115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Reading Direction of Translated Japanese Manga and its Effects

Yukari Fujimoto, Meiji University

Before Japanese Manga became truly global, foreign language editions were adapted to the publishing conventions of each country. This presentation will examine the process of transformations of right-to-left printed Japanese manga during the translation and publishing in countries with different ways of reading, along with specific examples from US, Spain, Germany, France and China.


Before Japanese Manga became truly global, foreign-language editions were adapted for the publishing conventions of each country.

For example, when right-to-left read Japanese manga has been published in Western countries with culture of reading left-to-right, the pages were flipped when printed. However during some time the Western nations shifted to translating and publishing the Japanese manga with its original direction. How did this process of change occur?

For example in America, during when Viz Media started to translate and publish the Manga in 1980s, they worked on printing in reverse version and took time replacing Japanese onomatopoeia to English onomatopoeia. However after 2002 "Authentic Manga Line" campaign by Tokyo Pop, most publishers changed to keeping the original direction and not translating the onomatopoeia (Viz also changed to right-to-left printing later, but they are still working on translation Japanese onomatopoeia to English).

In Europe, when "Dragon Ball" was first translated and published in Spain at 1992, it was printed in left-to-right reverse version. However when the same series was translated and published in Germany at 1996, it was kept to an original right-to-left printing. This is the first case which right-to-left Japanese manga has been published with original reading direction continuously within the country with culture of left-to-right reading. At first there were many complains from bookstores, however Germany kept following this method. Later on other countries also changed gradually to right-to-left printing.

In France, European nation with unique culture of comic called bande dessinée, they changed the order of panels to accommodate to left-to-right printing instead of using the reverse version at first (around the end of 1970s). During the 90s this method, reverse version, and later original Japanese right-to-left prints were all used but currently the right-to-left print has become mainstream after the change of Gréna company from left-to-right printing to right-to-left printing.

On the other hand, China had a unique traditional Renkan-ga which is a book with single panel and a few lines of explanation in one page, but they did not have a story-telling comic culture which Western people imagine. Therefore Chinese comic culture started from pirated Japanese manga. China used to have culture of reading right-to-left with vertical writing just like Japan, however under the socialistic government decided to use the culture of left-to-right with horizontal writing when publishing the books in Chinese. Many of the pirated mangas were required to print left-to-right with cheap costs, thus they decided not to replace the panels but switch the page entirely. Adding to this they shrunk 4 pages of manga into a single page to cut down the printing cost. In short, the reading order of the pages became left-to-right but within a single page the readers had to read right-to-left, and thus an unique way of reading was created as a result.

As such, this presentation will follow the many course of change occurred in the process of translation and localization of visual culture of Japanese manga.