Starting to Read but Struggling

So I recently got my hands on a “My First Big” Doraemon manga in Japanese, however, I’m struggling to read it. I’ve been studying Japanese for about a year and I can read most of what my textbooks have and I think I know enough grammar to start reading a kid’s manga, but it’s so hard. I struggle to pull any information from the sentences and I feel like I’m relying too much on a dictionary and my grammar notes.

Does anyone have any tips on how to start understanding what you’re reading? I want to know how to make reading a useful way of studying rather than getting really good at looking through a dictionary.


There’s a big thread all about this here that you might want to check out:

There are also a couple of community run book clubs here on the WaniKani forums—from absolute beginner to advanced—that you could think about joining! You can find them all here:


One aspect to consider might be choice of material. I remember starting out finding Doraemon surprisingly difficult. It’s counterintuitive, but what’s meant for (native-speaking) kids isn’t always the easiest for (non-native) language learners!
For example, thanks to Wanikani I was relatively good at kanji (compared to a child), but I was much much much less familiar with casual turns of phrase and general sentence composition, and so “here’s a casual fun story in mostly hiragana with puns and stuff” was almost the hardest possible thing for me at the time!

You can likely find good resources in the threads that have been linked. I found graded readers super useful for some easy reading wins starting out, but they can also be expensive (and not all that interesting).


To me, reading manga is way harder than news articles because of the casual style language and word usage and the weird fonts in manga.

Try to read and understand the sentence as a whole instead of translating each word on its own.

Be patient and don’t always expect that you’ll understand everything 100% of the time.

If you have a different SRS app like Anki, you can create new flashcards for the words that you don’t know.

Looking up an unknown word in the dictionary is normal, it depends on you on how you could tolerate the interruption. Imho, a good balance is to look up a single new word every few sentences. Though, if you’re a masochist or really like the material, you can brute force yourself through and eventually you will learn enough vocabulary that it’ll be easier.

Find an easy read on your bad days.


Read more, read often, widen your horizon. I spent a lot of time reading novels, world history and other topics in Japanese. Every new book I get used to new writing styles and vocabulary which helps me get more out of the next book. Coming back to reading novels in English after reading so much in Japanese I found myself more aware of the stuff I was not familiar with be it in textbooks or even novels. I thought I had an idea of what reading like a native would be like until I transitioned into reading more in English and came to the realization that I’m always going to be confused about something… :joy:


If you’ve only been studying for a year and are on level 7 of Wanikani then it’s expected that reading would be difficult. Assuming WaniKani has been your main resource for kanji outside of a textbook or two, you haven’t had enough time to build up a vocabulary.

I would say wait a few more levels and try again. I’m level 27 now (as you can see) but when I tried reading things around level 15-ish I had a similar experience as what you’re describing. You’re not really ‘reading’ so much as you’re looking up every other word and struggling to piece it all together because looking things up ruins the flow, and instead of knowing what the word means you’re trying to fit the English definition into a Japanese sentence. It’s not very comfortable.

Give it time and keep going with Wanikani. Don’t expect to be able to jump into reading with a limited vocabularly. Yes, you can technically do it, but it’s going to be difficult and like you said, you’re going to spend more time with the dictionary than the material you’re trying to read. I would say keep focusing on grammar, and then try reading again around level 20. You will notice a HUGE difference.


Applications that can give you pop-up links for unknown words are a huge help. There are several of them in the resource thread @Kraits linked. Looking up kanji isn’t hard, but it’s a lot more tedious than using a dictionary when you’re reading English.

Still, you’ll get more out of reading and enjoy it more if most of the words are familiar. That may mean choosing something easier and/or waiting until you know more words.

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