How to Read Raw Manga? — Your Beginner’s Guide

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Welcome to my post on how to read raw manga.

Are you one of those manga fans who can’t wait for the official English release? Especially when you know full well that the manga has already ended in Japan but not overseas?

Well, join the club. Many fans have faced the temptation of buying the untranslated Japanese version and using the power of Google Translate, attempt to read it.

Sometimes the attempt is successful but most of the time it isn’t. A lot of the time, we just begrudging wait for the English release to come…someday.

But if you are determined to read raw manga, then allow me to give you some advice on how to go about attempting to read it.

Know This Before Attempting to Read Raw Manga

Let me start with a bit of context to get the ball rolling:

My Japanese is very meh. I can read hiragana (or furigana) and katakana fairly well but when kanji appears, I just go, “uhh…crap”. It doesn’t mean I stop though, it’s just harder and takes a bit longer. In short, reading raw manga takes a lot of work.

In my general post on where to buy manga, I mentioned that attempting to read raw manga without any kind of preparation beforehand is a waste of time and I cannot stress on that fact.

If you want to see my general list on where to buy manga, go to Where Can I Buy Manga? — Your General Guide

I’ve had friends buy manga from Japan, thinking they can just smoke their way through without needing any dictionary whatsoever then just give up realising that the Japanese language has three writing systems -_-

Three writing systems?! Yep, you heard right.

The Japanese language has three writing systems:

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  • Hiragana (for normal Japanese words)
  • Katakana (for foreign words)
  • Kanji (borrowed Chinese characters for Japanese words)

I am no way an expert on the Japanese language, so what I mentioned above is based on my experience. If you want to learn about the Japanese language in greater detail, I suggest having an actual Japanese person tell you about it or look for a linguist (there should be many online).

In any case, before you even attempt to read raw manga, understand that Japanese is like any other language with its intricacies and difficulties.

If you are going to read raw manga and the only Japanese words you know are こんにちは and 可愛いですね then you’re going to have to take a rain check.

So What do I Have to Prepare?

Despite me saying that those who don’t know enough Japanese shouldn’t even touch a raw manga, you are undeterred and want to continue.

I applaud you for your tenacity. I’m sure you’ll be able to do it if you keep it up (≡^∇^≡) so let’s get started on the things you need to prepare before you attempt to read raw manga.

If you are a Japanese beginner (can only say the basics and read very little), Google Translate is your friend.

“But wait!” you cry out. Isn’t Google Translate pretty inaccurate?

Yes, it is. However, if you are a Japanese beginner you wouldn’t know the basic grammar so using a dictionary would be pointless. Google Translate can help with basic grammar and get you adjusted to what it looks like. Basically, you learn by memorising.

Google Translate also has a handwriting option in addition to the keyboard so all you have to do is copy the characters onto the writing pad.

If you are more proficient in Japanese (can say some conversations and can read hiragana and katakana well), you can start using a dictionary. However, still, use Google Translate from time to time.

The dictionary can help with certain words you can’t quite get despite understanding the context of the sentences. But what dictionary should you use?

For a more comprehensive guide on Japanese dictionaries, click here to go to Kim Ahlstrom’s post on the best Japanese dictionaries to use.

Kim Ahlstrom happens to be the creator of the online dictionary which also happens to be the dictionary I primarily use when I read raw manga so take my word for it when I say that is a really good dictionary. (Thanks Kim Ahlstrom!)

But Always Take Baby Steps!

Ok, so you have your Google Translate and a dictionary on hand and are more than ready to start reading raw manga. But wait! What should you read?

Woah, hold your horses! Remember when I said that Japanese has kanji as one of it’s writing systems? Turns out that Japanese people generally have a hard time reading kanji. Shock, I know!

Kanji is usually taught to kids as they go through the school system which means that young children cannot really read them. At times, adults also can’t read them.

Once again, I am not an expert on the Japanese school system. Please consult a Japanese person or an expert on Japan.

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Source: Gekkan-Shoujo Nozaki-kun (MangaPanda)


In any case, in Japan, signs with kanji have hiragana on top for clarity and manga aimed at the shoujo and shounen demographic have hiragana next to the kanji.

“So what does this have to do with me?” You ask.

For beginners (and intermediates), I suggest you read raw shoujo and shounen manga first due to the hiragana guide next to the kanji. It can greatly facilitate your learning and enable you to recognise the hiragana and kanji side by side. Basically, it’s easier to read.

Then once you are able to recognise a sizable number of kanji, then you can upgrade to josei and seinen which have no hiragana guide.

Always take small steps when learning a new language, even if you’re doing so through reading raw manga

ˉ̶̡̭̭ ( ´͈ ᗨ `͈ ) ˉ̶̡̭̭

Good for You If You Know Chinese

I see you’re confused but let me explain.

More raw manga is translated into Chinese than English. In fact, the Chinese versions of some elusive series are sold in bookstores and online.

