Starting to read - 'Nothing makes sense' stage

Hi all!

I had a question regarding reading. So Im balancing learning grammar + vocab through Genki (finished 1 and started 2), practicing speaking with tutors on Italki and doing kanji through WK. Reading has been a struggle for me whenever ive tried. I would love to understand how to power through this phase at the beginning. Ive tried a little bit of Yotsuba but even that has been tough. Do i stick with Yotsuba and look up everything I don’t understand? Do I get comfortable by doing some NHK easy articles first? With novels like Yotsuba, do I create Anki decks or is just looking up words and continuing something that has worked for people?

Sorry for the influx of questions. Would love some feedback!


I’m not an expert, but I have listened to the experts, and they say that if you want to read, you have to…read. Choose something you find interesting, like a manga, light novel, video game, or just the news. Look up everything. It will be painfully slow. Seeing words in context is important for remembering their usage. I think the Anki deck is less important unless you need to study for an exam.


Well In my experience I read a book that I could not read at all, I honestly had trouble with who was speaking but I powered throught the book.

As for the next book I started reading it was muchhhh more easier, if not for the 1st book I don’t think I would have even understood it. I’m sure I can read that book now with more ease.


Read easy material at or right above your level.

(this is a copy paste of a comment I wrote not long ago in an other thread)

Here is my most extensive list of graded readers :

I am personally working on a project that aims to provide content to read to absolute beginners. It is here :
There are about 60 stories but only the first 27 have been proofread by a native speaker. As written somewhere else on this forum, throughout the stories :

Words are introduced using Emojis and others are derived from the context by the reader. They are then repeated as often as possible to act like a natural SRS. The idea is that if you keep reading, you assimilate easy words and learn new ones on the way without having to stop to check the meaning of a word in a dictionary.


I would recommend trying out NHK Easy articles anyway for the variation from fiction.

If you have the time, what about doing two read throughs of what you want to read? The first time, you use no outside help and see what you understand. Optionally mark difficult parts with index sticky notes or the like. The second read through, take the time to stop and look things up, but only look things up that seem important to your overall comprehension of the article/chapter/book. For example, don’t bother with single word interjections. Can you recognize it’s an interjection? That’s probably good enough for your comprehension. If there’s a bit you can’t figure out if it means A, B, or C, and knowing which it is is important, then you should look it up. As you get better at reading, your first read-throughs should go smoother and you’ll find you have less to look up and perhaps you’ll have time and energy for the little parts you didn’t quite get. :slight_smile:


I second @Tenugui in finding something you find interesting to read.

For example if you love some particular anime, try to find source material which is usually either manga or light novel and read it.

Honestly, you can’t pay me enough to read much news in my native language, and I care about Japanese news even less. If are you really interested in such wholesome topics as recent suicide rate changes and reasons for it, on android you can install Easy Japanese News.
It’s basically an aggregator of several news sources(including Easy NHK mentioned here) and it shows ratio of N5/N4/N3/N2/N1 in each article.


I’m going through my first Japanese VN and I’m so tired… I just finish the prolouge and I already have 150+ items in my anki deck. I hope after I get through my first VN the second one would be much easier.

What I did with Tobira and you could do it as well is. I was memorize all of the vocabs from Tobira’s anki deck before I start reading each chapter. I makes thing much easier. So you could use the website that one of Wanikani member created. Koohi cafe or something like that. It’s a great website to help you start consuming native material.


I’m still relatively new to this, but here is what has been working for me. Sorry for the length, I’ve tried to trim it down and format it a bit.

TL;DR it will be painful to start, find something that interests you enough to struggle through it and it will get easier over time - seriously consider graded readers, book clubs (& their vocab sheets), and Anki.

The single best thing I’ve done:
Joined in with the Absolute Beginner Book Club (ABBC) and worked through asking (and occasionally) answering questions (see below for details).

Even if a book club is finished you can still read through and use past posts as help, many members watch old threads and will reply if you ask a question even long after the club has finished.

Reading tips:

At the start grammar will likely be the harder part - remember that you don’t have to understand everything, your goal is progress not perfection.

