Comics/Graphic Novels

An Introduction to Anime and Its Relationship to Manga

Vernieda Vergara

Staff Writer

Vernieda Vergara is a freelance writer who loves anime, manga, and all things creepy. Her work has appeared on Den of Geek, Women Write About Comics, The Comics MNT, and other venues scattered across the internet. She lives in the Washington DC suburbs where she takes care of far too many plants and drinks even more tea. Twitter: incitata

As a longtime fan of manga and anime, I hear all sorts of questions about both media formats. When it comes to anime in particular, the same inquiries pop up again and again. Tell me if any of these ring a bell:

  • Wait, this is based on a comic book?
  • That series was pretty good but the ending made no sense.
  • When is the second season coming out?

I covered anime briefly in my guide to essential manga terms, but I thought it’d be useful to explore the media format more in-depth and explain why things are the way they are. There are some facets of the industry people may not be aware of, regardless of whether they’re veteran fans or new adopters. Anime and manga are intertwined industries where one influences the other, so having some knowledge of anime is helpful when you’re navigating manga-dominated spaces.

For the purposes of this primer, I’m using “anime” in the North American industry sense: animation that comes from Japan. For the most part, anime are adaptations of manga. Yes, you will occasionally have your original series such as Cowboy Bebop and Tiger & Bunny, but these are few and far between and can come with their own share of risks. Witness the bankruptcy and dissolution of the animation studio Manglobe, which gave us Samurai Champloo, Ergo Proxy, and Michiko to Hatchin.

So anime are adaptations of manga. What does that exactly mean?

It means that anime is actually a vehicle to boost the sales of manga and related franchise merchandise. This runs contrary to how anime is treated in North America, where people may watch a series with no intention of ever picking up the original manga. In Japan, however, the strategy can be extremely effective. In 2012, the first season of the Kuroko’s Basketball anime catapulted the manga series into second place behind the juggernaut One Piece for bestselling comics titles that year. Yes, it even beat everyone’s favorite ninja, Naruto. It then remained in the top 5 for 2013 and 2014, holding its own against Attack on Titan and Tokyo Ghoul, both of which received their own respective anime adaptations in those years. Just think: without the Kuroko’s Basketball anime, we wouldn’t have the sports series renaissance we’re enjoying right now. (Now if only sports manga can get a foothold in the North American market!)

But while this strategy can be great for some series in Japan, it also results in some oddities that confuse English-language fans.

  • Divergent storylines and strange endings: Because anime is treated as a vehicle to boost manga sales, animation projects are often greenlit while a comic is still being serialized. And depending on the timing, the anime will end long before the manga does. This can go in one of two ways. If the studio runs out of source material to adapt, they may make up their own storyline. (Example: the first Fullmetal Alchemist anime series.) Or, if the studio still has source material to adapt but no more episodes are ordered, they make up their own ending. (Example: Claymore.)
  • Incomplete storylines: Sometimes, the second example above is actually the better outcome even if we end up with questionable conclusions. Sometimes, the studio leaves the ending open. This can pay off because we did get two more seasons of Kuroko’s Basketball and we know we’ll eventually be getting a second season of Attack on Titan. Due to Manglobe’s bankruptcy, however, we are definitely not getting more Gangsta and I still wince at how abruptly the anime ended. It’s why, despite being a huge fan of the Gangsta manga, I can’t recommend the anime to anyone.
  • No follow-up season: This one is probably the most controversial observation, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Japan doesn’t care about anime ratings and sales in any country other than Japan. There are a few reasons for this, but a major one is that they think the rest of us are pirates and thieves. If we won’t pay for their material, why should they care about what we want? You have to admit it’s hard to argue with that logic. At any rate, this means that some anime series that were popular in North America will never have a second season because they didn’t enjoy the same amount of success in Japan. Sorry, Baccano fans, I’m talking to you. (But if you’re really dying for more, be sure to check out the Baccano! light novels that will start coming out from Yen Press later this year!)

I hope that addresses some questions you might have had about anime and its relationship to manga. If you have any more, feel free to ask in the comments. As usual, I consider this a judgment-free safe space because if there’s one thing I hate, it’s gatekeeping. I also will be following up this post with another one focused on more anime-centric specifics. Look out for it!