Resources for Starting to Read Japanese Content


#1

Reading

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 You can also let me know if anything needs updating, like if any of the links go out of date for example.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!


Children’s Books

You might be tempted to go for young children’s books, but in fact although the vocabulary may be simpler, the grammar might not be much more accessible. They also tend to be very light on kanji, which can actually make it more difficult for a foreign learner to parse the text.

On top of this there might be lots of onomatopoeia, hard-to-follow kid logic or ‘corrupted’ speech by baby characters and animals.

That said, they often feature a lot of repetition, which can be very helpful for consolidating new vocabulary or sentence patterns, the ideas and vocabulary are usually quite simple, and the illustrations can help with providing context to aid your understanding.


Graded Readers

Graded Readers (see 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.

My personal recommendation would be to start with Graded Readers, but don’t feel you have to complete all the levels of a given set: make the jump to native material as soon as you can.


Manga

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

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.



Buying Books

Physical Books

There may actually be a Japanese bookstore near to you, especially if you live in a big city! Just Google your area.

CDJapan
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.

Amazon JP
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 can’t find an online store that will ship to you, consider a forwarding service like Tenso or White Rabbit Express.


eBooks

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.

Depending on the quality however, it can sometimes be hard to zoom in on e.g. furigana, particularly in manga.

eBook Japan
This site frequently puts multiple volumes of a series up for free for a limited time, so you can try things out without committing to a purchase - the time limit may prove motivational :wink:
There’s a great JapaneseAmmo article which guides you through how to use the site. Note that they don’t show the tax until checkout.

Book Walker
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.

Honto
The mobile reader app for Honto is region-locked; on Android get an APK; on iOS use the JP App Store.

You can of course also buy (Kindle-compatible) eBooks via Amazon JP: check out sirvorn’s wonderful guide.



Kanji Lookup

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 via various phone apps, such as Midori (paid) or Shirabe Jisho (free) on iOS. Some apps may work better than others and some will only work if you use the correct stroke order.

  • 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 the SKIP system of kanji lookup in e.g. Jisho#kanji #skip:1-2-3

  • 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

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).

TangoRisto

TangoRisto is an app which pulls articles from NHK News Easy (see ‘Free Online Resources’), articles from Matcha Japan Travel Magazine, and folk tales from hukumusume. It makes them even easier to read by providing furigana if desired or on-click, and English definitions on-click.

It also makes it easier to browse the articles by difficulty, and you can pull out vocabulary to study separately if you want. As it pulls articles from NHK News as well as NHK News Easy, it can remain useful even as you advance.

It’s free but you can donate to support the developer.

Manabi Reader

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

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.



FloFlo

Created by our very own Raionus, FloFlo is a developing website designed to help you with reading. You can select any of the books on the site (more being added all the time, 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.



Book Clubs

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. This can even help you tackle harder content than you’d otherwise be able to manage.

People are always happy for you to ask further questions even after the club has finished the book, so if you’re thinking of reading a particular book, check out the Master List to see whether there’s already been a discussion of it in the past. The book clubs can also be a good place to look for book ideas.

If you’re interested in undertaking some extensive reading (多読), where you focus on quantity for maximum exposure rather than absolute 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

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:

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):



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’.

Bilingual Books

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:

Parallel Texts

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

  • Read Real Japanese - these provide glosses and notes on the translation process rather than full translations - there is a short story collection and an essays collection - page samples from Kyasurin

  • 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

See also Reajer - more details under ‘Free Online Resources’ below.



Satori Reader

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 :see_no_evil:



Free Online Resources

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.


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.


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.

In addition, TangoRisto is a companion app which pulls the articles from NHK News Easy (among other sources) and makes them even easier to read and browse. See ‘Online Readers’.


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.


Other

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

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

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?


Can you hurt your learning by studying over +1
Reading material for Beginner Level
Japanese beginner grammar content
A great introduction to extensive reading
Beginner reading material that is *actually* for beginners?
So...what do you do when waiting for things to happen?
Beginner Resources for Grammar, Reading and Writing
What can I read?
Beginner Japanese Book Club (Now: 少女終末旅行 | Next: ふしぎ駄菓子屋 銭天堂)
First Grade Reading Material
Start reading manga... which level ? which manga?
しろくまカフェ Vol 1: Absolute Beginner Book Club
What resources are you using to help reading?
Started WaniKani - experience
Can you recommend digital reading resources?
Graded Readers and Parallel Texts "Book Club"
Book Reading for Beginner
Master List of Book Clubs
The Ultimate Additional Japanese Resources List!
Web sites to start reading
#2

If you want to try a super-advanced bilingual book (and want some exposure to the である form as an added bonus):

https://itunes.apple.com/jp/app/対訳聖書/id324892348?mt=8

:grinning:


#3

Nice formatting for the subsections. :slight_smile:

Furigana is a double-edged sword. It’s dreadfully painful looking up kanji you don’t know by part or by drawing them. But on the other hand, your eyes will naturally gravitate towards the furigana if it’s there, so you’re not really reinforcing the kanji you do know. I don’t think there’s a good, universal answer to this.


