Trying to read a Japanese comic can be a little daunting when you first enter the world of manga. The direction, for western readers, feels "backwards" and it's easy to be unsure where readers should look next. But it doesn't have to be.
Once you get the hang of the flow of manga, the stories will open your world to new perspectives and ideas. Here's how to get started.
START AT THE BACK
The first thing readers have to get used to is the flow of a manga. Reading manga can feel counter-intuitive to what you're used to doing as the cover of the comic sits at what westerners would consider the back of the book. Open the "back cover" to begin reading a volume of manga (known as a tankōbon).
MANGA IS READ TOP TO BOTTOM; RIGHT TO LEFT
The way to follow a manga page is also drastically different from that of a western comic. Where western comics are read left to right; manga is read right to left. Individual panels always start at the top right. When you reach the far left of the page, readers should return their eye to the far-right and continue to read the next row. Another bit of advice is that, if the panels are vertical, start with the topmost panel and read downward.
Even if panels don't line up perfectly, readers should stick with the right to left; top to bottom rule. Start with the topmost panel and make your way to the bottom. Remember to always follow right to left.
Word bubbles in manga are read in a similar manner to panels. Readers should follow right to left; top to bottom. Begin with the word bubble on the top right and move to the left. If multiple word bubbles are in one panel, you should still read them right to left; top to bottom.
SMALL QUIRKS OF MANGA
This part can be a little confusing to new readers. The gutters of manga are a little more explicit in what they do than western comics. In manga, the gutter is a strong indication of time passing or changing. For example, when the gutters are black, this generally indicates that a part of the story is taking place in the past. When the gutters are fading from black to white, this indicates that the story is moving into or out of a flashback sequence.
By contrast, western comics tend to use gutters more to create pacing for the reader. In comic books, a black gutter usually indicates that the artist wants the reader to slow down and really take in the information. It can also make fight scenes move a little more slowly because readers will look at panels slower. If you ever find yourself getting lost on a page, don't be afraid to go back and reread the whole thing.
WHICH MANGA TO START WITH
It's best to start with the first volume or chapter of a series rather than jump into the latest issue as one might do with long-running superhero comics. If you're looking for something similar to the latter, Dragon Ball offers classic shonen ("boys" comics) action, while My Hero Academia, Attack on Titan and Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba are three great modern hits. If you're looking for something more slower-paced, then "slice of life" titles like Barakamon or Classmates: Dou Kyu Sei might be for you. If you're into horror, Tokyo Ghoul or No Longer Human will give you chills, while romance fans might want to start with Fruits Basket or Ouran High School Host Club. In terms of genre, the options really are endless.
It can be intimidating to figure out where to find your feet with manga as there are so many stories and reading them is a learned skill. However, like any skill, it just takes a little time practice, and the payoff is that you'll open yourself up to a whole new world of comics to explore.
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