Is it Okay to Use Manga to Study Japanese? My Experience

The most dangerous situation for a new Japanese learner.
Aaand I just made it worse.

While I don’t read manga as much anyone after having lived in Japan going on 7 years now (now i’m living the manga?), I have used manga regularly in my Japanese study routines. In my 8 years of studying Japanese, I found that manga can be used to study Japanese in a pretty specific way. Let me guide you through how I studied Japanese, and how I used manga to study Japanese over the years.

About my experience studying Japanese while living in Japan, and how you can use manga to supplement your Japanese studies.

I think that through understanding how I personally used manga in my Japanese study routine, you can understand the role I believe manga can play in assisting your Japanese studies. So, when did I start learning Japanese, and when did I come to Japan? While I learned Japanese in the US for a little over a year beginning in 2013, I would eventually move to Japan. After having studied Japanese in my Japanese university, and somehow making tons of international friends, I decided to take the plunge; If I was going to pursue studying Japanese and dabble in living abroad…it was going to be all in.

In 2014 after 1 year I decided to leave my university in the US, and in early 2015 I moved to my fresh new accommodation in Osaka, Japan. I was now studying at a Japanese language school? So…did I use manga to study Japanese at this point? Not quite yet. Actually, at this point I wasn’t that interested in manga, while this would change as over the months as I would settle more into life in Japan, and would search for new ways to immerse myself in the Japanese language at all hours of the day.

How manga can be used to help you learn Japanese; How and when to use manga as a proper Japanese study tool

Me and my Japanese language school class, 2015

My first year in Japan, and for a many years after, my ultimate Japanese-learning-goal was to achieve total immersion. Essentially, I wanted to be able to have a fulfilling life completely and entirely using only the Japanese language, if need be. That doesn’t mean that I never used English of course, but what it does mean is that I was ON a lot of the time. On the train I would be studying signs and billboards. At the restaurant I would be looking up new kanji on the menu I didn’t know. In the Don Quijote (a store in Japan famous for having some of the most amazingly strange things on sale) I would be learning from the male model underwear gag kit packaging. It didn’t matter. If there was Japanese on it, I would read it, internalize it, memorize it, and forget it if I accidentally learned something horrifying that I wanted out of my brain. I go more into this experience learning from my surroundings a bit more in my article How to Teach Yourself Japanese; My Experience.

How I used manga to study Japanese

So, why am I telling you this? Well, manga was the perfect tool that allowed me to achieve the endurance necessary to maintain this lifestyle for as many hours of the day as possible. By studying my onigiri off during the day, and reading some manga, or maybe playing some games at night, it allowed me to continue to expose myself to the language for longer periods of time without getting tired. Put simply, reading manga is a great way to continue exposing yourself to the Japanese language, even if you are too tired to properly study. Just…be careful not to use it as a crutch.

Manga is a great tool to use to practice Japanese, but there are much more efficient ways to LEARN

I would say this is a general rule I followed: If I was trying to learn something new in Japanese, I would almost NEVER use manga. This is because stylistically, manga often plays with the rules of the Japanese language to land some joke, or to create a certain tone, and more often than not, the kind of Japanese that you see in manga is just not very practical. With some exceptions (I do often recommend Death Note to people who want to read a manga with relatively normal Japanese), the majority of the Japanese you see in manga will almost always be overdramatic, period-sensitive, or just generally rude in a lot of cases.

I have never heard somebody say temei~ in real life. I don’t think that is a thing that actually happens to real people.

How to choose a good manga for studying Japanese

…you want to looking for a manga that is set in mondern-day Japan. Generally, the more mundane the setting, the better. You should focus on finding a manga-equivalent to an interesting character study that is full of context-sensitive content, and is dialogue-centric rather than action-centric. Think Death Note vs. Demon Slayer. Death note is a good manga to use to practice Japanese as a series ‘battle of the wits’ stories that is full of modern dialogue-heavy scenes, while Demon slayer is trying to achieve a certain ancient aesthetic, and is pretty much just an endless series of things that will distract you from reading Japanese…let’s be honest…and I like Demon Slayer! That being said, it definitely isn’t a good resource for you to practice Japanese.

So…you can’t use manga to learn new Japanese?

I wouldn’t say that is entirely the case. One thing manga is great for is studying how to read different kanji. Why? Because manga are written so that children can also read them, which means that most manga as have the furigana written beside all but the most basic kanji in the book. What is furigana? Check the picture below! Furigana are small hiragana or katakana characters that are written beside a kanji, that explain to the reader how the character is pronounced. One of the most difficult things about learning Japanese are the multiple ways to read kanji characters, and reading manga can be great practice to help you learn the multiple readings of Japanese kanji.

The top black characters are furigana

The first and most important step to starting to learn Japanese; Choosing the right textbook. My personal recommendation!

I always recommend to my readers the book I personally started with: GENKI I: An Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese (English and Japanese Edition)

There are many many reasons why I like this textbook, but my main reason would be this: Genki 1 teaches you how the essentials, while also giving you the essential skills you need to teach yourself Japanese. After using Genki 1 and absorbing all of it’s juicy contents, you should have no problem reading a considerable amount of Japanese characters, understanding basic conversations, the most essential grammar points, and you will understand a LOT more about the way Japanese is actually used in everyday life in Japan. So many textbooks I have seen dole out information in a treadmill-like fashion, giving you tons of useful vocabulary you will only see in textbooks. Studying Japanese through Genki 1 was really efficient, and the book is also really corny in a fun, Japanese kind of way. Definitely check it out. It’s a bit pricey, but I think you will actually save money in the long run by purchasing this book, because it really does give you everything you need to get you through your first year or so of Japanese study. It’s totally worth it.

If you are studying Japanese but are lost on what to do, check out the other articles below!

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