What are good (light?) novels to practice N1 grammar?

I’m deep into N1 material but I only rarely stumble upon those grammar structures while reading. It’s awesome when it happens but I don’t think it’s often enough. Since I may want to go for the JLPT next year, I am interested in getting used to written material on par with what may be asked on the test. I don’t think my vocabulary is on that level yet but that’s fine as I can just use Yomichan.

My preferred genres are fantasy and crime related stuff but I’m open to anything as long as it’s sounds interesting.


My gut feeling is that if you want reading material where you encounter N1 grammar structures at a higher density, then you’re going to need to look for it in non-fiction. It’s not that they don’t appear in fiction, even light novels, but a lot of the N1 stuff is more formal, “making a reasoned written argument” structures, and in novels you tend to find nuggets of that sandwiched in between a lot of dialogue and description.

If you want to work in reading material that’s the specific sort of thing that the JLPT has, then newspaper editorial/opinion columns are the kind of thing to look at. But more generally if there’s a category of non-fiction reading you enjoy in your native language, try it in Japanese.

The other approach is to say “those are boring, I would rather just read what I like reading in massive quantity”, which will get you to the same place eventually. I’ve certainly read more novels than I have newspaper editorials :slight_smile:


Not necessarily disagreeing with PM, because I think everything he said is true, but it is worth noting that I felt like all of the grammar that showed up on the actual test for the N1 was very normal for stuff I’d see in light novels. Its a sample size of 1, but there legitimately wasn’t a single grammar question that didn’t feel like standard necessary grammar for reading the kinds of novels I read. Again, sample size of 1, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they kinda prioritized the more commonly used grammar. So what I’m getting at is that maybe for some stuff, barely coming across it in books might mean you won’t even need it for the test.

Regardless, generally speaking n1 grammar is likely to be more dense in non fiction works like PM said. But, if you don’t have interest in those, then I have 2 fantasy to suggest to you if you wanna see some more advanced words and grammar. Sorry, haven’t read crime.

  1. ひきこまり吸血姫の悶々: This book is a military action comedy. You will see…lots of difficult words, but it also likes to use fancier grammar. Its a very silly book with very easy to follow interactions in my opinion, but it throws in more difficult japanese for the hell of it.

  2. Unnamed memory. This ones a bit of a more unique story, but its fantasy with…romance I guess kinda lol. Not much in the first book. Its got a decent line up of vocabulary and grammar, however. Its a lot less goofy writing than hikikomari and feels a bit more serious and mature for a fantasy light novel.

Overall though I just looked at an n1 grammar list, and really none of them feel particularly rare to me with maybe a few exceptions. If you want to just read what you wanna read in large quantity, you’ll definitely get to that point pretty quick. I only read and didn’t study for the test and I got a 60/60 on that section so…

One final honorary mention is カノジョに浮気されていた俺が小悪魔な後輩に懐かれています。I’ve made a claim before that anyone who can diligently go through and mines the 6 books in that series will be able to pass the reading and language knowledge section of the n1 and I stand by that. So if that tickles your fancy. Great series too.


Honestly, N1 grammar is rare. That’s just a fact. It’s the least common sort of structure you’ll run into in any coherent text, so you won’t see it much. However, you’ll definitely come across it here and there in various places. I don’t read all that much, so I’ll leave you to take others’ suggestions with regard to fiction that you might be able to encounter such structures in.

If you want to take the quick route though… just get the Shin Kanzen Master N1 Grammar book and go through all of it. It might not be as fun as reading to learn grammar, but at least you’ll have everything. (Case in point: I got 51/60 for language knowledge despite getting almost zero for N1-specific grammar on my first practice test, and I only had a month to study for the N1, most of which I spent on SKM N1 Grammar. Mind you, I didn’t even finish the book because I didn’t have the time. I stopped at lesson 12 or 13.) You might forget everything you’ve studied after the test – we each have different levels of retention depending on how we studied something – but at least you probably won’t struggle with the grammar used on the N1. Still, to be fair, the N1 doesn’t actually test all the grammar listed in books like the SKM one: around 75% of the grammar questions referred to structures that were much more common, perhaps so-called ‘N2 level’ structures, and only a small handful of them were keigo-specific or somewhat archaic N1-specific Japanese. You don’t actually need to know everything to do well. It’s just that N1 grammar can also appear in some of the other sections (especially reading and listening), which means you need to know them in order to understand the material.

