Ok, that title is clickbait. I baited you. I’m sorry. I don’t actually think the manga is always better than its adaptation. In fact, I’m one of the few people out there that tends to prefer the anime to the manga by default but that’s really not the norm.

In general, you see manga readers insisting that any given adaptation does not do justice to the source material. In some cases when only the first episode of an anime has aired. And you almost never see the opposite. People aren’t passionately declaring an adaptation far superior to the source. With some exceptions. And I was wondering why.

confused anime girl is probably the most frequently used pic on this blog

Is it just an empirical fact? Is manga simply the better medium and we should stop wasting time and huge amounts of resources adapting them to anime? Or is there something else to consider?

Man, that was a dramatic paragraph. I didn’t really feel like myself writing that. And since there are still a few paragraphs left to this post, you can guess that I think there is indeed more to it. These are a few of the reasons I could think of for the vocal support of manga over anime. I’m sure there are more and your mileage may vary on some of these.

illustrating Nostalgia is really hard…

Nostalgia

I think it’s safe to assume that a manga will come out before its adaptation. That’s just the general nature of linear time. As such, there will always be a part of the audience that is already familiar with the source when the anime comes out and usually, the people who care about it, are the people who really enjoyed the manga.

It is by no means unique to manga fans to be protective of things they love. If someone truly enjoyed a piece of fiction, then any deviation from that property tends to be viewed as a downgrade, sometimes regardless of the actual impact on the whole. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad, it’s different from what they loved so there’s an immediate emotional backlash.

And to be clear, that’s human nature. It’s sort of the same impulse that makes us hate remakes of our favourite movies before we’ve seen those remakes. Most people are just like that to various degrees. And in those cases, the original always wins. So for the manga vs anime issue, it means manga will always win on the nostalgia.

That’s probably part of the reason I could never get past episode 2 of the Death Note anime, I was already too attached to the manga. I don’t actually know if the anime is better or worse, but I don’t enjoy watching it because I already have a relationship to that piece of fiction that I like as it is.

ok I give up on relevant pictures…

The Underappreciation of Non-narrative Storytelling

That’s a bougie sounding title. If you can believe it, that’s the simplest way I could think of to explain it.

Ok, so one huge advantage that anime has over manga is a much wider array of storytelling tools. In anime, you can convey information through colour, sound, camera movement and actual animation. That’s not to say that there isn’t any visual storytelling in manga. Read BLAME and you can see that there is plenty of it. But there are just way more possibilities in anime and a good director and production team will be able to take full advantage of that.

Unfortunately for anime, we are just more used to taking in stories through traditional narratives. It’s about what happens. We have a great tradition of taking in fiction through word narratives (spoken or written) and for most of us, cinematic language hits us on a more subliminal level. Of course, all these elements add to the experience, but we can’t always quite put our finger on why.

It’s very easy to see that an adaptation cut out a character some fans really liked, it’s much more difficult to notice that it added distant sounds of car engines that change with the time of day to add to the sense of passing time and growing loneliness of the protagonist. And so, even if some people might prefer an adaptation over the manga if they can’t explain why they tend to not talk about it as much.

at least time is a bit more easy to put in visual terms

Resources and Time

If the great advantage of anime is the multitude of storytelling tools, the great disadvantage has to be resources and time. Generally speaking, manga are much less restrained in the time or space they can take to tell their stories. They can just go on, chapter after chapter carefully developing characters and letting events flow at their own pace. On the other hand, anime often have predetermined lengths. They have to tell their stories in a set number of episodes.

It’s no coincidence that pacing is usually one of the biggest issues in anime and is hardly ever mentioned when critiquing manga. (It does happen but mostly in single volume or short run mangas that have limitations closer to those of anime). And this is an issue across the board when adapting print media to audiovisual.

And also, anime is expensive to make. At least it’s more expensive than manga and way more expensive than your imagination. Manga artists can afford to create elaborate and detailed character designs that come up now and then and stay all pretty in the panels. But animating those same intricate designs would cost a fortune! An action scene in a manga can be incredible with just two or three well designs panels. My brain can infer the entire scene and fill in the blanks. And that fight will be perfect, with the highest possible frame rate, art consistency and amazing little flares that I have collected in my memory from every previous anime fight scene I have enjoyed. Now try actually putting that on film.

This last point can go both ways. Or maybe just for me. I have occasionally come across performances that were so much better than what I imagined in my head. Natsume comes to mind. But that’s once again a bit less tangible than, this fight looks ugly so the advantage is once more with manga.

Like I said, I’m sure there are many other reasons that would lead an audience to assess manga generally more favourably than anime. But I don’t think that it makes anime generally inferior. At the end of the day, they might be telling the same stories but manga and anime are two very different mediums and it’s not easy to just compare them directly.

