10 manga to learn Japanese with
Need some fun study aids while you learn Japanese? Look no further than manga. Manga are Japanese comic books and graphic novels that use an iconic line-drawing art and storytelling style that is a huge part of Japanese culture. In recent years, manga has grown into a global phenomenon.
Why manga will help you learn
Reading books in the language that you’re studying can help you master your new language.
When it comes to Japanese, reading these stunning illustrated stories is no different. In manga the visuals rule, but there’s text amongst the drawings too. The combination of art and short sentences can support your learning as the scenes add context to what you’re reading. They are also printed in black and white, making it easier to focus on following the story.
Manga stories are often released regularly as part of a long-running series, before being published in volumes containing several chapters. Many are also adapted for TV. So, once you’ve found a story or genre you like, there’ll likely be loads for you to enjoy.
Before you start
Reading manga is different from picking up a Western book or comic; begin with the picture frame in the top right of the page and read from right to left, top to bottom. You could also buy the manga in your native language so that you can compare when you get stuck on Japanese words or phrases you don’t know yet!
Without further ado, here are our top 10 manga picks for Japanese learners.
Charming and loved by Japanese readers and learners of all ages, this manga follows a young girl (Yotsuba) as she learns about the world around her and navigates all the problems of everyday life. The language and vocab used are relevant for learners and simple enough to follow as a beginner, and each chapter can be read as a standalone.
2. Pokémon Adventures
Even if you’ve never heard of manga, you’ll still have heard of Pokémon; the iconic animated universe where creatures with special powers, including Pikachu, live alongside humans. The franchise started as a game and manga soon followed. Aimed at children and younger readers, this is a good (and familiar!) place to kick-start your Japanese learning.
Doraemon is one of the most famous children’s manga, following the adventures of a schoolboy called Nobita and his robot cat from the future. The relatively simple language and amusing, family-friendly themes make this another great choice for beginners.
4. Kimi No Na Wa (Your Name)
Two high school students, a boy from modern-day Tokyo and a girl from a rural Japanese town, wake up to find they’ve switched bodies. This romance and adventure story started as an animated film and has been adapted as a manga. Helpfully, multilingual copies are available making it easy for you to follow along and pick up new words.
5. Shirokuma Café
This light and comical manga explores the everyday stories of the animals (and a few humans) that visit a café run by a polar bear. Unlike many fantasy manga, it uses casual expressions and vocabulary that are practical in your own life. It also contains puns, which can be a challenge as you begin to learn Japanese but great when you’re practicing mastering nuance.
6. Dragon Ball
Martial arts, heroic intergalactic adventures, and a quest to find seven orbs that can summon a dragon; with epic storylines like these you’ll forget you’re studying. Dragon Ball has less complicated language than some other fantasy-action manga and is so popular that it has also been turned into many anime series and films.
7. Slam Dunk
A misfit, rebellious high school boy meets a girl who convinces him to join the basketball team, where he realizes that he is a great athlete – sound familiar? Around the world, we’ve enjoyed books, movies and TV shows with similar plots, and if you’re into basketball (or team sports in general) this manga is for you.
8. Nichijou (My Ordinary Life)
This slice-of-life manga series – which is also a TV show – is a fun way to learn about Japanese culture and customs. Nichijou follows childhood friends who live normal lives but end up in weird and wonderful predicaments. Oh, and there’s a robot and a talking cat, too.
9. Chi’s Sweet Home
Manga art often features big eyes and cute characters, but this series about a lost kitten named Chi takes cuteness to another level. Sentences are short and the vocab is simple, but as Chi sometimes speaks like a child, the grammar and words used aren’t always ‘perfect’ examples of Japanese.
10. Studio Ghibli Manga
You’ll have likely come across some of the popular films created by Japanese animation company, Studio Ghibli. Many of their movies have been adapted for your reading pleasure including Spirited Away, My Neighbour Totoro, and Howl’s Moving Castle.