How I Transitioned into Reading Manga

Reading manga in Japanese was what made me fall in love with the language all over again. It was the doorway to understanding the dialogue in dramas, anime and video games. Two years ago, when I brought back a manga from my first trip to Japan, I had no idea what world I was about to fall into.

My Transition Into Manga Magic 1

I didn’t know the plot of the manga was going to be so similar to my own life as a nanny, babysitter and daycare worker, or that I would be buying volume after volume, fueling my own immersion environment effortlessly. But I wasn’t able to read it right away. There were lots of steps in between that brought me from being able to barely make it past the first chapter to reading it as if I were reading it in English.

Step One: The Bilingual Comic

Along with that manga, I bought a bilingual comic that was designed to teach Japanese elementary school students English. I was able to read this before the manga. It slowly strengthened my knowledge of grammar that would be needed for understanding the dialogue in the other manga. I was steps ahead of my peers in my Japanese class that was using Genki II because I had already seen the grammar we were going over in this comic.

Step Two: J-E Dictionary Use

While I definitely don’t recommend relying on using a J-E dictionary for long, I couldn’t bare the thought of waiting to the J-J phase to start diving into what I loved. So my use of a J-E dictionary was what bridged my ability to read manga in Japanese. It shifted me from the English translation in my bilingual comic at the bottom of the page to a word by word translation of only the words I didn’t know in the manga.

Using an electronic dictionary, instead of an online dictionary, enabled me to read the manga anywhere, including comfortably on the couch and between classes at school. This meant I was constantly reading throughout the day, not just when I could get to a computer. It also meant that it no longer felt laboring to read, because I didn’t have to look back and forth at a bright screen.

Suddenly, with my dictionary at my side, I was flipping through the pages as if I was reading an English manga. The words that I didn’t understand were no longer barring me from moving on.

Step Three: Transcribing the Pages

As an effort to learn more kanji, I began transcribing the pages on a regular basis into a notebook. Although it was an exercise I used to learn kanji, it actually was even more effective in solidifying the language of the manga. Soon, I found myself not needing a J-E dictionary to understand. Sure, there are words that pop up still that I don’t know, but I’m able to understand based on the context of surrounding words, sentences and pictures. Note, I only transcribed the pages for a winter. I’m not constantly transcribing nowadays, yet what I learned from transcribing still stays with me.

Step Four: Enjoying

Now that I can read without a dictionary, the series is for me to enjoy. Sometimes, it just takes trying whatever method you can think of, as I did, until you feel ready to move onto a new method. Bridging abilities is an amazing experience. It’s proof of progress, and a connection to the language you are passionate about.

I’ve gained the ability to read manga, but what about novels? The amount of kanji without furigana in a lot of novels is heavy, opposed to the manga series I read that have furigana. All I have is my IME pad at my computer, which takes away the ability to read anywhere and comfortably. But that doesn’t scare me, because I know experimenting with different methods will bridge that gap, just as it did with manga.

Has your desire to understand manga pushed you forward in ways you couldn’t imagine?

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Rachel M.

Writer and Educator. Learning Japanese using immersion, currently soaking up as many novels and manga as possible in hopes of one day writing her own novel in Japanese. Also because she loves Japanese books.


How I Transitioned into Reading Manga — 13 Comments

  1. Strangely enough I had the opposite experience. My transition back to Japanese happened when, after 4 years of not even looking at Japanese, my friend gave me a Ryu Murakami book and said, “read this”.

    I transcribed every kanji on every page as I read along, writing furigana on those that I still remembered and still knew the meaning, and not looking up the new kanji until I saw them at least 10 times. Then I put down the book for a while and bought an JLPT N2 textbook and reviewed kanji and grammar with that. Picked the book back up, noticed a drastic difference in the amount of kanji I knew and just kept going like that.

    Two years later and I’m now picking up manga again. I had gotten tired of the anime scene back in late high school. But now, because of that novel, manga is so easy that I’m enjoying it again as I can read it as if I were reading English. It has been nice to get back into manga. Maybe I’ll try anime again.

    • kure, you say: “I transcribed every kanji on every page as I read along”, What does that exactly mean and how did you benefit from it?

      • When I say that I transcribed every kanji, it means that I used 原稿用紙(げんこうようし)and every time I encountered a kanji in the book I would write it down. One kanji per block. Enter 原稿用紙 under Google Images and you can see what kind of paper that is.

        If it was kanji I already knew, I would write out the furigana. If it was kanji I didn’t know, I would just leave it be. As the book progressed and kanji started to repeat itself 5, 10 times and more, then I would look it up and write down the furigana and meaning.

        So basically, the benefit is that you are basically creating a vocab list for the book that you are reading and have within the source a chance of continuously seeing that vocab and those kanji you’ve just studied in action.

        Unlike an external vocab list where you then have to seek out sources that include your vocab.

        Basically in a year and half it took me from a weak N4 kanji level (after 4 years of not using kanji I recognized a lot but forgot how to read a lot) to a strong N2 level, beginner N1 level. So there was great benefit in me transcribing kanji.

        This was in combination with studying a N2 kanji book. I will be buying a N1 kanji book soon to go up even further in kanji level.

        Please let me know if you’d like further explanation.

  2. That’s very interesting and inspiring. I haven’t tried manga at all. One question: what exactly do you mean by “I began transcribing the pages on a regular basis into a notebook”?

    Could you please elaborate?

    • After I had read the first couple of volumes of manga in full, I went back to the first volume and copied fown each page of text into my notebook. I only finished the first episode, as that took a long time. After copying down everything, I inserted every vocab that was expressed with kanji and put the kanji, furigana and Japanese dictionary meaning (or a simplified meaning) and inputed them into anki. The procces of inputing them into anki I imagine is similar to Kure’s experience with writing each kanji down into his book. Where we differ is that he wrote down just the kanji, and sometimes furigana, every time he saw it. I wrote down the kanji with its sentence, then later singled out the kanji with just the vocab it was used in and paired it with a definition in Japanese.

      • Correct me if I’m wrong but it seems like Rachel’s method is more to learn vocab in context (with additional kanji learning) while mine is mostly for kanji reading recall. I end up learning vocab through the fact that the words are repeated throughout the book.

        … and I’m a girl! ^o^v

        • It does seem that way. I was looking for a way to learn kanji, but coincidently found a method for studying the language of manga. Kanji ended up being a minor plus to the method, as I learned more about dialogue than kanji, enabling me to read manga freely, if it had furigana.

          Sorry!! <(^_^)… I get called a boy a lot to under my internet alias Lumiina. Just no way to tell.

  3. I believe they’re saying that, by transcribing each page or every kanji, they were writing out a page from the manga or writing down the kanji from each page.

  4. I have a question on this. I have a copy of CardCaptor Sakura I purchased 10 years ago at Half Price books. Back then I didn’t know the difference between Chinese books versus Japanese books. Would this methodology work on a Chinese copy, since it’s all kanji? Or is it not to be messed with for now?
    I know, strange question. I just ran across it in my shed after years in book storage, and noticed it was Chinese.

    • Is your goal to learn Chinese or Japanese?

      I tried learning Chinese awhile back, and the hanzi in Chinese is very different than the kanji that you will find in Japanese. Take for instance the Japanese character 気, which you might recognize from the word 元気(げんき). In traditional hanzi, this character is written 氣, while in simplified hanzi it is written 气. So I think using Chinese hanzi to learn Japanese kanji should be avoided, as there are easier, more efficient ways. Though, it might make for an interesting comparison study if you had both the Chinese version and Japanese version of the manga.

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