What do you think? Is the manga always better? Are there factors the skew general opinion in favour of manga over anime adaptations? Or maybe you’re one of the rare ones that prefer anime?

37 thoughts

  1. If the main criterion to evaluate anime is “how faithfully it adapts the source material”, then yes, manga is better. My personal experience is that a lot of people on the manga side of the “manga vs anime” debate start from that assumption. First of all, this point of view completely strips animation of its status as a medium in its own right, since it only judges a show based on the screenplay, forgetting that animation is also visuals, sound design, OST, voice acting, color design, etc. For this reason, I find the manga vs anime, just like the books vs movies, a apple vs oranges debate, that has very little point.

    But even if we do decide to forget what many things animation is and focus on the screenplay, I see no reason not to consider anime adaptations as art works in their own right, and judge them according to whether they are good products or not. I don’t care if the screenplay of an anime is as close as possible to the material it’s inspired from, I care if it’s a good screenplay.

  2. As the representative ‘reader’ of manga and LNs in every room i enter, I personally just prefer reading over watching. I read a lot in general, not just manga, it’s just that I read a lot of manga and LNs as well.
    As for more concrete reasons, most anime are not on a ‘rolling release’ schedule, they release a season at a time, and that limits the storytelling potential as well as puts a hard time constraint on the animation, not to mention a lot of the budgetary constraints that animation studios face when not animating stuff like BNHA. In most anime, parts of the story and plot points tend to be left out. Often times, the storytelling in manga also just flows better, and the drawings done by the mangaka are more detailed and impressive than the anime. Lots of examples exist, one of the most well of which, in recent times, is probably Onepunch Man, which had the legendary Yusuke Murata’s art in the manga, and the first season did a decent job of showing that art, but the second season was a big mess.
    Often times, when there are manga without a focus on plot, or at least not a driving focus on plot, like Seitokai Yakuindomo, Ika musume, kaguya-sama, i wouldn’t say that the manga is better than the anime or the anime is better than the manga, both are good in their own regard.
    Also, there are examples like JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, where a plot focused story is told amazingly well in the anime, as well as it is in the manga. To be fair, part 1’s anime was not that amazing, and part 4 was a bit too stretched out in the middle, the part 2, part 3, and part 5 anime are all experiences as good as the manga.
    Of course what one likes and does not like is extremely subjective, so if someone likes an anime more than the manga, or someone just can’t get into reading manga or LNs, I can understand that.

  3. My favorite example for this is the Death March anime. The anime was bland crap with an overpowered isekai protag with a loli harem and it ended on the group doing pottery and making potions. The next arc in the manga has them feeding starving villagers, fixing up a castle including a farm for more starving villagers, meeting giants, defeating a demon lord while defending a giant castle, and making the main character a noble so that his demi-human girls will stop being hassled. A better ending arc for the anime, but that would have required at least four more episodes.

  4. Okay, you baited so I clicked!

    I don’t really read a lot of manga – I have only really encountered it in tankobon collections and find the small size format of these irritating to read; I have no idea if manga in its original magazine form is larger – although I am into graphic novels. So I am not really in any position to comment.

    I will, say, however, that my view is that arguments about which form of artistic expression or form is “better” are usually spurious, and are usually based in the personal preferences of the people having the argument.

    I think such arguments ignore the fact that different media will always emphasise different aspects of the story being told, precisely because the form of the media in question lends itself to doing so. In other words, each media form has its own way of telling a story that are grounded in the possibilities and limitations of the form itself, so we shouldn’t be surprised that an anime adapted from a manga is in many ways different from the source material.

    Of course, the producers of anime adaptions make decisions about how they will tell the story, which characters and narrative threads they will emphasise, and what themes they will explore. But that is only as it should be, since an “adaption” is, by its nature, not a carbon copy of the original, but a retelling in a new form. I think it is equally foolish to expect a like-for-like copy as well as well as to be disappointed when an anime adaption is different.

    That said, this doesn’t preclude adaptions from criticism. Goro Miyazaki’s “Tales From Earthsea” was disappointing, not because it was “not the same” as the original source material, but because it tried to tell the whole story of Ursula Le Guin’s original Earthsea trilogy instead of focusing on one of the books and telling its tale. In other words, it tried to do too much, and as a result became incoherent and collapsed under its own weight. (Oddly enough, the equally disappointing live version adaption fell into exactly the same trap). But “Tales From Earthsea” failed, not because it was an anime adaption, and anime adaptions “aren’t as good as” the original novel (or manga) source material. Rather, I think it failed because the producers didn’t understand the nature of the source material and the challenges it posed for anime as a medium, and thus made poor narrative/story-telling decisions as a result.

