Japanese light novels are a fantastic way to practice your Japanese! Light novels (or 小説) are, as the name suggests, smaller, easy to get through stories.
Japanese light novels often have long on-going series with 6-20+ books! So if you don’t like the first book you can easily drop it, but if you love it you can hooked for long on-going stories which improves your kanji/vocabulary/grammar even more!!
The title for this says “5 Japanese Light Novels for Beginners” but by “beginners” I mean people who have never read a Japanese light novel before.
I strongly suggest you have at least JLPT N3 level of Japanese before you start reading some of these. (Sure you can start sooner, but it’s more challenging without basic vocabulary and grammar knowledge.)
What Kind of Japanese Light Novels Should a Beginner Read?
As I’ve mentioned many times when talking about using anime or manga, the best thing to do is read slice-of-life stories. If you’ve never read a light novel before it’ll be a bit of a shock to try and jump right into a story about space battles with lots of sci-fi and military terms.
Avoid sci-fi, high fantasy, history and military (unless you’re a little more advanced and those are areas you’re interested in learning the Japanese for).
You can also pick up light novels for anime/manga you already know. Many anime are based on light novels, so if you’ve seen the series already you’ll already have an idea for what’s happening. This is a great help if you come across a section you’re not sure about.
You can also pick up novels that have been translated into Japanese from English. I know many people who have read Harry Potter in Japanese because they’ve read the English version so often.
Tips for Reading Japanese Light Novels
An electric dictionary on your phone and keyboard that allows you to draw kanji is a life-saver. I use JED combined with mazec3 (Japanese) and although I paid for the keyboard, it’s WORTH it. JED also allows you to tag words so you can look them up later and put into a flash card deck if you want to study them.
I would say when you’re reading try to keep going, even if you don’t understand something. Look up key words as you go, but try not to stop and write them down (which is why tagging is useful). If you stop you’ll break your flow and might not find reading as enjoyable as you’d like.
5 Japanese Light Novels (in Japanese) for Beginners
The following are 5(ish) Japanese light novels that I suggest beginners try out. Starting with the easiest going down to a little more challenging reads.
There are certainly similar elements and characters, such as Tombo and the bakers, but the story is actually very different. It’s fun to read and find these differences. And if you continue reading beyond the first novel you’ll also start finding out about what happens to Kiki and Tombo when they’re grown!
魔女の宅急便 is an incredibly easy read and a great book to start with. Each chapter feels like a different story in Kiki’s life, making the books easy to digest. It’s certainly more like a slice-of-life than a fantasy novel.
The kanji is very simple which makes it great for JLPT N4-N3 levels, although you will still find yourself looking up words now and then.
I think this light novel is great for beginners because it feels like a よんこま (4 panel manga) in novel form. Each ‘chapter’ is only between 2-4 pages long making them very easy to finish within a day.
It also means it’s an easy book to put down and pick up again, as you don’t have to worry about losing your place in the story.
There’s also a fair amount of furigana for more complex kanji, making is perfect for people with N3 level Japanese.
It’s a hilarious series that you’ll find yourself storming through.
This means a variety of writing styles and engaging stories. Also lots of fantastic commonly used vocabulary and kanji that you might not see in a normal slice-of-life story because they explore different topics from just romance.
Short stories like these also mean you don’t have read the entire book to finish a narrative. So if you didn’t understand a story or didn’t enjoy it, you have plenty of others to chose from!
When とらドラ！ was released it was not your typical romance story. Now stories about about two characters trying to help each other get their crushes are everywhere. But the dynamic between the characters in とらドラ！are both uniquely fun and dramatic.
The entire series has finished with 10 volumes of the light novel (as well as a spin off novel, manga and an anime). So if you prefer an over-arching story-line (rather than short stories) I strongly suggest you read this.
It’s a fairly easy book to get through so perfect for beginners at a high N3-N2 level. A little more kanji for than 魔女の宅急便 though.
It’s a fun series of books, although can get a little confusing with the tactical jargon and game references. I would say this is better for JLPT N2 level.
Once you get into it the story is really engaging. Sometimes you don’t even realize you’re reading Japanese!
So I did say there would be 5 Japanese Light Novels for beginners… and I did say to avoid fantasy/history/military etc… but this isn’t really a novel for beginners. I love this series of novels though, which is why I threw it in…
For those that don’t, know it’s about a ‘Demon Lord’ and a ‘Hero’ who team up to stop the war between demons and humans by improving the overall standard of living.
There is a fair share of economics, farming, political, religious, fantasy, philosophical, and military & tactical vocabulary. As well as rare kanji.
And there’s also a lot of interesting conversational Japanese including a range of ‘tones’ from farmers (countryside dialects) to kings (keigo).
There are 2 things which are special about this novel which is why I think it’s good for people who are up for a challenge:
- Any ‘difficult’ vocabulary (from the perspective of the all knowing Demon Lord) has a side note explaining that word in Japanese. It’s like the book has it’s own internal glossary. Explaining words like ガンダム.
- The entire novel is a series of conversations. There are NO descriptive paragraphs, just characters talking with one another. Almost like a script but it makes for a very entertaining read.
There’s an anime out too so if you want to give this one a try but aren’t sure, go watch the anime. The anime stays fairly close to the novel which helps if you get stuck.
Where Can I Get Light Novels in Japanese?
I love collecting books when I go to Japan. Mostly from Book Offs (second hand book shops). But if you can’t get to Japan then you can easily order them online.
Amazon Japan – The website is in Japanese but if you’re at the level you’re reading books at, this shouldn’t be a problem! You can order books and get them delivered outside of Japan fairly easily.
Kinokuniya Online USA – American Japanese book importers send across the world! Although the P&P can get pricey if you’re ordering less than $50 or outside of the US.