As much as I adore The Legend of Zelda, character development has never really been its specialty. I’m not criticizing the narratives of the Zelda series, as generally they are pretty good. There’s one moment in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time that made me think in this specific way. Saria is introduced as Link’s only friend in Kokiri Forest, as the others tend to mock the poor boy. I believe that this relationship could of been expanded upon some more. We don’t really get enough time to understand how close they actually were until Link leaves the forest. This scene had the potential to be more impactful than it actually was. Luckily, we have another way to experience the stories of various Zelda games through its various manga adaptations, which provide more details surrounding their characters.
Manga is easily one of my favorite pastimes, delivering effective storytelling without feeling like heavy reading. The Legend of Zelda has received a variety of different manga adaptations, primarily by Akira Himekawa (the pen name of a duo of female manga creators). Most of the mainline games have received the manga treatment, with the likes of Breath of the Wild still yet to receive one. For the most part, each Zelda game has one concise manga representation, except for Twilight Princess, which has a meaty series of volumes. Today I am going to look at three different Zelda manga and explore how their characters are given more emotional depth.
The manga for Twilight Princess is easily the longest out of all the Zelda manga. It actually began in 2016 and is still ongoing, with volume 8 scheduled to release in the U.S. in March. Therefore, I’m going to focus on the first volume for the time being. Compared to its video game counterpart, the Twilight Princess manga kicks off in a more brutal fashion. At the beginning of the first volume, Link is living out his life in Ordon Village. This is nothing unusual. However, it is revealed that Link is harboring a dark secret, adding depth to his character.
Link caused the destruction of his hometown by pulling the Gaouf Sword from its pedestal. The events that follow are extremely traumatic for Link, and he then tries to escape his haunted past. He finds his way to Ordon Village in an attempt to hide from his previous life. The hero befriends the children of the village and develops a particular fondness for Ilia. When I played the game, this was one of my favorite parts of the game. Compared to other Zelda games, Twilight Princess managed to forge a connection between the player and its characters.
The manga counterpart does it even better, going above and beyond in some regard. As this is the first volume, the scene where Link’s friends are kidnapped by King Bulblin is incredibly moving. This is one of the final moments of the volume and acts as a solid cliffhanger for the next installment. It is honestly quite brutal by Zelda standards, with graphic imagery on display to propel the narrative forward in a bold manner. Link’s transformation into a wolf is the final scene in the first volume, bringing it to a dramatic close with Midna smiling in the distance.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was released in 1991. Video games and their storytelling were obviously more limited by the hardware back then. However, various games managed to create engaging stories, and A Link to the Past is no different. Still, although the premise is good, you cannot deny how basic it is in some regards. The beginning of the Link to the Past manga is fantastic, adding more depth to Link’s uncle.
As the manga attempts to deliver the entire story in just a single volume, Link’s interactions with his uncle are brief. Their relationship is still vastly improved upon compared to the video game, with an opening chapter dedicated to it. Link works with his uncle on a farm, and it’s clear that the boy has a deep love for his uncle’s care. This is of course then followed by his tragic death in the Hyrule Castle dungeon, which is even more emotional in the manga. Link runs away from his deceased family member in tears, promising to rescue Zelda by any means possible.
This is only scratching the surface of what this particular manga achieves. Throughout Link’s journey, he’ll discover what happened to his parents and develop relationships with a variety of characters. Link’s first meeting with Zelda is beautiful, with Link promising that she’ll never be alone again. The moment where Link encounters Agahnim for the first time is filled with intensity, as Link charges at him with anger for killing his uncle.
I thought it would be interesting to include one of the more divisive Zelda games in this list. The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass is often regarded as one of the “worst” Zelda games. However, I find it to be a charming game with a lot going for it. Another reason why I chose this manga is the difference in art style, as Toon Link is the protagonist of this story. The manga kicks of exactly like it does in the game, with Link sailing the sea alongside Tetra and her pirate crew.
A recurring theme with the Zelda manga is the expansion of the relationships between characters. Phantom Hourglass is no different in that regard, with the opening section having cute moments between Link and Tetra. They have a very wholesome relationship, teasing one another and having general banter. Their relationship is further solidified when Tetra is taken by the Ghost Ship, with both characters screaming one another’s name.
Further into the manga, Link meets Linebeck, an arrogant sailor who can often be a coward. Link’s interactions with his comrade is hilarious, with Linebeck often watching from the sidelines. Link is also joined by the fairy, Ciela, who has some funny moments such as calling Link an old man when he’s running out of breath. While not as ambitious as the other two manga that I’ve explored, there are still some moments that further expand upon an already existing premise.
Go read them all!
Akira Himekawa has produced some excellent adaptations of the Zelda series. Each of them complements its source material while also adding its own flavors to the mix. As illustrated above, the Zelda manga does an excellent job at expanding the relationships between various characters. There is a ton of Zelda manga that I haven’t covered, but I may do so in the future. If you have yet to read any of these, I can highly recommend it to any Zelda fan. The chances are that you’ll appreciate the differences like I have, but even non-Zelda fans could get something out of them. I’d still advise you to play the games first to get a better understanding of the source material before diving in. However, the Zelda manga provides detailed retellings of already established classics.