How to Learn Chinese by Reading Manga

Kevin Kevin \\

When you are learning Chinese, it can be hard to find appropriate reading material. Educational resources like textbooks are often dry and too simple, but actual books that adults read are at a difficulty level far beyond reach. Yes, even Chinese Harry Potter is more difficult than you think!

That’s where manga comes in. It is native material that nearly every kid in China and Taiwan starts reading at a young age. It’s not only easier to read, but has many other benefits as well.

my chinese manga

Speaking from personal experience, I credit a daily habit of reading manga in conjunction with using HanziHero to grind characters to helping my achieve my current literacy in Chinese. I can finally read those books of history and literature that were far out of reach years ago! Nevertheless, I still find myself reading a couple volumes of manga a week. What was once a study habit has become a past-time I’ve come to genuinely enjoy.

In this article, I’ll go over the benefits of reading manga to practice Chinese. I’ll be focused primarily on manga translated from Japanese into Chinese, but everything I cover will apply to manga written originally in Chinese as well, which is often referred to as manhua. After that I’ll give some tips for those who plan to start reading manga as a study habit.

Let’s dive in!

Why manga

Now, before you try out reading manga as part of your Chinese learning routine, you probably want to know what the benefits are. I’ll cover some of the main ones that convinced me to drop my graded readers and dive directly into the world of manga instead.

It’s what they read in Taiwan and China

When I first came to Taiwan and started self-studying Chinese, I asked any Taiwanese I met what they read as a kid. While some read things like Harry Potter, most read manga. Whether that was Dragon Ball (七龍珠) or One Piece (海賊王 / 航海王), it is common for kids to carry around a volume of manga in their backpack or to sneak some pages in during class.

And its not just children either. Many of the friends I made here maintained the habit well into adulthood, reading a couple volumes here and there, or at least keeping up with the never-ending One Piece whenever a new volume comes out. In fact, there are many manga cafes in Taiwan where one can pay an hourly rate and read all the manga they desire.

manga cafe

And given the popularity of manga and anime, reading some popular series also gives you fuel for conversation. This is completely unlike any textbook or graded reader you will read, which are purely for education and have little interest or value outside of that.

Uses colloquial language

The majority of text in a manga volume will be in the speech bubbles that contain what each character says. Most things are spoken, and there are very few excerpts of exposition.

one piece chapter 1

This is actually extremely useful, because the difference between written and spoken Chinese is greater than most other languages. For example, it is uncommon to use the word 與 yǔ to represent “and” in normal conversation, but it is extremely common to do so in written texts.

This, combined with the fact that most of the stories are more light-hearted and juvenile in nature, means that you get exposed to more slang as well. The words spoken, after all, are meant to represent what people would say in daily life in response to a situation. There is nothing didactic, stiff, or boring here.

Given this, you can be confident that the Chinese words and phrases you pick up reading manga are more suitable for daily conversation than you would if you were reading a history book, for example.

Familiar characters and stories

I never read a single volume or page of manga before I came to Taiwan. However, like most people around my age, I grew up watching a decent bit of anime. So popular shows like Hunter X Hunter I already saw with English subtitles long ago.

This meant that when I bought some volumes of Hunter X Hunter in Chinese, I knew most of the story already. I could focus less on plot comprehension and more on comprehending the Chinese. In fact, knowing what was going to happen, or recalling the scene of an anime that corresponded to the current manga chapter, allowed me to better understand the Chinese in front of my eyes.

Easy to find and explore

The popularity of manga both in the East and West makes it extremely easy to find and explore. You can just search “best manga of all time” and get a bunch of results in English to browse through. When you find something that looks interesting, you can just find the Chinese name of it and search that to find a place to buy or read it.


And if you know some basic Chinese, you can also browse popular anime and manga rating sites like the one above to see what ones are most popular or most well-received in the Chinese-speaking world.

While there are a bunch of manhua written originally in Chinese, it is less popular in the West, and also, honestly, less popular in Taiwan as well. This is why I focused more on Japanese manga that was translated into Chinese, because I could lean on the thousands of reviews and opinions out there in English (and Chinese) to find things that I would enjoy reading.

Relatively cheap

Lastly, manga is actually cheaper than you think. At least, in Chinese it is.

In Taiwan, a digital copy of manga usually runs around 80 NTD or less than 3 USD. Given that graded readers or textbooks run around 30 USD or more, you can get 10 volumes of manga that will give you hours and hours of enjoyment and practice for about the same cost.

hunter manga price in US and TW

Moreover, that same digital copy in English will cost more than TWICE as much, at approximately $6.49 as it is currently listed on Amazon. By reading manga in Chinese, you not only can practice and learn Chinese, but save money if you are in the habit of reading English manga already.

