How many vocab is required to be able to read things comfortably?

I just curious how many vocab in my memory pool that I would be able to read things like VN, manga, and news comfortably. I know it wouldn’t be that obvious and depends what kind of vocab I’ve learned. However, it would be nice to have a study goal.

Currently I know around 3500-4000 words. (2780 WaniKani + 1000 Kitsun + ~500 that I’ve learned from reading) I can read children stories and Easy news. However, reading native materials that aim at teenager audiences is still pretty much a painful experience for me. My grammar knowledge is around N3. So I know my grammar knowledge is still not there yet either.

I think 6000-7000 vocabs should be some what enough to consume native material comfortably, right?
(Assume that my grammar ability is on par with my vocab knowledge)

What is your opinion?


It depends a lot on your preferences when it comes to how to learn vocab. You essentially have a few different options -

  1. just start reading and accept you’ll be looking up a lot of vocab at the start. This will be a struggle in the beginning but if you’re smart about what you pick (ie. maybe something with mainly everyday vocab like よつばと - that said, I totally didn’t follow my own advice and started with ハイキュー so if you’ve got something you’re really dying to read that you’ll be really motivated to get through then so long as it’s not a 500 page novel or something then I wouldn’t rule it out if it’s a bit outside ‘everyday simple vocab’ ), or go for a book club pick that has a vocab sheet, then that will help. And you’ll generally find that after a few chapters to a volume of most manga that you’ll have to look up progressively less and less. You can choose to put vocab you look up into Anki if you want to - I get easily overwhelmed with SRS so I don’t but many people do! Regardless, especially if you stick with one series for a while then it will get a while lot easier!
  2. use either koohi or WK book club vocab lists + anki to pre-learn vocab before reading. I’m not the best person to comment on this as I use the above method , but if looking things up during reading really bothers you then pre-learning a chapters vocab before reading could be a decent method. That way you shouls cut down what you have to look up while reading, but you also know that you’re learning vocab that will actually help you for what you want to read.
  3. use a ‘core vocab’ list to learn vocab and only read when you have a very large vocab. I could never do this because I find learning vocab out of context very boring and confusing - but I know that many people do swear by core 10k etc. That said, If your goal is reading, this is probably what I’d recommend the least as you’ll end up learning a bunch of vocab that may well never actually crop up in what you want to read.

However you do it - happy reading! :slight_smile:


In every single language learning experience, vocabulary is always a nuisance. :sweat_smile:

There is just so much.

The problem is with regards to what native material you’re reading. Obviously, if you’re reading a school textbook for a given subject it is going to use very different vocabulary to, say, a cookbook. This is an extreme example, but it goes for novels and more general books as well. It may seem like these are just specialised words, but the truth is that the majority of reading and conversation is made up of these “specialised words”. Once you get out of basic words territory, it’s all “specialised words”.

@sycamore has already made tons of suggestions for resources and stuff, but if you want my personal method, here it is:

  1. Find something I want to read,
  2. Find a Koohi deck for that book,
  3. Go through it for a week before starting the book,
  4. Start reading the book and still need to look up every other word. :sweat_smile:

Yeah, there’s no escaping it. However, it does get much better over time. :wink:


I probably know about this much vocab, maybe a bit more including all the slang.

I can read stuff but to understand 100% I need to look up words quite often.

If by reading comfortably you mean reading without a dictionary than I think you’d need to know over 20,000 words.

I saw a recommendation on this forum to pick a light novel series and read it volume by volume. The writing style will not change too much and the author will use the same words, so you’ll be reviewing them almost like with srs. I am doing just this now.


hey, i just started Wani Kani and wanted to ask if I should do something else while completing my lessons on wani Kani or just follow my lessons until I reach a specific level and then do things parallel like reading manga or anything that you can suggest.
It would be very helpful if you can share your learning path, like what things did u do to be able to read manga and academic stuff comfortably.

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Nah I just want to be around your level so I could read and learn at the same time. Right now it’s just a torture for me lol.

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I’ve been meaning to do this as well. I think light novels are a good place to start because they’re - generally speaking - simpler from a literary point of view.

Isn’t learning vocab out of context exactly what we’re all doing on WK?


Hi! I’m no expert as I’m still pretty early in my Japanese learning journey so there are doubtlessly many others around that may give better advice! I definitely can’t read effortlessly yet, it’s definitely way more fun and less of a struggle than it was back when I was reading my first volume of ハイキュー but I still look up a lot of vocab and occasionally have to stop to puzzle out grammar etc. Also my reading level just now is pretty much just manga aimed at a teen audience (so things like shonen jump series) I’m only just starting to try reading novels etc. As for academic texts…if I ever get to those it will be a while off hahaha :sweat_smile:

That said, I pretty much think that whatever your main goal is on learning Japanese (for me it’s reading but for others it might be speaking, writing etc) then the earlier you can start doing that the better! I think my rough path was:

