We’ve all been inspired by something in one medium to check it out in another form. How many people first read the Harry Potter books and decided to check out the movies? How many people enjoyed The Dark Knight and went off to read the original comics? (Answer: Many). Good storytelling captures our imagination and encourages us to follow those characters wherever they may go. So today, I thought I’d look at some manga series and their anime counterparts to see how well the adaptation captured the essence of the source. All of the series coming up are personal favorites, either on the manga side or anime side (or both!).

1. Angel Sanctuary by Kaori Yuki

Which did I encounter first: The manga

Manga
Angel Sanctuary was HUGE back in the day, and 14 years later you can still find every volume on the shelves of your local bookstore. Setsuna Mudo, our protagonist, is the reincarnation of a fallen angel and is in love with his sister, Sara. This is set against a backdrop of a war between angels and demons, and all of these forces are in conflict with one another. Since this is a Kaori Yuki work, the artwork is obviously gorgeous. Characters are drawn with distinct faces and hairstyles, they all have complex backgrounds, and the scenery shots are stunning. What I particularly love about this manga is its decision to “go there,” if I may steal a phrase from Degrassi; we have incest, sexuality, rape, religion, murder…all things that people tend to steer away from, and yet here they all are in one series. None of these issues are treated lightly, and as a result, each character is forced to come to terms with the fact that there are shades of grey in both the world and them. We find ourselves rooting for morally ambiguous characters that simply become more morally ambiguous as time goes on. The downside to this series is that it sometimes feels too bogged down; with 20 volumes, the plot becomes bigger and bigger until it feels like this is in no way the series you started out with. It’s easy to forget details because you’re constantly being thrown new information.

SO PRETTY

SO PRETTY

Anime
I know what you’re thinking: “what? There’s an anime adaptation of this?” And you’d be right to question that because Angel Sanctuary didn’t get a 26-episode or even a 13-episode run; it got a 3-part OVA. Right off the bat, you know the OVA can’t be as amazing as you’d hope it to be for two reasons: one, Kaori Yuki’s work is extremely detailed and making that leap from page to screen is difficult to replicate, and two, this series already had 15 volumes published by the time the OVA was released. To this day, I remember finishing the OVA years ago and feeling disappointed. The biggest problem with this adaptation is its length; by having only 3 episodes, a TON of things had to get cut and only one storyline could get focused on. The OVA chose to spend most of the time looking at Setsuna and Sara’s relationship, which is fine because it’s one of the two driving forces in the manga. The drawback though is without the holy war, we lose scope of the magnitude of events occurring and what’s to come. We get the key characters involved in the war, but they get no development and come across as useless. If anything, the OVA is set up as a teaser to get you to read the series because the ending will either turn you off or make you curious as to what happens next; there is no in between.

Our main players: Kira, Setsuna, and Sarah

Our main players: Kira, Setsuna, and Sara

~Final Thoughts~
I suppose the OVA did the best it could with 3 episodes, but this series needs a legit full season run to just begin to scratch its surface. If you’re not sure if you want to invest a lot of time in the series, check out the OVA; if you’re on board with Setsuna and Sara – and you have to at least understand their feelings because their relationship is Setsuna’s driving force – and if the ending makes you want to go with the characters on an adventure, read the manga. Or if you want to forgo the OVA and dive right into the manga, go right ahead because you won’t miss much with the OVA.

2. Death Note by Tsugumi Ohba

Which did I encounter first: The manga

Manga
I might be cheating with this one because I started reading the manga first, stopped to watch the anime, stopped that to go back to the manga, and then stopped that to go back to the anime. My younger self was a twisted soul indeed. Like Angel Sanctuary, this series was huge back in the day. But unlike Angel Sanctuary, it has a  strong anime adaptation that is still incredibly popular even today. Just in case you forgot what happens in the story, the super smart Light Yagami finds a Death Note and begins killing off criminals. The public deems this killer-god “Kira.” L, the greatest detective in the world, sets out to discover Kira’s identity. What follows is utter madness as these brilliant minds attempt to outdo one another by being one step ahead. The artwork starts off as a tiny bit simple in far-off shots but becomes more detailed as the series goes on. What I always loved about the manga is the amount of details we’re given. Whether it’s how Light knows whether people go into his room or whether it’s how he plans out seemingly everything, the manga lets you in on his thought process at key moments in order to blow your mind. Light Yagami is one of the most fascinating characters I’ve seen because of the toll the powers of the Death Note take on him; he’s initially scared of using the Note and eventually ends up feeling like a god. Watching him keep a façade up is extremely entertaining, particularly when we as readers know how Light feels. There’s a sense of doom surrounding Light, and I think we continue to read to see just how he will be undone. What makes this story work, to me, is the morally grey areas the series goes through; not just about Light killing criminals (is that okay to do?), but about L’s steps to capture Kira. He puts a condemned criminal on TV to die just to take a step forward in catching Kira – is he better than Kira? And because I enjoyed their interactions so much, I felt that the series lost me (which is part of why I stopped reading the first time) when new characters were introduced who took over using the Death Note. Sure, they were interesting and part of Light’s plan, but it sometimes felt like the series was dragging.

