First manga reading attempt

今日は !

As a mere beginner, I still wanted to apply some of my new Japanese knowledge in an attempt to read my first Japanese manga ever : ドラゴンボール

Nevertheless, I was immediately surprised by the difficulty of a manga I thought was good to begin with since it was my favorite one since when I was about 10 years old. It is quite hard to read some letters sometime and it’s difficult to grasp the meaning of a sentence even using Google translate (maybe it is even harder since there is only one translation and not always matching like “it is okay, but I can enjoy it” for “てもいいわけですからたのしめるのです” )

As a consequence, I would like to have your first impression over your first attempt to read a manga and how you manage to get through it :slight_smile: What kind of tools did you use to help you out ? Maybe what was your way of working on it ? (Taking notes, reading a few pages and coming back on them once we have a more general idea of the action… )

Good luck to all the readers :nerd_face:


Yeah, Dragon Ball is definitely not a good place to start as a beginner regardless of what lists like this one says. I tried to do the same thing a while back, too, and had to give up as well.


As to the second half of your question, I’ve instead been trying to read something like Patlabor which is targeted at a slightly older audience so there is far less of the super causal/childish language that Dragon Ball-like series has since all of the characters are pretty much adults.

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That is exactly the link I was referring :sweat_smile:
Interesting, I didn’t think about that at first but now you mention it, the fact that there are numerous sounds doesn’t really help at first. i know that some other resource like TangoRisto are a good way to get better at reading but staying close to the fun of reading manga is important to me so I’ll take a look at Patlabor too, thanks !

I have also struggled to find a manga suited for true beginners. Eager to see what recommendations you receive :slight_smile:


The first time I read any manga in Japanese was when I slowly started working my way through the first volume of Aria with the book club last summer. What I did was basically to look up absolutely everything(words by using Jisho, grammar by googling it) I didn’t know that wasn’t already mentioned in the discussion thread, and add most of it to some SRS system.

I only barely made the deadline for the first chapter with a lot of effort, but I got faster as I kept going and learned more stuff :slight_smile:


To begin with, congratulations for your progress !
It sure seems like a good idea to enroll in this kind of challenge to push our limits and it’s true that using another SRS system will progressively be really important for all the side vocabulary. And thank for Jisho, I’ve tried to look for 舞台 to test it out, it is really well documented :grinning:

Yeah, it was exactly that list that got me to buy it originally thinking it would be easy as well. It really does give you a stark view of how much more even a young child knows than you do when first starting out. :sweat_smile: I think people who write lists like that are far enough advanced in their learning that they don’t realize that things like Dragon Ball are not “easy”.

I love the anime so for me it was a good series that I wanted to read. There are still obviously words and grammar that I struggle with when reading it, but it’s much easier when you aren’t having to also decipher the childish language that Goku speaks.


Manga can be hard before you’ve learned quite a bit of vocabulary. Mostly because many manga use slangy ways of saying things and casual speech. Most of this is not covered well in introductory textbooks.

I’d say that someone at level 20-30 of Wani Kani with a decent amount of vocabulary and grammar knowledge would probably have an easier time with a short story or two before reading most manga.

I’ve read about 40 manga so far, and the easiest was probably this volume of samezu.


I haven’t actually read any manga in Japanese myself yet (though I will someday!) but I thought since you’re looking for advice that this thread might be helpful, where similar questions were brought up:

ChristopherFritz’s response, which was also marked as the solution to the thread, seems like pretty good advice, so I’ll put it here, in this summary box:


My personal experience with buying a set of manga and trying to read it with the intent to learn along the way has been…fairly pitiful. I’d fail to make any significant progress past page 1 in many cases.

This changed last year when I picked up the first volume of a no-official-English-release manga I wanted to read (having seen season one of the anime based on it). It’s a four-panel style comic, so every day I forced myself to go through a four-panel strip, looking up all of the vocabulary and grammar. This was with zero formal learning of grammar prior except for anything I got back in high school way back when. I’d picked up some grammar watching subbed anime over the years, but for all intents and purposes I was starting from square one.

