Top 7 Manga Adaptations of All Time

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Manga has been massively influential in the pop culture world, although its impact outside of Japan is more down to animated adaptations rather than the original comics.

Today there is a multitude of movies and TV shows that are based on or inspired by manga, and as with any adaptation, the quality can vary wildly.

If you only want to watch the cream of the crop, the following line-up of exceptional interpretations of game-changing manga series will be a good starting point.

Black Jack

Despite its name, Black Jack isn’t the best gambling manga of all time. It’s more interested in telling unique tales of medical breakthroughs, self-sacrifice, and the importance of modesty in the face of significant achievements.

These elements are translated expertly to the screen in the first full-length film adaptation, released in 1996. It may lack the extreme edge of some of its contemporaries but in retrospect Black Jack: The Movie is an intriguing and artistically striking artifact of a time when Japanese animation was still relatively unknown in the West.

Ghost In The Shell

Doubtlessly managing to outdo the manga on which it is based, Ghost In The Shell is another 90s anime adaptation that pushed the envelope with its art style and visual effects.

In fact, if you watch the movie today, it’s hard to appreciate just what effect it had on audiences at the time. So many touches that we take for granted now were first found here, and it is no surprise to see it cited alongside Akira as one of the main influences for the Matrix franchise. The less said about, the more recent live-action remake, the better.

One-Punch Man

When the first season of One-Punch Man hit in 2015, it felt like a breath of fresh air, standing out from the cookie-cutter anime crowd by parodying so many elements and skewering them perfectly while still cramming in some incredible action set pieces and mega-scale battles.

The tone of One-Punch Man is undeniably silly, but it wears this ridiculousness on its sleeve and manages to avoid the po-faced sincerity, which can compromise many of the other more modern manga adaptations that are doing the rounds today.

Akira

Arguably the most famous manga adaptation ever made and undoubtedly the most critically acclaimed, Akira still stands like a behemoth over the industry more than three decades after its release.

Its ability to blend political commentary and sci-fi smarts with brutal action and deep characterization helps to justify the high esteem in which it is held by fans. If nothing else, it proved that complex manga could indeed be adapted to feature-length film format without making sacrifices in the transition.

Fullmetal Alchemist

Like all popular manga series, there is a cavalcade of adaptations of the steampunk universe of Fullmetal Alchemist, with multiple anime series, two animated movies, and the inevitable hit-and-miss live-action iteration.

While seeing hand-drawn characters recreated by flesh and blood actors is clearly not always a good idea, the animated interpretations of Fullmetal Alchemist fare far better. The first anime is probably the one to watch as a priority, partly because it takes the story in a different direction to the manga and packs plenty of surprises as a result.

Devilman Crybaby

While opinions were divided upon release, Devilman Crybaby had gained critical traction in the past few years and is now regarded as a well put together adaptation of a vintage manga series that once again proved a hit with Western audiences, who made up the majority of the viewership on Netflix when it debuted in 2018.

Once again, it manages to explore some intriguing themes and topics, presenting debates around the likes of sexuality and growing up in a way that does not feel preachy or pared back. And, of course, the unflinching intensity of the many set pieces proved that modern manga adaptations could still go hard when called upon.

Fist of the North Star

Fist of the North Star is not exactly the most sophisticated franchise out there, but that does not stop the stupendous strength and stoicism of its protagonist Kenshiro from being compelling.

Various adaptations exist, and the 1986 animated feature film is gloriously violent and over the top as fans would hope.

The world of manga adaptations is vast and growing all the time, so explore these examples and then see what else is out there!

Don Draper
Donald Francis "Don" Draper is a founding partner and the Creative Director at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce Advertising Agency in Manhattan, NY. Prior to that position, he was the Director of the Creative Department at the Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency. He is regarded among his colleagues as the best to ever pitch copy.