I wanted to write this “Japanese The Manga Way review” because I recently got a hold of the book and have gone through it to see how it teaches Japanese, how it uses manga panels to illustrate concepts, and what else is included.
This is a book that I’ve always heard good things about from both the community and other people who have reviewed it, but I felt that I should check it out personally so that I can give my own thoughts on it.
Since learning Japanese to access native manga was basically the reason I started studying the language, I’ve got a weak spot for any method that utilizes this medium to help people out.
Grammar Through Manga
This book is pretty similar to other beginner Japanese books. The very first thing that it does is talk about the language and some of the unique things it possesses.
It then talks about the writing system, and even though you don’t have to learn it to use the book since it also provides romaji for every word, it highly encourages that you take the time to learn hiragana and katakana. The book spends a decent amount of time going over both sets of kana and how to pronounce each one.
Then it starts off on chapter one with what it calls “The Three Basic Sentences Types” which are of course verbs, adjectives, and then nouns plus a verb (such as to be, etc.).
The structure of this book is to teach you Japanese through a grammar approach. This is how it’s similar to other books. The thing that makes it totally different is that it shows real life manga panels that highlight each new piece of grammar.
The author talks about some of the benefits of using this approach, but one of the primary ones is to make learning Japanese fun and keep the reader interested in learning.
I’ll talk more about the advantages of learning through manga later, but for now I’ll get back to how the book teaches.
So, what do I mean by a grammar approach? The basic pattern is that the book talks about some aspect of Japanese grammar such as particles, the te-form, or the past-tense and explains how to construct them from information that was taught in previous chapters.
Once the basic explanation is done, it then uses both manga and sentences examples that show the new grammar being used in context.
It then provides extra information to help you fully grasp it, such as unique situations where special rules apply, or just general best practices when speaking to people in Japanese.
Something that I really liked and thought was unique was how the book categorizes things into different politeness levels:
- PL1 = rude/condescending
- PL2 = plain/abrupt/familiar
- PL3 = ordinary polite
- PL4 = very polite
Not only are these levels easy to grasp when you’re learning Japanese, but it’s a nice quick way to distinguish the politeness of a new word or form that lets you know the right situation to use it in.
Contents Of The Book
The book teaches quite a bit of information (see picture above). In the introduction it classifies people into a couple of different categories based off who might find the book useful.
The first one is people who are brand new to Japanese and want to use this book as their primary source of learning.
To that end it recommends you go though each chapter in succession (the lessons build upon one another) at least once to get familiar with all of the concepts, and then go back through it to study it more intensely and catch the things you may have missed the first time through.
Something that I highly respect the author for that he clearly lets the reader know that this book has limitations and that you will need to use other resources to learn the aspects of Japanese (such as listening skills) that this book simply can teach.
To that end, he’s actually compiled a list of recommended resources at the end of the book so that you know how to continue learning once you’ve completed this book.
At any rate, the second person who might find the book useful is the one who is taking Japanese classes, but wants to read ahead of the class.
By using this book, you can gain additional insights and knowledge without having to skip ahead in your classroom textbook.
The last person the author says will enjoy the book is someone who is already at the intermediate level, but wants to really focus in on learning through manga.
I think this is a pretty accurate assessment since there are a lot of things that appear in manga that most beginner textbooks leave out. I’ll talk about that next.
A Unique Approach
I’ve given you the basic outline that the book uses, but there is something special about it using manga panels for the example sentences.
The first one is that it uses real Japanese. This is something that traditional textbooks suffer from because they try to show how a piece of grammar works in an easy to understand way.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but how many times have you really use the phrase “the apple is red” in real life? Probably not a whole lot, and possible even never.
But by using manga panels that appeared in actual Japanese comics, you are by definition learning real Japanese that natives used themselves.
Now obviously, a lot of manga is “fantastic” in that it doesn’t depict real life. You know, the ones that fall into the fantasy or science fiction genres.
But this book recommends using manga that does reflect real life, like people who attend school or work and have normal everyday problems.
To that end, you can rest assured that what you’re learning will be useful in the real world.
Something else that is unique about learning from manga is the focus on dialog. Since almost all of the words in a manga appear in a speech bubble, you really focus your attention on spoken Japanese.
In my experience, this is a lot easier to learn than the Japanese you find in novels, so it’s much more beginner friendly.
Plus there’s the fact that you can use a lot of the phrases when speaking to natives, so if being able to speak natural Japanese is one of your language goals, then learning this way will help you achieve it.
Lots Of Illustrations
You know what’s interesting? There is actually another textbook series that aims to teach people Japanese with the help of manga illustrations.
However, one of the biggest problems that I had with the other book was that I felt it didn’t have enough manga in it.
Well, that is not a problem with Japanese The Manga Way. There are tons of manga panels in every chapter!
In fact, there are so many that the author admits he had to leave out all exercises since there just wasn’t enough room in the book.
I actually love this fact because I find reading more manga examples to be a much more enjoyable, and beneficial, than doing exercises where you conjugate verbs or fill in the blanks.
Getting back to the manga, each one is presented naturally with some context information on what happened right before the example so that you know what’s going on.
Then there is the original Japanese broken apart by word, the romaji pronunciation, a literal translation so that you can see what each word means, and then a natural translation so that you can get a feel for what they are communicating in Japanese.
I like the attention to detail that the author gives each piece since it allows the reader to really soak in all of the information in both a top-down approach (getting the big picture), and also the traditional bottom-up (individual pieces) that most textbooks utilize.
Where To Find It
Even though I’m way past the beginner stage of learning Japanese, I’m actually really glad that I picked up this book. I had always heard really good things about it, and now I can confirm them for myself.
This has got to be the most fun book I’ve found on learning Japanese, and if you want to be able to read native manga, then it’s a must have for your bookshelf.
If you’ve used this book before and would like to share your own thoughts, then please be sure to do so in the section below.
Or if you have any questions that I can answer about the book, then let me know and I’ll get back to you on it. Thanks!
Further Resources for Learning Japanese: