The best way to learn Japanese is by speaking Japanese. But, if you really want to level up, you should definitely be reading Japanese books! If you have ever tried to learn a more popular language, like Spanish or English, you know that there are endless supplies of reading materials for language learners. Literally hundreds of them are out there, such as the Graded Readers and many more!
If you are trying to learn Japanese though, you may have realized that the market is somewhat less saturated. There is approximately one set of graded readers, after which most people are stuck reading textbooks, or begrudgingly attempting to navigate newspapers. I am here to tell you that there is a plethora of great reading material out there aimed at native Japanese people, which even you can use to take your Japanese to the next level. Today, I am going to tell you about five of those.
Book #1: レベル別日本語多読ライブラリー (Level Betsu Nihongo Tadoku Library)
For the absolute beginners among you, the Level Betsu Nihongo Tadoku Library Graded Readers (that set mentioned above) come highly recommended. Sample a few here and see which level is best for you! I highly recommend reading them without a dictionary for the best learning experience.
I found most of the books in these sets to be well written and capable of holding my attention. I just wish there were more! When you are finished reading through level four of this series you should have no trouble moving on to The Magic Tree House series and beyond!
Book #2: マジック･ツリーホウス１： 恐竜の谷の大冒険 (The Magic Tree House 1: Dinosaurs Before Dark)
This is the first book in an expansive series of books, which are actually translated from English. I actually used the first two books in this series back when I taught English, so when I discovered them in Japanese I immediately devoured them. This is the first volume in the series and actually contains the first two books, Dinosaurs Before Dark and The Knight at Dawn.
The story follows a young brother and sister living in Pennsylvania, USA as they go on adventures back in time. I am sure you can guess where they go from the titles, so I will leave the rest up to you to discover! These books contain lots of fun gitaigo (擬態語) or Japanese onomatopoeia, and plenty of vocabulary to keep you busy for a long time.
At first, I found it tedious to look everything up, so I decided to only look up nouns I did not know, and verbs that were continuously repeated and whose meaning was difficult to comprehend from the context.
Approaching the book in that fashion made it smoother and more enjoyable to read. Before I knew it, I had finished my very first real Japanese book!
Book #3: 金の月のマヤ１ ： 黒のエルマニオ (Kin no Tuki no Maya 1: Kuro no Erumanio)
If you feel that you have moved beyond the Magic Tree House level (I felt that way after about five volumes), or want something a bit more challenging, I highly recommend this book. It is the first book in the fantasy trilogy 金の月のマヤ（きんのつきのマヤ）.
When I finally reached an appropriate level for this book, I really enjoyed it! It follows the story of a girl who gets transported into the Shadow World, which is actually a lot like the world she lives in. She is transported there essentially to save it. I will not give away much more, but lovers of fantasy, sci-fi, Harry Potter, and the likes should get a lot of enjoyment out of this book.
You will find that a lot of the vocabulary repeats itself, so while at first you may feel that you are in very unfamiliar territory, you will soon be blazing through page after page.
Book #4: 魔女の宅急便 (Majo no Takkyuubin)
I have to be honest, I am still reading this book as I just picked it up a few weeks ago. And while I am being honest, let me say that I love it! I think it would probably be better to read this book before 金の月のマヤ, but as I am still reading it, I put it at number four on the list.
I did not realize it when I first picked it up, but as you may already know, this is the book that the very famous movie Kiki's Delivery Service is based off of! What you may not have known is that this is just the first in a series of seven! I am super psyched to see how far my reading levels up when I finish reading all seven! I'm looking forward to seeing what happens in the story too, since I have never seen the movie!
This book is being published as part of the Fukuinkan Bunko, which publishes tons of classics and new books for young readers. There are other publishers just like this one, which I am just beginning to discover, such as Iwanami Shoten. I am super excited about these resources and looking forward to reading and reviewing even more of their books!
Book #5: 365本の花 (365 Hon no Hana)
This is a short story that would be most appropriate for intermediate Japanese readers. With an app like Wakaru, or an extension like Rikaikun/Rikaichan, it is easy enough to understand, even for lower intermediate level readers. The story is very touching, with some repetition which helps with comprehension. It is definitely a vocabulary booster, but more than anything it is a genuinely good short story.
I had a Japanese friend of mine read it and she was in tears by the end. So, with that in mind, I recommend this story not just for Japanese learners, but for all the native Japanese speakers here on italki as well! Tell your Japanese teacher about it! Or better yet, read it together! You can find it for free on the Hoshizora Bunko, or through the Wakaru App.