Advice, Blog

Introduction to reading Japanese novels – Where to get books with furigana

Reading novels in Japanese can be a real challenge if your reading flow comes to a stop every time you encounter a kanji you can’t read. Working through a Japanese novel while deciphering unknown kanji and learning their new readings can be a lengthy and tedious process for learners of Japanese.

Furigana can help cutting back on that frustration and will let you focus on naturally expanding your vocabulary and understanding of Japanese grammar without relying on your dictionary app for every other word.

So, today I want to introduce you to publishers that release their books for a target audience of late elementary school to early middle school Japanese children (10-14). Books by these publishers will all have furigana on every kanji while still presenting complex and interesting stories about 150 – 300 pages long.

The books I recommend today are fitting for intermediate readers, who already have experience with graded readers, easy childrens stories or manga, but have yet to read a longer novel aimed at native speakers.

The publishers I will showcase in this post are as follows:

講談社青(こうだんしゃあお)鳥文庫(とりぶんこ)

The Aoi Tori series by Kōdansha is easily recognizable by the blue frame around their covers.

Under the tag 世界名作(せかいめいさく) this series features many publications of non-Japanese classics, such as The Secret Garden, The Little Prince or Anne of Green Gables. While these stories are all a bit older, I believe many learners will be familiar with them, which makes them a good starting point. Similarly, they also have easy retellings of classic Japanese tales.

This publisher also has some colourful titles with young protagonists popular with younger children. They seem to be dealing with themes such as first love, identity and belonging and could be worth checking out.

集英社(しゅうえいしゃ)みらい文庫(ぶんこ)

Similarly to Aoi Tori Bunko, you will recognize Mirai Bunko by their yellow frames around the book covers.

Mirai Bunko has novelisations of currently popular anime series such as Demon Slayer, Jujutsu Kaisen and My Hero Academia. For those who are already familiar with these series’ specific expressions and characters, a novelisation may be a good place to start applying that vocabulary.

I’ve also seen some first love romance stories by this publisher that looked interesting.

角川(かどかわ)つばさ文庫(ぶんこ)

While Shūeisha uses yellow and Kōdansha blue for their furigana books, Kadokawa’s Tsubasa series all have a green frame around their book covers.

Two very popular books by this publisher are anime novelisations: Your Name and Wolf Children. I see them both recommended a lot in Japanese learning communities but have yet to read them.

Other books published by Kadokawa include a series based on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardorbe, the popular fantasy book series The Deer King with furigana and the Kirby novelisations.

小学館(しょうがくかん)ジュニア文庫(ぶんこ)

Junior Bunko by Shōgakukan is the publisher of disney and universal novelisations. If you love their movies and would like to experience the story again through a Japanese novel, they’ll probably have just the right one for you, like Encanto, Frozen, Aladdin or Mulan.

They also publish some novelisations of older anime series such as Detective Conan and Doraemon. If you are already familiar with the story-telling and characters of these series, they are a good way to practise what you may have picked up from watching the anime.

I recently read the original romance light novel ぜんぶ、藍色(あいいろ)だった by this publisher and quite enjoyed it. You can read my full review of it here. And I’ve also heard good things about the bestselling novel 世界(せかい)から(ねこ)()えたなら which was republished with furigana on all kanji but otherwise is the exact same.

双葉社(ふたばしゃ)ジュニア文庫(ぶんこ)

The Junior series by publisher Futabasha mostly has the Crayon Shin-chan novelisations, but added some interesting animated movie novelisations as well. I recently watched In this Corner of the World and am intrigued how the movie would translate to a novel.

They also republished the bestselling novel (きみ)膵臓(すいぞう)()べたい. The original novel was published by Futabasha as well, so the two versions are identical except for the added furigana in this one.

静山社(せいざんしゃ)ペガサス文庫(ぶんこ)

Pegasus Bunko by Seizansha is mostly known for publishing the Japanese Harry Potter books with furigana. Each volume is divided into 2-4 books for a total of 20 books to complete the series.

Besides these, they also seem to have children’s books on Shakespeare plays, such as Macbeth, Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet. The older language and Shakespearian vocabulary in these might be a challenge even with furigana.

Do you know of more publishers with furigana?

With all these furigana books by the publishers in this post I’m sure there’ll be something interesting for you to try out. Reading a whole book in Japanese is a great accomplishment! Achieving it through furigana does not diminish that in any way.

I’ve made the switch to read Japanese novels aimed at adults about six months ago, but I still like to read these kinds of furigana books. I first thought of them only as a stepping stone to more complex texts, but since they let me read my books considerably faster, I still go straight for the furigana version of bestsellers I wanted to read anyway.

The books I’ve listed here are all by publishers I know about and from whom I’ve already read books. However, I’m sure there are even more publishers for that age group with interesting stories in the Japanese publishing sphere.

If you know of any more with furigana on all characters that aren’t listed here, please let me know. I’m always interested in getting to know more!

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