Graded readers are a helpful tool for language learners, providing shorter books specifically tailored to their current level of reading comprehension. The vocabulary, grammar, and length of the books are carefully selected to match the reader’s proficiency and to make sure that they can follow the story without too much difficulty – sometimes even without any dictionary lookups! If you have studied a second language before, you may have already encountered graded readers in the classroom as a way to practice reading early on.
But while graded readers are widely available for popular languages such as English, French, Spanish, and German, the same cannot be said for Japanese. Despite its increasing popularity as a language to study in recent years, there are relatively few graded readers available to learners of Japanese. However, we are fortunate enough to have just enough published graded readers to explore in this blog post.
Update March 2023: JapanTimesPublishing has just released their own series of graded readers, known as the “Genki Tadoku Books.” In light of this new development, I’ve updated this blog post to include the Genki Tadoku Books and rephrased some of my earlier comments. While there are still relatively few graded readers available for Japanese learners compared to other languages, I’m excited to add this new addition and see the list growing!
Note: I will be talking exclusively about physical and purchasable graded readers today. If you are looking for free graded readers, please have a look at my collection of free reading resources instead.
These are the graded readers I’d like to showcase:
- レベル別日本語多読ライブラリー by the NPO Tagengo Tadoku and ASK
- 日本語多読ブックス by the NPO Tagengo Tadoku and Taishukan
- 日本語ショートストリーズ by アルク
- みんなの日本語：ミラーさん小説 by スリーエーネットワーク
- Lingo Mastery Short Stories by Lingo Mastery
- NEW: げんき多読ブックス by JapanTimePublishing
This was the first ever graded reader series for Japanese, published in 2006. As it was put together by the NPO Tagengo Tadoku, it follows their guidelines for reading levels with level 0 for absolute beginners up to level 4 for upper intermediate.
For each level there are 3 collections, each with 5-6 books (total of 78 short books).
There’s both fiction and non-fiction, and Japanese tales as well as translated works. Some of the information in the non-fiction work is not up-to-date anymore (東京を歩こう for example talks about the Sky Tree being built soon) but especially the multiple part stories e.g. about ジョンさん (3 books, level 1) or about the 木村家 (6 books, level 0) provide an interesting read for learners at the early stages of reading in Japanese.
By the same NPO the series Nihongo Tadoku Bukkusu came out in 2016 (total of 55 short books).
It follows the same reading level pattern as the series from 2006, but adds a level 5 with two stories intended for intermediate-to-advanced readers. While in the first series, there were equally as many books for every reading level, this series provides more reading material for beginners (level 0-1) in their later volumes.
Besides still including many fictional and non-fictional books, this series focuses more on fairy tales and folk lore stories especially for their level 2 and 3 reading material. Their non-fiction books consist largely of travel guides and historical facts about those places, like 屋久島 (level 0) or 奈良の大仏 (level 4).
For readers about JLPT N3, textbook publisher アルク released three books of short stories in 2017 and 2018. Each book is about 140 pages long and has about 20 short stories, each maybe 3-5 pages long.
Every short story starts with an illustration and two or three opening sentences to give readers an idea what the story is about. It has furigana on every kanji and both vocabulary above N3 and idioms are explained through annotations.
Content-wise, there are some popular internet stories in this short story collection, e.g. in the first book about why dogs live shorter than humans (chapter 5) or the story about a pay-it-forward restaurant (chapter 9).
My first Japanese textbook at university was called みんなの日本語 and it taught Japanese through a cast of characters who appeared in example dialogs. One of those characters is ミラーさん, an American who comes to Japan to work for the Japanese branch of his company.
This novel series, published in 2017 and 2019, features scenes from those very textbook dialogs, adds some context and weaves an entire story around it.
There are two novels – both about 150 pages long – that are intended to be read after finishing both textbooks of みんなの日本語 (inbetween JLPT N4 and N3). They include vocabulary and grammar taught in those same books, so it is a quite satisfying read for those who have already studied that.
Lingo Mastery Short Stories
Captivating short stories to learn Japanese & grow your vocabulary the fun way!
In 2020 and 2021 Lingo Mastery published short story collections for beginners and intermediate learners. Their collections both include translations into English, a summary, vocabulary lists and a comprehension quiz after every story. Therefore, while every story is only about 2-5 pages long, you also get about 8 pages each of additional explanations.
In total there are 20 short stories each in both beginner books with titles like 「夢」(chapter 9),「趣味」(chapter 7) or「秘密」(chapter 3). For the intermediate book there are 10 short stories about e.g. 「夏目漱石」or「人工知能」.
I personally felt like these collections were aimed more at an intensive reading approach than an extensive reading approach. The stories are still interesting and I especially liked the comprehension quizzes at the end of every chapter.
Genki Tadoku Books is a graded reader series designed especially for those learning Japanese through the Genki textbooks. It includes different short little tales and stories written to match the vocabulary and grammar taught in the text- and workbooks. For each lesson of the Genki textbook there are two short books to read and apply what you’ve learned. It is intended as a supplement for the Genki textbook but will without a doubt be useful to all learners up to JLPT N4. Here’s a free sample of the very first book.
The series consists of 4 boxes that cover all 23 lesson of the two textbooks: Box 1 covers lessons 1-6 of the first Genki textbook, Box 2 covers lessons 7-12 of the first Genki textbook and the boxes 3 and 4 divide the second Genki textbook. Each box consists of 12 short books, except for box 4 which consists of 10.
– and that would be it about Japanese graded readers!
I hope there were some that you found worth checking out! I was introduced to many of these graded reader series during my year abroad and was able to gradually improve my reading abilities through them. They opened the door for me to start reading books in natural Japanese as well.
If you found just the perfect graded reader for your Japanese language abilities through this list, I’m so happy for you and glad I could help! The links I included to those readers are all affiliate links to Amazon Japan, where you could purchase the book for yourself while also helping me keep this website running. Win-win!
Have fun reading!
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