Manga Is The Pinnacle Of Japanese Learning

Have you ever found yourself pouring through volume after volume of your favorite manga series without realizing that the sun has set and risen again? Have you ever gone through volume 1 to 40 of a manga series in one weekend? Have you ever sat with your favorite manga slowly meditating on each page and the beautiful and detailed artwork contained within? Answered yes to any of the above? You may be a manga lover. Having this passion is the best thing you could possibly ever ask for. Remember how you need Japanese native material to master Japanese? Manga provides ALL of it.

Like Manga → Like Everything

Manga is the raw material behind most other Japanese media. Let’s look at the lifespan of a manga. I’m going to use the popular manga Great Teacher Onizuka (GTO) as an example, since it has had quite an amount of transformation and variation.

1. It starts in a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly magazine.

GTO 少年マガジン

2. It eventually becomes its own manga volume, which contain a number of consecutive chapters from the magazine it appears in. 

GTO 単行本

3. It becomes an anime (adding sound, motion, and color).

GTO アニメ

4. It becomes a Japanese drama series, using real actors and turning the dialogue and situations slightly more realistic.

GTO ドラマ

5. It becomes a live action movie.

GTO 映画

6. It may become a video game (note: I don’t believe GTO ever became a video game. Unless you want to consider this cheesy amateur flash game . . .)

7. It becomes novelized into book form.

GTO 小説

8. It may even get a drama remake years later (depending on it’s popularity)


9. It becomes the topic of variety shows, parodies, comedians, and the rest of the Japanese entertainment world.

GTO バラエティ

What does this all mean to you?

Fall in love with a specific manga, and you have a superb amount of connected material which you will probably also be interested in and want to know inside and out. While not every manga may have this much of an impact on the entertainment world, you’d be surprised at how many do.


Furigana (the small hiragana next to kanji which provide pronunciation) in manga, designed to aid Japanese youths in reading kanji, is such a beautiful thing for Japanese learners. Of course it was never intended for foreigners, but it is the perfect and natural handicap when you start reading.


Manga without furigana

Don’t need that furigana handicap anymore? Luckily you have an endless supply of manga (slightly targeted at an older audience) that is furigana free.


Manga is short and long at the same time

When you first start reading, it is better not to overwhelm yourself with lengthy material that tends to drag you down. Manga chapters are divided into small chunks, usually around 12 to 18 pages. Small accomplished goals provide greater satisfaction. But at the same time they are also long, since volumes usually have a dozen chapters, and there are often dozens of volumes.

Love those visuals

As if this isn’t obvious, manga contains pictures. Pictures aid your reading, even when you don’t have full understanding. There is no better combo than this.

Spoken and Written

Depending on the manga, there is a combination of spoken Japanese (how people actually talk) and written Japanese.

Free all guilt now

You should never, ever feel guilty about using manga as a major source of your Japanese studying. It has it all, and there is no reason to hold back.

Show your love

How many of you use manga out there to learn and find it absolutely essential to your progress? What other benefits have you found from manga? Any other manga series out there you know of that have run the entire entertainment circuit like GTO?

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Founder of Jalup. Spends most of his time absorbing and spreading thrilling information about learning Japanese.


Manga Is The Pinnacle Of Japanese Learning — 37 Comments

  1. I feel bad for Japanese learners who aren’t into manga. I get it, but it’s just manga is the perfect step before being able to read novels to improve one’s literacy (and other skills that build off of literacy). With the variety of genres out there, there’s a manga out there for everyone if they search hard enough. Most languages don’t have this culture and are missing this step.

    Yes, I’m one of those people who will read manga until the sun rises. Just recently, I’ve gained that ability with novels. You know it when it happens; when suddenly, reading is no longer work, but a driven passion to go from page to page and not realizing how many pages have gone by because you’re so engaged with the story.

    During the semester, I don’t do a lot of active studying for Japanese. My Japanese actually improved a lot last semester just naturally, due to me always carrying around a manga and reading all the time, as well as listening to Japanese radio and watching Japanese TV. With manga, it’s not even an effort to pull it out. It’s a retreat from my busy schedule and relaxes me. That’s awesome when doing something in Japanese becomes a habit that is beneficial for you, rather than feeling like a chore. It’s easy to see when something’s working when suddenly, a semester later you can read novels when before you couldn’t, just based off of immersion alone. This summer I plan to study hard and improve on my literacy. I can rest assured that no matter how busy next semester is, my Japanese will be fine because of my Japanese hobbies.

    Great post. I had no idea GTO was rebooted.

  2. As soon as my Japanese is at a level where I can start reading manga, my house will be literally full of manga. As soon as I am good enough at reading manga, my house will be full of novels. I want to read Japanese material so bad, its what is pushing me to go harder through my reviews. I just want to get there already.

    So many books I want to read in English, but I am holding my self back until I can read the Japanese version. So many fun times ahead!

