Being a billion dollar industry, having a long history and having a mass appeal to all ages, the manga industry has firmly rooted itself into modern day Japanese pop-culture. Even then, some manga have become so popular that they’ve gone onto become anime, dramas, movies and even some cases, are translated into a variety of languages.
However, being an outsider to the culture and having a limited Japanese ability, it can be tough to find that “Just Right Manga” that fits your Japanese level while maintaining your interest. Even so, you want to desperately break into the otaku  world and take your Japanese ability to the next level through something that seems potentially super entertaining. Trust me, I know the feeling.
Well come away with me as we try to make like a bandit and force our way into the bank vault that is the manga paradise.
A Quick Summary of the Manga Industry
In Japan, everything starts at the publisher level. The publishers compile new and on-going manga series in a weekly, bi-monthly or monthly magazine. Often times, publishers have multiple magazines to appeal to multiple audiences. In other words, it’s not uncommon for publishers to have separate magazines that cater to young males, young females, college-aged men, old men, etc.
If a particular manga within the magazine strikes a chord with its audience, then each of the chapters are then collected and bound into a book form called a Tankoubon (単行本) .
Tankoubon are often published under the name from the magazine from which it has come, as opposed to being published under the company. This creates a continuity between the magazine and the Tankoubon, and it also keeps everything within that specific niche.
Depending on its popularity, it’s then remade into any or all forms of Japanese entertainment: i.e. anime, dramas, movies, games and then forever preserved into a larger book form with color! The Colors!
Find the Right Magzine
One of the great things about the manga industry is that there are many different publishing companies that release a number of different magazines that cater to a specific audience. While their intent is to cater to specific age ranges and genders, this coincidentally really helps align your Japanese reading ability and possible interests.
For example the first magazine that comes to mind is Shonen Jump. They’re responsible for such classics like Dragon Ball, Naruto, One Piece, and my personal favorite Slam Dunk.
If you know anything about the above mentioned manga, you can probably tell that Shonen Jump caters towards young males particularly in the 10 to 18 year old range. For me personally, I find Shonen Jump manga difficult enough to keep me challenged, but simple enough to keep my interest. For me, it’s the Goldilocks of manga.
Maybe you’re not too interested into young male comics. Don’t worry there are tons of different magazines that cater all the way from women to gay and lesbian to mature audiences with a wide range protagonists. Long story short, it’s incredibly well organized and already set up for you to dive into.
Picking a Genre Within a Genre
Once you find a specific magazine you like, do a quick wikipedia search on that particular magazine to see what series have been and are currently being published.
The great thing about wikipedia is that it usually lists the publication dates for each series and lists each manga under specific genres like action, sports, comedy, love, etc. Also, there are usually wikipedia links to particular manga so that you can get a plot overview, short history, author information, reception, etc. All the information you could ever want to make the best possible decision.
The downside about wikipedia is that sometimes it can be a bit confusing to navigate and not entirely comprehensive. What I mean is that while you think you’re looking through a wikipedia page for all the Japanese manga that have been published in the past, you’ll find yourself actually looking through a wikipedia page of listed manga that have been translated and exported to a particular country. Obviously, not everything is translated, so it wouldn’t have a complete index.
It can be a bit confusing so just keep an eye out.
Japanese Level Up has some great recommendations to get you started on your Manga journey. Don’t be thrown off by the stars. They aren’t a ranking system. They’re there to indicate reading difficulty; one star being easy while five stars being advanced.
As mentioned earlier, one of my favorites is スラムダンク (Slam Dunk). It’s an easier manga for those in the high beginner range. For me, I’m already a huge NBA fan so finding this one was like finding $20 in my pocket when I least expected it. Not that Japan is a huge basketball country, but this manga is widely credited for expanding the sport within the country. The best part is that every Japanese person I’ve ever met has read it.
A couple that are blowing up right now are 進撃の巨人 (Shingeki no Kyojin – Attack on Titan) and 聖☆おにいさん (Seinto Oniisan – Saint Young Men). These are a bit more difficult and probably suggested to those who are in the intermediate to advanced range, but they are probably two that everyone is paying attention to right now.
Some Words of Wisdom
Lastly, I need to stress the point that learning through manga is an excellent way to improve your Japanese despite what a lot people may think. For me personally, I’ve always seen learning Japanese a lot like putting together a jig-saw puzzle. You have a lot of pieces (words) and your goal is to put them all together to create the picture on the box (ideas, messages, stories, etc).
In order to get faster and better at processing information in Japanese, or even in your native language, you have to constantly perform a ton of repetitions throughout your lifetime. And in general, this is why I believe reading is so important. I don’t have the evidence to back it up, but I believe people who read a lot have the ability to breakdown and process information a lot quicker.
Also in theory, reading manga will serve as a launching pad so that you can progress into books, novels, newspapers, etc. Lastly, my only other advice is DON’T mimic phrases or speech found in manga to other people. You can if you want, but it tends to either be A) incredibly rude and / or B) extremely odd. Just think about how it would sound if someone yelled things like “Optic-Blast!” or “Berserker-Barrage!” Kind of odd, right?
1. Otaku is usually in reference to those who are overly enthusiastic about anime and manga. Equivalent to what we would call a “nerd”. But Otaku isn’t limited to just anime and manga.
2. It’s much like how the U.S. comic industry works. After about five or six issues of a comic it is then bound into a trade paperback.