There are so many Japanese light novels available that you can even find some of them in the English language.
Then again, if you are trying to strengthen your knowledge of Nihongo, the best Japanese light novels you read should align with your level of understanding.
Choose Japanese novels for beginners, which implies that you should at least have a basic knowledge of Japanese words and hiragana.
Some Japanese books are written in romaji, too, but we don’t recommend starting with those.
The Downsides of Reading the Romaji Versions
Romaji is the Romanized version of Japanese text, enabling anyone who understands the Latin, Roman, or English alphabets to read Japanese.
A Japanese catholic created the romaji system to lessen the burden of learning three alphabets for Japanese non-speakers.
Portuguese Jesuit missionaries put the romaji writing system into print, and it has been in use in many Japanese translatory media since then.
Because learning the three Japanese alphabets is an enormous task, romaji may seem very tempting.
Still, it may prove to be more detrimental to most Japanese language learners.
Romaji can limit potential study resources, cause misspellings, and result in mispronunciations.
Furthermore, it could be entirely useless in many areas in Japan.
What’s the Best Approach To Learning Japanese?
If you are looking for something that would teach you how to read Japanese, the best method is to learn how to write it first.
Reading begins with writing, and comprehension can only go as far as your command of Japanese vocabulary.
Begin by learning the very basic alphabets of the Japanese language, hiragana and katakana.
Then, proceed with books that use furigana alongside kanji as soon as you have the basic Japanese language skills.
Furigana is the hiragana written in small print beside kanji, the more complicated and Chinese-based character set of the Japanese language.
In the end, learning the Japanese language revolves around immersing yourself in all the Japanese alphabets.
An excellent practice includes reading Japanese novels for beginners.
What Are Light Novels Called in Japanese?
In Japan, people call light novels ranobe. Ranobe is a wasei-Eigo or a Japanese pseudo-Anglicism of the words “light novel.”
Eigo is the Japanese term for English, and wasei means Japanese-made. This means that wasei-Eigo translates to “Japanese-made English.”
The term ranobe comes from the first syllable of raito, which means light, and the first two syllables of noberu, which means novel.
What Reading Level Are Light Novels in Japan?
Ranobe is a style of Japanese young-adult novels primarily targeting middle-school and high-school students.
The Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) gauges a person’s knowledge of the Japanese language using levels N5 through N1.
N5 is the least difficult, while N1 sets the bar pretty high.
The N stands for Nihongo according to Japan Educational and Exchanges Services (JEES), which administers the test.
An N5 means understanding some basic Japanese, including sentences and typical expressions written in hiragana, katakana, or basic kanji.
If you can pass the N4, you can understand basic Japanese, including familiar daily topics written in basic vocabulary and kanji.
An N3 implies you can read and understand newspaper headlines and slightly difficult written Japanese, in addition to completely comprehending everyday topics.
N2 and N1 text may be a bit far-fetched for intermediate readers.
Both imply excellent command of the Japanese language, even in a variety of very specific topics.
The reading level for ranobe sets the requirement for non-native speakers to JLPT N4 or N3.
However, people who at least have an N5 can read some light novels without any problems.
You won’t really understand the level of difficulty associated with these proficiency levels unless you take the test yourself.
Best Japanese Light Novels
The following titles outline the best Japanese light novels for practicing your Japanese reading skills.
These are divided into two groups: light novels that require at least N4 proficiency and books that may need N2 or better.
N4 and Up
We strongly suggest that you have at least a JLPT N3 or N4 level of Japanese before you start reading any of these light novels.
These are the top Japanese light novels for readers considered as beginners.
Kiki’s Delivery Service is a Studio Ghibli film adaptation of the 1985 novel Majo no Takkyubin.
The novel tells a story of a young witch who moves to a different town and uses her flying abilities to earn a living.
If you have seen the film, you will be impressed finding the differences with the light novel.
Continue reading beyond the first novel to find out what happens to Kiki and Tombo as they grow up.
Majo no Takkyubin is an incredibly easy-to-read slice-of-life book. It is an excellent book to start with as long as you have at least a JLPT N4 rating. You can get it here on Amazon.
Gujjobu (GJ Club)
The Good Job Club follows the everyday antics of a band of friends who are young students occupying an old-school building.
It is an excellent light novel for beginners, as it would feel like a four-panel comic book in novel form.
The novel has a fair amount of furigana for the more complex kanji, making it a good read for JLPT N3 level.
Kimi ga Mitsukeru Monogatari (The Story You Find)
Writing styles vary from story to story in Kimi ga Mitsukeru Monogatari.
Each plot comes from a different author, but all of them revolve around the experiences of teenagers.
The stories explore different topics, which means you will find many commonly used vocabulary you may not find in slice-of-life books. You can find it on Amazon here.
Toradora! is a light novel that brings high school romance and deception together with a twist.
Here, two characters, Tora and Dora, help each other catch the attention of their crushes.
This light novel has 10 volumes, so if you are interested in an over-arching storyline about high school romances, this could be a good read for you.
The volumes are relatively easy to get through, and they could be excellent for preparing you to get into a JLPT level of N2.
N2 and Up
The following light novels require a higher Japanese proficiency level than the books presented in the previous section.
They offer a complex mix of kanji and vocabulary that could be very strange for N4 or N3 level readers.
For these articles, we recommend a JLPT level of N2 or higher.
Nogemu Noraifu (No Game No Life)
No Game No Life tells the story of two step-siblings with acute social withdrawal.
