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Learning Japanese through Manga

08/16/2017

Previously, we talked about learning Japanese through J-dramas. Now, we turned our attention towards manga, which is a style of Japanese comic books and graphic novels. Manga are comics created in Japan or by creators in the Japanese language, conforming to a style developed in Japan in the late 19th century. They have a long and complex pre-history in earlier Japanese art.

The term manga in Japan is a word used to refer to both comics and cartooning. “Manga” is a term used outside Japan refers to comics originally published in Japan.

Why Learn Japanese through Manga?

There are many reasons why reading manga is ideal for Japanese language learners.

Less Words, More Pictures

At a basic level, manga is just the Japanese version of a comic book, and most everyone can remember enjoying comics as a kid. Comics are easy for children to read since there are plenty of pictures and much less text than a regular book.

From this perspective, it makes sense for Japanese learners to read manga. It is unrealistic to study Japanese and then expect to be able to tackle a newspaper article about politics, so manga is a great starting step to work your way up. You’ll see lots of Japanese onomatopoeia plus many short, simpler sentences.

Socially Acceptable for Adults

There are a large number of mangas, whose audiences range from children to young adults to adults. In this regard, we are lucky that it’s socially acceptable for adults to read manga in Japan.

Furigana is Often Included

Since the publishers of manga also want a large customer base, you will often find furigana in manga. Adult readers will ignore it, while younger readers use the furigana as an aid. Obviously, it was never conceived as being an aid for foreign readers, yet we are the ones who can benefit most from this. If you read a manga and keep seeing the furigana for a particular kanji character, then soon you will be able to read that character! What a painless and simple way to learn Kanji.

Manga is a great way to develop your Japanese reading ability, and the stories are quite enjoyable. Manga contains short sentences with illustrations showing what is happening, and often has furigana – which is especially useful for Japanese language learners.

Techniques for Learning Japanese with Manga

Familiarize Yourself with an Entire Manga

First of all, try reading a whole manga book without help. Depending on your level this may be difficult, so if you have a very low level of Japanese you may want to skip this step.

However, if you’re up for the challenge, you will develop several key skills through this exercise. You will become familiar with the layout of manga, and your mind will stay engaged in the story using both the pictures and the Japanese words that you do know. Remember, if you struggle with kanji you should pick a manga that uses a lot of furigana.

Look up Japanese Vocabulary

After reading through the entire manga, it’s time to fill in the gaps. Start from the beginning and look up every word or grammatical structure that you don’t know. This can be time consuming, but it will help you reap the biggest rewards.

Thanks to the internet it’s easy to check the meaning of words with an online dictionary, and thanks to the prevalence of furigana in the manga, it is very simple to look up kanji. Personally, I add little notes in pencil throughout my manga, and I tend to cross out the furigana for kanji.

Take Notes that You Can Use Again

I highly recommend making notes while you read the second time and look up all of those new words. Do whatever fits your own study style in terms of notes. I tend to write word meanings or grammatical explanations in small writing with a pencil – directly in the manga.

For example, if I look up a word like 勉強(べんきょう), then I will write “study” nearby. If I see the same kanji on a following page, I won’t add the translation, as a signal to myself that I should know the word. If the same kanji appears multiple times, then I will start crossing out the furigana in later occurrences to indicate to myself that not only should I know the meaning, but I should also know how to read it.

You can create different variations of this, such as remembering the page number for the first occurrence of the word, and writing that page number next to the kanji whenever you see it again. Alternatively, you can create a separate notebook where you write the vocabulary or kanji, its meaning, etc., and assign it a number which you can then write in your manga book. Some people like to color code, so again, develop a system that works best for your preferred learning style.

Re-read a Manga with Notes

Having read the whole book a second time while looking up new vocabulary, kanji or grammar, it is now time to re-read the manga. Feel free to reference your notes throughout. You should notice that it’s much easier to read than the first time. The plot should be crystal clear and easy to enjoy. It’s hard work to go through a manga book and check all the vocabulary, so re-reading the book afterwards will show the benefits of doing it this way.


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