[ANIME INDUSTRY] Some considerations about manga adaptation…

I’d like to put on some considerations about usual manga adaptation in the anime industry. Especially the one toward shounen, or affiliated to a large public.

It has stroke me since some times, that most people are commonly mixing anime and manga (even some Japanese, actually), while those are, historically as well as in practice, very distinct. Although they do have a very connected history, but in this regard it is no different from any other branch of the mediamix industry (including games and light novels in the cluster), they are pretty distinct in their code and even, and it could be even more important, their public.

It’s just a conjecture (meaning that if I happen to be wrong, I’d be delighted to see people object me with concrete, evidence based arguments), but I think most of the time, in the West (although it’s more moderate in France for specific reasons regarding the comic industry), « anime » is understood as embodying perfectly « manga » without much distinction between both in term of narrative and representation, especially because most of the anime consumption in the West are anime adaptation from manga (from now on, I’ll use the Japanese word « anime-ka » to describe manga adapted into anime, as there is no word such as « animification » in english).

In order to shape better my argument, I’ll be using some statistics out of My Anime List, considering it is both : 1. very representative of anime consumption in the West (although especially the english speaking countries, but it includes usually also other languages and European countries), 2. also slightly empowered by cultivated anime fans in the same time it is from more « popular », grassroots ones, endowing some « balance » between the two (where, for example, Animedb would be clearly mostly made of people well suited in anime culture, core Otaku or even so-called « hipsters »).

On the picture on the left, I just took some shot of the « most popular anime » side bar on Myanimelist.net. Quite interesting, because it quite clearly embodies the usual tastes of the western audience for animes, as it would be no exaggeration to suggest that most readers of this blog have a lot of chance to have watched most, if not all, of the mentioned anime.

On 10 anime, 6 are adaptations from manga. 1 is an adaptations from a Light novel, 1 other from a Visual novel. Amazingly, only two are original anime creations.

This brings us a first bit of information : anime consumption is heavily, in western, based on manga adaptations within the western audience – an audience, it is well known, aside maybe from the French, who clearly don’t read as much manga as Japanese for socioeconomic reasons (the main reason being the nature of the medium itself, as manga are usually read in cheap weekly or monthly magazines, where in the West we only get the tankonbon, in other word the final, bound books, and usually even more expensive as it is in Japan).

As for the 8th, it isn’t the topic right here to stress how much the Naruto success is a specifically western hype even inside the shounen cluster – it is a well known phenomenon, as it has become a cliché to oppose the Japanese popular One Piece to the western popular Naruto, although both remain quite highly popular in both worlds (it isn’t absurd although to briefly notice, how much both owe their grounded success from exotic features : Naruto is exotic to westerner with its ninja, fantastic « nipponistic » setting, whether One Piece is exotic to Japanese, with its fantastic « westernistic sea » setting).

If we check for instance multiple Japanese websites, be it searching engine to the like of MyAnimeList or even streaming sites, the results would however be quite different ; and even more if we check the sells of DVD and Blue-Rays of animes, as it was until not so long the main source of income of anime along with goodies (in which regard, it becomes hard to differentiate the goodies of any anime adapted from a manga from the manga itself). For example, Mirai Nikki (as anime) did sold very poorly by its time ; and Death Note, although hitting the way in 2006, didn’t made it to be the highest selling anime in neither of the diffusional seasons – as a matter of fact, Tokyo Ghoul barely sold more than Mirai Nikki in Japan.

This has, it must be said out and clear, nothing to do with the popularity of the manga or the shows in themselves. Actually, in streaming or for more communities, some of those anime adaptations can be staunchly popular. But it reminds us how much anime adaptation of manga, in Japan, are barely even to « replace » the original manga production : it is almost always a way to push the selling of the manga through TV diffusion. Then, although one of those anime could be watched by a lot of people by its diffusion or in streaming, they gather little money for the production staff itself, as much of the income will be going in increase of popularity and sells for the manga it is adapted on.

Thus this could be a genuine question, but I ask anyway : is, in this regard, any anime adaptation of manga, in regard to the Japanese production staff, any different from promotion of the original work ? Or put otherwise : aren’t the anime adaptations anything else, but derivative products of the original manga, to the like of goodies ?

This is of course a slightly provocative formulation, as there is many exceptions to this rule, and as most anime producers and animators always try their best to adapt a manga at its better. For instance, we do have anime adaptation out of manga that seem to surpass in some regard the original in term of popularity even in Japan, thanks to strong artistic direction : Shingeko no Kyojin is such a case, which generated a big hype as an anime both in Japan and in the West, thanks to Araki Tetsurou incredible direction (outstanding even what he did for Death Note).

Thanks to its unusually spectacular play, Death Note managed to be a very popular anime adaptation in its time, although never outstanding any « typical » anime creation within core anime fans in Japan (especially in DVD sells). But as we have seen, it wouldn’t be exaggerated to say Death Note is one of the most popular anime out there in the West.

But this won’t change the fact that much of the anime watched by the western fandom (and also I mean by that people knowledgeable in Japanese pop culture) remain manga adaptations, especially because the manga themselves are seldom read, being not as common as they are in Japan. Because of that, there could be a tendency even stronger as in Japan toward the confusion between the two media : because, sure, many Japaneses are mixing both, but those will be usually common people, and rarely people who watch a lot of anime. On the other hand, the contrary could be said true in the West : many people could have watched tons of anime, with very little content outside of outright adaptations.

Because of that, it is seldom recognized how much both media are different. They don’t have the same story telling ; they don’t organize their story the same way ; you just don’t tell something the same way in animation, with color, move and music altogether within an episodic structure, as in comic, with fixed, although dynamic images through (sometimes very) short chapters. Although some of the greatest anime out there are indeed adaptations from manga, it is sad that the difference isn’t stressed enough between original anime and adapted anime, in which case manga, light novel then now games are different origination points – observing, that within those three possibilities, the manga adaptation is usually the one allowing the slightest creativity, where light novel and game usually allow a large array of interpretation in performance.


That should do it for the time being. I wish I could speak more on it later, as this is an interesting subject (it has became quite common for animators to complain about how much the anime industry is flawed all around by adaptations, rather than original works).





Student in Japanese studies and specializing in story telling and modern Japanese pop culture.

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