#4

thank you! I was very sad that link previews don’t seem to work in collapsed sections though D:

That’s pretty much my thoughts. I think it depends on your ability, the difficulty of the text, and what your aims are - if you specifically want to get better at recognising kanji in the wild and the text is within your capabilities, then try to avoid furigana, but otherwise it makes the lookup process much easier.

@Belthazar thanks! I’ll add it to the OP as well once I get home :wink:


#5

To add, one way to look up kanji readings is actually with the Google Translate camera. The translations are, as usually, unhelpful. But it’s a really simple way to look up an unknown word, and along with it the reading of the word. That might be worth mentioning somewhere in the guide.


#6

Congratulations on your first super awesome topic, Riri-chan! :tomato::heart:

Furigana is something that I absolutely needed when I was just starting to take reading more seriously. It felt like training wheels to me, and eventually, I learned to not need them so much.
I think you just really have to make sure that you don’t rely on them once you know you’re not a beginner or else you’ll feel like you’re not making any real progress anymore.

I always want to tackle things I’m interested in rather than something easy! I mean, what’s gonna motivate me more, a short story for a 2 year old about a bear who needs to buy a new chair, or a book all about tomatoes?
(…okay I wanna read both of those but I obviously want the tomato one more :eyes:)
If I ever get tired of reading Japanese, I just focus on wanting to know what happens next in the story or get excited on all the new knowledge I’m learning. :grin:

Also,
marks this thread as watching :heart:


#7

As a beginner (pre N5) I’m definitely finding the Penguin Short Stories in Japanese very difficult to read (out loud). I’m enjoying the challenge though and trying to post a couple of sentences that I’ve read aloud each day on HelloTalk. I’ve only just done my second entry of this but I’m hoping it helps build up my “reading stamina” if that’s a thing. I’m doing this particular thing JUST to improve my reading speed and I’m not trying to nail every vocab and kanji, that would be too much for me at this point. Maybe it will get easier over time?


#8

Why do I always find awesome resource threads at 3 AM…

As a total beginner I tend to gravitate towards easiness over interest, just because if I don’t I fail to comprehend the slightest bit of information.

As for furigana, I prefer without. My eyes go towards it way too much, even for super simple stuff like 上 I’ll read the うえ on top, not the kanji. Though kana only can be tough too so :man_shrugging: Also copy paste is a thing so even though translate isn’t great it get’s you in to the ballpark at least (online reading only).


#9

This should be pinned


#10

I wish I could use copy and paste for my physical manga. :smile:


#11

Have you tried the Chinese (Simplified) Handwriting keyboard input on your phone? If you draw the kanji you can pick it out from the autocorrect list, then paste it into whatevs.


#12

I draw them in the Midori Japanese dictionary app on my phone. It works really well, but it’s still much slower than when I know the reading already.


#13

@Radish8 You should also make this a wiki post.


#14

Done, and I added a section for kanji lookup tools. I forgot that I could make wikis :grin:


#15

I added some more details to the kanji lookup section. :slight_smile:


#16

Just a thought: As stated above, native sources are often harder to read, because of the needed amount of word translation than for example NHKEasy. Funnily however, I often find “native sources” much easier to overally understand. Don’t get me wrong - I know next to none Japanese, but when after translation I understand the meaning of the sentence almost entirely and pretty quickly (even when I don’t really know all the grammar), in News Easy, in spite of lower amount translating, because of over-complicating use of simplified grammar, it ends up being less understandable and you end up spending a lot of time thinking about what you just read. And even then, the sentence might not become “understandable”.


Just a thought and an encouragement (I guess…?) to read some of these sites that end up in your browser when you decide to Google®
something in japanese for fun.



#17

I’ve been finding Japanese Let’s Plays a surprisingly good way to practice reading. Of course, you wouldn’t want to make something like that your only resource, but many games involve a lot of written dialogue, which the player usually reads out loud. It can be fun to try to read along, you get to see a lot of words you already know in context, and when you come across one you don’t know you have both the kanji right in front of you and the reading spoken aloud by a native speaker, so looking it up is a cinch. It’s become one of my favorite “I’m too tired to do any real studying for now, but I want to do something at least somewhat productive” activities. Japanese songs that have the lyrics onscreen are good for that too. :blush:


#18

Nice plug for the phonetic composition script :wink: thanks for putting that all together.

Does anyone know much about browser extensions to look up kanji on websites? I’ve heard of yomichan but don’t know whether it’s the best / there are other good alternatives.

@Onomatapop nice idea that I’m sure many people won’t think of. I’m not sure whether to make a specific section for it or have an ‘other reading ideas’ section :thinking: I guess manga got its own section…


#19

I use Yomichan, which is pretty good. The developer used to be really active, but I don’t think he’s done much in several months. Hopefully he doesn’t completely drop support.

It can’t hurt to list out all the ones we know of anyway.


#20

TangoRisto is a good phone app that I have started using. It takes the articles from NHK news easy or NHK news and makes them easier to read for a beginner (you have furigana and can click on words and see the meaning in english). It also pulls out the vocabulary on separate section so you can study it.