Manga Immersion: How to Master Japanese Through Japanese Comics
Japanese comic books—called manga (漫画, lit., “cartoon pictures”)—are respected around the world for their diverse genres, compelling stories, and vibrant artwork.
But they are far more than just a source of entertainment: if used correctly, manga can be a powerful Japanese language learning tool!
In this blog post, I share why Japanese comics are such effective resources, how to use them to master Japanese, and some recommended titles to kick off your manga adventure.
Why manga are effective Japanese learning tools
1. Manga immerse you in authentic, colloquial Japanese
Unlike stilted, sterilized textbooks, Japanese comic books immerse you in authentic Japanese. Most manga center on dialog between characters, which helps you learn the informal language used in everyday conversations and real-life situations.
2. Manga aid comprehension with vivid visual contexts
The visual nature of the manga medium provides valuable context clues that help you better understand and acquire the kanji, words, phrases, and structures written in the text. The graphics even help improve your memory!
3. Manga include a diverse range of genres and vocabulary
Japanese comics span a wide range of genres, from action to romance to fantasy. This diversity allows learners to explore different contexts, settings, and topics, while expanding their vocabulary in a way that aligns with their interests.
4. Manga often include kanji reading guides
Many manga—especially those written for younger audiences—include little hiragana reading guides called furigana (振り仮名). These are a godsend for language learners and make it easier to look up new words.
5. Manga provide valuable cultural insights
Beyond just teaching you the Japanese language, manga also train you in the nuances of Japanese culture. As you master new words, structures, and characters, you also familiarize yourself with key traditions and societal norms.
6. Manga teach you Japanese onomatopoeia
Japanese uses a TON of "sound symbolic" words (well over a thousand by some estimates). Comics are a great way to familiarize yourself with many of the most common onomatopoeia, especially those used to denote actions or sound effects.
How to learn Japanese using manga
1. Choose manga that fit your interests and language level
To get the most out of manga as a learning tool, it's critical to choose genres you enjoy (fun is the ultimate motivator!) and titles that just a bit beyond your current level (hard enough to make you grow but easy enough that you don't quit).
2. Commit to a minimum daily dose
Learning a language is ultimately a matter of habits. To get fluent, you simply have to put in enough time each day for enough days in a row. And the best way to build the habit is committing to a minimum daily dose (e.g. 10 pages in a manga).
3. Read aloud to practice pronunciation
Reading manga aloud is a simple, low-pressure way to improve your pronunciation and fluency. To get even more benefit, record yourself and have a Japanese tutor from italki make any necessary corrections.
4. Look up some new words (but not ALL!)
As I mentioned earlier, manga are a great way to acquire new vocabulary, kanji, and grammar patterns. And I definitely encourage you to look some things up. But make sure you spend more time in the manga than the dictionary!
5. Create spaced repetition flashcards
Each day, create a few new flashcards in a spaced repetition app like Anki to master some of the words, phrases, and expressions you encountered while reading. Ideally, include a complete sentence for context from the comic.
Where to get manga
Box of Manga
Box of Manga is a great way to get a consistent supply of high-quality, level-appropriate, low-cost manga delivered right to your door. Choose from Beginner (N5-N4), Intermediate (N4-N3), and Advanced (N2-N1) manga boxes.
Amazon Japan has a wide selection of Japanese manga and graphic novels, which you can filter based on genre, publisher, series, format, average customer rating, release date, and more.
For those wanting to buy digital copies of popular manga online, Honto is another great option. Here's how:
- Create a free user account.
- Visit the comics section (漫画・コミック).
- Pick a genre (ジャンル) from the dropdown menu or search for a title.
- Click “電子書籍をカートに入れる” (“Add ebook to cart”).
- Click “カートを見る” (“Show cart”).
- Add your credit card details or select a card under “お支払い方法” (“Payment method”).
- Enter your password if asked and click “ご注文を確認” (“Confirm purchase”).
- Choose how you wish to read. To read in your browser, select “ブラウザで読む.” To download the Honto app, select “hontoビューアアプリ.”
- To navigate to the next page in your browser or the desktop app, click the left arrow key.
- To access your purchased titles, click Myメニュー in the upper right and then My本棚 in the column on the left.
Here is a short selection of popular manga to try out, arranged in alphabetical order.
Crayon Shinchan (クレヨンしんちゃん) centers around the life of a 5-year-old, albeit a rather precocious one who acts and talks like an oyaji (親父, “old man”). The humor can be crude, but I like that the comic includes lots of day-to-day scenarios and high-frequency language.
Doraemon (ドラえもん) is a popular Japanese comic about a robotic cat sent back in time from the 22nd century to help a young boy who is mercilessly bullied at school. The manga was first serialized way back in 1969, so there are lots of volumes to keep you busy!
ONE PIECE (ワンピース) centers on Monkey D. Luffy (モンキー・ディ・ルフィ), a teenage pirate who gained the bizarre ability to stretch his limbs to extreme lengths after consuming a supernatural fruit. Together with his motley crew of Straw Hats Pirates, they navigate the globe in search of the ultimate treasure (the “One Piece”).
Slam Dunk (スラムダンク) is a popular sports manga written and illustrated by Inoue Takehiko (井上雄彦). The main protagonist, Sakuragi Hanamichi (桜木花道), starts of as a delinquent prone to fighting.But his conduct on and off the court evolve throughout the series.
Yotsuba&! (Yotsuba to, よつばと!) highlights the adventures of a young girl named Yotsuba as she learns about the world, with help from her stepfather, neighbors, and friends. Since it's intended for younger readers, the language tends to be fairly simple and there is ample use of kana and furigana.
Comics are an exciting and effective way to immerse yourself in the Japanese language. The captivating narratives, visual storytelling, colloquial language, diverse genres, and cultural insights let you expand your linguistic skills without having to force yourself to consciously "study" the language. So ditch the boring textbooks and instead embrace the world of Japanese manga as a valuable companion on your journey to fluency. Happy reading!