Learn spoken Japanese through manga
Manga are great reading material for Japanese learners. For a start, the illustrations aid comprehension. Often you can roughly infer what is being said just by looking at the illustrations, and you can glean the overall plot of a manga merely by flipping through it. Thus, clues from the pictures can make reading a lot easier. Some manga have furigana with the kanji, which can be another valuable reading aid for determining the meaning of words. It also makes it much easier to look up kanji compounds in a dictionary (but don’t, unless you really have to).
Manga contain a lot less text per page than a conventional book, and so you can turn pages much faster and feel like you’re progressing. It’s a good way to break free of the “how many more pages until the end of this chapter” syndrome.
Furthermore, since most of the text in manga is speech, you learn how people really speak in different contexts. Everyday conversation often differs considerably to textbook Japanese and so manga provide a good bridge to spoken Japanese. In particular, they contain a lot of onomatopoeia (words like pikapika, dokidoki, wakuwaku). The sentences also tend to be short.
Two of the three principles of the high-volume reading method known as tadoku (see Japan Harvest, Summer 2016, p. 32) are to choose books that are not overly challenging for you and to stop reading a book if you don’t find it interesting (the third principle is not to use a dictionary). But these two principles can present a problem if there are not many books that you find interesting to read at your reading level. One potential solution is to read manga rather than books.
The sheer diversity of manga means that there’s bound to be some that interest you. They range from school-yard romances to zombies, from historical drama to science fiction.
One disadvantage of manga is that they’re not cheap, retailing at about the same price as paperback novels (about ¥500–¥600 per volume). But there’s no need to pay full price. If you go to a second-hand bookshop, you can usually find manga for about ¥100–¥200 (with the exception of the most recently published ones, which might cost ¥300–¥400). And you can recoup some of that cost by selling them back to the shop when you’re finished. If you’re really short of funds, you can do what the Japanese do and read manga while standing in the bookshop (there’s even a Japanese word for the practice: tachiyomi). Almost all manga are available in e-book format, but in that case you have to pay full price.
Another great thing about manga is that you don’t need to feel self-conscious reading them on public transport—the business man sitting next to you is probably reading one too!
I’d encourage you to pay a visit to your local Book•Off or Tsutaya and invest in a few manga that appeal to you.
Simon Pleasants works as an editor in the Tokyo office of a scientific publishing company. Originally from Wales, UK, he moved to Australia in 1988. He helps maintain several Japanese-related websites, including Reaching Japanese for Christ: rjcnetwork.org