I love anime. Most of my favorites are shorter, more easily summed up stories like Banana Fish, Your Lie In April, and Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood. However, like most people who grew up with Dragonball or Naruto, a good Shonen can grip me for years! Seriously, I saw the first episode of Naruto in 7th grade, and finished the manga a year after dropping out of college. It’s insane to think that a show held my interest for that long. There’s something truly magical about a long running Shonen’s ability to make us care about a character’s journey from adolescence to adulthood. For Dragonball fans, we watched Goku go from a baby to a grandfather, and Naruto fans have watched our favorite knucklehead all the way into Ninja Presidency. Think about this, Game of Thrones ran from 2011 to 2019. The first episode of Naruto, debuted in 2002, and the story is still ongoing in Boruto. That means Naruto, the series, is old enough to move out, smoke cigarettes, and has been driving for two years. One aspect of long running Shonen that is both amazing, as well as incredibly frustrating at times, is it’s ability to have a new episode practically every week, for all those years. As a kid, I loved that I could always count on my Shonen, sometimes, on a daily basis. That is absolutely incredible from a production standpoint. In the case of a show like Dragonball or Dragonball Z, it made 4pm my favorite time of day every weekday. However, this production miracle was made possible by three things: First, the overwork culture in Japan. Second, the fact that most anime adaptations of a manga don’t begin until at least a year after the manga’s debut, so the anime team has plenty of source material to work with, given that most Shonen manga are released in weekly chapters. Lastly, and this is the biggest one I think, filler episodes.
If you’re an anime fan, you might have cringed a little reading that word: filler. If you were raised on Dragonball then you have fond memories of Goku and Picollo driving cars for a single episode, and annoying memories of Garlic Jr and some ridiculous zombie apocalypse knockoff story arc. Unpleasant to be sure, however if you watched Naruto, then you’re likely triggered, remembering 90 episodes of random filler between the end of Naruto, and the beginning of Naruto: Shippuden. For me, it was this filler that changed everything. I watched every single episode waiting to see something of substance, but was let down every week. The side stories felt incredibly flat and side characters rarely grew at all, because they weren’t allowed to. Growth of any kind would potentially alter the character and mess up events in future canon stories. Near the end of that insane filler, a friend of mine showed me a manga website, and I abandoned the anime, gleefully ingesting the year’s worth of canon story available until I was up to date and reading a new chapter every week upon release. At the time, this felt like the smart choice. The manga was good, vastly entertaining, but most of all, it was consistent, and canon. I did the same with Bleach, until I gave up on it.
I don’t know a single anime fan that genuinely enjoys filler, at least not that kind. When I would hear my friends complain about filler in Bleach or Naruto back then, i’d just ask why they don’t read the manga. They’d always offer an excuse about not having the time for that, but in all honesty, in the days before Hulu, Netflix, Vrv, and Crunchyroll, finding quality subbed anime was far more difficult than going onto a well known manga site. Truth is, my friends, like me, were creatures of habit, and simply didn’t want to change their routine. Back then I didn’t really understand that, but now as an adult, I’m the same way they are. Currently, I only watch two anime that are considered long running Shonen: Haikyu, and My hero Academia. Unlike their predecessors, these shows release in seasons rather than putting out an episode every week for years. This means that most of what I’m seeing is canon, and even if it’s filler, it’s probably something the manga creator would have included, but didn’t have time. For example, MHA uses filler scenes to showcase members of the main cast outside of it’s main protagonist, so we get to see characters grow, and that growth matters. In that way, MHA’s filler, isn’t actually filler. It’s relevant to the story overall, it’s simply referred to as such because it’s not in the manga. With something like that, I would honestly feel cheated if I strictly read the manga, because I’m not getting the full story. I’m getting the main dish, but not the sides. While I could read and watch, I see no point in that. It’s the same story, so why would I consume a stripped down version, when in due time I’ll get to enjoy the full experience, with wonderful animation, voice acting, and a beautiful soundtrack. As far as Haikyu goes, I’d be shocked if you were to tell me it has filler. For over four seasons I’ve seen nothing that looks even slightly out of place, or irrelevant.
If I’m being honest, the biggest reason I don’t read manga anymore, is because I don’t have to. Like I said, most of the anime I watch is either short, or releases in seasons. I actually like the break between seasons because I’ll go back and re-watch certain moments and catch something I missed, rather than reading for plot points week to week. Also, with these stories being action based, the animation is one of the best parts of the experience. Why settle for still images when I can see full, brilliant motion? It’s the same beautiful art, but more of it. Also, the anticipation for the next season keeps me excited, rather than feeling overwhelmed by fillers or chapters I may miss because I’m busy.
There is really only one situation that would cause me to read manga, and that’s if the anime is cut short. I absolutely hate when studios cut a series off early and create fake endings, like with the original Fullmetal Alchemist, or Soul Eater. In all honesty, a story cut off before it’s completion is far more upsetting than a series dragging itself out with filler. As long as I get the intended story, that’s what matters most to me. In reality, the argument between reading the manga and watching the anime, is basically the same as the argument between watching the anime subbed or dubbed, it all comes down to quality, and how well the story is delivered.