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Learn Japanese With Manga: 5 Books for Beginners

Learning Japanese can be tough, but doing it in a fun way that aligns with your passions, can make it a fun and enjoyable experience. Previously, we released an article about using video games to learn Japanese.

In this guide, we’ll go over Japanese manga recommendations for beginner Japanese learners, notes on buying used manga, and three tips to help you read manga in Japanese.

Some of these manga will include English text with Japanese translations in the margins, while others will be in full Japanese with no English help. Furthermore, some titles have furigana (katakana and hiragana reading aids) next to each kanji. These different text styles will be clearly stated in each section.


A Note on Buying Used Japanese Manga

One important thing to remember when buying manga from Japan is that Japanese resellers tend to take better care of their books than sellers in other countries. I’ve often found that used items listed as “good” condition on Amazon Japan would be considered “very good” on Amazon Canada or Amazon in the US.

For example, I purchased Cowa! (see photo above) from a used books seller on Amazon Japan and it was listed as “good” condition. However, what I received in the mail was pretty much mint condition. Therefore, you may be able to save money by purchasing used books with confidence from Japanese resellers.


Learn by Reading: Japanese Beginner Manga Recommendations

 1. Cowa!

Written and illustrated by the great Akira Toriyama (Dragon Ball, Dr. Slump), Cowa! is a hidden gem among Toriyama’s amazing works. Cowa!, which means “Scary!” in Japanese, is set in a universe where the world of monsters and the world of humans are one. Despite its title, the manga is far from scary. Rather, it is a comedic and brilliant take on the supernatural world.

The manga follows a young ghost named Jose Rodriguez and a young half-vampire, half-werekoala named Paifu (you can’t make this stuff up). Yes, you read that correctly, werekoala. Instead of using the power of a full moon, whenever Paifu sees a cross, it triggers his transformation into an angry and powerful koala. The manga follows the two friends as they embark on childish adventures, such as stealing watermelons, and the larger quest of saving their town from a strange sickness that has infected many of the citizens.

Stylistically, Cowa! is one of the most unique titles of Toriyama’s esteemed career. The manga is short and sweet with only one volume (14 chapters) ever released. The goofy characters and unique world that Toriyama has created will leave you wanting more. While the manga is set in a fantasy world, there is seldom any usage of made-up words. With a focus on simple language tailored for younger readers, Cowa! uses mostly beginner kanji. For those new to learning Japanese with manga, there is also furigana printed next to each kanji to help you out.

Even if you aren’t a fan of Dragon Ball, be sure to give Cowa! a try, because the manga is very different from Toriyama’s other works.


Text Style / Format: Japanese hiragana, kanji, and furigana (no English help)

Recommended for: N5 to N3 level learners

Available Here


2. Sherlock

I’m sure you’ve all heard of the famous Sherlock Holmes books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but did you know there is a Sherlock manga?

No I am not referring to Detective Conan, but rather a manga series starring Sherlock Holmes himself. Due to the success of the modern-day reboot series Sherlock by the BBC (and released on Netflix), an English-Japanese bilingual manga series was published by Kadokawa Books.

The bilingual manga series includes four volumes: A Study in Pink, The Great Game, The Blind Banker, and A Scandal in Belgravia. All titles follow the plot of the BBC television series almost scene-for-scene.


Text Style / Format: English with Japanese hiragana and kanji in the margins

Recommended for: N4 to N3 level learners

Available Here


3. Kimi No Na Wa (Your Name)

From the esteemed anime director Makoto Shinkai, Kimi No Na Wa is the time-travel romance anime that took the world by storm. It even surpassed Miyazaki’s Spirited Away as the highest-grossing anime of all time. Due to its popularity, Shinkai wrote a manga adaptation of the anime film which spans 3 volumes.

The Kimi No Na Wa manga follows the anime film almost verbatim, so those who have watched the film will have an easier time reading the manga in Japanese. Just like the Sherlock manga detailed above, the Kimi No Na Wa bilingual manga was created for Japanese people learning English and the main text is all in English with Japanese translations in the margins.

