As a long-time fan of both speculative fiction and anime, one common thread I’ve noticed in both media is the enduring presence of The School Story. Plenty of fantasy readers make their grand entrance to the genre via a school fantasy story; for teens, who spend more time at school than at home, what other setting could tie the fantastic world to mundane reality?
Here are four anime to watch based on the book series you love—or, if you came here looking for books, four book series to read based on your favorite anime!
Read Harry Potter, Watch Little Witch Academia
The Harry Potter series doesn’t need much introduction, but I’ll give you a reminder anyway: in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone), a young orphan is whisked away from an abusive home in mundane 1990s Britain to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where he learns to use his magic as the forces of evil begin to gather again.
Little Witch Academia also takes place at a school of magic: Luna Nova Magic Academy, a prestigious school for witch education. Atsuko Kagari is a new student at Luna Nova and, much like Harry, has come from a mundane background. But Atsuko has come to Luna Nova not on the tails of provenance, but with a mission: she seeks to become a witch like her hero, Shiny Chariot, and use magic to become a source of hope and happiness for the people around her.
Both series employ coming-of-age narratives in European-style magical settings; the tone of Little Witch matches the tone of Sorcerer’s Stone fairly well. Little Witch is a great family-friendly anime, and both stories focus on the power of love as its own type of magic.
Read Vampire Academy, Watch Vampire Knight
Warring factions, a pair of runaways, and danger abound in Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy, the first book in a series of the same name. Following vampire princess Lissa and her half-vampire best friend/bodyguard Rose, Vampire Academy is a blend of danger, romance, and intrigue when Lissa and Rose are forced to return to St. Vladimir’s Academy, a school for vampires, after being on the run for two years.
In Vampire Knight, Yuki Cross is the adopted daughter of Cross Academy’s headmaster and serves as a Guardian at the school, alternately protecting the Night Class of vampires from discovery by the humans and the Day Class of humans from the vampires (and their appetites). But she’s torn between her long-time crush on the Night Class’s Kaname Kuran and her friendship with the Day Class’s Zero Kiryu, another Cross Academy Guardian who has also trained as a vampire hunter.
Released around the same time in the mid-2000s, these two vampire school stories are great fits for fans of the other. Vampire Academy and Vampire Knight also bring romance into play much more than any of the other series on the list, making these series great for those who seek out the drama and thrill of a supernatural love story.
Read Red Sister, Watch Riddle Story of Devil
There were going to be assassins in here somewhere.
Mark Lawrence’s Red Sister, the first in the Book of the Ancestor trilogy, begins with the conviction and near-hanging of Nona Grey, age nine—who is whisked away at the last second by Abbess Glass, the mother superior at the Convent of Sweet Mercy. But the girls attending the school at this convent are trained in more than just letters and doctrine: poisons, knifework, and survivalism are all parts of the core curriculum.
At Myojo Private School, a special class is brought together for a similarly dark purpose: twelve girl assassins whose single target is the thirteenth member of Class Black. Azuma Tokaku is one of those assassins, a top student from an elite assassin training school who assumes it’ll be an easy job—until she meets Class Black’s target, Haru Ichinose.
Readers who enjoyed the nearly all-female cast of Red Sister will probably also love Riddle Story of Devil. While Red Sister takes place in a fantasy secondary world and Riddle Story is in a slightly sci-fi contemporary thriller setting, both combine high action and tricky, mistrustful relationships, and a suspenseful story.
Read Not Your Sidekick, Watch My Hero Academia
In Andover, superpowers are common… but Jessica Tran doesn’t have one, despite her superheroic lineage. Which means finding an internship is going to be a little tricky. When she does find the perfect (and paid) internship to put on her college applications, it turns out to be with the city’s most notorious supervillain. On the plus side, she can annoy her superhero parents while hanging out with her crush, who ended up at the same internship. But Jessica soon discovers a dangerous plot that could threaten them all.
On the other side of the globe, Izuku Midoriya is born without superpowers in a world where eighty percent of the population has an ability called a Quirk, destroying his childhood dream of becoming a hero who can make anyone smile like his idol All Might. But one day, Izuku meets All Might in person—just before Izuku runs headlong at a villain to save his childhood friend. He learns All Might has a secret: he was once Quirkless, too, before his predecessor bestowed his Quirk to him—and now, All Might is doing the same for Izuku.
These two superhero stories share protagonists who start off without any superpowers to speak of. But both Jessica and Izuku find themselves on the path to heroism, despite the obstacles they face. While many superhero-focused media tend to the dark and gritty, both Not Your Sidekick and My Hero Academia are funny, light, and hopeful. While Not Your Sidekick technically isn’t about school, much of My Hero is set at U.A. High School, the most prestigious superhero school in Japan.
Originally published in September 2018.
Feliza Casano writes about science fiction, manga, and other geeky media around the internet. She currently lives in Philadelphia, where she moderates two book clubs and lines her walls with stacks of books. Visit her online or follow her on Twitter @FelizaCasano.