How to Read Manga — A Cultural Standpoint

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Welcome to my post on how to read manga.

This post was something I’ve been meaning to do for a while but school lately has been quite packed so I haven’t had the time to write earlier.

This post is for the beginners who have decided to pick up a manga because they’ve heard how good it is from their friends and out of curiosity want to try reading one to see what the fuss is about.

Reading manga is slightly different from reading a normal book as it is not from the west. The way manga is formatted speaks volumes about the culture it is from — Japan. Even the way it is published is pretty different from what we’re used to.

This post will not be just a simple step-by-step guide on how to read manga but it will also serve as a guide to the overall picture of what manga is. I may do another post on the nitty-gritty details on reading manga but today, this post is mainly cultural. So strap in for a history/cultural lesson because I’m laying it all out here _へ__(‾◡◝ )>

Basic Rule of Thumb: Right to Left

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Follow the red arrows to see how a manga panel is read. Manga: 07-Ghost.  Source: mangareader.net

In the west, we read left to right horizontally. In Japan, the manga follows the old style of formatting so as such, manga is read right to left vertically (same as light novels).

Don’t worry if you get confused at the beginning. Official translations of manga have an extra page that will warn you if you’re reading manga the wrong way. There’s no need to be embarrassed, it happens to the best of us.

Tankobon hardcovers will follow this rule but if you chose to read online manga platforms, some actually allow you the choice of reading the manga in the style of the west, but honestly why would you do that?! (ᗒᗩᗕ)՞ The flow won’t make sense because you’ll have to readjust your eyes so many times due to the unnatural line of word flow.

Regardless of my opinion, the choice is still yours, so pick whatever style you wanna read in. But if you buy a tankobon volume, you have to learn to read in the Japanese style. Trust me, you’ll get used to it after a while to the point that it becomes almost automatic.

Manga Isn’t Exactly a Book or A Comic

A lot of people are under the impression that manga is like your run-off-the-mill book or comic strip. Let me be the first to tell you that it is not.

Manga does not have paragraphing like books, they have pictures with dialogue and sound effects. However, manga is not as 2 dimensional as comics. They have nuanced storylines that can be thought-provoking. In a nutshell, manga is a medium to tell deep stories using pictures or cartoons. This is also why it has a huge audience. It can cater to almost any subject and genre.

Related post: Why is Manga So Popular?

So in a sense, if you are just starting out with manga, note that you are not reading a full-length novel or a short gag strip.

Tankobon Hardcovers

Throughout this website, I’ve been using the term “manga books” to refer to physical copies of manga. However, that term is a little misleading because like I mentioned above, manga are not exactly books.

The reason why I used that term is that not many international folks who start reading manga will know the official Japanese terms in manga or anime. As I want my site to be ubiquitous, I never used the official terms for hardcopy manga…until now.

The actual term for physical copies of manga is tankobon (単行本) which means standalone book. So for those who are new, if you come across this term anywhere in your manga hunting just know it means physical manga copies.

Manga Magazines

The process of a manga being “released” is not as straightforward as you think.

As beginners, you would only know about the tankobon hardcovers but as you get immersed in the manga world, the names Shounen Jump! and Cookie will start popping up in your searches.

You see, in Japan, manga are not released through hardcopies, they are released through magazines via serialisation. The manga are released chapter by chapter until there is enough to compile into a volume and sell as a standalone book (hence the term tankobon).

The process is really complicated and well, as beginners you don’t have to get too much into it yet. Just know that manga releases are not the same as book releases.

Food for thought ⊂((・▽・))⊃

Final Thoughts

Although I only had one section that is dedicated to teaching beginners how to read manga, I think it is enough to get the ball rolling. It is actually not that hard to read manga and as most people are visual learners, they will pick it up pretty well.

The more important thing to note is the cultural aspect of a manga. It is not a book (despite the site name and the number of times I’ve called tankobon volumes “manga books”) because of the way it’s formatted and the way it gets released to the public.

Not many international fans know a lot about manga magazines because they are not really sold overseas. They are also not translated so those who do buy them on a regular basis are fluent in Japanese. However, they are worth looking at because these magazines contain some very prominent series that are insanely popular and you can follow the release schedule to keep track of the original raws instead of following the translation schedule. Seems like a hassle? Yeah, it is. But the payoffs are great, especially when you know whats upcoming wayyyy before the English translation.

So that concludes this post on how to read manga. A post for beginners to get started on reading manga from a cultural standpoint. As always, if you have anything to say about my post, feel free to comment down below, I’d love to hear it 🙂

5 Comments

  1. O encountered this problem a lot when I first started to read manga. I, being so used to the western way of reading often read left to right toll I realised what I was reading doesn’t correlate exactly with the manga storylines and pictures. Getting to know the official name of manga books is tankobon is nice. At least, I would no longer mistaken a manga for a book. Great one again!

  2. Thank you again for this. Already ordered a few manga and I’m happy you can exolan how to read them. Doesn’t look like anything I can’t handle though. I have a photographic memory if that counts for anything and I know reading it won’t be hard. With the diagram you’ve shown, it’ll be easy. Didn’t know that they were released in magazines before being compiled as a single volume. I guess those that read in the magazines will have more value for it with all the suspense that will be included. Since I don’t like suspense and all the pressure that comes with it, well its good that I’ll be getting a standalone. Thank you for the thoughts.

  3. Hi 

    Thank you very much for sharing such an amazing and informative post about the manga books. I love to read manga books very much. You have informed us that how to read a manga book. Reading manga is slightly different from reading a normal book as it is not from the west.The more important thing to note is the cultural aspect of a manga. Your article about manga is really very useful to us. 

    Thanks again. I’ll definitely share this post with my friends and family. 

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