Do I need (/When) to start reading Japanese?

My question is whether I can really learn all this Kanji without doing any reading in Japanese?

I ask because I enjoy WaniKani but am concentrating on improving my reading in Mandarin (I’m intermediate) and don’t want to overwhelm myself with trying to read in Japanese too.

I am able to recall meanings and pronunciations on WaniKani but if I can’t recall them quickly and in a real world context, what’s the point…?

So I’m wondering, what has your experience been with transitioning into Japanese reading? What level did you start trying to read at and how did it go?

Thanks to anyone who replies!!


You may want to consider joining one of the book clubs here.

I don’t honestly recall when I started - I might have to dig through the old threads - but when the Aria book club started, I was only level sixteen.


Oh awesome, this is really helpful, thanks!

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Hello ! good effort taking on Mandarin ! :slight_smile:

I think you CAN learn all this kanji without reading in Japanese - if you WANT. and only you can know whether you want to or not.

presumably you are learning the Chinese characters meanings to some extent through your Mandarin learning? if you don’t intend to learn or expose yourself to Japanese beyond wanikani - maybe concentrating on Mandarin would be for the best?

Again, I think only you can decide if knowing kanji without applying Japanese readings is useful for you. If you learn the readings through Wanikani, you WILL be able to recall them in real world contexts, if you expose yourself to Japanese content.

i’m slightly confused by this question - presumably most people start reading as soon as they start learning Japanese - or do you mean reading native content? you can read Japanese at some level as soon as you know hiragana and katakana - you just need to expose yourself to content which is appropriate for your level.

:cake: But then on the other hand if you don’t finish Wanikani you won’t get cake. :cake:

Thanks for your helpful reply!

Yeah I’m talking about being able to read native content in Japanese with 95%+ comprehension aka Comprehensible Input. Mangas for children would be my first goal.

I guess I was worried that if I don’t start reading by like level X, then the words would start wasting away in my brain haha which I guess I shouldn’t worry about…?

The other things I’m looking for is what is the best level to start reading Japanese and what can I read? Something where I have 95%+ comprehension so I don’t get burnt out.

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This will happen if you don’t start reading as well. Burning is just the first step I think :smiley: I think WK is a great start but you cant learn to read without reading. In addition to WK you need to understand the grammar too.

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It’s kind of impossible to read any Japanese text that’s not out of a textbook without progressing to an intermediate level in your grammar studies. Well, not really impossible, but it’d be pretty hard. You can pretty easily look up unknown words in an online dictionary (I started with for example), but it’s significantly harder to look up unknown grammar. That’s why I think WaniKani level isn’t the biggest obstacle when it comes to reading, but rather, your grammar level is.

Even manga for children isn’t as easy as you’d think. Sure, the words might be easy, there might be fewer kanji used, but the grammar used is often pretty advanced to a learner (think about it, Japanese kids have a lot more years of Japanese learning under their belt than a beginner Japanese learner, so it’s natural).

I guess something like a so called “graded readers” would be a good approach, or study material for the JLPT exams. I for one did it the hard way, and would often spend hours just trying to read 1-2 pages of manga, getting hung up on unknown grammar, or slang, and having to either Google it, or ask about it on a forum. The further I progressed with my grammar studies, the easier reading got, even while not progressing with kanji that much (I took a 2 year break from WaniKani at one point so I wasn’t even actively learning kanji, but reading got easier the more grammar I learned.)


As soon as possible. Around level 10 you should start or Already be learning grammar because recognizing symbols and their sounds won’t help you when you run into words without kanji, to which there are many.

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A common recommendation is tentatively reading from about level 10 on, regularly reading from level 20 on (you’ll still have to look up a lot), and only from level 30 does it get somewhat comfortable (you won’t have to look up every other kanji).
But i’d say reading practice is never a waste of time, whatever your level.
Graded readers are fine, but you’ll get bored with them, and the more reading, the better. So my recommendation is to read what you’re interested in, and as much as possible. You’ll learn things along the way. You can look up words if you want, but don’t feel the need to understand everything.
Yotsubato is a good start, there’s also a bookclub for it here. If possible, first try to read the Japanese, then check a translation (if at all).
Also, use a browser extension like Yomichan so that you can look up words just by hovering over them.

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Hard to answer just relative to WK progression, since WK only covers a small, specific aspect of Japanese. All the kanji in the world won’t help you move through a native text without other grammar and vocabulary study.

I’d say finish some sort of elementary course (Genki I&II, or equivalent progress using other material), and then start diving into native manga, younger-skewing prose, etc., as you begin lower-intermediate study. It’ll still be difficult, but you’ll have enough context to make it worth it.

When people say, “Well, you should be reading by Level X” on Wanikani, I would also generally take that to mean “You should have learned elementary grammar and be reading by Level X,”–which makes sense, in terms of putting what you learn here to use. But talking in terms of WK levels alone is pretty meaningless.


There’s some truth to that, and most people recommend starting grammar study yesterday, and you should learn basic grammar before starting reading, but i don’t think reading at any WK level is meaningless or a waste of time. You always pick up something, vocabulary, phrases, context kanji are used in, even grammar. There are even people who say that after the basics you should learn most grammar by immersion. Reading is never a waste of time.


I can agree with that!

Mostly I just wanted to stress that the question of when and what you should start reading is impossible to answer in terms of WK level alone, since kanji-reading is actually not likely to be your biggest hurdle. How people want to pick up grammar is up to them, of course. My point was just to stress that “You’re on Level ___ of Wanikani now; you should be able to ____” isn’t something you can really say without knowing how much language experience they have outside the app at that point.

Yeah, well, I think it should be phrased like “you’re at level 10, you start not having to look up absolutely every kanji. You’re at level 20, maybe you need to look up less than 50% of the kanji” and so on.
And as i said, even if your grammar knowledge isn’t that great, i still think you’ll benefit a lot from reading.

Today while “reading” a visual novel, i picked up the phrase 二の句が継げない - to be/is at a loss of words, and the vocab 二の句 = another word/answer. No grammar needed to learn that.

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Thank you to all who responded!

My conclusion is that I should start learning Japanese grammar (which I love).
And that I can hold off on trying to read for a while.
I’ll do some baby reading lessons on LingQ in the mean time.


Ohhhhhh…wow…Aria seems like it would be a fantastic manga to start with!!!

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