Guys, remember when Jordanne let me publish the Top 5 + 3 Reasons You Should Watch Voltron: Legendary Defender she wrote? It’s so good. In fact I got a bit worried that my readers would expect that level of excellence from now on… Still am to be honest. Crippling insecurities aside, I’m mentioning this because talking with Jordanne is a treasure trove of inspiration. More specifically, in our exchanges, she mentioned the following:

“…it’s kind of accepted in the book community that on screen adaptations can never live up to their book equivalents and things get cut out of the story but when I heard that can also be the case with Anime recently I was actually so shocked – I mean, they quite literally have a frame by frame guide, how could they possibly go wrong? Feel free to do what you want with the formatting also….”

Now obviously, I am familiar with the literary bias but I hadn’t considered the particular angle of manga and comics as “storyboards”. Some would argue that this level of restrictions in fact makes adaptations harder. I certainly have had plenty of fans tell me to “read the manga” since it’s so much better, or it explains this and that… Honestly, the same prejudices exist in the anime v/s manga world.

I haven’t both seen AND read enough series to have a sample size sufficient to base a reasonable general opinion. What I do have is 5 series that I prefered in anime form for various reasons. So today, I’m going to go against popular opinion, and share 5 series which I believe were improved through adaptation. Feel free to passionately tell me I’m wrong!

Natsume's Book of Friends season 4 anime review
I will always love this episode

5 – Natsume’s Book of Friends

I know what you’re thinking. I just want to mention Natsume in as many posts as possible. You, my friend, are absolutely correct!

This is a bit of an oddity. With only a few very rare exceptions, the Natsume anime is almost a panel for panel reproduction of the manga and yet I like the anime much better. Now you could argue that I was exposed to the anime first so it’s simply nostalgia at play. Also those very few exceptions I mentioned did add a lot to their respective episodes. However, the most significant difference is pacing!

I mention pacing a lot. All the time really. I think it’s one of the most underappreciated aspects of anime and really dynamic storytelling in general. Natsume is a story that often takes place between the lines. The importance of appreciating the moment, of taking a breath, of grounding yourself, resonates throughout the narrative. Even if I carefully examine each panel, having my eye rest for a second or two on a static image of Natsume and Nyanko walking quietly side by side simply doesn’t have the same emotional impact as watching them walk away together over a hill for 30 seconds. The direction in the series is stellar and the timing of those quiet moments where nothing happens is given the importance and time it needs to truly deliver the perfect atmosphere.

Even without considering how the soft colours and music all come into play, just the fact that the viewer has to take in the story as it comes makes a huge difference. And this simply cannot be conveyed in a static medium like manga.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s an excellent manga which I really love. You should read it. Right now. Go!

it’s a good thing

4- Attack on Titan

You could argue that most action based stories will be better when animated. That rush of adrenaline and excitement is difficult to match with still pictures on a page. However, when you add in the horror element of Attack on Titan and the manga just can’t catch up.

I have mixed feelings about the show but I have to admit those battle scenes are impressive. Even breath taking! Since the manga doesn’t delve too deep into morality, science or politics either and also concentrates on the action aspect of the story, there’s really no reason to opt for the movement free format.

remember when romance was considered girly

3 – Kare Kano

This is a slightly older show and manga. Moreover, its appearance in this list has a lot more to do with my personal preferences than anything else. I liked the Kare Kano anime. One of the precious few romantic comedies I have enjoyed (Ouran and Nozaki-kun being the others). For that reason, I actually decided to go ahead and read the manga just to get one more taste of the story.

Sure Kare Kano is a love story at its core, but there’s also all this lively, good hearted, schoolyard humour throughout the series that make it a really pleasant watch and a great way to put a smile on your face.

Imagine my disappointment when I realized that the manga was almost entirely dedicated to the romance aspect of the series and had replaced the humour with classic shoujo drama. I eventually found out that the mangaka had even had a rather nasty dispute with the studio because she believed her work was being misrepresented in the anime.

The story was essentially the same but presentation completely changed the impact for me. In this case mind you, the medium of anime v/s manga was inconsequential, rather the script writers deserve credit for creating a new product which I happen to enjoy way more.

GinTama makes a lot of my lists

2- Gintama

One word: Voice Acting! Wait two words…I meant two words…

Some jokes work just as good on paper but some are all in the delivery. Gintama has lots of jokes. Maybe a third of them truly land because of the exceptional work of the actors in the cast. You can imagine deadpan delivery from facial expression, punctuation or font but it’s never going to be the same as actually hearing it.

Vocal rhythm also transforms a ho hum gag into an absolutely brilliant one-liner you constantly try to quote at inappropriate moments.

