Bear in mind this entry is not the review for either of these series, but just a comparison for any interested people.
Ken Akamatsu, creator of the hit anime/manga "Love Hina" (which will get a review in the future) began a new serial after a year of being quiet and would become his most ambitious series to date called Negima!. The story is almost straight forward. A nine-year old wizard-in-training gets assigned to be an English teacher in Japan. At an all girls school. Hilarity ensues. Ok, the series is mostly between Negi and his classmates, Asuna being one in particular. As far as this entry is concerned, that is all you need to know.
Let's start with the original anime first.
Negima! is an animated adaptation of the manga series. This series does tend to stick to the manga more than the other series does, until the last few episodes that I honestly wish never happened. More on that in a bit. The animation is simple and easy to follow, but can be detailed, similar to School Rumble. It also focuses more on the relationships between Negi and his students.
Negima!? is basically the same story as the first anime series, but digresses quickly from the manga after the first few episodes. It puts more of an emphasis on the comedy and less on the relationships between the students and Negi. It also does not spend much, if any, time to establish characters. Honestly, I feel bad for the people that picked Negima!? first instead of the first series, which I think is a more accurate portrayal of the manga. Here are some of the quick facts:
-Both series employs nearly the same voice actors and actresses reprising their roles.
-Both employ some ecchi(nearly sexual) innuendos, but do them differently (see "contrasts").
-The major themes (magic, Nodoka, Asuna) are relatively the same.
-Negima!? seems to focus much more on the combat aspect (pactio cards, the evil fairy, etc.) than the original series does.
-Negima!? makes Takamichi(Takahata) into more of a proactive wizard character then in the original series than in the original, where he is mostly just seen as an ordinary teacher.
-Negima! focuses more on the tension between Asuna and Negi.
-Matter of opinion, but Negima! has superior intro and outro songs while Negima!? has better BGM. Again, just my opinion.
-Negima! has simpler animation while Negima!? is much more animated and detailed.
-Negima!? spoofs and recognizes other anime series (Azumanga Daioh, Love Hina, just to name a couple) while the original does not as much.
-Overall, I would say Negima! has more drama than Negima!?
-The ecchi (nearly sexual) content varies. Negima! employed a lot of panty shots/jokes while Negima!? employs more fanservice (particularly the Konaka-Setsuna sexual tension) and some detail of female bodies during the pactio transformation sequences (I remember seeing similar on Digimon one time).
-Negima! follows the manga more than Negima!?. Yes, I am taking the last story arc of Negima! into consideration, but Negima!? digresses by episode 4 while Negima! didn't digress much until episode 21.
If someone were to ask me which one to watch, I would say without hesitation to watch the original Negima! first, just so you can get characters established and a better feel of what the series it. Negima!? is far superior in many ways, but I honestly cannot tell which one I personally like more.
Honestly, I would have said Negima! was better, but then the last 4 episodes made me wonder about it. They are more of a love it or hate it scenario. Without giving much away, it digresses from the manga, but also doesn't quite feel like Negima! much because of the ramped up drama and serious nature. If it weren't for that story arc, I would give it my complete endorsement. It is a great series, and the first 20 episodes are excellent, but then you have a near entire episode of nothing but people crying, and it becomes more of a depressing story than anything and becomes more tiring to watch than anything. I will get into this more in the in-depth review.
I hope this doesn't confuse you too much! Just needed to stroke the anime freak inside of me.