Although Squid Game itself isn’t an anime or manga, the popular Netflix series was heavily influenced by manga that have been adapted into films and TV shows.
Squid Game is on track to become the most popular show in Netflix’s history. The South Korean survival drama TV series has reached No. 1 in 90 countries following its release. (It’s also produced a countless number of memes.) Centered around a group of people who put their literal life on the line participating in children’s games in hopes of winning 45.6 billion won, the dystopian TV show provides an unflinching commentary on modern capitalism and class, fitting nicely alongside similar Netflix series like Black Mirror.
Squid Game is, somewhat, influenced by the life of its own creator, Hwang Dong-hyuk. Dong-hyuk has shared how he originally developed the script for the series in 2008 when he was in a bad financial situation. He once even had to stop writing the script and his sell laptop because of money struggles. But the popular show is also influenced by manga that Dong-hyuk read, with many of them being adapted into beloved cult films or popular TV shows.
Considering Squid Game is only nine episodes and Dong-hyuk doesn’t have any immediate plans to write a sequel, why not get into the predecessors that influenced it, whether that be the original manga or its adaptations? Along with those, we’ve also included a couple honorable mentions for manga that, although Dong-hyuk didn’t specifically name-drop as influences, have come up amid Squid Game‘s release.
Battle Royale (1999)
It’s only right to begin this with Squid Game‘s most obvious influence — Battle Royale. Originally published as a novel by Japanese author Koushon Takami in 1999, Battle Royale was adapted into a manga and feature film the following year. Battle Royale tells the story of a group of junior high-school students who have to fight each other to the death on a remote island as part of an act passed by a Japanese totalitarian government to curb the nation’s juvenile delinquency. The film faced controversy following its release, with Eirin — the abbreviated name of Japan’s movie regulator, the Film Classification and Rating Organization — giving it a rare R15+ rating (restricted to teenagers 15 and over only). The film didn’t even have an official release in the United States (except for screenings at different film festivals) until 11 years later.
Despite this, Battle Royale became popular across the world, even being declared one of the most influential films in recent decades by Quentin Tarantino. There were plans to create an American remake of Battle Royale, but once The Hunger Games was adapted for film — it’s worth noting that both the movie and book series has been accused of ripping off Battle Royale — the remake didn’t go forward. There were also talks of an American TV series adaptation of Battle Royale, but that has yet to come to fruition.
Speaking on taking inspiration from Battle Royale for Squid Game, Dong-hyuk said in an interview with Variety:
“I freely admit that I’ve had great inspiration from Japanese comics and animation over the years. When I started, I was in financial straits myself and spent much time in cafes reading comics including Battle Royale and Liar Game. I came to wonder how I’d feel if I took part in the games myself. But I found the games too complex, and for my own work focused instead on using kids’ games.”
Liar Game (2005)
Liar Game is like Squid Game in its exploration of debt and its effects on people, so it’s understandable why Dong-hyuk name-dropped it alongside Battle Royale in his Variety interview. Written and illustrated by Shinobu Kaitani, Liar Game made its debut as a manga series in Japan in February 2005. It tells the story of a college student, Nao Kanzaki, who finds herself a part of the Liar Game Tournament after receiving a package containing 100 million yen. In this tournament, the goal is take other contestants’ money, and they’re encouraged to chase and lie in order to do so. Those that lose must then bear a debt proportional to their losses. Rather than leave her fellow contestants in debt, Kanzaki tries to beat them while also freeing them of their debt — all while trying to take down the organization behind the tournament, too.
Liar Game has been adapted into a Japanese TV series in 2007, as well as two live action films in 2010 and 2012. In 2014, it was adapted into a South Korean TV series.
Gambling Apocalypse: Kaiji (1996)
Although Battle Royale has been the immediate go-to when talking about Squid Games‘ influences, Nobuyuki Fukumoto’s Gambling Apocalypse: Kaiji may actually be a more accurate comparison. Its titular character, Kaiji Itō, is similar to Squid Game‘s Seong Gi-hun in that they’re both compulsive addicts who both find themselves at the mercy of a loan shark trying to collect an outstanding debt, which results in them being placed in similar scenarios. For Kaiji, it’s participating in a tournament on a gambling ship where he has to plays games like rock, paper, scissors, as well as walk across steel beams elevated so high that those that fall are either severely injured or dead upon impact. The manga is still going on over 25 years later; it’s also been adapted as an anime TV series, as well as a Japanese film trilogy. There’s also a Chinese action-adventure film based on Kaiji called Animal World.
Alice in Borderland (2020)
Written and illustrated by Haro Aso, Alice in Borderland made its debut in November 2010. The manga is centered around a trio of high school students — Arisu, Chōta, and Karube — who are transported into a post-apocalyptic world after witnessing a blinding firework. From there, the trio has to participate in dangerous games in this parallel world in order to survive, the type and difficulty of the games all dependent on playing cards. Alice in Borderland was adapted as a TV series for Netflix in December 2020, and was well-received by critics and viewers alike for its visuals and cinematography. The show has been renewed for a second season. Although Dong-hyuk hasn’t specifically referred to Alice in Borderland as an influence on Squid Game, fans have compared the two, with some even arguing that the former is better than the latter.
As the Gods Will (2011)
Written by Muneyuki Kaneshiro and illustrated by Akeji Fujimura, As the Gods Will finds a group of high school students fighting for their survival as they’re forced to participate in deadly children’s games. Originally released in February 2011, the manga was adapted into a live-action film in 2014. Because of certain similarities to the film, Squid Game has been accused of plagiarizing As the Gods Will, which Dong-hyuk has dismissed.
According to NME, the director addressed the plagiarizing claim during a Squid Game press conference, pointing out that the initial idea for it came to him in between 2008 and 2009 — way before either the manga or its film adaptation were made.
“It is true that (the first game is) similar, but after that, there aren’t any similarities,” Dong-hyuk said, before adding: “It’s not really something that I wanna do, [to claim] ownership of this story. But if I had to say it, I would say I did it first.”