Over on AniPages, Ben has a forum (BBS, that is), where there's been a great discussion on Japanese Animation Theory. Peter Chung, of "Aeon Flux" and "Animatrix" fame, had wandered in and helped out a lot with some very detailed descriptions of the work process differences and what the various roles are, and other tidbits of perspective from his training and work in American, Korean, and Japanese variations of the industry.
Start at this post that I linked, first, and work your ways backwards and forwards to dig deeper. A key quote (that you really need to keep reading the thread to get context and perspective) that really illuminated things for me:
This is a broad generalization, of course, but Japanese animators animate drawings; American animators animate characters. It's one reason why the Japanese industry has not embraced CG the way the rest of the world has. (Let's be thankful for this.)
This explains why I've probably been stuck when it comes to most anime. I'm looking a bit too hard for the "spark of life" stuff and discounting a lot of content because of it.
Not that it's "wrong" for me to do that, as it's one of the things that I'm more interested in than not. But why my perspective is the way it is and why I keep seeing "moving manga" as a negative becomes more clear.
Anyway, go read that whole thread, and then start dabbling in the other threads.... there's hours and hours of great theorizing and details and such. Fascinating stuff, and a great resource!