With that said, whatever you read you will be looking up vocab - your goal shouldn’t be to try learn it all, as many of those words won’t reoccur for a long while so its not an efficient use of your time (unless they’re words that particularly interest you or something).

Learn to tolerate a certain level of ambiguity and uncertainty.

Reading (particularly within a series / author / genre) will act as a kind of informal SRS (see here and here), as you’ll naturally come across the same words and grammar patterns repeatedly.

(IMHO) How to use Anki (optional)

Optional: Anki

I personally use Anki as I find it works for me, but many others prefer to spend that time reading instead.

If you want to use Anki then your goal should likely be to build a core vocabulary of words you will start to see in pretty much anything you read - this will start to form naturally as you read more - I tried to jump start it a bit using Anki.

Don’t be afraid of suspending cards and coming back to them later, the more times you are exposed to a word and have to look it up, the easier it will be to eventually learn.

I found this shared Anki Anime vocab deck to be super helpful, in particular for some of the contractions and grammar points it covers. I suspended any card which I didn’t feel was helping me.

And of course I add words as I come across them through reading, overhearing in Anime, or things I eventually want to know in Japanese.

My starting point:

I’ve tried to go through Genki multiple times, and every time I would eventually exhaust myself on it and give up, so I tried to find a path that worked for me. I wanted to be able to read Manga, so your path might differ if you have different goals in mind.

I just found textbooks tedious, so if you’ve finished Genki I then the good news is that you’re likely way ahead of where I was when I started reading!.

Longer form:

I eased into reading with graded readers

To ease into reading I read graded readers by ASK, particularly packs 1 and 3 for level 0 and 1 and 2 for level 1. These packs cost $, each level contains 3 packs and each pack is usually around 5 books. Every book within a level / pack is slightly more complex than the previous. These particular packs might be below your level, but within the series you should be able to find a pack that is right for you.

Free graded readers (linked up thread) can also be great, I’ve recommend them to some friends who had great results with them.

I mined some vocab sheets from previous book clubs

Yotsuba book club
I think I bought the vol 1 vocab sheet from here, they also sell a vol 2 sheet, and the reading club has a vocab sheet from vol 3.
After removing duplicates and some other filtering I ended up with about 849 entries in a spreadsheet - 415 of these have since made their way into my Anki, although many of them only after I’d encountered them somewhere else.

I tried to only bring across words which seemed important / common. I did a lot of cross-referencing with dictionaries and other vocab sheets. If the word didn’t stick in Anki, I’d suspend it to come back to later rather than burning more time on it. Learning out of context like this is hard,

I have also gone through the vocab sheet for Shirokuma cafe book club but I don’t think it was as helpful as Yotsuba. It looks like out of the 206 entries for Shirokuma, 101 made it into Anki (although some would be duplicates from Yotsuba).

I haven’t read Yotsuba or Shirokuma yet as they both have quirks which put me off a bit, but many find them to be excellent. Yotsuba has child-speak and weird contractions, Shirokuma makes silly puns often involving strange / uncommon vocabulary words which aren’t worth my time learning at this stage.

But both contained a wealth of super common words so it’s still paid dividends.

how I read and do breakdowns

For my learning style I find it helpful to write out and breakdown non-trivial lines (example breakdowns), others prefer to aim for breadth rather than depth, find what works for you.

For my first book I wrote out every non-trivial line and did a breakdown, initially I wrote these by hand but I’ve switched to using a Google doc as writing them by hand was a huge time sink and was harder to convert to Anki cards or search through later on (being able to search is huge).

The first book club I joined ended up being the single best thing I’ve done for my Japanese, I cannot recommend them enough.

My first manga was struggling through からかい上手の高木さん (ABBC), the community was beyond amazing with their help (examples 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).

I’m now reading 大海原と大海原 (ABBC) and absolutely loving it.
if you are remotely interested I’d highly recommend trying to read this, I’m finding this easier (and more interesting) than からかい上手の高木さ and harder (and more interesting & rewarding) than チーズスイートホーム.

