Aside from learning one’s mother tongue, language learning is never an easy undertaking, especially with no formal guidance at the outset.
That was a general statement pertaining to learning any language; now let’s talk specifically about learning Japanese.
While not necessarily difficult to speak, its written form is another matter altogether. This language does not primarily use the Roman alphabet; instead, it is a blending of it and three additional writing systems.
Chinese characters used in this language are identified as Kanji. The syllabic Hiragana are purely Japanese and Katakana is the Japanese way of transcribing foreign words. Those instances where the Roman alphabet is used are referred to as Romaji.
Are you confused yet? Overwhelmed? Have we effectively frightened you away from learning the language? Now let us put you at your ease.
There are ways to learn Japanese that are not difficult at all. In fact, they are rather engaging and entertaining!
Manga, the wildly popular Japanese cultural export, offers a way for you to learn the Japanese writing system and pick up on grammar constructions – all while giving you a taste of that exotic culture and providing hours of entertainment.
Are you interested?
We take this opportunity to present tips, tricks and techniques you can use in your quest to learn Japanese through manga.
Rounding out Your Japanese Lessons with Manga
Some say it can be done but, for the most part, learning Japanese without any tutelage is not easy.
Because the Japanese writing system is so radically different from ours, the best place to start studying that language is by mastering the various alphabets.
You may try several different ways or a combination of:
- taking lessons in school (if they are on offer and if you are a school student)
- signing up for lessons outside of your regular curriculum
- Engaging a tutor for private lessons in Japanese
- downloading language learning apps
- registering for access to a language learning website
- hitting the library to check out books and make flashcards of all of the characters
Once you have a fairly good grasp on the characters – especially those that change meaning with context, you may consider it time to pick up your first Japanese language book.
Obviously, we’re not talking about Nihon Shoki or Kojiki, two of that country’s oldest examples of literary magnificence; those may be a touch too complicated for your fledgeling skills.
However, there is a Japanese art form that is nearly as old as those titles but far more accessible to someone such as yourself, who are just starting to read in Japanese.
Manga is a fun and simple way to further your studies in Japanese.
You might, for instance, use dialogue found in manga as a way to recognise the ideograms you’ve learned. Perhaps, if you’ve been particularly diligent in your studies, you may translate some of them.
Naturally, all of that is predicated on whether you have access to manga written in Japanese.
Don’t plan your raid on Tokyo bookstores just yet!
As virtually everything is available online, naturally you could find manga editions in their original language or, if you are a fan of the digital, you may read manga online.
It would help if you had a hardcopy of the manga you're reading so that you can make notes and highlight characters you don’t know; perhaps you could print digital editions out?
Now that you have a way of getting your hands on authentic Japanese manga (and have done so!), skim through your new treasures.
What you’re looking for are words that you recognise and context that will help you understand them better.
At the outset, you will probably need to do a bit of translation; going back and forth between manga and dictionary.
Whether or not you’re taking language courses, using manga as a study tool will immerse you into dialogue – something that generally doesn’t happen to that degree in beginners' language classes.
And you will certainly not learn colloquial words and phrases in class but manga will provide you with them, along with proper grammatical constructions and word usage.
That kind of makes manga worth reading all on its own, doesn’t it?
Online Resources: Manga and Books to Learn Japanese
If you are already a manga and anime fan, you might be familiar with One Piece, the fabled treasure that Monkey D. Luffy is in constant search for.
You don’t need to look that hard; your treasure trove is the Internet.
Like the best of gifts, many of the Internet’s treasures are yours at no cost. When talking about free manga, your best bet would be Manga Z, the site where many a manga artist permit the free download of their work.
Another great site that permits free manga reading in its original language is Raw Senmanga. For those of you who believe you must pay for what you acquire, you may purchase manga from Honto.
Other than those freely available and paid-for manga, you may also find learning support sites that incorporate manga into their teaching tools.
Note: you could also study Spanish, French and Korean with the tools that site provides.
