42 Great Japanese Books (to Learn Japanese Faster)
Are you looking for a great Japanese book? Are you trying to learn Japanese by reading? This is the list for you!
I’ve compiled tons of amazing Japanese books to read for all levels. Whether you’re a beginner or advanced reader, you’ll find something great here.
Some books even have a great どんでん返し (dondengaeshi) — “plot twist!”
How do you say “book” in Japanese, anyway? It’s 本 (hon). To read is 読む (yomu) and the noun “reading” is 読書 (dokusho).
In fact, there’s even a practice of Japanese schoolkids called 朝の読書運動 (asa no dokusho undou), which means “morning reading exercise.” Japanese kids spend some time in the mornings reading before class.
So after reading this article, maybe you’ll be inspired to do the same! You’ll level up your Japanese for sure.
Table of contents
- Best Books To Learn Japanese for Beginners
- Best Japanese Books in English
- Best Japanese Literature for More Experienced Learners
- Best Japanese Children’s Books to Learn Japanese
- How to Read Japanese Books
- Apps to Help You Start Reading Japanese
- Tips for Reading in Japanese
- Where to Find Japanese Books
- Japanese Bookworm Status: Unlocked
Best Books To Learn Japanese for Beginners
If you’re still at a beginner level of Japanese, these books will be a great place to start.
Keep in mind, they’ll still need patience to get through. But if you remember how hard it was to read your first books in your native language as a kid, you’ll understand reading is a skill you have to work for!
While reading is great for anyone, learners at a JLPT N4 level will have the easiest time getting started. If you’re an absolute beginner, you can still try these books — but check out the apps listed at the end of the article for guided reading!
Kimi no Na wa (“Your Name”) by Makoto Shinkai
If you’ve seen the movie, then you know what this one’s about! And that will help you read it a lot easier.
Kimi no Na wa is an adaptation of the movie Your Name. It follows a high school boy in Tokyo and a girl in rural Japan who swap bodies.
Yotsuba! by Kiyohiko Azuma
Manga is often a great option for learning to read Japanese. And slice-of-life manga Yotsuba!, in particular, is a fun place to start.
Yotsuba is an adopted 5-year-old girl who moves to a new town with her dad. It follows her daily life, so there are a lot of useful expressions and words to learn.
Plus, since Yotsuba is so young, there are often more basic speech patterns. But keep in mind Yotsuba doesn’t really talk politely and sometimes makes mistakes being a child (and also adopted from another country!)
Majo no Takkyuubin (Kiki’s Delivery Service) by Eiko Kadano
Yep, you know the movie! In fact, this book is what Studio Ghibli based the movie on.
Kiki is a young witch. When she turns 13, she moves to a town on her own and uses her magic to earn a living.
What’s great about this book is — there are 5 novels! The movie only followed the first one, so you’ll get to enjoy plenty of Kiki’s adventures.
Go-bu-go ni Waraeru Dondengaeshi (You Can Laugh in 5 Minutes) by Everystar
This is part of the 5-Minute Series, which has different 5-minute story compilations. This is the one full of funny stories!
Each story is different, but they’re all designed to be easy and quick to read. They’re perfect for a beginner.
They’re a bit hard to find outside of Japan, so try searching for them by the full Japanese title: 5分後に笑えるどんでん返し (５分シリーズ)
Some others to check out:
- Flying Witch by Chihiro Ishizuka
- Wanwan Tanteidan / Nyannyan Tanteidan (Dog Detectives / Cat Detectives) by Akira Sugiyama
- Shirokuma Cafe by Aloha Higa
Best Japanese Books in English
If you’re just looking for Japanese books to read in English, here’s your list. These are translations from popular Japanese novels.
But, they’d also make great books to read in their native language down the road. If you read it in English first, you may find it easier to understand the context in Japanese later.
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
Critically acclaimed in Japan and abroad, this book is about a 36-year-old woman in Tokyo. She doesn’t feel like she’s ever fit in… Until she starts working at a convenience store.
She works there for years and loves her job. But it isn’t seen as “a real career” by her family, who pressure her to find a more suitable place to work.
The book highlights the Japanese work culture, family dynamics, and pressures to fit into a mold.
Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
Written by critically acclaimed author Banana Yoshimoto, Kitchen is her most well-known work.
Kitchen is about Mikage, who’s an orphan raised by her grandmother. When her grandmother passes away, she’s invited to live with her friend Yuichi’s family. The story showcases a lot about modern Japan, and focuses on the power of the kitchen and home in healing hearts and creating bonds.
Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
If you’ve never read one of Haruki Murakami’s many beloved books, this is a great place to start. He’s widely considered one of Japan’s best authors and has been a contender for the Nobel Prize many times (although he hasn’t won… yet).
This novel is also one of his easiest to read in English or Japanese. It’s more straightforward and inspired by his life.
Norwegian Wood tells the story of Toru and Naoko. Toru is a college student who has been devoted to Naoko for many years. But the death of their mutual best friend has haunted them both, and Naoko struggles with depression.
The novel follows their journey as Naoko withdraws more and more and Toru starts to fall for someone else.
Out by Natsuo Kirino
A story of anger, grief, and murder. This thriller follows a young mother working at a factory who’s tired of the pressures and gender issues she faces. One day, she snaps and murders her husband.
Her coworkers help her cover up the murder and it ends up leading to a string of violence and suspense.
No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai
This book is a semi-autobiographical novel by legendary writer Osamu Dazai. It was also his final completed work.
The book follows a young man, Oba Yozo, as he narrates his everyday life from the viewpoint that he’s a failure. He struggles to connect with society and the people around him, and the book follows his story as he tries to navigate these feelings through life.
Some others to check out:
- Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami
- The Silent City by Kenzaburo Oe
- The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Matsuo Basho
- The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki
- The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa
- Tokyo Ueno Station by Yu Miri
- Automatic Eve by Rokuro Inui
Best Japanese Literature for More Experienced Learners
What is the most read book in Japan? Well, it’d probably be A Tale of Genji, the classic Japanese literature piece.
But the most beloved? It’s hard to say for sure, but I Am a Cat and Norwegian Wood would probably be high up there.
When it comes to Japanese literature, there are tons of amazing books I could list. (And I’ve already listed some of them for those reading in English!)
But if you’re a more advanced Japanese learner looking to expand your reading, check out these books:
The Tale of Genji by Lady Murasaki Shikibu
This book has such a fascinating history and it’s a must-read for any Japanese language learner.
The Tale of Genji is considered to be the first novel ever written in the world. Not only that, but it was written by a woman, Lady Murasaki Shikibu.
She helped advance the Japanese writing system of kana, which was new to Japan at the time. (They had been using Chinese characters before this, and pretty much only men learned them.)
The story follows Genji, the son of an emperor, who’s been removed from the line of succession. It’s his journey of navigating friends and enemies, romances with women, and the ever-moving politics of medieval Kyoto.
I Am a Cat by Soseki Natsume
A must-read comedy classic, this book takes place during the Meiji era. The story is told from the perspective of a nameless stray cat who meanders around and comments on the lives of the upper-middle-class around him.
The story is a satire about the ridiculousness of the elite at the time and is considered one of Japan’s masterpieces.
The Silent Cry by Kenzaburo Oe
I’ll put a trigger warning here: this one features quite a lot of difficult topics.
Written by Nobel Prize winner Kenzaburo Oe, the book follows two brothers who are reunited after a long while. One brother is dealing with many crises at once: his wife is struggling with alcohol, his newborn son was born with a disability, and his friend has died by suicide.
The other brother is waging war on a huge Korean businessman. There are family secrets, politics, and lots of drama as the boys struggle to keep their lives and relationships under control.
I won’t lie to you — some of the topics in this book are hard to read about and not necessarily how we’d handle it in the Western world. (Especially about his infant son.)
But one thing to be aware of is that many Japanese books discuss death and suicide as a recurring theme. Because, unfortunately, it’s so prevalent in Japanese history and culture.
Black Box by Shiori Ito
This one is really interesting because it’s Shiori Ito’s memoir and the reason #MeToo became a topic in Japan.
In 2015, Shiori was sexually assaulted by a fellow (and famous) journalist. When she came forward about it, she received a lot of backlash, because people do not talk about this openly in Japan.
As a result of her own advocacy, she’s helped spark a movement in Japan. The memoir details her journey and ways Japan can move forward.
The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa
On an island, things are slowly disappearing. Roses, ribbons, birds — and everyone forgets they exist.
Except for a small minority of people living there… and the Memory Police. The Memory Police take anyone found to not forget what’s missing.
The story follows an author who’s trying to protect her editor who’s in danger, and use her writing as a way to preserve what’s lost.
Some others to check out:
- A Japanese Boy by Shiukichi Shigemi
- Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
- At the End of the Matinee by Keiichiro Hirano
- The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki
- The Decagon House Murders by Yukito Ayatsuji
- The Factory by Hiroko Oyamada
- The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Matsuo Basho
Best Japanese Children’s Books to Learn Japanese
What about kids’ books, you might ask? And what books are read in Japanese schools?