チーズスイートホーム (ABBC) is a particularly beginner friendly manga, at least the first 8 or so chapters, in the time it would take me to read a page of からかい上手の高木さん I could read a chapter of チーズスイートホーム. Although at times it is quite light, and I think I’m getting less from it than I do from either からかい上手の高木さん or 大海原と大海原, so I haven’t been focusing on it.


  • for helping break down sentences, in particular its super helpful for breaking down why a verb is in a certain form (it can make mistakes! be careful!).
  • is just a superb online dictionary.
  • Learnnatively is a great website for helping to find manga / books to read at different difficulty levels.
  • post and direct link can rank books by difficulty based on how much unfamiliar vocab they contain, and it can automatically find an overlap between different books and generate vocab lists based on that.
  • Cure dolly’s Japanese Youtube course, another user recommended the first 24 videos here.
  • A grammar dictionary can be a godsend, I love my copy of A Dictionary Of Basic Japanese Grammar. You can likely find similar things online - just find something that works for you.

Something that worked (and is working) well for me was to:

  • Read something I already knew very well in my own language (either because I’m familiar with the translation, or because it’s been translated* into Japanese)
  • Read manga so that you have an additional source of context (there are pictures!)

In my case pretty much the first bit of real Japanese reading I did was joining the Harry Potter book club (also, the bookclubs here are good) on Wanikani. It’s fair to say that my comprehension when I started wasn’t that great- I was mostly picking up one in every 5 nouns and had only really got to grips with a handful of verb conjugations and particles. But because I know the book it was enough to see ‘Harry’, ‘under’, and ‘stairs’ to know what the paragraph was about.

That worked a lot of me, because it meant I could get some momentum and feeling of success. It also was a half-year project, so over that time I got better (and learned more) and could stop leaning quite as much on my memories of what’s happening.

I think if I’d started with something where failing to comprehend a few sentences would mean I was completely lost, I’d have been significantly de-motivated by having to struggle all the time.

Now I’m reading Fullmetal Alchemist - which is a series that I also know very well in English. It’s harder (especially because manga print quality isn’t great and I’m still at the stage where I need kanji to be size 72 to spot the differences), but once again I’ve got that safety net of always basically knowing what’s going on.

As an aside, I also really rate the Crystal Hunters manga, which is designed especially for learners and comes in ‘simple’ and ‘natural’ Japanese versions. It’s a bit “see spot. see spot run. run spot run.”, but if you want that rush of just being able to comprehend something, it’s very well put together.

*You see some commentary around not using material translated into Japanese to learn because it’ll not be true japanese. While there’s probably some truth in that (if you read a book translated into your own language, they’ll probably be some tension between the way a native would have expressed that idea and the translated version of how the original author did it), I don’t think it really matters until you’re advanced enough to be setting out to make some literature of your own :stuck_out_tongue:


I’ve read a couple of NHK articles (Easy and the regular ones) and some stories so far. Yes, it’s hard at the very beginning, but once you mine enough vocab it becomes easier. If you stick to one type of writing or author, you’ll reach that “easier” possibly faster. But it will still take time.

If you’re still doing Genki and notice that you can’t really get the gist of what’s written due to unknown grammar or conjugations, it might be a good idea to finish up Genki first.

From what my experience grammar wise it doesn’t get much harder than this if you stick to manga and/stories for younger audiences, but vocab is definitely something to work on as you progress.

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Personally, I don’t recommend looking up everything and/or adding them to Anki decks. If you’re reasonably sure you’ve got the gist of the story or article, just keep on reading. I used to look up everything, it was slow and painful and made me not want to do more of it. So now I only look up words or grammar if I really have no idea what’s going on. I enoy the process more, which means I do more of it, which I think is more important than whether or not my understanding is 100% correct.

No doubt sometimes I’m completely wrong, but on balance I find my reading improving faster with this approach. And I second the recommendation for からかい上手の高木さん as a great beginner manga, I found it easier to follow than よつばと!. Some of the colloquial grammar is tricky but I found it easy to infer the basic meaning of the sentences, even if i haven’t picked up every nuance.


