different.
Not all DnD games are going to be about epic wars. Maybe they're romantic stories. But, of course, there's a good chance the romantic elements are going to be messy and weird. A little out-there. But, despite the obvious flaws in the romantic threads and plot lines, the story has a charm to it that overshadows the bad stuff.
If someone turned that campaign into an anime, it would be Fushigi Yuugi, the flawed yet memorable first work of noted manga writer Yuu Watase. This fantasy series has a lot of really clever ideas and memorable characters.
The story follows Miaka, a girl from the real world transported to a magical version of ancient China. She becomes the Priestess of an old God, and is tasked with gathering seven powerful warriors together so she may bring this ancient entity to the real world. But her friend from the real world is brought into this fantasy world, where she becomes a rival priestess... there's a lot of cool potential in that idea.
And, like many campaigns DnD players are familiar with, some of that story potential pays off, and some of it... fails. But the journey is still fun.
Also, the voice of Solid Snake, David Hayter, does one of the voices in the English dub. So that's a thing.
In the same vein, sometimes a Campaign starts with a lot of potential. Awesome quest, epic enemies, and everyone really loves playing their characters. But then a problem comes: it just doesn't end. The DM keeps adding twists that keeps the game going, and you all feel like you're going through the motions after awhile until the whole thing wraps up rather suddenly.
Inuyasha is one of the most beloved anime for good reason. The main leads are charming. They're all easily identifiable DnD classes. Inuyasha is a fighter, Kagome the ranger, Miroku the monk, and Sango... another ranger, but with a cool cat companion. The characters hunt down the fragments of the magical Shikon Jewel, which can grant incredible powers to the owner. They have to fight off tons of demons along the way, many of whom have some personal connection to the characters.
All that sounds epic, yes? And it is.
But then it keeps... going... on.
It spins its wheels until the last twenty-ish episodes, where the whole plot resolves itself in a season made almost a decade after the rest of the series ended.
While the episodes on their own are entertaining, the experience of going on and on with the same quest should be familiar territory for a DnD Player.
The way most DnD Campaigns feel depends on the DM's interpretation of certain fantasy tropes. An orc can be a goofy enemy, barely a threat... or they can be terrifying.
Monsters can be like the silly monsters in The Slayers or Fairy Tail--the sort of fiends who, while sometimes threatening, are usually a joy to watch fight. Other times, the monsters can genuinely leave you uncomfortable.
Claymore features a Medieval Fantasy setting plagued by Yoma, evil monsters who terrorize civilization. Half-Yoma entities are created to combat these demons. These hybrids--the Claymores--are ostracized by civilization for their demonic auras.
The main heroine of the series, Clare, is a particularly powerful Claymore whose adventures are far grimmer than typical anime fair. Her life is one of tragedy and nightmarish circumstances.
This is what every DnD Player who wants to get serious wants their campaign to be like. A dark adventure where powerful heroes fight against truly horrific enemies.
Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic
The dungeon crawl. Every DnD campaign sooner or later falls back on a good-ol' fashioned dungeon crawl. The great saga of Magi starts with one such dungeon crawl, and ends up following the great structure of most fun fantasy campaigns.
Fourteen years before the start of the series, great dungeons sprouted up from the ground. If one traverses the dungeons, they may find themselves granted the power to make their dreams a reality.
Our main hero is Aladdin--yes, that Aladdin--who, alongside his companion Alibaba--yes, THAT Alibaba--end up going on a series of adventures across a fantasy world inspired by the Arabian Nights. Aladdin already possess a genie of his own, and, with that, end up setting off on an adventure that pits them against rival factions and cultures that can rip the very world apart around them.
Though the story uses an Arabic aesthetic, the plotline and characters feel straight out of a DnD campaign, with Alibaba as a rogue, Aladdin as a summoner, and the slave girl Morgiana as a barbarian-esque fighter (or maybe a monk, since she's primarily a hand-to-hand combatant). And, like most great campaigns, what starts as a simple dungeon crawl becomes something far greater.
Is It Wrong to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?
Once more, the Dungeon Crawl. This anime, based on a series of popular light novels, takes place in the nation of Orario. Orario, for whatever reason, is built atop a massive dungeon, full of magical beasts that brave adventurers fight for money and glory.
The hero is Bell, a boy who wants to really be a famous adventurer, even though he's sort of a novice. He looks up to certain lady adventurers who he admires, and... well, yeah, that's the basic plot.
