I spent many years of my life before I finally came to the realization that
studying sucks I stuck at studying. At least I did until I found the right methods that worked for me. At the time, I decided that if I can’t enjoy studying, then I don’t want to do it anymore. And yet despite that I still enjoyed learning Japanese, as I loved reading manga, and reading in Japanese was a major goal of mine. I just didn’t enjoy the textbooks, tests, and the whole academic side of studying. Instead, I found that measuring my progress based on how much I could understand and enjoy reading each manga, was a far greater system for me. Reading manga everyday (in Japanese, of course) proved to be a critical step to help drastically improve my Japanese over time.
I don’t know about you, but if I’m not enjoying myself, then my motivation tends to plummet. This seemed to be a common theme for me whenever it came to studying, so as far as learning Japanese goes, I decided to put all my energy into doing what I wanted to do. Read manga in Japanese. So allow me to share with you my tips for have fun reading manga and learning Japanese at the same time.
Read the Manga You Love
I believe to enjoy life at its fullest, we need to do our best to live on our own terms and keep ourselves vested in the things we love. In regards to studying, if you love reading manga and you love learning Japanese, then it stands to reason that you can channel that excitement. Thus the act of having fun and the act of studying become one and the same, enabling you to improve your Japanese by simply reading manga everyday.
As you blast through your favorite titles, you’ll find yourself consuming a great deal of new vocabulary as well. Even if you don’t realize it at first, all of this new information will accrue in your head over time. Whether this occurs more actively or passively though, will be determined based on your preexisting knowledge and language ability. As common words within a certain theme repeat themselves on the page, you’ll find these words cling to memory. This is your vocabulary expanding behind the scenes.
While your mind is preoccupied with enjoying the story, you are simultaneously taking in massive amounts of new vocab. When you finish all the books on your plate, be sure to explore other manga by your favorite authors or in your favorite genres and do your best to keep a constant stack of books ready for you to read. Even if you only have time for a chapter a day, just stay consistent and the words and phrases will stay with you over time.
Try to Stick to Manga in Your Reading Level
In order keep yourself entertained, you need to keep reading the manga you love, but if you hope to make it through to the end of the book, while understanding the kanji and contents of what you are reading, then you want to make sure you can find the appropriate manga for your reading level.
If you want to improve your Japanese by reading manga, then this is one of the key steps. If you lean more towards the beginner level, then you will likely find Shojo and select Shonen manga much more accessible, comprehension-wise. Intermediate readers will likely fare well with the previous, plus more Shonen and select Seien manga. Advanced will likely enjoy the previously mentioned, plus Josei and a great selection of Seinen, but there are exceptions to the rules.
For example, while most Seinen manga will read at an advanced level without furigana, some does include furigana, and some titles, such as “Yotsuba&!” include furigana and can also be quite accessible to beginners. Click here to see further info about manga genres. And click here to see further info about manga reading levels.
Keep a Notebook Handy
I’m not saying one needs to be on your person at all times. I’m just saying it can be helpful to improve your Japanese as you’re reading your manga. While it’s completely optional, I always find it useful to jot down words that keep reoccurring throughout the reading. Especially when I can’t read the kanji. Sometimes you’ll be able to glance at the kanji, know the meaning, but might not know the reading. Other times it might be the other way around.
Depending on your language ability (and your patience), it’s not always feasible to stop reading every time you come across a word or phrase that you’re unfamiliar with. It can actually be quite jarring when you’re right in the middle of the action, only for everything to come to a grinding halt because ugh, what’s this mean again…? If you are still able to process what’s going on, then it’s perfectly acceptable to take a note and keep moving on. Or, ya know, just wing it and keep reading. If that kanji appears enough times, it’s gonna make sure you don’t forget it anytime soon.
Summarize and Explain
So you breezed through the book, or maybe you just cleared the first chapter, either way, did you retain the gist of what you read? If you hope to improve your Japanese by reading manga, then you need to make sure you understand what you are reading, and not just looking at the pictures and disregarding the words. It only counts as studying if you are actually taking in and processing what you are reading. The having fun part is the bonus and motivation to do what you already want to do, but take something even more out of it.
As you read each chapter, take the time to explain to yourself what just happened. If you are reading with friends or in a group, take the time to discuss together what you just read. Make sure everyone sees eye-to-eye, but if it’s just you, then take the time to review your notes, look up any unknown words, or even compare an English localization if any doubts remain. When you finish the book, your goal is to be able to explain what you just read. Keeping a journal is also a great way to reflect on what you understood, especially whenever you go back to revisit after learning something new. Even if you can’t pick up on all the subtleties or still have questions left over, just do your best and have fun with it.
