How do I read Manga?

I just picked up a manga today and was pleased that in the first chapter I could read maybe 80% of the kanji, and maybe 60% of the vocal and grammar and it was starting to become comprehensible.

Manga is 札幌こ女ごはん。An impulse buy in Kinokuniya whilst I was buying JLPT study books. It’s about three girls who go out to eat together in Sapporo, complete with handy maps to the places they go.

But how do I read it? OK I get you start in the top left and work to the bottom right and know where to look up the stuff I don’t know, make SRS cards etc. But there is a lot in there the isn’t text. I never really read comics in English (beyond Wizzer and chips and the odd copy of Viz) and I’ve not really read manga in translation.

There’s a whole visual language I don’t know. What does it mean when the typeface changes? There’s a whole bunch of cues to represent emotion that I kind of get; but what does this teardrop shape coming out of one of the main character’s face mean? There’s also some interesting onomatopoeia.

Can anyone recommend a resource to help learn the visual language of Manga?

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Wait what? Isnt it the opposite lol


I was going to say just that, but I doubted myself and had to check…:DD

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Depends on how it was printed. If it’s traditionally printed, it’s from right to left and top to bottom. Other than that, you’ll have to just figure it out by context if they printed it differently.

Ok whoops, I have been starting top right and reading to bottom left but somewhere my western brain kicked in.

Lots o’ words, but sadly lacking in illustrations:


Other than that, usually visual cues on characters are like on emojis.
:sweat_smile: usually means that a character did something they’re embarrassed by, like an “oops”.
Unless it’s :sweat: I don’t really know how to explain that, but you sort of get it by feel.
Embarrassed, but not in a funny way.

There are onomatopoeia dictionaries, or lists like this one, but you also usually just figure them out by context.

the classic image, usually added to at least manga translated to English, haven’t checked on the JP ones

The easy answer that comes to mind is reading some manga in English so it’s easy to tell what things are.

There’s also always some lingo that gets repeated a lot in manga, so you also get used to it or look it up when it comes up.

4 Ways to Read Manga - wikiHow as always, there’s a wikihow


Well… it’s art… so you make our own interpretation from your own point of view as you read it… would be the easy answer :joy:

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Typeface is indicative of tone of voice. Trying to find examples, but my search fu is insufficiently strong. Basically, whatever it looks like it sounds like, is how it sounds like. :slightly_smiling_face:


Also, the name of the manga seems to be 札幌乙女ごはん, not こ女, although I see why the confusion.

I also found this video. I think it’d be specially useful for you. :joy:
You could also search for this type of video for other manga, so you can see how they handle expressions, text, and all that. :stuck_out_tongue:


Size usually indicates volume or ‘importance’, depending on if it’s speech or thought and what the character’s face looks like.

Mainly, for tone, you want to look at the ‘speech bubble’ that surrounds the text. If it’s ‘floofy’ or bubbly edged, it’s probably a happy, ‘airy’ or feminine tone to the text. An angular, boxy text is more commanding or masculine tone. Sharp bubbles are usually exclamations or full of strong emotion, which usually indicates loud or sharp voices without the large text font.

Most of those above translate over to thought bubbles pretty well, too.

Notice how everyone has ‘boring’ normal boxes during the briefing until it gets to Captain Mizuki and her ‘voice’ is different by having a ‘floofy’ border to her speech bubble.

Here, King is nervous about something story related, hence the irregular border around his speech bubbles but goes spiky when he’s scared shitless by Bang. Bang, who’s pretty unflappable, keeps to his normal speech bubble and font pretty much constantly. The last bubble by King, shows him shouting out a shocked question to Bang and the old man’s calm counter-question.


There’s a great book called Japanese the Manga Way, which not only gives you an understanding of how Manga is structured, it also teaches you grammar. I finished it recently and I highly recommend it.


It’s a really good book, I used it as well and it’s very useful. Beware that it doesn’t offer any real practice though like, say, Genki.

Indeed, but you can use it alongside BunPro or the Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar. It can also be used as a review book if you’re a little more advanced.

Oh, yeah, totally. Just pointing out you have to get your practice in somewhere else. BunPro didn’t exist when I read through JTMW, but I’d recommend it to anyone as practice now.

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