This thread brings together resources and advice for helping people to get started with reading.
If you know of any great tips or resources, please share them! You can also let me know if anything needs updating, like if any of the links go out of date for example.
Reading Advice and Support Tools
Where to Start
Reading native Japanese content is simply hard, and you’re gonna have to prepare yourself to look up a lot of stuff if you plunge straight in - sorry!
Two things it’s worth knowing:
(1) Knowing more kanji does make the reading experience faster and smoother, but if the material has furigana the grammar and to some extent the vocabulary are far more important to the difficulty.
(2) Native content is not aligned with the JLPT! Whatever you read, you’re almost guaranteed to encounter grammar your’re unfamiliar with.
Graded Readers (see section below) can be a fantastic starting point. Designed specifically for foreign learners, they start out easy and feature simple grammar that builds as you progress through the levels, as well as a good amount of repetition, without all the disadvantages that children’s books can bring.
Don’t feel you have to complete all the levels though: the highest levels advance beyond the difficulty of more simple native material you can find. This can be great for confidence, but perhaps not worth it given how expensive they can be.
It seems logical to start with young children’s books, but they have distinct disadvantages it’s worth considering. They tend to be very light on kanji, which can actually make it very difficult to parse as a foreign learner, and can have issues such as ‘corrupted’ speech from animals or children, or heavy use of onomatopoeia.
Although the vocabulary may be simpler, the grammar might not be much more accessible. They are usually a lot less dense than books aimed at older audiences, which can make a tremendous difference, but manga are more comparable.
They often feature a lot of repetition, which can be very helpful for consolidating new vocabulary or sentence patterns, the ideas and vocabulary usually are quite simple, and the illustrations can help a lot with providing context to aid your understanding.
Check them out after Graded Readers if you’re determined to read prose, or try them alongside manga. You might alternatively want to use them as a stepping stone between manga and novels, as a way to get used to prose rather than dialogue.
Manga are a great next step after tackling Graded Readers and / or bilingual books (see below). Even if you’re not ordinarily into graphic novels, illustrations bring a lot of support to the reading experience, and the broken-up text is less intimidating and easier to follow than a book. They often have anime adaptations which follow extremely closely and can help if you get stuck.
Manga are not necessarily easy, so choose carefully! Check out the manga nominations and sample pages in the Book Clubs (see below) for ideas: picking one they’ve read will give you the benefit of grammar discussions and vocabulary lists too. Slice-of-life series are more likely to feature useful everyday vocabulary than fantasy series with bizarre niche words, even if the latter are usually more attractive to you.
You can often pick up free manga (if only for a limited time) in digital form: see ‘Buying Books’ below.
Aoi Tori publish books for older children. Once you start to tackle “real books”, try checking out their publishing line; they’ll still be hard but you can be reasonably confident they’re among the easiest options out there.
Most of their books have one or more sequels: reading these will allow you to read faster as you get used to the writing style and encounter fewer new words, and you’ll consolidate the vocabulary and grammar patterns you do meet.
FloFlo (see below) has a number of Aoi Tori books; if you pick one of these you can utilise FloFlo to help with the vocabulary. The Pick a Book page can be sorted by medium and number of unique words to help you find something suitable (hover over a title to see the cover and look for the blue Aoi Tori style - e.g. Porepore Nikki, Kiri no Mukou no Fushigi na Machi, Fushigi Koshoten and Tokimeki Toshokan).
Other ideas outlined in more detail below include NHK News Easy, Satori Reader, bilingual books, and reading other material such as in-game text or song lyrics.
First of all check out the ‘Free Online Resources’ section below
There may actually be a Japanese bookstore near to you, especially if you live in a big city! Just Google your area.
CDJapan has economy shipping options available, and the books are also often cheaper than Amazon in the first place. They also provide a proxy shipping service if the item is not in stock.
You need a separate account for each ‘instance’ of Amazon, so you won’t be able to use Amazon JP with e.g. your French account. You may be able to find Japanese books on the Amazon for your country though.
If you’re happy to read things in a digital format, this can save you a lot of money in postage. You may also be able to use in-browser or in-device tools for looking up kanji and words as you read, and can zoom in on tiny furigana and so on (manga quality especially can vary and make this difficult).
Most vendors require you to read purchases via their specific app, so take a look at the options before locking yourself in to one service.
The two largest eReader providers globally, Kobo and Kindle, are both excellent options for Japanese eBooks; they have extensive, high-quality selections available. Their websites can be viewed in many languages, and they accept various payment methods including PayPal. You may already be familiar with their interfaces.
