I don't read japanese, but I can distinguish katakana/hiragana./kanji

I've noticed that some mangas use a mixture of both. Does the usage of katakana in a primarily hiragana/kanji manga mean anything?

  • Interesting question. Personally, I can't tell them apart, but would like to know the significance, if any. – Oded Dec 18 '13 at 13:08
  • @oded rule of thumb: katakana looks like it was written by someone in a hurry. But that's a rough rule. – Manishearth Dec 18 '13 at 13:48
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about the Japanese language, and not anime or manga, per se. It might be better suited for Japanese.SE. (For precedent, see this closed question) – senshin Dec 18 '13 at 22:03
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    @senshin I disagree because the writing in Manga is different than the writing in other mediums. This question specifically pertains to how language is written in Manga, so it should be considered on topic. Ultimately, I think the question works for both SE's. – krikara Dec 19 '13 at 3:34
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    @user1306322 The point is that we are a site about anime/manga. If a question is about anime/manga and involves knowledge of Japanese, it's a fine question. If a question is about Japanese and involves anime/manga, then it's not. The fact that this can be answered without reference to anime/manga is evidence that it's of the second category. Otherwise one could make literally any question about Japanese on-topic here just by finding a single reference to that in anime/manga... – Logan M Dec 19 '13 at 14:51

These two answer covers the topic very well:

  1. To describe (what feels like) Western origin words
  2. To describe onomatopoeia (e.g. sounds effects)
  3. To describe the fact that it is normally written in kanji, but that it is written without it because either the writer wants to write faster, has no access to the kanji form (as in the case where the writer is given the name in a romanized transcription or the writer just heard the name), forgot the kanji form, or does not want to bother to write in kanji for any other reason.
  4. To give visual and/or very slight semantic emphasis. Almost like using bold or italics in English.

Most commonly katakana seen to be used for the #4. Much like how we can write in lowercase and UPPERCASE to give emphasis. Because it's sometimes difficult to feel the atmosphere when reading such emphasis is generally used in the words.

What most people don't immediate pick up is that much like reason #1, you can use katakana to emphasize foreign-sounding of a particular character speech. It's hard to transcribe a foreign accent (including some but not all verbal tics) in Japanese, but using katakana can get this idea across to the user. It's like if I were to talk to you normally, I would perhaps use a combination of hiragana and kanji, but if I were to talk to you and sound foreign, perhaps LIKE A ROBOT, I would used katakana. This so-called "technique" is used commonly in visual and written novels in Japan, not just for foreign sounding words, but also to emphasize the foreign-ness of a particular person's dialogue.


Hiragana can also be used in a similar fashion. Hiragana is typically the first reading/writing language a kid learns as they start reading in Japan. This is sometimes used to indicated the simpleness or naivety of a character, in general or at a specific moment. In the Yotsuba& manga, the titular character Yotsuba's dialogue is written in hiragana without any kanji, emphasizing her simpler, childlike manner. She also has a slightly different sized and styled typeface to emphasize her intensity and energy as a kid. In addition much of these quirks like her pun-filled nuances are lost in subsequent localizations

4tsuba &

Those are the most basic nuances to look for when reading manga. If you're interested in learning more about the language and manga I recommend checking out the book Japanese the Manga Way: An Illustrated Guide to Grammar and Structure by Wayne P. Lammers.

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So firstly lets talk about difference between hiragana and katakana.
I found this on a question on a site.

Katakana is mainly used for a loanword, species of animal or plant, the sound generated in the nature or by a machine and so on.

-Loanword: コーヒー(coffee)、サラダ(salad)、パン(bread - derivative from Portuguese "paõ") -Species: イヌ(dog)、ネコ(cat)、コウテイペンギン(emperor penguin or "aptenodytes forsteri") -Sounds: ワンワン(bowwow)、ブーン(zoom)、チョキチョキ(snip-snap)

For other cases the mixture of kanji and hiragana is generally used. Using hiragana without kanji is all right, however, the mixed text is easier to understand if you gradually learn kanji.

-私は車で買い物に行きました。 -わたしはくるまでかいものにいきました。 (I went shopping by car.)

In some cases a car is written 「クルマ」 in katakana. In this case a writer may have a kind of love to the object as much as they have to a pet animal. It is an extraordinary expression.

-私の家族(かぞく)はパパ、 ママ、 おねえさん、 イヌのトム、 このクルマ、 そして、 私です。 (My family members are Dad, Mom, Sister, Tom-a dog, this car, and me.)

Hiragana is used for all kinds of japanese words.

This also gives a nice explanation on the difference between them.

You can also refer to the Japanese writing system

The main reason of why they use katakana could be that the names/words they use in the manga are non-Japanese.
Then it could be a personal decision of the mangaka himself/herself!!

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  • I half agree with this post. The usage of Katakana for words like dog and cat are hardly used. The second half of your post is pretty on point though. – krikara Dec 18 '13 at 13:29
  • yea, I'm searching for more references. – marmikshah Dec 18 '13 at 13:32

Katakana is used typically for non Japanese words. Common examples include non Japanese names as well as words taken from other languages and pronounced with the Japanese syllables.

Regular Japanese names like Matsumoto will be spelled with Kanji, but when you have a foreign name like Emily, that is spelled with Katakana.

The exception to this is that Japanese first or forenames in manga may be spelled with Katakana. This doesn't happen in real life though. Various celebrities may have their names published in Katakana through out different forms of media, such as magazines, websites, etc. However, their real (non Western) name written in their birth certificate will not contain Katakana.

Sometimes, words can have both an English and Japanese version. For example, the world apple in Japanese is Ringo spelled in Hiragana. However, it is also common for Japanese people to say Apporu (sounds like the actual English word) and this is would be written in Katakana.

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  • I've never heard apporu (アッポル) for apple. The standard pronunciation would be appuru (アップル). – Logan M Dec 19 '13 at 6:15
  • Also, I don't agree that Japanese given names are never in Katakana. A few examples of famous people are 影山ヒロノブ, 今宮エビス, and 黒木マリナ. However, it is quite uncommon; I suspect less than 1% of people have katakana given names. – Logan M Dec 19 '13 at 6:34
  • @LoganM In regards to your last comment, your first two links are stage names and the last one has the name Marina, which is arguably a Western style name. Nevertheless, all these people are related to the entertainment industry and thus would make sense having their names written in Katakana. I guess I should revise my post by explaining actual names do not contain Katakana, as in forenames given at birth. – krikara Dec 19 '13 at 6:46
  • True, they are all entertainment industry people (which is the only reason I know of any of them), and it's significantly more common for stage names to have katakana than birth names. I think there are examples of Japanese people born with given names in katakana, but it is quite rare (moreso than hiragana, which is already rather uncommon) and I can't think of any at the moment so I'll concede that point. – Logan M Dec 19 '13 at 7:03
  • There's actually a reason why people don't write their family registers in Katakana. There was a period in history when Japanese people were illiterate and didn't know how to write Kanji, so instead they wrote Katakana. However, in modern times, it is a lot easier to find out or learn how to write the Kanji for a name, so it isn't an issue anymore. Writing your official name in Katakana these days will portray you and your family as illiterate and uneducated, and thus unheard of. – krikara Dec 19 '13 at 7:13

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