    • Just remember though that you never have to get rid of your manga and replace them with novels. Manga isn’t just a stepping stone to novels. It is an end within itself as well. I still of course read manga all the time.

    • First you buy, then you’re able to read. :) I get what you’re saying though, we have the same goal.

    • Even though I’m only at the upper beginner/advanced beginner level I have already bought hundreds of Japanese manga & novels. One reason is I figure it will be easier to spread the cost out over time, but there is an even more important reason. Many of the manga that are new to us in America can actually be rather old and are going out of print in Japan. One example is Fushigi Yuugi (the first series) while the manga are not hard to find, the novels are out of print. I have one left to complete my collection and unfortunately it is the second part of a 2 novel story arc. I can see it used on, but they won’t send books sold in the marketplace here, only ones sold by itself and at very high shipping rates. So if you have a series you love in English check out the Japanese copyright date, you might be surprised at how long ago it was published. I use eBay and (free shipping over $39). If you are interested in video games the same applies. Games actually tend to go up in price after a fairly short amount of time. Even used the price can be more than it originally sold for. I use the most (free ship over $25).

      Another reason I have started buying early is motivation. When I wake up and think “I’ll put off studying just for today” all I have to do is look around at how much I have just waiting to be read/watched/played and I get motivated. Plus part of me thinks about how much money I’ve spent and I feel guilty for not studying. Though actually most days I’m eager to study.

      Just figured I’d throw these thoughts out there. I’d hate for you to be thinking “as soon as my Japanese is good enough I’ll buy XYZ” only to attain the ability and either not be able to buy what you want or have it become really expensive to obtain.

      If I ever manage to get to Japan I know I’ll be spending a lot of time in used book and game shops!

      Good luck with your studies,

  3. This is a great post!

    Manga was a significant part of my studies. I have a long queue of novels waiting at the moment, so I’m putting most of my effort into that. But even now I will read interesting manga I happen to come across.

    Also, reading manga in public can result in you meeting some interesting people (Japanese or just people who are wondering what that “strange text” is).

    • I get the same thing. Without realizing it, I’ve had the experience of sitting on a subway in NY reading a manga, and suddenly the person next to me started talking to me in Japanese.

  4. Best introduction to manga I have seen. Thanks. Manga has been translated to many languages around the world so it can be an ideal entrance to anyone of them, but it is not duly appreciated as such in Japan. Sadly the Japanese need outside comments like yours to realise what they have spread to the world over.

  5. Great post :D now I dont feel bad about reading so much of it.I have one question about reading. I have just started reading manga in Japanese. The manga that I am reading I have all ready seen the anime so I already understand the story. However there all still a lot of words that I do not understand. Should I just keep reading and come back to them or stop to look them up. Sorry for the silly question but it has been bugging me for a while.

    • If you are in study mode (rather than just casual reading mode), I think it is usually best to at least mark them down while you are reading. I used to highlight them (though I know some people hate doing that), and then come back to them later when I was doing Anki additions. You also could just copy the word (and page # down) to deal with it later.

  6. I’m still at a lower level, focusing on RTK yet. But I’m using the manga of Fruits Basket to practice my reading of kanas in order not to forget them and also to speed up my reading. It’s being amazing.

  7. Hmmm is there any hope for those like me who don’t like anime and manga that much? I’m a fan of crime fiction and I got into Japanese solely because most volumes and episodes of “Kindaichi Case Files” lack subs and dubs in languages I already speak, sad but true. I’m still a beginner learner of Japanese and I know right away those manga are way too advanced for me right now. I did watch a few episodes of Azumanga Daioh, a few episodes of Densha Otoko, and all of the GTO anime episodes (all with subs, sorry), but I found them incredibly stupid (again, sorry). Needless to say, the J-Dramas from the other posts that I would probably enjoy are also too advanced for me.

    • There are a ton of different types of anime and manga out there, and perhaps you need something that is more serious and philosophical than a slice of life like Azumanga Daioh, a geeky series like Densha Otoko or a exaggerated one like GTO. Perhaps try the anime Mushi-shi and Kino no Tabi. They are far more serious and have mysterious plots.

      Those are still complicated series for a beginner to take on in Japanese. I think mystery leads itself to be complicated. However, just an example of how there’s a variety of different kinds of anime and manga. Maybe you just need a more serious genre like supernatural or mystery. Keep looking. Anime Planet can recommend you a bunch of anime based on genre as well.

    • You could try live-action shows aimed at a younger audience, like Kamen Rider or Super Sentai. While these shows are written for children, they also have a large adult fanbase so the plots are generally interesting.
      If you want a different manga/anime to try, perhaps you could look into Hikaru no Go. It’s not very hard to read in Japanese, and the anime is all available on Hulu. My sister doesn’t care too much for manga and anime, but she loved Hikaru no Go.
      If you like crime fiction, you could try reading Detective Conan or Death Note. Detective Conan is at a pretty manageable reading level; Death Note is a little harder (I think, having only read it in English) but has great art and writing.

