Alita: Battle Angel is the most recent (and arguably most successful) American adaptation of a manga ever. It's important to focus on it being an adaptation of the manga, however, since the anime version of Battle Angel Alita was an hour-long adaptation of a downright epic cyberpunk saga.
While many anime serve as adaptations of manga, often things are changed from medium to medium. This means that a lot of manga -- even ones that are adapted into anime or live-action films -- are unique stories that offer compelling, uncompromising artistic expressions. If you've seen Alita, you're probably intrigued to see more like it. If so, there are numerous epic manga out there for you to read if you enjoyed Alita: Battle Angel.
10 Battle Angel Alita
This may seem like an obvious choice, but if you like Alita: Battle Angel, read the original manga by Yukito Kishiro. While the film recreates moments from Alita almost shot for shot, there are numerous plot points that are altered or changed between mediums. The film is an adaptation of both the manga and OVA from the '90s, so, naturally, if you want more of this world, take a look at both.
But the film truly is just an adaption of the first couple of volumes. There is MUCH of the story you just don't know about if you've only seen the film. The manga is a far larger story than you probably realize. Far grittier. Far crueler. If you haven't read it yet, read it before continuing with the rest of this list.
Adapted into an anime series and anime film (the latter of which is available on Netflix), Blame! is a ten-volume cyberpunk manga about Killy, an enigmatic man with a powerful weapon who travels around the City. It's an oppressive world where transhumanism has split the human race into its own fragmented, tribal societies. It's a future where technology, rather than enhancing our lives, has turned the Earth into something alien and unrecognizable.
It remains one of the more oppressive and grim manga on this list, as the story presents a world without really ever giving you a chance to understand how we got to this point. Is there alien technology at work, or is this just human society millennia in the future? Is this even Earth? Read to find out.
8 Smokin' Parade
The youngest manga on this list, Smokin' Parade introduces us to a world where medical technology can regrow limbs and extend life. However, those who are given implants to become essentially immortal, soon learn they have been deceived. The technology overtakes their minds, turning them into servants of a greater power. And only a taskforce designed to suppress these overtaken individuals stands a chance at protecting humanity.
The manga is still ongoing, so you won't have to read much before catching up. It's a grizzly, grotesque manga that combines cyberpunk and body horror intensely. If you liked the more grotesque elements of Alita: Battle Angel, this may be for you.
7 Black Magic
The first of many classic cyberpunk manga on this list created by Shirow Masamune, Black Magic started as essentially a fan project (or doujinshi) before becoming a cult classic in the '80s manga scene.
The story deals with out-of-control cyborgs on a destructive mission, and only the military can stop them. It's a very straightforward story, but the dated violence and incredible passion Shirow Masamune devotes to bringing his vision to life gives Black Magic a real classic feel. It's not Masamune's best work (we'll get to that), but it remains a classic worth visiting. And it's short. If you liked Alita: Battle Angel, perhaps you should visit this, as it helped lay the groundwork in cyberpunk manga that Yukito Kishiro would later follow.
Tsutomu Nihei is most famous for creating Blame!, but it would be foolish to discount him as a one-trick pony. If anything, some would argue Biomega is a superior effort.
Biomega is the story of a man and his motorcycle (and the AI mechanically bound to his motorcycle) traveling down the sprawl of urbanized civilization to track down individuals who have been infected with a nanomachine virus that turns them into zombies. What makes Biomega so fascinating is, like Blame!, how nihilistic it all feels. Cities go on for what feels like an eternity, but, again, society feels empty. As the manga continues, this oppressive nihilism becomes downright haunting.
Cyberpunk manga like Battle Angel Alita and Biomega seem to argue that, once mankind dies away, all that will remain is a technological grave marker for civilization.
Chobits is a delightful story about a man falling in love with his personal computer.
CLAMP may be far more popular for fantasy manga like Cardcaptor Sakura and Tsubasa, but Chobits might be their most powerful work of genre fiction. It starts off feeling like any old comedic manga. Loser stumbles upon a Persocom -- a personal computer shaped like a beautiful girl. However, the machine he finds, Chii, is a bizarre machine that remembers nothing of her past and may be capable of synthetic intelligence.
The story is definitely far more comedic than almost everything here, but there are dramatic questions about the nature of humanity, memory, and personal value at play here. Worth re-examining.
Shirow Masamune returns. Appleseed is a four-volume manga. It introduces audiences to a militarized police task force assigned to handle militaristic assignments to preserve the fragile status of the few remaining city states in a post-WWIII environment... and the two LAPD officers thrown in the deep end as new recruits.
What Appleseed does so well is it combines cyberpunk action with real questions of political and sociological importance. The story resonated well with audiences, as it inspired several adaptations over the years. OVAs, anime films, video games -- you name it. If not for that other cyberpunk manga Shirow Masamune is famous for (we'll get to it!), this would be remembered as his greatest achievement.
Alita: Battle Angel and the anime film Akira have a lot in common. Both have had live-action films in development for years. Both are widely credited for helping kick off the anime boom of the early '90s. But, most importantly, both are cinematic adaptations of the early volumes of their manga, leaving the rest mostly untouched.
The manga for Akira is an epic. Six massive volumes. Thousands of pages. Post-WWIII society rebuilding. Government experiments. Tetsuo, a motorcycle punk, finds himself in possession of incredible power, and uses it to rebuild society in an explosive war. The anime tells an abridged version of the story, whereas the manga tells an epic. Even if you've seen the original film a hundred times, nothing can prepare you for the original masterpiece.
2 Neon Genesis Evangelion
Neon Genesis Evangelion is a unique case. The manga started at the same time as the anime masterpiece, thus making the manga an adaptation of an anime. However, Evangelion character designer and creator of the manga, Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, had several key creative disagreements with Hideaki Anno about the direction Evangelion should have taken -- most notably, its ending. His manga is very much his vision for Evangelion.
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Evangelion the manga finished years after the original series ended, and reflects a mediated interpretation of one of the most controversial anime of all time. Much like Alita: Battle Angel, it shows how the process of time and creative consideration can change how a creator can tell an already familiar tale. It is advised that you do not read this manga until first watching the original anime. Reading the manga is far more cathartic, especially toward the end, if you understand Anno's original vision and how Sadamoto's vision runs counter to it.
1 Ghost In The Shell
While he created some of the most noteworthy cyberpunk manga ever, Shirow Masamune's magnum opus remains Ghost in the Shell.
In this manga epic, humanity has become increasingly cybernetic, to the point where everyone's brains have been mechanically enhanced. It has come to the point where a person's soul -- or ghost -- is just a digital program that can be hacked into. Memories, thoughts, will -- all easily suppressed by a few clicks of the keys. Motoko Kusanagi is an elite hacker and officer in Section 9, a militaristic law enforcement organization designed to suppress cyber-crime. Over the course of the series, Motoko is forced to question the government she serves, the nature of reality, and even her own existence.
There are no perfect adaptations of Masamune's original. Every version (Mamoru Oshii's films, Stand Alone Complex, Arise, and the live-action film) interprets the source material differently. Masamune's manga is lightened by comedy, yes, but remains a fascinating read... even if later volumes don't compare to the original series.
If you liked Alita: Battle Angel, please visit the greatest cyberpunk manga and anime saga...ever.