Tabletop roleplaying is enjoying a renaissance, and there’s never been a better time than now to gather around the table with friends, a bag of Cheetos, cases of Mountain Dew, and funny-shaped dice to play… manga.
A Short TTRPG History
Many players have returned to the roleplaying hobby over the last few years, particularly with the resurgence of Dungeons & Dragons, now in its fifth edition of the game. Live streaming services like Twitch, and shows like Critical Role with talents in the form of Matthew Mercer (Levi Ackerman in Attack on Titan, Kiritsugu Emiya in Fate/Zero, Jotaro Kujo in Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure) and other stars have all done their bit to popularize the game of math, luck, and improv.
The granddaddy of roleplaying games was designed by wargamers Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. It was first published in 1974 by TSR. D&D, as it’s commonly known, went on to inspire legions of games, including digital ones. Back in the day, Multi-User Dungeons (MUDs) were the only way to explore dungeons with other players over a network. These early MMORPGs were heavily inspired by early tabletop RPGs, and that legacy continues today, with their influence clearly visible in experience systems, character classes, and skill trees, all of which appear in a myriad of games.
Inspiration goes around, but it was the Japanese who popularized the MMORPG as a setting for stories like Sword Art Online and Re:Zero, creating the massively popular isekai (or portal fantasy) subgenre.
The geeky circle of life goes full circle, in a wonderful way, with tabletop roleplaying games based on manga and anime now growing in popularity within the tabletop roleplaying hobby.
The Rise of Manga TTRPGs
Games like BESM (Big Eyes, Small Mouth) and Ryuutama: Natural Fantasy Roleplay have both sold over a thousand copies on the online RPG marketplace Drive-Thru RPG alone, but what’s really exciting is the number of new manga and anime-inspired RPGs that come out each year. In December last year, the website Geek Native posted a list of the ten best-selling anime and cartoon RPGs of 2019, which highlighted some of the most popular additions to the smorgasbord of RPG offerings in 2019. What does 2020 have in store, I wonder.
Roll20, the virtual roleplaying toolset, posted a breakdown of the games played on its platform in the fourth quarter of 2019. The list includes TTRPG industry heavyweights like D&D, Call of Cthulhu, and Pathfinder, but also includes Pokémon, Anima: Beyond Fantasy, and Anime Campaign, to name but a few.
While its combined share of the market might be small, the impact of anime and manga on tabletop roleplaying games shouldn’t be dismissed. In a hobby dominated by Lord of the Rings style fantasy, anime and manga themed games have earned their place, and now is the best time to play manga or anime-inspired tabletop RPGs.