May 03, 2007
Buying Japanese manga
Manga is a great way to study Japanese and learn about contemporary Japanese culture. While translations of Japanese manga are becoming ubiquitous, getting your hands on the original Japanese versions is a bit trickier. But thanks to the Internet not that daunting once you know where to look.
There are limited number of titles available in bilingual format, such as Doraemon, a clever kid's manga that's ideal for learning hiragana and the basic kanji.
Three bibliographic sources I've used for finding manga (titles and authors) are Emily's Shoujo Manga Page and Girls' Horror Comics. They both provide ISBNs, the easiest way to look up titles at Amazon-Japan or Book1. Erica Friedman's Okazu blog is a great source of information about all things yuri.
Manga Blog is a clearing house for manga-related links and reviews from a wide variety of sources.
If negotiating the Japanese proves too tricky, Massachusetts-based importer Sasuga Books has an all-English interface and provides ISBNs in its product listings [UPDATE: it has since closed]. Also, once in a great while Amazon links to Japanese titles on its English site. [Also recommended: JPQueen.]
Another thing I've done is gone to a bookstore with a generous manga section, browsed through titles that looked interesting, and then ordered the Japanese versions (if still in print). Manga go in and out of print fairly rapidly, so a title may no longer be available in Japan by the time it's licensed in the U.S.
As for recommending titles, as I've noted elsewhere my tastes tend toward shoujo and yuri. I've added ISBNs to the titles I reviewed here and here. But in terms of "family-friendly" recommendations, I think Kujira no Oyako (4063703371) is a wonderful series to start with. [Book1]
In the yuri category, I recommend Kawaii Anata (4758070172), a collection of superbly written, bittersweet short stories by Hiyori Otsu. (With very little tweaking, many of these stories could have originally run in The New Era.) [Book1]
In the shounen category, Full Metal Alchemist (4757506201) is one of the most popular. [Book1] With a sixth-grader as the reluctant protagonist, Alien Nine (4253146074) appears to be a kid's comic, but it's not. The excellent anime was canceled after four episodes probably because it was scaring little kids half to death.
Disney released an English sub/dub of Ghibli's Whisper of the Heart. The only English translation of the original Mimi o Sumaseba (4088535154) manga I know of (though I'm sure there are others) is the Shoujo Magic scanlation based on my translation. [Book1]
And one other thing. It is cheaper to import a Japanese manga all the way from Japan than it is to buy the translated version in the U.S. (using SAL).