Sure, if it hadn’t been so well cast. The actors could just as easily have been a huge liability, joke delivery is a double edged sword after all. However, it just so happens that the Gintama cast is not only extremely talented but also have a superb chemistry. You would really be missing out on a lot if you were to favour the manga on this one.

what are you talking about? it’s clearly completely different!

1 – Revolutionary Girl Utena

This is another personal one. Utena made some pretty big waves when it came out over… gulp…20 years ago. And it has cemented its place as a classic since then. It was already considered required viewing by the time I started really exploring anime. Unfortunately, I simply didn’t have access to the series at the time and figured I could just read the manga instead.

It had a few interesting oddities but for the most part it was a romantic drama. A straight one. The world building and the more surreal aspects were very appealing but little else. I stored it away in my brain as one of those series that gets an unexplainable amount of hype for no real reason and promptly forgot all about it.

I knew even back then that Utena was suppose to be yuri mind you. At the time I didn’t know enough about yuri to know that some fans label anything with two *unsupervised* female characters in the same room as potentially yuri, so to me the manga had absolutely no yuri elements at all. This really had me baffled for some time and eventually drove me to watch the anime a few years ago.

I love Utena. It’s one of my favorite animes. The deep rooted themes of identity, sexuallity and conformity it tackles with expressionist glee absolutely mesmerized me. I find myself randomly thinking back to the series on a regular basis. I must say, I was a little mad at the manga for dulling all the edges and downplaying the most interesting parts of the story.

I read a few articles suggesting that the Mangaka was deeply uncomfortable with homosexuality and more ambitious non gender normative themes. This may explain the fairly tame (safe) nature of the manga. Mind you, these could have been speculation to begin with so I wouldn’t put too much stock in that theory.

So there you have 5 anime which I think improved on their source material. What do you think? Are there any shows you prefer to the manga. I almost put Berserk there too but the manga is actually pretty great.

it does go on hiatus a lot though…

36 thoughts

  1. How did I miss this when it was posted?

    Anyway, K-On, K-On, and K-On. KyoAni and Naoko Yamada took what was frankly a very mediocre seinen 4koma, the sort that would’ve been a quickly forgotten 5-minutes-per-episode gag series if any other studio had made it (think something like “Aiura” or “Military”), and turned it into a show that’s brimming with heart and really brought its characters to life.

    1. Related: I was browsing the manga section at Barnes and Noble and came across vol 1 of Kill la Kill. Inside where staff couldn’t see it was a Post-it note that said, “The anime was better.”

  2. I’m almost ashamed today I’ve not read much of the Gin manga. I think it’s pretty obvious that the writers of the show have a blast putting their spin on it.

    The sound direction, the music and most of all, as you mentioned, the VA cast make it what it is.

    That’s why it’s a solid joint #1 (that’s cheating isnt it?) as my fave anime.

    As soon as I saw Blood Blockade Battlefront – I was like *assumes Gin voice* SHINPACHIII! Even though these guys are everywhere, I always like them back to Gin and that’s because their performance is so so so memorable.

    As for others I’m going to go for Hunter x Hunter (2nd one). Pacing, action, art quality, just doesn’t compare.

    AoT similar as you’ve stated.

  3. Really just depends on what I get to first, regardless of whether it’s meant to be “out of my reach” or not…*raises eyebrows at Idolish7 phone game*

    Like Scott said, Angelic Layer. Aside from the mother filler which added to the show, there was Ohjiro who was a skirt-flipper in the manga and an absolute gentleman in the anime, plus some romantic filler episodes for a few of the more important characters. Then again, the manga’s only 2 omnibus volumes long (about 5 normal volumes) long. It would be a similar case for Sailor Moon for a lot of the people who were inducted via the anime boom as well, I’d presume, since that manga’s 12 – 18 volumes (depends on edition) and then got adapted into the anime monolith that it is.

    There’s a small selection of 90s anime I favour over the manga as well, such as Matantei Loki Ragnarok and Saiyuki, because the manga versions are far more confusing than they should be (or maybe the speed/age at which I read them made them confusing…?) and having the anime parse it for you suddenly makes it make a lot more sense, even with filler there to trip you up.

  4. Keroro Gunsou/Sgt. Frog. Anime is hilarious, manga not as funny.

    I also read Angelic Layer as an answer. The two are quite different with even different pairings. Mom’s reason for not being around is better in the anime for sure.

  5. I barely read manga, and when I do, I usually only sample them out of curiosity. When I do paper reading, I go for books (and for some reason I don’t like screen reading much).

