Generally, I think—and public opinion supports—that Original Anime (that is, ones that were first conceived as anime and not based on any other work) tend to be of higher quality than anime based on other works. This isn’t always true, but I’d say it’s about 80% true.
Original Anime tend to be the best because they put the most consideration into animation as a medium. The poster child for that idea is Cowboy Bebop, which wouldn’t work in any other medium. It takes every element of being an anime into consideration and perfects it.
Manga Adaptions can do this—that poster child being FullMetal Alchemist Brotherhood, which completely adapts the story of the manga while using the medium of animation to its fullest—but probably less than 20% of Manga Adaptions do it with any degree of success, as opposed to 80% of Original Anime doing it.
Reason being that the author of a manga wasn’t thinking about it as an anime while they wrote it. They optimized on the manga format, so it only makes sense that their stories work in manga form. If anime tries to copy manga form, then it falls apart.
There is, however, a level of disconnect depending on the individual. Even if a Manga Adaption doesn’t optimize on the medium, I’ll probably still enjoy it more than the manga itself because I prefer the medium of anime to manga that much. The question isn’t of how the adaption compares to the source material, but of how the adaption stands up against other anime.
As usual, I’m gonna break out my favorites list as an example:
Unsurprisingly, with my being a person who loves anime for the qualities that make it anime, the best part of my favorites list is made up of Original Anime. However, while it makes sense that Manga Adaptions are trumped, the presence of seven Light Novel Adaptions throws the stats for a loop. The reason it makes such a big difference is that there are way fewer Light Novel Adaptions than there are Original Anime and Manga Adaptions in existence.
What this means is that there’s a high chance I’ll enjoy a Light Novel Adaption, being as I like a far greater percentage of all Light Novel Adaptions than I do other anime types. We could deduce that if there were enough Light Novel Adaptions, they would eventually overrun my favorites list.
It’s not as though those seven are the only light novel adaptions I love, either—a good deal of the anime I love outside this top 32 are Light Novel Adaptions. (For instance, if this list went farther, Index, Haruhi, Angel Beats, Kyouran Kazoku Nikki, and NHK ni Youkoso would be met very soon.)
The reason behind this is fairly obvious: light novels aren’t a medium, but a genre. While they uniquely are made up of images and text together, ultimately light novels are just a genre of literature. There’s way more in common between any two given Light Novel Adaptions than there are between any two Original Anime or any two Manga Adaptions, because those are accounting for entire mediums as opposed to genres.
It just so happens that the light novel genre is directly tied into anime culture, so that genre has way more adaptions than the rest of its medium. It’s not fair to play percentages between a whole medium and a single genre—it would be illogical to claim that the reason I like so many more Light Novel Adaptions than I do regular Novel Adaptions has anything to do with the way they translate to animation, because they’re the same medium and translate the same way. The truth is simply that light novels are my favorite genre of literature.
The same disconnect exists as with Manga Adaptions. I claimed that in being based on manga, they don’t take consideration of being anime—that’s logically true for Light Novel Adaptions as well. Both mediums would be optimal in their original form as opposed to less-than-perfect in their adapted form. However, because I naturally enjoy anime more than manga or light novels, I would still prefer the anime adaptions over the originals, regardless of their not standing up to other anime.
Just as with their adaptions, I like a higher percentage of light novels than I do anime or manga, but I don’t prefer the medium itself. When translated to anime, though, the equation remains the same. It’s no longer true that optimizing on being animation is what will earn my favor the most—now it becomes apparent that being a Light Novel Adaption is more likely to put a show in my favor.
The only question remaining is “why?” Why does that particular genre of anime appeal to me so much in spite of not optimizing on the medium the way Original Anime does? That will be reserved for another post. (Or just read this one which says a lot of it.)