Manga Translation Poll: Honorifics – Yes, No or Maybe?


  1. I prefer them be there, or at least annotated, but it isn’t remotely a deal breaker. More important factors are art, genre, and frankly, cost. And digital availability, since i can’t do much physical.

  2. They are important because honorficis are insight into the relationships between characters and can also stregthen a characters quirks (someone who refers to everyone as chan or someone who drops honorifics altogether have an affect on character and the way they are percieved. That nuance can be lost if honorifics are left out of translations)

  3. I picked the last IT DEPENDS option, but really my opinion is somewhere between that and the emphatic yes. I think that the honorifics convey important relationship information — and, importantly, relationship information that the writer and characters expect to be clear in the dialogue. So yes, I want honorifics included in anything set in Japan. I also want honorifics included in any kind of secondary-world setting where that same information is presumably encoded in the conversation in whatever language the characters are speaking.

    About the only time when I’m fine with honorifics being dropped out is when the manga is set in America or Europe or some other setting where having them in the original is itself a “translation” of sorts. (Though I’d be fine with leaving them in, too.)

    In theory, I’d also be fine with having them translated, e.g. Dr., Mr., etc. But in practice, there are too many honorifics that just don’t translate, or that sound really clunky. (I have yet to see anyone manage a good equivalent for -senpai or -kun, for example.)

  4. In reality, if manga were open to all translators to license, and not just properties of one distribution company per region, we’d have a plethora of translation varieties to choose from, and therefore could read both a close localization which retains important information, such as when honorifics change in the manga and a localization that drop them and use the language to convey the relationship.

    That in the end would be better. But manga is not lucrative enough for multiple companies to license the same manga, or for one company to put out more than one translation.

  5. If I’m reading a series set in Japan (not just historical Japan, but also most non-fantasy shoujo manga, etc), I prefer to see the name suffixes (san, chan, kun…). If they’re not there, my familiarity with manga-language means that I’m constantly thinking, “Does she really refer to him by just his name (or even just his given name?! if the adaptation goes so far as to use English name-use conventions) or was this adapted? What was it originally?? I want to know!” I guess it’s the danger of over-familiarity, in contrast to a new reader’s under-familiarity: I see what’s missing and it opens up the possibility of misinterpretation.

    In non-Japanese settings, I like dropping or adapting the honorifics to something that fits the setting. (based on the series I read in Japanese, I think they tend to be used a little differently in those series to begin with.)

  6. Honorifics convey information about relationships between characters, and even if it’s not vital in a particular story, it adds nuance, and why would you deliberately set out to make your release less rich and nuanced? Also, given the serial nature of manga, and the fact that translated releases often come out just a volume or two behind the Japanese release, you might not find out until vol. 14 that a character switching from addressing someone as [FamilyName]-kun to [GivenName] (no honorific) will signify a huge change in the emotional relationship. Why paint yourself into that corner?

    The claim that “if the translator (or adapter) is skilled
    enough, they can rewrite around the honorifics” is strained, at best. The contortions of English that are required in order to translate high school kids calling each other -kun and -sempai (to pick just one example) are so much more awkward and clunky than just keeping the honorifics that I’m kind of surprised there’s even an argument here. I’m not Japanese, but I’m pretty sure that calling a fellow high-school student who’s one year older than you “Miss [FamilyName]” introduces a bizarre level of formality that simply isn’t present in [FamilyName]-sempai.

    Also, the argument that honorifics should be dropped because English-speakers don’t get the full cultural subtlety of the honorifics is, at best, a textbook example of the all-or-nothing fallacy (eg there’s no lock out there that will stop the most skilled thief if he’s determined to get in, so there’s no point anybody locking their doors ever), and at worst is an arrogant dismissal of fans’ intelligence. Many readers are able to get some meaningful nuance out of the honorifics even if they are not steeped in Japanese culture to the extent that they grasp the full subtlety of every honorific in every context. The position that if you aren’t reading the original Kanji then you can’t possibly know enough about Japan to get any valid meaning out of the honorifics is frankly insulting.

    I … apparently have strong feelings about this.

  7. It depends. Very frequently, it’s just white noise. But historical mangas sometimes will use it to disclose more imediatly how everybody stands in the friction between groups/social castes. Drama/romance manga sometimes use it to mark turnpoints in characters proximity growing/diminishing.

    Those things are reproduced more extensively in stylized ways of speek of course, but this goes much deeper in the wormhole of how hard it is to recreate various speaking styles in a different language.

    But as manga can use visual storytelling, sometimes those things are filled with visual descriptions of scenes. So how much it impacts the quality of translation is too much of a case-to-case….i wouldn’t be confortable proposing a single universal response as “the right way to translate” anything.

    But for example, i remember reading portuguese language version of Eiji Yoshikawa’s “Musashi” translated by Leiko Gotoda. She dedicated around 50 pages in the beggining to talk about historical context, and her decisions on how to recreate levels of formality/closeness and distance of the original in portuguese by exploiting order of words, word choice and verbal flections in portuguese. She used footnotes very frequently to give a little information of metric system used in the orgiinal line, some double meaning kanji used in a phrase or some real life location mentioned that today have a different name. This kind of thing was incredible helpfull for me, and became a selling point later when i tried to pick up other things to read, like Shakespear or Goethe stuff.

    It’s a little unfair on my part to compare prose translations to comics. As pure prose (with no visual storytelling), this might be more urgent in books. And it might be easier to arrange for pages/free spaces for translation notes in prose. But it’s not like comics don’t have ANY space for this as movies/animations.

