Lovecraft in manga

The resurgence of H.P. Lovecraft into modern popular culture is a fascinating subject and one I much enjoy discussing. His work in the cosmic horror genre has been pivotal and continues to influence people to this very day, as we saw in this week’s review of Kuro. This raises the question: has Japan actually adapted the stories of H.P. Lovecraft into anime & manga?

Lovecraft manga The Mountains of Madness
At The Mountains of Madness (Gou Tanabe)

Usually when seeking out entertainment based on classic literature, the first places to look are the World Masterpiece Theater and Variety Art Works. The WMT was directed at children however, so that was a lost cause right out of the gate. The VAW offered some hope since they’ve been known to adapt heinous and controversial works of literature, but Lovecraft was not among them there either.

What I found instead was an author by the name of Gou Tanabe. Tanabe began creating manga in the mid-2000s, starting with an adaptation of a classic Japanese horror story. Around the turn of the decade, he began adapting some of Lovecraft’s stories to manga while still working on other projects. Between 2015 and 2020, though, the man went on a manga frenzy and released major adaptations of some of Lovecraft’s most popular stories. Call of Cthulhu, Shadow over Innsmouth, Mountains of Madness, Shadow out of Time, Haunter of the Dark, Color out of Space, he completed all of them with only a scarce few months between releases.

Lovecraft manga necronomicon
Haunter of the Dark (Gou Tanabe)

And these are quality adaptations. Gou Tanabe favors a much more realistic artstyle than typical manga, which is a perfect fit for Lovecraft’s stories. The manga have a very mature look to them and Tanabe has the skill to realize the imposing worlds and horrendous monsters described within Lovecraft’s work. His characters too are very detailed and their expressions, even when facing the most unreal of horrors, are very lifelike.

These adaptations almost read more like graphic novels than manga, and I have gotten positive reactions from people who are usually averse to manga. His are not the only adaptations, but Tanabe’s work far outclasses the likes of Satoshi Ogawa’s Call of Cthulhu. His manga can be difficult to get your hands on, however, as Dark Horse has been doing a poor job of keeping the few books it has localized available worldwide.

Lovecraft manga Innsmouth
Call of Cthulhu (Satoshi Ogawa)

What about anime? Well, there is the romantic comedy anime Nyaruko: Crawling with Love which received 2 seasons totaling 24 episodes and a variety of tie-in materials. I haven’t seen it yet, but from what I gather it’s about human versions of the various Lovecraft creatures coming to Earth to harass Nyarlathotep and her Human boyfriend. I would’ve gone with the Shub-Niggurath myself and imply she wants a thousand young from the male lead, but I am probably way overthinking this series. Expect a review of it… sometime.

Outside of that, anime directly adapting Lovecraft has been sparse. There is a horrendously-boring claymation version of some of his short stories and that’s basically it. There is plenty of anime that take inspiration or literal elements from his stories, but nobody has yet devoted themselves to a proper adaptation. Probably because it’s nigh-impossible. Gou Tanabe could do it in manga because he is highly-talented and has the right artstyle for it, but bringing that to anime is a hurdle potentially too high to overcome. Even movies continue to struggle with doing Lovecraft’s work justice and anime would have to find some magic balance where it’s animated enough to be interesting, while also realistic enough to sell the horror and bring the surreal locales & creatures of Lovecraft’s books to life.

I’d rather have no Lovecraft anime at all instead of a bad one, so for the foreseeable future I think we ought to be content with the references and cameos we get. Overlord season 3 featured prominent cameos of Lovecraft’s creatures just recently and, most impressively, Lovecraft himself featured as a character in the supernatural action series Bungo Stray Dogs. I don’t think we even need to count the amount of times a Necronomicon has featured in anime & manga.

We might never get a Call of Cthulhu anime, but so long as Lovecraft continues to inspire artists to create their own cosmic horror more suitable for the medium, I’ll be fine with that.

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