There are also many apps and websites where one can read manga in Chinese for free, though often with dubious legality.

Tips on how to start

If the benefits above sold you on using manga to learn and practice Chinese, let me give you some tips for doing so.

Choose a good first manga

If you are just starting out learning Chinese, it can be difficult finding a good first manga. My recommendation is to try to stick to those targeted towards younger aged kids.

My first manga was 四葉妹妹 (Yotsuba&), which I chose mainly because most people learning Japanese would choose this as their first one as well. While the language was simpler, I found the stylistic font variations to be a challenge for me at that time.

yotsuba text

Looking back, I think a better first manga would be 七龍珠 (Dragon Ball). It doesn’t contain as many font variations, and chances are you are already familiar with the overall story. Also, it’s really quite good!

Look up the Chinese characters you don’t know

Once you pick a suitable manga to start with, it’s really as simple as diving in. When you come across characters you don’t know, simply look them up using Pleco or something similar.

If you use HanziHero to learn characters, you can prioritize the character to make it so it shows up in your lesson and review queue, allowing you to cement your knowledge of it. We’ll also give you a character mnemonic to allow you to easily remember the meaning and pronunciation of the character going forward, along with some vocabulary words related to it to help you better understand how the character is used in practice.

Make sure you get the tone right

Whenever you aren’t sure about a tone of a character, or its general pronunciation, I recommend looking it up as well. In fact, even though I have already read hundreds of volumes of manga, I still find myself doing this every now and again just to be sure.

The reason is simple, if you keep on saying the pronunciation of a character incorrectly (even if only in your head), you will cement that error in your memory.

For example, for some reason I thought that 炸 zhà as pronounced zhá . This character, which means “blow up”, occurs quite a lot in manga meant for kids, as you can imagine. So every time I saw the character, I pronounced it incorrectly in my head.

It wasn’t until my Taiwanese friends did not understand what I was saying when I pronounced 炸雞 zhàjī “fried chicken” incorrectly that I finally understood my mistake.

fried chicken

In fact, due to repeated experiences like this in my Chinese learning journey, the HanziHero spaced repetition system requires users to type out the precise pinyin of each character they learn at regular intervals, ensuring they are remembering it correctly.

It’s also why our Chinese character mnemonics include pronunciation information within them, making this sort of mistake easier to avoid for all of our users… especially myself!

Re-reading is more fun than it sounds

As you make your way through a manga volume, you will find that as you read more and more of it, it gets easier. Part of this is due to the fact that a given series of chapters will usually use the same words and characters again and again. You spend less time looking up or trying to recall characters and words, and more time enjoying the story at hand.

Because of this, if reading is taking a very long time, I recommend simply re-reading what you already read. You will find the second time through is far more enjoyable, while taking a fraction of the time. With most of the initial language hiccups gone, you can now actually enjoy the story better, and focus more on understanding the plot and what is going on instead of the language used.

The benefit of long series

Likewise, I think reading long series is also useful in this respect. While long mangas like Dragon Ball have their own strange special terms, for the most part they will use the same words and characters throughout the entire series.

So the more you read a given series, the easier it becomes, even as you encounter new words and characters as the plot progresses. This is because you get used to the general “scope” of vocabulary that the series will use.

This is also why switching to a new series will often cause an initial drop in reading speed, especially if it is drastically different.


A cooking manga, like 烘焙王 for example, will use a bunch of cooking terms you maybe never encountered before in a basic fighting manga.

By reading long series, you can first get exposed to these new words and characters, then slowly cement your knowledge of them over the course of the series before repeating the process again with another long series.


Reading manga to learn Chinese is a great idea. Having personally read over a hundred volumes of manga here in Taiwan, I can say with confidence that it helps tremendously in learning new words and characters, in addition to slowly increasing my reading speed.

In fact, I’m often surprised how much faster I read more difficult texts like books after I have spent a good amount of time earlier that week reading a bunch of simple manga.

Of course, the hardest part about reading manga is learning the characters required to do so, and that is where a character learning application like HanziHero comes in. If you are looking to learn Chinese characters in an optimal order, you can try out our free tier today by signing up. HanziHero was created to help ourselves learn Chinese, so we know it works. We hope it’ll help you too, as it has already done for hundreds of others.