10 Lesser-Known Anime Based on American Literature

The world of anime has often drawn inspiration from all sorts of stories from around the world, even classic works of American literature. This means anime set in places like the American frontier, the forests of New Jersey, and even a few trips over the rainbow. A few American books, especially those aimed at young children, were also notably adapted into series for the World Masterpiece Theater franchise. While basing anime on foreign books might not seem as popular as it once was, some of these series proved to be popular around the world.

These series often added new characters and unique stories to help flesh out the plot. Some aspects of the original books that didn’t age well might get changed to suit contemporary audiences. Since these series were usually aimed at children, it also wasn’t uncommon for characters to be written as younger than their book counterparts and have cute animal sidekicks. If the book ended up having sequels, they usually were often incorporated in some way into the anime series. In other words, viewers should be careful when using these anime as reference points for any book reports.

10 The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1980)

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is an anime series based on the Mark Twain novel of the same name, with a bit of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn thrown in. The original book is about a young boy and his misadventures in the fictional St. Petersburg, Missouri. Other characters include his friend Huckleberry Finn and his love interest, Becky Thatcher.

TV Asahi Put it on Their List

An anime adaptation was made as part of the World Masterpiece Theater series. The anime adaptation has a slightly different chronology than the book, and some of the characters’ behaviors were toned down, such as removing references to underage characters smoking. Saban Entertainment produced an English dub of the series, which aired on HBO and was later released under the title, All New Adventures of Tom Sawyer. An alternate English dub has also aired in Southeast Asia.

In Japan, the series was also awarded the Best Film Award for TV on behalf of the Children’s Cultural Affairs Agency. In 2006, TV Asahi also included the series in its list of the 100 best anime series of all time.

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9 The Yearling (1983)

Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution

The Yearling is a 1938 novel by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. In its story, a young boy named Jody lives with his parents in the Florida backwoods in the late 1870s. Wanting a pet, Jody eventually forms a bond with a young deer, the titular “yearling,” who he names “Flag.” However, things become dangerous when Flag starts to threaten the family’s crops, which they depend on for survival. No longer a mere “yearling,” Flag has also become too tame to simply send away.

The Story of a Boy & His Deer

The Yearling also received an anime adaptation, which was partially influenced by the 1946 MGM film. The story’s bittersweet ending unfolds in the final episode. The second episode of the series is also known for being the world’s first fully digital production. An English dub is known to exist, where it was occasionally given the name Fortunate Fawn. In the English-speaking world, the anime was known to have aired in some Los Angeles stations and in Australia.

8 Fables of the Green Forest (1973)

Fables of the Green Forest is an anime series based on the books by Thornton W. Burgess, known as the Burgess Bedtime Stories. The series was part of the Calpis Comic Theater series, which served as a precursor of the World Masterpiece Theater series. The story revolves around two woodchucks, Johnny, also known as Rocky, and Polly Chuck, and all their friends who live in the Green Forest as they face off against predators.

The Forest is Full of Friends

The anime adaptation starts off with Johnny leaving his parents as early as the second episode. The final episode deals with a farewell party for all the animals undergoing hibernation, effectively wishing the viewers goodbye while still giving the series an open ending. The anime is known to have at least two different English dubs, with one released under the title, Friends of the Green Forest.

RELATED: 15 Underrated Classic Anime Series That Deserve Live-Action Adaptations

7 The Story of Pollyanna, Girl of Love (1986)

Fuji TV, Animax

The Story of Pollyanna, Girl of Love is an anime adaptation of Eleanor H. Porter’s novel, Pollyanna, and its sequel, Pollyanna Grows Up. The story revolves around a young orphan, Pollyanna, who is sent to live with her aunt, Polly, one of her few surviving family members. No matter how bad of a situation Pollyanna finds herself in, she makes a game of finding the good in everything, in honor of her dead father.

Things Get Serious in the Second Half

The anime adaptation was part of the World Masterpiece Theater series. Characters are notably younger than their book counterparts, including both Pollyanna and Aunt Polly. The setting is also changed to the 1920s. The anime adaptation is also known for its dramatic storylines, especially towards the second half of the series. In fact, the first episodes deal with the death of Pollyanna’s father. The series also explores Aunt Polly’s relationship with Pollyanna’s mother, her sister Jennie.

6 Bannertail: The Story of a Gray Squirrel (1979)

Bannertail: The Story of a Gray Squirrel is an American children’s book set in New Jersey. A baby squirrel loses his mother, causing him to be adopted by a cat on a farm. However, as he grows up, he must begin a new life in the Jersey woods. Raised like a kitten, while in his new surroundings, he has to accept that he is not a cat. The original book’s author, English-born Canadian-American Ernest Thompson Seton, was also notably one of the founders of the Boy Scouts of America.

This Wasn’t the Only Seton-Inspired Anime

Bannertail: The Story of Gray Squirrel was also the basis of an anime series, starring a young squirrel known as “Banner.” The first episode of the series sees Banner’s adoptive feline mother risk her own life to save him from a fire. Believing he’s lost her, Banner begins his journey into the forest. The series was also known for becoming popular in Arabic and Spanish-speaking countries. An English dub had been made, but was never officially released.

