If you look closely, you can find an anime epiphany on Frank Ocean’s Sweet Life opening lyrics, “the best song wasn’t the single.” Meaning: popularity isn’t always the best thing on offer, despite how it’s presented. The single might be the focal point of the album or project as a standalone release but not necessarily the true ‘star’ of the show. Now, the normal thing to do would be to dive deeper into what that means for music, or maybe even apply this analysis to romantic relationships, but what happens when you look at anime through the lens of Sweet Life's opening lyrics? Although manga is a worldwide phenomenon, it's the large scale anime rollouts that bring in money and shape fanbases- they're the singles of the production. Without taking away from distinct animation styles and the art of voice acting, there are countless anime interpretations that may be perceived as the ‘single’ but are definitely not the best as far as their manga counterparts are concerned. Was this what Frank had in mind when he gave us Channel Orange? Absolutely not, but here is a cocktail of anime productions that pale in comparison to their mangas.
1. The Promised Neverland
If this anime was judged on Season 1 alone, it wouldn’t be anywhere near this list. The Promised Neverland (or Yakusoku no Neverland) is a standout amongst Shonen anime and manga. Praised for its originality, plot twists and suspense, it was deemed a best selling manga in 2020 and an even bigger success on TV screens in the 2010 decade. The problem comes in the form of Season 2. Instead of sticking to the well laid out script created by authors Kaiu Shirai and Toyisha Ono, CloverWorks Studios and its affiliates chose to take another path- ultimately shortening the timeline and removing key parts to the story. Their biggest downfall was leaving out the most important arc as well as the most interesting: The Goldy Pond Battle Arc. In order to get the full picture of the intricate story, it’s best to indulge in the manga.
2. Death Note
Before I’m tracked down and put in a Twitter thread, there’s a very good reason for this classic making an appearance. Almost everything in the manga is properly and accurately portrayed in the anime. However, the manga fills the void that many people complain about when it comes to Death Note - the ending. Without giving away the original manga ending, it is a more cohesive and appropriate finale to the intellectual saga in comparison to the anime. Endings of shows usually help mould the overall opinion towards them and the anime version fell flat and gave off an anticlimactic aura. It was still entertaining, with viewers enjoying symbolism in the art style and the grey area between right and wrong but it didn’t feel like an ending, it’s almost as if something was missing. The manga offers a darker and more sinister alternative ending that better fits the view of morality that gets more complicated as the show continues.
3. Soul Eater
The short answer for Atsushi Okubo’s Soul Eater, is that the anime simply deserved better. The 51-episode adaptation from the manga garnered a lot of support, and rightly so. It was well received for its iconic characters like main character Maka Albarn, alongside Black Star and its distinctive style (that would later be seen in productions such as Fire Force). In a bid to fit an elaborate and complex plot into a set number of episodes, character development for integral people such as Death the Kid and Crona were overlooked. Other corners were cut including entire arcs, watering down what could have been an ever bigger fan favourite. That isn’t to say the anime got everything wrong. In fact, to uphold the integrity of the original story, certain characters, themes and events had to be identical to the manga and these are the parts that allow it to be revered still to this day.
4. Tokyo Ghoul
It’s sad to anticipate certain manga adaptations only for the anime to fail miserably. A slight exaggeration? Perhaps, but everyone and their manga-reading mother had high hopes for what Pierrot Studios would with such a dark and twisted tale. I’m not opposed to narrative deviations and changes but it is a thin line to walk, and the line only gets thinner when more changes are made. Tokyo Ghoul is a prime example. The biggest change comes as a complete juxtaposition from the original chapters. The anime sees the ‘protagonist’, Kaneki Ken, joining Ghoul terrorist organisation, Aogiri Tree rather than shunning and opposing them. The choice to have him join the group fundamentally changes his character development and the story that follows.
5. Deadman Wonderland
A moment of silence for Deadman Wonderland. If the anime was given the chance to finish, it would be a notable name amongst others of its time like Beezlebub and Hunter x Hunter (2011). From the first episode, viewers are left with more questions than answers but not in an intriguing way. The plot holes that aren’t filled adequately work more as a deterrent from an otherwise intriguing premise. The glaring difference between the manga and anime is laughable. This manga comes with a heavy recommendation from those that read it, myself included.
6. Akame Ga Kill
Labelling Akame Ga Kill as a fan favourite is an understatement. The contrast of an innocent and childlike artform to the gory and action-filled plotline is welcomed in most anime circles. Likened to Game of Thrones due to its ‘anyone can get it’ storytelling, it is no surprise that it has become a modern-day classic but the variations from the anime and manga have fans split over which one is the superior version. Again, missing arcs like Wild Hunt are partly to blame with settings and world building feeling shallow despite how vital it is to the characters’ overall mission. The constant time skips make it hard to gauge power progression and levels. As a result, it’s easy for the anime not to hold the attention of the manga fans and even first-time watchers.
7. One Piece
The fact that one of the greatest animes of all time is on the list is testament to the detail enclosed in manga chapters. In this case, the best song is the single as well as everything else on the project. The anime follows the manga very closely to the degree where still shots from the anime look identical to incidents in the manga. The divergence lies in how much control the author has over the anime development. Although Eiichiro Oda is very much involved in the anime’s progression, the sheer dominance and command he has over the manga is mind-blowing. Nothing in the manga is by chance or left to likelihoods or possibilities. Everything is calculated to perfection and seeing it unfold in the manga is incomparable to watching the events on the screen. Oda is a master at world building and transporting the reader into the domain that he created. By combining his love for foreshadowing and thoroughly setting the scene, the manga becomes too good not to read.
It’s always fun to throw in a curveball. Yu-Gi-Oh! Is often grouped with the anime that shaped many childhoods like Pokemon, Digimon and Cardcaptors. The interesting twist is that those anime are arguably adapted for children to watch. When their premise and scenarios are further analysed, surprise surprise, a lot of these shows aren’t for children at all. And that definitely includes Yu-Gi-Oh! When you look past the card game marketing ploys, the typical Shonen adventure that viewers have become used to and the filler arcs, it is an eerie and messed up tale. The dialogue and artwork is far more disturbing than Nickelodeon leads on because torture and inflicting pain is a big part of what makes the duels captivating. This is one to read at your own peril if you are a little worried about ruining your childhood.