L and Light's ideals clashing

Who is the monster and who is the maaaaaaaan?

Anime
Obviously the anime is a piece of treasure: it brought us such gems as “just according to kekaku,” “I’ll take a potato chip and EAT IT,” and two of my favorite videos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PVgzYCDNcSE and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZWAmoUYRNbg

The anime starts off following the manga pretty faithfully but it then suddenly crushes a bunch of chapters into a few episodes toward the end. Plot elements from the manga are jumbled about in the anime, and some characters perform the actions of others. Those are typical changes you see in adaptations from any medium, but it feels strange considering how closely the anime started off. This Madhouse production has incredibly fluid animation and, most importantly, introduced hundreds to the perfection that is Mamoru Miyano. He OWNS his role as Light and truly lets you see how Light is falling from his ideals.

If he's smiling then he's plotting your doom.

If he’s smiling then it’s probably too late for your soul.

As a side note, there are also three live-action films based on the manga. I actually own the first one (I love watching it) but I’ve never seen the second two. The first one sticks pretty close to the manga until the last third of the film, but the changes the film makes go to show how Light is already falling off the slippery slope.

Le movie adaptation

Le movie adaptation

~Final Thoughts~
Whereas I think it’s totally fine to skip the Angel Sanctuary OVA, you would be doing yourself a disservice if you skipped out on the Death Note anime. Yes, the anime does cut a lot and start rushing toward the end, but Mamoru Miyano brings his A-game. You should definitely still read the manga though. I mentioned before that the artwork becomes more detailed as the series goes on, and nowhere is that more prevalent than in Light. He starts off as having a roundish face and biggish eyes, but as things go on, his features become sharper and his eyes smaller and narrower. It’s a nice touch to show how the Death Note is changing him not only mentally buy physically. The live-action film is also worth seeing because it’s got some damned good casting: Battle Royale’s Tatsuya Fujiwara plays Light, and Kenichi Matsuyama makes a superb L.

3. Descendants of Darkness (Yami no Matusei) by Yoko Matsushita

Which did I encounter first: The anime

Anime
This was the first anime I ever watched. Only 13 episodes long, imagine my surprise when I found out that there were 12 manga volumes chilling in my local bookstore. Quick plot synopsis is that Asato Tsuzuki and Hisoka Kurosaki are Guardians of Death dealing with oddities in the recently deceased. They’re sent off on missions that usually involve heartache and much pain. Overall, the anime is okay – it won’t blow you away with its artwork or animation, sometimes the detective plots are a bit slow, and you’ll need to brace your soul if you listen to the English dub (poor Hisoka). The standout of the anime is the antagonist, Kazutaka Muraki, who is deliciously evil – he kills people just to attract Tsuzuki’s attention, and he has a long past with Hisoka. It’s the troubled nature of Muraki and Tsuzuki that drives the plot forward, with Muraki walking around harming people and Tsuzuki putting on a happy façade to mask his self-loathing. The anime really plays their relationship up and focuses on manga storylines where Muraki is a prominent character. The other driving force of this adaptation is the relationship between Tsuzuki and Hisoka; things start off rocky (Hisoka points a gun at Tsuzuki the first time they meet) but they slowly become friends and the ending is a legit tearjerker. It was a smart move on the anime’s part to focus on the development of these two relationships because it streamlines the plot and gives purpose to every interaction.

This is the entire show: Tsuzuki failing to beat Muraki

This is the entire show: Tsuzuki failing to beat Muraki

Manga
The manga is obviously very different from the anime, given that the anime was so short. There’s a lot of filler in the manga, which is used to offset the serious and morbid tone of the cases Tsuzuki and Hisoka are on (warning: the manga series is far bloodier than the anime). The filler stories are always funny (we get a glorious hot springs chapter), and while it would have been nice to see them in the anime, I understand that they don’t fit the tone the adaptation was going for. The manga artwork is a lot more detailed than its counterpart and develops its minor characters, which is always a plus. We learn a lot more about the world that Tsuzuki and Hisoka inhabit and how they deal with the poor souls they meet.

Hisoka/Tsuuzki is probably the second most popular ship behind Tsuuzki/Muraki

Hisoka/Tsuuzki is probably the second most popular ship behind Tsuuzki/Muraki

~Final Thoughts~
While I really love that the manga expands on every character, I’m biased towards the anime being slightly better because it was my first step into a new world. Because the anime was so short, it knew exactly what it wanted to focus on, and I give it credit for that. It didn’t waste episodes or try to contain arcs in one 22-minute slot; it allowed the arcs to build up in two episodes and then be resolved in a third. Don’t let that stop you from reading the manga though; the filler stories are wonderful, and we get a lot more on Tsuzuki’s backstory. If you want to check out both the manga and anime, I’d suggest watching the anime first. The climax of the anime reflects events that happen in the eighth volume of the manga, so you’d have 4 volumes after that to see the repercussions of the events that took place.