  • Started studying grammar around when/just after starting WK
  • Started reading manga when I was around level 10 WK I think and most of the way through N5 material (if I was to do things again I’d still start this early as I learned so much but it was very hard at the start! I probably would have dropped it if I hadn’t been reading with a bookclub. I think that having covered both N5 + N4 grammar is the point where grammar started to feel less of an issue.)
  • Started iTalki lessons around the same time
  • …gradually started to ignore more and more of the other things I should be doing so that I can read more hahaha

I have no idea how many common words there are in Japanese, so it’s really hard for me to say (never mind the fact that a lot of words are just compounds of other words, which makes ‘one vocabulary word’ very hard to define). However, what I’d just like to point out is this:

Back when TangoRisto was still running (it was something like Rikai-kun or Yomichan that helped you to identify individual words and provided translations), it had a feature that showed you how much of the vocabulary used in an article was from each JLPT level. Now, as it happens, almost all the full-length NHK articles I saw when I scrolled through the lists deciding on what to read basically looked like…

That diagram might not be to scale, but basically, the vast majority of what you need to know in order to read stuff goes up to the N3 level. As long as you know all N5-N3 vocabulary (whatever that is), you should be fairly comfortable with most everyday reading.


You’re right, it is! There are definitely many words I’ve come across through WK that Ive had no idea how you’d use them until I’ve come across them reading/heard them used (and many more that I’ve not come across yet).

However, I tend to think slightly differently about WK vocab as it’s really aimed at giving context to the kanji that WK is teaching, rather than being a service that’s actually aimed at teaching vocab.


read manga and mine the words or sentences in anki

the book club for (それでも歩は寄せてくる - When will Ayumu Make his Move?) just started. that’s a good slice of life book to read. i’m only level 7 and slowly slogging through it - so you can def do it for sure! if you need help setting up Anki let me know


around 10k to have decent comprehension ( 96%+)
15k+ if you are planning to read novels and ext. Because speaking and writing language are very different everywhere. It’s like in English there is a word news and its analog * tidings*. The latter will be frequently used in any book meanwhile you won’t encounter it in any movie/game/news and ext.


I just took a vocab test (designed for natives I think) and it estimated my vocab knowledge to 21,300語. I am certain it’s grossly exaggerated because it uses native knowledge as a baseline :laughing:

But it gives you an idea that a middle schooler knows around 20K words.

Check it out for yourself


This would be a good milestone. But I’m not gonna check it now since it would demoralized me lol. I will check it probably 1 month later. I’ll study harder!! :star_struck:

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Ahh, that wasn’t easy xD If only the options were in English… Randomly choose whatever on those I had no idea what meant.


Anecdotally from me and a few other people who have been counting their “known” words I could notice some kind of imaginary wall being broken at about 12k words. Then the vocab looking didn’t get in the way of reading as much anymore. But that’s probably quite personal, as well.

That sounds extremely naive to me. N3 only requires 650 kanji and vocab estimates are around 3500. No way you’re reading a novel (or manga) with that.


I took another test and this one is probably closer to reality. It put me at a level of a 10 year old.

It’s pretty fun but I have no idea how good these tests are…

This test is interesting in that it doesn’t use kanji for the vocab it asks you to give a synonym/antonym to. So you need to know the possible spellings and guess which one it is based on the answers.

Haha, I think it’s the point that the answers are in Japanese :wink:

I just picked the last answer on all of the ones I didn’t know. And I felt like there were a lot of those. But the test is designed for the natives, so they aren’t asking the basic words. I am sure I’d fail at many simpler words :grimacing:


In fairness, OP is aiming, as first milestone, for a level at which you can read and pick out a few words to learn as you go along. That’s what I meant by ‘comfortable’, and that’s also why I specified ‘everyday’. No, you’re not going to read a novel easily, and some manga might be hard, yes. However, what I’m pointing out is that the bulk of basic comprehension comes from knowing N5-N3 words, and I think the very rough statistics I just cited are proof of that. If you don’t know at least N5-N3, getting a basic idea of what’s going on will be hard. Conversely, if you have all the N5-N3 words down, and N3 grammar, I think you’ll start to be able to ‘fill in the blanks’ while reading as opposed to feeling like you have to search the entire article. It should be possible to get the gist of what’s going on.

I’ll grant that the numbers of kanji and vocabulary words look really small, so maybe I’ll have to revise my estimate upwards, but I repeat that TangoRisto’s analysis showed that most of the words in any newspaper article were of the N5-N3 level. I’m not the one who came up with those numbers, and in my defence, my first textbook doesn’t fit into the usual JLPT framework and contained 931 different kanji even though it was for beginners, so perhaps I just don’t know what each JLPT level entails. Perhaps N2 is a better estimate, but again, OP specified that for now, the aim is a level at which one can read and learn, not one at which one can read and understand almost everything immediately.


That’s fair. To me that’s just so far from being ‘comfortable reading’ :sweat_smile:.