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Comics ► How Comic Book Adaptations Differ in East/West

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cameo lover
May 17, 2007
This was actually a thread of discussion I just had with Nyangoro that I found fairly interesting. What I've realized recently is that when it comes to adaptations of western and eastern comic books, the fanbases of each have very different expectations and reactions. I think some of our members who may not be very familiar with one or the other (see: stooge) are actually kind of confused about this so i thought i would make a thread and try to analyze why this is.

With western comic books, fans generally aren't very fussed about adaptations sticking as closely as possible to the "source material", ESPECIALLY when it comes to superhero movies (for reasons i'll explain below).

However when it comes to eastern comic books (or in other words, manga), the fans are very passionate about the source material and are very analytical of changes made in adaptations (sometimes, to an admiteddly pretty embarassing degree).

I would personally attribute this to a few factors.

First of all, when it comes to western comic book movies, the majority of them are about superheroes. The majority of the very big ones (Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, etc) have been around for several decades, and have been passed on to a wide variety of artists and writers who have made several changes over a large period of time. While there is an expected characterization for these characters that define them as those characters, there are alternate ones and several variations to the point where one is not really considered any more "legitimate" than the other. In the case of very old superheroes, the original run of these characters by their creators is not usually considered the best version of that character by fans, because the characters were not "fully fleshed out" yet, and because the writing and art of those times are very bland and static compared to how far comic books have come today. People's image of Batman today is much more tied to the works of artists and writers like Neal Adams, Frank Miller, Bruce Timm, etc than Bob Kane or Bill Finger.

The second thing to point out is that most people who are familiar with western comic book characters haven't actually read the "source material". This is because the western comic book market went through very hard times during the late 80's to 90's; very few people actually read comic books nowadays. The mainstream public's attachment to these characters comes from movies, tv shows, toy lines, etc, which are already adaptations in and of themselves. Actual comic book fans are aware of all these issues and conundrums and generally take a more relaxed approach to source material issues because they know that the character has gone through so many changes already that it's just another version of them. They know that you can take a story loosely based on the source material and that it has a good chance of being good anyway.

The exact opposite is true for manga.

Generally speaking, most manga adaptations are of works that have not been around for very long and that aren't super mega franchises which have had several different installments and been tossed around to various different writers. As such, the original creator's take on it is generally considered to be much "truer" than anything else, because it was essentially already a fully fleshed out story and characters (unlike western comic books which had to go through a long period for that to happen). The only japanese manga series off the top of my head that is comparable to a western franchise in the previously mentioned sense is Lupin III, which HAS gone through a lot of adaptations and variations in characterization and design.

Part of the reason manga fans have animosity towards changes is because the original content produced by anime studios based on an established property tends to be noticeably weaker than the content from the original source, if not just downright bad. Anime studios will often create "filler" content to pad out the adaptation until more work from the manga comes in and can be adapted, and generally speaking fans dread these, not necessarily because they "aren't canon" or differ from the source material, but because the effort put into them is generally not much and anime studios have trouble writing on the level of the original author.

A good illustration of this is the first Fullmetal Alchemist anime. It has much the same spirit as many western adaptations of comic books (they take characters, ideas, and plot threads from a source and try to make a work inspired by them, rather than just a straight out faithful adaptation). While there are people that enjoyed it, the vast majority of FMA fans find the more faithful adaptation (Brotherhood) to be far superior, not because it is more faithful, but because they simply feel that Arakawa's original story is much stronger and more cohesive.

have you guys noticed this too/disagree/have something else to contribute?


A boy in a playsuit.
Oct 28, 2005
I agree with this. There is something else I've noticed, but I'm not sure how it correlates to the points, if at all. The most famous western comics are ongoing stories that have no definite ending in sight (or planned for that matter). While it seems to be the other way around (or at least it does to me) with the east. They either have an ending or at the least has stopped.


Break the Spell
May 18, 2007
Somewhere 2D
Just a few things I want to say.

You've talked about the difference in the nature of comic book franchises (superheroes, mostly) and that of manga, and I think that's a pretty big point as to the differences in adaptations. Even considering that both are inevitably just engines to tell stories, the structure of the "mainstream" aspects of the two are so inherently different that it's really no wonder that the "adaptations" are so different.

The two main comic publishers (DC and Marvel), being the ones that inspire most (though not all) comic book movies, have been established as omniverses (or multiverses). The companies have set up their model so that the majority of their franchises all take place within either the same dimension or a parallel dimension or what have you. It's a massive continuum crafted by the collective writer/artist engine that are these two publishers. That's how big time comic books have been established in the industry.

Manga, on the other hand, is not treated that way. Mangaka (manga artists) enter into contracts with companies that produce manga anthologies (the contract being tied to whatever specific anthology it happens to be). Writers/artists in the manga industry aren't strictly employees of companies like Shuueisha or Kodansha (at least not in the same sense as they would be for Marvel or DC). The companies then publish the unrelated works of these various mangaka into a single magazine. There's no Weekly Shounen Jump multiverse.

This distinctive difference carries over into the how "adaptations" are handled (and I'll explain why I put that term in quotations in a minute). When a manga (or anything) is adapted into an anime, it's based on that specific collection of story arcs that may or may not be over. What they are adapting is far more specific than, say, the majority of comic book movies. They are, more often than not, taking the "idea" of the superhero and adapting that into a movie. Even origin stories undergo changes in between comic book universes, so even something as intrinsic as that isn't a huge issue for most comic fans. The movie simply becomes it's own "universe," a luxury that anime studios don't have, given that their audience typically doesn't have this mindset (nor do they have any real reason to).

And that's when you get to the term "adaptation." The term is often far more specific with manga than comic books for the reasons described above. Anime is typically an adaptation of the "story," whereas comic book movies/tv shows/whatever are usually adaptations of the "character." Comic book adapted media is often it's own isolated story, only taking the characters and some general (albeit key) elements. When they make "changes" to the source, fans don't mind that so much as long as the core of the character is respected (and even that is often up for interpretation at times). For manga fans, they want to see the story, the only story, be faithfully adapted into anime form. These general trends have been there since adaptations of the two began.

That's why you're far more likely to see comic book fans complain about changes in, say, the Under the Red Hood or Batman: Year One animated films. Those are actually taken from specific story arcs, so those who are looking forward to seeing the story adapted will be more ready to point out any differences.

And of course this leads to another difference between anime and comic book media: Comic book adaptations never use something that's "ongoing." Sure, the character is ongoing, but not the story arc. You don't see the latest animated version of Spider-man take its plot from whatever pull is about to hit store shelves. Anime, on the other hand, often uses ongoing series, which produced the pitfall that all of us see. Most of the good anime original series are those that were anime original from the beginning (or at least for the majority). There's no disconnect between the canon and "filler" to complain about, and things that are planned to be original from the very beginning are typically much more cohesive.

The original FMA anime is, again, a prime example of this. For as many problems as the anime adaptation had towards the end, people still liked it much more than other anime original content. It just so happens that it's difficult to compete with the author who's planned out her story and characters for who knows how long, compared to the anime studio who has far less time to put things together (which is the main reason why it's often weaker).

And that gets into the differences between planning original content and planning canon content w/ original content. Then you have the differences between movies and television shows. But I've already made this post long enough `3`
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