4. Elfen Lied by Lynn Okamoto

Which did I encounter first: The anime

Anime
How does one even describe Elfen Lied? There are mutants who seem to flat-out hate humans, and they have incredible powers that can literally rip a man apart. Our main mutant, Lucy, had a terrible childhood and grew into a psychotic being who forgets her memory and becomes alarmingly docile when found by two cousins. This anime is famous for two things: blood and nudity. Episode one starts off with a violent (naked) escape from a holding prison, immediately setting the tone for the series. When characters are injured, the series doesn’t spare you eyes being gouged out and the ilk. And when Lucy loses her memory and reverts to an extremely childlike state, she tends to get naked. A lot. Now, the anime is only 13 episodes long and so it chose to focus on certain elements from the manga, namely the relationship between Lucy and Kohta, the boy who finds her. Similar to Descendants of Darkness, this anime knew it had to focus on key elements in order to tell a coherent story. Complete plotlines from the manga are dropped, but the anime does have a clear arc and ends ambiguously. The animation isn’t as fluid as what you see nowadays, but it does develop a certain smoothness when limbs are being hacked off. Sanae Kobayashi, who voices Lucy, can stop you cold with the harsh yet apathetic voice she uses.

Lucy, who can kill you dead in roughly two seconds.

Lucy, who can kill you dead in roughly two seconds.

Manga
The manga is almost a totally different beast. There’s just so much happening that it sometimes feels overwhelming. In addition to the Lucy/Kohta story, we get a lot of chapters dealing with other mutants, which is actually very interesting. A large theme of the series is violence and whether one is predisposed to it, and the chapters focusing on the other mutants looks at the violence they perpetuate, why they harm others, and violence done against them. You can see why that would be cut from such a short adaptation. The manga also has one of those “grand plan” schemes going on that was pretty much completely cut from the anime. While the anime artwork isn’t super detailed, it’s a lot more detailed than the manga. The artwork feels very simple, which can work in some cases, but it feels off in such a violent story. But maybe that’s the point: to make us extremely uncomfortable that such young-looking and actual youngsters are going through horrific things. This is much more prevalent in the manga, where we get several panels of bodily and mental violence concerning children.

Seconds before Lucy rips her fellow mutant a new one.

YOU IN DANGER, FELLOW MUTANT

~Final Thoughts~
Points go to the anime for telling a complete story and getting you to sympathize with characters, but it loses points for its portrayal of violence. You can easily call the brutality in the anime gratuitous, and the lack of focus on other mutants lessens the questions of whether violent natures are innate, learned, or forced upon us. Without the developed backstories of the other mutants, you don’t get to see that violence comes about in several ways. So points go to the manga for exploring this, but it loses points for a somewhat confusing plot.  Don’t skip out on the anime; even though its ending deviates from the manga, it’s a very well-done story. If you’re able to stomach severe amounts of gore and pain, read the manga.

5. Shingeki No Kyojin by Hajime Isayama

Which did I encounter first: The anime

Anime
Can you even remember the last time an anime was so huge it gripped the pulse of the general public? It seemed like EVERYONE knew about this series and gave it a try, whether or not they were anime fans. Needless to say, this series was the biggest thing last year and fans are eagerly awaiting its return. It has some of the most popular elements in contemporary literature: a dystopian future and young protagonists who want to change things. Plus there are incredibly awkward Titans the internet loves, a killer theme song, and twists that will blow your mind. This series has some of the best animation I’ve ever seen; characters move around flawlessly, whether it’s in mock fighting or in running across roofs to battle Titans. The voice acting is great across the board as well. One of the strongest elements of the anime is its focus on humanity; not just that humanity is in peril, but what constitutes humanity and how long can one hold onto it with so much darkness in the world.

SIE SIND DAS ESSEN UND WIR SIND DIE JäGER

SIE SIND DAS ESSEN UND WIR SIND DIE JäGER

Manga
When SnK ended, I immediately started the manga. Sadly, I was a bit disappointed. The artwork isn’t that strong, and because it isn’t as streamlined as the anime, things seem to drag on forever. Plus there’s no theme song blaring out of the pages, which is a major bummer. But getting information about the mysteries presented early on is extremely gratifying. I’d recommend reading it if you have a burning desire to know what happens next – think of it in terms of Game of Thrones. You could cave and read the entire series (as I did), or you can hold off and be surprised by very good television. It’s really your call.

OM NOM NOM

OM NOM NOM

~Final Thoughts~
The anime is a fantastic adaptation, in my opinion. Nothing beats the OP.  I stopped reading the manga because I wanted to be surprised by the anime. In a world here the internet has made spoilers of everything in existence this seems impossible, but I’m determined to stay as spoiler-free as possible because I love that sensation of just sitting there in shock.