Manga – Helpful or Harmful to New Readers?

My children love manga, and I keep them supplied with the latest Koro Koro comics, Nakayoshi, Ciao, Ribbon, and other popular titles.  I love to see kids with books – even comic books. But I’m under the impression that Japanese parents consider them the literary equivalent of junk food. A few years ago, a deaf teacher talked to us  parents about his upbringing. He said that his parents didn’t allow him to read manga. I guess they wanted him to master words, and thought that pictures were too much of a crutch. I was surprised by this. I’ve always thought that pictures helped my daughter to understand text, and because of the pictures, my daughter loves books and has  a strong sense of story. I do wish that she would read more text, but I know that she reads some of it. Just as I discovered that she reads subtitles (at least in part) when she asked me to activate the subtitles on a kids’ DVD that she was watching. This may also explain why she likes to watch Mexican and Korean dramas (because they are subtitled).

I also credit the popular boys’ manga Koro Koro comics with teaching my son to read. Although up until a few months ago, I read to him in English just about every day, I never put any effort into teaching him to read in Japanese. Yet, he learned, and he loves to read – in Japanese. 

I just had a look at the  Library Journal’s latest list of suggested books for reluctant readers, which includes quite a few novels in graphic form. I think I might order some of those titles to get my son reading in English. And I think my daughter might learn something, too.


9 thoughts on “Manga – Helpful or Harmful to New Readers?

  1. Actually, I think manga and/or graphic novels can be great for reluctant readers. My nephews won’t always sit still for a book with straight text but will read a graphic novels.

    Like your daughter, I like the Korean dramas because they are subtitled. Although, some of the Japanese dramas have the subtitle option also.

  2. I don’t particularly enjoy manga, but my daughters thrived on them, and they and their father enjoyed tussling over who would get the latest issue first. I learned to enjoy watching them enjoying themselves with their manga.

  3. That’s funny. My husband is what I would call a reluctant reader, but he used to pick up the biographies in manga form that my daughter checked out of the school library and read them with great interest.

  4. Manga really helped me improve my Japanese back in high school. I think some English graphic novels would be great for your son.

  5. I must admit, when my eldest was small I was so anti-manga, I thought of them as *just* comics. I’ve come to realise that the accessibility of manga fostered a love of reading in all my kids.
    I also dismissed them as pointless, but my kids have learned so much from them.
    At Baa-chan’s house she has 100s and 100s of old,old manga from when Dh and his sister were kids, 3 Chome No Yuuhi and Hadashi No Gen etc, and my kids love them and learn so much about that era.

  6. I’ve been reading your blog quite a bit but I really wanted to comment on this entry.

    I recognized Koro Koro because that carries pokemon manga. It would be nice to get a subscription of that once I start learning Japanese (self taught: my college doesn’t have Japanese classes) but I wouldn’t know how to go about that.

    while it’s different with native speakers, a lot of people recommend self-taught Japanese learners to read manga in Japanese because with pictures that go along with it you not only are hearing the word as you would in traditional novels but you see it being used in action. Not to mention that makes reading Japanese enjoyable and motivating. Eventually when you know enough you should read traditional novels as well however for people just learning it takes a long to actually be literate enough to actually read a book and especially a newspaper. Manga for children is especially helpful as a starting place because they don’t use a lot of difficult kanji and usually they have furigana if they use one you don’t know.

    A lot of teachers over here in the US are recognizing what a powerful tool comics are in getting students interested in reading (last year in my high school they offered a graphic novels elective that I took, though that class may have been cut now that the state is cutting school funds) I know my brother and I were learning to read with Calvin and Hobbes long before we picked up a book.

  7. I don’t know Japanese, but my understanding was that manga does not typically employ the traditional writing system? (And that this is why sometimes several chapters are published before the “official” kanji for a character’s name is known.) I thought this was behind the Japanese concern with manga — that it’s possible to be fine at reading manga and quite bad at reading literary Japanese?

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