Joe and Jenny’s beginner’s guide to Manga

[Jenny and Joe work at the Central Library and they LOVE manga and anime! They are going to share their favourite books and films on the Swindon Libraries blog, so watch this space for more great reviews in coming months!]

In this week’s blog, we have decided to explain how to read Manga and also some of the unfamiliar terms you may come across while you’re reading Manga.

Between us we have been reading manga collectively for sixteen years, (Joe for ten years and Jenny for six years), so we have learned many different things about the world of manga and the culture surrounding it. So we are planning to write an on-going segment in our blog explaining terms and facts that are linked to manga that we would have found useful to know when we were reading Manga for the first time.

The first thing we’re going to talk about is how to read Manga. One of the first things people tend to notice when they pick up manga is that it is printed in reverse. This is because Japanese is read and written right to left. It can take a while to get used to reading this way, but after reading a few volumes of manga, you get used to it. Not all manga books are printed this way in the west, as some are printed in the left to right format (e.g Phd Phantasy), but the majority retain the Japanese format.

We have taken an excerpt from one of our most popular manga series in the library called Bleach by Tite Kubo (from Vol. 7 ). This is a scene where the main character needs to save his friend, but needs to transform into his shinigami (see the list of definitions below) form and is arguing about how to do so without her help. This page is read right to left and we have numbered the panels to show clearly the order in which the panels should be read. If read from the usual, left to right direction the story reads awkwardly and doesn’t make clear sense.

how to read manga

Manga Definitions and Terms

Aniki /Aneki – Usually to mean the elder brother in the family but can also be said as a sign of respect to an elder the person admires.
Baka – Said as an insult, roughly translates to “Idiot”
Chibi – An art/animation style where the characters are rendered with small, rounded proportions and over-large eyes to make them appear cute or funny.
Daisho– The pair of swords carried traditionally by Samurai.
Futon – Thin mattress that can be rolled up for storage.
Jutsu – means “technique” often use in the epic ninja series Naruto
Kohai– A respectful term for a colleague/classmate who is younger or more junior.
Kotatsu – a low table with blanketed sides and a heater underneath. Usually used in the winter so people can stay warm by putting their legs underneath it.

Kunoichi–  A specific term for a female ninja/shinobi.
Mecha – Used to describe manga with giant fighting robots. A popular example of this will be Gundam.
Omake – Usually a short extra part or scene at the end of a manga or anime, often comedic.


Example of Onigiri, one wrapped in seaweed and one plain

Onigiri  – Japanese rice that has been rolled up in a sheet of seaweed in a cylinder or triangle shape. These can have many different fillings in them
Otaku – This term is generally used to anyone who is obsessive about manga/anime but can be used for anyone who is obsessive about anything.
Pocky – A type of Japanese sweet which consists of sticks of biscuit covered in chocolate or flavoured icing (which can come in flavours such as strawberry, milk, green tea and even crème brulee!)
Ramen – Thick Japanese noodles with an oily soup or broth served in a bowl.
Senpai–  A respectful term for a colleague/classmate who is older or more senior.
Sensei – Usually referring to a teacher/ sign of respect to an elder
Shinigami  – Popular translations of this term are ‘death god’ or ‘soul reaper’ and this term can mainly be found in the Bleach and Death Note manga series.
Shinobi – Another word for ninja; parts of the word can be roughly translated to mean both ‘hidden’ and ‘to steal away’.
Shojo – means young woman – used to define manga aimed at young women
Shonen – means young man – used to define manga aimed at young men
Shuriken – The name of the circular spiked ninja weapons generally referred to as throwing stars in English.

We hope you have found this edition of the blog useful and that it makes the weird and wonderful world of manga a little clearer to you!

Look out for future blog entries where we will list more terms and definitions and also explore the different publishers that bring us the amazing manga titles that we all enjoy.

Next month we will bring you another manga review of ‘Phd Phantasy Degree’.

joe and jenny

At ReCon 2012, Central Library.