How did you progress onto full Japanese books?

As the topic suggests, I’m looking for insight into peoples experiences switching from graded readers and guided short stories onto native level Japanese content for tweens and up.

For me, I’m still trying to get to that point though I’ve read plenty of graded readers and short stories by this point, I’m still not ready to make the leap to fully native material. I have a plan that I’m following that does seem to be slowly but surely getting me to the stage I’m able to make the switch but I just wondered what everyone else’s experiences were.

What was your first native level book and why did you choose it?
How long had you been reading graded readers/ guided short stories or similar before you made the switch? Or did you just jump in with both feet and power through?
How did you feel when reading that first native level content?

I’m just curious about other peoples experiences and trying to see if I can glean any hints and tips for my own journey to help me through it while gaining a better understanding of the different path’s language learning can take. :slightly_smiling_face:

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I have only read one graded reader: First Japanese Reader (Japanese Graded Readers) | L22??. But, you already read it, so I think you are already ready to switch. :sweat_smile:
After that, I read ポレポレ日記 いざ、流星学園へ! | L21 which is beyond easy. When I read it, it was basically the only thing I could read that didn’t drive me up the wall due to difficulty. I don’t think I could have spent too long reading graded readers. Native content is just more interesting. I guess it would be a good idea to just sort by natively difficulty and go from there. I think most of Natively would tell you that it feels good to read native material! (that’s why we’re here :slight_smile:)

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Thanks, for replying :slightly_smiling_face: That’s a good shout. I’ve read a few books marked lv 20 - lv 22 so I should be able to read stuff around that level but most of the stuff I’ve read I’m still finding I’m looking a lot of it up for random words even if I understand the grammar. My kanji level isn’t as high as I’d like it so there’s a lot of kanji I need furigana for or need to put into DeepL (these books provide furigana for the first seeing of it in a chapter)even if I already know the vocabulary.

I think my main reason for still reading the graded readers/ guided short stories is to check that I’m understanding what I’m reading and that I’m able to test how I read best to learn while still enjoying what I’m reading, since these ones have questions and short paragraphs after each chapter but some also give explanations on more complex grammar structures since I’m learning alone without a tutor.

I have tried reading native level children’s books (the two Kitty detective books, the healer cat and tales of the friendly forest) but still found I was looking up a lot more than I should have been (approx 40-50%) and that I wasn’t understanding what I was reading at times which is why I switched back to reading the graded readers and guided short story books :sweat_smile:

I will take another go at it once I’ve completed the current shirt story books I’m reading.

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Jumping right in was what I ended up doing, even though I did try one of the Satori Reader graded readers first (I just couldn’t get into it). For me, it was easier to power through the pain of the difficulty than to read something I was less interested in. (The feeling of “oh wow I’m actually reading something I can’t read in English” helped a lot too there.)

That first bit of reading I did though was definitely less like reading and more like how I picture scholars trying to decipher ancient texts from dead languages though :sweat_smile: . I always had grammar references at the ready and pop-up dictionaries for vocab loaded up and I was reading out of those at least as much as out of the native material. But for me that “reading guided study” was a lot more fun than doing that same sort of study out of textbooks alone.

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So I never did any of the graded readers on here, but I did use Satori Reader for a bit which is basically the same thing, I’d guess most would be in the low to mid 20s?

Let me back up a bit.

I used to read the news. Started with NHK Easy and then graduated to regular news. I would read several news articles a day. When I maxed out on the value I felt I was getting from news articles / itching for something more, I signed up for Satori Reader. I was already at the point where only their hardest content was satisfying and most stories felt too simple (this was 2019, I don’t know how much content they’ve added since then). So, I felt stuck. But I’d just finished studying N3 grammar so I thought “whelp, Harry Potter is recommended a lot for language learners, I was obsessed with the books as a kid so I won’t even need to compare to the text!”. I read HP book 2 over the course of ~3 months and that was my first book. Second book was Dear Friends | L25 (absolutely hated it, but I could understand it), then 容疑者Xの献身 | L31 which also took me 3 months to complete. However, I timed myself - at the start of 容疑者 I was taking ~15 minutes per page. At the end I was at something like 4 minutes a page.

Lather, rinse, repeat. I looked up a ton, both grammar and vocab, while reading, I copied out sentences I couldn’t make sense of from googling to ask my tutor. I don’t think I started adding words to Anki until several books later, but can’t say for certain.

I think a lot has to do with your personal tolerance for ambiguity, how much looking up words grates on you, and how much you enjoy the content. I really dug 容疑者 so carefully dragging through sentence by sentence was like digging up treasure.

At some point I got into reading books alongside audiobooks which really helped a lot with solidifying readings of kanji into my head. I still listen to the 朗読 (read alongs) of short stories from Aozora Bunko just because it’s fun to hear all the varied narrators.

