[Editorial Tuesday] Why Is Manga Read Right to Left?

If you’re a new reader of manga, you’ve probably picked one up before at a local bookstore or anime store and noticed something very strange and peculiar about the way manga is formatted. Instead of a traditional comic book or graphic novel, manga isn’t read left to right, which is how a majority of American schools teach kids how to read since day one of their education. Instead, manga is read in the opposite direction to the way we were taught by having it read, right to left! If you are new to the manga world or even if you’re a long-time fan of manga, you might have found yourself asking a great question that isn’t often explained in the manga community. Why Is Manga Read Right to Left? Well folks, let’s see if our team of researchers here at Honey’s Anime can go about solving this old question that has been on the top of many manga reader’s minds.

For us here at Honey’s Anime to help you beautiful readers out there to figure out why manga is read right to left, we decided to handle this momentous task carefully and delicately. Below, we have analyzed various elements to the way manga is formatted and equally try our best to explain why it hasn’t been altered in the American world. We have done our homework by going online to various sites and looked up how Japanese language causes manga to adhere to the traditional style of Japanese writing. By the end of our Why Is Manga Read Right to Left article, we hope to give you folks a better understanding of the world of manga and maybe pass along this knowledge to a fellow manga fan out there in the world. Now, let us dive into this age-old question and see if we can’t get to the bottom of this rather peculiar mystery!

The simple explanation of Japanese writing.

For us to truly begin explaining why manga is read from right to left as opposed to left to right, we need to first explain to you something that might be unknown to rookie manga enthusiasts. In Japan, writing an actual novel or any piece of literature isn’t done with kanji—the Japanese character language that originated in China—being written from right to left. Instead, Kanji is written from a top to down format. Now you might think this doesn’t explain why manga is formatted in its right to left setting but that part is simple to explain. It’s all about how novels are written.

When a novel or any piece of Japanese literature is written out, the Kanji follows a format called tategaki where columns go from the right side of the page to the left. Readers will have to go from the right side when they begin reading and follow the page to the left side and repeat for the following pages. Thus, when manga is drawn out, it makes sense that for the writing to follow this design; the format would follow the same system as a piece of Japanese literature. Imagine if a manga wasn’t formatted in this tategaki system. Not only would younger manga readers be thoroughly confused but would probably have difficulty reading the manga and would only look at the images. Though this leads to ironically question which we ask below.

How this differs from comics and graphic novels

Maybe you aren’t a comic book reader and have only ever picked up a manga and are wondering what’s the difference between this and comics or graphic novels? While this might sound strange, we have met actually met many anime/manga fans who never grew up with comic books like some of us here did at Honey’s Anime. Well to those readers, the biggest difference between comics/graphic novels in comparison to manga is that it simply follows our traditional style of reading where the comic or graphic novel—examples like The Walking Dead or Y: The Last Man—is read left to right. It might seem silly to even point this out but like we said before, some people are used to only reading manga and have never picked up a Spider-Man or X-Men comic in their life. If you’re one of these people, don’t feel bad. We’re pretty sure you’re not alone as we know some people who don’t watch cartoons and only grew up with anime here in west.

Why doesn’t it switch when it goes stateside?

Now we know some of you readers out there are asking a question at this point and one we feel is kind of justified. If reading manga is done differently in Japan, why then does it not switch to our reading style in America? The answer to this question will come in two forms and might make you realize how scarily obvious these answers are when you really do some thinking about it. The first answer comes in the form of cost efficiency. Manga isn’t a cheap medium to make and to get it officially translated—and we’re not talking about fan subs or scanlators as they call them online—into any language whether it be English or Spanish, costs a good amount of money. If you go online, you can find different rates for languages and while it might seem cheap that the word itself costs only some change, imagine now 20’000 words and do the math. That’s a lot of money and that’s outside the cost of redoing the art to work with English language and the cost will only increase.

Outside the insane cost of bringing manga to the west—or any country for that matter—there’s another reason why changing manga from its right to left format might anger some people. If you’ve ever watched anime and seen dub or sub, you know that people in the anime community love to get into heated debates left and right to which is better. Outside the fact that we love both equally here at Honey’s Anime, we understand the arguments on both sides, especially the sub being better than dub. When anything is translated into a different language, changes must be made to adhere to that culture and if you changed manga to format towards our English reading ways, then the panels would need to change and the images would have to also move around. This would mean a ton of work that honestly would also cost money but just change the original themes of manga and for fans this would be a cruel thing. Most manga fans—just like anime fans—will agree that leaving anything from Japan in its native format is the best way to obtain maximum entertainment.

Getting used to this design

Here’s the ironic part to reading manga after say a few months or even several weeks. While that initial moment of reading a new series might confused you, if you’re completely new to the manga world, it ultimately becomes almost second nature to avoid reading the end of the manga first—though usually there are warnings to avoid reading that way as it’s the end of the story and not the beginning—and to just pick up a manga and begin reading it from right to left as if you’ve been trained your whole life to do it. Really there is no explanation for this outside the mind having memory and being able to comprehend something wrong after messing up a few times but just read a few manga volumes and we guarantee this. You will be so used to the style of reading manga right to left that it will be almost common from henceforth. Though it might be difficult to then read western comics as you might do what we did back in the first days of reading manga and began the story from the way a manga is formatted. Yes, we were embarrassed but equally, we think some of you readers might understand us on this one.

Final Thoughts

It’s fascinating to see the world of literature done in ways outside the norms we have grown up with in the western world. Manga might be strange to those who have never read Boku no Hero Academia or One Piece—just to name some series off the top of our head—but equally, it might be odd for those who have never questioned why manga is read in such a different way than say a comic book or even a regular old novel. However, once you realize why manga is formatted in such a way, it becomes almost second nature to just pick up a manga and not even question why you’re reading it right to left. Hopefully now, we have given you some better explanations so you won’t feel it’s so strange for the style of manga to be the way it is even here overseas. What do you think about manga and what are some of your favorites you’re currently reading? Comment down below as we love talking to all of you readers of our various articles. Be sure to continue to get stuck to our hive for more helpful and informative articles courtesy of us here at Honey’s Anime.

Oyasumi-Punpun-wallpaper-340x500 [Editorial Tuesday] Why Is Manga Read Right to Left?


Author: Aaron

Hey everyone I’m Aaron Curbelo or Blade as I’m called by my YouTube Subscribers. I’ve been an anime/manga fan since I was a young kid. In terms of anime I have watched nearly a thousand shows and have read hundreds of manga series. I love writing and honestly was so happy to join Honey’s Anime to get a shot to write articles for such a wonderful site. I’m a firm believer in respect in the anime community being the most important embodiment we should all have. We all love anime and we have varying opinions of series but we should respect one another for those differences! Life is too precious to spend it making needless arguments in a community that should be the shining example of loving an amazing medium. I hope as a writer for Honey’s Anime I can bring you folks some amazing articles to read and enjoy!

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