Beginner reading material that is *actually* for beginners?

This has probably been hashed out before, but:

I’ve been at this for a while, and good lord I want to read. When I close my eyes at night, I have fantasies of fitting all those familiar words and grammatical structures together, and having lightbulbs of understanding go off—like when I read my textbook, except the thing I’m reading is actually interesting.

But as far as I can tell, I can’t read anything that gets brought up here or elsewhere as being for beginners even though I’m getting closer and closer to what I would call “conversational” at Japanese. “Read Yotsuba” they tell me. “There’s furigana. You’ll love it.”

Well, here’s the thing about Yotsuba: I have a pretty deep well of vocabulary and grammar to draw from at this point, but no, that doesn’t mean I can read Yotsuba. I keep trying to read Yotsuba, and I can’t, and then I try to read Yotsuba a few months later, and I still can’t. In fact, I don’t understand how anyone getting their Japanese from lessons and classroom instruction could possibly read Yotsuba. All the grammar in Yotsuba is casual. It seems very accurate to how people actually speak, which seems great, but it’s way beyond my comprehension level. Plus it’s little-kid-talking-to-dad-speak, and dad-talking-to-little-kid-speak, and this is not grammar they’ve taught in my classroom at all. I never have any clue what’s going on in Yotsuba, and it’s discouraging that this is supposed to be my starting point.

I picked up some actual kids’ books and I fared a little better. I got the Japanese translation of The Very Hungry Caterpillar and I’m pleased to report that yes, I understood that, cover to cover (mostly). And I was able to beat my head against the pages of a kids’ book by an apparently famous author named Shiro Yadama, and after considerable effort I understood bits and pieces of that pretty well. It was cute, but folks I’m 34. It’s not that I’m too proud to read stuff for kids, but kids’ books are a little boring. Reading them made me miss Yotsuba, which at least had interesting subject matter for an adult even, though it’s about a kid.

I suppose I’m looking for a silver bullet. Any suggestions? I’m not good enough for even a basic manga, and kids’ books are kids’ books. It would be so helpful to just sit and read a book(?) that—with some struggling and lots of dictionary-ing—I actually understand and finish.

Yotsuba, but easier? Like I said: a silver bullet. Maybe it doesn’t exist.


Frankly, I agree with you about Yotsubato. It’s not really a great manga to start with because of the casual language. I think overall, Aria the Masterpiece (Aqua if you want the original version) is far easier and more enjoyable too. Just push through the first few pages of the first chapter which has super polite flight attendant speak. After that it has pretty simple language and the main character at least speaks very “normally”.


Have you tried graded readers? It might give you that silver bullet feeling you’re looking for.


I can actually relate to Yotsubato not being super easy, though in my case it’s manga in general, I think. I find it way easier to read an actual book than a manga (even if it’s meant for little kids). I don’t actually know why, maybe because in manga you have to figure out the sometimes weird pictures, but I never seem to know what the characters are talking about.

You can always try to join the beginner book club. We are reading 時をかける少女, a fairly simple book that was also the first book I read, and I started at about your current WK level, so you probably can do it. Also, people post all sorts of questions about each chapter, which may help you too.

There are links to the discussion threads on the first post.

Check it out if you’re interested :wink:


It’s hard to know where someone stands as a “beginner” as I think that really spans a surprisingly broad spectrum of proficiency level. N4 beginner is different than N5 beginner is different than day one beginner.

Have you looked into graded readers? NHK Easy News?

At some point there’s bound to be some rough sledding. Particularly challenging if we don’t have a proficient native speaker to help us along the way. But I think even for challenging stuff you just gotta dive in, slog through it, and it’ll get easier.

No pain no gain.


I use Japanese Graded Readers and A Japanese Reader: Graded Lessons for Mastering the Written Language. Can’t read much but it’s better. I feel I’m progressing each day.


Yeah, I don’t know why Yotsubato is so popular as a beginner recommendation.


You read my post and came to the conclusion that I was avoiding pain? Here I was, thinking I’d subjected myself to quite a bit of difficulty already, and that I’d made that pretty clear. But wow you must love pain!

No I had not heard of these at all. They seem pretty terrific. Any tips on finding the right one(s) for me? I’m sure I can figure it out on my own if not

That’s a great tip. In my wildest dreams I did not imagine I would be read to read an entire novel, but I’ll have a look (I happen to know where there’s a copy at my school) and see if I can jump in with you guys!


This is a link to the first book of a Japanese Graded Readers product that I use. For learning to read, they are some of the best because they start really basic, and slowly increase in difficulty. THey are also full of pictures, so if you are struggling to work out what it says/means then you can use the pictures to fill in the gaps.


We’re pretty far ahead, actually, but do try :slightly_smiling_face:
Even better if you can try for free, right

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Also, feel free to ask more questions in the old discussion threads if you want. People are always happy to jump in and help out.


Try Satori Reader. Bonus for listening comprehension and vocal and grammar are linked. (I definitely feel your pain!)


That’s strange how they made beginners to pay.
Easier stories are for paid users :sweat_smile:

For graded readers one of the publishers, White Rabbit Press, has an app for both iOS and Android. Seems to fit what youre looking for.

One question though, is there something in Japanese in particular you want to be able to read? A certain novel, manga, magazine, website, etc?


It depends on your goal with it. For silver bullet experience start from level 1.
I read a few books form the physical level 1 series (the ones @Mexikanas linked) about 6 months ago maybe more, and I think the zero level in the app.
You’re probably beyond those levels, however it would still be a step further from the hungry caterpillar.

I got this one about two weeks ago, if you could find it in a library give it a try.


Welcome to the “they told me I should start with Yotsuba” club :joy::joy:

After hitting the Yotsuba wall, I went Graded Readers. Actually I went heavy graded readers. I bought all three collections (Ask, Taishukan, Oxford Brookes). When reading the level 3 of those I decided to make the jump to native content. I started the 10分で読める伝記 series (they are biographies) and so far those haven’t hurt my 34 year old self pride yet :wink:


I do feel much less alone now, thank you



At the recommendation of pretty much everyone I went and found the lowest-level graded reader I could find, and I understood EVERYTHING, and it ruled. I am a happy, semi-literate person.

I guess I found my elusive silver bullet. It was in the giant building with “SILVER BULLET STORE” written in 40 foot letters on the front. So thanks for telling me to look there!