I have written many anime reviews, but this is my first time writing a manga review. Please be gentle critics! Usually the manga is better than the anime...unfortunately, today we will be looking at an exception to that rule of thumb.
SPOILERS! This is a compare/contrast with the anime. If you haven't read the manga yet, skip this review!!!
Elfen Lied (despite the bashing it gets on MAL and 4chan) is actually my favorite anime of all time. I'm not even being ironic, I'm dead serious! However, the manga... kind of sucks ass. I personally preferred the anime for quite a number of reasons.
Firstly, Lucy's character was more interesting with 2 personalities: 1 good (Nyuu) and 1 morally complex and greyish (Lucy), whereas the manga had 3 personalities with good (kaede) good (nyuu) pure evil (literal voice of DNA). This 3 personality path divided the character into clearly good and evil parts and robbed the primary character of much of her complexity. This also brings me to the next HUGE problem with the manga: DNA taking over and forcing people to be evil. The anime was much more ambiguous on the nature vs. nurture side of the diclonius killing instict, but leaned towards nurture since the only time we see a diclonius kill without prior heavy abuse is in Kakuzawa Jr's stories he told Kurama. Not exactly someone who can be trusted since nearly everything he says in the series is a lie. Although still debatable, the manga leans heavily towards nature and the diclonius simply being evil. This totally undermines the anti-discrimination theme that is a key part of the story, since it makes the discrimination and inhumane treatment seem justified. The Diclonius are wiped out in the manga, and we the reader are supposed to cheer this on! An entire human sub- race is simply evil at the genetic level and must be wiped out rather than learning to coexist with the rest of humanity. If the anime Elfen Lied was like X-men, the manga is basically "The Ugly Mushroom", a Nazi children book explaining to kids why Jews must be exterminated. Besides arguably having the worst moral of any manga EVER, it is also complete bullshit since DNA does NOT work that way! You can be genetically pre-disposed towards sociopathy and limited empathy, but DNA does not grab hold of your body and force you to be evil like Lucy's did when she sliced Kurama rather than allow herself to be shot.
Now we move on to Kouta, who is very average in the manga, whereas in the anime he just about the nicest guy ever. He is like Keitaro from Love hina, DBZ fused with Mohatma Gandhi. Although not the most realistic, I actually prefer this version of the character. At least he's memorable and interesting unlike manga Kouta who is just bland and forgettable. Another reason I like the anime is that I vastly prefer Kouta/Lucy to Kouta/Yuka. Lucy may have murdered Kouta's family, but the amount of remorse she feels and her desire to repent and become reborn (via Nyuu) coupled with Kouta's extreme kindness and forgiveness make them an interesting couple. They seem similar to Rodion and Sonya from Crime and Punishment. Rodion murders her best friend, but in the end she still loves him and forgives him following his extreme remorse and repentance. He goes through a Christian rebirth rather than an amnesia from bullet rebirth though. Kouta/Yuka is not only a rather dull couple, but Yuka is a truly irritating and unlikeable character. She whines more than any other character despite having had by FAR the best lot in life. She lashes out with violence every 5 minutes for minor shit ( Thank GOD she wasn't the one born with vectors). I also think Kouta/Lucy pairing is a far better reflection of the themes of repentance, love, and forgiveness, so it even adds better artistic aesthetics along with being more interesting and enjoyable.
Another thing is the tone of the anime under Kanbe's direction vs. Okamoto's tone and writing in the original manga. The anime has some silly ecchi moments, but the fucking manga goes so overboard, it REALLY makes the series difficult to take remotely seriously. Hell, there is an entirely wasted character who's only point of existence seems to be that her incontinence satisfies one of Okamoto's many fetishes. Kanbe stated he wanted to make an anime that could make 18 ups cry and challenge our assumptions on things like the limits of love, repentance, forgiveness, etc. Okamoto never took himself so seriously or had such a strong artistic vision. As proof, he personally made the first hentai doujin of elfen lied. I'm not fucking kidding, look it up! Kanbe has a strong resume in directing great anime and even made shoujo like card captors far better than they needed to be. He worked under Miyazaki himself on Nausicca for crying out loud! Okamoto has some good ideas, but is a writer with a bad need for an editor and has never written anything else of note.
Finally, as the plot in the manga went on we saw more and more silly shit that I could have gone without. If Kakuzawa had a whole clone army of totally controllable Marikos, why did he send the wild and uncontrollable original? The answer is that Okamoto clearly had the idea for babara and the other Mariko clones after the fact, and it creates a massive plot hole that makes Kakuzawa look even dumber than he already is. Did anyone think the Unknown man added anything other than a hilariously un-aerodynamic weapon? He got to make Bando a hero at least, which no one even wanted. Even Bando gets a second chance in this life, but not fucking Kaede? WTF?! We also get that admiral that looks like Itachi Uchiha and that god damned ridiculous vector tank! Overall, I will take an open ending over a bad closed ending any day! Why do people think having a closed ending makes something better? Brothers Karamazov: open ending. Birdemic: neatly wrapped ending.
PS. although minor compared to some of the manga's more grievous sins, the artwork in the manga is TERRIBLE! It sort of improves halfway through, but my god is it bad!