Learn Spoken German with Cartoons

Best Comic Books for Studying German Slang, Vocabulary and Culture

First-time visitors to Germany testing their German are often puzzled because the language they hear is so different from what they have studied. They stumble over everyday abbreviations and the grammatical freedoms of spoken German because they have studied written German, a more formal or standard version. Reading German comic books is a fun way to practice the spoken language, learn slang terms and gain insights into German culture.

Another of the many advantages of learning German through comic books is that they revive students’ interest as a new fun and engaging way of study. Many students feel stuck with their vocabulary and mastery of a new language after the initial enthusiasm has subsided. Comic books fit the bill because they deliver new vocabulary in manageable pieces and reward the student with a laugh.

A Selection of Popular German Comic Books

In Germany, young and old alike enjoy comic strips, and most public libraries have whole racks of comic books not only by German cartoon artists but translations of works by artists from all over the world, especially Europe and the Americas. Different cartoon styles, topics, and levels will work for different readers, so the following subjective list is sorted by age groups, indicating the level of difficulty.

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Children’s Comic Books in German by Series Title

  • Goscinny and Uderzo’s adventures of the Gauls Asterix and his friend Obelix against the Romans have achieved cult status in Germany. Dogmatix is called Idefix and Getafix turns into Methusalix.
  • Disney’s Donald Duck is as popular in Germany as all over the world. Notice that Huey, Louie and Dewey are called Tick, Trick and Track.
  • Hägar der Schreckliche is what Dik Browne’s Hagar the Horrible called in German. The stout Viking warrior is a popular cartoon strip in German dailies.
  • Morris and Goscinny’s Lucky Luke is a wonderful cartoon satire of life in the Wild West and one “poor lonesome cowboy.”
  • The Marsupilami [Mah-Zoo-pee-lah-mee] is a wondrous animal that lives in the thicket of the Palumbian jungle and fights against deforestation, predators and other adversaries. Also check out Andre Franquin et al.’s other series about Gaston, a chaotic delivery boy.
  • Die Schlümpfe (Peyo’s Smurfs), in all their blueness, is an evergreen and popular from kindergarten to high school, where they undergo a revival.
  • Tim & Struppi is what Herge’s Tintin series is called in German – Struppi is Tintin’s little dog Snowy, stressing his shagginess rather than color in German.

Comic Book Suggestions for Adolescents

  • Claire Bretecher’s comic books touch a nerve with teenagers, especially Agrippina that revolves around the trials and tribulations of a 16-year-old.
  • Otto Waalkes as a famous German comedian, cartoon artist, singer, songwriter, and actor is a German institution. He self-ironically makes fun of everything German, especially his native region in northern Germany, Ostfriesland.

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German Comic Books for Adults, by Artist

  • Emma-cartoonist Franziska Becker’s muses about her feminist life (Mein feministischer Alltag) women, men, relationships, friendship and more.
  • Though Ralf König started out with cartoon strips, he is mostly known for his graphic novels Der bewegte Mann (Maybe…Maybe Not Again), Pretty Baby and Kondom des Grauens (Killer Condom), which have been turned into movies in 1994 and 1996, respectively. His books shed light on the German gay scene and have attained cult status among gay and non-gay readers alike.
  • A collection of Lappan’s best cartoons from the past 25 years has just come out this year. His comic strips provide glimpses of German society and his puns illustrate the usage of spoken German.
  • Walter Moers’ Das kleine Arschloch series (literally: the little asshole) is, as the title suggests, not for the faint at heart but very entertaining.

Very Advanced Level

  • Asterix is also available in different German dialects like Schwäbisch (Swabian), Fränkisch (Franconian), Hessisch (Hessian), Kölsch (around Cologne), Plattdeutsch (Low German) and Bairisch (Bavarian). These are difficult to understand even for native speakers, not from that region but might provide some good insights into regionalisms for travelers, translators or exchange students.
  • Most of the popular American comic strip series like Calvin and Hobbes, Peanuts, Simpsons, Gary Larson’s Far Side, all the superheroes etc. and mangas are also available in German.

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Two things should be kept in mind when using comic books to supplement one’s study of German: Someone who’s not into comic books might not develop an interest for them when struggling with a new language. Also, humor is one of the toughest aspects of any language, so beginners should try with an annotated comic textbook first. However, the advantages of using comic strips for building one’s German vocabulary are compelling.

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