When to Read manga and light novels

This is similar to another post I made but I wanted to know when would be a good time to start reading light novels and manga. I just finished N5 today (woohoo) and I would like to have N4 tackled by July. I am also level 9 on wanikani and am slowly ranking up. I want to read mid-level light novels and manga. Would N4 be sufficient for this? (maybe something like quints or dr. stone is what I would want to read).

:slight_smile:

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That depends on how motivated you are. You can start reading at anytime, you don’t have to understand everything right away. Use it as a learning tool and look up everything that you don’t know. You can make flashcards of those unknown words and learn them alongside your formal studies. If the content is something you are highly interested in then there is no problem, so I would recommend trying your favorite manga.

For light novels, I would recommend holding off until you have a bit more grammar and vocab. Maybe try an easy light novel once you finish N4 stuff. You can do it whenever, but it might be harder to follow along and you will be looking up a lot more per page.

If you’re doing manga, I recommend getting the digital version and if you read it on your PC you can use OCR from something like ShareX to help you copy the words our browser so you can look them up with Yomichan and easily generate flash cards. If you want to read on a phone, the Kantan Manga app on iOS has great OCR and there is a beta with support for generating Anki cards. On Android there is a fork of the Tachiyomi app which does the same, but for those two apps you will need to rip the DRM from the ebooks and tranfer them to your phone so keep that in mind. On desktop you can use the native desktop reader of whatever storefront you buy it from and use ShareX to scan words and copy images.

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There’s a website I discovered recently: https://learnnatively.com/

It has grades for a large number of books, so you can see roughly how difficult they are

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This is just my personal experience, but I always found grammar wasn’t the problem when it came to reading, but vocabulary. I really struggled with manga until I finished all the N5 vocabulary and got midway into N4. Light novels didn’t really become approachable until the middle-to-end of N3 vocabulary.

That being said, I also second the https://learnnatively.com/ recommendation.

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I think Manga is more easier than light novel for N4 and N5 level. If you want to read something that still makes you enjoy the book/manga and without looking at dictionary every sentences, here is my path, might be helpful for you as a reference :

I started reading Yotsubato ( manga) after I just finished N5 level learning (grammar and vocab).

The way how I prepared myself for manga reading is to go thru the Memrise Yotsubato Vocabulary list (yes, someone made a course on that) , and only start to read a book after I finished all the vocab listed in the Memrise course for that particular book.

FYI, there is still a bunch of words that isn’t covered by Memrise course, but I use Wanikani reading club’s google sheet as a aid while I was reading as well.

And as what others mentioned here, Learnnatively is a very good reference to understand what level you are at, and what are the books/manga/novels is around your level.

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While I’ve only just started breaking into more dedicated reading material like books and manga (N4 ~ N5, Level 21 on WaniKani), I highly recommend SatoriReader. It’s a fairly affordable subscription service with interactive stories, where you can click on every word, grammar particle, etc. to see what it is supposed to be. It also has audio for each sentence. This makes it accessible even if its stories are above your current level. You can add every word you don’t recognize to its built-in flash card system with the click of a button, then review between readings. If you’re on WK, it also lets you import your kanji lists from WK with customizable options for how that’ll change your reading experience.

My reading comprehension is still pretty low, but I feel that I made a mistake in waiting so long to start reading. No matter when you start, transitioning from a controlled environment to reading out in the wild is a hard process. You have to look up stuff constantly, be prepared to still not understand, and just keep going. If you’re patient, and dedicated though, you can begin any time. Graded readers are also a good resource for customizing your reading to something more manageable and less frustrating.

On this end, manga is accessible, but as mentioned, requires looking tons of stuff up.

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I started reading manga fairly early on (after I felt comfortable with N5 stuff) but that was Chi’s Sweet Home and Yotsubato. A lot of other manga would probably require N4 level.
As for light novels, they are harder than manga. I’m about N3 level at the moment, and I’m reading 蜘蛛ですが何か which isn’t too bad now that I’m about half way through the first volume and I’m getting used to it.
I recommend the app Book Walker for manga and light novels. You can read quite a bit of manga for free on there, often first volumes of a variety of series, so it is worth having a look at it for those. Have a flick through a few free volumes and see how you feel.

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I recommend starting as soon as possible. As long as you are motivated and find the right material for you, you are set to go. Try to read a bit every day, although I haven’t been able to keep with up lately, until recently I was reading at least 3-5 pages every day (I hope to be able to resume this soon).

