Manga are Japanese comics and while comics are comics no matter where you are in the world, manga are different in a lot of ways and they have their specific rules you have to follow. Whether you’re reading the originals in Japanese or a translation, manga are always read in a specific way and follow certain rules. So, how exactly should you read manga?
If you’re in the West, reading manga could be quite an adventure. Namely, manga are very different in both style and structure than traditional Western comics, and the topics written about in manga works are usually much different than those in traditional Western comics. Also, manga are read right-to-left, which is opposite from Western comics, although they are read top-to-bottom like Western comics.
The article is going to be divided into several sections, each of which is going to explain one specific aspect. If you’re just beginning to dive into the magical world of manga, you’ve come to the right place. Keep reading this article to learn all the hows and the whats you need to know, but most importantly – where and how to start.
How Do You Read a Manga?
A manga (the Kanji for manga is 漫画) is a Japanese comic. Most manga conforms to a style developed in Japan in the late 19th century, although the form itself has a lot of precursors in earlier Japanese art. In Japan, the term manga more generally refers to comics, regardless of their origin.
In the West, the word “manga” designates a Japanese comic, but also sometimes a non-Japanese comic respecting the codes of popular Japanese productions or to name, by metonymy, other visual products reminiscent of some of these comics (cartoons, graphic style, etc.).
Due to the high rate of publication and to keep the cost of printing low, most manga is drawn in black and white, apart from the cover. The first two countries that read the most manga are Japan and France. The person making manga is called a mangaka.
Now, these are the basic information you need to know about what manga is. This is important for a beginner, as you might have heard the word but don’t know what it actually means or represents. Now, let us get to the more practical aspects.
The first thing you need to know is that manga is read from right to left. The reasons for that will be explained in the next section, but we have to say that it is nothing wrong or out of the ordinary – it’s not the same as in the West. Like there are countries where you drive on the left side of the road, and those where you drive on the right side, there are Western comics, which are read from left to right, and there are manga, which are read from right to left.
Manga are usually published on a monthly basis (although there is no particular rule that applies to the publication rate) in specialized manga magazines in the form of “chapters”, which correspond to issues in Western comics (e.g. Chapter 15 of a manga would correspond to #15 of a comic book).
Individual chapters are later collected in so-called tankōbon volumes, which correspond to trade paperback issues in the West, or even graphic novels, depending on how long the manga is. These volumes can vary in length.
Manga are usually published targeting specific demographic groups. Children’s manga are publications whose target audience are children up to 10 years of age. Teenage boys (12 to 18 years) fit into the enormously popular shōnen category, while the same category for girls is called shōjo.
Seinen manga target young adults, usually between the ages of 18 and 40, while adult-focused manga fit into the josen category. Manga magazines are often focused on one specific demographic group. Now, there are also other age groups, but these are the most basic ones so we don’t be digging deeper into this aspect.
As for the genres, manga have some specific genres that aren’t really present outside Japan, or, if they are, they were unknown before being seen in manga.
Such are the isekai genre (“person/people who is transported to and has to survive in another world, such as a fantasy world, virtual world, planet or parallel universe”), the lolicon genre (“young girl characters appear in sexual or suggestive contexts”), the mecha genre (“robots in battle”), the harem genre (“a protagonist is surrounded by three or more androphilic/gynephilic love interests or sexual partners”), and others.
There are also traditional genres such as drama, horror, thriller, comedy, etc., but diversity is really a big thing when it comes to manga.
And this is, we think, everything you need to know if you’re a beginner to manga. We shall now continue our analysis with some more specific questions that will help you find your way around the amazing world of manga.
Why Is manga Read “backwards”?
For Western readers, one of the most bizarre things about manga is that they’re read “backwards”, i.e., from right to left. Why is it like that?
Well, it’s actually a matter of the traditional Japanese writing system, where texts were written from left to right, rather than right to left; today, with the heavy influence of Western culture, Japanese is mostly written from right to left (you can also write vertically, but that is not as common as it was in the Middle Ages). We’ll explain this system in short.
Horizontal writing came to Japan during the Meiji period, when the Japanese began to print dictionaries of European languages. In the beginning, books were printed on a mixture of horizontal European and vertical Japanese text, which implied a constant 90° rotation of the book when reading. This system was cumbersome, and the idea of horizontal writing was gradually adopted.
