Anime vs. Source Material

Anime vs. Source Material


The battle between anime and source material has been raging ever since the first anime based on an outside source was created (probably). On one side you have those who believe the original content is the best form of a story, and on the other you have those who believe anime enhances the original story.

I won’t lie, I have a bias towards anime over source material, but it’s not because I think the anime versions of a story are always better, it’s simply that anime as a medium is more entertaining to me than the alternatives. You may have gotten a sense of this if you noticed there’s only one manga review currently on this site.

Don’t worry, manga readers, I’m slowly making my way through a second manga now, and I’ve added more to my Plan to Read list. But this post isn’t about the manga I plan to read, it’s about the battle between anime and source material.

Source Material

So what is source material? It’s the material that’s the source of the story or content used in an anime. Sometimes anime have original stories, which I’ll get to in a bit, but often they’re based off pre-existing works such as manga, light novels, or visual novels.

Let’s start with my least favorite, visual novels. A visual novel is a type of story driven game which often uses anime-style drawings and limited animation. The gameplay typically consists of clicking through text with the occasional choice between two or more options.

As the name implies, visual novels are very similar to novels in that they’re text-based and happen to be accompanied by somewhat animated images. However, they’re also the closest source material to actual anime (out of manga, light novels, and visual novels) because of this.

Now, I know, Steins;Gate is one of the most popular and highest rated anime, and it’s based off a visual novel. Also, the Fate/UBW is based on a visual novel, but let’s not forget most people prefer Fate/Zero which is based on a novel instead.

But how can adaptations of visual novels be bad if they give us anime like Steins;Gate and Fate/UBW?

Well, the thing is, those were the only two examples I could find of good anime adaptations of visual novels. And just because there are a few good ones doesn’t mean we can ignore the bad ones (although the same applies in the opposite direction as well).

School Days, one of the worst anime ever made, is an anime adaptation of a visual novel. In fact, School Days is so bad that it was actually banned in China back in 2015.

But the argument could be made that school days was a bad adaptation of a bad visual novel, so are there examples of good visual novels with bad anime adaptations? Of course there are, one of which you can watch this season called Island.

The Island visual novel is rated as a 9/10 on Steam and has a 97% positive rating on Google. However, it only has a 6.13/10 rating on MAL (which is low for MAL), and I currently have it rated at 3/10. So, either the people who played the visual novel don’t know what they’re talking about, or Island is a bad anime adaptation.

If you want to read about a visual novel, you can check out my review of Doki Doki Literature Club.

The next major kind of source material is manga. Manga is probably the most well-known type of anime source material for two reasons. First, it’s the source material for a large portion of all anime. Second, it’s the primary source material for some of the biggest anime around.

If you know anything about anime, you’ve likely heard of Naruto, One Piece, or JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. Shounen series like these are some of the most popular anime ever, and the biggest ones typically have their roots in manga. If shounen isn’t for you, maybe a shoujo series like Sailor Moon is something you’ve heard of. Well, that’s based off a manga too.

Joseph Joestar saying "Oh! My! God!" from the manga JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders
Joseph Joestar (JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders)

So what is manga? It’s just a Japanese comic book. But, if that’s all it is, then why are so many anime based of them? Well, because manga authors have some pretty good stories to tell, and since their stories are coupled with visuals, are easy to imagine in a different medium such as anime.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, “why, then, would manga be any better as source material for an anime than visual novels?” Honestly, I don’t know, but I can make an educated guess. Manga have one storyline from beginning to end (usually), while visual novels typically change depending on the choices the player makes.

Because of this, more time and effort is put into that single storyline, making it better. Also, even if all the various storylines of a visual novel are great, they can’t all be adapted into a single anime that easily. I mean, look at Fate, it has a million anime adaptations following different routes.

Unless something like that is done, it’s hard to get a complete adaptation of a visual novel. With many anime only being licensed for one season initially these days, it’s hard to fully adapt anything.

Luckily, manga, specifically shounen manga, doesn’t seem to have this issue. If a manga is well received, you can generally expect the anime to be well received too. And, if a manga is of the shounen variety, you can pretty much guarantee it will get more than one season, and so won’t be stuck unfinished.

If you want to read about manga, check out my review of Inside Mari.

The final of the big three anime source materials is the light novel. A light novel is basically just a novel with illustrations in the same way an illuminated manuscript is a fancy name for a handwritten document with some pictures.

Light novels are the wildcards of the anime source material world. While they’re certainly written by professional authors just like manga, they’re also just as likely to be written by amateurs, posted on the internet, and then picked up by a publishing company that needs to fill a quota.

Because of this, light novels and their adaptations vary wildly. For example, my highest rated anime series of all time is the Monogatari series, based on light novels, and my lowest rated anime I’ve ever completed, In Another World With My Smartphone, is also based on light novels.