Don’t be fooled with the format though, there are manga out there harder than novels. That said, if you want to venture into the light novel, I recommend you either start with graded reads (not for me) or easy light novel series.

For example, I started reading this:

Light novel publishing labels to look for:

You can find free samples of this in Amazon JP, provided you have a JP billing address. There’s also physical releases which I kinda prefer, but sometimes an e-book is more convenient or the only practical option.

As other recommended, bookmeter (in Japanese only) and learnatively are great tools. Learnatively is good for finding something that might be your level, while bookmeter is better at finding something based on what you have read that might interest you.

If one of your objectives is to be able to read, here’s a TL;DR

  • Find something that interests you and start as soon as possible.

  • Avoid extremely specific topic based works, and don’t be fooled by the format for judging difficulty.

  • Do a bit every day.

PS: If you create a learnatively account, be sure to share it! I always like to see what others are reading in the community, might be able to find something great for myself too!

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With manga you can start out pretty much whenever. It’ll definitely be difficult, and it might be worthwhile to come back and re-read it later when you know more, but having the pictures along with the words really helps.
Regarding light novels, I’m level 48 in Wanikani, have finished N2 grammar on bunpro, and have only now really started to understand light novels. I’ve read two child-targeted light novels before and, while I could understand a lot, since they have so little kanji in them it was difficult to understand since it just felt like a blob of hiragana. I’d recommend holding off on light novels till you know a lot more Kanji and grammar.
Lastly, in both cases, google lens is really helpful for quickly looking up unknown words (although it is cumbersome to keep looking up stuff so I only OCR a sentence/page if I am really lost).

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Wanikani has bookclubs from absolute beginner level on with many great reading suggestions. That might give you an idea where to start. I started with Yotsubato and Shirokuma café, then jumped into 魔女の宅急便… which was easy grammar and vocab wise, but I struggled with Kanji. There is a version with Furigana though.
After Kiki I started to read all the novelized versions of movies I enjoyed. おおかみこどもの雨と雪、サッマーワーズ、君の名は etc.
Not always easy, but managable around middle of N4/N3.

Books written in the first person perspective are a lot easier to read and if you want to brush up your listening skills, look for books with an audio book available. I bought the one for Kiki and it was great to hear it spoken by a native speaker and getting the rythm instead of stumbeling through the chapter.

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I really emphathize with you there! At first, kanji seems like this horrible hurdle to get over that only inhibits your ability to read Japanese. And then you learn the kanji and it becomes frustrating having to read everything in kana. It’s funny how your perspective on the language changes likes that.

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Start as soon as possible? Like Today?

(Edit) Initially I bought the manga series that I wanted to read in Japanese and would look up nearly every word… not sure if that is good advice… I just really wanted to read that manga and would re-read the first 2/3 volumes over and over for like 2 years. I hardly knew any Japanese when I started to do this.

For manga, Shojo and Shonen manga should sort of OKish around N4… probably even earlier. The main problem would be the vocabulary and some of the grammar because people may speak informally and with dialects. Most of these manga will have furigana which makes things easier.

There are free samples for nearly everything on Bookwalker.jp ( or Booklive.jp and eBookJapan). This is probably the easiest way to experiment and test things out.

For light novels, it really depends on the story & setting and the target… Maybe bare minimum mid N3 to sort of understand the overall story… reading a few Tsubasa Bunko novels eg Mirai no Mirai, Summer Wars and then watching the movies was a great experience for me ( the green books that @Megumin mentions).

The thing is that if you just read a specific series eg はたらく魔王さま! (Devil is a part-timer), things become somewhat easier with each consecutive volume as one gets used to the vocab and the author’s voice.

Eg 世界から猫が消えたなら If Cats Disappeared from the World is a book yet thankfully it flows really well and was Ok.

(Edit): For light reference
N5 and N4 are kinda like the foundation… N3 is the common daily use grammar

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Well I’m not as advanced as a lot of people here but I’m pretty close to your level and what I’ve done is I started reading a bit of the manga because it’s easy to read since it has pictures. BUT what I got first was this book (and a couple others but this is best)

It has a few stories in full japanese that are only like 3 pages long. Then it has a sentence by sentence break down of each story. And then it has the basics like word definitions and all that basic stuff.
Really a super good book to get used to the structure of reading the japanese and it isn’t very much money. That’s my two cents though

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There is never an easy time to start reading, you just gotta bite the bullet and start with whatever you are comfortable with. I read 5 volumes of Yotsuba& and then started Nisekoi (I am on the fourth volume and read pretty often)

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I can tell you I’m definitely not near N3 level in a lot of areas, Kanji being one of them, and I still can’t recommend hard enough starting to read early/mid N4. You might have very limited options, but it is clearly a big help.