If you happen to know Chinese and it’s better than your Japanese, then you can always buy the Chinese raw instead of doing the stuff I stated above.

Some have opted to read the Chinese raws instead of Japanese because they think “it’s easier to read”. Uhhh nope. Chinese is by far one of the hardest languages to read (I know because I learnt it lol) because there are thousands of characters to memorise.

Reading a Chinese raw when you don’t know the intricacies of the Chinese language is a bigger waste of time than attempting to read Japanese raw without preparing beforehand.

That being said, Chinese Manhua is not that difficult to read…but maybe it’s just me.

But overall, if you can read a Chinese translation of a Japanese manga, go for it.

Final Thoughts

I was a bit hesitant to put this up because my Japanese is far from fluent and I still need dictionaries (yes you read that right, dictionaries as in plural) and the occasional Google Translate.

However, after seeing so many people online and offline mistakenly think that Japanese is such an easy language to read just because it’s so easy to imitate, I just felt I needed to put this out.

There are a lot of benefits to learning Japanese through manga but like learning any language, it takes a lot of hard work and dedication. If not, you’re just wasting your time buying all these raw manga and not touching them.

I hope my post has given some context and sound advice to those who wish to read raw manga.

As always, if you have anything to discuss regarding my post, feel free to comment below, I’d love to hear it 🙂


  1. Great guide Violet,

    All of my friends are reading Manga except for me and I am pretty curious though I’m not really sure where to start since there is a lot to read. I got hooked to Attack on Titan on TV but you’re right, waiting for the English version to come out is sooooo long! I’m thinking of reading Manga on that to know what happens next, I think it’s time I pick up on some Japanese! Which website is your favourite for reading mangas? Might save me some time on looking since I’m new 😀

    1. Hi Riaz,

      Welcome to the fandom 🙂 I’m glad you’re thinking of reading the Attack on Titan manga. It’s really popular and sold in a lot of places online and offline (depends where you live).

      Picking up some Japanese is pretty beneficial. Just note that it’s not for the faint-hearted, you’ll get frustrated over the slow speed you will be reading it. But I think you’ll be able to do it if you have the dedication 🙂

      I don’t use websites to read manga actually. The manga are distributed illegally on them which means that the sites themselves are full of malware. I used to read manga on websites (when I was broke at one point) but some really strong virus went into my computer and I had no choice but to pay hundreds of dollars to get the motherboard replaced. As a result, I don’t read on websites anymore.

      However, if you’re willing to take the risk, I suggest protecting your computer ten-fold before stepping foot into these sites.

      In any case, I highly suggest buying your own copy because you can fully own it. I know for a fact that Japan plans to do a crackdown on free manga websites in the future. There are a few affordable places online to buy so check out my post on Where to Buy Manga Online.

      I wish you all the best in exploring the manga world 🙂


  2. I had no idea of the subtleties you went into here, Violet. They were fascinating. I’m an American whose father and grandfather both spoke Mandarin, and I think they could both read and write at a basic level. So I learned a little Mandarin mainly from my dad. Then when I was 20, I took a passenger liner from Europe to Hong Kong, where I met up with my family. 

    Here is where my comment at least touches on your article. On the ship I developed a close friendship with a Japanese guy. We had a day together in Hong Kong before I rejoined my family. This friend explained Kanji to me. At lunchtime, we went into a cafe and he wrote down what we wanted in Kanji and that is indeed what we got. I was impressed.

    1. Hi Zana,

      Oh nice! Kanji is similar to Chinese characters (the traditional ones) and when I was in Japan, I used my knowledge of Chinese to try to find my way around but it doesn’t always go to plan as Kanji characters may not mean the same in Chinese 😛

  3. When anything pops up relating to ‘Japanese’ my interest is piqued. I have to be honest and say that I have only ever brushed the surface in regard to Manga and Anime. I have watched a few cartoon series but I’ve never delved any deeper than that, I think I find the thought of it a bit overwhelming. Having been part of the Karate scene for many years I have picked up a few Japanese words and phrases along the way. I even have an old ‘Learn Japanese’ audio and book system that I’ve never used and did try for a few months an online daily program to learn.

    Much of what I have come across has probably been Hiragana. I would get confused with the structure. I couldn’t work out whether I was reading the representation of a word, as in symbols for each letter, or if I was looking at an ‘ideogram’ (if that’s the right word) which was depicting more of a thought. Is there a way of recognising the difference without having to study and investigate each character ?

    I like the characters that represent an ‘idea’ somehow it always seems so much more understandable as to the context of the phrase. Not just a straight translation to a word.

    1. Kanji is something that people have always have difficulty with when learning pictorial languages like Chinese and Japanese where characters mean something. Honestly, I can’t really help on alternative ways to recognise characters since my memory has always been good so it was never really a problem for me to remember. I think it really takes a lot of practice which is why there are guides next to the kanji characters. I do agree there is some meaning to the word if everything you wrote meant something, it’s why pictorial languages make such good poetry 🙂

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