I fell in love with video games as a kid not by playing them all on my own first, but by watching my brothers play. This isn’t to say that I don’t play them too; I have, and I do. Yet it was watching my brothers play that first drew me into the worlds of video games.
It all started with the Playstation we got for Christmas when we were kids. It was love at first sight for us. My parents would set up a little egg timer on top of our TV, and we’d be allowed up to one hour of game playing each. As my brothers dived into new games, I attached myself to their sides like a little shadow to watch them play.
What I found most alluring about video games were the fascinating adventures and stories the characters navigated through. As a day one bookworm, I have always been up for a good story. Watching my brothers play video games felt like seeing a story come to life in front of me, and I loved that even more than trying to play all the games on my own. I saw it as much less effort for more entertainment on my end.
I used to watch my brothers play all of the Playstation classics, including the many variations of Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, Spyro the Dragon, Tomb Raider, Mega Man, Jak and Daxter, Sly Cooper, Assassin’s Creed, and more. Dark Cloud, the PS2 game, did actually become a favorite of mine to play, with its treasure hunting and village building. And I wouldn’t say no to a round of Crash Bandicoot or Crash Team Racing either. Otherwise though, I lived for watching my brothers play and getting lost in the epic stories of these video games.
For those who also love the worlds of video games, I’ve complied a list of 20 must-read novels — both graphic novels and prose novels — based on or inspired by video games. Which game is your favorite?
Novels Based On Video Games
For those gamers looking to find books that mirror the video games you love, I’ve kicked off my list with novels based on video games.
Final Fantasy: Lost Stranger, Vol. 1 by Hazuki Minase,
Art by Itsuki Kameya
As a Final Fantasy lover (and we can all agree Final Fantasy IX is the best), I wanted to open with this sweet sibling fantasy story by Itsuki Kameya. Shogo Sasak and his sister Yuko work for Squaresoft. After a car crash, the pair wake up only to find themselves in the world of Final Fantasy!
Final Fantasy VII: On the Way to a Smile by Kazushige Nojima, translated by Melissa Tanaka
My Final Fantasy bias may be showing because I wanted to include another FF novel here. What I like about this one, as to compared to Lost Stranger, is that it involves the characters we know and love from Final Fantasy VII. This book in translation by Kazushige Nojima traces the events after FFVII, along with a prequel of the film Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children.
Mega Man Megamix, Volume 1 by Hitoshi Ariga
Who remembers Mega Man?! Another great classic game. This manga by Hitoshi Ariga follows the events of the Mega Man game. A little robot named Mega Man finds himself called upon to save the world from Dr. Wily and his evil robot masters!
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Vol. 1 by Akira Himekawa
After years as a Playstation family, my brother saved up for a GameCube. I think it was with the specific purpose of also buying this Zelda game at the same time. Link was absolutely a character of choice for me during rounds of Super Smash Bros, so I’m right there with him. In this origin story novel, Akira Himekawa draws us into a land where the Spirits of Light have banished dark wizards to the Twilight Realm and locked away their magic in the Shadow Crystal. This tentative peace gets threatened when an evil force begins searching for the princess of the Twilight Realm and the pieces of the Shadow Crystal.
Assassin’s Creed: Blade of Shao Jun, Vol. 1 by Minoji Kurata
Assassin’s Creed was another video game favorite of my brothers. This manga by Minoji Kurata is based off Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China. In 1526, the Great Ming Empire rules China, and the Emperor has ordered the deaths of many political opponents. Shao Jun has become China’s last assassin, and she’s ready to take revenge.
Halo: The Rubicon Protocol by Kelly Gay
One of my brothers loved playing Halo, and when I was younger he often humored me by playing what we called “Hide and See Halo.” Opening up a two-player Capture the Flag game mode, we’d take turns hiding our characters somewhere in the map, and the other player would have to find us. The video game Halo has many book adaptations: here’s a handy guide to all the Halo iterations. In this recent standalone release by Kelly Gay, the year is 2559. The United Nations Space Command flagship Infinity has just been shot down by the Banished, and the remaining UNSC corps finds themselves abandoning ship and trying to survive out on the Halo ring.
Kingdom Hearts, Vol. 1 by Shiro Amano
With it’s blending of Final Fantasy and Disney, Kingdom Hearts was another video game I fell in love with growing up. Written by Shiro Amano, this manga takes us on a journey through the events of the Kingdom Hearts game. In the wake of a storm on Destiny Island, Sora finds himself separated from his friends Riku and Kairi and transported to a strange new world.
Tomb Raider Volume 1: Season of the Witch by Gail Simone and Nicolas Daniel Selma
Tomb Raider is another classic Playstation game from our family’s collection. In this graphic novel by Gail Simone, the story continues from where it left off in the game. After their escape from the Lost Kingdom of Yamatai, Lara and the other survivors get stricken with horrifying visions from the trauma they went through. Simone’s graphic novel promises plenty of beautiful art, mystery, and adventures ahead.
