Tips for learning via anime/manga

Many people get interested in learning Japanese because they enjoy anime or manga and that’s great. I would much prefer more people interested in learning Japanese for whatever reason versus less people interested in the language for the “right reasons”. In addition, any exposure to the language is a good thing. However, one just has to be aware that the language you may find in anime or manga isn’t necessarily practical or common in real-life. So here are my suggestions if you’re learning Japanese via anime/manga.

  1. Do NOT ask for or do translations! Translating does not help you learn the language whatsoever, and is in fact detrimental to understanding Japanese. In addition, people (especially me) get annoyed when asked for free translations for lyrics or whatever.
  2. Learn and be aware of the various politeness levels as language in anime/manga can be highly colloquial or even offensive.
  3. If possible, pick a story set in a modern and fairly realistic setting. Vocabulary about magic, made up combat moves (eg rasengan), etc isn’t very useful in real life as you can imagine.
  4. Many (including myself) enjoy action or 青年 comics (primary from Jump). However, these stories with very short dialogs peppered with “I will not lose!” or “I will defeat you!”, while entertaining, will not give you much exposure to useful vocabulary and grammar.

Here are some comics I suggest for learning material ordered in difficulty with links to the first volume of each series:

  1. よつばと! – A good manga to start with about a cheerful and eccentric child though some of the child-like dialog is a bit casual. Bonus: Furigana included!
  2. あずまんが大王 – 四コマ or four box comic strips are short, easy to digest, and this one is cute and funny. It also has good cultural info mostly for high-school life.
  3. あたしンち – Finding humor in regular (in Japan) daily life.
  4. めぞん一刻 – Fans of Ranma 1/2 or Inuyasha may enjoy this older title, which is a romantic comedy of a tenant and his landlord.
  5. ちびまる子ちゃん – A classic title, started in 1987. Man, it’s got a lot of dialog to pile through.

Add any suggestions for titles you’ve enjoyed in the comments!

13 thoughts on “Tips for learning via anime/manga

  1. ?
    Getsuga Tenschou.
    How is it not useful? ;p

    Thanks, Tae, for you suggested learning matirial.

  2. I really recommend Yotsubato / Yotsuba / よつばと! / Yotsuba &

    It’s by the same guy who did Azumanga and the simple amusing Japanese is great for beginners. I’m using the Korean version now to help me with my Korean.

    • It’s been incredibly useful for me. Since it’s a bit easier than some more advanced manga, it’s also a great confidence boost. 🙂 I’ve heard it’s often a standard recommendation for the beginner/lower-intermediate level.

    • Yes, this is the first manga series I’ve been able to read all the way through in only japanese.

      It’s great for beginners/intermediate because it explains various topics from a young child’s point of view. This is ideal because more complicated vocabulary will be introduced to yotsuba, who doesn’t understand it, so an adult will explain it to her in simpler terms. Unintentionally perfect for learning!

      I was also surprised how good the art is. The faces are typical japanese anime style, but you’ll notice that the drawings of everything else are drawn very realistically.

      The only drawback is that if you are already skilled in japanese you may find this too simplistic. I certainly am not though, and it’s a great stepping stone.

  3. When I say the list I was going to pop in and say Yotsubato! too but was beaten to the punch. Volume 10 just came out and I’m digging into it now. For people outside of Japan, it’s a little harder, but pop into a Book off and browse through the selections there. My judge is to generally look for manga with furigana on all the kanji. A few others around the same level, maybe a little tougher than Yotsubato! would be To Loveる and 明日のよいち (Asu no Yoichi). Both a little more on the ecchi side but readable. One Piece I found a little difficult when I tried, same with Bleach. Both difficult but readable if I really put in effort. Oh and Ranma isn’t bad either, but out-dated. Bought all 38 issues for 105¥ each from Book Off.

    Also, I may be mistaken, but I’m pretty sure that Azumanga Daioh doesn’t have furigana, which makes it harder to read if you don’t know the kanji. I remember looking at them after I finished reading all nine issues of Yotsubato!

    • Not only was I going to suggest Yotsubato, I didn’t know about the new volume. I read this comment at work and went straight to the bookstore on my way home to pick it up. Thanks!

      • Np. I went to see Harry Potter today, and they had a little animated ad with Yotsuba, was soo cute… Oh and make sure you take off the dust cover and look at the book inside.

  4. I’m curious, why is translating not useful for learning? Just curious, I know a little Japanese from a few semesters in college and I thought it would make a fun project some day.

      • There are some phrases which you can easily think about in English terms, but then there are others which we wouldn’t say in the same way or at all. If you’re always translating you’re trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. I’m at this point in my learning where I can read something, understand it and be unable to express it in English, but completely understanding it. Where my rut falls is turning what I want to say into those sentences naturally and easily. Building the Japanese in my mind always hits a boundary and I fall on what I think feels right.

  5. Hey Taekk, I just read your post, and, for the most part I agree with you, but I have to say I don’t think that doing translations is a complete waste of time. I did fan translations for a little while (about one season) and for the first 8 weeks or so, it was immensely good for my listening skills. I was forced to listen to lines that I didn’t understand over and over again to try to pick out words that I needed to look up, and it really improved my ability to take in quickly-spoken Japanese. Granted, I had to put a lot of thought into “how does this make sense in English? How to I portray this scene in English?” but the other half of the activity I found to be pretty useful. After a few months of this though, it can get mundane and the value starts to wear off, but for anyone trying to improve their listening skills quickly (who has an incredible amount of time on their hands), I really don’t think it’s completely pointless.

  6. I second the the めーぞん一刻 recommendation, both the manga and the anime. Superb story, super writing, and entertaining as hell.Some of the dialogue is a wee bit dated, but only a small percentage. (And, knowing the older words is kind of a benefit; on one or two occasions, I’ve impressed the hell out of Japanese people over the age of 30 using words I picked up there.)

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