One of the first publications to partially use yokogaki was the Pocket Illustrated German-Japanese Dictionary, published in 1885. At the beginning of the transition to horizontal writing during the Meiji period in Japan, the form of migi yokogaki (Japanese 右 横 書 き, literally “right horizontal writing”), in which characters went from right to left, did not exist for long.
Today, the standard is hidari yokogaki (左 横 書 き, “left horizontal writing”). Migi yokogaki looked like a letter in Arabic with a line ending on the left. It may have been an attempt to adapt the traditional writing of lines from right to left, but it never became widespread.
What App Should You Use to Read Manga?
Manga are primarily published in printed format but with the advancement of technology, manga gave also become available in digital format, with some manga being exclusively released in digital form.
Now, if you’re someone who prefers to read on a screen rather than through holding a book, we have decided to bring you a list of the best apps you can use to read manga. Here is our list:
Comixology (Android, iOS, Kindle Fire, Browser) is an application that is great for Western comics, especially if you’re a DC or Marvel fan, but it also has a solid slate of manga in its library.Viz Media (Android, iOS) is a specialized app for manga that has been translated into English; Viz Media is North America’s biggest manga publisher.Shonen Jump (Android, iOS, Browser) is the Japanese counterpart of Viz Media, and the app that represents Japan’s biggest manga publisher. Crunchyroll (Android, iOS, Browser) is an application that allows you to stream anime but with a premium membership, you can also read a decent manga library, although the publishers are not at famous as Viz media. Book Walker (Android, iOS, Windows, Browser) is an app that specializes in selling manga and Japanese light novels. It kind of works like Amazon, but it only sells manga and light novels. Renta (Browser) is a great place if you prefer romance manga. It’s genre-specific, but hey – for those who love that genre, it’s a great place to start. Manga Club (Browser) is a newcomer on the manga market and although it also primarily focuses on romance manga, it is good because it has something for everyone’s wallet. Mangamo (Android, iOS) is great because it’s completely ad-free and it has some solid titles in its library, but not the major ones. Inkr Comics (Android, iOS) deserves praise because it started off as an illegal manga source before actually becoming completely legal. Kudos!Manga Plus (Android, iOS, Browser) is the official source of Shueisha, one of Japan’s major manga publishers.
How to Read Manga on Crunchyroll?
As we have said above, Crunchyroll is primarily known as an anime streaming service that has the best anime library on the internet. Now, Crunchyroll also has a solid manga library, but in order to access it, you’ll have to get a premium subscription.
The whole thing is not as expensive, but do know that there aren’t any major titles on the site, as they don’t have titles published by Viz Media; some of the publishers present on the site are Seven Seas Entertainment, Kodansha, and Vertical.
How Can You Read Manga Without Breaking It?
Since manga are usually published in paperback format, they aren’t the most practical books to read in terms of preserving the original quality of the publication itself. The printed editions are stiff (they don’t really bend that well) and the spine breaks easily. This is why it is a true art to preserve the original condition of a manga.
There aren’t any specific rules that we can apply to this situation, but we can advise you to be careful. To avoid bending, just place the manga under a pile of other books, which is going to result in them flattening after a while.
If you want to avoid the spine breaking, just be careful and feel the book – when you feel the book resisting further widening, just stop and try to read it without forcing it further.
Sadly, this is the best advice we can give you for this problem.
How to Read Manga in English?
Reading manga in English is very simple, if you remember to read from right to left, as the translators retained the original reading order. Now, Viz Media publishes almost all of the major titles in English, so you can easily find them in different book stores or specialized manga stores.
If you want to read them online, do check the list of great apps you can use to read manga in English on your mobile and handheld devices. Luckily for fans, manga are now readily available in a lot of languages around the world, not just in Japanese.
How to Read Manga Panels?
As said, manga are read from right to left, top to bottom. Although this formula might seem easy enough, you might find yourself confused when you see some pages and panels. The design of the pages can be specific and even if you know the proper reading order, you might find yourself confused. That is why we are going to give you a more precise guide on how to do it properly.
Like the pages of manga, individual panels should always be read from right to left. You start reading each page by beginning with the upper right hand corner panel. Continue reading from right to left and when you reach the end of the page, go to the panel in the far-right of the following row of panels. If the panels don’t line up perfectly, just stick to the right to left rule. Begin with the highest row or column and make your way – right to left – to the lowest row or column.
Dialog balloons, which contain dialogues between characters as well as thoughts, should likewise be read from right to left. Begin in the upper right hand corner of each panel and continue reading the dialog balloons from right to left, and then up to down.