When I first started learning Japanese, I read that learning how to speak Japanese and learning how to read Japanese was actually like learning two languages. But when it comes to learning how to read Japanese, what is the best approach?
If you want to have a lot of fun while doing it, then you’ll want to know how to learn Japanese with manga. And I’ll show you some strategies on how to do it, and also why it’s actually a really great method for learning.
I’ll also give you some additional resources that you can use to read Japanese manga for free, and also a few walkthroughs on it.
First Off, Why Learn with Manga? 3 Reasons
One of the things that I learned about when I started studying Accelerate Learning Techniques, was what is known as “multi-sensory learning.” Basically what that means, is that we all have a separate memory for the things that we see, the things that we hear, and the things that we feel/do.
In particular, our visual memories are incredibly powerful and can dramatically increase the rate at which you take in new information and make strong connections in your brain that help you to remember and recall new information.
Since a manga’s story is primarily told through pictures, with dialog to assist it, the scenes make an incredibly strong impression on your memory. In fact, you could probably figure out a large amount of the plot by just looking at the pictures and not reading the words at all!
Think about when you were a kid and you first started to read. For most of us, it was with big picture books that had a little bit of basic dialog, and a lot of interesting pictures.
We learn visually like this when we are kids, and we never really get a way from it as we grow up. That’s why social media sites like Instagram (pictures) and YouTube (video) are so hugely popular. People love to take in new information with their eyes.
Reason #1 is the use of pictures.
So how do we use our natural learning methods to our advantage? Let’s take a look to see how manga can help.
The normal way that most people learn Japanese is to focus on some individual words and make a sentence with them, OR to take a sentence and then deconstruct it to understand it.
Chotto machinasai yo!
Wait a moment!
ちょっと = A little
待ち = Wait
なさい = Command form
よ = Emphasis particle
And this is totally fine as there’s nothing wrong with learning this way.
But it’s much more powerful to combine these words with a scene like this one:
It would make even more sense if you had been reading the whole chapter, but the breakdown of the scene is that Harima (the guy) is running away from Eri due to an extremely awkward moment that he wants to avoid, while Eri wants to stop him and talk about it.
So when you see the scene in the manga, and understand the feeling and emotions behind it, then it becomes really easy to understand what Eri is yelling to try to get Harima to stop.
You also get to see a situation where the word would actually be used in real life (or manga/anime) rather than just learning some theoretical knowledge of the language.
That brings us to the second reason to use manga to learn Japanese…
Reason #2 is the use of dialog.
When you learn Japanese from text books, they tend to give you a lot of sentences that illustrate the grammar rules that they just taught you. Unfortunately, you probably won’t use those sentences a lot in real life. I mean, how many times have you been hanging out with your buddies and turned to them to say “the apple is red”?
But when you read manga, it is primarily composed of dialog. It other words, you are learning how people actually talk to one another.
Now I understand that manga tends to be more on the informal side of the Japanese language, so you probably won’t repeat a lot of what you hear to the new people you meet in Japan, but a lot of people don’t just want to be able to talk to native Japanese people. A lot of people actually want to be able to read manga in Japanese, and watch anime in Japanese.
If you are one of those people who would like to be able to do that, then you will absolutely benefit from learning Japanese through the use of manga since this is actually how a lot of the dialog is written.
So, manga teaches you how Japanese people actually talk to one another, even if it’s mostly only in manga/anime.
Reason #3 is the use of fun!
I don’t know about you, but for me most Japanese textbooks tend to be a little on the dry side. In other words, you are there to study and any fun that you have while doing so is just a bonus.
But that method of learning is missing out on a huge part of how humans naturally learn new things. When you enjoy what you are doing, it not only is a lot easier to continue doing it, but you actually want to come back for more, which helps with the self-discipline needed to learn a language day after day.
So, the trick is to pick a type of manga that you will enjoy and find interesting so that you will want to continue reading it, not only to learn more Japanese, but also to progress through the story.
