Fan Translation

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Fan Translation is a broad term that refers to the fanac of the unofficial translation of source media or fanworks into other languages.

Fans have translated everything from video games, books, short stories, films, comics, television shows, manga, anime, doujinshi, and fanfiction so they can share their enjoyment of the source with other fans who don't know the source language.

With commercial works, these translations are often seen to be violating the copyright on the source and are sometimes hard to distinguish from pirate or bootleg translations made with the intent of commercial profit. For example there are many cases of translations of Harry Potter books appearing for sale before official translations were available or in languages where no official translation is ever produced. [1][2] However, in some instances, such as with some video games, the translation is just part of the existing modding community that is supported and encouraged by the game creators.

The translation may also go hand in hand with editing of the original source. For example, an English subtitled versions of the German soap operas Verbotene Liebe and Alles Was Zählt are available on YouTube, edited to include only the scenes focusing on the relationship of Christian/Olli and Deniz/Roman and a few related characters.[3] A French subtitled version of the Luke/Noah story from As the World Turns is also available online.[4]

Fan translations may have a different focus than professional ones.

One of the most interesting facts about fansubs is that translators know that they are addressing a rather special audience made up of people very interested in the world of anime and, by extension, in Japanese culture. This is one of the main reasons why translators tend to stay close to the original text and to preserve some of the cultural idiosyncrasies of the original in the target text. [...] Though more research is needed in the area, it seems safe to assume that consumers of fansubs are generally exposed to more foreign cultural idiosyncrasies than other viewers. Another distinctive feature of fansubbing is the fact that certain cultural referents such as the names of places, traditions and other celebrations are explained by using translator’s notes and glosses.[5]

Views on Translation as a Fannish Activity

fineillsignup, who translates Chinese Naruto doujinshi, said:

...I have had very very limited time for my fandom activities lately, and I have been focusing more on translations than original works. Translations are not “easy” per se, but they use a different kind of mental energy than original works. They have clear parameters and goals. Currently, I have more of that kind of mental energy to spare.

I also find translations easier to do in bits and pieces. To work on fic, I need a long uninterrupted period of time to get in “the zone” and write. It is far easier for me to do translations even a panel at a time, five minutes here and there, that kind of thing.[6]

Fan translations of Japanese animation and manga are often joked about in the animanga community because some fan translators refuse to translate words that professionals would normally translate in order to explain the word in detail.[7] The biggest meme about this is "all according to keikaku" from a Death Note fansub.[8]

Types of Fan Translation

Common types of translations done by fans include:

  • scanlation
  • fansubs
  • translations of fanfic
  • game mods
  • translations of primary canon texts, like novels
  • translations of secondary canon texts, like artbooks or character guides
  • translations of radio plays or dramas

Well Known Fan Translations

Examples Wanted: Editors are encouraged to add more examples or a wider variety of examples.


  1. Harry Potter and the boy wizard translator accessed October 28, 2010
  2. Harry Potter and the German pirates accessed October 28, 2010
  3. Eskimo Kiss Project on YouTube, accessed October 28, 2010
  4. Raphaël Jag on Daily Motion, accessed October 28, 2010
  5. Fansubs: Audiovisual Translation in an Amateur Environment, July 2006. Accessed Nov. 24, 2012.
  6. fineillsignup, response to beewithaknife asking, "Do you have an update schedule for your fic?" Posted and accessed 12 September 2018.
  7. "official subs vs fansubs" by ProzD, Youtube, Created 1/3/17
  8. "Just According to Keikaku," Know Your Meme, Created 2010