There are also several Japanese vendors:
One of the more popular services among WaniKani users, Book Walker has a focus on manga and light novels; it carries titles in both Japanese and English. Many series available on Book Walker accept PayPal instead of a credit card, and they have frequent campaigns and sales, as well as free digital manga; the 0円 options allow you to purchase them for free, whereas the 無料 options are available to read for free for a limited time.
Formerly quite a popular option, eBook Japan was recently acquired by Yahoo, and the consensus seems to be that the service is no longer as good.
Sirvorn’s has a wonderful guide to buying Amazon eBooks.
If you’re reading a physical book which doesn’t have furigana, there are various ways you can look up kanji. Some options include:
Drawing the kanji by mouse (for the dinosaurs amongst us) with this website.
Looking up the kanji by part via various phone apps or via Jisho.
Using Google Translate’s camera functionality to look up the reading of a word (so you can put it in a dictionary - don’t rely on the translation!).
Using Yomiwa, a dictionary app that also lets you take pictures and search the dictionary with your phone’s or tablet’s camera.
Guessing a kanji’s reading, possible in some cases if you learn about phonetic components.
For looking up kanji in your web browser there are various extensions that you can utilise, including yomichan.
See also ‘Online Readers’ below.
Online readers provide a variety of useful features for language learners, such as word lookup, adding furigana to text, and generating vocabulary lists for SRS use.
Some provide reading material by pulling from specific or curated sources online, while others allow you to paste in or link to anything interesting you come across (some do both!). Satori Reader directly produces its own articles and stories (see further down under Sources of Reading Material).
This is an iOS app which curates articles across a variety of interesting topics, providing on-tap word lookup, auto-generated furigana and colour-coding against JLPT vocabulary.
You can also add unknown words to the companion app, Manabi Flashcards, and copy URLs directly into Manabi Reader if you find something great outside of their curated content. It’s totally free.
Japanese IO is a website into which you can paste Japanese text, to get a variety of interactive features such as word lookup and furigana which you can toggle. You can also get a host of interesting statistics about which words you’re looking up the most often, to help you direct your study habits.
In addition, you can add texts to your ‘library’ to build up a collection, and the lookup features can be integrated into Chrome. It can also suggest texts for you from popular websites, and it’s totally free.
LingQ is a general assisted reader rather than one specifically focused on Japanese. Unlike the options above, there is a premium version of LingQ; you’ll need to pay if you want to access the ability to learn and review words you encounter, and if you want to import your own content.
They do however provide a vast library of their own content for you to read, and all of this content is accompanied by audio which can further assist your listening and shadowing.
Please note that this website is no longer being actively maintained. Many people here found it invaluable in getting started with reading books and you can still sign up and use it, but be aware that if you encounter any issues you’re on your own (it is free to use).
You can select any of the books on the site, including some free-to-read, to get a vocabulary list ordered as they appear in the book, and use this to load up your SRS lessons with new words to learn.
The list can be filtered by frequency, so you can pre-learn those words which appear many times in the book to make your reading experience smoother, or just have the list to hand as you read to get definitions for all words, and only bother learning those which will come up again.
The website remembers which words you’ve already learnt across lists, and you can sync it up with your WK account to filter out words you know here, as well as upload lists of vocabulary you know.
You might want to check out this suggested approach to using FloFlo for your first book(s).
There are many book clubs here on the forums. For a complete overview and guide to which book club might be right for you, check out the Master List of Book Clubs.
Reading along with a book club can provide not only motivation and pacing, but also a great community of willing people able to help you out with any questions, as well as a vocabulary list for the more beginner-focused clubs.
People are always happy to answer further questions even after the club has finished the book, so check out the Master List to see whether the book you’re interested in reading has already been tackled. It can be a good place to look for ideas too, and there is a Comparison of Book Club Picks which might help you choose if you’re looking at the Beginner and Intermediate picks.
If you’re interested in undertaking some extensive reading (多読), where you focus on quantity for maximum exposure rather than perfect understanding, check out the 多読 thread. You might find it helpful for motivation, and perhaps a good place to find book recommendations and moral support!
Sources of Reading Material
Graded Readers for Foreign Learners
Graded Readers can be a great way to build your confidence and give you some experience before you start tackling native content. They gradually introduce more vocabulary and more complex grammar, with repetition designed to help you internalise the forms.
