How To Read Manga Better, Part 1

Other Japanese tutors have long promoted the idea of reading manga (漫画、まんが、kanji: Caricature + Sketch = comics), the word Japanese use for their comics, and that Americans use for Japanese comics, specifically. While this advice has merit to it, I used to translate manga professionally. There are a few little secrets you should know.

This is Part 1 of detailed advice for how to read manga better.

Part 1: Learn Onomatopoeia

Onomatopoeia is a long, overly complicated word for sound effects. Specifically, sound effects that are represented through the written word, though they can be verbalized as well. “Pow!” “Smack!” and “Bang!” are all onomatopoeia. In a Japanese context, I like to call them verbal sound effects.

Why verbal? Because there’s no reason you can’t speak them as well, and many Japanese do as shortcuts, metaphors, and so forth.

Japanese sound effects, being “sounds” and not words by themselves, are written phonetically using katakana.

Put bluntly, reading Japanese comics without understanding the sound effects is only grasping a fraction of the experience.

A further inducement is the fact that some publishers of translated comics do not translate sound effects, either because they would have to jam pack the panel margins with fine print explanations or because they would have to use Photoshop to actually remove the printed sound effects from the Japanese artwork. However, seeing the original characters and having no idea what they mean is a bit stale.

Let me put this differently.

Even though manga are technically printed in black and white, sound effects add color to the experience. This is figurative color, but it is very important nonetheless.

Through the skillful use of sound effects, a woman discovering a dead body in a murder mystery can be “heard” walking. The “creak” of the door is audible. The sudden gasp that precedes the scream builds tension in the scene. These are things that make a scene more vivid.

The author is able to do this without the need for a single second of sound recording thanks to verbal sound effects offering a bridge between the author and the reader. Sound effects connect the two together as artist and fan, with the artist relishing in the understanding that the fan gains, and the fan rejoicing in better understanding the true passion of the artist.

So, if you want to truly enjoy manga, you should really, really want to learn verbal sound effects.

Article first published as How To Read Manga Better, Part 1 on Technorati.

J Sensei

About J Sensei

Blogger, writer, linguist, former Japanese> English translator, rusty in French, experienced in Japanese, fluent English native. Writing for and various blogs. Skype: jeremiah.bourque (messages always welcome). E-mail: [email protected]
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2 Responses to How To Read Manga Better, Part 1

  1. Jic Opinai says:

    This is a good post about read the manga!
    Learn more about this tradition here.