Japanese Graded Readers Review: Enjoy reading more

japanese graded readers 3 and 4

Let’s face it, textbooks about people named Mary or Takeshi are boring. Most people will get bored learning from the same resource, especially with reading practice. Reading is not always fun, especially with dry textbooks. That’s why I want to talk about Japanese Graded Readers and why they are a fun, refreshing way to practice Japanese reading.

What are Japanese Graded Readers?

japanese graded readers side view

It’s difficult to see from pictures, but Japanese Graded Readers are a boxed set of stories that were written specifically for Japanese learners. It’s a nice break from the dull, lifeless reading in standard Japanese textbooks. Every story has a new art style, making the stories interesting and motivating you to get through the reading. There are many different levels for learners, so you can find the level that is right for you.

Why do I need Japanese Graded Readers? Can’t I buy manga or children’s books?

I don’t recommend trying to practice reading by using Japanese children’s books. In my experience, it was more frustrating to read children’s books than anything else. Getting used to reading a story or paragraphs of information in Japanese is important. You also want to match reading content that is the same as your ability. What Japanese learners know and what Japanese children know are vastly different. With Japanese Graded Readers, the content and writing style can go deeper or be more abstract without making you feel like a child that can only say a few words.

Japanese comics are also a way to practice reading, but it’s not enough because comics are mostly dialogue and not stories or information. I would always wince when I had to read a large chunk of Japanese text on paper compared to the short dialogues found in comics. It’s better to get yourself used to reading more than just short sentences.

What kind of stories are there?

japanese graded readers stories

There are many kinds of stories and articles in Japanese Graded Readers. There’s everything from famous Japanese fairy tales to information about Japanese money or the atomic bomb.

japanese graded readers horror
japanese graded readers kaguyahime
japanese graded readers money

I credit the books for helping me learn a lot of fairy tales and Japanese folklore. If it weren’t for those books, I wouldn’t have been aware of some famous stories or catch some of the references made in Japanese entertainment.

Volumes and Levels, Oh my! Where to start?

For someone not familiar with the series, it can be overwhelming trying to decide where to begin. I’ve translated the chart so you can easily match up which level you need.

japanese graded readers levels

There are also many volumes for each level. That’s just additional stories for that specific level, so you can buy any volume, but make sure the level is your ability level. Don’t mistakenly buy level 4 if your vocabulary knowledge is at level 1 or 2.

For those thinking about taking the JLPT:
Definitely go for a level higher than what you think you are. You’re going to want to challenge yourself to improve your reading and vocabulary.

I’m allergic to paper, what can I do? Any digital versions?

japanese graded readers ipad

Well, you’re in luck! There are digital versions of the Japanese Graded Readers available for the iPad. This can be a good way to choose what stories you want to read without paying the full price of physical books.

However, I do strongly recommend buying the physical sets because they are worth it and the satisfaction you get from reading a physical book written in Japanese will help keep you motivated.

Where can I buy the physical editions?

I bought mine a long time ago from WhiteRabbit Press, a reputable online store that specializes in Japanese goods and study materials. They have all the books available along with previews of the stories, so you can see which ones you’re interested in. They also have worldwide shipping, which is great for everyone.

Japanese Graded Readers Level 0 – Vol. 1

Japanese Graded Readers Level 1 – Vol. 1

Japanese Graded Readers Level 2 – Vol. 1

Final Thoughts

I’ve wanted to talk about the Japanese Graded Readers for a long time because they are so great. Every time I introduce them to someone or mention them in a presentation, they are highly received. I’ve been through all the levels, so I can comfortably recommend them to everyone.

If you are slowing down in your Japanese studies, refresh yourself by getting into this book series. You won’t regret it.

6 thoughts on “Japanese Graded Readers Review: Enjoy reading more”

  1. These are just what I need! I’m going through minna no nihongo now and I’m burnt out. Maybe those japanese readers will help. Planning to get the second level and challenge myself a little.

  2. Hi Bryan. Just wanted to ask why Japanese children’s books are not recommended? Actually, I bought some 辞典 targeted for primary school students and I am learning a lot from them. As for fictional stories, I found that they use a common literary style and there are specific words you don’t usually encounter on a daily basis; but I think that’s okay.

    Btw, have you read the “Read Real Japanese” books? What do you think of them?

    • Yeah, I guess I should elaborate what I mean by children’s books. Stuff like picture dictionaries are really great and when you get to the higher elementary school level books you’re probably fine. The vision I had in my head was someone wanting to get into reading Japanese for the first time but get away from their textbook.

      In that case, I would recommend Japanese Graded Readers which are designed with Japanese learners in mind versus content made for native speakers which might assume certain experience or knowledge.

      I have both of the “Read Real Japanese” books and I like them. 🙂 You get exposed to a lot of different authors, topics, etc. It’s a great way to start once you’re comfortable with navigating kanji-heavy blobs of text.

  3. Thank you for the excellent and helpful review of these books! They are my favorite tool for learning how to read Japanese. Do you know if the vocabulary word count for each level is in addition to the previous level? In other words, after finishing level 4, do you know 1,300 words in total, or 3,300 words? (350+350+500+800+1,300)

    • Hey Will, thanks for stopping by.

      The vocabulary word count for each level stands alone, so I don’t believe they stack. However, the word count becomes quite large the higher level you go.


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