If you’re looking for Japanese kids books, here are a few classics to check out:
- Guri and Gura by Rieko Nakagawa
- Shirokuma-chan’s Pancakes by Ken Wakayama
- Doraemon by Fujiko F. Fujio
- Little Daruma and Little Tengu by Satoshi Kako
- You Look Yummy! by Tatsuya Miyanishi
- What’s Your Snack? by Ari Idee
As for books Japanese kids read in school… Well, they actually don’t often get assigned books to read for school like in Western countries!
But that doesn’t mean they don’t read. Here are some books Japanese students often read:
- The Dancing Girl by Mori Ogai
- Kokoro by Natsume Soseki
- Natsu no Hana by Hara Tamiki
- The Legend of Tono by Yanagida Kunio
- Fires on the Plain by Shohei Ooka
…as well as some of the others listed above!
How to Read Japanese Books
You may be wondering, what are most Japanese books written in? Do you have to know all 3 Japanese writing systems to be able to read? And why do Japanese books open backwards?
So let’s talk about how to read Japanese books.
First, yes, Japanese books are written with a combination of kanji, hiragana, and katakana.
For books that are aimed at older kids or young adults (such as manga), they will often have furigana. These are small hiragana characters next to kanji to tell you how to read them. Young children’s books may be written only in hiragana.
Now about Japanese books being “backwards.”
They’re not really backwards — the Japanese just write differently!
In Japanese, there are two ways to write:
- In columns, from top to bottom, right to left
- In rows, like English, from left to right, top to bottom
Most books, manga, magazines, and newspapers write in the traditional style of columns right-to-left.
But this is also more formal, and Western influence and computerization have changed this a lot. Now, left-to-right is most common, especially for texting, emails, things on the computer, street and business signs, and more.
So when it comes to reading Japanese books, keep these things in mind! It can be difficult to get used to reading in columns, but it becomes easier with practice.
Apps to Help You Start Reading Japanese
If you’re new to reading Japanese, sometimes a whole book can be overwhelming. But there are actually some great apps to help with that now!
LingQ is an app for learning to read in any language. They have a large library of guided reading materials, and words you don’t know are added to your word bank for spaced-repetition study. You can also import articles and things to read!
Satori Reader is another one, from the creators of Human Japanese. This one helps you find curated content at just the right level for your Japanese knowledge. You can check out the translation for each word you don’t know, and hear the audio. Even the kanji is adjusted for your level!
White Rabbit Japanese Graded Readers App is another great option. White Rabbit Graded Readers are among the most popular leveled reading books for Japanese learners. Now, you can read them in the app with audio narration and furigana.
These apps are SO helpful for bridging the gap between learning and reading in Japanese.
Tips for Reading in Japanese
When it comes to reading in Japanese, there are several ways to approach it.
But to keep from getting overwhelmed, here’s what I recommended:
1. Read — Don’t Stop
When you first start a book, keep reading as much as you can without stopping. If you can understand the general idea of the sentence (the who, what, where), then you’re probably reading at the correct level.
Skip words you don’t know, and come back to them later to review. You can do this a page or two at a time, or a whole chapter.
But keep reading, so you feel like you’re making progress. Stopping and starting is really frustrating and removes the enjoyment of getting into the book.
The one exception to this may be the first page or two of the book. This is usually where you’ll find all the important details you need to know throughout the story, like the character’s name. So the first pages can be translated word-by-word if it helps.
2. Add the New Words to a Flashcard App
Make sure you review the new words you learned so that as you read, your vocabulary grows!
Apps like LingQ will help you do this as you read, but from books, write them down as you go and add them to your app later. I like to use Anki.
Rereading books is one of the best ways to make sure you’re comprehending what you read. Because after you read it once through and look up the words you don’t know (or even grammar patterns), you’ll understand so much more on your second pass through.
Where to Find Japanese Books
If you’re wondering where you can find Japanese books at a reasonable price (because it gets pricey to import them!), here are some places I use:
Regular Amazon is starting to carry some books and manga in Japanese at a more affordable price. But they’re still almost double what they normally cost. Kinokuniya is my favorite!
(By the way: Kinokuniya has locations in New York, California, Texas, Washington, Oregon, and Illinois.)
Japanese Bookworm Status: Unlocked
Which books in Japanese will you read first? Leave a comment and let me know!
Ready for your next steps in Japanese? Check out these other Japanese articles: