The past year has given us some of the best manga adapted anime like Jujutsu Kaisen and some of the worst, namely The Promised Neverland, Season 2. Still, there is no doubt that adapting manga into anime is not an easy task, and sometimes producers are forced to make changes to the source material due to scheduling conflicts or budget constraints. Other times, “creative differences” can be a significant roadblock as well.
There have been many instances where an anime starts production before the manga’s conclusion. Sometimes, they bid their time with filler episodes, but in other cases, the anime production creates completely new stories and endings. Some notable examples of this type of adaptation include Black Butler and Akame ga Kill! Let's take a look at five such anime and explore if they are worth watching.
Fullmetal Alchemist (2003)
The 2003 version of Fullmetal Alchemist is one of the most iconic examples, where almost half of its 50-episode run is original anime content. FMA’s manga started serialization in 2001, so by 2003, when the anime was produced, it had only just started the main storyline about the Homunculus and the Philosopher’s Stone. This meant the anime had to make up its own reasoning for how the Homunculi were created and even invent a brand new villain for the series without disrupting the already established character relations and plots. The result is still a coherent story with it a different take on the world of alchemy.
Though the first half of the anime stuck closely to the manga and is arguably a better adaptation than the subsequent 2009 remake, Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, that rushed some early storylines. Brotherhood paid less attention to stories covered by the 2003 version and focused more on the parts of the manga that hadn't been adapted. Luckily, Netflix streams each version, so it is possible to view both and choose what you prefer.
Dororo is a manga series by “the Godfather of Manga” Osamu Tezuka that details the journey of the young man Hyakkimaru in his quest to get back his body parts after his father offered Hyakkimaru’s organs to demons in exchange for the prosperity of his kingdom. The manga began serialization in 1967 but was unfortunately canceled in 1969, so Tezuka left the story with an open but depressing ending. The 2019 adaptation by MAPPA and Tezuka Productions had the daunting task of modernizing this classic and giving the story a complete end.
There are many changes made to the manga, including modernized visuals with new character designs. The story is streamlined, and the antagonists are reduced from 48 demons in the manga to 12 in the anime. The manga version of Hyakkimaru is also more playful compared to the stoic version from the anime.
However, the most significant change of the anime is shifting the overall story focus towards the relationship between Hyakkimaru and his brother Tahomaru -- who is only a minor character in the manga. The emotional impact of the anime is more straightforward compared to the manga’s subtle social commentaries. Though some would say it lacks depth, particularly in the second half, overall, it is still an enjoyable series.
Pop Team Epic
Pop Team Epic's anime is one of the most creative adaptations of a manga ever, though this is not to say the source material isn’t innovative. The manga is a four-panel comedy series with no coherent plot, collecting very satirical and meta-jokes about pop culture. Thus readers of the manga had a hard time picturing how the anime adaptation would turn out, and the result exceeded everyone’s wildest expectation.
The anime topped the manga’s meta approach in almost every single way, including the use of two sets of voice actors to voice the same material twice. Plus, they used various visual styles -- from Claymation to live-action footage -- and the fake marketing campaign that advertised Hoshiiro Girl Drop in place of Pop Team Epic, a meta-joke about the manga’s publication history. The anime is an epic mashup of everything pop culture, from Japanese variety shows to Hollywood blockbusters. It's an incredibly trippy ride, especially for those familiar with Japanese culture and entertainment.
Blood Blockade Battlefront
The manga Blood Blockade Battlefront has brilliant worldbuilding that merges New York City with fantasy isekai, cool characters with unique powers and frenetic energy that makes the series fast-paced and entertaining. The manga's plot is told through a series of one-shot short stories. So, the anime created original characters and storylines, and it is one of the best integrations of anime-original storylines with the existing source material.
Blood Blockade Battlefront Season 1 revolves around a mysterious girl named White and her semi-romance with the protagonist Leo. White and her brother Black are anime original characters, and she is also instrumental to the events at the end of Season 1. White’s story is so naturally woven into the anime, completely fitting with the story's logic, so even viewers familiar with the source material have almost no complaints about the change. This speaks to Studio Bones’ knack for adaption -- and the series creative team.
It’s pretty rare to hear about stories of disagreement behind the scenes during an anime production. Bokurano is an exceptional case since its director Hiroyuki Morita openly expressed his disdain for the source material in his blog post and told fans of the manga not to watch the anime to avoid disappointment.
The manga tells the story of 15 teenagers tasked with piloting a giant mecha to save the world. The pilot’s life powers the mecha, and they will die after they finish fighting, so the story is really about how individuals confront death. Morita felt the story was too depressing and wanted to add some positivity and inject some of his social commentaries about government and corporations' corruption.
While the anime retained the manga's basic rules, many characters' fates are different, and some of the anime original storylines remain unresolved. Thus, the ending of the anime feels simultaneously less harsh and more depressing than the manga, though both are equally worth experiencing. It is also an excellent opportunity to examine how creative differences can result in two very different takes on the same story.