10 Most Famous Japanese Novels for Beginners!

Have you ever read Japanese novels before? Japanese novels are a fantastic way to practice your Japanese! Not only does it put Japanese grammar into real use, but it also tells a story that encourages readers to keep reading. The following books are short and entertaining and have very few of the troubling nuances of Japanese literature that you are not used to yet.

Let’s read the novel in Japanese even if the beginner’s class is just over. In this article, I will introduce several tips on choosing and reading Japanese novels.

Before you start to read

So how should you get started? First, please read the one written in easy Japanese or a short novel. If you think “I could read a novel in Japanese”, it should be more fun to study Japanese and you can be hooked for long on-going stories which improve your Kanji /Vocabulary / Grammar even more!! I strongly suggest you have at least a JLPT N3 level of Japanese before you start reading some of these.

Honestly speaking, you can start sooner, but it’s more challenging without basic vocabulary and grammar knowledge. So, let’s read these top choices of Japanese language books, and you are bound to master Japanese in no time and useful for reading comprehension measures of the JLPT!

10 Most Famous Japanese Novels for Beginners

① “Novel Mr. Miller” 小説ミラーさん

Japanese Level: 0
Author : 横山悠太(Yuta Yokoyama)

The textbook “Minna no Nihongo” is often used by N4 and N5 level students at Japanese language schools in Japan. A foreign man named Miller often appears there. “Novel Mr. Miller” is a novel whose main character is Miller, who is very popular with Japanese language school students. If you think the other novels are “a little difficult”, please read this first. Even beginner students can read it, and there are many short novels.

② “Kiki’s Delivery Service” 魔女の宅急便

Japanese Level: ☆
Author : 角野栄子(Eiko Kadono)

Have you ever read Japanese novels before? Japanese novels are a fantastic way to practice your Japanese! Not only does it put Japanese grammar into real use, but it also tells a story that encourages readers to keep reading. The following books are short and entertaining and have very few of the troubling nuances of Japanese literature that you are not used to yet. Let’s read the novel in Japanese even if the beginner’s class is just over.

What makes this book, particularly appealing is that you may have already seen the Studio Ghibli adaptation of the story. This makes it digestible and gives you an easy-to-understand reference when you get stuck.

Another benefit of “Kiki’s Delivery Service” is that it is remarkably simple to read. A combination of easy-to-understand words and dialogue spoken through the voice of a child (Kiki) creates a type of text that is nuanced but accessible. “Kanji” is quite simple which makes it great for JLPT N4-N3 levels, although you will still find yourself looking up words now and then.

“Kiki’s Delivery Service” is an incredibly easy read and a great book to start with. Each chapter feels like a different story in Kiki’s life, making the books easy to digest. It is certainly more like a slice-of-life than a fantasy novel.

③ “Bokko-chan” ボッコちゃん

Japanese Level: ☆
Author : 星新一(Shinichi Hoshi)

The novels written by the famous writer Shinichi Hoshi are all short and easy to read. “Bokko-chan” is one of “Shinichi Hoshi”‘s masterpieces. It was written in 1971 and is old, but what comes out is a robot. Sadly, this may be the future of the world. There are many other short novels that will surprise you at the end.

④ Kitchen キッチン

Japanese Level: ☆☆
Author : 吉本ばなな(Banana Yoshimoto)

If you are going to dive right into a famous contemporary work of fiction, this is a great novel, to begin with. The story focuses on “Mikage” who was raised by her grandmother, and when she dies, she loses her only blood relative. It is a slow, sweet, melancholy story about what it means to be a family, by blood or by choice, and about the ways food and kitchens bring us together.

The novels focused on tightly on personal relationships and daily life and you will end up like these themes. Occasional complex vocabulary surrounding grief and psychology may appear. But the general tone of the book is an accessible look into the mind of an average person.

⑤ “Hankyu-Train” 阪急列車

Japanese Level: ☆☆
Author: 有川浩(Arikawa-Hiroshi)

I strongly recommend you read this! It is so a warm-hearted story and not so difficult words in there. Hankyu train is the name of a train that really exists in Japan (Hyogo prefecture). Eight stations appear in “Hankyu Train”, which is a collection of short novels. At eight stations, stories of various people are drawn.

There is also a movie under the name “Hankyu Railways One-Way 15-minute Miracle”, so it will be easier to understand if you watch the movie after reading the novel. If you ever come to Japan, it will be fun to take the Hankyu-train while remembering the novel, so if you are interested, check it out!

⑥ Stories You Find For Yourself 君が見つける物語

Japanese Level: ☆☆
Various authors, edited by Kadokawa Publishing

The “君が見つける物語” series brings together short stories by semi-famous to really famous authors, chosen for their reading level and their entertainment value to teenagers. Each volume has its own teenager theme such as school, friendship, love, and horror. The stories are written at an adult level, but in conversational, easy-to-read styles, and with slightly more furigana than the average adult novel.

Short stories like these are perfect for beginning readers because you do not have to commit to a huge amount of reading.  Also, if you are having trouble following the plot or understanding one story out of many, it won’t ruin the whole book for you. They are a great way to sample new authors, and by reading this series you can get a taste of a lot of big names in contemporary Japanese literature.

⑦ After The Quake 神の子どもたちはみな踊る

Japanese Level: ☆☆
Author : 村上春樹 (Haruki Murakami)

You may be familiar with this book by esteemed Japanese author “Haruki Murakami” under the English title After the Quake. But it’s a steep departure from his more surreal texts. And a great place to delve into Japanese culture. It is much more accessible not only in its content but in its tone. While Murakami is notorious for creating dreamlike, disjointed narratives, this one is much more grounded in the day-to-day lives of regular people and sports a colloquial tone.

