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:
- 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 Jisho.org 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 Jisho.org 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.
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.
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 🙂