So I guess in short: I overdid myself on the news, then had a brief stint with graded readers, and launched myself face first into regular novels (next books: lvl 30, lvl 30, lvl 24, lvl 31, and lvl35 round out my first year reading novels). I have a high tolerance for ambiguity, don’t mind looking up words over and over, and had a solid grammar base. YMMV.

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I wrote an answer before saying I didn’t really ‘transition’ because I tried out native material early on, but I immediately realized that’s a terrible answer and also not true. I hardly used graded readers (I think I did read a couple Tadoku library books) but for a long time I did read articles from NHK news / easy news using a dedicated app, and probably other learner-oriented content I can’t remember off the top of my head. I also started reading manga after awhile, but when I decided I was going to finish a whole novel, I actually did do several things to ensure my success:

  • I picked ウォーリアーズ〈1〉ファイヤポー、野生にかえる | L25??, a translation of a children’s book I had read multiple times when I was younger. This way I basically knew the story already, so no chance of getting lost.
  • Especially at the beginning, I kept the English version nearby to check whenever I couldn’t understand a sentence, and sometimes just out of curiosity for how it was phrased originally.
  • As I recall, for the first week or so I made myself read for one hour a day. I found that by the end of that week I got through about 4-5 pages in that time, and afterwards I made my goal 5 pages a day. This was fun (for me at least), because I could feel myself getting (slightly) faster and my actual time spent reading each day slowly but surely dropped. YMMV, time goals are totally fine too, just as long as you have something.
  • I read a physical copy of the book, and I remember the satisfaction of holding the pages I’d finished between my fingers after each session was just… so good :relieved:

The fun of revisiting a book from my childhood kept me motivated (at least most of the time; I also occasionally forced myself to read when I didn’t want to, which I think is important to do sometimes) and after three months of fairly consistent effort, I had done it. Three months seems like a crazy length of time to me now, and at the time I remember thinking it was probably one of the longest commitments I’d ever done entirely of my own choice, lol. Maybe that’s why it’s still one of the longest books I’ve ever read in Japanese :sweat_smile:

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I never read graded readers or any non-native material. I jumped into 魔女の宅急便 1 | L25 immediately after reading the first two volumes of よつばと! (series) | L17. Why did I choose it? I didn’t, really. It was part of a WaniKani book club, so I read it along with a group there. How did I feel? Extremely overwhelmed for the first 2-3 months. But I learned a lot even when I was overwhelmed, and I felt like I got through the second half of the book much better. (The book club read it over 6 months.)

I don’t have many tips, but I’d say be patient and don’t be afraid to ask for help (or join a book club so the help is built in). When you do try to read a book, it’s also okay to take it slow or put it down for a while if you need to recharge.

Oh, I should add that when I read my first book my grammar knowledge was very weak, my kanji knowledge relatively strong, and my vocab also fairly weak. So if you have more experience (especially with grammar) it may be smoother for you.

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My background is a bit similar to Cat’s.
I started of with a lot of NHK news easy and it got very easy.
Did real news as part of school (believe it or not, real news is not much more difficult than NHK news easy, kanji aside)
And read many many manga volumes.
Originally broke into normal books with Magic Tree House, 星 新一 short stories, and then Harry Potter, and eventually Satori reader.
I had a lot of failures with other books.

Lately it seems to be trendy to read native material very quickly, but I have some experience with beginner/intermediate reading groups and saw a lot of people who were misunderstanding almost every sentence.

Most of the best people I know at Japanese got awesome at reading Japanese through visual novels or other video games, and while I am not that into visual novels, it seems like a highly effective way to get used to reading Japanese.

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Thanks :slightly_smiling_face: The pop up dictionarys are a great idea. I should maybe buy more e-books to make use of them. Most of my books are physical copies, purely because I prefer having a book to hold instead of a device and screens affect my eyes if I use them too long.

The stuff I’ve been reading I have been enjoying. Maybe not as much as if it was a proper story and not just learning material though.

Did you find as you went on with the same book, that it got easier and there was less time looking things up? Or did you find that it was about the same then a gradual change as you read more and more?

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Thanks :slightly_smiling_face: I’ve an app for Wanikani that lets me read news articles and such with knowing at least 70% of the vocabulary (you can change it to any % between 70-100% known words) that I’ve used a bit but I found a lot of the news articles boring to me. Possibly because I don’t read the news in my native language. They were helpful when first starting to read though so maybe I should go back to reading those as well.

I have the Harry Potter series in Japanese as well as the Japanese audio books. I’ve listened to them but not read them as there’s no furigana but listening along while reading might be a better idea. I usually only listen or read because I find I tend to day dream when I’m trying to do both at the same time.

