HOW are people managing reading on the early levels?

So I’m level four. I basically started from absolute beginner (zero kanji knowledge, still super sketchy on katakana etc) and I see a lot of recommendations to do like, daily reading to help with recalling kanji, building vocab etc. I know that the likes of grammar should be started about level 10, but I’ve not seen any level rec for starting reading. Surely not at anything like my level - I have no idea how I’d be able to read ANYTHING and feel that that would be so demoralising.




The recommendation for waiting for level 10 for grammar is predicated on the premise that you’ll be able to recognize many of the kanji and vocabulary used in grammar-teaching materials. However, you can learn grammar before level 10, and just learn the vocabulary along the way.

For reading, the Absolute Beginner Book Club here is a great way to supplement grammar learning, because you can ask questions along the way. It’s recommended that you already know a small amount of grammar (often categorized as “N5”, and consisting of the amount of material covered by the first Genki textbook) before reading along with the club.

You can start reading before that, but it’s going to be an absolute nightmare trying to follow along until you get the basics down. However, it’s going to be difficult regardless, because you need to read to build up recognition of grammar. In that sense, it’s never too soon to begin reading, so long as you’re learning grammar along the way.

Also, vocabulary. The fewer vocabulary words you know, the more you’ll need to look up. The book clubs tend to have vocabulary lists that get populated along the way to help out with this. Once you get the basics of the most common grammar down, looking up vocabulary will be the biggest chore. And it’s one that never fully goes away. It only shrinks over time.

My first attempts at reading on my own long ago were very demoralizing (and I ended up giving up repeatedly). I wish WaniKani community book clubs existed back then!


I personally recommend starting to read as soon as possible, but just know that it will be difficult and time consuming. Also, I would start working on grammar now since without any grammar knowledge it’ll be even more difficult. You just kind of have to mentally prepare yourself to basically look up most words and grammar. Depending on the day and what I’m attempting to read a couple pages can take me an hour, but when I do recognize a word or sort of understand, it does feel really rewarding. As for a book recommendation there was a beginner book club a while back レンタルおにいちゃん Reading Club
That I personally think seems pretty good for an intro manga, but you can also look at other books in the beginner book club threads. It also has a vocab list and grammar list, so you could spend time learning the vocab and grammar first and then attempt the book, which may make the reading easier and less demoralizing if you are worried about feeling discouraged.


The problem is that while you know some kanji, you don’t know any grammar. Without grammar it’s going to be difficult to read something that doesn’t have an associated translation for you. It definitely does help to read the kanji you know now, but it will potentially be an unfulfilling task until you get into grammar and can actually understand more of what all those squiggles and lines mean when put together.

And this is absolutely not me saying you aren’t good enough; you just don’t know enough YET.

If you want to just do some general practice, the Absolute Beginner Book Club mentioned by @ChristopherFritz is a good place to start. Just DO NOT let an inability to comprehend what you are reading get you frustrated. If it does, just hold off a bit longer before jumping in again.


The information in this thread about waiting until level 10 to learn grammar is actually very useful. I’ve already learned a good bit of grammar, but I always felt that I didn’t really learn the kanji on those platforms. They were simply thrown at me in new words, most of the time not explained at all (as far as meaning).

So thanks you guys. I’m going to do my WaniKani/KameSame until level 10 and then continue with grammar!

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@ElleBlair I started in the same boat as you did and can more pick out kanji/vocab and their meanings if I see them in places or products, etc. I am still prone to messing up some katakana and hiragana at times (especially with the former when the new sounds are added). That being said, until you have somewhat of an understanding of grammar (as Japanese and English grammar are not similar) reading anything mildly complex is solely an exercise in frustration. For now.

for me, i came to WK with already 9 months of learning japanese at 2 hours a day under my belt. i’ve been mainly focusing on WK these last three months, but my grammar is probably still ahead of my kanji. starting to read has been more about learning to look up words and kanji, and recognising different fonts, and stuff like that.

i personally don’t see a reason to delay learning grammar. most grammar books will assume that you are also learning the vocab as you go along, and separating grammar from vocab (and kanji, with japanese) seems artificial to me.

and start with reading at the level you’re at, or just a bit above that level. myself, i’ve started with my first manga, and though it is well above my level it is super rewarding. at lower levels, graded readers might be good. there’s a selection available for free here


I feel like this post’s title is the sum of my recent efforts at reading, lol. Answer: Grammar.

