Japan is home to the largest visual novel playerbase in the world.
Walk into almost any used games store in Japan and you will often see shelves filled with visual novels spanning various genres and platforms. Furthermore, while many say the PS Vita is dead in North America, there are entire shelves dedicated solely to PS Vita visual novels in Japanese game stores.
If you’re a gamer that likes reading, then this genre should be right up your alley.
In this article, we’ll introduce five anime visual novel games that both beginners and veterans of the genre should enjoy.
All of these games were either based on an anime series or were popular enough to spawn an anime series and/or film. We chose these games because they are relatively fast-paced, and above all, have great stories with characters you can get attached to.
Best Anime Visual Novel Games
1. Muv-Luv Alternative
Developed by âge, Mul-Luv Alternative is a sci-fi romance visual novel that serves as the sequel to the original Mul-Luv visual novel.
The game follows Takeru Shirogane as he wakes up in an alternate timeline where Earth is under attack by an unknown alien species known as the Beta. Luckily for Takeru, he has lived through this timeline before and knows what led to humanity’s defeat the first time around.
To save this world, Takeru must educate the United Nations on the mistakes they made that led to humanity’s decimation and uncover the mysteries of his time-traveling abilities.
The main character, Takeru, is voiced by veteran actor Soichiro Hoshi.
Hoshi is known for key roles such as Keichi Maebara in Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni (When the Cicadas Cry) and Kira Yamato in the Mobile Suit Gundam Seed series. Moreover, the entire voice cast does a spectacular job, with almost every line of dialogue acted out in Japanese.
As with most visual novels, players spend most of the game simply reading text, enjoying the story with beautiful visuals and animations that help bring it to life.
However, in Muv-Luv Alternative, players have the ability to greatly affect the storyline.
This is done through decisions given to the player at key points in the story. While some multiple-choice games give you arbitrary choices that don’t have many consequences, the choices you make in Muv-Luv Alternative can mean life or death for soldiers on the battlefield.
Available in English on: PS Vita (digital + physical), Windows PC (via Steam)
Anime Adaptation: Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse (24 episodes)
2. Toradora! Portable
Warning: contains spoilers of original anime series
When speaking of visual novel games based on popular anime series, it doesn’t get much better than Toradora! Portable.
The game is a spin-off of the original Toradora! anime.
In the game, you play as high school student Ryuji Takasu and the story picks up after key events that took place on Christmas eve. Ryuji wakes up in a hospital bed having suffered an accident. Unfortunately, he has amnesia and doesn’t remember anything about his past.
The hearts of anime fans were captured by the romance between Ryuji and Taiga in the original anime. However, for better or for worse, in Toradora! Portable this time the choices are up to you.
The choices you make in the game can lead you down the path to make sure Ryuji ends up with Taiga again, or you can go a completely different route and see what other romance options Ryuji has on the table.
If you haven’t watched Toradora!, this is one of the few times where I have to recommend you watch the anime before playing the game. Otherwise, you won’t get a lot of the references that the characters make and the story may be confusing or inconsequential to you.
Gameplay revolves mostly around approaching characters to further the story, finding hidden items throughout the town, and making the right (or wrong) dialogue choices to trigger key events that pull you towards one of the many endings available.
One thing I particularly loved about the game is the comedic dialogue, a lot of which is completely voiced in Japanese.
Since Toradora! Portable is set in high school with a pretty simple story, the game can serve as a fun way to learn new Japanese vocabulary and practice your listening skills.
Please note that the game never received an official English release.
This game is available physically on the PSP in Japanese. However, an English patch is available online, so you may need to follow some online tutorials to get the English patch of the game working on your device.
Available in Japanese on: PSP (physical)
Based on the Anime: Toradora! (25 Episodes)
Also listed in our article about the best games to help you learn Japanese, Steins;Gate is one of the deepest visual novels I’ve ever played. The game features a beautiful art style and great character design that helps bring the words of the story alive.
Without a doubt, the personality of the game lies in its thrilling sci-fi time travel story and humorous dialogue, centered around a conspiracy about the SERN organization based on the real-life CERN.
In Steins;Gate you play as a mad scientist / nutcase known as Rintaro Okabe. Seemingly by accident, Okabe and his ragtag team of “scientists'' develop a time machine using a mobile phone and a regular microwave oven.
Steins;Gate has multiple endings and the developers chose an interesting way to allow players to reach those endings.
Instead of simple dialogue choices, you affect the events of the game based on how you read text messages on Okabe’s mobile phone, the messages you send, and how you respond to incoming text messages.
