Advice, Blog

Graded readers for Japanese – where to start

Graded readers are shorter books written intended for those who are still studying the language. Vocabulary, grammar and length are therefore specifically chosen for the respective reading level. If you have already learned a second language in school, you will certainly remember reading them in class.

While there are many graded readers for languages like English, French, Spanish or German, unfortunately Japanese doesn’t have as many despite becoming a very popular language to study over the last two decades.

As it is, however, at the moment there are just enough published graded readers to showcase them in a blog post like this.

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(べつにほんごたどく)ライブラリー

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(とうきょう)(ある)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(きむらけ) (6 books, level 0) provide an interesting read for learners with JLPT N5 reading abilities.

日本語多読(にほんごたどく)ブックス

Volume 1 includes books for levels 0 to 2

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 fictional and non-fictional books, this series focuses 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(やくしま) (level 0) or 奈良(なら)大仏(だいぶつ) (level 4).

日本語ショートストリーズどんどん読める

First volume

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).

みんなの日本語(にほんご):ミラーさん 小説(しょうせつ)

My first Japanese textbook at university was called みんなの日本語(にほんご) 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 「(ゆめ)」(chapter 9),「趣味(しゅみ)」(chapter 7) or「秘密(ひみつ)」(chapter 3). For the intermediate book there are 10 short stories about e.g. 「夏目漱石(なつめそうせき)」or「人工知能(じんこうちのう)」.

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.

– 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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