Believe it or not, the original Zelda game didn’t have that much story. Oh, there was a story there, but it was a paragraph to give a slight amount of incentive to look for dungeons instead of just spending hours exploring the overworld. It wasn’t until A Link to the Past that a focus on story would create a perfect environment for manga to truly take off.
Now, there were a few comics released during the days of NES. Valiant Comics released a series of “Nintendo Comics System” comics that featured many of the characters (and even set how some of them would interact) in the cartoon series that was later released. Since I’m focusing on manga, though, I shall completely ignore these since they were completely American-made in every facet. There were also a couple of 4-koma manga released based on the first two games, but while researching I was sadly unable to come across it and even if I had, it is unlikely I would have been able to read it since it has, to my knowledge, never been released in English and probably has not been scanlated by anyone.
Link’s first big break in Manga would be one that would be published in the US as well as part of Nintendo Power. It was a story based off of his adventures in “The Triforce of the Gods,” more commonly known here as A Link to the Past. At the helm for this ambitious project was a manga artist by the name of Shotaro Ishinomori. While in 1992 that name was probably unknown to English-speaking Nintendo fans, he would have been much better known to his audience in Japan as the creator of Cyborg 009. Indeed, Ishinomori, while not incredibly well known at the time (in the US, that is), was key in creating many properties that were exported for US consumption, including Super Sentai, which would be remixed into Power Rangers for US audiences. And he took A Link to the Past and made a fantastic addition to the Zelda mythos. While he added a few non-canon characters and situations– there is no Moon Pearl, and to stop from transforming you have to confront the evil in your heart, for example– his art accurately conveyed the feel of the game to anyone lucky enough to read it.
So Ishinomori was the first, but he would not be the last writer to take on the challenge of bringing the series to manga form. Another artist named Ataru Cagiva would take on Link’s next adventure to the Island of Koholint in 1994. Sadly, this series would not see US release. It’s really a shame because the manga tells the story of Link’s Awakening in a new but enjoyable way. A lot of the exploration and in-jokes from the game have been taken away to make for a tighter narrative, but what the manga really captures that the game did not is Link’s struggle with destroying the island upon waking the Wind Fish. There have been a few scanlations of this title, and while Nintendojo does not encourage the download ad or distribution of copyrighted works, it is worth the effort of finding to read. Cagiva would also write a manga based on A Link to the Past from 1995-96, though I’ve not had a chance to check that one out.
There is one other manga artist that must be mentioned when it comes to Zelda manga, and that is Akira Himekawa. Well, actually that’s a little misleading as Akira Himekawa is a pen name for two women who began translating the Zelda series to manga form, beginning with Ocarina of Time in 1999. This series would see a US release nine years later and is still in production thanks to Viz Media. Yes, this is the first series on my list that is easy to get a hold of. The last time I went into a book store I saw almost the entire series ready for purchase.
Himekawa has so far covered the stories of Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, A Link to the Past, Four Swords Adventures, Oracle of Seasons, Oracle of Ages, The Minish Cap, and Phantom Hourglass. My experience with the series is sadly limited to Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, and the Oracle games, but every time I’ve picked up one of those titles I have definitely enjoyed it. My favorite would probably be Majora’s Mask, which translates very well to manga form, even though some liberties have to be taken with the plot. That said, these versions have been edited somewhat as they are released under the Viz Kids label. It’s a real shame and something that a lot of manga faces when translated officially into English. There are uncut scanlations floating around of each of the manga, but it’s harder to justify reading these as an official version does currently exist and Viz is making money off of the series as opposed to Cagiva’s work.
Which brings me to my rant. Why the heck did it take nine years for an English version of Ocarina of Time manga to be released? Even though Viz has definitely been making up for lost time by releasing the entire series here much quicker than Japan got the individual stories, it seems like this is something that really could have seen the light of day much sooner. Indeed, when Ocarina of Time was originally released, it was like printing money to put the game on anything. Why didn’t Nintendo try to bring it out sooner to a population that would have eaten it up? Most people don’t even know that there was a single manga series, much less three by three different authors. We’ll probably never see an official translation of Cagiva’s manga, which is a crime of the highest degree. The artwork in each series is well worth the price of admission, and it’s shameful to have what could be a major part of the Zelda franchise history completely forgotten.
But at least we’re getting some of them now. If you couldn’t pick it up earlier, I recommend each of the manga adaptions as they’re all excellent looks at the series from a different viewpoint, though some are definitely not canon. I also don’t know if that’s all there is out there. I’m sure there’s probably some that I’ve missed and if you know of any, I’d be happy to hear about them in the comments. If you can track down any of them, I’d say go for it, but I particularly enjoyed Ishinomori’s A Link the the Past, Cagiva’s Link’s Awakening, and Himekawa’s Majora’s Mask. If you’re just looking for an overview of each, that’s a good place to start. Who knows, maybe you end up tracking all of them down.