Many DnD players may relate to Bell's social awkwardness and isolation. Not to say that DnD players are social outcasts--far from it, as DnD is a very social game--but many may relate to that fear of putting yourself out there with a girl.
The show itself also revels in its fantasy tropes. Tons of monsters that look straight out of a DnD Bestiary pop up throughout the series. Minotaurs, goblins, dragons--the like. Very familiar territory, and a fun, light watch.
The Heroic Legend of Arslan
This epic saga is an adaptation of a series of Japanese fantasy novels, all drawing from a supposedly real Persian prince.
Taking place in an Arabic setting, this anime tells the story of Arslan, a noble prince who, after making a foolish mistake, loses his kingdom. It is up to the fallen prince to restore his lost glory through a series of battles and epic wars. It is up to his strategic mind, and not merely his brawn, to reclaim his realm.
Many DnD Campaigns try to feature an epic war. They usually boil down to just very intense one-on-one duels or skirmishes, but rarely feature a full-blown war like the ones features in Arslan.
Arslan as a series feels more like historical fiction than fantasy, but that is partially what makes it feel so much like a DnD campaign. It doesn't necessarily feature crazy fantastic monsters, but it does feature medieval combat in all its glory. In that way, it feels reminiscent of Game of Thrones. But only in that way.
The Twelve Kingdoms
Maybe that Game of Thrones comparison applies more here.
This world, inspired by Chinese Mythology, focuses on numerous characters involved in the interplay between numerous kingdoms all fighting for conquest in a world torn by war. The central character is Youko, a girl from Japan, brought to this world by mysterious means. But it is not exclusively her story. She is just a piece of the grander picture.
For this reason, DnD players may feel a sense of familiarity with the world. Despite employing iconography from a less well-known folklore (at least to Western audiences), The Twelve Kingdoms reinforces the idea that no one person can affect the greater political theater on their own. Everything is the result of the interaction of the numerous parts.
DnD Players also function as part of a greater group. While some players may feel like they're the main character--the central hero of the show--they understand that there are more factors at play beyond them. And, if they play their cards right, they can change the whole world.
Scrapped Princess follows Princess Pacifica Casull, who, according to prophecy, will bring an end to the world upon turning sixteen. Her foster siblings stand at her side to protect her from those who would end her to save the world... or is there more to this?
Once more, we have the traditional party of fantasy heroes, but we also have that trick so many Dungeon Masters love to pull. That moral dilemma. Would you rather protect a single life or protect the world?
The fantasy aesthetic really rings familiar to most fantasy fans, but, in particular, fans of DnD will find much they can connect with and enjoy. The series of smaller encounters, building up experience to the greater arc--all of it is masterfully done in this wonderful, sweet series.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
This is one of the greatest anime ever made. If you have not seen it, you must.
Ed and Al Elric, upon losing their mother, attempt to resurrect her with the power of Alchemy. Their failure results in the loss of Ed's arm and leg and Al's entire body. From there, they set out on a quest to find the Philosopher's Stone, an artifact from legend which can grant unlimited Alchemic power. However, their journey leads them to a horrific conspiracy that could result in the end of all life on the planet.
This series remains unmatched in terms of quality and universal acclaim. I can go on and on for hours about the rich characters, beautiful animation, intense plot, powerful sequences, the emotional moments, the action packed moments--
But how, you may ask, is it like Dungeons and Dragons?
Because, when you look at it, it is the perfect campaign.
Each character has a role in the narrative, their own unique skill set, their own goals, and everyone--from main character to minor extra--ties into the main plot in some brilliant fashion. It is, in essence, the perfect fantasy saga.
And this, in many ways, is that campaign. That one where everything goes wrong, where your characters, no matter how strong, simply cannot win. Everything is awful, and it is only by you playing at the top of your game that you don't die in the first few seconds.
Berserk follows Guts, a soldier-for-hire who joins the mercenary group The Band of the Hawk. Led by the charismatic, majestic Griffith, the Band helps end a war between two rival nations, and all seems great...
And then all Hell breaks loose.
Warning for anyone who wishes to watch Berserk. This series is dark. I don't just mean dark as in "Oh, these characters are so edgy and cool!" No, I mean like something out of a nightmare. The characters who get their hearts ripped out of their chests are the lucky ones. A mild scene is where a woman gets sexually assaulted by her possessed horse. To this day, the Black Eclipse sequence remains one of the nightmarish things ever depicted in animation. This is dark.
And it is, quite possibly, a perfect fantasy story.