For those who love Kimi No Na Wa or romance anime in general, there is perhaps no better title to bolster your Japanese reading skills. 


Text Style / Format: English with Japanese hiragana and kanji in the margins

Recommended for: N4 to N3 level learners

Available HERE


4. Doraemon: Touching Stories

Another hidden gem manga and anime series is Doraemon, a children’s manga about a robotic cat from the future. Most people outside of Japan haven’t heard of Doraemon, and it’s a huge shame that this title didn’t take off in other countries. Doraemon is a timeless series that both children and adults can enjoy and learn from. In fact, the 3D anime film "Stand By Me Doraemon" is the only children’s anime that has ever brought me to tears.

The manga series is about a young elementary school boy named Nobita who is weak, clumsy, and often bullied by his classmates. Luckily for him, a descendent from his future along with a robot cat named Doraemon visit him to warn him about his less-than-optimal life ahead if he doesn’t change his ways.

While you could simply read the full Japanese Doraemon manga series to help you learn Japanese, there are also Japanese-English compilation volumes available. "Doraemon: Touching Stories" is a collection of some of the most heartwarming story arcs in the entire series.

For those new to Doraemon, this compilation is a great read and a good way to gauge whether or not this series is for you.


Text Style / Format: English with Japanese hiragana and kanji in the margins

Recommended for: N5 to N4 level learners

Available HERE


5. Yotsuba to!

Yotsuba to! (Yotsuba and…) is a slice-of-life manga series about a young girl named Yotsuba who moves to a new town with her father. From swing sets in the park to air conditioning systems, global warming, and staying away from strangers, the manga follows Yotsuba as she learns about the world. With the help of her father and friendly neighbors, Yotsuba learns something new in every chapter. True to the tagline of the series, Itsudemo kyou ga ichiban tanoshii hi (everyday is the best day), Yotsuba enjoys each and every day with a happy-go-lucky, carefree personality.

While Yotsuba to! is a simple manga, it is a nostalgic and entertaining glimpse into the mind of a five-year-old. The manga uses a decent amount of kanji, but all of the kanji has furigana printed next to it. Furthermore, each new chapter presents new vocabulary and often includes scenes where adults have to explain what the new word, such as global warming, means to help the young Yotsuba understand.

In many ways, Yotsuba to! is the perfect manga to learn Japanese for beginners.


Text Style / Format: Japanese hiragana, kanji, and furigana (no English help)

Recommended for: N5 to N4 level learners

Available HERE


Free Tips to Help You Learn Japanese with Manga

1. Read with flow: Don’t stop reading to look up every kanji or word you don’t know. First you should try your best to read at least the entire chapter through, from start to finish, and see how much you can understand. Afterward, look up the kanji and words you didn’t know.

2. Keep a vocab journal: While reading Japanese manga is fun, we aren’t doing this just for fun. Be sure to keep a vocabulary and kanji journal of the new words you learn and try to commit them to memory.

3. Never hurry, never stop: I truly believe learning in a fun way helps improve education. Therefore, this should never feel like a chore. Don’t try to bust through 10 Japanese manga titles every week. At the same time, you should try to be reading every day. Whether that be one hour every day, 30 minutes, or 10 minutes, it's up to you to decide the pace that you want to keep.


  Cowa! Sherlock Kimi No Na Wa (Your Name) Doraemon: Touching Stories Yotsuba to!
Hiragana:  O O  O  O O
Kanji:  O  O  O O
Furigana:  O  X  X O
English:  X  O  O X
Level:  N5 - N3 N4 - N3   N4 - N3  N5 - N4 N5 - N4
Available:   Buy Here  Buy Here  Buy Here Buy Here Buy Here


Please Note: Some of the titles listed above may not be available to buy in your country.
If that is the case, you can use ZenMarket’s online shopping service to have manga from Japan, or other Japanese goods for that matter, shipped from Japan to your doorstep!

How do I buy items directly from Japan?

Who is ZenMarket?

Article| 19/05/2020 | blogAnime/Manga


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