        • Thank you for the suggestions, I’ll give them a try for sure. I actually started reading and watching Detective Conan long before starting Japanese. I’ve already watched Death Note, again before starting Japanese; I’m not a big fan of supernatural elements in movies and such but I still dug Death Note.

          “I think mystery leads itself to be complicated. ” Exactly! Plus, with the occasional wordplay in DC and cultural references, I’ve always assumed that it would be just too hard. But as long as it contains furigana, I guess/hope it will be more manageable! :) Is the anime as easy though? I haven’t had the chance to watch them without subs yet.

          • Visual context will fill you in. Especially in a mystery drama that shows the audience little hints visually, you should be able to enjoy it even if you don’t understand the Japanese. Conan also is not all heavy subject material and has its lighter, conversational scenes, which beginners will understand more of.

            Don’t worry about not understanding. As long as you are enjoying what you are watching, that’s all that’s important.

            Now I’m going to go watch Detective Conan! All this talk makes me want to watch more.

    • As others have already said, there is so much varied material out there that eventually you will find something you like. It is harder in the beginning because you also are limited by your level, but just keep sampling material. All you need to do is find that one special manga that really hits a special key with you, and everything else will fall in place.

      • True. With reading manga, I could always look up kanji I don’t know with whatever handwriting recognition app I guess; if only the text could be selected :( . But what about J-dramas/anime though? Would it be a good idea to still put up with the beginner-level ones even though they’ve so far been a pain for me to watch?

        • Are they a pain because you don’t understand them or because the ones you watched have been boring? Either way, I would just keep sampling.

          • Both :( I still have the thought that “oh if it wasn’t for the lack of scanlations, I wouldn’t be putting up with Anki, RTK etc … why am I doing all of this again?” But yes, I’ll keep sampling.

  8. Great article, 漫画が大好き!

    The first nine months of my Japanese studying:
    * RTK1
    * Listening to (mostly) Maximum The Hormone…(now that’s immersion :P )
    * “Reading” my favorite manga Berserk.
    I basically read the kana and searched for the few kanji I knew (keywords only) and with the keywords imagined the meaning. I had previously read quite far into the series in English so I had a basic understanding.

    So @Nayr: don’t hold back, start filling your house now!
    The more times you’ve “read” the books all the more solid your foundation will be for that time when the scales tip and you start to understand most of it.
    You will get there, good luck!

  9. 12-18 pages is the length of a typical weekly shonen manga chapter; shojo manga can have chapters more along the lines of 36-50 pages. (I just felt like pointing that out…)

    Another way to experience manga is through a Vomic, or voice comic. Shueisha, the publishers of many high-profile manga (Naruto, Bleach, etc.) has made videos featuring the manga pages with dialogue being read by professional voice actors. They can be found here:

    • Thanks for pointing that out. I have never really read any shojo manga, so I was unaware of the difference in length.

      And great addition with the “vomic.” I had never heard of that before, but looks like yet another great medium for manga to thrive in.

      • A lot of popular manga and anime have related audio, like drama cd’s or songs written for the characters and performed by the seiyuu. A few manga even have whole musicals written based on them.

  10. I’ve got shelves of manga in my apartment, as well as novels, waiting for the day I can read them and encouraging me to make that day sooner. At the moment the only thing I can really read (in the conventional sense of the word) is よつばと, but that’s fine because よつばと is awesome.

    My usual path is to buy manga that was the basis for anime I liked, since I already know I’ll enjoy the story, plus it can provide context that makes reading easier. However, just this past weekend I received my first anthology magazine, volume 1 of まんがタイムきららカリノ, which I bought primarily for Aoki Ume’s new series. It’s kind of thrilling, like being plugged directly into the center of Japanese pop culture or something. I’m seeing stuff that might never get an anime adaptation or a collection, and that probably won’t make it the US in any form for years, if ever. Plus, one of the things I miss about English media is that serendipity of flipping the channel or picking up something in a bookstore at random and discovering something awesome. This recovers a bit of that.

    As for the last question of the post, “Nodame Cantabile” hasn’t made quite as complete a circuit, but it has gone from manga to anime, drama, movies, and games (though I admit I didn’t know about the games until checking wikipedia just now!)

  11. For me, I’ve always been an avid basketball fan and because of that, my girlfriend suggested that I read Slam Dunk. And right now I’m loving it. It has references to popular NBA icons that I can relate to and it doesn’t require a super high level of Japanese understanding to get into.

    I don’t know how far the series has made it around the Japanese Entertainment Circuit, but I do know that there was an anime made from it and has been given the whole novelization / colored prints – which I’m told a manga has to be super popular to be given color.

    Not sure if there has ever been a movie or drama created from it though.

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