Even if N1 grammar therefore isn’t ‘that hard’ (as compared to the expectation SKM might give you), what I will say though, is this:

This is effectively the sort of stuff that comes up on the JLPT. Almost all of the passages feel like news articles or editorials, with a few of them being reflective essays. The main reasons I’d recommend reading these if your goal is test prep are

  1. You can get used to the writing style of length of these passages.
  2. You can see what sort of vocabulary is used on the test.

It’s true that all specialised vocabulary and rare expressions on the test are explained in footnotes, but going through a passage where there are tons of words whose meaning you’re only half-certain about isn’t that fun or easy, especially if you’re tired. I mean, there’s more than half a year to the first JLPT session next year, so you’ve got plenty of time to build up a reading habit, but if you don’t have much time for test prep or Japanese in general, I think you’d be better served focusing on reading non-fiction and the news if you want the best chance at knowing all the words that appear on the test.

I mean, I trust Vanilla on his recommendations, and I definitely haven’t read as much as him, so go ahead if those books interest you and you have the time for them, but as someone whose Japanese knowledge is mostly from anime + the occasional business Japanese site/university study, I was really frustrated by the sheer amount of newspaper-y vocabulary I didn’t know on the N1. I just didn’t know enough technical/formal words. To be clear, the issue wasn’t the vocabulary section – again, 51/60 for language knowledge, albeit mostly through reasoning by analogy and guessing using kanji – but rather the fact that I slowed down a lot during reading simply because the words I was seeing were so unfamiliar. All the fantasy, mecha, keigo and traditional Japanese grammar terms I knew were basically useless because that’s just not what the N1 tests. To put it another way, in my opinion and based on my experience, N1 grammar is not the biggest hurdle on the test, even if it’s true that it can be hard for some people and my grammar knowledge definitely carried me past the passing mark. Vocabulary is a way bigger issue simply because the words that appear on the N1 don’t turn up much in the Japanese media that most of us enjoy. It’s not ‘formal’ in the ‘polite’ sense (and I’m speaking as someone who enjoys learning stiff-as-f**k, convoluted keigo because I think it sounds elegant), but rather in how it’s very ‘proper’ and precise. Such expressions are much rarer in fiction, and so you typically won’t be ready just consuming fiction unless it’s fairly complex writing.

Ultimately, I’m not against people reading what they enjoy to learn more advanced Japanese, but since I went into the N1 without really knowing what the texts and recordings were like and really regretted it (even though I passed), I figured I’d offer what I wish I had done back then.


Pretty much this I think. And if general reading material is okay, then just regular non-fiction books like thrillers, crime fiction, etc. They’re quite popular in Japan.

For JLPT I would say it’s not only about grammar, but also kanji and vocabulary so any higher level reading material is a plus :slight_smile:


If you want a challenging read about crime I recommend 64.
Caveats: I have not taken the N1 and am not intimately familiar with the grammar needed to pass the test.
Here’s a random sentence from the book that came up in my vocab review today, I think it gives a decent idea of the type of writing in the book:


Generally though I can echo what others have said in that novels and opinion pieces have very different styles of writing. But there’s some good opinion pieces online and they’re more likely to cover the grammar and terms needed for the test if I had to guess.


Slightly off-topic, but since the subject was broached about vocabulary and number of words recognized in a novel, how many kanji abouts are present in a fairly complex novel? IE how many unique kanji would one need to be able to recognize in words in order not to have an inordinate amount of unknown vocabulary? 2400? 3000? Just looking for a spitball answer. (And putting aside different readings, which I know is antithetical to the concept of vocabulary; I’m just trying to enumerate a reasonable number)

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You can get a vague idea by looking at jpdb entries. For instance, this Murakami Haruki novel has 1803 unique kanji, of which 281 appear only once – so 1500 or so would likely be plenty if you don’t mind a few lookups. The problem IME is pretty much always the vocab, not the kanji – even if you know all those 1800 kanji there’s still a lot of words in a book (nearly 9000 unique words in this case). Obscure kanji often get furigana anyway.


I could not disagree more.