 Children’s books in the Japanese language

Children’s stories are simple to understand, and they introduce you to some of the founding blocks of popular Japanese culture. In fact, classic children’s books are a great medium to enter a culture. Moreover, the illustrations and language in children’s books are the least complicated and they incorporate redundant use of important words so that it fits in a child’s vocabulary.

⑧ Arashi no Yoru ni あらしのよるに

Japanese Level: ☆☆
Author: 木村裕一(Kimura Yuichi)

The title of the book translates into One stormy night. It is a story of a goat named “Mei”, who wanders into a barn one night, seeking shelter from a storm. It meets another refugee in the barn and the story rolls around their friendship, love, and a feeling of companionship for each other. This book was first published in 1994 and is a worthy read to notice how Japanese value the emotions.

⑨ Brave Story ブレイブ・ストーリー

Japanese Level: ☆☆
Author: 宮部みゆき(Miyuki Miyabe)

The book is about the life of a little boy whose father abandoned him and his mother was hospitalized after a suicide attempt. The author portrays the boy as a brave who thrives to change his life and eventually finds a magical world of vision. The story was originally serialized in Japanese newspapers.

⑩ Crayon Shin-chan クレヨンしんちゃん

Japanese Level: ☆
Author: 臼井儀人(Yoshito Usui)

Almost every one of us is aware of the naughty Shin-chan character. “Crayon Shin-chan” is an illustrative book that portrays the importance of family through the everyday cute adventures of this Japanese Kid. It is a Japanese manga series starring 5-year-old trouble-making boy. Manga is a style of Japanese comic books and graphic novels, typically aimed at adults as well as children. It is one of the must-read Japanese books for beginners.

Great Tips You need to know to read Japanese Novels

① Choose Slice-of-Life Novels

Slice-of-life stories present an arbitrary sequence of events in a character’s life. Some examples include stories on high school life, office drama, and even some supernatural first-person narratives that depict regular daily routines. It provides glimpses into the Japanese lifestyles of typically Japanese characters.

Not distracted by flashy scenes and technical jargon, the slice-of-life style reveals the life of a Japanese character in beautifully woven detail. Slice-of-life is easy to read for beginners in the Japanese language since it avoids technical topics and out-of-date vocabulary. Moreover, many slice-of-life novels have elements of supernatural fiction that accompany the otherwise normal life of the protagonist.

② Choose Newer Novels

I recommend you pick up a novel written within the last 50 years, and the more recent the better. Firstly, lifestyle changes with time. Authors of the older generation tend to have very distinct perspectives on life and mannerisms, those that differ from our expectations today.

Secondly, Japanese language learners should look for novels with sentence structure that is close to present-day grammar. Lastly, newer works tend to depict scenes and characters that reflect the current culture and society of Japan.

Reading novels written by authors living in the same era offer an opportunity for readers to relate to the events of the story. The vocabulary and behavioral patterns used in such familiar scenes are what will become handy for Japanese language learners hoping to travel to Japan in the future!

③ Keep a Digital Dictionary Handy

Since Japanese novels are written for Japanese readers, they inevitably include advanced terminology and intermediate kanji. But fear not! You can use a digital dictionary to look up unfamiliar words and letters. I recommend you download the free “Google Translate” app on your mobile phone.

Not only does it have up-to-date translations, but this app also has a drawing feature that allows you to trace the shape of an unknown kanji into the search engine. This is very convenient for non-Japanese readers who often do not know how to pronounce the kanji! But please make sure not to use your dictionary so often to practice Japanese.

④ Try Novels with Adaptations

It can be difficult to enter the world of a novel, especially when it’s not written in your first language! If you are looking for motivation to start reading a Japanese language book, why not try opening a novel with film and drama adaptations? After watching the characters and becoming familiar with the setting of the story, you will feel at ease when reading about them in a Japanese novel! Advice is to watch trailers, short clips, and even the first few episodes of the adapted version without completing the entire series. This way, there will be elements of surprise when you are reading the novel!

In the End…

Which do you like the best? Pick up some of these Japanese books to extend your vocabulary and reading comprehension skills as you revisit the sheer joy of reading. Those 10 novels are included as best sellers in Japan, so you can also learn about Japanese cultures, lifestyles, and trends Author.

You will be getting a more complete understanding of the Japanese culture at the same time, helping you get closer and closer to mastering the language. I am hoping this article will inspire those who have started feeling comfortable with basic grammar and vocabulary and are eager to practice reading authentic materials. I am sure that you can start your exciting adventure in the world of Japanese language and literature!

Summarize

  • If you want to try Japanese novels, strongly recommend you have at least a JLPT N3 level of Japanese.
  • For beginners Let’s choose “Slice-of-life” novels that are easy to read for beginners in the Japanese language since it avoids technical topics and out-of-date vocabulary.
  • Recommend you pick up a light novel written within the last 50 years, and the more recent the better.
  • To boost your motivation, it is also good to check movies or TV dramas, or novels.
  • Those 10 novels are included as the best sellers in Japan, so you can also learn about Japanese cultures, lifestyles, and trends.
  • If you continue to read These books, will inspire those who have started feeling comfortable with basic grammar and vocabulary and you will be bound to master Japanese in no time and useful for reading comprehension measures of the JLPT!

Not only about this, but I have also written several articles about learning the Japanese language. Please find them here! For choosing the article based on the title I have written, please see the following lists:

About Yuri Sensei 25 Articles
I am Yuri. I have worked for several companies, involved in assisting foreigners and teaching Japanese. I have also worked in Vietnam, teaching Japanese. I would like to help students abroad and teach Japanese culture. My hobbies are traveling abroad and sports, like tennis. Following excitement and discovering new things inspires me a lot. My joy in life is to help people overseas so that I can pass on the charm of Japanese culture.