I’m like you - started from zero. But I also started grammar at level 0, along with WK. I didn’t really realize how helpful it would be in the long run; I was just the kind of person who liked grammar. I finally started reading at lower- middle-N4 grammar, not based on WK level. I was probably around level 8-9 then.

Start with dissecting sentences (graded readers) then paragraphs (simple folklore stories). Read to understand each point and their roles in the sentence; not to just get the “gist.” Eventually it gets easier… I’m still not at the point where it’s easy. I still need to dissect everything, but I’m certainly having a better, quicker time than when I started.

Start grammar now. It’ll be a pain with all the unknown kanjis all over the place, but unknown vocabulary is easy to look up in the midst of a sentence structure you’re familiar with.

Edit: Here’s the link to the KLC Graded Readers - The KLC Graded Reading Sets • Kanji Learner's Course Official Site

Volume 1 is free. It starts with the simplest kanji and works its way up. It’s almost in line with WK kanji, and it comes with grammar breakdowns.


Reading ability is way less related to WK level than what people think. When I first reach lvl 60, I would know most of the vocabulary of any random book I picked but I could not make sense of most sentences. But now, if I try, I can read basic stuff. What made the difference? When I first reached lvl 60 my grammar was Genki 1, chapter 10 but now I just finished Genki 2. It made a huge difference. So if your grammar knowledge is solid, you can read at the early levels using a dictionary for the kanji/vocabulary you don’t know but if you lack grammar, even if you reach lvl 60, it is going to be frustrating trying to read anything.


I read a chapter of a book in the “absolute” beginner club and there were lots of N3 material. So I would not trust what it is said about N5…

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The N5 recommendation for Absolute Beginner Book Club is a recommendation of minimum grammar knowledge. Without that, reading anything is a big struggle, and aspiring readers might not be able to keep up with the club’s pace.

You’ll definitely find a fair amount of N3 in a lot of the easiest reading material, including children-targeted picture books. The book clubs make it easy to ask about unknown grammar and get details on it to help readers learn new grammar. (Grammar can be learned in any order. N5-N1 levels simply arrange by more common to less common.)


I have read very little because lately I have been a little too busy / unmotivated to put the time into it. However I did participate in the beginner’s book club for なぜどうして in 2020 which is not a manga. I believe I was level 20 at the time or maybe more like lv 15 but it was a lot of copy and pasting materials into websites like and basically having it translated word by word to you and you figuring out the entire context of the sentence. I think this makes it sound easy but is not like google translate, it breaks everything down individually so it can still be quite a challenge and you are basically putting together a word puzzle for the entire book. There are times where you will understand some sentences on your own and it is a great feeling but I think especially for the beginner book clubs you will be struggling a lot more with grammar than kanji vocab.

I think I am basically echoing what everyone else has already said. Even with sources like, google translate, and jisho, it is important you are still able to get a gist of why the sentences means what it does even if you have just a small idea. This is why the book clubs are so great because there will be a lot of times even with these sources you have no idea wtf is going on and people like @ChristopherFritz are great at breaking it down


I agree. It’s more to do with whether you have enough understanding of grammar and or vocab knowledge that will let you read manga with furigana (for starters). Basically, the same as for any foreign language reading: you don’t want to look up every single word you encounter, but only words here and there.

There are of course other ways to encounter Japanese vocab and grammar in the wild without reading; listening and/or watching stuff in Japanese are also good ways to lay the foundation.

It will help you guestimate grammar points and vocab from context and previous experience, though you’ll still need to look up stuff and be patient while reading. But, it’s certainly possible if you want to give it a try.