The idea is that you should be reading material that’s pretty easy for you; that way you’ll read lots, enjoy the experience, and want to read even more. At the right level you may not know the occasional word, but should be able to infer the meaning from the context and the illustrations without looking it up.
They can unfortunately be quite pricey, but often come with an excellent audio book which you can also use for listening and shadowing. For a more affordable option of similar difficulty, check out the Clay & Yumi Readers, available as eBooks, under ‘Parallel Texts’.
The first five publishers listed below follow the Tadoku Supporters Level System:
Ask Books - the most extensive range with 78 books in 15 packs
Taishukan - the only series which goes up to Level 5
White Rabbit Press - eBooks purchased in-app
Tadoku Supporters - a short sample series
Tadoku Supporters Free Online! - they don’t have the production quality of the paid versions, but there’s a decent selection and you can print them off
Oxford Brookes Let’s Read Japanese (no audio)
Once you feel comfortable with a given level, Tadoku Supporters provides a list of suggested native titles you should be able to tackle tadoku-style.
If you’d like to discuss any of the stories you read, ask for help with particular sticking points, or seek advice on the different sets, check out the Graded Readers and Parallel Texts thread.
Graded Books for Japanese Children
There are also many sets of books for Japanese children graded according to their school system. As these aren’t aimed at foreign learners, their focus is quite different: for example, lower grades will opt to use a lot of kana in place of kanji, which can be difficult for a foreign learner to parse. Their increasing complexity also does not reflect a foreign learner’s likely journey through the language.
If you want to read true native material that isn’t too difficult though, they can be a good place to look: see Ncastaneda’s post on the transition from Graded Readers.This blog post provides a whole host of suggestions.
One good way to find some options is to search for 10分で読める books, of which there is a vast selection. Some ideas to get you started (links to the first grade in each series, on CDJapan):
- 10分で読めるお話 (6 grades)
- 10分で読める物語 (6 grades)
- 10分で読める名作 (6 grades) - famous stories / classics
- 10分で読める伝記 (6 grades) - biographies
- 10分で読めるこわい話 - (2 grades) scary stories
- 10分で読めるわらい話 - (2 grades) funny stories
Bilingual Books and Parallel Texts
Bilingual books provide the text in both Japanese and another language: preferably your native language, but most usually English! What I’m going to call ‘Parallel Texts’ also provide notes on the translation, and/or word breakdowns and so on. The former are usually aimed at children, while the latter are aimed at foreign learners.
They can be a great way of reading genuine native content while still having a lot of support. Depending on the book you choose, the foreign translation may be positioned quite close to the Japanese text, making it easier to compare, or more separate, making it easier to avoid accidentally ‘cheating’.
Tuttle publish a number of bilingual children’s books. They have a very nice collection of folk tales where the text is a bit more dense and the two languages are quite separated out, but they also have a few individual books where the text is much more closely linked:
These tend to be aimed at Intermediate learners more than Beginners. The Clay & Yumi Readers listed first, however, are probably roughly on par with Level 2 of the Ask Tadoku Graded Readers:
Japanese Reader Collection by Clay and Yumi - these include two audio speeds, and grammar and vocabulary breakdowns - each book includes a few stories - available as eBooks
Penguin Short Story Collection - these feature vertical Japanese text that sits opposite the English on each pair of pages, where you only get furigana the first time you see a kanji
Breaking Into Japanese Literature - provides word breakdowns as well as a translation - features seven full short stories - focused on classic Japanese literature, so the language can be slightly dated
Satori Reader is an online collection of articles and stories in Japanese. It’s a subscription service but there are a decent number of articles available free, so you can try it out extensively without paying.
You can filter how it displays kanji and furigana depending on all sorts of factors, including your WK level, and hover over literally anything to get more information. Definitions and translations are written especially, so rather than getting a generic dictionary definition you get something tailored for the specific context. Every article is also recorded, for bonus listening practice.
It has an integrated SRS for learning new words you come across, but this is poorly executed imo (you flip the card and self-assess rather than inputting and will see EN>JP in the same session as JP>EN) so I personally wouldn’t bother
Free Online Resources
Wasabi - programme of shadowing lessons
Each story is broken up into parts, and the audio files are provided at two different speeds for you to choose between, plus versions with pauses for you to repeat back. Not only that, they provide an English translation and a vocabulary table of some key words.
Tadoku - free Graded Readers
Tadoku actually has a set of Graded Readers available online for free. These don’t have the high production quality of the paid sets, but given how expensive Graded Readers usually are there’s a decent selection and you can even download them as PDFs to use online or print.
