Let me get this out of the way first. This isn’t going to be a post about which is better, the manga or the anime. I’m sorry. I know that’s clearly what the title implies… The good news is, there are a million posts already written on that subject and I’m sure you can ask any fan you know, and they will also have a detailed opinion.
Oh ok… here’s the short version. Personally, I prefer anime as a medium so that’s usually what I enjoy most but I don’t have any idea of which is objectively better, and I find it very difficult to make a nonsubjective comparison anyways.
What I did want to talk about is the experience of watching an anime after having read the manga.
You see, for years, this was something I could not speak on at all. I generally only read a few established series when it came to manga or older titles that were already completed and would therefore be unlikely to suddenly get adapted. In fact, it was way more frequent for me to pick up a manga only after I had enjoyed the anime either because I wanted to continue the story (they got me!) or just because I loved the series so much, I wanted to have a physical version of the story on my shelves.
However, a few years ago, I started to read a lot more manga, and more specifically, I started to really look into new releases. As a result, I ended up watching a lot of more anime I had already read the manga for. And I’m a little surprised by the experience.
You see, I had always assumed that I would lose something by knowing the full story in advance. Now I have never been one of those people who freaks out about spoilers. In fact, I tend to believe that a well-written story is almost impossible to spoil. But there are some exceptions. There’s also definitely something to be said about the thrill of getting to know a character for the first time or the specific joy of experiencing a well-written plot twist at the same time as the people in the story. As such, I always figured that watching an anime when I knew everything that was about to happen would definitely be less engaging.
To my surprise, that has not been the case. In fact, everything “lost” has something to make up for it.
For example, discovering a new character that you love is a joy indeed. It’s like meeting a new friend. And we have all had at least one character we were in awe of. Amazed that someone could have just imagined a creature so perfect! I know I have dozens of names that come to mind.
But seeing them get adapted, brings a new type of joy. It’s like meeting up with an old friend. And you know, old friends are even better. You get to see if the production team interpreted the character in the same way as you did. You get to hear them for the first time after imagining it for so long. You get to actually see them in action. And you’re probably going to notice a lot more subtleties and details than if you were brand new to the character.
I should say right now that this only applies to good adaptations. Seeing your favourite character turned into a shadow of their former selves is just painful and I do not wish that on anyone….
I want to take a minute here to shout out voice actors yet again. In my experience, voice actors are better at voicing characters, and also at acting, than I am in my head. I can’t count the number of times a performance has enhanced a character I thought was just okay or brought one I thought was great to new heights. Maybe if I was a better natural actor, this would not be the case. As it is though, I am so grateful for the talents of the people that really manage to bring a character to life before my eyes. And for some reason, seeing them on a screen, always makes them feel a bit more real to me. They don’t just exist in my head anymore, I guess.
But there’s also the world-building. One of the things that anime has going for it is that it can use an arsenal of tools to create the universe in which the story takes place. Not just overworked mangakas and assistants trying to cram entire worlds in tiny boxes. Anime can use colours, music, and pacing to evoke atmosphere and instantly change the mood. They can add visual details or tiny little background animations to really populate a story.
Let me give you an extremely random example. In the last episode of The Masterful Cat is Depressed Again, Saku (the main character), is chatting with two coworkers at a table in the break area of her office. This scene is in the manga pretty much as is. Other nondescript workers are toiling away at computers in the background. However, in the anime, if you pay attention, you will notice that the lady right over Saku’s shoulder takes a moment to stretch out her arms over her head and then slumps down on her desk for a few seconds. It’s completely irrelevant to the scene. We never find out anything about that worker or even see her clearly enough to make out her face or anything. I’m just assuming it’s a lady because the character is wearing a skirt.
But that anonymous worker is tired. Nothing dramatic but she’s obviously looking forward to a little nap. We’ve all been there. It’s also a nice little throwback to how Saku used to be before she met Yukichi. It immediately tells me that this office is a place where people work pretty hard but it’s not horrible or strict enough that they would be uncomfortable to put their heads down for a bit. There’s a lot of work but it’s a humane atmosphere.
I also noticed that there were quite a few people working so Saku’s company is medium to large and reasonably successful. The floor plan is open, but the employees aren’t cramped too closely together. The image itself is evocative. I have worked in places that look like this. I get a feeling from it.
None of this is in the manga. There is a minimal amount of background art to show our characters aren’t floating in empty space but that’s it. You don’t really get a feel for the space or for the faceless and nameless background characters. Why would you? The entire scene is only a few panels so it would be completely unreasonable to cram all of that in. Most people don’t really notice anyway.
But it’s not about noticing specific details like I just described. It’s about integrating them without really thinking about them. Good anime feels like it takes place in a specific world. It has a sense of setting. And that very often gets glossed over in manga. Even in great manga. Unless the setting is integral to the plot, spending time on it in a manga is more likely to screw up the pacing than anything else.
As such, anime has plenty left to discover even when you have read the manga. But what about those juicy twists?!?
Ok, so plot twists have gotten a bad rap. And I get why. They can get annoying or distracting when they are overused and certain people rely on them so much that they don’t even bother to properly integrate them into the rest of the story or make sure they make sense. Of course, something is going to be surprising if it has absolutely nothing to do with everything that has happened so far.
With all this said, I cannot resist a good plot twist. I just love them. And let’s face it, the impact is never going to be the same the second time around…but
Have you ever felt the need to rewatch a movie with a great twist so that you can see everything you missed the first time around? Maybe pick up on subtle little clues that now make way more sense when you know what’s coming up. You get to do that when you watch an adaptation with a twist. And it’s great. Especially when watching with people who have not read the manga and you get to see their reactions as the often-horrible truth dawns on them. It’s amazing!
Your experience will probably be different than mine. However, don’t discount an anime just because you have read the manga. There’s a lot left to experience and you might be surprised by all the things you can get out of enjoying a story from two different mediums.