You might think translating manga is just turning Japanese into English, but that’s not the case. A good manga translation is a lot more than that.
Many people want to translate manga but there is not much information on how to start translating manga. This series looks at different aspects of translating manga for beginners, with the aim of helping you be a great manga translation and improve the overall quality of manga translation online.
Everyone translates differently. You give the same sentence to five different people and each person will give you a slightly different translation. Which means that if you go on a forum to discuss how something “should be” translated you’re going to have people with different opinions.
That being said, it’s clear when a manga has been translated really badly. How you make a good translation is dependant on personal preference and style.
Making a Really Bad Translation
When you read a manga you can sometimes tell if it’s been translated badly or not. Sometimes it’s just a feeling that something’s off or confusing about the story or what someone’s said. Sometimes it just doesn’t make sense or read well in English.
This often happens when a person has translated a manga directly, word for word, from the Japanese to English. This might be just a few words, and/or direct use of the grammar.
This happens a lot with beginner translators! (Even I did it!)
For example, in the panel on the right the character is reacting to a really attractive man. She says 「元気チャージ！！ 頑張れ美鈴」 「心のスクショとった！！」
A bad translation would be: “Energy charge! // [He’s a] Beautiful bell of trying hard/energy” “I got a screenshot for my heart!!”
Even knowing the context of the situation and reading the manga until that point, that these sentences make no sense!
Here a direct word for word translation of the Japanese has caused the English to be confusing and stiff. Often I’ve found that if a translation doesn’t feel right, then there’s something wrong! Don’t just stop there thinking “it’ll do”, because you’re frustrated that it doesn’t sound right. Leave it alone and go back to it the next day and try to find a better way to say what’s being said.
Making a Good Manga Translation
So going back to the above example, here’s my final translation for this panel: “It’s like a chorus of angels! // I feel pumped!” “I’m going to remember this moment forever”
But that’s completely different from the original, how is that a good translation?! You might be saying. Well, hear me out.
The original Japanese is trying to say that the man (in the panel on the left) is so attractive he’s re-energised the female character, and that she’s taken a mental image (a heart screenshot) of him for her to keep.
As “beautiful bell of energy” doesn’t quite make sense in English because we don’t use the metaphor “beautiful bell” and the phrase 頑張る is not easy to translate either. I translated it to “a chorus of angels” to keep the imagery of beauty and sound. The “energy charged” also doesn’t quite work, so I went for a more natural phrase which means exactly the same thing in English, “I feel pumped”.
I swapped these two sentences around because in English I felt the imagery of him being a chorus of angels then energises her, creating a better flow in the sentence. Otherwise it would go “I feel pumped!! // It’s like a chorus of angels”, which doesn’t sound quite right in English.
As for the small text about screenshots, that got changed to, again, a sentence that means the same without using the exact same words.
As I discussed at the beginning, other people might make different choices when translating that panel. Just because they’re different doesn’t mean they’re bad, as long as they reflect what’s going on and make sense to an English reader.
Of course you don’t have to change every single word from the Japanese. Quite often (especially with short sentences) it makes the same sense in English as is does in Japanese.
In this panel for example, the guy says 「リィーンに頼みがある」「俺達と一緒に来てほしい」 which I translated to “I have a request for you Reene” “I want you to accompany us”. The sentence structure has only been changed slightly although it would also work as “Reene, I have a request”, but the character is a medieval type solider, so I gave him a formal tone, hence why he says “I want you to accompany us” instead of “I want you to come with us” (which also works).
This will be discussed more in the next post on Translating Styles.
Another example of a not-quite direct translation would be 「ここにあるって。。。 全部ゲーム！？」 is not “The things here… are all games?!”, which is technically correct but it reads lightly off in English.
A better translation would be something like “Everything here… is a game?!”
So that’s it really. When you’re translating a manga (or anything) you need to ask yourself:
- Don’t be tempted to directly translate word for word
- Don’t translate it directly from Google Translate!
- Does this make sense in English? (If not, there’s something wrong!)
- Does the translation reflect the original meaning?
If you’re a beginner manga translator and are unsure of your translation you can ask the community on Manga Helpers who are always happy to help you improve your translation! You can also find manga to translate and groups to work with.