My recommendation, based on what I did, is:

  1. Pick a set amount of work you can do each day and do your best to stick to it. It can be working through a whole page, or it can be going through two panels, or it can be going through three sentences of dialogue. Whatever works for your schedule. You can adjust your workload to better fit your schedule, but make sure you work on it every day. So skipping a day here, skipping there, not wanting to do it one day. Motivation is fleeting, so put yourself on a schedule and make it into a habit.
  2. Decide up front whether you want to use this as an opportunity to learn new vocabulary. Will you be making cards in Anki or another flash card system? Or do you already learn words elsewhere (Japanese Core 2000, WaniKani, iknow, etc)? You can learn words in Blue Exorcist , but if you’re learning vocabulary elsewhere you may not want to burden your workload with extra vocabulary outside of that. (I opted to make Anki cards for all the vocabulary I encountered. It was time consuming. I don’t regret it.)
  3. Decide up front whether you want to learn any kanji you encounter. Since you’re using WaniKani, I personally recommend against trying to learn any kanji outside of WaniKani, unless you can come up with a mnemonic that works for you. (I wasn’t using WaniKani yet, but I think the only kanji I bothered to learn while reading the manga volume last year was 喫茶店.)
  4. Take the time needed to learn any grammar you encounter. Get used to typing a part of a sentence and “grammar” or “meaning” beside it into a Google query. Learning basic vocabulary will give you the most “bang for your buck”, so to speak. You’ll find a wide variety of vocabulary and kanji, but you’ll see a lot of the same grammar over and over.
  5. Allow yourself to skip anything you really can’t figure out. Sure, you’ll get a bit lost on the story multiple times. But reading 100 pages and understanding 10% is better than spending the same amount of time struggling through 10 pages. (Some will disagree with me on that statement. Find that works best for you.) The material do you do learn that comes up in later pages will be reinforced and you’ll understand it better.

When I worked my way through the comic I read last year, for a while I was keeping blog posts of my progress. Although I’ve deleted a number of them (because I moved their content to another site), you can see an example here of my working through a page, looking up the grammar, and so on.

Good luck. Expect to become frustrated, dejected, demotivated. Expect to want to just give up. This is why setting yourself a goal and a schedule to follow is important. Push through it, move forward, and make progress!


Dragon Ball was the first (and pretty much only) series I’ve read, too. I remember being frustrated when I could only understand a word or two out of a whole speech balloon. The good news is, it’s such a long series that if you persist and work your way through to the end (while continuing to study other things, of course) you can go back to the beginning and see how much more you understand everything.

Like others have said, Dragon Ball is definitely hard for beginners because of how little the dialogue resembles textbook Japanese. But I’d add that it’s a great education for informal Japanese! I’m only learning to understand, not speak, so reading stuff like Dragon Ball has added a lot of fun and colour to my Japanese bank. It can be difficult to look up some of the more colloquial terms, but it’s possible.

Another thing with manga like Dragon Ball is they repeat a LOT of words/turns of phrases. If you notice/remember some of the most common ones, you’ll be able to understand more than you’d expect.

Also, some words are spelled differently because the character is saying them out loud, like how “going to” becomes “gonna” in English. For example, すいません as a faster/sloppier version of すみません。Another I can think of off the top of my head is です turning into っす。As in "いいっす。” You can figure it out by just saying it out loud a lot of the time.


I didn’t. I failed :sweat_smile:

And since then, I hold an unhealthy grudge about people who carelessly recommend any kind of manga for beginners, or publish those sort of list, without adding the giant caveat that this kind of material is extremely hard at this stage…

Between N5 and N4, I tried Yotsuba. This one is touted everywhere as the perfect manga for beginners, the one manga that should be read as early as possible, and I want to punch the face of every single person who uttered this nonsense. Yotsuba is HARD so early. I spent hours agonizing over the first 30 pages or so before giving up.

Between N4 and N3, I tried to read Aria the Materpiece, following the Beginner Book club in Wanikani… Well, my failure is still visible on this forum, you can see my posts in the thread of volume 1, at first very motived, asking tons of question… only to disappear quickly. I tried hard, but again after 30 pages or so, and a double digit number of hours spent, I gave up.