I do recommend trying out some children’s media for starters to test the waters and see where you’re at. Good luck!


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Definitely don’t feel bad about having much luck reading yet. I can’t speak from having attained reading fluency, but from my experience thus far trying to get there I’d say don’t worry about hurrying into it.

The bit about being sketchy on katakana makes me think you may be a bit premature - if you are also a bit light on hiragana, you may find reading isn’t very productive (unless you find it works for you as hiragana practice). I would have said I knew hiragana several years ago, in that I had them memorized, but I still had to stop and think; now I don’t even have to think about them and it makes reading so much easier (much of the vocab may be kanji, but it is all glued together with hiragana; readings for the kanji will also be in hiragana). The simpler the reading, the more it will lean on hiragana, so you can’t really get away from it. eg looking at the very nice list of books at the link given by @Mrs_Diss you will find most of the level 0 books are almost entirely hiragana.

I found I improved my hiragana quite a lot as a side effect of all the reading revision in wanikani, but also I signed up to duolingo (just a free account), did the hiragana and katakana lessons, then stopped doing lessons and just used the practice function over and over to do a 5-10 minutes of kana revision every day). I actually tried out the start of several free Japanese apps/courses to find out which suited me before I found wanikani, and as a side effect ended up repeating hiragana/katakana many times (basic grammar too, pretty much every course starts with these). I found most apps focused far too much on stock phrases (and rote learning their particular translation of them) for my taste, but I think the kana practice did me a lot of good.

I’d also recommend some sort of structured app/course to introduce the (very) basics of は か が を particles and also こそあど words are really handy (I found NHK Easy Japanese good for those; in lesson 3, so they get right to it Easy Japanese 2015, free audio & text lessons | NHK WORLD RADIO JAPAN), knowing ここ, これ, こちら… ;そこ, それ, … etc aren’t much to remember, thanks to the pattern, but will get you a big leg up in many simple texts.

Over the years I’ve made many passes at learning grammar/reading Japanese, and it gets a little easier and I learn a little more each time, but I’d have to say kana fluency and the big vocab boost from wk are what feel like they made the biggest difference (more than my earlier attempts at reading), since now I actually can read simple Japanese sentences without too much thinking & messing around.

Basically, like the official advice on WK says, it is much easier to learn when you already know most of what you are practicing on.

But more than anything else I’d say find something that works for you. Find something that makes it easy for you to make a habit of, and keeps you engaged. Eg I actually enjoy the routine and predictability of moving though wanikani, I just have to sit down and do what is there: emptying my review inbox a couple of times a day; setting myself a certain number of new items; it gives a nice feeling of progress with each level up; I keep wanting to empty my lesson inbox, I’ve had to start holding myself back from doing too much so I have time to start on grammar and reading.

tldr: unless you are already fluent, it may be better to put the time in really nailing down your hiragana and katakana (and maybe a little grammar) so you are ready to go when your vocab is a bit bigger (personal whether solo reading, book clubs, or rote learning works best for you as a way to do this).

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ElleBlair, I have also tried these and I find them fun
and when I don’t understand the grammar it prods me to find out what’s going on. Fairly laborious stuff for the total beginner like me but I think probably an entirely necessary and worthwhile process!
I think I must start with one of the book clubs soon but I need to find something that is an inspiring topic for me (probably something non-fiction).

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Kinda of topic but i felt nostalgia because i asked same question year ago (don’t remember if i made a post about it or just kept to myself) anyways. The best thing i recommend to you is to try it. Try reading, try studying grammar, try studying vocabulary or all at the same time if you can handle it of course. Experience only come from experiencing it first-hand. You will understand what work what doesn’t why it does why it doesn’t. You don’t have to take my advice after all i only started reading around level 30 with little or no vocabulary study around N4 grammar level. i also started wanikani from absolute beginner (was struggling with hiragana lol)


This is all super helpful, thank you!! :heart:

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