The life of a Japanese language learner can be an expensive one. With all the manga and novels one has to import in order to keep a rigorous reading schedule, it can be a burden on the budget. But just as there is an abundance of free papers in Japan, there’s a whole world of free material on the internet just waiting to be read. In particular, I want to introduce 4コマ (four column manga) and 立ち読み (reading samples).
4 コマ Manga
4コマ are short manga consisting of four panels, often comical, that can be found both in print and online. There is a wide selection of 4コマ to be found throughout the internet. They are a great way to squeeze some Japanese into the little moments of one’s day where your time is limited. Most of these 4コマ have no furigana, providing the opportunity to use them to study kanji. Don’t let this intimidate you. Since ４コマ hardly ever have a plot to follow, the kanji is rarely a barrier to enjoying the comic during those times you can only fit in reading without actively studying the material.
The typical 4コマ is written about the artist’s life or is a parody of an anime, manga, or video game series. Some series come up with clever nicknames and caricatures to mask the identity of the close ones they are writing about, even themselves. Note in the example to the left from パンダのブログ the artist’s identity is masked by a panda caricature and her husband’s by a faceless man who’s referred to as 夫 (literally, “husband”).
立ち読み is a phrase that comes from the act of standing and reading at a bookstore. Since most books in Japan are unsealed, there will be dozens of people in a store just reading. In cases where manga is sealed, sometimes there will be a sample booklet beside it, with the first chapter of a volume from the manga to preview it before one buys. These one chapter samples can also be found online for various series.
Companies such as 花ゆめコミック have a site dedicated to these samples. Other manga series have sites of their own, such as よつばと！ and Love So Life. When you run out of new reading material, a good way to browse for new series is to type in the name of a series or company with the word 立ち読み next to it into a search engine.
For those of you who are already reading 4コマ, what are some of your favorites? Mine is 毎日がママレッスン, a ４コマ that follows the story of the artist from her pregnancy onto raising her child, りーちゃん.