How to Learn with Manga
Now that you know the benefits of learning Japanese through reading manga, let’s take a look at some of the strategies you can use to do so. There are three things that you will want to have:
#1 a Japanese manga
First of all, you will need to get a hold of actual Japanese manga, and preferably an easy one with furigana that shows the pronunciation of the kanji. There are several ways that you can do so, some are free and some you’ll have to pay.
If you want a hard copy of the manga, then you can always buy one off of Amazon.com. Just be sure that you get the Japanese version of it. They usually take a few weeks to arrive as a lot of them have to be shipped over from Japan, but they are usually pretty inexpensive and worth the wait.
Or if you’re in a bigger city, one of your local anime/bookstores might have what you’re looking for.
The other option is to read it digitally online. I recommend that you check out Mangaz.com if you want to take that route. The good news is that you can get starting right away and for free. There is also an app for the phone if you like to read on your mobile device.
Now that you’ve got some manga to read, it’s time to pick up:
#2 a dictionary
Or any tool that you can use to look up new words and phrases that you are unfamiliar with. One of the tricky things with manga is that each genre has its own unique words that you will run into.
So if you’re reading a mecha manga, then you’ll read a lot of words about robots. If you’re reading a ninja manga, then you’ll read a lot of jitsu. And if you’re reading a pirate manga, then you hear a lot about ships, captains, and treasure.
So be sure that you have something that you can use to look up new words in general, and also words that are specific to the type of manga that you’ve chosen.
Another option that you have would be to pick up both the Japanese version and the English version of it so that you can see how the professionals have decided to interpret it. This is a better way to understand sentences as a whole for the particular context that they are used in, but perhaps not as good for learning new individual words.
Still, it’s a viable option and can be a great way to help.
#3 a notebook
When you run into a new word that you’re unfamiliar with, you will want to be able to write it down, its kanji and meaning, and any other notes that you’ll need in order to understand it. That way when you encounter it again later on, if you don’t instantly remember what it means, you can just take a quick look at your cheat sheet instead of having to look it up all over again.
This might take a little extra time at first if you run into a lot of new words, but it will be a huge time saver later on when you are re-reading it, or when you run into the same words again in later chapters.
This is especially true for all the onomatopoeia (words the represent a sound/thing) that appear in manga. There are so many ones that it’s actually a little mind-blowing. And on top of that, a lot of mangaka (manga creators) will even create new ones for their own manga!
But there are a handful that are extremely common that you might want to write down in your note book. Here’s a few that I always see:
ドキドキ (doki doki) = The sound of a heat beating quickly from nervousness or excitement.
かぁぁぁ (kaaaa) = *Blush*. The extra ぁぁ are just added to make it longer.
じ (ji) = *Stare* . When staring intensely it will be elongated like じー (ji—)
二 (ni) = *Grin*
After you’ve got all those, it’s just a matter of putting in the time and reading the manga. I will say one thing about it though.
If you’re just starting out, then that first chapter will be tough!
You’ll be looking up lots of new words, and spending a lot of time translating/learning instead of just reading and enjoying. But don’t be discouraged, everything is hard before it is easy.
If you are persistent enough to read through the first chapter, while taking the notes that you need to, then the next one will be easier.
You will probably want to re-read it again sometime in the future, maybe the next day or the next week. Each time you do it will be easier than the last until you reach a point where you can read it without any problem.
It sounds cliche, but the best way to learn how to read Japanese, is simply to read Japanese.
YouTube Can Help
Of course there are some videos on YouTube that basically do this exact thing to help people learn Japanese with Manga. Here is a short, but cool one that shows a little from the Manga Yotsuba:
Now You’re Ready
So there you go! You now know why you should use manga to learn Japanese, and also how you can do it too.
What’s interesting is that in the past, most people wanted to learn Japanese to either live in Japan or to do business with them.
But with the huge rise in popularity of anime and manga in America in the last ten years or so, there is actually a pretty sizable group of people who’s main reason for learning Japanese is so that they can read the original Japanese manga, or watch the original Japanese anime.
So why spend lots of time with textbooks or courses, when you can just go straight to the source?
Either way, if you do decided to use manga to learn Japanese, you now have the tactics to do so.
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If you have some thoughts on learning Japanese with manga, then share it with me down below!