What Level Should I Reach Before Using Manga to Help Me Learn?

That’s something I really struggle with when reading novels.

Whenever I see unknown words that either use kanji I recognise or are hiragana/katakana only, I feel comfortable looking them up and feel like I’m learning as I go.
But coming across tens if not hundreds of unknown kanji that won’t stick no matter how many times I look them up can be quite frustrating.

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Yeah, I noticed that if I know the kanji I would memorize the vocab with ease. It makes encounter unknown vocab a much better learning experience if I have enough learned kanji in my memory pool.

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What helped me close the gap for the Kanji issue was using material that was or could be shoved into a reader. I’m using Kitsun, but this is pretty much what Satori and Japanese io (maybe, I haven’t tried that platform) do as well*.
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It doesn’t help at all with the manga issue like OP would have, but for something like NHK Easy, lyrics, twitter, webnovels, ect… It makes bridging the vocabulary gap much easier and reduces how much I need to shove into flashcards/srs. Especially for people that have been getting Japanese from other media sources I think the generated furigana options are super helpful. That said, there’s limits to how well these things handle tokenizing so I really wouldn’t recommend it for beginners super behind on their grammar studies.

* Similarly, there browser extensions like Rikaikun or Yomichan(?) that do the click define for free. I just prefer some of the other benefits found on the paid platforms.

I started at lvl 8(?) when I tried to read my first manga. It does not really matter what level you are, but the lower your level, the more you will be looking up in the beginning. Right now I write down every sentence I can’t translate without looking stuff up (which is almost every sentence) and I try to break it down into chunks. I look words up on jisho and use google/kanshudo to search for forms I do not know. It helps a lot if you know some basic grammar tho, that makes it a lot easier.

(oh and having a fan translation on the side is really helpful as well)

My manga notes:


If you want to write your notes, you can search on Jisho, click on the kanji and see the write order, makes writing a lot more doable :blush:

And don’t be discouraged if you only have the energy to read a page or two in the beginning (that could take you more than an hour in the beginning if there is a moderate amount of text). It will get faster over time, I can now after a month do a 4-5 pages in one session of about an hour :muscle:t3:

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Honestly I don’t find it that awful. I use a phone dictionary and about 3/4 of the time just typing the furigana is enough. It helps to have some understanding of stroke order and radicals for when that fails, though.

It’s the grammar that’ll get you, and IMO high-school shoujo mangas seem to have more complicated grammar! Again, you can use that handy phone, I like to google “japanese grammar [phrase]” or “tae kim [phrase].” You can learn a lot like that, and even start building up your own cribsheets. But you still need to know how to take a sentence apart and figure out which pieces to google.

(Disclaimer – this is just reading for reading, not trying to understand every sentence 100%, just enough so you can keep going with the story and read even more…)

Yes, go for it! At worst it’ll sit on your shelf as motivation and you can come back to it every so often (eyes Cardcaptor Sakura manga, darn you Kero and your dictionary-proof Osaka accent!)

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TL;DR any level is fine, it will be hard, start easy and ideally pick something from the ABBC (past or present) to make it easier.

I’d recommend a very low goal that you can force yourself to stick to, as it will be a slog.
After each concrete wall, there will be another hurdle.

I’d personally highly recommend reading along with the Absolute beginner book club, even a past thread is fine, as that way there are shared vocabulary lists published and threads where people discuss the grammar points and where you can ask for help if needed.

Some ABBC books to consider:
past しろくまカフェ with vocab list - I think this is on the harder side of ABBC due to puns and such
past チーズスイートホーム with vocab list
most recent past からかい上手の高木さん with vocab list and ongoing offshoot club
current (started July 10th) それでも歩は寄せてくる with vocab list
next (starting September) 大海原と大海原

On a good day I can do a few pages of からかい上手の高木さん but for the same effort I seem to be able to read a chapter or more of チーズスイートホーム, so the manga you pick will make a big difference in your pace. I’d recommend starting out easier and ramping up if possible.

OTOH, something that interests or excites you might give you the motivation you need, depends on your preferences.

I cannot +1 the absolute beginner book club enough

I’ve been very slowly reading my first manga (からかい上手の高木さん) with the help of lovely people such as @ChristopherFritz and @shuly =D
(and many others, only naming people who have been in this thread)

FWIW I’ve been working through the ABBC’s からかい上手の高木さん despite having not quite finished Genki I, largely because I find textbooks quite difficult to stick with.

