How to read a manga in Japanese

Author Sandro Maglione for article 'How to read a manga in Japanese'

Sandro Maglione

9 min reading time

You don't really know a story until you experience it as it was written: in the original language.

Many people approach Japanese out of the desire to read their favorite manga.

Learning Japanese is no easy feat. However, when you are clear about your goal, it becomes easier to organize your study.

If you also want to learn how to read manga in their original language, Japanese, this is the article for you. We are going to define a path that will lead you to read and understand your favorite manga in the shortest possible time.

Reading manga in Japanese - Where to start

Your goal is clear: to read a manga in Japanese. Starting this journey means learning a new and interesting language. It will not be easy. Despite this, the goal is specific, which makes studying much easier and faster.

Some premises before discussing in detail what you need to do to read a manga in Japanese.

First of all, not every manga is the same. The time it takes to learn the language enough to be able to read a manga varies based on the manga you are interested in.

Each manga uses its own specific language, with unique words and kanji to learn.

The second point to consider is that Japanese is not an easy language. This means that it will take time before you reach the goal of reading a manga.

Finally, remember that destination is not everything. Although the road is long, studying the Japanese language is fun and challenging. This is especially the case when the goal is clear and achievable.

Okay, let's see where to start!

Choose the manga you are interested in

The first step is to choose the point of arrival: which manga are you most interested in reading in Japanese?

This choice is essential to define your path. Each manga uses specific words and different kanji. Defining the reference manga will help us to optimize the study of the language to get to the goal more quickly.

You should also know that the type of language varies a lot in Japanese depending on the context. Conditions such as mood, social rank, relationship between the characters radically change the type of language used.

So let's start here:

Which manga are you most interested in being able to read in Japanese?

Basics of Japanese - The starting point is the same for everyone

Regardless of any other factor, to be able to read a manga in the original language you have to go through the basics of Japanese.

Compared to Western languages, Japanese has a completely different structure and alphabet. For this reason, the first study period will be dedicated to learning a new alphabet (sillabary) and new basic grammar structures.

For this purpose we have prepared some targeted resources that will allow you to overcome this first obstacle with ease:

Before you can read a manga in its original language, you need to study the basics of Japanese

Study the specific Kanji of the manga you want to read

The Japanese language contains thousands of Kanji that form hundreds of thousands of words.

Don't worry though! Since we have a very specific goal, there will be no need to learn everything. In fact, the next step is to retrieve a specific vocabulary list for the manga we want to read.

Search a list of the most used words and kanji in the manga you are interested in reading

The number of words needed to read a manga series is not that large. Also, many of these words will be familiar if you've ever seen anime in Japanese.

How to study Kanji in Japanese

The study of Kanji will have to become an integral part of your day towards your goal.

Remember: it is impossible to learn 1000 kanji in one day, but it is extremely easy to learn 10 kanji each day.

If you have never learned any Kanji, the first period will be devoted to form a basic knowledge. Take your time and try to memorize as well as possible the simplest radicals and Kanji. As you improve, you will find that many of the more complex Kanji are just a combination of simpler Kanji.

Study the specific Kanji for the manga you are interested in reading

Grammar - Not too much, but a little is useful

The last piece of the puzzle is learning grammar.

In this case there is no need to learn all the grammatical structures of the language. In fact, it will surprise you how little it will take you to start understanding most of the language.

Our advice here too is to learn the basics to get an idea of ​​how Japanese grammar works in broad terms.

For this purpose we have made available an area entirely dedicated to basic grammar.

Try reading the explanations we prepared for taking the first steps in Japanese grammar. When it's time to put your knowledge into practice, you can always use this area of ​​the site as a reference to learn more about each concept.

Don't start reading too early

Do not rush. Approaching the reading of the manga too early can be counterproductive.

In fact, the level of knowledge of the language necessary to read a manga is quite in-depth. If you try to read the manga as a beginning it will all seem overly complicated. The risk is to become demoralized and begin to consider the Japanese a impossible mission.

For this reason, the advice is to first learn all the basics of the language, and then start approaching the original manga.

Don't start reading too late

That being said, the goal remains: reading a manga. To be able to read a text, the best exercise is to practice directly on the material that interests us most.

For this reason, don't be afraid to start reading manga when you feel like it.

As stated above, at first it all seems very complex and incomprehensible to you. However, you will find that some words and Kanji will not be completely unknown. This is the definition of improvement. Each passing day will bring new ideas and concepts to light, until one day everything will make more sense.

Manga in Japanese - Example

Let's go see an example panel, exploring the strategy that will lead us to read a complete sentence.

Example of manga to read
Let's see here a sentence from a manga in Japanese. Let's try to read and translate!

1. Recognize the Kanji

As anticipated, the Japanese language is very different from Western languages. The symbols and grammar structure are completely different.

The first step is being able to recognize the kanji in the text. If you have already encountered these kanji in your study, this step will be immediate.

If you encounter a kanji never seen before, just look for it in the dictionary (there are many online) and write down the meaning.

In this case we have two kanji (the rest are simple Hiragana):

  • 席: which means chair

  • 通: which means pass through

Let's take note and move on to the next step.

2. Recognize and divide words

You will now need to be able to recognize individual words in the text.

In fact, in Japanese there are no spaces. For this reason it is our job to separate the words. This step is not immediate, especially at the beginning of your study. Learning a few basic words helps, and over time this task will become easy as well.

In this sentence we have:

  • ちょっと: excuse me a moment

  • そこ: that place

  • の: particle

  • (せき): chair

  • (とお)してくれる: to allow to pass

As you can see, some words are not immediate. This is because they contain particular grammatical conjugations that modify their structure.

In this example (とお)してくれる is actually a conjugation of (とお)す. Recognizing this type of conjugation will be one of the most difficult tasks in understanding the language.

3. Recognize grammar

The last challenge is putting together the grammar to make sense of the sentence. This is where we will have to piece all our knowledge together.

In this example the final translation is:


Wait one moment, let me sit down in that place!

As an example exercise, let's try to understand how to interpret the conjugation of (とお)してくれる.

As mentioned earlier, the basic verb is 通す. The first grammar rule we apply is called て form. This conjugation in this case consists of removing the last hiragana character ~す and adding ~して in its place:


The second step is to add くれる at the end of the word. くれる (kureru) in Japanese means to give:


The final form (とお)してくれる is a grammatical conjugation that translates the phrase do something for someone. For this reason, the literal translation becomes give me permission to pass.

4. Hold on, it gets better over time

As you may have seen from this quick example, breaking down and understanding a sentence is not straightforward. Nonetheless, the strategy we have proposed allows you to read phrases like these step by step.

In fact, even if your knowledge of words and grammar may seem limited, it is often possible to arrive at a result without necessarily knowing every detail.

Over time, this process will get faster. Keep learning day after day and very soon you will be able to read your favorite manga.

That's all. As you may have noticed, the choice of reading a manga in Japanese means the beginning of a long journey. An interesting journey, full of surprises and satisfactions!

Many people like you are about to start this journey! Share your experience with us on social networks.

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