Japan is the birthplace of the most popular video games with large companies like Sony and Nintendo paving the future of video games. Their attention to detail is exquisite and it shows how much effort goes into creating a video game.
Just 20 years ago it was rare for video game studios to release any artwork. Now it’s more common than ever with “Art Of” books becoming the norm.
Concept artists can learn a lot by studying art books from popular game studios. Not only do you get quality examples of art but you can also see styles and methods for designing game assets like environments, characters, props, and vehicles.
In this post I’d like to share the best art books for Japanese video game series. Most books in this list are published in Japanese, so the written content will not be easy to read. But the artwork in every book is beyond stunning.
If you’re an aspiring concept artist then you’ll definitely want to start a small collection of artbooks to gather ideas and find creative inspiration for your own work.
Ken Sugimori Works
Nintendo’s most popular gaming franchise has worked closely with Ken Sugimori as their artist for years. The newest Japanese artbook titled Ken Sugimori Works offers a brilliant compilation of every game Ken has worked on.
Since he is well known for Pokemon there’s a lot of Nintendo/Game Freak concept art included. However it is not a Pokemon art book because it includes a lot of other work by Ken Sugimori.
It’s a 360 page book full of illustrations and comics designed by Ken. It spans his entire career as an artists from his early days all the way through to Pokemon. It’s definitely a fun book and a really cool Japanese collectable. But it’s not the ultimate Pokemon art collection.
I actually recommend grabbing this only if you’re a fan of Ken’s work, or if you want to immerse yourself into the Japanese art style.
Ken has a long history of working on games so most of the art is game/comic related. But it is not the perfect Pokemon collection, so if that’s what you’re looking for I’d actually recommend the Pokemon Card Game Collections book.
This alternate book is actually an art book full of Pokemon art from the trading card game. It’s 192 total pages which is about half the size of Ken’s book. But it has illustrations from Pokemon trading cards dating back to the first release in 1996.
Harvest Moon 15th Anniversary
Another popular RPG series is Harvest Moon published by Natsume. It may not share the same popularity as Pokemon, but this farming RPG has seen multiple spinoffs since its first introduction on the SNES in 1996.
When the game series reached its 15th anniversary the team published a Harvest Moon concept art book full of illustrations from every single Harvest Moon game. The release also came with a cute 12″ cow plushie designed exactly like the classic Harvest Moon cows.
Unfortunately the book is somewhat hard to find. As a fan of Harvest Moon I bought this book right when it came out. But looking now I’m having trouble finding copies for sale.
You can always check Amazon but their inventory seems to fluctuate based on the seller. I do see a lot of auctions on eBay if you’re willing to check there too. eBay sellers do sometimes offer new sealed copies so you might be in luck.
After owning this book and going through all the art, I can say emphatically this is a must-buy for any Harvest Moon fan.
You will never find a more comprehensive collection of Harvest Moon concept art anywhere. Plus most of this art has never been released in any guide book so these illustrations haven’t been seen by western audiences.
The Encyclopedia of Monsters anniversary artbook is full of incredible concept art that’s sure to dazzle any Dragon Quest fan. It’s a typical oversized art book and was published only in Japan, so the content is all in Japanese.
But it’s a huge compilation of monster illustrations with over 1,500 different monsters listed in the book. It has just shy of 500 pages so this is truly the bible of Dragon Quest monster concept art.
Other similar books were released for the 25th anniversary, but this art book is the most comprehensive and the largest. It’s also the most relevant for concept artists.
The book is full of concept art including designs for the cinematics, monsters, weapons, environments, and custom production art. It is the biggest collection of concept art for one of Square-Enix’s newest RPG titles.
Based on the contents of the book and reviews from buyers I can tell this is a quality item. It carries just about 250 pages and each one is a beautiful representation of Bravely Default’s artistic direction.
Also if you didn’t already know, there’s a sequel to Bravely Default called Bravely Second. It turns out this game also sold well and Square-Enix put together a Bravely Second artbook with just as much artwork as the first.
Both artbooks are simply incredible and they’re perfect reference guides for modern Japanese RPG concept art.
The Japanese game series Persona first got its start in 1996 on the PlayStation. It has always had a large following but the numbers have grown over time.
Their most recent and successful title is Persona 4 released for PS2. The game sold very well and has its own concept art book featuring unique concept art from the game.
Inside these pages you’ll find character designs, rough concept sketches, environments, and interviews with the game’s creators(in English!)
The book has 192 pages and unlike most of the other art books in this post, the Persona 4 book does have a lot of English content beyond just the artwork.
As of this writing Persona 5 is scheduled to publish in 2016-2017 but has no scheduled art book yet. Assuming the title sells well there will probably be a fantastic art book to follow the 5th title in this series.
But if you’re looking for something similar there is a Persona 3 artbook with just as much concept art to go around.
Art of Fire Emblem Awakening
The very first Fire Emblem RPG game was released in 1990 and the series has maintained steady sales going on 30 years.
One of the newest games titled Fire Emblem Awakening has its own art book full of illustrations and concept art. Beyond the typical characters and environments you’ll also get weapons art, props art, and even a full script with every bit of dialogue for the game.
This is more like a complete production archive for the Fire Emblem Awakening title.
You get to peek behind the scenes and see how the whole thing was created.
The book runs 320 pages and it is published in English so you can actually read the scripts.
Okami Official Complete Works
When Capcom first released Okami it was seen as a peculiar yet enchanting title. It had very strange audio and incorporated lots of Japanese folklore into the gameplay.