It partially comes down to what one defines as “rare”, of course, but theres a lot of N1 grammar I wouldn’t define as rare. I pulled up a list on jlpttest4you and picked the first grammar point (あえて) and searched through 68 books so see if they had it. 44 did for a total of 138 instances. So essentially, a majority of those books have used it and they used it on average 3+ times. かのウワ, the series I recommended at the end, has it 9 times in the most recent book alone. I personally don’t feel like thats rare.

Of course, thats just 1 grammar point, but you didn’t say “some N1 grammar is rare”. It all depends on your definition of rare in the first place and what you’re reading, but I think N1 grammar gets some really weird reputation among learners as being rare. But to me, thats like saying hyougai kanji are rare. Theres some rare stuff…and theres some not so rare stuff. Putting them all into one category of rarity or difficulty seems weird to me because it varies to much based on what point you’re talking about and what you’re reading.

Anyways, thats my spiel.

This isn’t very easy to answer because unique kanji depends quite a bit on length, and there is no one set length for novels. 1500-1800 is pretty normal, I’d say though. About 300 of those will only appear once in the novel typically.

I’m not sure what you mean by this and I’m not sure what your definition of inordinate is. If you give the number of unknown words per page you’d be comfortable with roughly that would make it easier. But I don’t see how you’re going from “having kanji” to anything related to “vocabulary”. Its more the other way around, no? Knowing kanji won’t change your vocabulary size. You still have to learn the words.


Right, I’m just stating it in reverse. Recognizing a word means recognizing the collocation of its comprising kanji. Basically I was asking in an overly obtuse way, assuming you knew X% of the vocabulary in a novel, the other words all containing a kanji you weren’t familiar with, how many kanji would that be? But since I was given the rough numbers, I can approximate it now.

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‘Rare’ as compared to most other grammar on the other levels of the JLPT. You see most of them much less often than the other grammar points. I probably should have said ‘comparatively rare’, but that was my point. あえて is a good example of one that’s supposed to be N1 and yet appears quite a lot – I’ve probably known it for 1-2 years at least, and I’ve been studying Japanese for 4 years while mainly consuming anime, so you have a point. However, in almost any given piece of text, maybe at most 5-10% of the grammar will be N1, and I think the vocabulary distribution is similar if the JLPT level breakdowns I used to see on TangoRisto (RIP that great reading app) were accurate. For that matter, even あえて is probably rarer than quite a lot of grammar points from N2 and lower, and that’s despite how common it is.

That’s all I meant: you’re not likely to see N1 grammar as often as most other pieces of grammar, meaning that if you’re trying to see as much N1 grammar as possible through reading before the test – again, you don’t need to in order to pass, but some people want to do that – it’s not likely to happen by reading full-length texts/books unless you use a very specific selection of them. I’m not saying you barely ever encounter them, but they’re a lot harder to run into in large numbers within a single text. (Of course, that depends on what text we’re talking about, but I can safely say that I haven’t been seeing many N1 structures in the news articles I’ve been reading over the past few months.) Even the N1 reading and listening passages use only about 1-2 ‘obviously N1’ grammar points per passage at most, if I remember correctly.

As someone who knows most kanji he comes across, I can confirm this: you can guess meanings with kanji knowledge, but you’re not going to have much certainty unless you’re looking at one of those words that’s obvious from context. All it takes is a kanji combination that doesn’t make intuitive sense for you. If it were that easy to run on kanji knowledge alone, I would have been much faster doing the N1 reading section.


On average compared to other JLPT levels, sure I can get behind that then.

Yeah, thinking “known kanji” is the metric for reading ability is a mindset some learners earlier on into their studies seem to fall into, but in this case it looks like choco wasn’t making that mistake and just worded it differently than I was expecting.


Yeah, I saw. Either way, I think we all – even kanji enthusiasts! – realise at some point that just knowing kanji isn’t enough :rofl: Oh well…

Speaking of which, this isn’t really N1-specific, but my Japanese teacher told me a week or so ago that I should try reading novels if I want to pick up more natural expressions, so… I’ll be looking around, but I’m thinking of starting with classics like 吾輩は猫である for now. I mean, I skimmed some of it in English before, so I might as well pick it up again. Hahaha.


