Author’s Note: This post was written before Wizards of the Coast decided to get scummy and try to copyright Pathfinder out of existence. This is here to suggest enjoying D&D to its fullest extent while finding every way possible to avoid giving these fat cats any of your money. The D&D movie looks kinda cool, but I’m not supporting a company intent on ruining tabletop gaming for everyone.
This is a little out of the realm of my normal content. I’d like to say that I have a good reason for doing so, but that mostly just boils down to the fact that in addition to being an otaku, I’m a big ol’ D&D geek too. The Dungeons & Dragon movie comes out this week, and while I’m cautiously excited about that, I’m mostly just excited about how many people will get into D&D as a result.
Most nerds are evangelical, always looking to find other nerds and help create a few more. I mean, look at the blog you’re on; that’s kind of the Otaku Exhibition’s raison d’être.
But what I’ve encountered with people getting into D&D even more than other types of fandom is that they don’t know how to get into it, and I get that. Dungeons & Dragons and tabletop roleplaying games as a whole have a lot of rules, prior knowledge needed, and a willingness to learn. So, if you’re in that position, let me help you out.
D&D isn’t just about playing a game, because there’s a million ways to do that. What separates a TTRPG from any other game for me is the ability to participate in a story, coordinated between the players and the dungeon master. That means that there are a million kinds of stories that you can partake in at the table, but what might be most helpful to you starting out is seeing what kinds of stories you can expect. Every table and group are different, and you’ll have to find or make one that suits your tastes but starting with one of these five anime will help you on your way.
I chose these anime primarily because they feature an array of colorful characters, usually an ensemble cast, working together to solve problems and fight bad guys in fantastic settings. Tones vary wildly, but if you can keep one of these in mind when you’re thinking about what kind of game you want to play, you’ll be golden.
And this goes both ways, actually; if you like D&D, and maybe you’re not as familiar with anime, these five are great starting points if you want shows that reflect your favorite game. With that said, there was only one choice to start this list off.
For me, Konosuba is the quintessential D&D anime. There might be others that adhere more closely to the tropes and ideas typically seen in tabletop games, but nothing says D&D like expecting an adventure full of excitement and peril, and getting four people who would way rather goof off in the starting town while the writer desperately throws main villains at them to make the plot move.
Some DMs are uptight about the quality and integrity of their story, insisting that the players need to play in a very specific and serious way. Those people will usually wind up tearing their hair out by the end of the first session.
You will have a wizard who only wants to cast one really cool spell, or a paladin tank who only takes all the damage in battle because they’re a sadist, or a rogue who specializes in stealing underwear. I will do my utmost to try and tell a story, fully aware that my players are all problem children who will do their utmost to break the result of that meticulous planning.
If you’re trying to find an anime that most accurately recreates the feeling of playing D&D, you can’t do better than Konosuba. Plus, Konosuba has its own TTRPG; I haven’t tried it, so I can’t vouch for its quality, but if you and your friends really dig Konosuba, it can’t hurt to try.
Now, let’s say that you see Konosuba and you think that’s not for you. You don’t want joke characters who name their swords silly things and clerics who don’t wear underwear. You want an EPIC FANTASY ADVENTURE with KILLING MONSTERS and RAIDING DUNGEONS. Oh, you could have just said Goblin Slayer.
If you haven’t heard of Goblin Slayer, then we’re going to slap a big old content warning on that first episode, as it contains a very graphic depiction of sexual violence. That might turn you away, and while I understand some people’s aversion, the rest of the show really contains nothing of the sort. If you want a grimdark fantasy anime with a D&D aesthetic, then Goblin Slayer is almost perfect, minus that first episode.
If it’s not obvious, then the opening literally involves a bunch of dice rolling as the main characters fight goblins. All the characters who join Goblin Slayer on his quest are referred to only as their fantasy race and/or class, like Priestess, High Elf Archer, or Dwarf Shaman.