If you are making progress with a textbook then stick with it, as it will make things easier. For me at least grammar tends to be much more of a blocker than vocab when reading manga.

If you get stuck, ichi.moe can be great for giving hints, although it does make mistakes.
If you give ichi.moe Japanese, it will try its best to break it down for you.
For example here we can see Ichi breaking down 持ってない into 持って + いない
and it then explains that 持って is the te form of 持つ “to hold”, and いない being the non-past negative of いる “to exist (animate)”.

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My personal opinion. Reading requires grammar first, and then kanji second. If reading is your focus, learning more grammar will help you faster than wanikani level. And when you encounter something that doesn’t make sense, posting it online in a forum like this can help you progress leaps and bounds.

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I didn’t know this website! I’m sure this will make recognising grammar points a bit easier ^^

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I really like the Cure Dolly videos on youtube for explaining some of the grammar. They’re short and very clear and have given me lots of “oh that’s why x is like that” moments.

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It is a godsend, just please be careful as a few times it has been wrong and tried to lead me down the wrong path.

I usually combine Ichi.moe with lookups on Jisho.org, and translations from Deepl and good old Google translate.

All the best :slight_smile:

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That’s a really good idea!

This seems to be the general consensus, and what I’m ultimately hoping for.
Thanks for the tips!

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Can’t wait for my brand new decor item that I spent 20$ to ship :smiley:

Thanks for the heads up! I actually found a really great grammar resource that aligns with the textbook I’m working through that should help supplement my understanding. ( bunpro.jp )
Thanks for the tips!

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Lots of great resources here, thanks for the info!

This looks like a pretty nifty tool; I’ll be sure to use it when the need arises.
Thanks for the tips!

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I hadn’t even thought of this, thanks!
Thanks for the embed, this is a great post - I think it sums up the general advice that I’ve been getting pretty well.
I appreciate the help!

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Cool! I’ll check them out. Thanks!

I use https://www.bunpro.jp/, an SRS system, like WK but for grammar, and liked it enough to actually get a lifetime subscription (the only other site besides WK that I have purchased a subscription for; I’m on limited budget). I haven’t used it in several months (just got back to WK a few weeks ago also, after a long Covid break), but when I was using it, they were steadily updating it and were very responsive to bug reports and such, which to me is always a good sign. It’s not a perfect site (what site is? :sweat_smile:), but besides minor quirks, it is pretty fully featured and has a lot of grammar content, as well as fairly active user forums. They also integrate a little bit with WaniKani, so that any kanji you’ve Guru’d on WK will hide the furigana on BunPro (or you can choose to show all or no furigana in settings). Also, they have a pretty good try-before-you-buy system, so you can try it out plenty before deciding whether to subscribe or not.

I’ve recently also started using https://shirimono.com/ which is fairly new and undergoing steady development (apparently the developer will be unleashing a major site upgrade/redesign in the next few days or so), but already has a lot of content. It is focused on JLPT levels, but covers kanji, vocabulary (tons), and even grammar, so if you’re looking for additional grammar tools, it might be worth a try. It’s currently completely free. It’s a pretty nice user interface; again, not perfect, and has a few more quirks than say BunPro, but it is surprisingly easy to use and enjoyable, at least in my opinion. You don’t have to do kanji or vocab if your only interest is grammar. In fact, you can proceed through any section (kanji, vocab, grammar) for any JLPT level, at your own pace pretty much.

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Oh yeah, if no one has mentioned it yet, I would check out Cure Dolly on YouTube. If you can get over her quirky voice and her she-was-a-vtuber-before-vtubers-were-even-a-thing! avatar, which, honestly, isn’t that hard to get over, considering the amazing perspective on grammar she provides, then IMHO, she’s one of the best, most ‘logical’ sources of Japanese grammar info out there. She opened my eyes many times and gave me a different perspective on Japanese grammar from “Okay, this seems pretty … arbitrary…” to “Wow, this actually makes sense! I wish more languages were like this!”

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Funny you should say that, I actually made a bunpro account yesterday because of a response to this thread! :smiley: Great minds think alike, I suppose.

This is almost exactly what I was looking for - a mostly-comprehensive platform that you could combine your kanji, vocab, and grammar knowledge for comparison against the JLPT requirements. I just made an account!
Thanks for the great resources and tips!

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At least one person earlier mentioned her, but I’ll go ahead and subscribe to the channel now that there’s an overwhelming consensus. Looks great, thank you!

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At lvl 28, after I close the gap for N4, I intend to start flying witch or yotsubato.