Yeah reading is super hard in the beginning but it gets easier over time. You will have to struggle for months until reading becomes actually fun. In the beginning you won’t understand much but if you read more you will slowly start to understand more and more over time.

The most important thing is of course to read things you actually enjoy. There is no point in reading something you are not interested in.

Knowing everything in the Genki books is not enough to understand even most manga. To become actually good at reading you will need to know most grammar taught in the Genki books and the Tobira intermediate book.


When I first read Yotsuba I pre-learned the vocabulary using this anki deck. Even being familiar with all the vocab didn’t make it easy, but it at least made it manageable to the point where the act of sitting down to read was as much fun as it was work.

Also, the first few chapters of Yotsuba are the hardest. If you can persevere you’ll find it gets more comfortable fairly quickly.


Actually I think the first chapter of any book is usually the hardest!

I also recommend the book clubs, current or past, if any of those books or manga appeal to you.
The first manga series I read was Aria, with the help of a WK book club. It used very little slang and it was thus easier to look up things I didn’t understand.


If you don’t mind me asking which one are you going through? I’ve only heard good things (well, ignoring the struggle) from people who have put themselves through VNs so I was considering doing the same thing at the end of the year.

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I’m playing Doki Doki Literature Club. It’s not originally in Japanese but many people recommend the media that not originally in Japanese would be a good starting point. It’s because when stuff like these translate from a language to another, they tend to reduce the complexity of the translated language. Like many people start reading novel with Harry Potter in Japanese.

I actually want to play Danganronpa and Phoenix Wright in Japanese, but I guess I might want to die when I need to solve the puzzles lol.

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Better to read something you like and not understand it rather than read something you don’t like and not understand it lol


I recommend skipping the parts you don’t understand (do take note of it) and also use the pictures and whatever knowledge you have to infer what you’re missing. Reading on might help to clear the confusion. After reading is done, look up the parts you don’t understand.

For quick look ups (like a few words) during reading I use the takoboto app on my phone. Of course I rather not use it at all, but it is helpful especially for pesky katakana.

Now if it’s still too much, it might be better to look at other material more suited to your level. You could always return to yotsuba when you’re done with genki and have a bit more wanikani under your belt.


Make some time for reading for pleasure, even if that means you don’t fully understand every word you read. Don’t let reading become a chore, or something that you have to fully be prepared to “study.”

Tadoku (wide-reading) rules:

  1. Choose the easiest books you can enjoy without translating.
    Look at any pictures carefully. They will help your understanding and make you want to read more.

  2. Don’t use a dictionary.
    Looking up unknown words in a dictionary slows you down and kill the joy of reading. Rather, let the pictures tell the story and keep on reading.

  3. Skip over difficult words, phrases and passages.
    If the pictures don’t help, skip over difficult parts and keep reading. If you enjoy the overall story, you don’t have to understand every minor detail.

  4. If it’s boring or hard, quit the book and pick up another.
    If you’re struggling, the book isn’t suitable for your level or your interest. Put it down and start reading something else.

Free books from


If you can power through it, work out what you did and sell it :grinning:

Reading is hard to begin with. 9 months ago I started with the graded sentences in the back of Roy Miller’s A Japanese Reader, the fairy tales in First Japanese Reader and NHK Easy. Then I moved on to various manga, so now I know what ちーっす means. Currently I’m reading コンビニ人間, and for the first time actually enjoying the experience of reading, though still very slowly.

NHK news easy is a good place to start because the articles are short, the furigana is switchable, and with Yomichan installed, looking up unknown words is simple. News articles stick to a single style too, which helps you get into them. The big drawback is that they are fairly dull, though perhaps now 8/10 articles won’t start with 新しいコロナウイルス…

Other than that, just read the most complex things you can understand with the amount of effort you can afford, whether it’s Chi’s Sweet Home, or something by Murakami.

Personally, I would only put something in an anki deck if it was the third time I’d seen it, and I’d still not remembered it. Otherwise you’ll have an ever growing deck of doom.

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