Furthermore, the game has a great soundtrack, sound effects, and voice acting.
Nearly every line of dialogue is displayed on the screen along with accompanying voice-over audio performed by a great cast.
The success of the visual novel sparked an anime adaptation of the same name released in 2011.
Available in English on: PS Vita, PS3, PS4, Nintendo Switch, Windows PC
Anime Adaptation: Steins;Gate (24 Episodes + OVA)
4. Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc
If you’re looking for a fast-paced anime visual novel game with active gameplay elements, look no further than Danganronpa.
Developed by Spike Chunsoft (Virtue’s Last Reward, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon), Danganronpa is an incredibly well-polished murder mystery visual novel.
The game follows Makoto Naegi, a boy who was selected out of a lottery of students to attend Hope’s Peak Academy, a high school reserved for the world’s geniuses, celebrities, and prodigies.
Each student has a special talent for which they were accepted into the school, be it the ultimate baseball player, ultimate pop star, ultimate detective, or in Makoto’s case, the ultimate lucky student.
However, on his first day, Makoto realizes he is the exact opposite of lucky. Makoto is kidnapped along with a group of Hope’s Peak students and forced into a death game where the only way to win is: kill someone and get away with it.
In essence, that one rule defines the gameplay of Danganronpa.
When a murder occurs, the students have a set amount of time to investigate the crime scene and figure out who the murderer is. If the students deduce correctly, the murderer is executed and everyone lives to see another day. If the students get it wrong, everyone dies and the murderer walks free, thus winning the game.
For those of you that wanted to feel like Sherlock Holmes for a day, this game will push your deductive reasoning skills to the limit.
Thanks to its wacky dialogue, crazy characters, and wild atmosphere, Danganronpa has amassed a cult following, spawning an anime adaptation, 2 sequel games, and one spin-off.
Available in English on: PS Vita, PS4, Windows PC, Mac, Android, and iOS
Anime Adaptation: Danganronpa: The Animation (13 Episodes)
5. Planetarian: The Reverie of a Little Planet
Planetarian: The Reverie of a Little Planet is a true work of art that shows the power of the visual novel medium.
This anime visual novel game is set in a post-apocalyptic world where survivors, known as Junkers, scavenge the remains of human civilization in search of food, water, and reusable parts.
The game’s protagonist, an unnamed Junker, wanders into an abandoned planetarium where he finds a functioning humanoid robot named Hoshino Yumemi. The visual novel’s success spawned a short anime of the same name, and a full-length anime film titled Planetarian: Storyteller of the Stars.
With many visual novels, people lose interest early on, due to slow beginnings and hours of unnecessary or inconsequential lines.
The key to a good visual novel is to make every line worth reading, either for its significance to the plot or simply the beauty of the writing.
In Planetarian, the writing is so beautiful that the music, the images, the voice acting, and all other elements become secondary. You can lose yourself in the story thanks to the flow of the words alone.
“I had heard stories of what the starry sky had looked like before the advent of the War and the Rain. But I could never in my wildest dreams have conjured up the spectacle that was presenting itself before my very eyes...I felt that surely if I were to continue looking up at those stars, my own spirit would be sucked into that immaterial sky.”
- From Planetarian: The Reverie of a Little Planet
Since nearly all anime visual novel games are translated from Japanese to English, often a lot of the quality of writing is lost in translation. Furthermore, many visual novels suffer from stunted dialogue scenes or gameplay elements that breakup the flow of the story.
Luckily, that is not the case with this game.
Planetarian is a novel first and a video game second, meaning that it reads like a novel does, complete with a narration of the protagonist’s inner thoughts, the things happening around him, and spoken dialogue brought to life with masterful voice acting.
It’s also worth mentioning that the soundtrack is one of the best I’ve ever come across in a visual novel (listen to a sample in the video below).
Planetarian: The Reverie of a Little Planet is the one visual novel on this list that everyone, gamers, and non-gamers alike, should try.
Even if you aren’t a huge fan of video games, as long as you’re a fan of fiction, this game will capture your heart and never let it go.
Available in English on: Nintendo Switch, Windows PC, Mac, Android, and iOS
Anime Adaptations: Planetarian: The Reverie of a Little Planet (5 episodes) and Planetarian: Storyteller of the stars (feature-length film)
Hopefully one of these titles will be your gateway into the wonderful and deep world of visual novels. The library is vast and spans multiple gaming consoles, as well as PC.
If these five anime visual novels don’t sound like your cup of tea, I urge you to keep on looking for one with a story that is closer to your interests - You won’t regret it.
For more Japanese game recommendations check out: