As many of us are well aware, Japanese is a difficult second language to get the hang of. Seeing a big block of text can be incredibly intimidating, but it’s something we all have to challenge ourselves with sooner or later. There are a lot of options to ease yourself into reading large chunks of Japanese text like graded readers and slice-of-life manga. Or you can dive head first into that 800 page tome of fantasy goodness you’ve had your eye on like a carrot on a stick that keeps you studying every night. That can be very frustrating and futile though depending on your level, so I’m going to propose a middle ground and help you get started for free! …To some extent anyway.
In Japan, it’s not too hard to come across a game novelization. Everything from Dragon Quest and Octopath Traveler to Nier and Death Stranding are available to give fans a different way to experience their favorite games. Or just flatout replace them if you haven’t played the title yet. But before we get ahead of ourselves, we need to check out some books a little more our speed. No matter how you slice it, your first novel will probably be a challenge. Even if it’s one aimed at 10 year old native speakers. We have options though, so let’s get to it.
Taking the Leap
I tried to track down a few book series that have ためし読み (trial reading) to add a few rungs to the latter between graded readers and no holds barred full of infrequent kanji and vocabulary regular books. With the ためし読み you’ll be able to read the first 15～35 pages or so of these books to see if you’re ready for jumping into reading Japanese novels. That should be enough pages to see if you’re ready to read the book. You can even start mining sentences or making flashcards, whatever it is you do to study new material.
The Kirby series has a lot of books which means it has a lot of ためし読み… Which means there’s plenty of pages of Japanese to sink your teeth into. If you find that you’re able to make some progress, you’ll probably want to buy or import a full book to get a complete story. This series is published by Tsubasabunko (https://tsubasabunko.jp/) who releases a lot of books at the mid-elementary to middle school reading level.
Is Sega more your style? Tsubasabunko has you covered too with a Puyo Puyo novel. It’s a similar reading level to the Kirby series at around mid-elementary school level so it can be a good benchmark and great practice to improve your reading skills.
With Monster Hunter, we have options. Tsubasabunko has some books and one of them has ためし読み so you can give it a try. There’s also a Monster Hunter World book on the Kadokawa store (I think Tsubasabunko is under the Kadokawa umbrella but not necessarily aimed at kids like the former) with ためし読み available. It’s the small button above the cover image. This one looks to be more challenging and with less furigana so you might have better luck trying Tsubasabunko’s other offerings first.
I’ve read around 5 of these and I’d put them at a bit more difficult than Kirby or Puyo Puyo, but not quite as hard as a Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest book. If you’ve read a couple of Kirby books and are looking for the next step, this might do the trick for you. I don’t promise it makes Kingdom Hearts make any more sense though. I found these samples in a bit of an odd place. The Square Enix e-Store Facebook page uploaded the first few pages of the Sora and Riku sides of Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance. Read em’ both for twice the fun.
And that’s that. Novels can be intimidating, but they’re a great way to fill in holes in your vocabulary using material made for native speakers. If you want to get a jump on some of vocabulary I mined out of Kirby novels, Check here. You might also be interested in Japanese Practice Through Games. Actually, you’re probably more interested in that so check it out! As always, drop a comment or a tweet if you have any questions.