    At the end of the day, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to “prefer” manga to anime, or vice versa. We each have our personal aesthetic and other preferences that are more satisfyingly realised through these respective media. And that’s cool. But let us not make spurious claims about what’s “better” just because we prefer one over the other. Each have their own strengths and weaknesses; I think its down to us to appreciate each on their own terms and what they bring to the story-telling table – as well as understand what each form isn’t, and not impose on that form our expectations based on our personal preferences.

  5. I agree with a lot of your points on your post, but I’m a much bigger extreme than what you wrote. I don’t recall if you read my ‘I Don’t Like Anime’ rant, but basically, I prefer manga over anime because anime, with the exception of the feature films, all look and feel the same to me. My case is not “manga over anime” as much as it is “medium I enjoy over medium I do NOT enjoy.”

    And as an added bonus, I get to be a fan before it is cool a lot of the times, with examples for this season being 86, Tokyo Revengers, and To Your Eternity. Furthermore, you get to experience stuff that will never get an anime, such as 20th Century Boys.

    1. There are a lot of folks that don’t like anime. If that’s not your thing, it’s great that you know not to waste time on it

    2. I respect your opinion, but I also find quite hard to believe how anybody could find anime like Tatami Galaxy, Kite, and Bakemonogatari to “look the same”. Sure, many shows do have a “generic” look, but in many others you can recognize the artstyle of the character designer from miles away.

  6. I think one of the best things Japanese anime studios have done in (relatively) recent years is to follow the seasons format. Since a series can take a year, two years, maybe more between parts, I think the manga vs anime debate is much less of a divided line like it used to be. I’m primarily a manga lover, but it’s so much nicer now that anime are not primarily ending on a cliffhanger or making up its own ending to cause such intense debates.

  7. Considering how much more can go wrong with anime, compromise is always going to be made somewhere, whether it be having no guarantees at getting a full story, ugly CGI, or whatever went into the disastrous cocktail we know as TPN season 2, I can understand why people feel trepidation towards the idea of their favorite manga becoming an anime. I for one am not entirely confident that MAPPA will have what it takes to pull off something as detailed, unique, and perfectly crafted within it’s own medium as Chainsaw Man, but I’m still curious to say the least.

    And since the manga is the original, unfiltered, and uncompromised vision, in it terms of storytelling alone it’s pretty much a safer bet to go with manga most of the time.

    1. I’m not sure what unfiltered refers to. Manga are heavily edited and censored. Especially any ones that are published by chapter in magazines or anything that gets internationally released.

      There are so many production layers in anime that it’s surprising any ever gets made.

      As for Chainsaw Man anime, considering the fandom I have a feeling it’s going to have a very rough time winning the fans over.

  8. I guess I’m one of the rare ones – or rather, I just don’t read manga at all. I gave it a try but to this day, I’ve only ever completed a grand total of one full manga series. Which definitely isn’t to say that I think manga is inferior or anything like that – it’s just not my preferred medium, much like some people don’t enjoy playing video games or reading novels or what have you.

    1. I get it, I prefer anime as a medium . Although I sort of just like all forms of entertainment. I’m not too picky

    1. On the up side, it means you don’t have to bother with adaptations and just stick to original anime! That frees up the to watch list

  9. I have tried and failed to get into manga reading. I have read a few, but even when everyone insists a manga is better than the anime adaptation I usually don’t enjoy reading the manga. It isn’t a medium I enjouly f or most stories and even those I do read, I would prefer either a novelization or an anime of.
    I always look at adaptations as being different but as long as they are entertaining that is fine.

  10. I would say I agree with what Edy said above because I personally experience it. I generally like what I see first. It isn’t like I make a conscious decision that it will happen. It just does. My first introduction to the world, the characters, story, all of that will be what I generally remember. It’s not always the case, though, and rarely do I ever dislike an adaptation of something I’ve already seen.

    Another point that I’ve always thought of is that an adaptation will typically lose at least something in transition. Whether it’s something so minuscule it doesn’t matter, or whether it’s whole story arcs. For instance, if you write a manga, you’re making it with the intention of it being a manga, not an anime. The same could be said for books to movies. So even if you add all these other elements with visuals and sounds, something still might not be quite right in the transition from what the story was made for. Perhaps that pacing (which is the biggest problem I usually see) or something else will be off.

    That being said, I also prefer anime simply because I dedicate a lot more time to it than manga.

  11. I really think it depends on what you watch anime for.
    If you watch anime for “the story” I think manga will more often that not offer you more depth more nuance. With all the extra bits and bobs a Manga does for characters it will often be the more focussed storytellng source.

