Manga vs. Anime: Naruto
This is one of the most stubborn conflicts I've come across in both conversations and anime forums alike. Which is better - the Naruto manga or the Naruto anime? Can we settle this argument once and for all, right here right now? Highly unlikely. But what I can do is tell you what I think.
It seems to me that both sides of this argument are pretty set in their ways and everyone has strong feelings one way or the other. This particular dispute, along with One Piece and Bleach I suppose, can be used as a model for the general question of whether anime is better than manga (for shounen, at least) full stop.
Your traditional - but not necessarily valid - arguments then. The most classic point used by anime-lovers essentially goes along the lines of "It's preposterous to say that an action-oriented series can be better as drawings on a page than alive and animated." Of course the counter-point to this in most scenarios is that "The manga came first; that's how it was initially intended to be enjoyed." But neither of these points necessarily means that one is better than the other - sure anime may be a more naturally suitable medium for the expression of action series, and sure the show may have originally gained its acclaim from being a manga, but on a scale of actual quality it really depends from show-to-show and even from episode-to-episode.
To do an anime well you need a good team of animators, and a big budget for cinematography (not to mention all the extras that go into the medium, like OPs&EDs etc.), whereas to make an exceptional manga you may only need an incredibly skilled mangaka. On the other hand, you can see the case that anime-lovers have for saying it's much easier to enjoy battle series in motion on a big screen, where you can really get the visceral feel that may be lacking in manga. That's enough general speculation and pandering for now, then, so let's get down to Naruto itself.
I can identify with both sides of the argument with regard to Naruto. There are points on specific and general levels in favour of both the manga and the anime.
Firstly let's look at this on an arc-to-arc basis. Unlike with many other series, I can confidently say with Naruto that I prefer the manga for certain parts of the story and the anime for others. For example, the arc where Jiraiya infiltrates Amegakure (and specifically the battle against Pein itself) I thought was particularly well-done in the anime. One of the best fights in the entire show by my reckoning. The animation is great, the pacing is spot-on (for once) and the action is intense. Plus the manga doesn't come with FLOW's 'Sign' before every chapter, and that OP was amazing. Equally the Sasuke vs. Deidara fight was brilliant in the anime. Will never forget that "C2 DRRAAAAGGOOOOON" line for as long as I live. On the other hand, I much preferred Sasuke vs. Itachi in the manga to the anime adaptation. Strange as it may sound, it seemed to me as if the manga communicated both the tension and the movement much more effectively than the anime, and that isn't the only example of this being the case.
From a general standpoint then, we need to examine what swings in favour of what, seeing as in other specific examples the manga and the anime can be very much comparable - after all, the characters, story and setting are identical. So let's start with which creates the better mood? The anime tends to come out on top here, for obvious reasons. Firstly it gets to show off more of the settings and scenery, and it's also often easier to create atmospheres like tension and hostility when there's a more clear construct of time and pacing. To top it all off, though, is the music. The OST for Naruto (particularly from part 1) is excellent, and can really communicate a mood or add to a grueling fight scene. Then of course one can argue for battles and the like being much easier to follow in anime format as opposed to manga (though this isn't always the case).
When looking at all of Naruto as a whole, however, it seems clear to me which of the two media comes out on top, and that is for the simple reason of consistency. I.e. the anime has none of it. The manga continues to deliver brilliant action, twisting plotlines and a driving pace week after week, whereas you can't say that the anime has its foot on the pedal all the time, as it were. Let's get the biggie out of the way now: filler. By definition the manga has next-to-none, whereas the anime is crammed full with the stuff. I'm going to make another post later on about how filler in Naruto grinds my gears, so I'll leave it at that for now on this front. The pacing is all off in the anime as well. This is related to the filler in a way, but I don't want to see two characters stand-off against one another for a whole episode or two before they actually get down to the fighting. Specifically, I don't want them to be having BLOODY FLASHBACKS. What is it with the flashbacks, seriously?! Flashbacks are used, sparingly I might add, to remind the audience of a certain piece of exposition they may have missed or forgotten from a past episode. They are not used to unnecessarily repeat something that happened five minutes ago in the very same episode.
Consistent quality assurance is important too. It's incredibly noticeable when most of the anime staff sneak off to work on the next feature-length movie (which, by the way, no one cares about) and there's just so much wrong with that. Random example of lapse in quality: Naruto vs. Pein. The whole Pein arc had been doing well up until the point where it was Nine-tails Naruto beating God Pein all over the place. It was just that one episode in the middle of an entire saga where the art went completely haywire and the animation went bizarre. That's the sort of thing that doesn't happen in the manga.
The final issue of consistency is in regard to the jump in quality between Part 1 Naruto and Naruto Shippuuden. Part 1, as a whole, is spectacular - pacing is great, quality is fairly consistent all the way through, relatively little filler (apart from the block at the end obviously). Shippuuden, on the other hand, can't boast the same. Sure it has moments of brilliance, but they need to be carried through to become the average quality of the show. Bad pacing, tons of filler, more frequent shoddy mistakes in backgrounds or animation. Even the soundtrack, whilst quite cool, isn't as good as Part 1's in the way that a lot of it just doesn't seem to fit. What was with that random cowboy/western stand-off music they used for a while?
So that's that. Victory goes to the manga, and to the victor go the spoils! Cue Nice Guy Pose: