4 Reasons You Should Read the Manga Yotsubato

I LOVE YOTSUBATO! (Sorry… I get easily excited.) Besides being my personal favorite manga series – so, ahem, I might be a bit biased – and besides the fact that it’s the cutest darn manga ever… I think Yotsubato is something every Japanese-learner should read once, especially if you’ve never read through a manga in its original language or think you’re not smart enough to read “real Japanese” yet.

For the uneducated, Yotsubato is the story of a happy, energetic girl with green hair named Yotsuba and her adventures with her father and the next-door neighbors. But I figured my recommendation alone might not be enough, so here are four very good (and hopefully convincing?) reasons why you should read Yotsubato!:

1. No Excuses.
A long time ago, back in the days when my Anki deck had 300 cards, the days when I still hadn’t figured out how to conjugate group-one verbs, and in the days when I still watched anime with the
dreaded English subtitles on, I had convinced myself that I wasn’t ready to read manga yet.

Maybe when I reached 2,000 sentences, or hit the arbitrary level thirty on the JALUP scoreboards, I could understand a manga. I had already tried twice; I got a volume of Death Note and two of One Piece (They’re for kids, right? And they’re cool!) and gave them a try. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t figure them out. I didn’t even know what a well-intentioned “ふん” meant.

So they were my excuses as to why I couldn’t read manga, at least until I found Yotsubato. I had it at the recommendation of it being a good manga for beginners, but I didn’t have high expectations for my abilities. Surprisingly, I could actually read it. I was so happy when I finished the first chapter. It felt AWESOME!! That was the last time I told myself manga was too hard for my poor, shriveled up brain.

2. Everyone can read it.reading

One of the best parts of Yotsubato! is that anyone can read it, even if you don’t understand it. When I began reading, I couldn’t understand much of the dialog (Especially from the grown-ups. Kids… I like kids. Yeah.), but I could still understand what was going on. There’s a lot of big pictures and most of the time you can tell what’s going on from the pretty illustrations. (Did I mention that I love the art? I do.)

It’s hard if you’re a natural perfectionist to skip whole conversations, but there’s no need to get everything right. Skim over things. It’s no fun if you force yourself to have two dictionaries, an encyclopedia and a grammar book open next to you while you read. But if you’d like to have a better understanding of it, come back later once you’ve read through it and go over what you missed last time. Sometimes I mark down words I’d like to add to my Anki deck on a piece of paper next to me while I’m reading. Yotsubato! has plenty of furigana, so it’s never a chore to look anything up.

3. Easy, peasy words.words

One of the common problems I hear from gung-ho beginner manga-readers is the appearance of a lot of uncommon words. You see, when you read Naruto or One Piece, you’re not just reading Japanese, you’re also reading ninja-ese and pirate-ese. There’s nothing wrong with learning these words, and they’ll be useful if you see them a lot, but sometimes they can be a big hindrance. I remember reading something about space travel once, with Wikipedia Japan in the next tab, looking up all the big words that I had never even seen before, and wondering to myself, “Am I ever going to see these words again?”

Yotsubato! is all common, almost-everyday speech. In fact, it’s so everyday, I bet even the dumb characters from the Genki I textbook would be able to understand it. (No offense to メアリーさん. She’s cute.)

Another thing that scares people off is slang. The dreaded slang. Yotsubato isn’t free of slang – Yotsuba’s dad isn’t exactly the most eloquent speaker – but it’s nothing you usually can’t figure out by reading it out loud. じゃねぇ is a bit easier to say than じゃない, after all, and who can remember to say しまう when ちゃう is just as good? Of course, anything you can’t parse can usually be filled in by context.

4. It’s freaking funny.
I never laugh out loud. The closest I ever get to laughing out loud is writing an “lol” on somebody’s Facebook status. But for some reason, Yotsubato always gets me laughing. I giggle like a little kid. I have to take care to read it alone lest everybody I know think I’ve lost my marbles. The art is especially hilarious. Unless you have a heart made out of steel and cardboard, I think it’s impossible not to laugh at Yotsuba’s many expressions. It’s actually the funniest thing I think I’ve ever read.

I think one of the biggest obstacles to transitioning out of boring textbook-Japanese is the perceived difficulty of it. Do you have any easy manga/books you hold dear to your heart? I could always use some more easy-reading recommendations, too. I’m not as smart as I look, you know. :)

Written by: Eric

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A writer for Japanese Level Up, a part-time graphic designer, and purveyor of fine Japanese art (which consists mostly of anime, manga and weird music). When he's not wasting time in Japanese, you can usually find him making pretty pictures or studying something that sounds interesting.


4 Reasons You Should Read the Manga Yotsubato — 42 Comments

  1. I agree totally! Beginner or not, Yotsuba is an awesome manga to have in one’s collection. I picked it up from my in-law’s bookshelf and instantly fell in love. And yes, it will make you laugh out loud! Once, I had to put it down before class just because it was just getting too funny.