    For me however anime and games and movies are much more “an experience” rather than an adaptation. I hear the explosions, I see the flashing lights and transformations, the world comes alive more..but I am less immersed.. as I dont have to use my brain as much to be there, but that does mean I find anime generally more enjoyable.. there is more facets for me to love.. but it also makes me understand why it is less loved.

    A Manga, you basically have to worry about , story, characters, paneling and art.
    A anime has to worry about the story, the characters, the designs, the animation, the cinematography, the voice acting, the music, the sound mixing, the cgi, storyboarding and fitting it into whatever time frame is suitable for tv. (As in All anime is around 20 minutes but not all manga contain equally as much pages or panels).

    I don’t think the original work is always better, I think the source with the least requirements is always better..manga has less checkboxes. Since it can focus so much more on story it is already almost impossible for anime to meet the same standard.. as it focuses on 20 things instead of 3. For the majority of the manga readers, Story, Characters and Panelling/shot composition will be more important than music and having acces to voice acting so it would hold up less in comparison.

    1. There is this assuption that manga are more detailed and I’m sure some are, in my personal experience though, anime were pretty much panel for panel adaptations with extra filler. The only titles that I found a story difference in adaptation are Natsume and Land of the Lustrous, both of which I preferred the anime which was more detailed and a lot slower paced than the mangas, and xxxHOLiC where I preferred the manga simply because 70% of the story never got adapted.
      So I’m uncertain how true those old assumptions still are.

      1. I know One Piece is quite a bit more detailed, but it could also be that in manga the story gets told in your pace so retention might be higher, in manga characters sometimes explain their powers more as it cant be shown in motion, so I am not perse saying the story is deeper, but there is less distraction you from it, and its easier to flip back a page as it is to rewind anime. Say if a term is named in anime like a place name or technique name, we can misunderstand, blink or cough or whatever and we miss it , even get a app message nor notification.. you can also fit a dialogue in a single panel where bob talks to annie while fatigued, in anime I go “He’s so tired” when I hear a line, distracting mr a bit, while in Manga I first read Annie react to him before seeing a panel that shows he is tired.. there is more to distract from a story in a manga, and mainly exposition tends to be shortened in animated form in my experiences

  12. I agree that the issue of limited time has a big influence on how people perceive anime in comparison to the manga source material.

    An anime might need to streamline parts of the story for time or pacing issues, and somethings might need to be left out or moved around. This is pretty normal when you’re adapting a story to a new medium, but, even if the things that were left out weren’t really important, people who have read the manga first get the impression that something is missing when they watch the anime, and I think it colours their perception of what they watched.

    Of course, the opposite also sometimes happens, and people will get mad about unnecessary “filler” being added to an anime to pad it out. Maybe people just hate change?

  13. I think the first thing you talked about with Nostalgia is pretty important. I think people just like whatever they see first unless the other version is drastically better since it’s their point of comparison.

    I tend to like anime because of the audio aspect with voice acting and music but then again, there’s definitely the pacing thing you talked about. I think there is a lot of manga with pacing issues but since I can just kind of read faster or slower in manga it tends to be better especially for the less entertaining shows. I haven’t really thought of this in-depth but it’s pretty interesting!

    1. I think audio brings a lot to the experience but for me, it’s hard to define. It makes it…richer… see, that’s a useless way to define it.

  14. Yeah, I think it’s more apty a variation of “original is better than the adaption”. I don’t hear the manga being superior to the anime, if the anime is the oiriginal (say Madoka) or if it’s a different medium first (Shin Sekai Yori).

    Some things do work better in manga (or at the very least are easier to pull off in manga). Take for example the first sight of a characters room. You can pack as much information into a shot as into a panel, but in manga you’re giving the reader more control over how much they want to take in, and it’s often less of a hassle to go back if you think “wait a minute, wasn’t there…?” There are probably other things; I’m not expert, and I actually very rarely even read manga. But basically every medium has its strengths and weaknesses, and it’s possible that some stories work better in one than in another.

    It’s still amazing to me, for example, that Kotoura san was adapted from a 4-koma. I’d never have guessed.

    1. You know I think it also depends on the reader. There are some manga whee I really take my time on panels because I love the art, but others I fly through them and I find it’s the anime that forces me to linger in moments and take in the picture more.

      I never hear the VN was better when it’s the original. Like in Stein:Gate or Fate… I mean I think it was…

      1. True about VNs. I tend not to hear much about the originals either way. There are some exceptions, like say Koi to Senkyou to Chocolate, but generally VN viewers tend to be just silently happy they got an adaption. Interesting.

        1. On some level it probably has to do with the fact that VNs are still much less popular than any other form of storytelling but that’s definitely the adaptation where you loose the most story. Even something like Higurashi which is a completely linear visual novel, had it’s world building torn to shreds by the anime.

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