The world of cartoon And story are intricately interwoven, with the overwhelming majority of anime series that began as manga proving that they have staying power. Because anime production is such an expensive and laborious process, studios generally shouldn’t risk trying to create their own anime originals, so a manga with a long-standing fan base is a much safer choice.
Occasionally, however, a studio will venture with an original idea to go straight into anime production, although sometimes these anime will receive manga adaptations after the fact. Here are 10 great series that started out as anime, proving that manga doesn’t necessarily produce some of the best work the medium has ever seen.
10 Super Dragon Balls
While Dragon Ball itself started out as a comic book, apparently, Toei Animation’s Dragon Ball Super revival series actually started by adapting the Battle of Gods and Resurrection of F movies into a multi-series format before starting to create its own content. Super is actually a very interesting case where Dragon Ball’s original mangaka, the legendary Akira Toriyama, has directly taken over the creative role for the anime, so he’s still shaping the story even without the manga. Dragon Ball Super got a manga adaptation, made by Toriyama and his new patron Toyotaro, which finally debuted a month before the anime – but that doesn’t change the fact that the manga was created to promote and adapt the anime.
FLCL began as Gainax’s 6-episode Original Video Animation (OVA), what might be called in the United States a “direct-to-video” release. The series is best known for its iconic soundtrack by Japanese rock band The Pillows, and it’s hard to imagine what FLCL would be like without their influence. The series also makes extensive use of cartoon jokes, ironically including a recurring manga joke in which the footage is drawn as if it were panels from the manga — a manga that didn’t even exist at the time. FLCL would later get a manga adaptation, though it wasn’t nearly as critically acclaimed as the anime that created it.
8 Kill mule Kill
The outrageous Kill la Kill is in many ways emblematic of Studio Trigger’s approach: it’s an original property heavily based on surrealism. The series is defined by fast-paced action and jokes that couldn’t have worked well in any other medium. Like Dragon Ball Super, the manga version of Kill la Kill premiered roughly at the same time as the anime series, but as an original property of an anime studio, it’s certainly an anime-first project.
7 psychology of overcoming
While much of the list so far has been humorous in nature, there’s no reason it should be, as Psycho-Pass demonstrates. This extremely dark cyberpunk series by Production IG is inspired by the works of Japanese director Mamoru Oshii (responsible for the animated film adaptation of Ghost in the Shell), as well as classics of the genre from outside Japan such as Blade Runner. Psycho-Pass certainly knocked that out of the park, creating a disturbingly outdated world of psychological control that deserves a place in cyberpunk’s Hall of Fame. It also got a comic book adaptation, though the season came out a few weeks after the first episode.
6 Samurai Champloo
Created by anime legend Shinichiro Watanabe, this production by studio Manglobe (split from Sunrise) brings a world of old-fashioned by blending hip-hop music with the styles of feudal Japan and the era of the samurai. The series has a completely dripping style and the music is so ingrained in the world that it’s hard to imagine the characters without it. Even the idea of anime was associated with music from the very beginning. Like many others, Samurai Champloo had a manga adaptation that started a little before the series but ran for only a few months, ending before the anime.
5 series of Gundam
Gundam is a classic anime franchise and an absolute rarity because, since its creation in 1979, nearly every work has been completely original to anime, with the only exceptions being taken from light novels. As one of the most popular anime of all time, especially in Japan, it’s easy to see why Gundam started the animation. After all, the whole idea is to see semi-realistic robots fight it, and that’s much more impressive in animated form than on a static piece of paper. Of course, there have been many Gundam manga over the years, but overall these are adaptations of the current series.
4 Paranoid Agents
An anime television series created by legendary film director Satoshi Kon, Paranoia Agent carries many of the themes of Kon’s films, such as Paprika and Perfect Blue, with a heavy focus on the psychology and opacity of reality and fantasy. The series deciphers Japan’s love of “cute” things, revealing it as a coping mechanism for the pain and suffering of modern life – an idea that can be a bit difficult to reach in comic form. Paranoid Agent is definitely better off as a TV series than a movie, and is one of the few on this list that has never been adapted into a comic, even though it has been novelized.
The 3 Magical Girls Madoka
Created by studio Shaft, Puella Magi Madoka Magica destroys everything fans thought they knew about the magical maiden genre that has a long history in both anime and manga. One of the key elements of Madoka is its style, especially that of the Witches, even challenging traditional animation techniques to create a truly surreal and alien world. The Witches simply couldn’t have had such a strong impact in black and white comic form, though that hasn’t stopped the series from creating several spinoffs and post-truth comic adaptations.
2 cowboys Bebop
Shinichiro Watanabe’s original masterpiece, Cowboy Bebop was originally created with the rather tedious goal of “selling toy spaceships”. Instead, Watanabe created what many consider to be one of the best anime of all time, a moody noir series set in space around bounty hunters and their goals. One of the most iconic aspects of Cowboy Bebop is its music, created by the talented Yoko Kanno, which tweaks genres while maintaining a melancholy, fun feel. Bebop will receive two comic book adaptations: one before the series came out, considered by many to be underwhelming, and a series of one-off Cowboy Bebop adventures that are a bit more like the series.
1 Neon Genesis Mission
Gainax’s greatest success, Evangelion, was the ultimate deconstruction of the mecha genre, showing why perhaps a group of teenagers shouldn’t be in charge of weapons of mass destruction and put the fate of the world on their shoulders. The iconic, if controversial, finale of the series can only come about due to an animated series, as its weirdness is partly due to the lack of funding for the animation. Interestingly, the comic book adaptation of Evangelion has suffered some scheduling delays, only completing publication in 2013, more than 18 years after it began.
Of course, there are many other popular anime that came out before their manga versions, but the ones listed above are considered some of the best. These shows prove that an anime can be incredible without having to adapt an existing story from another medium – even if a lot of them end up as both anime and manga.