Sometimes, in D&D, you have that player who tries to do some really gross stuff in the game and you either need to take them aside and tell them to knock it off, or uninvite them entirely. Let’s just say that the first episode of Goblin Slayer had a player who really didn’t understand boundaries and got kicked from the Discord, and we can go back to enjoying the rest of the show.
This one might be a bit of a weird choice if you have only ever thought of D&D as traditional swords and sorcery fantasy, but you don’t have to limit yourself to the same world Tolkien made almost a hundred years ago.
Akudama Drive is a heist anime set in the cyberpunk future, and honestly, that’s a really cool setting for a D&D campaign. The tone is dark, though not quite as dark as Goblin Slayer, and you probably find a more realistic mix of characters trying to advance a story with plenty of fun diversions that would make for brilliant bits of gameplay. Seriously, the fight between Brawler and the Executioner is exactly the kind of rivalry and payoff I’d give one of my players over a campaign.
I will admit that the middle does drag a little bit, but considering how strong the first and third acts are, Akudama Drive is well worth the investment.
If nothing else, I want to show newcomers to D&D that while the standard fantasy fare is fun and I will always come back to it, I also love weird twists to the setting that you might not expect. You don’t have to be beholden to the same idea that everyone else has of Dungeons & Dragons, because at the end of the day, it’s a story that you and your friends are creating.
When you consider that D&D does not simply have to be the same kinds of characters traveling to the castle of the evil wizard, you open up a world of possibilities in your campaigns, and I’ve always wanted to do a campaign modeled after Tower of God.
Set in a world dominated by a tower, the individual floors of which are the size of their own continent, Tower of God follows the exploits of competitors attempting to scale the Tower and discover their wildest dreams at the top.
It would be hard, because of the options I’ve listed, Tower of God is the furthest from traditional D&D. As a game, Dungeons & Dragons has a rather comfortable gameplay loop, and a sort of gauntlet of challenges like the Tower would make it difficult, but not impossible to pull off. Death games in general are great fodder for D&D, though.
Any series with good world-building can make for a great D&D setting, though, and Tower of God does an excellent job of letting the viewer believe that there is far more going on than what they can initially see. Its large cast of varied characters all seem to come from distinct parts of the world, and the mysterious power system (at least at this point in the anime) gives the impression that the world is huge and the possibilities are endless.
So, if you manage to set one of your campaigns in a sort of battle royale magical wish-granting tower, let me know how it goes in the comments.
This one is a very personal pick, because I love the crap out of Blood Blockade Battlefront, and I don’t think it gets as much attention as it deserves. Studio Bones rarely disappoints, and whether it’s the characters or the world, Kekkai Sensen is fun and wildly creative in a way that really suits D&D.
Another reason I’m including it here is because Kekkai Sensen was the inspiration for the current campaign I’m running. Something about a city crammed full of monstrosities and wonder, where anything can happen and anyone looking for a bit of adventure can find themselves, makes it sound like the ultimate playground for a campaign. Oh, but don’t tell my players, they still think I come up with original campaign settings.
Blood Blockade Battlefront is probably not going to be the best anime you’ve ever seen, but it’s a brilliant popcorn anime with good action sequence and a lot of likable characters.
Plus, it just so happens to have maybe the best standalone episode of any anime that I’ve ever seen. If you’d like to know a little bit more about that, well, follow the Otaku Exhibition on WordPress and wait for the notification when that essay goes up.
I could inundate you with a long and burdensome conclusion about how much both anime and D&D mean to me, but what you really should be doing right now is not reading all that, but moving on and getting ahead with actually playing some D&D.
Go out and grab some friends, you don’t need many to get started, and Wizards of the Coast has a bunch of D&D Essentials Kits that will give you everything you need to start playing as quickly as possible. Heck, you can just download the D&D Beyond app and you don’t even have to think about what your modifiers are when you roll. It has never been easier to get into D&D, so what’s stopping you?
And once you play and realize how much you love it, you could show your appreciation for the blog post that started it with just a simple like, or maybe follow the Otaku Exhibition on Twitter @ExhibitionOtaku, where I talk about a lot of anime, D&D, and nerd stuff. Until next time, thanks for reading.