Horizon Zero Dawn: The Sunhawk by Anne Toole and Ann Maulina
Co-created by Anne Toole, one of the writers of the Guerilla game Horizon Zero Dawn, this comic series stars Aloy and Talanah returning to a new story set after the events of the game. With Nature taking over the planet and machines ruling the land, humanity must fight to survive in this new version of their world.
Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski, translated by Danusia Stok
Alright, this one is cheating slightly on this list since it’s technically not based on a video game, but rather the other way around. The hit video game series The Witcher is based off this fantasy novel series by Andrzej Sapkowski. It’s so video game adjacent though that I wanted it to have a home on this list too. With the peace that once reigned between the humans, dwarves, elves, and gnomes now shattered, an assassin named Geralt of Rivia seeks out a child prophesied to change the world. Once you finish the book series, check out the show adaptation as well.
Novels Inspired By Video Games
Switching gears from novels based on video games, below I’ve gathered together a selection of books inspired by video games more generally. These books revolve around characters playing video games as a central theme within the story.
Epic by Conor Kostick
When we think about books inspired by video games, Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One often comes to mind. However, I have it on good authority that this book by Conor Kostick as an even better video game read. After violence was banned on Earth years ago, conflict now gets resolved in Epic, a fantasy computer game’s arena. Seeking revenge on behalf of his parents, Erik and his friends decide to challenge the game masters called the Committee.
Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
This new book by Gabrielle Zevin focuses on a pair of best friends who form an epic collaboration to create a video game. As a junior at Harvard, Sam Masur spots his longtime friend Sadie Green on a subway platform, and from then on, the two go on to create a wildly successful video game called Ichigo. Over the course of thirty years, Zevin brings us on a journey with Sam and Sadie as they experience the ups and downs of their success. Pop culture and themes of identity, disability, and the need for connection and love get explored in this powerful read.
Solo Leveling, Vol. 1 by Chugong and DUBU (REDICE STUDIO)
This manhwa draws the world of video games into real life. E-rank hunter Jinwoo Sung has become known as one of the weakest hunters. Despite this, he continues to risk his life on raids to help pay for his mother’s hospital bills and his sister’s tuition, and he can’t resist a new opportunity for a big payout. For more mangas and manhwas like Solo Leveling, check out this Rioter’s list.
Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde
This book by Vivian Vande Velde has been a favorite of mine for years. When Giannine gets stuck in the virtual reality game Heir Apparent, she finds herself locked into the game until she wins. Every time Giannine dies in the game, she wakes up again as a shepherd girl just learning she’s a secret heir to the throne. On top of that, she’s got three half-siblings with competing claims for the crown.
Don’t Hate the Player by Alexis Nedd
This delightful YA book by Alexis Nedd combines romance with the gaming world and digs into themes of feminism. While Emilia is known as a popular field hockey player at school, at night she moonlights as the only female gamer of a super competitive eSports team. As she tries to keep her two worlds separate, Emilia decides to compete in a competition in her city. The only problem: Jake, a rival of hers from another team, has just recognized her.
Right Where I Left You by Julian Winters
This YA friends to lovers romance by Julian Winters stars a cast of characters who love gaming. Now that summer has begun, Isaac Martin is ready to enjoy as much time as he can get with his best friend Diego before he heads to college and has to try making new friends despite his social anxiety. As a final celebration, Isaac decides to buy tickets for Diego and him to attend the epic Legends Convention and Teen Pride. Things don’t go according to plan though when Isaac runs into his old crush Davi.
Walking in Two Worlds by Wab Kinew
This YA adventure story follows Indigenous teen Bugz as she navigates between her life as a quiet and reserved teen on the Rez with her confident alter ego in the virtual world of a popular multiplayer video game. When Feng is sent from China to live with his aunt, a doctor on the Rez, he and Bugz will connect over their mutual feelings as outsiders.
Otherworld by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller
This YA dystopian adventure by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller digs into the darker sides of VR gaming technology. When Simon gets chosen to participate in a beta test of a new VR game called Otherworld, he’s thrilled to check out all the game has to offer. Yet, something doesn’t feel right in Otherworld. What Simon initially thought was just a game may turn out to be something quite different.
Slay by Brittney Morris
Kiera Johnson spends her days as a college student at Jefferson Academy, where she’s one of the few Black students attending. At night though, Kiera logs into a secret online roleplaying game called Slay with thousands of other Black gamers. Little does anyone know though, Kiera is the game developer. When a teen gets murdered over a conflict related to Slay, Kiera finds threats surfacing from both inside and outside the game.
Rabbits by Terry Miles
This sci-fi thriller by Terry Mills is reminiscent of The Matrix and applies a dark lens over the concept of alternate reality video games. Launched in 1959, the alternate reality game Rabbits utilizes global reality, and nine winners have surfaced over the course of its ten iterations. K hopes to win the approaching eleventh iteration, but things change after K meets with a mysterious billionaire.
In between your late night gaming sessions, I hope these novels based on video games inspire you to stay up late reading too. For those looking to go further down the rabbit hole of bookish video game content, check out more books about video games and this Rioter’s personal piece on how video games encouraged a love of reading.