The blessing of light novels is that the plot, dialogue, and text in general is the primary focus of the work, unlike with manga which uses art to express half or more of what’s happening. The curse, however, is that there are a lot of bad light novels that get adapted into anime.

Because anyone can, in theory, have a novel they upload to the internet picked up by a publishing company, there are a lot of light novels that seem like fan fictions based around other popular anime/manga/light novels. For example, the isekai genre.

Have you watched an isekai anime created in the last 15 years or so? Chances are it began as a light novel.

Some notable isekai, light novel anime are Sword Art Online, Overlord, No Game No Life, In Another World With My Smartphone, The Master of Ragnarok and Blesser of Einherjar, How Not to Summon a Demon Lord, KonoSuba, Re:ZERO, Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody, and Log Horizon.

If you want to read about a light novel, sorry, but I haven’t actually read any. I’d like to read the Monogatari series some day, so if you’re interested in that as well, why not check out my Monogatari series viewing guide? The second order in this guide is the light novel order.

Anime Originals

Now that we’ve talked about outside source material, what about anime original material? There are actually two different types of anime original material: completely original and partially original content.

Completely original content is when a story is written specifically to be made into an anime. An example of this is Madoka Magica, which was first an anime and later adapted to other media such as manga, light novels, and games.

The great thing about completely original anime is that they were written with the medium of anime in mind, and so should work better in that format than anything adapted into anime from another medium. If you’re writing a light novel you don’t have to worry about things like scene composition, but that becomes extremely important if your work is adapted into anime.

While nobody really seems to have any issue with completely original anime content, it’s the partially original content that comes to the forefront of the anime vs. source material battle. This is the material which only appears in the anime version of the story, not the source version.

Just about every anime adapted from another medium has some partially original content; it’s often necessary simply for the story to work in this different medium. However, sometimes this content isn’t necessary for the change in medium, but simply for scheduling purposes.

Enter, anime original filler. Ah, yes, filler episodes, the bane of the modern anime viewer. While some filler is actually written in the source material, there’s a lot of filler, especially in long-running shounen series, which is anime original simply because time needs to be wasted until the next part of the story is written.

However, one of the most controversial pieces of partially original anime content is the Fullmetal Alchemist anime. I’ve discussed this many times, but for those who aren’t aware, there are actually two different Fullmetal Alchemist anime: FMA and FMA: Brotherhood.

FMA came out first and only adapted the anime for the first 10 or so episodes. After that, it was an anime original story. The reason for this is that the manga wasn’t complete when the anime was being created, and so the anime had to come up with an original ending that didn’t spoil where the manga was going in the future.

Years later, after the completion of the manga, FMA: Brotherhood was released as a full adaptation of the source material, not a partial one like the original FMA. This release of a second, more faithful version of Fullmetal Alchemist is what makes this so controversial.

I think both versions excel at different things, but that brings us to our final segment.

Which is Better?

Continuing on with Fullmetal Alchemist, I think FMA: Brotherhood has better art, animation, and OP/EDs, but the original FMA has a better plot. But how can this be? The plot of FMA is mostly anime original and doesn’t follow the source material, so how can it be better?

Source material, like anything else, isn’t perfect. Just because something follows the source material more closely, or is the source material, doesn’t automatically make it better than something which strays from the original content.

I understand that FMA isn’t as faithful of an adaptation as FMA: Brotherhood, but it’s still better (plot wise).

By using this same argument, just because an anime is an adaptation of a manga, light novel, or visual novel, that doesn’t mean the anime is a worse version of the story. In fact, it could very much be a better version of the story because it was able to fix the issues of the original.

On the other hand, an anime adaptation is not automatically better than the source material either. There are many cases in which the anime adaptation is better than the source material, and many cases where the opposite is true as well.

What’s really important is choosing the right medium for you, as well as understanding the differences between the various media. As I stated at the beginning of this post, anime is the medium which works best for me because being able to see and hear the content is more engaging than simply reading (hear as in the OST and general sounds, not dubbed anime).

However, for some, reading the source material works better. If you’re reading a light novel, manga, or visual novel, you can move through the story at your own pace which may help with taking in all of the little details. It really all comes down to personal preference, but you need to find which medium suits your preferences the most.


I know that some people won’t be happy with an answer like that in the end, so for those who need a concrete answer: anime is the best medium, source material is worse than anime adaptations, and FMA is better than FMA: Brotherhood. Feel free to fight me on any of those points in the comments.

If you enjoyed this pseudo-comeback of DoubleSama’s Unpopular Anime Opinions, then leave a like down below this post. I’m thinking of reviving that series fully with a post about how Prisma Illya is the best entry in the Fate series, so stay tuned for that in the near future.

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