The original manga version of Aishiteruze Baby is considerably better than the average anime version, which ran last year on Japanese television. Having read the first volume from Viz, I can see why the anime was so - hrm, underwhelming?
The story - a high school lothario with an emotionally underequipped family & no particular motivation to do much of anything gets saddled with the care of a cute five-year-old cousin abandoned by her runaway mother - had potential, and some of that potential shone through the poor art and under-nourished dialog which otherwise tarnished and diminished its execution in the TV series. This is because the manga clearly would make a poor storyboard set for a television production, and a worse script.
The mangaka, Youko Maki, clearly prefers to write via layout and composition rather than dialog and plotting. All of the emotional beats are carried by panel-work and page composition rather than dialog and conversation, with the usual shoujo-style use of ziptone and abstraction to give the art flavor & some visual flair. Don't get me wrong - the art is fairly high-quality, and the way it's deployed maximizes the impact of Maki's technical skill.
It's a very impressive first volume, but it also shows clear signs of improvement which suggests that it was an early work. For one thing, Maki's ambitious use of paneling for emotional impact over-stretches her compositional skills several times in the first chapter; some of the panel flow can be a little hard to follow, even for someone who's been reading unflipped for a number of years. This isn't Fruits Basket, at least in the first few chapters. But Maki clearly has Takaya-esque ambitions.
Strangely enough, Fruits Basket, which similarly relies on layout and composition for emotional resonance, didn't have this problem when it was adapted for a TV series. Perhaps this is the result of director Akitaro Daichi's hack brilliance? I keep calling him a hack, but his body of work suggests otherwise... Maybe I'm just confusing lack of ego for lack of genius? Possibly it's that Fruits Basket is brimming over with enough plot and dialog for three other stories, and doesn't need the compositional assist to keep it interesting and engaging.
What has happened to all the genius directors and writers in the last few years, anyways? The only working in TV that I can think of is batty old Shoji Kawamori & his tinsel-trash Sousei no Aquarion. What's Konaka up to these days? Air Gear? Oh, for the love of god...