So You Want To Learn Japanese With Manga

Learn Japanese With Manga

If you want to learn Japanese with manga then look no further – because I’ve prepared the ultimate guide for you!

Why hello there. I’ve been studying Japanese for quite a while now and while I’m nowhere near the level at which I could give you valuable advice in regards to the language itself, I’ve made my fair share of mistakes when approaching ways to study it and figured that there is no harm in sharing the lessons I’ve learnt specifically in regards to picking the right kind of studying material!

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably settled with the idea to learn Japanese by reading manga – after all, there is a plethora of advantages to the concept – it’s fun, ideally there’s not too much text and visualization is not only a nice breather but also gives context to what’s happening and thus serves as a helpful crutch to your studying experiences! If you want to read in Japanese, read manga. I’m on board with that!

However, I do think it’s good to pick the right kind of manga and I’ve seen a lot of common beginner mistakes made and people burning out on them so I’ve decided to share my helpful advice for you all!

Do Not Read Yotsuba To Learn Japanese With Manga

If you want to learn Japanese with manga, do not read Yotsuba

People will tell you to start by reading Yotsuba as it doesn’t feature kanji, primarily relies on hiragana and doesn’t have much of a story to tell. But quite frankly, all of these three statements speak against using it, not for it. It’s just plain bad advice that, if anything, will rather turn you away from the language.

In fact, let me tell you why:

1. Yotsuba doesn’t feature kanji
It’s true that Yotsuba barely uses kanji. But this is horrendous as you need kanji for Japanese. Yes, even beginners should get used to reading material featuring kanji right out of the gate. I am not saying this to be some strict sort of elitist or anything but beginners have this misconception going on that there needs to be an inbetween step completed until they get to kanji. Like how you first need training wheels until you can master the act of cycling. But it’s not like that. Just reading hiragana will not prepare you for the “reading with kanji” step. It will not make things easier for you. It’s you hindering your progress by creating an additional step where there shouldn’t be one. You also can pick up kanji pretty much on the go with manga that feature furigana – which are usually written in hiragana anyway. So the hiragana experience you’re seeking there with Yotsuba is just as present elsewhere. But the kanji experience isn’t with Yotsuba. And that is unmistakenly a bad thing, not a good one.

2. Anything that primarily substitutes kanji for hiragana is a pain to read
You think just hiragana makes it easier for you to read text? It’s the exact opposite. In a text string with hiragana that features no spaces (as Japanese usually doesn’t), you won’t be able to determine where words end and start because you have little knowledge of vocabulary in general. Hiragana only is a crutch to young Japanese natives who know the words but not the kanji – you don’t know the words, so it’s just a disadvantage to you. This is a problem specific to beginners that raises the difficulty immensely and might just make you quit instead. And then there is slang so that also messes you up big time. Slang is hard. You also always have to take a good guess at which words were referred to with hiragana since many Japanese words are homophones and are spelled exactly the same. This means that once you’ve taken a guess at which part of the hiragana string qualifies as a word, you then have to look your extracted hiragana up in the dictionary to select between various kanji-words and their meanings to see what contextually fits. As you can see, you return back to looking up kanji anyway since really, this is what you should be doing in the first place. All roads lead to kanji. So you best take the direct one instead of silly detours.

Learn Japanese With Manga Only Hiragana

Really, there is no merit to avoiding kanji. You are only making things harder for yourself. Not only do you suffer in the long term but it’s also a terribly frustrating entry point to boot so you suffer just as much in the short term. Learning a language is not easy but being a hindrance to yourself is the most counterproductive thing you can do. Ultimately, you don’t learn a language by not learning it and I can’t think of any worse advice than avoiding kanji at all cost other than “You can just stick to romaji”.

Long story short, a lack of kanji does not equate to training wheels. Furigana do.

So, what’s furigana then? This road to learn Japanese with manga sure is complicated!

Furigana are present in manga typically aimed at younger audiences (think shounen, shoujo magazines) and work as a kind of reading assistance for kanji, usually written in hiragana by their side. For instance, if a sentence were to include 車, the furigana alongside it would most likely be くるま. This is very practical since if you don’t know a kanji, you want to look up its meaning but without knowing the kanji in the first place, you also wouldn’t know its reading and therefore have no way of looking it up. With furigana however, you can simply read them alongside and, in this case, type “kuruma” into your online dictionary and be done with that. Bonus points go to extended hiragana exposure through furigana so that’s also some additional learning experience! Sure is handy, eh?

