When can I start reading?

I’m using WK and bunpro as my main/only sources right now; at what point am I likely to know enough kanji, vocab and basic grammar to start reading, well, anything?


it’s not like there’s going to be a point where you’re able to magically read…it mostly comes down to how hard the text is and how willing you are to stop and look stuff up (you can brute force just about anything with a dictionary and a grammar guide, although you’ll probably miss a lot of nuance).

I think I started around level 10 (or two or three months into learning). others start later…I’d pick something like one of the absolute beginner book clubs or NHK Easy and just have a go every now and again. You’ll know when you reach the point where reading an article is bearable.


Depends a lot on what we count as “reading”.

WK suggests starting learning with books at around level 10, but technically you can (and probably should tbh) start doing it at level 5 or even 1.

As for reading texts as in novels, games dialogues and such, the point where reading starts getting more comfortable is around the end of N3, which is about 1000 kanji. WK doesn’t give kanji in JLPT order, but amount wise you’ll reach 1017 kanji by level 30.

That said, it doesn’t mean that you should postpone reading until level 30. That’s just the point where things will start getting easier (but you still will need to use vocabulary a lot). You can pretty much start reading simple texts at around level ~10, when you’ll know about 200 kanji. What you don’t know you can look up, plus reading actually helps memorizing characters.


I look forward to the day I don’t have to look up every single word. It is getting easier though.


The hardest part about reading will be the sheer number of vocabulary and grammar you don’t know, no matter when you start. You could learn 2,000 words, then pick up something to read and find you’re looking up 75% of the words you encounter. You can learn all grammar listed in Bunpro as N5 and N4 level, and find you don’t know what’s going on in upwards of half of the sentences you’re reading.

My recommendation is to learn as much grammar as you can through at least half of N4, then start (as @TheVegpieMunch mentioned) brute force reading. Not everyone will be suited to using this method, but it’s worth at least trying out. The idea is that you’re looking up all the vocabulary and grammar you don’t know.

This method of reading, called intensive reading, is a long, grueling process in the beginning. But if you stick with it long enough, and learn common grammar (which may be in the N3, N2, or even N1 range), and as you keep learning more vocabulary, you’ll slowly begin to transition to the extensive reading phase. This is where you know enough grammar and vocabulary that you can infer the meaning of some of the unknown words.

Because everything you read will have its own set of vocabulary, you can’t really gauge based on number of known words when you’ll be able to read something. Some manga I can read through without looking up more than a few words a chapter. Other manga, I’m having to look up every third word.

The key point is that you are reading something that interests you. Something that you won’t get bored with. For me, this meant picking a manga that was the source of an anime I liked (although the manga was way above my level, and I could easily spend two hours to get through four panels).

From there, I joined the Absolute Beginner Book Club, and focused on learning more grammar.

The next step up was to take a manga of a series I knew well (having watched the anime subtitled in English, and having read the manga translated into English), and read that through in Japanese. It was a simple enough manga, and I knew in advance the context of everything and what was going on, so I didn’t have to worry about all the words I didn’t know. My main focus was to catch any grammar I didn’t recognize, and learn that.

That’s the path that worked for me personally to reach a point where I can “read”, but I still have to pick easier manga. Some manga are just too dense with unknown words (I probably only know about 3,000 to 3,500 words) that I have too many lookups to enjoy reading it.

For learning grammar, the biggest boost you’ll get will be from reading material that uses that grammar. The more you see the grammar, the more you’ll build up pattern recognition. In time, you’ll recognize and understand the grammar instantly, without thinking about it, and without routing through English to understand it. But it takes a good amount of reading and having to manually understand to properly build up that recognition. There won’t be a point of study and review where you can suddenly recognize the grammar. It’s all in actually reading to get used to seeing it.


I second NHK Easy. It’s quite nice to run into words that I learnt on Wanikani. Recently read their page with advice for kids regarding Covid, which included,


I learnt 広がる and 大切 on WaniKani :smiley:


I guess this is a good time to cry about the death of tangoristo again… :sob:

Have you tried Manabi Reader? It’s quite a nice replacement for TangoRisto.

I’m on android :confused:

anyway, not really looking for a replacement anymore just procrastinating book clubs

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Oh, I didn’t realize that Manabi Reader is iOS-only…

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Depends on what you want to read. I was able to read a lot of stuff (games, manga, light novels) somehow comfortably once I hit N2~. I still need to look up words, and the N1 kanji I’ve studied definitely pop up a lot. Some grammar too, but not as often.
N3 was enough for dialogue, but narration heavy stuff was a nightmare.

For me I started reading pretty early on. Even if you don’t understand it all, or even if you don’t have the time/energy/desire to look up every word/kanji/piece of grammar that you don’t know, it still is very helpful as far as getting yourself familiarized with seeing the language and reading it. Each time you read it you’re putting in mental work and practice, and even if you don’t feel like you understood everything you read, it will still feel easier the next time and the more you push through it


This was all really helpful, thanks!! I’ll try when I hit five, and work my way up from there, I think.

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I am working my way through lvl 8 now, and I find the WaniKani beginner book club (someone linked it above) really helpful for reading - you should check it out. I just started reading my first manga in Japanese (Shirokuma Cafe) and so far I’m finding that I can recognize a lot of the kanji, although not all. Oftentimes, I’ll have to look the word up (or find it in the notes that WaniKani members so helpfully made) despite the furigana, but some chapters are very simple and it’s very satisfying when I can finish an entire chapter without having to look something up.

Sometimes, I will understand all the words, though, and still not understand the exact meaning, because a lot of it is in the grammar as well, and I’ve been neglecting that area recently. Anyways, NHK Web Easy is also a really good source for non-fiction texts :slight_smile:

 word of warning: Children’s books are not a good way to start XD I thought that would be the easiest way, and I still can’t get through some of the simple stories - there is a very specific type of language used in those, and can be much harder to understand than regular texts.

Good luck ^^

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