The series was not the only anime to be based on Seton’s work. Other series include Monarch: The Big Bear of Tallac, based on the book of the same name, and Seton Animal Chronicles, which was based on a variety of Seton works.

5 Laura the Prairie Girl (1975)

Laura the Prairie Girl

The Little House on the Prairie series consists of eight books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, detailing her life, starting with her early childhood in Wisconsin, going on to move across the American West frontier. While based on Wilder’s own life, a few liberties are taken, such as combining various rivals into the infamous Nellie Oleson. In the West, the books are arguably best known as the inspiration for the Little House on the Prairie NBC series, which lasted from 1974 to 1984.

The Anime Is Sort of a Prequel

The books were given an anime adaptation known as Laura the Prairie Girl. This series was primarily based on two of Wilder’s books, Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie. In fact, the anime is something of a prequel, adapting events that occurred prior to the books. Some new characters include the Regan family, whose son Freddy, notably, shares his name with Wilder’s brother, who died in infancy. The anime ends with the Ingalls family leaving for Kansas, effectively ending where the live-action series starts off.

4 Rascal the Raccoon (1977)

Rascal the Raccoon
Fuji TV

Rascal, A Memoir of a Better Era is an autobiographical novel by Sterling North. Set during his childhood in Wisconsin, North has a loving, though distant, relationship with his father, lost his mother, and sees his brother leave to fight in Europe during World War I. However, he soon starts to connect with other people after adopting a young raccoon. In time, as his raccoon grows up, North learns he may soon have to give up his pet.

The Series Started a New Pet Craze

The book received an anime adaptation in Rascal the Raccoon, which served as part of the World Masterpiece Theater series. The series proved popular in Japan, with Rascal getting his own line of merchandise. In popular culture, the opening was also famously used in the Frogger game. In 2022, Nippon Animation Theater YouTube Channel also temporarily uploaded the series for free in honor of the anime’s 45th anniversary.

Infamously, the series even inspired kids in Japan to want their own pet raccoons, with stores even importing them from the United States. This also led to raccoons being released after the final episode, mimicking Sterling having to release his own pet. This backfired, leading to raccoons becoming an invasive species in the country.

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3 My Daddy Long Legs (1990)

My Daddy Long Legs
Fuji Television

Daddy-Long-Legs is a novel by writer Jean Webster. The story revolves around Jerusha “Judy” Abbott, an orphan girl who is given a chance at an education thanks to a mysterious benefactor. Only getting a glimpse at him, all she knows about him is that he’s tall, so she addresses him as “Daddy-Long-Legs” in her letters. Judy eventually falls in love, but realizes her background may complicate things. Little does she know that her benefactor is closer than she thinks.

The Story Gets a Roaring ’20s Makeover

An anime adaptation, My Daddy Long Legs, was made as part of the World Masterpiece Theater series. While Judy is a college student in the original book, the anime has her in high school. The setting is also updated to the 1920s, showcasing the fashions of the time. The series ends with a time-skip, with Judy enrolling in college after marrying her mystery man.

The original story had previously been adapted into a special in 1979. While not an official adaptation, the book also appears to be an influence on the classic shojo series, Candy Candy, particularly the character of Uncle William Andrew.

2 The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1986)

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz adapts the classic books of L. Frank Baum, in which a young Kansas girl, Dorothy, is transported to the magical land of Oz. While there, she encounters the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion. However, that’s just the start. The series adapts four of the original books, including The Marvelous Land of Oz, Ozma of Oz, and The Emerald City of Oz.

Dorothy’s Adventures Are Just Beginning

While the early episodes are relatively faithful to the original story, elements considered too dark for children were often changed. For example, the books feature Princess Langwidere, who can replace her own head and even wants to take Dorothy’s. In the anime, she merely has an obsession with hats. In another notable change, the adaptation of The Emerald City of Oz, as well as the series, ends with Dorothy once again returning to Kansas. At this point in the original books, Dorothy had settled in Oz and had even been made a princess.

Notably, this wouldn’t be the last anime series based on an L. Frank Baum book. An anime series based on The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, which was also the basis of a Rankin-Bass special, also came out in 1996.

1 Tales of Little Women (1987)

Louisa May Alcott’s famous novel Little Women revolves around the four March sisters, modeled on Alcott’s own family: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. The story has had a few anime adaptations over the years, including at least two series. The first came from Toei Animation and was released in 1981. This was preceded by a special from Toei released in 1980, which notably featured Bryan Cranston in the English dub.

Even Little Men Got a Series

Nippon Animation later released their own adaptation, known as Tales of Little Women, in 1987, as part of their World Masterpiece Theater series. In 1993, a sequel series, Little Women II: Jo’s Boys, was released. This version’s English dub aired on HBO and has since gained something of a cult-following. This was based on the original book’s sequel, Little Men, and partially on, as the title suggests, Jo’s Boys, the final book of the series.

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