It’s often hard for beginners to find suitable materials for practicing Japanese reading. It’s tricky to find something suitable for you because every person is different. What you learn as a beginner, what you enjoy, what works best for you, etc., will be different from someone else.
Below are some suggestions (including pros and cons) for beginners Japanese reading and listening including text books and materials made for young Japanese natives.
Beginner’s Japanese Reading Books
If you’re in a class and working through a textbook there will often be reading sections. These are great because they will cover grammar, vocabulary and kanji that you’ve been learning, but they won’t be written like a native.
If you’re not in class and you want to practice reading then there are some textbooks you can use.
There are 2 Genki books in the series and are made for beginners (JLPT N5-N4). They are well rounded books that tries to use a balance of speaking, reading, listening and writing. With 23 lessons covering 300 kanji and 1100 vocabulary and grammar.
Exercises are written in the book so you don’t have to buy an extra workbook (although there are workbooks useful for extra practice). Lessons are set up with a conversation (to be practiced out loud) with a translation; vocabulary list; grammar; lots of practice exercises. It’s designed so that you learn the vocabulary, grammar and kanji through use and comes with a CD for listening exercises as well as the conversation.
A great book for self study because of the exercises (if you don’t write in the book you can do them over and over for more practice) and clearly laid out pages which makes it easy to work though. The most expensive, but worth it considering what you get from it.
These books are split into 4 with beginners I and II, followed by intermediate I and II. Each book has 25 chapters (100 chapters by the end of Intermediate II). Each chapter has vocabulary; practice conversational sentences; exercise; grammar, as well as CDs for listening practice. Each text book comes with a separate workbook as the texts don’t have as much practice as Genki does. They also provided romaji versions (for those not interested in learning to read Japanese), and a kana workbook (for those that are).
Personally I am more of a fan of Genki for self-study because I find Minna very intensive and compact making it harder to read (for me). If you are self teaching you may also need to buy the translation book as the texts don’t come with English explanations (they expect you to be working with a Japanese teacher).
This was a wordpress site made by someone studying Japanese who also created some great study resources. Sadly the site is no longer updated and all the links lost, but one reddit post had a link to this fantastic pdf:
It’s a fairly hefty document with reading practice for very beginners, which means not much kanji and very basic vocabulary. But each page builds up the reading sections length and vocabulary (with lists and meanings at the bottom of the page).
Materials for Young Native Japanese People
As a beginner it’s great to practice reading using materials that have been written for young native Japanese people.
Every person is different, how they learn and what they learn as a beginner. Finding texts written for natives that you can understand can be hard. Texts written for young Japanese people may have kanji, vocabulary and grammar that you’re not familiar with. But being exposed to them will help you grow and get used to reading Japanese as natives write them.
Children’s books for young Japanese people can be great for beginners studying Japanese! You can find some online at sites like Children’s Books Forever. Or buy them in the US from Kinokuniya, WhiteRabbitJapan, or for kindle on Amazon.co.jp.
Amazon Japan can be a little daunting if you don’t know Japanese, but if you can find other people’s suggestions for books you can look up the Japanese name for it in Amazon.co.jp
The thing about fantasy children’s stories is there may be words that you wouldn’t normally learn in textbooks. (Such as 銀河 (ginga) = galaxy.) Which may be what you’re looking for, or may not be.
In my post Manga for Beginners and in Good Anime to Watch I talked about the importance of finding shows/books that are slice of life. This is because more commonly used vocabulary and grammar will appear compared to fantasy/sci-fi. But if you want to learn fantasy/sci-fi it’s never too early to start!
News for Young Japanese
Japanese news is a great resource for studying at all levels! And NHK has made a fantastic website for young people with real news, but with furigana above the kanji.
News Web Easy is made by Japanese people for young Japanese people. It comes with audio, pictures and definitions for words (in Japanese).
The Japan News is a great resource made for foreigners. It’s a bilingual news website with kanji readings for beginners and the English translation underneath.
Matcha Travel Blog for Young Japanese
Similar to News Web Easy is Matcha Easy, a travel blog written by Japanese people with furigana over the kanji. So you can learn all about Japan while practicing your Japanese!
If you’re on a website and want to know the English definition as well as reading I suggest getting the plugins Rikai-chan (Firefox) or Rikai-kun (Chrome). With these you can go on any Japanese website, hover over a word, and the meaning will pop up. Saves you changing windows to get to a Japanese dictionary.