I discovered manga ages ago when my mom took me to a nearby bookstore that was having a massive sale. I came away from there with 20 new books and nagged my mom into taking me back several times. At the time, I had no idea how to read manga or what it was, I was just drawn to the gorgeous covers. I was also just in a hurry to grab every decent-looking book I could find.
How To Read Manga 101
Luckily for me, many translated manga volumes included a little how-to-read-me infographics. Though it’s true that manga are just comics from Japan (mostly, at least), there are differences for newbies to keep in mind when dipping their toes in. One of the biggest differences is the genres stories are divided into, and if you’d like to know more about that, this primer is excellent.
But there’s also a more mechanical difference: manga isn’t read the same way you’d read a comic. Traditionally, Japanese text was written in vertical columns which were read from top to bottom, and then right to left. Nowadays, you’ll find that horizontal writing is also common and that is written from left to right in most instances.
Most manga are read right to left, meaning that if you open a manga volume the way you would a comic written in English, you’ll be reading the ending. (I don’t recommend this, you’re likely to spoil yourself). Instead, start at the top right-hand corner and work your way across, then go down the page. It’s pretty simple once you get started and you’ll get the hang of it in no time.
Types of Digital Manga
Unfortunately, logistics like the costs of printing, shipping, and distributing translated manga mean that it takes time for new volumes to release worldwide. To circumvent this, there have been some digital releases – though not all digital releases are created equal! There are two main types of digital manga that you’re likely to come across: the official release and fan translations (also known as scanlations).
Scanlations are created by fans who take the original Japanese manga and scan it to their computers, remove the Japanese text, and insert translations in another language. The completed volume is then uploaded online. While scanlations are usually faster, and can be the only way of gaining access to a manga that hasn’t been greenlit for official translation, they do infringe copyright and are unfortunately illegal.
Official releases, on the other hand, support the original creator. They’re also usually higher quality because the people involved are working from master files rather than scanned versions of printed volumes. They’re also often more accurate since the translators have access to the manga’s creator to discuss intention and ambiguity.
Ways to Legally Read Manga Online
There are some great websites that you can use to read manga online legally. The five I’d recommend are:
- Shonen Jump: This is a digital version of a weekly-released manga magazine that is incredibly well-known and loved in Japan. Shonen Jump is where some of the most well-known manga out there started being released. Notable titles include Naruto, Bleach, and even Dragon Ball. They offer a monthly subscription to gain access to their back catalogue and get new chapters of the 20-some manga currently running every week.
- ComiXology: Fair warning, ComiXology is owned by Amazon. They offer both a subscription model and let you purchase single titles outright, depending on what you’d prefer. A subscription also gets you access to comics from the DC and Marvel catalogues.
- MANGA Plus: This is a legal way to read manga for free. Manga Plus offers a way to read parts of Shonen Jump’s titles, but you will find that some titles aren’t available or that most chapters can’t be accessed. I’d advise using it as a way to decide whether you want to buy a subscription.
- VIZ Media: VIZ allows you to purchase the manga you’d like to read outright and you can read your purchases on their website or on the VIZ app. You’ll probably also notice that the Shonen Jump subscription I mentioned earlier is offered through VIZ.
- Book Walker: There are tons of manga available on the Book Walker website. Just make sure you access the global website, unless you want to fight with Google Translate to understand anything. Also note that you’ll need to use the Book Walker app to read your manga.
Before you buy a subscription though, please check the website’s catalogue. Just like with content streaming platforms like Netflix and Hulu, licensing does affect where you can access certain manga. You can find more manga readers here.