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How To Read Manga Correctly

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You need to read the book correctly to get the most out of manga comics. If you use an app to read manga, then the following guidance does not apply.


Key Takeaways

  • Manga is read from right to left and up to down.
  • You start from the right side panel and the upper speech bubble.

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Example manga page from Dragon Ball. Image credits and source.

Manga Is Read From Right To Left

You read manga starting on the right and moving over to the left – basically the opposite of how you would do it with an English book.

This does not only mean that you read the page on the right before you move over to the left page, but it is also true for the panels, which in manga are called koma, as well as for anything else that is included inside the koma, like speech bubbles, sound effects, and anything else.

To begin reading your first manga, place the book in front of you with its spine to the right – just as if you would put a book on the table backward, with the blurb on top, from a Western perspective.

In any case, you will notice quickly if you have opened it on the wrong end. Some manga even has printed warnings on the page that people commonly assume to be their first page, but which is actually the last. 

The first koma you will have to read is on the top right corner of the page. You then follow the order of the panels from right to left and top to bottom.

Some elements inside the koma that are there to display action and emotion and, all in all, make the story come alive are manpu, fukidashi, and gitaigo.

Manpu is little symbols that express movement or emotions without having to spell them out – think of stars that signify dizziness or exclamation marks that make clear that a character is excited.

Another common manpu is a droplet of sweat close to a character’s head, which commonly expresses that the character is slightly embarrassed.

Fukidashi is the manga term for speech bubbles or thought bubbles. Just as in comics, these are used when characters directly communicate with each other or when they have a thought that is clearly verbalized. 

While fukidashi is clearly very important and often drives the story forward, a great portion of a manga is also told in simply the illustration and the manpu.

Trying to follow the story by only reading the dialogue does not make a lot of sense, and a big part of the joy in exploring manga is understanding the plot told in art and subtle expressions of emotion.

Another necessary means of expression are the gitaigo. Gitaigo is basically what in English are called onomatopoeic words – words or phrases whose sound is at the same time their meaning.

Just think of the buzzing of bees, a word that, when you say it out loud, makes a similar sound to the one it describes. In Japanese, you have, for example, bata bata, which can represent the flapping of fabric in the wind or the sound of footsteps.

All these elements are read in the same way as the rest of the manga, from the top right to the bottom left. Mostly, they are centered around the person, object, or action they relate to, though, so this will not make your reading experience more confusing than it already is.

You will also find mangas printed in the Western way – starting with the spine on the left and following the left-to-right order – to make it easier for readers not used to reading from right to left.

The choice for manga printed in this way is smaller, though, and if you want to have the full variety of manga at your disposal, it makes a lot of sense to familiarize yourself with the Japanese direction of reading.

About half of the publishers that publish manga that have been translated into English include short reading guides to make it easier for you!

Why Manga Is Read From Right To Left?

Manga is read from right to left because it follows the traditional Japanese reading order, which is opposite to the Western reading order. In Japan, books and other written materials are traditionally written and read from right to left, with the spine of the book on the right-hand side.

When manga was first introduced in Japan, it followed the same reading direction as other Japanese books. When manga was later exported to other countries, including the United States and other Western countries, publishers initially tried to flip the images and text to make it easier for Western readers to understand.

However, this often resulted in awkward translations and distorted images, which led publishers to eventually adopt the original Japanese reading order for manga.

Do Japanese Read Books From Right to Left?

Yes, most of them are read from right to left, especially when it comes to fiction. The Japanese writing system is typically written vertically, from top to bottom, and the columns of text are read from right to left. Therefore, books in Japan are designed to be read in this way, with the spine on the right-hand side of the book and the pages turning from right to left.

However, it’s worth noting that in modern Japan, there are some publications and books that are printed in the Western style, with the spine on the left and pages turning from left to right, especially those intended for international audiences.

Non-fiction, on the other hand, especially academic textbooks, is often read from left to right, though.

For this reason, it would be difficult to include mathematic equations and other scientific formulas written in standard Arabic numerals, as well as untranslated quotes from other languages.

Why Do Japanese Read Backward?

The Japanese language is traditionally written in vertical columns that are read from right to left. This writing style has its roots in the traditional Chinese writing system, which was adopted in Japan during the 5th century.

In the traditional Japanese writing system, characters are arranged in columns that run vertically down the page from top to bottom. Each column is read from right to left, with the next column starting on the left-hand side of the page.

The Japanese language also includes many homophones or words that sound the same but have different meanings. This can sometimes make it difficult to determine the correct meaning of a word based on its pronunciation alone. Reading vertically from right to left helps to clarify the meaning of the text by providing context and indicating which characters are related to each other in the sentence.

While this traditional reading direction can be challenging for non-Japanese readers, it is a natural and intuitive reading style for Japanese people who have grown up with it.

The old form of writing is still used on some occasions, and it is called takegaki. It is mostly used in more traditional forms of writing, like handwritten letters or high-brow literature.

The modern, horizontal way of writing is called yokogaki, and it is used online, in text messages, or when taking notes. There are no strict rules when to use which system, though, this is up for the writer to decide!

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Okuha

Digital Artist

I’m a digital artist who is passionate about anime and manga art. My true artist journey pretty much started with CTRL+Z. When I experienced that and the limitless color choices and the number of tools I could use with art software, I was sold. Drawing digital anime art is the thing that makes me happy among eating cheeseburgers in between veggie meals.

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