The Legend of Zelda is one of the most popular and profitable gaming franchises of all time, so it is no surprise that it has branched into different mediums over the years. Sure, everyone knows about the hilariously low-budget DIC cartoon from the ’90s, but what if I told you there is another, actually good Zelda adaptation out there.
I’m talking about The Legend of Zelda manga series by a writer/artist team known together as Akira Himekawa. These two women have been adapting Zelda games into manga stories since releasing their take on Ocarina of Time in 1999. So far, they’ve adapted eight of the games into manga format. But what makes these stories worth reading for fans of the original games?
The Legend of Zelda manga: a familiar story told in a different way
Few companies are more precious about their intellectual property than Nintendo. Ever since the criminally underrated cinematic masterpiece that was the Super Mario Bros. movie, Nintendo has sought to keep a close eye on any of their franchises that move into other media. This is why we will probably never see a live action Metroid movie or another Mario TV cartoon, despite being characters that translate well to those mediums. It is also why they are so notorious for their cease and desist orders on fan projects, but that is a discussion for a different time.
Despite Nintendo keeping tight control on its properties, they have given Akira Himekawa incredible latitude to make changes to their manga adaptations. For starters, Link, famous for being a silent protagonist in his games, will not stop talking in most of the manga series. Starting with Ocarina of Time, where his child form is characterised as loud and pushy, through to their ongoing Twilight Princess adaptation, where Link’s relationship with Midna has far more touching moments to it, the pair have always pushed their own take on The Legend of Zelda’s long and complicated lore.
Speaking of lore, the manga adds bits and pieces to the history and culture of Hyrule. It can be small details such as the cultural reasons behind Sheik getting their ears pierced in Ocarina of Time, but it is the little touches like this that help flesh out these characters in their new format and give readers something new to grasp hold of. Not that I think Nintendo will let The Legend of Zelda manga enter its official canon, but it is still fun to see these touches come to life on the page. Owners of the Hyrule Historia can read a particularly interesting take on the origins of Skyloft and the start of the Demise cycle.
Akira Himekawa’s manga adaptations might not be the only versions Nintendo has licensed over the years, but it is the most expansive and longest running of The Legend of Zelda manga. Their take on Majora’s Mask is particularly fun since it takes such a wildly different path to the video game. Considering Majora’s Mask remains one of my favourite games in the series, it is nice to see it get some love in an easier to consume format.
Nothing will replace playing The Legend of Zelda games. From the music to the puzzles to the sense of wonder at exploring each interpretation of Hyrule in your own way, the games hold such a special place in gaming history. However, there is a special kind of joy at seeing someone give these stories such a different flavour. The Legend of Zelda manga by Akira Himekawa serves as an excellent companion to the games they are based on.
If you are in the mood for a fresh take on a story you already know, you can pick up The Legend of Zelda manga from Viz publishing.
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