After those two crushing blows, I retreated for a while to the safe waters of graded reader, then later NHK easy news and Satori reader, anything actually designed with language learner in mind really, and just continue to study with conventional methods, learning grammars, learning vocab, classroom etc.

But wait, there is actually light at the end of the tunnel ! Between N3 and N2 I picked up native material again… and discovered that my level was finally good enough ! It still a lot of lookup, a lot of pain, but now I can finally make sense of most of what I read if I put the effort. (and recently I re-read the first 30 pages of Aria and it was just magical. I read them almost effortlessly, fully enjoying the story, it was soooo satisfying :grinning: )

Anyway, it vary a lot from people to people, so it’s difficult to give general advice, but for some kind of person (maybe with low linguistic intuition and low tolerance to ambiguity ?), reading any kind of native material before reaching a sufficient general level can just be too difficult and really demoralizing. If you poured a lot of effort already and it still feel completely impossibly hard, retreating to easier materials and waiting a bit for your ability to rise before trying again is not a bad idea !


100% agree. Especially when they try to sell you on it because it’s written for kids. As if kids don’t have a fairly sophisticated understanding of their own language.


Yotsubato is definitely much harder than people like to claim. I also tried and failed to read it once before coming to WaniKani, and then successfully read it with the book club.

I actually think Aria the Masterpiece is much more accessible to beginners than Yotsubato. Most of the characters use relatively “normal” language instead of all the colloquial language that makes Yotsubato so hard. And other than the occasional sci-fi explanation, the story is relatively easy to follow.


Agreed ! Aria is actually a bit easier most of the time !

So I don’t remember exactly why Aria overwhelmed me back then… A bit of everything, I guess ?

Actually I think one of the issue for beginners, not discussed that often, is simply how tiny the font is. Especially, the furigana are hard to read in Aria. And the つ vs っ. Manga in general use fairly tiny font and for beginners who are still battling a lot with kanji it can be really hard. I remember after that I just stuck with digital stuff for quite a while, just to be able to increase the font or zoom-in easily :stuck_out_tongue:

Edit : Oh wow, I just remembered ! During the book club of Aria, just because of those tiny furigana I actually scanned every page and read them on the computer :rofl:


I do that too. I’ll transcribe sentences to break things down and then I’ll add annotations to the digital manga for later reference.

Dragon Ball’s definitely not the easiest thing to start on, although I also made it my first, when I could understand maybe only about half the dialogue well enough to think I could translate it on my own, and was relying heavily on my own familiarity with the series. Lots of colloquial/vernacular dialogue, as is Toriyama’s wont.

It only gets easier with practice though! My recommendation would be to not get hung up on anything right now, and focus on being able to get through the chapters in a way that renders them basically understandable and enjoyable. And keep up with outside grammar and vocabulary study.

Once you’re further along, then you can start worrying about writing down every new word/making sure you understand each line of dialogue well enough to translate it yourself–when the unfamiliar is heavily enough couched in the familiar to stand out.


I read the first several books of Dragon Ball. It is fairly simple both grammatically and in terms of vocabulary. I recommend just grazing over the rare spot where you end up with something that’s too complex and come back to it again later when you have a bit more experience. That said, also be careful about the dialect that many of the characters speak. The main thing you’ll see that may confuse you is that they negative form of verbs is a little different: instead of ない it’s ねえ, so 行かない becomes 行かねえ.

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The vocabulary and grammar may not be very high register, but the casualness of the dialogue (and multiple characters having exaggerated dialectical elements), can certainly render parsing lines difficult for new readers. Toriyama uses a lot of slurred contractions that could throw you unless you already have some native reading under your belt or are familiar enough with the phrases to parse the sounds. And not just in the big, obvious ways like Goku’s country dialect.

Machine translation is going to be especially useless in the face of that, which is why I was recommended just accepting some partial understandings for now. It’ll all clear up with more study and exposure.


Yotsuba! is great.

It’s about a little girl who’s just moved town. Because everything is new to her, everything is explained to her. This means that everything is explained to the reader. E.g. you don’t need to know what global warming is in Japanese because Yotsuba doesn’t either and has it explained to her. It’s really basic but very funny.

Also there is a book club on wanikani which uploads vocab cheat sheets fro each chapter and you can post questions if you don’t get the grammar.