Reading manga can be a useful and enjoyable element of studying the Japanese language at the intermediate and advanced levels, especially in conjunction with other studies such as grammar and listening comprehension. This article attempts to consolidate useful information for students interested in reading Japanese manga.
The language found in manga can differ greatly from what one would encounter in real life Japan, particularly in its excessive crudeness. Characters in a manga may exchange words and expressions frequently that seem innocuous and elicit innocuous responses, but are fighting words to a Japanese person.
The following are some words that are best avoided entirely until you are proficient and well in-tune to the subtle situations where they may be appropriate.
- 俺【おれ】 See also Ore sama and other things you should never say
The discussion forums contain detailed discussions on some of these words.
In general when writing and speaking the Japanese language, try to favor the forms you learned in your grammar books over what you read in a manga.
Prerequisite language ability
Fresh beginning students will find great difficulty in reading manga. A foundational knowledge of Japanese grammar is necessary, and constructively watching anime has benefits as discussed below.
In terms of the Nakama series of textbooks, you should be familiar with Nakama 1 and a sizeable portion of Nakama 2. This is roughly equivalent to three semesters of Japanese in college.
You can of course take a crack at manga at any time in your studies and quickly find how well you do. If the strategies for reading manga are not moving you through the pages smoothly enough then simply study more.
- Main article: Watching anime
Watching anime can familiarize you in advance to frequent colloquialisms that'll come up similarly in manga, and get you acquainted with proper pronunciation for some of the common words and expressions. If you're watching the anime adaptation of the manga you intend to read, it'll also help you hear voices for the characters as you read.
See the main article for specific advice on getting the most out of watching anime.
The overarching strategy when reading manga should be one of due diligence. That is, use reasonable means and resources at your disposal to understand everything, but don't get hung up if those resources are still insufficient. Move on with the understanding that at some point in the future your knowledge will be great enough to make sense of it or something like it. (And when that happens, remember to come back to this article and record your insight).
The following is a list of useful resources. Use some or all as you see fit.
- Grammar books
- English translated manga -- Good as a boost during tough passages and for "checking your answers". It's not necessary to check every passage since even faithful translations won't match up exactly anyway.
- ALC -- Worthy of special mention because of its usefulness in translating idioms, pairings of words, and established phrases.
- Discussion Forums -- A practically fail-safe method of translation is in the forums. Just be sure to read and observe the established etiquette for translation requests.
Retaining what you read
As you read through your manga, there'll be a large amount of language knowledge that you'll cover. How much should you commit to memory? Should you retro read? For most intermediate students memorizing everything you translate is impractical and reading retroactively to excess will never get you to the next volume. Instead take the approach that not everything will stick, but that that which occurs more frequently will have the greatest chance. The best chance of retaining frequent words is to observe the following rule.
- Read everyday.
Consider the fact that with all the words you're looking up, many of them will float around in your head for a couple days and then vanish. If you read everyday you give yourself a chance to come across one of those words a second time before it fades. That second time will pound it in your mind even further. Often the word won't come up again until much later, in which case you'll have to look it up again. When you sense you've looked up a word before, put more effort into memorizing it. When you get downright sick of looking up a word so many times, commit it to memory once and for all.
- Main article: Japanese slurs
Since manga contains spoken Japanese dialogue, you will encounter it in your readings. Dictionaries don't generally carry entries for slurred spellings, so you'll want to use the main article on Japanese slurs as a reference.
- Main article: Osaka-Ben
It is common for manga characters to have a Kansai dialect, often to convey a certain stereotype of personality. Both the WagaWiki main article and related | Wikipedia article have excellent information on this topic.
Choosing a manga
The following is known data on existing manga to help you decide on a series.
Series Author Age level Furigana English version Anime Ranma 1/2 Rumiko Takahashi 小学館 Yes Hi-fi Yes