My ambiguity tolerance seems to depend entirely on my mood and what I’m reading. I’ve re-read things in Japanese that I’ve read in Spanish only o find that I didn’t really understand it the first time round because I was happy with the ambiguity and missed some of the important bits.

What were the other novels you read that you’ve marked the levels for? Were they part of book clubs? Suggested by other readers or just something you liked the idea of?

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Thanks :slightly_smiling_face: Is that book part of Warrior cats? I’ve never read them myself, they weren’t around when I was younger or at least weren’t known then.

I do prefer physical books to e-books for that same reason. Gives a sense of achievement for me to see the remaining pages getting smaller and smaller.

For the short storybooks I’ve been reading, I’ve been trying to read a chapter a day which is around 4-6 pages. If not, then I’ve been reading short stories from tadoku free or at keast a page so I’m still reading even if I’m not up for it. While working, I finit easier to read because I can go sit somewhere quiet and just read over my break or lunch but at home it’s more difficult and has more distractions so it’s usually late at night or very early in the morning.

Think the only childhood book I could find was Harry Potter. Most of the others I read as a kid were only in English and don’t seem to have translations. The magic treehouse stuff is possibly closest to one (the magic faraway tree by Enid Blighton) but from what I’ve seen it’s still very different which I think put me off reading them though there are a few I might read if I could get them.

I’m slightly limited on where I can get books from and how much I’m willing to pay for them but most of mine are paperback bunko though I do have a few that are larger and hardback and I do have a few manga as well.

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Thanks :slightly_smiling_face: 魔女の宅急便 1 | L25 is on of the books I want to read but still feel a little too intimidated by. I also still need to pick up a copy of it as well.

My grammar level is approx N4 or close to though that’s probably too low for me to actually read any native material unguided, but it’s definitely higher than my kanji knowledge. Vocabulary is definitely higher N4 though I do know some N3 and N2 vocabulary I’ve picked up through reading.

Did you use anything to help with grammar understanding at all (like dictionary of grammar series) or was it just the book clubs?

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Thanks :slightly_smiling_face: I did notice some of my misunderstandings have been from the ambiguity of whatever I’ve reading due to me mot looking things up if I vaguely understand them or at least think I vagely understand them. I’ve no issue with ambiguity depending on my mood and tiredness levels but I find that if I re-read it and understand it differently it makes me want to fully re-read everything I’ve already read just to check I’ve understood it.

I have been reading the first chapter of the short stories intensively then reading the rest extensively but looking up the occasional word here and there and finding I’ve understood better so was gong to use that for the first few chapters when I switch to native material to see if that helps.

The book clubs are a good shout, I do find myself intimidated by the pace of them though which is why I’ve not joined another one. I’ve attempted them through a different site which did multilingual books so that anyone could join in but I seem to have an aversion to anything that seems to pit me against other people since I feel I learn pretty slow (been learning Japanese properly for over 2 years and I’m not even fully confident at N4 yet) :sweat_smile:

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I read some bilingual readers and then read quite a few manga. These got me more used to reading Japanese, and since the manga usually had furigana that also helped out with kanji. When I read my first book it was a whole new experience though - I found it very difficult and slow going, but I persisted page by page. My second book was quite slow as well, but I understood so much more! I didn’t choose by level, I just picked up books that appealed to me. You might find short story collections helpful as well, since you can sense your progress much more with those!

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My first book was Skycrawlers. I decided to read it because I got a free ticket to the anime and enjoyed it. It was 2006 or 2007, before I got JLP1, before the JLPN started. I decided to read Japanese books again after I watched an academic discussion about the book 沈黙 沈黙 | L39
The book is about the Portuguese missionaries when Christianity was forbidden in Japan. I also read a couple of stories with translations and audio books a long time ago. It took me a lot of time to complete the book.
So, my tip here is using audiobooks. I really like reading while listening to the audiobook version of a book. This allows me to enjoy the book in a good rhythm and there is much less need to use the dictionary. After reading/listening two audiobooks of an author (Ikeido Jun) it felt really easy to read the third book unassisted.

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  1. October 2020: started working on Genki.
  2. December 2020: started reading graded readers.
  3. January 2021: started reading manga, beginning with よつばと! 1 | L17. I chose it because I loved it when I read it in English and it’s almost universally recommended for beginners.
  4. June 2021: started reading kids books, beginning with 動物と話せる少女リリアーネはじめてのものがたり しあわせの黒いねこ | L17. I chose it because it was short and easy since it was targeted at children in Japan learning how to read. And it had a cat on the cover.
  5. February 2022: started reading tween books, beginning with 華麗なる探偵アリス&ペンギン | L23. I chose it because someone recommended it as an easy and mildly entertaining book.
  6. July 2022: started my first light novel くまクマ熊ベアー 1 | L24. I read it so I could join a cult because a lot of people recommended it as a fairly easy book and I like video games so the lingo would be familiar to me.

