In the late 1980s and early 1990s, comics were a semi-regular feature in Nintendo Power. The magazine dedicated to Nintendo games even had a cartoon mascot, Nester (evoking the NES, or Nintendo Entertainment system).
After the Super NES appeared, Nintendo Power published comics promoting flagship games of the new 16-bit system. But these did more than introduce gamers to famous series, such as The Legend of Zelda. They also brought Japanese-style comics to North American children, since the comics were drawn by experienced manga artists.
The Antics of the Super Mario Manga
Nintendo Power #32–44 (January–December 1992) ran not one, but two series of manga-style comics. The first was called Super Mario Adventures, drawn by Charlie Nozawa (aka Tamakichi Sakura) and written by Kentaro Takekuma, with English copy by Leslie Swan.
While visually based on the style and characters of the SNES game Super Mario World, the comics version concerned an original, lighthearted plot – Bowser, the villain of the Super Mario series, schemes to marry Princess Toadstool so that he can take over the Mushroom Kingdom. Meanwhile, Mario and his brother Luigi have wacky adventures as they try to rescue her, and run into new Mario World characters such as Yoshi the dinosaur.
A one-off Mario manga episode starring Mario and Wario, a newly introduced villain, later ran in the January 1993 issue of Nintendo Power magazine. Featuring other characters introduced in Super Mario Land 2 for the Game Boy, this comic was also drawn by Charlie Nozawa.
A manga version of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past ran concurrently with Super Mario Adventures. The Zelda manga was written and illustrated by Shotaro Ishinomori, with English text by Dan Owsen, and was based on the Super Nintendo hit of the same name.
Ishinomori, a well-known follower of manga legend Osamu Tezuka (Astro Boy), was best known for his Cyborg 009series. His Zelda manga stuck closer to the source game, although Ishinomori added some characters and took some liberties with the pacing and plot. In the comic, the young hero Link journeys across the Land of Hyrule – and braves the perils of A Link to the Past's Dark World – to defeat the evil Ganon.
Samus Aran Starred in Metroid Manga
The Metroid series was the last of Nintendo's franchises to be adapted as a comic. In Nintendo Power #57–61 (February–May 1994), a Super Metroid comic appeared, based on the now-classic SNES game. While still recognizably manga, Super Metroid was written and illustrated by Benimaru Itoh, also a Nintendo game designer, in a style closer to Western realism.
The Super Metroid manga provided some backstory for the character Samus Aran, the purple-haired heroine of Metroid, Metroid II, and Super Metroid. She later appeared (as a blonde) in Nintendo Power's cursory adaptation of Metroid Prime (2002), but that comic, produced by Dreamwave and Dark Horse Comics, was drawn in the traditional American superhero style. Samus would, however, prove to be popular in other Metroid manga not geared toward western readers.
The Mario and Zelda manga were popular enough that Nintendo republished them as stand-alone graphic novels in 1993, and they remain minor collector's items.
Undoubtedly, the prime reason for publishing Mario, Zelda, and Metroid manga in Nintendo Power magazine was to promote the games upon which they were based. But by enlisting manga artists to do so, Nintendo brought a unique comics genre to the attention of young gamers, at a time when manga and anime were not as readily available in North America as today.
For more on Nintendo manga, see The Legend of Zelda's Official and Dojinshi Manga.