WARNING: This article contains heavy spoilers for the Soul Eater anime and manga. The anime is available for streaming on Hulu. The manga is available in English from Yen Press.
Atsushi Ōkubo's Soul Eater manga was adapted by Studio Bones in 2008 with great success and lasting popularity, but the anime's single season might have fans turning to the manga for more story. For those looking for more content, it would normally be safe to pick up the manga and continue from where the anime ends. However, it isn't quite that simple for Soul Eater.
The anime isn't as clearly adapted from its manga as other shonen like My Hero Academia. While this isn't odd for the world of manga and anime, Soul Eater has multiple character arc and plot changes across the entire series. This ultimately leads to the anime diverging from the manga but still keeping with original overall plot. Let's break down the major differences between the two mediums.
After introducing its three main Meister-weapon teams, Soul Eater establishes Medusa as the main antagonist as she manipulates Crona and works to awaken Asura from beneath Death Weapon Meister Academy. As Medusa and her allies succeed in raising Asura, he ultimately joins forces with Arachne.
The remainder of the series covers the fights between and students and staff of the DWMA and Arachne's group Arachnophobia. In the rising stakes, Lord Death uses "BREW" to turn all of Death City into a giant robot that eats Asura, trapping him within the city. During their battle in the Death Room, Lord Death and Asura injure each other as Asura kills Arachne and consumes her soul.
The Meisters and their respective weapons clash with Asura despite his increased strength. In the end, Asura is defeated when Maka is able to punch him square in the face -- not because of any one weapon technique, but the strength of bravery in her heart.
The Soul Eater anime builds up the international conflicts that come with the threat of characters succumbing to various forms of madness. As seen with Stein and Soul, this phenomenon can happen to Meisters and weapons alike, creating a fantastic parallel to the very souls they must hunt down. But despite the well-crafted internal tensions within the main cast, there were a number of deeper elements that were never touched on or left incomplete. As a result, the anime leaves little room for the final conflict with Asura. Only ten episodes are dedicated to the fight, making his status as the villain less impactful.
For those picking up the Soul Eater manga after finishing the anime, it isn't a question of what comes after the anime's ending but rather what was left out in the middle. The difference with the manga is how the character arcs are handled, with almost all of the main cast's storylines full of compelling character development and satisfying ends. The anime changed a number of elements that would have made Maka, Soul, Kid, and especially Crona even stronger characters.
The anime favors Maka in some of the most significant battles, when a number of deeds were actually done by Crona. It goes without saying that Maka is a strong female protagonist in her own right, exemplified by her partnership with Soul as they eventually succeed in creating a Death Scythe (another element the anime leaves out). But Crona's arc is intrinsic to the defeat of Medusa and Asura.
So where should one start with the Soul Eater manga after finishing the anime? For those not wanting to start from the beginning, Volume 10 would be the best bet as Chapter 36 aligns almost perfectly with Episode 35 before their plots go separate ways. It is also the volume where Joe Buttataki arrives, but with a different purpose than in the anime. He comes to DWMA to investigate a possible spy within the school. He realizes it's Crona before he is killed, with Stein assumed to have killed him.
The Baba Yaga Castle infiltration is an arc of its own. During a fight with Mosquito, Kid is sucked into the Book of Eibon and meets a dark figure. As the DWMA work to reach Arachne's inner sanctum only to find she has taken on a spider-like form. Soul and Maka kill Arachne and claim her soul. Upon returning to DWMA, Soul becomes a Death Scythe having consumed 99 souls. With this, Lord Death makes an elite squad consisting of Maka, Kid, Black Star, Kilik Rung, Ox Ford, Kim Diehl and their respective weapons called "Spartoi."
The Spartoi squad work to free Kid from the Book of Eibon, moving through Seven Deadly Sins-themed chapters to reach him. Meanwhile, Kid has been consumed by madness and fights Black Star. As they are sent back to the real world, Death the Kid kills Noah. However, once Kid is reunited with his father, it's revealed Noah was just an embodiment of greed and another Noah -- this time a personified Wrath -- is created.
Crona continues to murder people due to fusing with the Black Clown, an embodiment of madness created by Medusa. In a confrontation with Medusa about being their mother, Crona kills her. Due to this and other murders, Crona is added to Death's list.
The Manga Ending
While trying to locate Crona, Maka discovers that Asura is hidden on the moon along with Justin and the Clowns. The DWMA prepares for war on the moon with the Spartoi in close pursuit. Meanwhile, Death negotiates with the Witches to join forces with the DWMA so that they may use their powers to protect against the madness. Once the Clowns are defeated, all that's left is to fight is Asura, buried within the moon.
As Death the Kid and Asura finally face off, it's revealed that the two are actually siblings, Asura being born as an embodiment of Death's fears. Kid is able to complete the last line of Sanzu, rising to the mantle of Shinigami which results in his father's death. Even with Kid's new status, Black Star and Maka fight against Asura. Maka takes a near-fatal blow before using the Black Blood within her and Soul to weaken Asura -- and finally reach Crona.
Maka pleads with Crona to come back with her and Soul despite all their previous action. Crona refuses, saying it's Maka's soul that allowed them to be brave, and together they sacrifice themselves to contain Asura on the moon. Maka and Soul reemerge from Asura's body due to their bravery as Crona's Black Blood surrounds the moon. They return to Death City where Kid promises to create peace and a truce with the Witches. At his coronation, Kid announces that Soul is to be the last Death Scythe, and Maka vows to see Crona again one day.
The Soul Eater manga wraps up delightfully well despite Crona's bittersweet ending. Fans watching the anime or reading the manga can rest easy knowing they've gotten a story with nuanced characters, unique style, and celebrating what it means to be brave.