Kemono Friends became unexpectedly popular in 2017, when the CGI anime wound up saving the franchise, even after the mobile game it was based on died. From then on, people began trying to capitalize on its success by making all sorts of multimedia projects based on it, from new cell phone games to stage plays. Kemono Friends received a few manga adaptations as well, and this one, Welcome to Japari Park, is one of them. But whether it has any connection to the anime is a subject of debate. Some say its a very distant prequel to the anime, while others say it's just an alternate universe with characters having different personalities from the anime and the game. I prefer the latter theory, as many of the characters you recognize are very different from their depictions in the anime. Unfortunately, this manga isn't really all that good for a number of reasons.
Welcome to Japari Park hardly has any commonalities with the anime, which centered on Kaban and Serval traveling throughout Japari Park trying to find out who Kaban is, while meeting Friends and helping them overcome problems by playing into their strengths. Instead, the manga focuses on Nana, a peppy pink haired girl who was hired to become a caretaker in a different, more modernized version of Japari Park, and the manga is mostly the Friends just hanging out and getting into shenanigans, taking much more of a cliche slice of life route in vein of the whole "cute girls doing cute things" genre. This kind of premise is nothing new, and it shows familiar and unfamiliar Friends in contemporary situations, such as going to cafes or having Christmas parties or figuring out what kind of people they are, so on and so forth. There's no conflict or mysteries to solve or anything of the like, so if you're into that sort of thing, this isn't the manga for you.
One thing the manga does have over the anime is great artwork. The characters are all drawn with realistic proportions, and they all look cute as they should, all done in a semi-bishoujo style. All of the friends look gorgeous in this manga, and they're all made distinct from one another, with no two friends looking the same. The paneling is very well done, and all of the chapters are very episodic in nature, so you won't miss anything even if you miss a chapter or two. I did find the setting to be confusing, as sometimes during certain chapters, it felt like some scenes took place outside the park, though it never clarified whether they actually did or not.
Unfortunately, the characters really suffer in this adaptation, mostly because they're all reduced to having one or two main personality traits and nothing else. Nana is an okay character, but she's just another typical perky pink haired girl who wouldn't be out of place in a magical girl or slice of life anime. She's no Kaban, so don't expect her or the rest of the cast to receive any form of meaningful character development. Serval is even ditzier than her anime counterpart, Raccoon spends all her time messing around and trying to be special when she isn't, Koala is little more than a means to make thinly veiled poop jokes in regards to her "pap," so on and so forth. The worst offender is Ezo Red Fox, the main character. In the anime, Ezo Red Fox only appeared in one episode and was shy, a little whiny, and acted like a little kid, but she still pulled her weight, helped out when the situation called for it, and was still relatively nice. The manga makes her into a whiny, annoying, selfish, gluttonous, greedy little spoiled brat who talks endlessly about food, bosses everyone around like they're her servants, refuses to pull her weight, and continually uses people for her own convenience and benefit with little regard for their feelings, and even when she's called on it, she never learns her lesson and never becomes a better character. She's not as bad as, say, Haru from the awful Ongaku Shoujo OVA, but having a bratty main character who constantly mistreats people and gets away with it does not make for a story worth following, and I really have to question who came up with the bright idea to make Ezo Red Fox into such an insufferable brat and make her into the main character! Oddly enough, though, I did like the manga's take on Tsuchinoko. In the anime, Tsuchinoko was really annoying and mostly spent her time screaming in a really screechy voice. Here, she's much more subdued and introspective, though a bit pessimistic, but she's nowhere near as annoying as she was in the anime version. But that isn't enough to save this manga, sadly.
It's a shame the manga turned out the way it did, because I see a lot of potential here that could have been utilized much better. Let me put it this way: If you made me choose between an anime with bad animation but a genuinely good, well written story and likeable characters over a beautifully animated one with poorly written, unlikeable characters and a badly done conflict, I'd pick the former. Kemono Friends is the same way. The 2017 anime had little to no budget, but the writers and directors who worked on that didn't use that as an excuse to make a poor product and did everything they could to at least make it into something good, and succeeded wonderfully. On the other hand, Welcome to Japari Park is the opposite. It has great artwork, sure, but it's dull premise, lack of conflict, a bland cast of characters, and an awful main character really hurt this manga and prevent it from truly being something better.
Bottom line, I wouldn't recommend this manga, even to fans of Kemono Friends, unless you're a completionist. Otherwise, give it a miss. It's really not worth it.