Different types of media tend to inspire each other. There are books that turn into video games, and video games that turn into shows — like Arcane. It’s all interconnected! I gladly count myself among the ranks of people who fell head over heels for Arcane when it came out in 2021. One of the reasons why is that it has several of the tropes I love to read about. Want morally gray characters? Check. Want to read about complicated sibling relationships? You got it. Love the steampunk vibe and a mix of magic/science? Then Arcane is definitely for you! These are some of the best things about the show, and thankfully there are plenty of books with these tropes and vibes for you to read as we (not so) patiently wait for season two. Which is why today we’re going to take a look at 11 books to read if you like the show Arcane!
Like I said, there’s plenty to love about the show. But for this list I’m going to focus on three elements or categories that stand out in order to pick the 11 books to read if you like the show Arcane. The first category is morally gray characters with complicated relationships. The second is more about aesthetics, and it covers books with the steampunk vibe. The third and final category is books that mix science and magic to create complex worldbuilding. The stories all share more elements with Arcane, but I divided them this way to make things a little easier.
Oh and one last thing! I also mention a couple of manga that have some serious Arcane vibes. So without further ado, let’s get into it!
Read These Books If You Like Arcane’s Morally Gray Characters
Vicious by V.E. Schwab
V.E. Schwab is generally great at writing morally gray characters. But Vicious in particular has several similarities to Arcane! For starters, you have two morally gray characters who used to be close (although they’re not siblings) and are now on opposite sides of a deadly fight. Victor draws parallels with Vi — including an escape from prison. Jinx and Eli are similar too, and rely on their cunning rather than brute force to get things done. Vicious follows ex-college roommates Victor and Eli. They obtained powers through a deadly experiment and now, years later, they are archnemeses determined to bring each other down.
Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
Gideon the Ninth is a great comp to Arcane with its cast of morally gray characters. Plus, it also shares that punk-ish aesthetics and witty one-liners from the show. Harrow and Gideon can also be compared to Jinx and Vi. Harrow is the brains, as is Jinx. Vi and Gideon are the brawn. Plus, even if they learn to like each other, Harrow and Gideon have a relationship as complicated as Jinx and Vi’s. Gideon the Ninth follows the unlikely pair of Gideon and Harrow, a swordswoman and a necromancer who travel together to a new planet. There, they have to pass a series of tests that will allow them to become all-powerful servants of the Emperor.
Dorohedoro by Q. Hayashida
Let’s move on to the first manga of the day. Dorohedoro is reminiscent of the darker, bloodier side of Arcane. It’s full of morally gray characters, and there’s a war between the two sides of a city, much like Piltover and Zaun. Genre-wise it’s pretty similar too, with a mix of sci-fi and fantasy. Dorohedoro follows a man named Caiman. Sorcerers experimented on him and left him with a reptile head. Now he seeks a cure and is willing to kill anyone for it.
Berserk by Kentaro Miura
Berserk is another manga with morally gray characters clashing against each other — much like Arcane. It’s definitely a bloodier, more violent story, but it still maintains the tension and some emotional beats of the animated series — including the philosophical fight between two opposing points of view. Through several volumes, Berserk follows the epic clash between Guts and Griffith, a lone mercenary and the leader of a mercenary group, respectively. Guts is a great warrior, and even his metal hand is reminiscent of Vi’s mecha gloves.
Read These Books If You Like Arcane’s Steampunk Aesthetic
A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark
If you absolutely loved Arcane’s steampunk aesthetic, you need to read P. Djèlí Clark’s masterpiece! Its world-building is reminiscent of the show, and it has the same tense and suspenseful undertones as well as some political shenanigans. Fatma, the main character, is similar to Arcane’s Caitlyn. Both are detectives trying to solve a case who get pulled into something bigger. A Master of Djinn follows Fatma as she tries to uncover a murderer claiming to be the famous al-Jahiz, the man who opened the gate between worlds and let magic in. The citizens of Cairo are restless, and only Fatma can solve the case before the city descends into chaos.
Everfair by Nisi Shawl
Another great piece of steampunk fiction, Everfair is set in a self-governing and seemingly utopian city that is very reminiscent of Piltover. Much like Arcane, the book also follows a wide cast of characters, and you get to see their different points of view on the things that affect the city — which is what Everfair is all about! Each vignette-like chapter follows different POVs of people who interact with the city of Everfair during a period of decades, be it for science, love, or power. Those who focus on governing the city are particularly similar to the political subplot of Arcane.
Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding
World-wise, Retribution Falls is one of the best books to read if you like the show Arcane. The steampunk aesthetic is almost exactly the same, complete with airships, arcane experiments, and rapscallion gangs. It’s also action-packed, and the fun gunfights are reminiscent of the show’s. The story follows Frey and the Ketty Jay’s crew. They pull heists and sneak in contraband. But when their latest mission goes wrong — and they become public enemies — Frey must reveal the truth in order to save himself and his crew.
Monstress by Marjorie M. Liu
Monstress is a steampunk graphic novel with manga influences, set in an alternate and matriarchal Asia. Its whole vibe is very Arcane. Some of the things it has in common with the show include its dark visuals, the importance of friendships, the consequences of war, and badass female characters. The story follows a teen named Maika with a monster inside her. She doesn’t remember her past, or how she came to be linked with the monster, so she’s on a quest for answers.
Read These Books If You Like Arcane’s Mix of Magic and Science
In the Watchful City by S. Qiouyi Lu
Part of what made Arcane so unique and exciting for viewers was the seamless mix of magic and science/technology. It made for a very unique story, and brought some tear-jerking moments to the screen. In the Watchful City is a novella that first and foremost shares that particular element with Arcane. It also follows a wide cast of characters with their complex interconnectedness. In the Watchful City is a series of vignettes from the citizens of Ora. They are watched by Anima, an extrasensory human who uses biological tech to move between bodies.
Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa
This is probably an obvious manga to compare to Arcane, but it has so many similarities I couldn’t help but include it! Starting off by the expert weaving of magic and science in the form of alchemy, reminiscent of the Hextech technology we see in the series. Hell, it even has some steampunk vibes and a relationship between siblings moves the story forward. Fullmetal Alchemist follows Edward and Alphonse, two brothers who lost a lot during a failed alchemy experiment. Now, they’re looking for the famed Philosopher’s Stone in the hopes of righting more than one wrong.
A Certain Magical Index by Kazuma Kamachi
Okay this is technically a light novel, not a manga. But it does a wonderful job of mixing science and magic and making them coexist (and also fight) in this world — much like Arcane. There’s also plenty of tension between warring ideologies. A Certain Magical Index follows a student at Academy City named Toma Kamijo. He has the power to nullify others’ powers, but he’s not a great student. Things change for him when meets a nun named Index. She has 103,000 texts banned by the Church inside her brain — which makes them both targets, as Toma decides to help her.
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