  2. It was the first manga I bought and indeed it is easy to read even if you have only basic japanese knowledge. With Doreamon, there were the 2 manga I recommmended on my blog. I tried to read others like Death Note and Naruto, but they weren’t that easy for starters. You can also download the PDF version and read it in your kindle/tablet.

    • For any beginners looking at these, I’d like to mention that the first one is definitely harder than average for よつばと!

      • Yeah, I agree. I remember the first one took me a couple of weeks to read through and the second one I finished in just a few hours.

  3. The sample episode about the water gun was so funny!!! It validated everything Eric wrote about. I’m sold. Thanks for the recommendation!

  4. Yotsubato is one of the greatest creations to have come out of Japan in a while. The refreshingly everyday subject matter combined with its gorgeous visual appeal and loveable characters just makes for the most satisfying reading ever. And on top of that, it’s perfect for Japanese learners with its everyday vocabulary and ordinary dialects. Makes for easily understandable passages. And as I mentioned over on nayugen.com, the great thing about Yotsubat is that she is a young girl so she is technically learning Japanese at the same time as you are. So when she needs a difficult word explained, the adults are there to explain it to her. Thus, avoid reading this manga with a dictionary! Just know that sometimes Yotsuba makes mistakes with her Japanese so you don’t want to mimic her too closely. But she’s so wonderful. And I love the continuous inside jokes that run throughout the series. Perfection in manga form.

    At this link is a beautiful and very thorough review of Yotsubato!:http://japaneseliterature.wordpress.com/2010/01/30/yotsubato/

      • Thanks Kal!! The audio is a great addition!! Where did you get the audio clips? There is now a Yotsubato Volume 2 Anki deck and I want to add audio to it.

        • Hey, glad you found it useful! I used a script I wrote (in the Ruby programming language, which is from Japan :D) to download the audio from this site: http://www.neospeech.com/

          I used the female voice, ‘Misaki’, because I think she sounds a bit more natural than the male voice.

          I see that the author of the pack is charging for the volume 2 pack, which he didn’t do for the first one, so I don’t want to upload a modified pack for that reason…

          However, if you want to I could put up a version of my script you could use yourself to add the audio files. I also believe there’s a text to speech plugin for Anki that can handle Japanese but I haven’t used it myself so I don’t know how good it is.

            • I found some mistakes in the deck I made before because I used the kanji to generate the sound files as opposed to the kana, so here’s an updated version of the volume 1 deck: https://www.dropbox.com/s/09nwkc44vuco1s4/Yotsubato%20Vocab%20Vol%201%20Sound.apkg

              As for the script you can download it here: (as an exe if you are on Windows) https://www.dropbox.com/s/9i3uska6grr7o7z/yotsubato.exe

              If you use another platform you can get the source here: https://gist.github.com/kl/5976027

              To use the script you first have to import the deck that you get when you buy the vocabulary pack in to Anki. Then in the menu, click File -> Export and choose Export Format -> Notes in Plain Text and uncheck “Include tags”. Then save the file in a folder anywhere on your computer.

              Next, copy the script in to the folder where you exported the notes to. Now open up cmd.exe (press the Windows button and type “cmd” in the search box) and navigate to the folder with the “cd” command.

              If you don’t know how to do that, here’s an example (let’s say I exported the notes to C:\yotsubato):
              cd C:\yotsubato

              Now you are ready to run the script. Type the following:
              ./yotsubato.exe [name of the exported file]

              For example: ./yotsubato.exe notes.txt

              Now the script should start to download the wav files in to a subfolder called tts. It should also generate a file called “import_me.txt”.

              When the script is finished, copy all the downloaded files to your Anki media folder (it’s in My Documents\Anki\(Your username)\collection.media).

              Next, click File -> Import and select the import_me.txt file. In the next dialog choose “Import even if the existing note has the same field” and for the Field Mapping you need to have three fields where the first field should be on the question side of the card, and the second and third field should be on the answer side of the card.

              This works for both the volume 1 deck and the volume 2 deck, and it will most likely work for any future decks Yotsubato decks he might release.

      • It looks like your file was removed or moved on dropbox… any way that you can put it up again? It looks like a great resource and I am in dire need of listening practice!

        Thanks in advance.

    • Also included are 31 sentences, so if you’re not a big fan of the vocabulary cards, you can just use the sentence pack. I’ve gotten good use out of them. :)

  5. I’ve been trying to find these at the Japanese used bookstores near me for a while with no luck yet :( I really want to read it though! I’ve read a little in English (my library has it) and it’s utterly adorable!

  6. So I read the first one and loved it. I def LOLed out loud in the manga cafe I was in (in Osaka). Thanks for the recommendation. It was easy enough for me to finish in an hour and half. Fastest I’ve ever read one manga. You were right about the easy peasy Japanese and how they explain difficult words for her. Love it!