But with the game being such a big hit, Capcom wanted to give something back to the fans. Thus we have Okami Official Complete Works, a 288 page art book full of production art directly from the game’s creative team.
This is another art book released in English so western audiences can read all the interviews. It was originally published solely in Japan but was translated for the purpose of reaching a larger audience.
Beyond some interviews and script notes from the producers you also get all the typical concept art you expect: environments, characters, props, scenery, and rough concept sketches.
The game was published by Sega and first released in 2008. The gameplay incorporates FPS qualities with RPG game techniques for a very unique experience.
This original art book has over 400 pages of quality illustrations from the game’s production. Vehicles, weapons, maps, it’s all here in crisp quality and rich colors. You also get some behind-the-scenes interviews with producers talking about the game’s creation.
There are also a few other games under the Valkyria Chronicles series. This includes two other companion artbooks for Valkyria Chronicles II and Valkyria Chronicles III. Each book offers just as much creative inspiration as the last.
Aspiring concept artists looking for modern examples of video game concept art should look no further than these art books.
Here’s another fairly recent RPG game titled Monster Hunter. It was first published by Capcom in 2004 and has since been followed up with a few sequels.
A few years back Capcom released Monster Hunter Illustrations, a beautiful concept art collection from the series with over 300 pages of artwork. It’s all in English so you can actually read what’s on the page.
But most of the book is full of artwork rather that written material. You get to see rough sketches and storyboards along with fully-rendered concept art for game characters, monsters, environments, and weapons.
The Monster Hunter team has gotten a lot of positive feedback for their work. This lead to a follow-up art book titled Monster Hunter Illustrations 2. This second book is even larger at 400 pages long. It has just as much incredible artwork and buyer reviews prove the immense popularity of modern RPG concept art.
Children of Mana
Square-Enix has many popular franchises like Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts. But another beloved title is the Mana series dating back to Secret of Mana of the Super Nintendo from 1993.
They’ve carried on the series to add many games and two newer titles have been combined into one incredible art book. The book features concept art from Dawn of Mana & Children of Mana, two games that were both released around 2006.
As you can imagine this is a beautiful artbook. It features concept art from both games and it’s actually somewhat rare to find. But if you can nab a copy it’s well worth the effort because the concept art is exactly what you’d expect from Square-Enix artists.
The book is 200+ pages and written entirely in Japanese. But this shouldn’t be a problem if you’re only buying for the concept art(of which there’s a lot!)
Check to see if the Amazon listing still has copies for sale. If not then check eBay because there are usually copies on sale somewhere.
Shin Megami Tensei IV
This apocalyptic RPG first got its success on the Super Nintendo in 1992. Shin Megami Tensei has become a recognized brand and beloved video game title with many further game releases.
After the 4th game was released for the 3DS in 2013 the developers decided to publish an art book called Shin Megami Tensei IV: Official Artworks. It’s a bilingual book so you get some Japanese and some English mixed together.
It tallies a total of 208 pages and includes a lot of great concept art. You wouldn’t think there’d be as much detail in the mobile games, but the concept artists really gave it their all on this title.
I’d only recommend this book if you’re a fan of the series. The artwork is great, but you can find other concept art books for more well-known video game titles that are a bit cheaper.
Tales of Vesperia Illustrations
On the topic of recognizable RPG games there’s the “Tales of” series which has been around for decades. Their first release was Tales of Phantasia in 1995 and the series has only grown since then.
The 2008 release Tales of Vesperia was accompanied by an oversized Vesperia Illustrations artbook. This is another Japan-only release so the content is all in Japanese.
But it’s a really cool title and there’s a decent amount of artwork from the game. Yet even though it’s an oversized book it only has 79 pages.
You’ll find a lot of unique character sketches but it feels like the book runs out of content too quickly. But the price is also much cheaper than most video game artbooks.
If you’re thinking of grabbing a copy you might add some other Tales artbooks into your collection too. Tales of Destiny and Tales of Xillia are two great examples.
There is also a 20th anniversary artbook but it’s very hard to find. If you’re a fan of this game series then it’s worth hunting down your favorite title and grabbing a copy of the art book.
Dawn: The Worlds of Final Fantasy
I couldn’t end this post without some mention of Final Fantasy. It is arguably the most popular JRPG franchise in the world and Square-Enix has created a masterful library of Final Fantasy titles to choose from.
If I had to pick one specific FF art book it would be Dawn: The Worlds of Final Fantasy covering worlds from the first four games. You get to see concept artwork for environments created by the head artist Yoshitaka Amano.
It’s only 116 pages long but it’s a beautiful look back on the most popular RPG gaming franchise to date.
If you’re looking for a particular game title you can browse FF artbooks on Amazon to find what you’re looking for. I’m certain almost every Final Fantasy game has its own artbook at this point.
Perhaps the most popular options are the Final Fantasy Ultimanias released at the 25th anniversary. The third volume artbook contains FFX-FFXIV so it covers every major game starting from the year 2000.
Whatever your preference for Japanese RPGs, you have to admit that they’re exceedingly popular in the modern gaming marketplace. Concept artists work hard on RPGs to create fantasy worlds and characters that blend well into the theme of each game.
These books are the absolute best RPG art books I could recommend for any aspiring concept artist. The more you study professional production art the easier it’ll be to reach those levels. You can even do your own master studies by copying whatever art style you want to mimic from your favorite art book.
These books are also fun to look through and pick up techniques for styling characters, props, and rough sketches when practicing your own designs.