The days I don’t read, I perform poorer at my Anki decks, Kanji exams and Bunrpo reviews I take daily, and I’m overall slower in answering.

I agree that sometimes reading the hiragana and not seeing the Kanji makes it super confusing to figure out what they are talking about, as you have to rely on the context a lot. The beauty of the light novel labels I linked earlier is that all the Kanji is there, but it has furigana in case you need it.

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There are definitely gonna be harder manga and easier manga, and harder novels and easier novels. As others have mentioned, よつばと! is pretty easy, and there being a lot of kana isn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. If Yotsuba says a word I don’t know/recognize, chances are, one of the other characters will say it in kanji soon after. Also, this is one where all kanji have furigana, making lookups easy. But I’ve also been reading 舞台に咲け! and GREEN, and both of them are at a significantly higher level, probably around N3. Not that I can’t read them (I’ve completed N5 on here and have some scattered knowledge from other levels), but there’s a lot more I have to look up and even be content for now to just not know.

For LNs, I’ve only read two series so far. 2.43 I started about 6 months before I started “formally” learning Japanese (so, a little more than a year ago). It’s also around an N3 level, and I’ve been slowly making my way through the volumes, understanding little more than the gist, and sometimes not even that much. And that’s not even considering the dialect! It’s only recently that I really feel like I’ve been able to understand any of it, though of course there’s still a lot that I don’t or is fuzzy. But I love the series, so even though it’s still well above my level, it’s not a chore. And then for the past couple weeks I’ve also been reading 夜カフェ (an Aoi Tori Bunko release) with the WK beginners book club, and that gives me significantly less trouble. That one’s aimed toward older elementary/younger middle school students, so while yeah there is less kanji, the grammar and style are also simpler.

Really, the best time to read is the earliest possible time. Even if you wait until you’ve got more grammar and vocab under your belt, reading manga is a different beast from reading novels, is a different beast from reading example sentences, and it’s likely gonna feel closer to decoding than to reading at first until you start getting the hang of it, and there’s probably still gonna be stuff you’ll have to look up for a good while yet. (Heck, even moving from one author to another can sometimes make you feel like you’ve gotta relearn how to read all over again as you get used to their different style.) And if there’s any vocab or grammar you struggle with, sometimes seeing it while reading can make it suddenly click, or at least it’ll get you closer to grasping it. Just find something that interests you and have at it! Even if you’re not there yet, you’ll get there, and having a book or series you wanna be able to read and understand better can be a definite motivator.

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There is a lot of excellent information and advice on this thread. I know I’m piling on, but I would like to summarize: @Megumin @AtlasIG @Superpnut @yuumama @dodos @clam0618 @clockwork913 @rururun @Finrandi @Slysoft

  1. You will notice a lot of people started with Yotsubato. There is a really good reason for this. It has pictures to help context, yes, the content is funny even for adults, but the most important aspect is that it uses a lot of everyday Japanese. The language is really useful. You will encounter it elsewhere, and there are dedicated vocab decks with audo (memrise) just for Yotsubato.

  2. Starting early. Absolutely agree with people’s suggestions to start early. You might need to play around with stuff until you find appropriately leveled reading, but this is also how children improve natively. Just consume content (preferably at level or a little below), though the nice thing about Japanese is that a lot of language tends to be repeated so once you have keyed in on important kanji in a story, you will likely find it repeating throughout. And I’ve read quite a few adult novels that don’t require complicated grammar either.

  3. Comb through this thread for supplementary reading, apps, and apps to bolster your reading. People have mentioned wanikani, free samples on Amazon JP, bookmeter, Book Walker, Satori Reader, learnnatively, and more. Just brilliant, thanks everyone!

  4. Just have fun with it! You are learning Japanese, don’t overwhelm yourself. Reading native content is an amazing experience, so remember that it’s supposed to be fun!

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only at lvl 37 on WK and finishing N4 here I really started immersion

before that I felt I didnt know almost anything. Now I am way more confident watching anime with subtitles.

I dont like to stop what I am doing to go check all the time word meaning in a dictionary, that’s why I realized I needed a lot of vocab to understand something, specially in anime since dialogues are fast appearing and disappearing!

Great exercise for speed reading also :smiley:

ill check it out

good to know