Now Do it Again in Japanese
Reading comprehension and vocabulary is one thing, but to truly improve your Japanese and get the most out of reading your manga, you need to take it a step further. As you build your vocab up over time and become more acquainted with the different types of speech, you will start to build your inner (Japanese) voice. As you progress, you’ll find yourself reacting in Japanese, thinking in Japanese, and talking to yourself in Japanese. To exercise you linguistic capabilities, you’ll want to discuss what you just read in Japanese the best you can.
Whether you are reading alone or with a group of friends, take some time after each chapter and at the end of each book to reflect on what you’ve read. Discuss (in Japanese) the points that excited you, the parts that confused you, if you had any questions regarding specific vocab or grammar, or just the story in general. Reading comprehension is vital if you hope to read more of your favorite stories, but don’t knock your ability to communicate with others. Work on the speaking and listening skills! Make an effort to both express yourself and listen to and reflect on the thoughts of others.
Practice Translating Select Scenes in Manga
This is a fun little activity. If you’re studying Japanese, then your ability to translate from Japanese into your native language is a skill that will surely help you later down the road. Translating a scene from your favorite manga is a great way to get yourself some much needed practice. You can even do it random. Pick up any book you’ve already read, flip through it, and start working on the passage you find. You can even try this activity out with friends in a group. See how each of you translates the same scene and compare your translations. A single passage can have multiple translations and interpretations, and none are inhertintly wrong, so long as you can capture the essence of the author’s message.
Reading manga and translating select scenes is an excellent way to improve you Japanese and develop your translating and writing skills. Being a good translator means first and foremost being a good writer and knowing which words to pick to describe the author’s message. Jay Rubin, longtime translator of Haruki Murakami novels, and author of “Making Sense of Japanese: What the Textbooks Don’t Tell You,” once said, “When you read Haruki Murakami, you’re reading me, at least ninety-five percent of the time.” How you describe the author’s message is completely up to you. So long as the author’s voice remains intact, you can use your creative expression to interpret how it reads in your native tongue. If you can get a knack for it, you may even one day find yourself working with a manga publisher and translating professionally.
Read a Lot and Read Often
This is probably the most important thing I have to say, as far as striving to improve you Japanese by reading manga goes. It’s only going to happen if you keep at it, reading day after day. That’s why the best way for me is to turn my hobbies and other activities I’d otherwise already be doing for fun into study activities. This doesn’t mean ruining the activities you enjoy by turning them into homework, although that can prove beneficial, it just means using your enjoyment as motivational fuel to reach your goal with Japanese language proficiency.
Depending on where you live, you might not always have immediate access to Japanese manga, novels, light novels, magazines, or other reading materials, but the internet is vast, and Japanese Please is just one of many places here to help you find the titles you are looking for. If you didn’t know already, if you ever struggle to find a particular manga title that isn’t available anywhere, or even on Japanese Please already, you can just reach out and the product will be added our the website for purchase within 48 hours. If you are going to keep at it and read manga day in and day out, you’ll want to make sure you have all your favorite titles right here in one place.
Watch Anime Adaptions of Your Favorite Manga
Another great way to improve your Japanese beyond just reading you manga is by giving those titles a chance in their anime adaptions on the screen. This could be an entire article in itself, but while you may have heard negative feedback in terms of learning Japanese from anime and Japanese used in anime “isn’t real Japanese,” I’ll have to disagree. Language is language, and while anime characters may be a lot more zany and personified than people in real life, if you understand what they are saying, then you understand the language, and that alone is all you should ever hope for being a student of the language. Also, when you watch your anime in Japanese, do your best not to use English subtitles, as you don’t want to fall on this crutch.
Listening practice needs to be just that, though if you have the option, I’ve always found watching with Japanese subtitle to be extremely helpful. Sometimes when certain words are hard to pick up, but then a certain kanji flashes on a screen and all of a sudden you know exactly what they are saying. This is just the thing you need to help keep your head in the game. But if you’re ever feeling daring, just give it go without any subtitles. At the end of the viewing, take some time to draw comparisons between and manga and the anime. Discuss is with your friends, or better yet, do it in Japanese. Everything you do, especially when they are things you’d already be doing for fun, only help for further promote your goal of becoming more proficient in the langauge.
Manga Opens Doors to New Ways to Learn
As long as you’re enjoying yourself, your motivation to better your Japanese should never waiver. You’ll find that as you improve your Japanese by reading manga, that other activities will also give way to new fun methods to be used as studying. You may start out by reading manga, then enjoy anime, which may lead to playing video games in Japanese, singing Japanese songs at karaoke, and other joyous activities you already love to perform take the shape of study as you perform them in your target language.
The learning curve can be bumpy in the beginning, especially for manga readers who double as new learners of the Japanese language. However, you’ll find that by combining your manga reading together with your other favorite activities, these will all make great supplemental learning experiences to take your Japanese language skills up to the next level!