I guess the tl;dr is I read things because they seem easy and at least mildly interesting.

My timeline makes it look like I decisively jumped from one level to the next to the next, but it’s actually all a jumble, because I was still using textbooks and graded readers for a long time after I started native material, and I’m still reading kids books even after finishing a light novel. It hasn’t been a straight line of progression; it’s been an erratic and highly inefficient zigzag of trial and error.

It felt like decoding, not like reading, because almost every sentence had to picked apart and analyzed in order to be understood. It was very slow. It was exhausting, not just mentally but physically and even emotionally. A lot of the time, it was like ramming my head against a brick wall. But it was also incredibly exciting. I was thrilled every single time I read a sentence without struggling or recognized a kanji I had studied. Interestingly, I found stories were much more emotionally affecting than they normally would be — sad things were sadder, funny things were funnier. I suppose it was because Japanese was so new and alien to me that it made everything, even banal children’s book plots twists, seem fresh and new. This effect, sadly, has been wearing off as I get better at the language, but I enjoyed it while it lasted.

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I already mentioned how I started reading in another thread. (tl;dr: 2 years of Japanese classes then suddenly manga). It took then a few years to move to actual books, with a few attempts here and there. During that time, I kept learning Japanese and read probably around 300 manga volumes? In the other thread, I only mentioned the first successful attempt at reading a full book, but I guess I should also mention that I made regular attempts during the period leading to that point. The most notable one was たのしいムーミン一家 | L18??. I made it to the halfway point when I was around N3, but eventually gave up. After every failed attempt, I would just be depressed and binge random manga series from Bookoff and go back to studying.

So, I guess I just banged my head on the wall until the wall broke.

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I kinda jumped head first instead of transitioning.

I go over how I study on this Bunpro thread if you want background information.

As to why I didn’t really transition, is because I think my Kanji study was flawed. The methods I tried before Kanji Kentei (Basically Japanese School Grade order), had weird criteria for teaching which Kanji.

Aside from the method which you might or might not agree with, the order where you are presented the Kanjis doesn’t feel just natural. Some go from easy to hard writing. Some go by radical order, others go by JLPT level etc.

When I switched to Kanji Kentei, after 2 levels I could already start picking up certain books and be able to read them without having to look up every single word. You just need to pick up the appropriate material according to your level, while if you go for let’s say WaniKani or KanjiGarden order, you are going to struggle to find (Book clubs might make this more doable if you are a WK user, but I’m not a fan of having my reads curated for me).

So as for what materials I went with, I tried graded readers. They are great for reading, but they don’t keep me hooked up. Feels like a chore and I fear that it might make me grow a dislike for reading, like the forced school books did to me in the past (Thanks for making a kid read Kafka, that was great mind○○○k)

After I did 2.5 levels of Kanji Kentei I went for this:

Manga wise:

Reasoning: From what I had laying around that I bought it cheap used in Japan, this had a decent amount of volumes, and I liked the premise, and had furigana and what seemed easy plot/words.

Light novel wise:

Reasoning: So, I strongly suggest people jump to real light novels as soon as possible after my experience with these books, instead of graded reads, if your end game is being able to read. It gives a more realistic experience to reading. I choose that series, because among the easy light novel serializations, is the one that hooked me story-wise.

So these are the “easy” light novels, aimed mainly for kids, and great materials if you go by Kanji Kentei / School grade order:

Some of these publishers have popular titles like Suzumiya Haruhi, Demon Slayer… so you are not only stuck with original titles, there’s a bit of everything, and has a variety that I struggled to find with graded readers.

The TL;DR is, find a “easy” light novel that matches your tastes, and go for it.
I’m not trying to go against graded readers and other materials, but it was just not for me.


This is the best feeling. And finishing a book on your own has a special excitement too.
The key for me for progressing with Kanji was seeing that I could start applying to real world material.

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That was one of the first manga series I also read! I agree that it’s a very easy read.
I picked it because it was long, which means that it must be good, right? I also kept reading it for a while (since it was ongoing at the time) and I was really hoping for the two main characters to get together (not realizing at the time that, for such series it probably doesn’t happen until the end). The fan service eventually overcame my limits and I just dropped it, though :sweat_smile:

Hard agree on that. If I could go back in time, I’d probably tell my younger self to just power through some of those easy children book (didn’t know what light novels were at the time)

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Without derailing the topic too much, I have the newest volume coming up on Monday, but the series has other bigger issues for me right now, that I’ll probably share on the currently reading thread or in a review. Hope to be wrong though, we will see.

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