They stay at home and spend countless hours playing games online. The gaming world knows them as an undefeated gamer group called Blank.
A god from another reality offered them life in a game-centered universe after losing to them in chess.
Today, the step-siblings are still trying to conquer the alternate universe to challenge the same god to another game and claim another prize.
Tactical jargon and game references make this novel series somewhat confusing for the beginner reader, making it better for N2 readers. Check out the series on Amazon!
The full title is Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo!, which is too long, so the book is more popularly known as KonoSuba.
Once you get through all the available No Game No Life books, Konosuba will be an excellent follow-up.
KonoSuba is another dysfunctional teen gamer story about a boy who goes through an untimely and embarrassing demise and gets reincarnated in an MMORPG world.
The boy is named Kazuma Sato, a shut-in kid not in education, employment, or training (NEET).
Is Konosuba Light Novel Worth Reading?
KonoSuba is a type of light novel that keeps the plot going in thought-provoking ways.
It is full of twists and turns, but it also packs in a lot of smiles and laughs for any reader.
The original Japanese version of KonoSuba may require a Japanese language proficiency level of N2 or better.
Reading the Japanese version might leave you puzzled about many wasei-Eigo and complex jargon, making a digital dictionary handy in many cases.
Translators did a good job of transcribing KonoSuba into English, though.
And the English version could help any non-native reader understand the Japanese version better. You can find the Japanese version here.
This novel’s complete title is Arifureta Shokugyo de Sekai Saikyo, which directly translates to “from ordinary to world’s strongest.”
Fans gave the light novel a shorter name: Arifureta.
Arifureta is a novel about a bullied student who gets mysteriously teleported with his classmates to a fantasy world.
In this world, each classmate gets a powerful magical ability, but he only gets a low-level transmutation skill.
A classmate tricks him into falling down the bottom of a dungeon while they are raiding it as a party.
He survives the drop, and he uses his timid skill to become stronger and escape the dungeon, meeting new friends along the way.
Is Arifureta Light Novel Good?
Arifureta is a cringe-worthy rom-com action-adventure fantasy.
If you enjoy reading about a helpless protagonist who gradually rises to the top, then Arifureta is an excellent choice.
Again, reading the original Japanese version requires at least N2 Japanese proficiency or better and can be gotten here.
However, you can opt to complement it with the English version if that’ll help you grow your vocabulary.
Toaru Majutsu no Indekkusu (A Certain Magical Index)
A Certain Magical Index is another action fantasy novel.
Toma Kamijo is an esper student who can thwart any supernatural power. The downside is that it also negates his personal luck.
He then meets Index, a nun from the secret magic branch of the Church of England.
Their acquaintance leads Toma to meet more people from the secret science and magic societies.
Unfortunately, his ability puts him at the center of all conflict.
A Certain Magical Index is a long novel that fans still consider a ranobe. The story consists of three titles and series numbering around 50 volumes so far.
Its length makes it a binge-worthy reading material for high-intermediate readers having the N2 Japanese proficiency. Get it here.
Low-Intermediate Japanese Books
Don’t worry if you find that you are unable to read and successfully comprehend lines from ranobe.
One solution is to look for light novels with furigana-imprinted kanji.
If the top Japanese light novels may seem too complex for your Japanese proficiency level, consider getting a lighter reading material.
Anyone proficient with at least a JLPT N5 can move through these books’ pages.
On the other hand, anyone with an N4 can effortlessly comprehend any content.
Ikki Ni Yomeru! (Stories You Can Read Smoothly)
You will recognize the illustrations in Ikki Ni Yomeru! if you have seen the animated film Princess Mononoke.
All illustrations in both works are the creation of Yoshiyuki Momose.
Ikki Ni Yomeru! is a compilation of 15-minute short stories targeted at first-grade students, meaning any beginner should be able to understand its contents.
Yotsubato! tells the story of Yotsuba Koiwai, an unusual five-year-old girl who seems to lack social etiquette resulting in funny situations.
The story revolves around day-to-day situations, ensuring that vocabulary is easy.
Yotsuba’s lines are all written in hiragana, and every kanji in the book has furigana somewhere beside it. Grab it on Amazon.
Folktales and Children’s Books
One way to start improving on Japanese reading proficiency is by getting into children’s books.
These books provide excellent insight into Japanese culture. And they open a window into social lessons that can be great for any visiting foreigner.
Folktales tend to have strange words, and it would help to familiarize yourself with basic words and phrases.
Slam Dunk is a story about the high-school basketball exploits of Hanamichi Sakuragi, a delinquent misfit who turns his life around by recognizing his love for the sport.
Furigana accompanies all kanji in the book, but the sports-themed plot means some parts may be difficult to comprehend for beginner readers.
One way to go about this book is by warming up with basketball terminology or having a dictionary handy. Get it here.
Jiburi Firumu Komikkusu (Ghibli Film Comics)
The creators adopted most Ghibli films into paperback novels and colorful comics, including Kiki’s Delivery Service.
While the Kiki’s Delivery Service light novel might require a higher proficiency level, the comic adaptations would substitute as simpler reading materials.
Which Light Novel Should I Read To Learn Japanese?
Reading Japanese novels is an excellent way to improve on and remember Japanese vocabulary words efficiently.
If you have taken the JLPT or think you qualify with at least an N3 level, start with Kiki’s Delivery Service and work your way up through the tougher ranobe.