Manga is one of my favorite tools for learning Japanese. Manga is easier to read than books without images, and it is a great way to learn how Japanese is used in context. Learning from manga is not hard, but you do need to make some intelligent choices and know about the right tools. The ideas here on how to learn Japanese from manga are adapted from my guide, How to Learn Japanese With Manga.
Choose the Manga of the Right Difficulty (Goldilocks Zone)
First, you will want to choose manga that is the right difficulty. This depends on your current reading level. When learning from manga, it is important to find material that is in what I call the “Goldilocks zone“. This is a zone of difficulty where optimal learning occurs—the material is neither too “hot” (too difficult) nor too “cold” (too easy). It is just right.
So how do you know if a manga is in the Goldilocks zone? One way to test is with the 60% test. Take a random page from a manga book and, without the help of a dictionary (or Google search), see if you can understand 60% or more of the words and grammar structures on the page. If you cannot, this is a sign that the manga is too hard for you.
Also, with the help of a dictionary and internet searches, you want to be able to figure out most of what is going on. The 60% rule is a good way to test for this. In general, you want no more than 1-2 things per sentence that you do not understand. This prevents frustration and burnout.
For beginners, you generally want to find manga that is as easy as possible. You can then raise the difficulty level as you improve. For more information, see our posts on how to find easy manga to read and our recommended manga titles for beginners.
Read and Harvest Flashcards
Once you have found a manga book to read, the next thing I like to do is to read and harvest flashcards. The most important tool for accelerated language learning is spaced repetition with a SRS flashcard system. These tools (I use Anki) help you learn more in less time.
Here is a sample workflow from How to Learn Japanese With Manga:
- Read manga
- Use a dictionary app or search engine to look up difficult words and phrases
- (Optional: Use an English-version of the manga to check your understanding)
- If you feel a phrase is worth remembering, take a photo of it with your phone
- Also take a screenshot (or bookmark) of the words you looked up
- Continue to read
Later, you can turn these photos into flashcards and review them whenever you have some free time.
Make and Review Your Flashcards
My workflow for making and reviewing flashcards looks like this:
- Upload the photos and screenshots you took to a folder on your computer (ideally, this should happen automatically with Dropbox or some other syncing software)
- Use the photos and definitions to make SRS flashcards. Do extra research as necessary
- Review daily
- Update the flashcards iteratively, making changes as you review
That’s it! I generally add 10-20 cards each day and do a total of around 80-100 reviews. This takes about 20 minutes, and it’s one of the best uses of your time that I can think of.
The above workflows may seem simple. That is because they are simple. When learning languages, the goal is to put in lots and lots of quality time. A simple, enjoyable, and interesting workflow is the key to ensuring that you put in as much learning time as possible.