    As far as I can tell, the rule of thumb is “the original is better”. I don’t think people usually argue that a manga that follows and original anime is better.

    I remember back in the day people saying that the School Live manga was better than the anime, so I sampled a chapter or two. From what I could tell, I would have liked the anime better. The manga (as far as I read) struck me as a fairy straightforward survival story, while the anime through expert usage of horror and slice-of-life imagery created a sort of visual/auditory running meta commentary that made the show special. It may be in the manga, too – I’ve read very little – but if it’s there I missed it.

  6. I haven’t read enough manga to really make this sort of comparison, but I will say having just completed volume 3 of the Natsume manga that I am finding the manga to be equally enjoyable to the anime. There are some minor points of difference in word choices that have helped me to understand Nyanko Sensei a little bit more and his trapped in a cat status in the manga as well as a slightly more sinister tone about Natsume’s early encounters with Natori that I’m really appreciating. But, and I think I mentioned this to Scott already, while reading the manga I’m hearing the anime soundtrack in my head and a lot of the scenes I’m seeing in the book I’m visualising what I saw in the anime.
    This one is probably a case of neither being better or worse but both just adding to the overall Natsume experience that is just truly pleasurable and I’ll take as much as I can get.

      1. Saving my penny’s so I can get a few more volumes of it. Desperately wanting to read more but it might be a few months before my next book order and in the meantime I’ve got quite a stack of other titles to work through.

  7. I haven’t read the manga and only watched the anime for this one, but apparently the anime adaption of Angelic Layer had some added Fuller and drama centered around the protagonist’s mom that adds to the anime quite a bit. I loved the anime for not making the whole thing positive all the time.

    1. Wait, that part is anime original? They set it up from episode 1 and framed the entire show through it. That’s rather amazing, I should think.

  8. Most of the manga I’ve read was just to finish an uncompleted anime. Although I was never able to finish the Fruits Basket manga. And I did read some AoT manga but I found I did like the animated versions better. Can’t beat those animated horses.

  9. GJ Club was greatly improved by massive editing, because it was a 4-koma originally and had no narrative structure at all. So was Azumangah Diaoh.

    Tenchi Masaki of Tenchi Muyo was kinda mean in the pilot, but the OVA/Anime made him nicer and more patient, but also more of a mudge, which is the trend to protagonists of harem anime. And Tenchi wasn’t a dating sim; his was a real harem, a theme we saw repeated in GXP.

    A lot of plot was removed or streamlined in Love Hina’s animation from the original manga’s 14 volume run and details were changed. The stuff left out would have matured the show and done a far better job of evolving the characters more realistically, and put the hero’s transition into a Masochist who marries Naru (finally) as far more pathetic than heroic, and made him more pitiful than ever. I think the studio found that a hard sell. Considering the show is about the types of Feminism emerging in Japan, the real ending was appropriate, but never got animated.

    There were huge differences between the original runs of Full Metal Alchemist and its almost-immediate remake Brotherhood which more closely follows the manga. I have noticed that animation studios bully writers into conforming to what they believe sells the most merchandise and advertising by loading shows down into tropes, and some authors even depict this in later anime. The author of SNAFU made an anime about an obnoxious and entitled b17ch voice actress and showed exactly that abuse scene where the author (himself) was berated for not making her part look better. I’m still not sure which voice actress that was, but he refused to work with her again and its pretty scandalous in Japan.

    1. I haven’t read it but I do know that the manga FMA was considered/marketed as a shoujo manga and the anime a shonen so there must have been some changes in adaptation.

      1. They had some important differences. Brotherhood had less action and more espionage and intrigue and better character development. It was more like a proper novel and less of tournament video game.

      2. Actually, the first anime stuck to the manga as long as they could and went original when there was no more manga to adapt (The manga ended 2010; the first anime ran in 2003; the second anime ran in 2009/2010 – probably to promote the soon-finishing manga and to give it proper anime closure?).

        To this date I’ve seen neither anime, and I don’t know the manga at all.

  10. Well, I was very tempted to say something about that first paragraph you wrote. About the fact that level of excellence that you mentioned. But…You already know very deep down inside that your posts are on a level so high that you leave almost everyone of us behind in the dust, so why go there (and you are talking to the King of insecurity here lol).
    I haven’t had much experience reading manga. In fact, I have hardly read any to be honest. But that said, the one I am currently reading is amazing (monster) and hopefully will get me into reading it even more). I think you are spot on with Attack on Titan though! Having seen a few of the mangas, I don’t think it even comes close.
    Another one that I personally prefer to the manga is Sword Art Online. I bought the first volume of the manga because I loved the show so much, but it never came close to the experience I had while watching the anime 😊

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