EhonNavi - free library of children’s books
EhonNavi is a bookseller with a focus on picture books. As well as selling books, their site offers over 1500 (!) books available to read for free, ranging from age 0 to age 12. The only catch is that you can only read each book once, in one sitting.
There’s a great guide to using the site for language learners. Bear in mind that stories for very young ages might be quite difficult due to a lack of kanji, so age 0 might not actually be the best place to start! There is also a Picture Book Challenge on the forums reading through this resource, which might provide motivation and assistance - plus there’s a handy app you can use to track your reading.
PIBO - children’s stories app with audio
For iOS users, PIBO is a free app featuring over 360 children’s stories. You can read three stories per day for free, or pay to access more (but that seems like plenty!). As children’s stories, they feature basically no kanji, which can actually make it more tricky for a foreign learner to read, and are definitely for beginners.
However, there are excellent audio recordings of all the stories, the stories are varied and interesting, and the illustrations are not only cute but will also aid your comprehension. Check out curiousjp’s guide to PIBO if you’re interested.
NHK News Easy - easy news articles
NHK News Easy is a section of the NHK News website where articles are provided rewritten with simpler language for Japanese children.
Watanoc - online magazine in simple Japanese
Watanoc is an online magazine specifically written in simple Japanese. Even better, you can filter the articles based on your level (up to N3) as well as by topic, and some of their articles come with audio recordings for bonus listening and shadowing practice; you can filter to find these specifically too.
Nippon Talk - bilingual articles
Nippon Talk provides articles written by native Japanese speakers on a variety of topics with full furigana and English translations. The English text is presented paragraph by paragraph, which makes it a little easier to avoid ‘cheating’ than going line by line.
It’s totally free but you can donate to support the website hosting costs.
Reajer - bilingual text excerpts
Reajer is a website that provides bilingual texts for free. Each entry is quite short (usually excerpts), but as well as providing an English translation for each sentence, you will also find additional notes and word breakdowns. You can also see each text in full without the English at the end of the page, which allows you to practise reading just the Japanese once you’ve studied the bilingual breakdown.
Note that access to weebly, the web hosting service for this site, may be blocked in some countries.
Aozora Bunko - free digital library
Aozora Bunko is a Japanese digital library encompassing thousands of works, including many which are out of copyright or which the authors wanted to make freely available. A few of the free works available there have been added to FloFlo (above), which might give you somewhere to start. Otherwise, the Read Your Grade website helps with navigating the collection by making an attempt to organise it by difficulty, in English.
In addition, Satori Reader (above) has free trial content available, and Online Readers usually pull from a variety of free content.
As mentioned, eBooks (see ‘Buying Books’) are likely to save you from shipping fees or even be available totally free, if only for a limited time. If buying physical items, you might be able to recoup some costs by selling them on.
Other Reading Ideas
Games in Japanese
If you like video games, why not try playing one in Japanese? If you pick a game without too much text or niche vocabulary (especially if that text isn’t game-critical), that you know well already, it can be a good way to get some easy reading practice in. You might also learn useful words like ‘menu’ and ‘save’ which will make it easier to move onto more text-dense games.
One suggestion to get you started is Stardew Valley, which can be easily switched to Japanese text in-game. You’ll learn quite a bit of farm-related vocabulary, but overall the conversations are simple, often repetitive, and realistic. The font is also ‘handwritten’, which can be good exposure. Finally, it comes recommended by Tofugu!
"Let’s Play" Videos
Japanese Let’s Play videos can be another supplementary source of reading practice, particularly if you find someone playing a game with lots of dialogue. A video can be paused where you might not be able to pause a cut-scene, for example, and it might be easier than trying to get round regional restrictions.
Look for players who tend to read most of the text out loud, so that you can pick up the readings of unknown kanji and also get some bonus listening practice.
Visual novels are another popular medium in Japan. You can probably find VNs with fairly low amounts of text per scene and you usually have full control over the speed of the text. As with manga, the visual aspect provides contextual support you won’t get from a book.
Quora is another possible source of reading available online, more suitable for those of intermediate+ level: see this post by jprspereira for some guidance on using it for reading practice.
Anything I’ve missed?
Thoughts on furigana?
Would you tackle something easy or something you’re inherently interested in?
Are you able to give a comparison between the different graded reader sets available?
Do you actually recommend reading Amazon reviews?