I read 14 books in Japanese this year, and picked out my top three books that I think everyone should read, and my bottom three books that you should not waste your time on.


My Favorite Three Japanese Novels of 2023

52ヘルツのクジラたち by Sonoko Machida

Woman from Tokyo moves to a small seaside town where everyone is in everyone else’s business. Why is she there? And why does she pick up a mute child that she finds on the street?

This book blew me away. It so well written. Unlike a lot of Japanese novels that feel like they take forever to kick-off, this novels starts strong and keeps up the pace. This was a page turner for me that I devoured.

There are a lot of heavy topics about abuse and suicide, but the descriptions aren’t graphic, which I really appreciated.

CW: child abuse, domestic abuse, suicide

Entertainment level: ★★★★★
Japanese level: ★★★★☆

52ヘルツのクジラたち by Machida Sonoko best Japanese novel of 2023


アリス殺し by Yasumi Kobayashi

What if all your dreams are of another life in another world? And what if when you die in this other world, you die in the real world?

The Murder of Alice is a fantastic novel that I had so much fun with. The story is almost entirely written in dialogue, and because of the Alice in Wonderland setting, the dialogue has a lot of play on words and jumps in logic. It helps to understand the original story of Alice in Wonderland, but if you do, this novel is a joy to read.

Entertainment level: ★★★★☆
Japanese level: ★★★★☆

アリス殺し by Yasumi Kobayashi best Japanese novel of 2023


誰が勇者を殺したか by Daken

The Demon King threatening the world has been defeated and all but one of the hero’s party returned. The Demon King didn’t kill the heo, so who did?

I would describe this as a cozy fantasy mystery. The novel follows someone investigating what happened to the hero through interviewing his party members, but then the narrative switches to segments of the hero’s life from the perspective of his friends and himself.

There’s no great mystery (it’s easy to work out what happened), and the writing is very immature (a lot of tell don’t show), but I really liked the chill, cozy vibe and fell in love with all the characters.

The writing is very simple, and great for N3 reader, but the words and kanji used are fantasy based, so it really helps to read this novel digitally so you can easily look up words.

Entertainment level: ★★★☆☆
Japanese level: ★★★☆☆ ~ ★★★★★

誰が勇者を殺したか by Daken best Japanese novel of 2023


My Least Favorite Japanese Novels of 2023

終電前のちょいごはん by Nagi Shimeno

Want a meal before you head home? Check out this restaurant, but only when the moon is out.

I picked this novel up because it’s based in an area of Fukuoka that I worked in. But there wasn’t really a sense of place that I was expecting. There wasn’t really a sense of anything.

Each chapter follows a new character as they go through some first world problem or another and end up sorting it out. They also go to this restaurant/bar, although the place doesn’t always have much to do with resolving their issues.

It was a very, very boring read that I had to force myself to read until I finally dropped it after the half-way point.

Entertainment level: ★☆☆☆☆
Japanese level: ★★★★☆

終電前のちょいごはん by Nagi Shimeno


紅蓮館の殺人 by Atsukawa Tatsumi

Murder mystery with people trapped in a mansion as a forest fire gradually gets closer and closer.

I really, really wanted to like this book but I really didn’t. All the characters annoyed me and I rolled my eyes so hard at the trope of having a “famous detective” who was a high school boy that helped the police. But also a “female famous detective” who was in college when she was helping the police, but then she quit because reasons, but she’s also too dumb to realize anything.

I ended up dropping this book and reading the story synopsis and I’m so glad I dropped it. In the end, the story was convoluted and it felt like there were plot twists after plot twists just for the sake of having plot twists.

Entertainment level: ★★☆☆☆
Japanese level: ★★★★☆

紅蓮館の殺人 by Atsukawa Tatsumi


100万回生きたきみ by Takafumi Nanatsuki

Girl has been reincarnated so many times that she doesn’t see the point in living anymore. That is, until her classmate saves her.

I am so annoyed by this novel. The first two chapters were fantastic. Really brilliant. There was a great twist, a good mystery, and then….pfft.

I won’t go into detail on the plot but the main character just didn’t do anything. They had a goal but didn’t do anything to try to achieve it. When they finally got to the thing they were trying to get to, other characters did everything for them.

It also had a heavy eye-roll moment later in the book because of the smart, rich, I-can-do-anything female character McGuffin troupe that was so unrealistic. I’m glad I finished this one but annoyed by how the story concluded.

Entertainment level: ★★★☆☆
Japanese level: ★★★☆☆ ~ ★★★★★

100万回生きたきみ by Takafumi Nanatsuki


Want to find more novels in Japanese? Check out these book reviews!

Or check out LearnNatively for finding Japanese novels at your reading level!