    For example, when i finded the official brazilian publications of “Evangelion” and “Claymore” manga opted to do localization of terms, but included 4 pages of translation notes at the end of each volume. It even gone a step furter, explaining some western, but obscure terms used (biology/religion in evangelion, art story terms in claymore). That totally proved for me that it could be done, while it depends if the editor will agree. Sorry for the long post ;(

  8. I personally prefer the honorifics to carry over into translations, but that’s purely because I love the language; that said, I don’t find it necessary to add words that don’t have English equivalents, regardless of the story’s setting. Either way, it’s such a small thing that I don’t see anyone putting a manga down just because honorifics are in the translation.

  9. I want to address the concept that the use or disuse of honorifics is an indication of a translator’s skill. It would definitely be a skilled translator who can come up with a good one-size-fits-all equivalent of such things as -kun and -sempai, but in most translations that don’t use honorifics, those name suffixes are just omitted, and replacing something with nothing doesn’t really take a lot of skill. (Of course, if a translator decided to leave them out and then it came up later that the different forms of address were significant, it would take some skill to turn that dialogue into something that makes sense, but that skill would be more in creative writing than translation.)

    And if a translator did somehow come up with a good English equivalent for -kun or -sempai that didn’t make the readers raise their eyebrows at the extremely unnatural English usage, chances are other translators would pick up on it and adopt it. Then it would turn into a one-to-one replacement, which also takes very little skill.

    The idea, then, is that the translator can use the dialogue to express in English what used to be expressed by honorifics. The problem with that is that it assumes the Japanese dialogue isn’t already conveying that with more than just name honorifics, and that’s not true. Japanese dialogue uses more than just name honorifics to express levels of closeness and familiarity, and a good translator would be able to express that in the translation, with or without the name honorifics.

    That being the case, whether or not you like name honorifics, I don’t think it’s a matter of skill so much as stylistic preferences (and of course, how significant you think the name honorifics really are). That being the case, I have to wonder: what are people’s opinions of European (non-English) honorifics? For example, would it take you out of the story if you were reading a translation of The Three Musketeers and someone called somebody else Monsieur?

  10. Can I recommend a minor adjustment to “IT DEPENDS – I think Japanese honorifics should only be used if the story is set in Japan & they are key to understanding the story” by changing the “&” to an “&/or”.

  11. I keep on hearing the “honorifics needed to understand relationship between characters” so much that I feel like making an insulting meme image about it.I’ve been reading the Dark Horse localization of Oh! My Goddess for years and I never needed to hear “Skuld-chan” or “onee-sama” to know that Belldandy loves Skuld and Skuld adores Belldandy.

  12. I was able to grasp honorifics before I started learning Japanese, and I think it’s a personal preference thing, hence the poll. I can think of several manga where honorifics play a central part in the story.

    As just one example, in Kimi wa Pet (Tramps Like Us), the main character dates a man who was her senpai in college. He calls her by last name+san, she calls him last name+senpai.

    There is a chapter where they both feel they are being too formal for the length of time they’ve been dating because friends and coworkers are teasing them or questioning how close they really are, and they switch to first names (plain for her, first name+san for him) for a while. They feel awkward about it, and eventually go back to the overly-formal way they had been addressing one another, which makes them more comfortable. It foreshadows the way they are never truly able to connect throughout the series, and is paralleled by the rival love interest, who calls the lead first name+chan and symbolizes a relationship that embodies comfort and acceptance.

  13. Alright guys I kind of feel like it’s not needed. If a writer and artist is good at their trade, they won’t need to take something from another language to tell the reader how a certain character feels towards another. Of course, I’m not trying to ban honorifics completely, because I’m certain contexts, like a comedic one, the use of “-chan” could be amusing. They don’t need to be there at all times.

  14. I’m WAY late to this discussion (and I landed here trying to find Vertical Comics’s policy on Japanese honorific usage.

    “Japanese honorifics (-san, -chan, -kun at the end of names) is a hotly debated topic in Japanese-to-English manga translation. But does it really influence readers’ decisions to buy manga?”

    It does mine. I have a limited budget on what I can spend. I want Japanese honorifics and I won’t support something that doesn’t use them. Recently, Yen Press surprised me by not using honorifics in the RE:Zero manga. I didn’t know that until I’d already ordered the first two volumes. I won’t be buying any more. Not only that, but now Yen Press has gone from my “trusted” publisher to “suspect” publisher.

    “Is it off-putting to new readers who aren’t fluent in Japanese or familiar with Japanese culture?”

    Although anecdotal, I believe the answer to this for most folks is “no.” A friend of mine is a huge Harry Potter fan, and somehow heard of Negima. So she asked me if it was like Harry Potter. I lent her my first few volumes and she was hooked. She not only had no trouble reading “backwards,” but she had no trouble with the use of honorifics. And though she wasn’t into any other manga nor anime, she always referred to Negi as “Negi-chan” whenever the then newest volume of Negima would come out and we’d discuss it.

    I’ve done similar things for other coworkers or folks I know, where I lend them a manga and get them hooked. Since all of the manga I buy contain Japanese honorifics, none have had a problem with the honorifics nor the reading backwards. This also includes all of my nieces and nephews who love it when I have new manga shipped to them. Some have even started learning Japanese because they want to be able to watch anime in Japanese without subtitles.

    Finally, I find it somewhat racist that some folks want to Westernize manga to the point of purging Japanese honorifics (and more). If the source manga uses a Western honorifics, by George that will show up in the adaptation and the anti-honorific crowd think that’s cool.

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