  7. よつばと! was definitely one manga series that helped me tremendously on my Japanese journey. :D

    Since you asked for other easy-to-read manga recommendations, here’s a few that I’ve found to be indispensable. スーパーマリオくん, ぼくはガリレオ, キメルのYOYO!, ぶっとびスピナーキメル!!, and 怪盗ジョーカー are some series I’ve found to like quite a bit (and they all incidentally are or have been serialized in 月刊コロコロコミック). It was especially easy to pick up new words with these series without having to refer to a dictionary constantly. A few of the words I remember picking up this way were ついでに, 雹, and 上昇.

      • No Yotsuba is printed on the box. I wish I could draw that well. ;) Yeah the box is super sweeeeet it also got this printed on it: http://i.imgur.com/2XCGdwY.jpg
        I think the box face is taken from the manga?

        I started reading the first volume yesterday and I gotta say that working a bit on the Yotsuba Anki deck has been very helpful so far. It’s nice to have already seen the majority of the words because that way I don’t have to constantly go look up words which would break the reading immersion. I still look up things I forgot or don’t understand in the context, but much less so than if I hadn’t already studied the vocabulary.

        • Awesome stuff. You’re Swedish too, right? Did you have any problems with the order or shipment from Japanese amazon? I’m trying to gather a list of books myself to order, to prepare for my upcoming J-J phase.

            • Well I did place an order earlier today ^^ 7 books of various genres. I was especially drawn to one with the title スラムオンライン. A contemporary setting about slums in an MMORPg… hmm… sounds both fun and suitable for the upcoming JJ sentence mining.

  8. Bumping this up for relevance. Great Manga! One issue with ALL manga for all of us with less than perfect eyes is the absolutely microscopic furigana. I love being able to magnify web pages so that furigana are readable to those of us without super-magnifico-vision. I find I need to wear 2x reading glasses to actually see some of the characters/kana in manga.

    Just wondering, does anyone else have this problem? Still love it, tho….


    • I have the same problem with よつばと it’s pretty hard to read. I do prefer to actually hold the manga in my hands rather than read it on my tablet or pc screen, it seems to help me a bit. I also just got vol 2, and it seems to me like the text is a lot clearer and easier to read than my copy of vol 1. Dunno if it’s just the quality or if they changed something or what.

      I’ve also tried to zoom in, but it doesn’t work well unless the quality of the digital copy is really high.

    • I actually do use a magnifying glass. Although I feel (and probably look) like an old man, I have to admit I like using it. Practicalities aside, it has a way of drawing you in as well. It brings the artwork, not just the words, closer and it helps create an absorbing experience. Imagine something like the visual surround effect of a Viewmaster.

    • This was one of my main motivations for finally ditching furigana: giving my poor eyes a rest :D

  9. My biggest concern about getting よつばと is the fact that she only talks in Hiragana. Everything I read now has Kanji and I don’t know if I want to read something that doesn’t use them. Am I being unnecessarily concerned here? For reference I am currently 700 cards into JALUP Intermediate. My current reading materials include NHK News Easy, しろくまカフェ anime transcripts and One Piece (although I mostly just skim this for now as it is alot more difficult than the others. I plan to go through it more in depth once I progress a bit farther through JALUP, maybe after Advanced or so)

    • Give it a try online first if you’re not sure! I personally just caught up to it and I didn’t have that problem, although I’m only in JALUP Beginner. Most of the times, the adults / older kids will take about the same things and you’ll see what kanji she should’ve said, and THEN you’ll be certain of whats happening.

    • Yeah, I felt the same way when I first started reading it, I love Kanji. But honestly, it’s not that hard, she usually speaks in short sentences and you can usually figure out what she’s talking about from context. And it’s OK if you don’t understand 100%. At your level, I think you should be fine, that was right around the time I started reading よつばと.

      • Thanks for your input! I wasn’t actually concerned about it being too hard, quite the opposite. Kanji can’t be avoided in real life so I like to make sure I’m reading things that use them. But I see what you mean now that I think about it, with it being hard to tell what words she’s using without Kanji. It seems like a really heartwarming story and I’d love to read it, I’m just concerned it won’t be as helpful learning-wise as something that used more Kanji.

        • Ah, I see what you’re talking about. Most of the manga uses kanji, so don’t worry about it. But don’t worry that it isn’t perfect, nothing is. In my opinion it’s more important to enjoy something than to get maximum learning out of it. Reading Yotsubato, even if I wasn’t always learning a lot of new kanji was super motivating to me because now I knew I could actually READ something interesting! If you want maximum learning just do Anki 100% of your time. But the point of learning Japanese is to understand and enjoy Japanese things and people, so go out and enjoy them! I recommend you read it, but you already knew that :)

      • This too, it’s way too easy to get stuck in using kanji as a crutch and having your listening/speaking lag behind as a result, that’s what happened to me. Don’t stress about it so much.

      • Oh man that hit me hard, I didn’t even think about that. I had it my mind that Kanji was hard and that avoiding it was a crutch. I didn’t even think about the reverse where in reality Kanji actually makes comprehension much easier. I’m convinced now, I think not having Kanji will actually be really helpful for my listening comprehension. Thanks for all you guys’ opinions :D

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