It doesn't matter where a good story comes from. It also doesn't matter how big it is or how small; people can reward intimate stories with success (Moonlight, Manchester By The Sea) as much as they do sprawling ones (pretty much all the recent Marvel box-office-busters). When talk turns to Hollywood adapting anime and manga source material into live-action for English-speaking audiences, they almost inevitably talk big, boffo stories: Cowboy Bebop, Tiger & Bunny, Macross/Robotech, and so on. Rarely is there ever mention of adapting smaller-scale titles with strong drama and great emotional power, with storylines that wouldn't be all that hard to transport to the West without breaking anything ... and with pricetags that wouldn't run into the six figures.
I'm not sure why only the big-ticket stuff seems to get considered. I suspect it's more about name-recognition marketing, where the assumption that someone out there knows what, say, Ghost In The Shell is, means it has that much of a leg up on something that has no such name recognition. But I've never been able to see such things as anything other than fools' gold; the amount of name recognition you get with a "known" anime/manga property vs. one that's a relative unknown doesn't seem enough to matter in the long run. Doesn't it make more sense, instead, to go with a good story that localizes well and — maybe most importantly — won't break the bank?
Here's a list — in no particular order — of properties I've encountered at various points that would make good choices for small-scale adaptation. All could be accomplished on reasonable budgets, and all have a modest to high "portability factor" — they wouldn't be too difficult to re-render in the West rather than Japan (barring a couple of edge cases detailed below). The point here is not to be exhaustive, but simply to suggest possibilities that don't currently seem to be part of the picture, pun sort of intended.
_ There was, at one time, an effort on the part of Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan, Requiem For A Dream) to film Katsuhiro Ōtomo's suspense/horror tale of psychic warfare between old age and youth in an apartment block ("John Woo meets David Cronenberg", according to one wag). Nothing came of the adaptation attempt, which I found inexplicable. It's a rip-roaring good story — easily the best thing Ōtomo did outside of AKIRA — with a plotline that isn't all that difficult to rework for a Western audience.
Come to think of it, the story might even take on additional resonance for American audiences, if it doesn't shy away from talk of how bad urban planning is its own kind of psychic death blow to those stuck living with it. The only major change you might have to make would be the name — and if a certain movie adaptation of a certain J.G. Ballard novel hadn't already used it, I would have suggested the title High-Rise.
March Comes In Like A Lion / Your Lie In April
_ March and April both gave us differently flavored takes of the same core concept: A young man with a great deal of talent in a given discipline — in the first case, shōgi (Japanese chess); in the second, the piano — must overcome his emotional barriers to excel in his chosen field. March is quieter, more of a slow burn; April's drama is more upfront, but no less potent.
A Western redux of April could work as a thematic rebuke to Damien Chazelle's Whiplash. That movie seemed to be celebrating the pathological mythology of the driven artist even when it was supposedly disavowing it; April confronts head-on the way a performing art can be a channel for either self-affirmation or self-abnegation. March hews closer to marginally less tormented territory like Searching For Bobby Fischer, but is also driven by the notion that the game can mirror many things in a person's life — a path for redemption, a place to bury one's self and avoid life's vicissitudes, and so on.
Obviously April needs next to no rewriting; the violin and the piano are the same in Japan and the U.S., and I think also the spirits of competition around them. March would need to have shōgi swapped for regular chess to be more accessible, but that amounts to a technical detail. And either one of these projects would cost all of a dime to get made.
_I suspect I may be in a party of one for suggesting this as a possible project, but here we go. For one, it's a wonderful story, a shot of giddy joy to the heart for anyone who's ever felt like they had no choice but to live out of step with the rest of the world. But I also don't think there's anything show-stoppingly difficult about converting it for Western audiences. The hardest element I can think of to re-map, Mayaya's love of Three Kingdoms lore, could be reworked as the kooky passions of Revolutionary War re-enactors. But the political subplot could map to the politics of most any major urban center in the West. Everything after that is a cakewalk. Cheap, too. In a good way.
Sexy Voice And Robo
_ This one-shot remains a favorite of mine for a whole clutch of reasons — its bold, brush-drawn art; its snappy writing; and a premise that could have been skeevy but instead plays smart and heartfelt. A teenaged girl who works on a phone-sex line, mostly for the heck of it (the "Sexy Voice" of the title), becomes an impromptu private detective of sorts for a retired yakuza, with an older, nerdy type ("Robo") as her partner in sort-of-crime. It's strongly character- and attitude-driven storytelling, as opposed to plot- or effects-driven; we like these people, and we want to see what becomes of them. A Western adaptation would require almost no tinkering with the original material to be workable, and could be shot for less than the catering budgets of most other films.
_It's a cliché to call a story ripped from the headlines, but this sharp little thriller, reviewed by me earlier, works very hard to be though of that way. A cadre of anonymous (or Anonymous) vigilantes use social media to exact revenge on various targets who seem to deserve it, whipping up public sentiment in their favor — but the real goal they have in mind is more about shaming the system into doing the right thing for a crime that has gone thus far unacknowledged. The series was made into a live-action film in Japan not long after it appeared, but that poses no obstacle for a redux. Neither does the story itself; maybe the fact this could happen just as easily in the United States as it would in Japan is its own indictment of social media as global social contagion. And the whole thing would be no more expensive than a couple of episodes of Law & Order.