Do you really expect to pick up more natural expressions by reading novels that are a century old?


Yeah not a bad idea

Wait wat


I mean, you both have a point, but she did mention 夏目漱石 among the authors she would recommend, so… yeah. Also, I think almost everyone in Japan has to read a 夏目漱石 novel at least once in school, right? Besides, I remember reading English literature classics as a child, and that didn’t wreck my English. Some stuff will still be vaguely applicable, at the least. I mean, I mentioned light novels, especially anime source works, which are definitely more modern even if they’ve got their chuuni-speak moments, and her reaction was ‘Wouldn’t the Japanese be kind of… simple?’ Depends on the specific LN, I guess, but yeah, some of them are. (I’m thinking of Konosuba; of course I’ve seen excerpts from a few LNs that are more complex, and I’m pretty sure Overlord would be a great example of a very technical LN with all the economic and political subjects it involves.) Still, maybe she was thinking she should recommend books that would show me how to use complex words, including the ones I know, more naturally? Books containing Japanese I probably don’t know very well, basically.

She also mentioned Murakami as an example of a modern writer with vivid writing. I’ve heard of him, and I know he’s pretty famous, but I really don’t know if his novels will interest me in terms of genre and subject-matter. I have a certain impression based on what I heard a friend saying while reading a translation, and it honestly didn’t appeal to me. On the other hand, 吾輩は猫である is probably gonna be quirky and dry at worst, and I can tolerate that. The first few paragraphs are a lot more interesting in Japanese than in English, at any rate.

I’ve also got ‘Tanizaki Junichirou’ and ‘Mishima Yukio’ in my notes (too lazy to switch back to kanji, sorry), so I’ll check them out eventually, perhaps along with Murakami. For now though, I just figured I’d go with what I’ve already heard of.

EDIT: Honestly, I’ve just checked the Wiki pages for each of them, I realise that three of the four authors she recommended lived and died in the 20th century, even if she did point out one in particular as being more ‘modern’. Go figure. :laughing: But yeah, well, if I’m going to be reading old-ish literature based on her recommendations anyway… why not start with the book I know?


Very… interesting suggestions and takes I guess. Something tells me she hasnt read many light novels lol. I take it she’s a native because those seem like the kind of things japanese people have in mind when they think of learning new expressions. To be fair, I haven’t read many normal novels either but none of them striked me as using complicated japanese or being keen to use expressions. Expressions just naturally get used, but if I had to say there was one work that stood out as using more expressions and sayings it would probably be youjitsu, which is a light novel.

Tanizaki junichirou…flashbacks to nibanme volume 4


Last year I read 銀河鉄道の夜, which was published in 1934. Just to give one example, the main character (young male) used けれども in dialogue when speaking to his mother. Imagine if that was your guide towards natural Japanese. There’s nothing wrong with reading classics, but if your express goal is to learn more natural Japanese, surely you want something more recent (perhaps 1980s or later).


I’m not sure it does, really. I’m pretty sure there are words I’d recognize in running text where I would not recognize the kanji standing alone. Apart from the obvious case of “word is furiganaed”, I’m sure there are cases where I’m recognizing the word from its context and from the overall shape of the two kanji together and haven’t actually mentally distinguished the individual kanji from visually similar ones or associated them with distinct ‘meanings’.


100% this. There have also been some instances of visually similar words where I literally didn’t even know the difference because I’ve never had to in context like 呷る and 呻る. I’ve never misread them or had issues in context, but out of context I’ve messed it up.

But yeah, I made a list of all the kanji in words I had SRSed awhile back, and the first like 2500 or so were fine. But like the last couple hundred had a lot where honestly I looked at it and was like “did I learn that?”. But then I see it in a word and am like oh of course this is that kanji, no way I would ever mistake it. I remember seeing 驀 and was certain I never saw that kanji before, but then I Ctrl f my wordlist and see 驀進 and can read it in an instant, tell you the definition, and even where I saw it first.

With all that being said, the reason I didn’t say anything is because I feel like this only applies to kanji I’ve seen in like 1 or 2 unique words and don’t need to discern from others. So for like the 2000 or so most common kanji I see this probably would only very rarely apply if ever. Choco is probably more at that level currently so I wasn’t sure it was worth mentioning.