Maybe I've been picking too much on older adaptations. Maybe in the intervening decade and a half (give or take) the manga world has figured out how to properly adapt a TV show to a manga. At the very least, it might be picking better subjects for just such a treatment.
TIGER AND BUNNY (Taiga Ando Buni), based on the series by Sunrise, written by Masafumi Nishida, character designs by Masakazu Katsura, and adapted by Mizuki Sakakibara. First published in 2012 and first published in North America in 2013.
In Sternbelt City, superheroes fight not in the name of justice, but in the name of the corporate sponsors that support them. Their efforts are aired live on TV before an ever-eager audience and the heroes themselves are ranked like contestants on a reality show. Some heroes have become incredibly popular under this system, but then there are others like Wild Tiger, a.k.a. Kotestu Koburagi. His superpower is a short-term burst of super strength, but he's one of the few who cares more for saving people than looking good for the camera. To improve his image, his producers decide to pair him with Wild Bunny, a.k.a. Barnaby Brooks Jr. Barnaby is a newcomer with powers similar to Kotestu, but he chafes at the idea of a partner, much less one that teases him at every turn like Wild Tiger. Nonetheless, the two must learn to work together to save the city from a fate far worse than any publicity stunt.
Tiger and Bunny might be the first time I've seen a TV series adapted so smoothly into a manga. I suspect the biggest reason for that is its unique premise. After all, it's a series about superheroes fighting crime. It's already like a comic book, albeit a Western one, so there's not a great deal you have to do to make that work on the page.
Kotetsu endears himself to the reader right off the bat. He's snarky and a little fumbling in his ways, but he's also incredibly noble and selfless. He's a rebel in a world where public image means everything, but he's also a good-hearted goofball when the costume comes off. This makes him both incredibly easy to root for, a lot of fun to read about, and weirdly attractive to boot. Of course, like any good comedy pairing or any good buddy cop drama (which this story basically is), Kotetsu needs a good foil. He needs a straightman, the good cop to Kotetsu's bad cop, and Barnaby is a perfect fit for such a role. He's more than a little vain and rather prissy, but he's also smart enough to think up strategies on the fly and do good detective work. Putting these two together turns them into a fairly well-balanced pair that have plenty of potential for future drama as well as comedy.
Outside of these two, we don't see much of the other superheroes of this universe. At most, we get to see some of their battles in passing. While we do pick up a few bits and pieces of how superpowers work in this universe (in short, it's basically what you would get if you blended X-Men and The Incredibles), we don't really get to see what the other heroes are like when off-screen. We've seen more of the behind-the-scenes shenanigans that surround the heroes than we do of their own lives. They have to deal with contracts, negotiations, promotional fluff like music singles, and even producers trying to affect ratings through their choices of when and where to focus the camera. That leaves the obvious satire of these parts feeling a little empty, but maybe later volumes will do better on this front. Still, it's off to a damn good start, as it gives the reader a good sense of who Kotetsu is, the world he inhabits, and the problems he will have to overcome, and it makes me want to watch the original to see how well the two match up. It's doing precisely what a TV-to-manga adaptation should be doing and doing it quite well.
Sakakibara's artwork also does a good job of translating the show's look to the page. Sakakibara is unusual in that while her background is primarily in animation (including working as a key animator on this series), she also has some experience with comics. She not only did a manga adaptation of the Bayonetta movie, but also worked with Marvel for a while. That means she's able to find a happy medium, incorporating the fluidity of animation with the ability to visually tell a story in comic form. Of course, she did have the advantage of having some really good character designs to work with. Masakazu Katsura is a name that's well-known to old-school manga fans, having created works like Video Girl Ai, I"s, and Zetman. He's always been known for his fine (if rather fanservice-filled) artwork, and it's clear that his skills have not waned with the years. All of the character designs here are handsome, well-rooted in reality, and positively stylish, right down to Kotetsu's snappy signature wardrobe or Barnaby's delicately winged hair. The superhero costumes/mech suits are also fantastical and unique, ranging from Gatchaman-style suits to futuristic mech suits. All of this looks great in action, as the fight scenes are nicely drawn and easy to follow. When you put all of these elements together, you get a great looking manga that's fun and thrilling. It's hard to tell how much of this is due solely to Sakakibara and how much of it is due to the rest of the production crew, but it's hard to argue with the results.
It's hard to believe that Tiger and Bunny never took off here in the States. It's good looking, it's got a premise that would be familiar to a lot of comic-reading Americans, and it's got a humorous, charming hero. At least it can boast one of the best TV-to-manga adaptations you'll find on the market.
This series is published by Viz. This series is ongoing in Japan with 9 volumes currently available. 7 volumes have been published and all are currently in print.