What is it exactly that makes a good anime adaptation? Is it being faithful to the manga? Is it trying to improve upon the source material? When it comes down to it, there’s no clear answer. Still, that doesn’t mean it’s difficult to spot the qualities of a good anime adaptation.
A good adaptation understands its source, but also understands its medium. A 1:1 adaptation might keep the plot intact, but it might not account for the spirit of the original. After all, there are certain things that can only be done in the manga format, just as there are certain things that can only be done in an anime. The best anime adaptations adapt their source material well, while never forgetting that their audience might be experiencing the story for the first time. Here are some examples of the anime adaption done right.
10 Yu Yu Hakusho
Shonen Jump adaptations tend to be more miss than hit, despite their popularity. One Piece is immensely popular, but its anime moves at a pitiful crawl; Dragon Ball is considered an anime classic, but its manga is infinitely better in every regard. Yu Yu Hakusho is unique in that it’s a clear improvement over its source material.
Not only does it not suffer any art failings like the later half of its source manga, the anime adaptation actually fleshes out the final arc considerably, allowing the anime to reach a more fully realized conclusion rather than the haphazard finale the manga reaches.
9 Death Note
The uncomfortable truth about Death Note is just that it’s not very good. With each arc, the series progressively gets worse and worse. Fans say that the series should have ended with L’s death, but quality went out the door the moment Light gave up the Death Note for the first time. That said, the anime does mask quality discrepancies rather well.
While the story undeniably gets worse, Death Note is masterfully directed and presented. It manages to implement a layer of style that the manga is simply missing. With excellent voice acting, an amazing score, and some great animation, Death Note’s animation adaptation skyrockets above its manga.
8 JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Part II: Battle Tendency
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure in general could be considered a great adaptation (and it is), but not every part translates all that well to screen. Phantom Blood is excellent, but it’s missing some key plot details from the manga, while Stardust Crusaders has some seriously bad pacing issues.
Sandwiched between Parts I and III is Battle Tendency, easily one of the best JJBA adaptations. It may cut some fluff, but it fleshes out Joseph’s story with quite a bit of meat. Like Death Note, it’s fantastically directed, but unlike Death Note, Battle Tendency already had a great source manga to lift from.
7 Prison School
Prison School may be a bit more recent, starting serialization this decade, but it very quickly became a classic due to its first arc alone. Naturally, it was the only arc to be adapted in an animated form. Starring five boys locked up in their school’s prison, they desperately try to break out of confinement.
Wildly funny, surprisingly intense, and just poignant enough to leave a lasting impression, Prison School’s anime adaptation manages to translate the manga’s first arc rather well. There are some pacing issues (the anime itself is perhaps too fast), but it makes for an excellent alternative to the manga, if only because it highlights the series’ best elements.
6 One-Punch Man (Season 1)
The first season of One-Punch Man might very well go down as the single greatest anime adaptation to release this past decade. Unfortunately, Season Two dropped the ball immensely, getting rid of the series’ signature style, but Season One still stands out as an anime titan. It’s hard not to immediately fall in love with One Punch Man.
What makes Season One particularly interesting is that it’s an adaptation of an adaptation. The manga itself is adapted from the web comic of the same name. As a result, the anime is twice removed from its source material, but that doesn’t make it any worse for wear.
5 Hunter X Hunter (1999)
Hunter x Hunter’s 2011 anime adaptation may have opened the franchise up to newer fans, but it wasn’t a particularly great adaptation. Much like Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, it was an accurate adaptation that won fans over by adapting the story correctly, not by using its medium properly.
Hunter x Hunter’s original 1999 adaptation is another story entirely. It may not cover much of the manga, but what it adapts is fine-tuned for the anime format with an incredible soundtrack, gorgeous animation, exciting direction, and out of this world atmosphere. It might not paint the fuller picture, but it’s prettier all around.
4 Revolutionary Girl Utena
Revolutionary Girl Utena’s anime adaptation eclipses its manga in popularity, to the point where a few fans of the series might not even be aware that it’s an adaptation. To be fair, it’s the kind of adaptation that more or less uses the manga as a jumping off point, rather than an actual well to take story from.
As an anime, Utena very much does its own thing and it’s ultimately the better for it. This isn’t to say the manga is bad, far from it, but the anime fleshes out Utena’s best elements into something meaningful, poignant, and ultimately possible only in an animated format.
3 JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Part V: Vento Aureo
Vento Aureo might be popular in Japan, but it had a rough go in the West up until its adaptation released. For far too long, all translations of the series’ fifth part left a lot to be desired. When Part V finally got its anime adaptation, however, not only did fans get an accurate translation, they got a better version of the story.
Vento Aureo, like Battle Tendency, takes an already solid manga and fleshes things out just enough; it essentially only improves upon the source material. Characters are more fleshed out, the action is easier to follow, and the anime’s presentation allows Vento Aureo to be more than just the sum of its parts.
2 Devilman Crybaby
It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly makes a good anime adaptation, but the best ones have something in common: they adapt older works. The further removed the source material is, the higher the chance for a quality adaptation. This goes double for completed works, where adapters can see the creator’s intent plainly.
While it may update the setting a bit, Devilman Crybaby captures the spirit of the classic manga perfectly. Not only is everything translated superbly, it even manages to cut down some of the manga’s more problematic elements without crippling the source material. Devilman Crybaby is a masterpiece both because of its source and because it’s an amazing adaptation.
1 Ping Pong The Animation
For as good as Devilman Crybaby is, however, it doesn’t compare to the single greatest anime adaptation of all time: Ping Pong the Animation. An adaptation that shouldn’t have worked given just how eclectic and stylized the original manga was, the anime brings Taiyo Matsumoto’s work to life perfectly while also fleshing out arcs, themes, and the narrative.
Frankly, Ping Pong the Animation almost makes the manga redundant. It’s still worth reading, as Matsumoto is an excellent mangaka, but the anime is simply out of this world. It hits all the right notes an adaptation should, while also featuring some incredible animation that makes ping pong feel like Dragon Ball. It doesn’t get much better than this.