Learn Japanese With Manga Furigana

Don’t make broad genre assumptions about the manga you want to read in Japanese

Likewise, there is no rule that says that you should read slice of life for easier vocab. While there probably is a huge overlay with more day-to-day vocab than fantasy literature would offer, the bizarreness of many moe manga can lead to some gut-wretching input. Say one character is the Wikipedia-knowledgable glasses girl and she spams exposition on insects and fire hydrants all over the place. That’s all it takes to make your reading experience turn sour. Or characters talking in slang, dialect, chuuni references, you know. There’s probably a higher likelihood with those when it comes to those moe club comics. As always, try to gouge the Japanese used beforehand or ask others for their reading experience.

Read Japanese manga you find interesting but don’t make that your sole criterion to go by

People will oftentimes tell you to read whatever interests you and don’t think too deeply about anything else. This is really bad advice on its own. While I do agree that your reading material should be fun enough to make you strive to read more, I don’t think going for super-hard stuff from the get-go will yield you any successes. In fact, the opposite is more likely to happen, not only due to difficulty but also missing out on great stories as a result of being unable to comprehend too much. You shouldn’t waste good fiction

Now, I’m not telling people to grind their sorry selves through the dullness of Hanahira just because it’s easier than other stories but quite frankly, when your language teachers at school start out with simple reading material to get you slowly accustomed to the language step-by-step and not with something akin to Shakespeare, they do so for a reason. When it comes to self-study, you should do the same. Granted, it’s annoying to limit yourself to that but contrary to popular belief, not all exposure to a new language is good exposure.

Learn Japanese With Manga The Easy Way

Read various manga in Japanese. Don’t read long manga.

This should go without saying but if you really want to learn Japanese by reading, it makes sense that you read a lot. And by “a lot” I don’t just mean sheer quantity but also variety and diversity of your reading material. Which easily rules out longer-running stories such as Naruto or Slam Dunk or Doraemon. Finishing your first manga in Japanese is by all means an accomplishment and it should feel like one! There is nothing more motivating than clearing the first milestone of finishing your first manga so make sure you get to that point rather sooner than later! Realizing you still have 98 volumes left and throwing in the towel out of desperation at the overwhelmingly crushing amount of reading material left serves no purpose. So no, you DO NOT want to read Naruto. You’ll probably lose motivation 1.5 volumes in and that’s that. Trust me, five volumes or less will do just fine for your first manga to read in Japanese.

Do Not Read Naruto To Learn Japanese With Manga

But I’m not just here to tell you about what pitfalls to avoid but also what you can make good use of! So let me share some helpful destinations to head to with you:

You want to buy Japanese manga? Here’s some recommendations for you!

Amazon.JP – Amazon has a flat fee on items meaning that importing individual volumes will turn into a rather costly experience but if you can get a manga series as a bulk (usually used goods), all volumes will count as one and you’re bound to save a lot of money. (This is outdated and no longer works) Be aware they don’t use PayPal though and there are region restrictions depending on the seller. Amazon.JP features both English and Japanese language options.

Mandarake – Mandarake is your go-to website for getting used goods as easily as possible without resorting to ripoff ebay practices so it’s a nice place to consider if you want to buy Japanese manga. Keep in mind that while these items are used, the Japanese take very good care of their stuff so whatever is labeled as C-grade used goods over there is probably as good as fresh out of the oven whereas over here in the West, someone probably took a dump on it. Something that also warrants mentioning is that Mandarake is divided by several regional outlets and you can’t combine your individual orders from them. To save money, it’s best to order from a single one. I recommend SAHRA – it’s got a wide range of manga and features estimations on your shipping fees and that’s a nice thing. Just like Amazon, Mandarake also features English and Japanese language options.

Bookwalker – This is by far the easiest version if you want to buy Japanese manga. Bookwalker is strictly e-books, meaning no waiting times or other major hassles such as import fees apply. You buy your manga and boom – it’s there. You also get to read a free sample per volume, helping you make out whether a manga has furigana or not. Also, much like the aforementioned, Bookwalker features English and Japanese language options, contrary to those two however, these options direct you to either the Japanese or international storefront so if you want to buy and read manga in Japanese, you will have to make do with the Japanese storefront.

It also should be stated that the above-mentioned stores probably don’t work too well with using English manga titles for the search bar so it’s better to use Japanese ones. To get those, pay a visit to MyAnimeList and look up your manga of choice. Then, on the specific manga entry page, navigate to the left sidebar and just below “Alternative Titles” you should find a Japanese one as well.

And if you’re still struggling to find anything for a first read that’s

[x] short
[x] easy to read
[x] has furigana and
[x] doesn’t make you feel like gruel while reading it,

I recommend Fukanzen na Hito no Tame ni. Even better, it’s legally available for free so you can start reading right now!

With all that said, this about wraps things up from my side as this article is already long enough on its own and you don’t want to read my stuff but Japanese after all!

Last but not least, however, make sure you keep one thing in mind:

Anyway, if you have any questions, let me know in the comments unless it’s translation help or anything of the sorts. Zaku over and out!

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