Another fun and simple way to let manga help you learn Japanese is to arm yourself with books dedicated to teaching Japanese through manga. Among those titles are:
- Nihonjin no Shiranai Nihongo by Umino Nagiko
- Japanese in Mangaland by Marc Barnabe
- The Kana and Kanji of Manga by Glenn Kardy
- The Japanese of Manga by Shima Kadokura
Besides these, you may consider stocking up on Japanese workbooks, the kind that are given to young children in Japan – in other words, not too complicated. Because they are printed primarily for Japanese preschool children, subjects such as maths, geography and language history are covered.
You may even find a book dedicated to the history of manga!
They are produced by big names in manga publishing such as Shueisha, the same house that puts out Shonen Jump.
Easy Manga Series for Beginners
Popular manga makes it possible to sample Japanese culture while learning the language.
Let’s say you’ve long been a fan of anime series; perhaps that is what drove you to study Japanese.
When casting about for manga to learn from, you might be tempted to hunt for Dragon Ball or Naruto, stories you are already familiar with. That would be a mistake.
If you are an absolute beginner at learning Japanese, the profound concepts and elevated dialogue in those stories may be way above your current level.
Thus, it would be best to start out with Kodomo, the manga meant for the youngest readers.
Don’t think about it as your ego taking a hit; think about the fact that the youngest Japanese readers have language skills that far exceed yours so, if you are able to make headway with these simply-written books, you may consider yourself as progressing!
There is absolutely no shame in reading:
Doraemon: simple dialogue and uncomplicated situations make this title an ideal choice. Besides, you will definitely get your full dose of kawaii – Japanese-style ‘cute’!
Pokemon: if you grew up during the 1990s, you know there was no escaping Pikachu and the rest of the Pokemon gang. Again, ‘cute’ plays a large part in this series but it is a great selection to become familiar with oft-used Japanese ideograms.
Other titles you might know from your own childhood, such as Astro Boy and Captain Tsubasa offer you rather long tales to follow while learning Kanji.
Don’t stop there!
Consider also Shojo manga titles like Fruits Basket and anything from Studio Ghibli, such as My Neighbour Totoro.
Anime and Manga: Complementary Learning Companions
We learn less from success than from failure – Japanese proverb
Being able to interpret the printed word in any language including Japanese is a major aspect of learning a language.
Being able to correlate what you hear with what you read is an advanced skill that every language learner must cultivate. After all, reading a social convention phrase is different than hearing it spoken.
If your love of Japanese animation is what stoked your desire to learn, we’re not going to tell you to stop watching and concentrate on your studies.
In fact, watching anime or anything dealing with Japanese pop culture is a fun and practical way to train your ear to tones and sounds unique to the Japanese language.
Pop culture shows can teach you the most up-to-date expressions, too!
But, here again, we have to take into consideration what you might be ready for. That probably won’t be the convoluted storylines of Death Note... at least, not at first.
Again, we throw kids’ anime into the mix.
Unlike most American comics and cartooning, Japanese cartoons are not meant exclusively for children so you have to be selective in your choices.
Of course, you won’t stay at the beginner level for long if you work hard. Soon enough, you’ll be ready for a more advanced manga magazine and more elaborate anime shows.
When that time comes, you might consider titles such as One Punch Man, Berserk or Yu Gi Oh!.
As time goes on and you mature – and your language skills grow ever sharper, you’ll have an entirely different category of manga to explore. Seinen manga, meant for young adults, might suit your tastes better.
Some titles to consider: Tokyo Ghoul, Fullmetal Alchemist... or romance manga such as My Hero Academia, if you’re looking for something in the Josei category.
You don’t have to be male to enjoy fighting anime or female to idolise Mononoke but you do have to be determined to learn Japanese on your own.
And, you have a lucky star on your side! Other languages do not offer such engaging, fun and culturally relevant learning materials as Japanese does; manga volumes literally designed to help you learn.
Could you have a more enticing reason to learn the language?
Well, besides having a fab Superprof tutor who will help you decide which anime to watch and give you assignments based on it...