Want to get better at Japanese?
Reading is one of the best ways to improve your language skills.
It’s especially important to read a lot when you’re learning a language with a different writing system, like Japanese.
Hiragana, katakana and kanji can be overwhelming at first. But with enough reading practice, reading these characters will become natural!
Reading consolidates all that vocabulary and grammar you’ve spent all that time learning. When you come across new words in a story or article, it’s much easier to remember.
And best of all, it’s free!
So if you’re wondering how to learn Japanese effectively, I really do recommend making regular time to read.
Here’s a selection of great websites for completely free Japanese reading practice online, whatever your level:
Japanese reading practice for beginners
If you’re a beginner, you’ll probably want to stick to resources in hiragana only.
(Not sure what hiragana is? First check out my post on how to read Japanese for a quick introduction to the Japanese writing systems!)
Tadoku literally means ‘read a lot’, and the idea behind this site is that reading a lot is the best way to learn Japanese! Tadoku provides dozens of free, simple picture books for students of Japanese.
The site is all in Japanese, but don’t panic! It’s not hard to navigate. For beginner Japanese reading material, look for those marked with the blue ‘L0’ towards the top of the page. Click on a book cover that catches your attention. On the next page, click on the grey box labelled ‘READ FOR FREE’ (in English). Enjoy!
Hukumusume is a site full of traditional Japanese children’s stories.
It’s is an absolutely huge site and it is written for Japanese children (not language students), so it can be a bit confusing to navigate. I recommend that beginners start with this page which has four stories written in hiragana with English translations.
Once you’ve read those, you can explore the rest of the stories here. Most of them don’t have English translations, but they are written in very simple Japanese so you can have a go at translating them yourself!
This page lists the stories by Japanese school year. Start with １ねんせい (1st grade, which uses hiragana only) and work up to 6th grade as you learn more kanji!
Many of the stories also have audio or video tracks.
Here’s a very simple site for Japanese reading practice in hiragana only. Scroll to the bottom of the linked page and you will find links to several Japanese fairy tales, written in very simple Japanese. There is the option to show or hide romaji and English translation line by line.
EhonNavi is an amazing site that lets you read hundreds of different Japanese children’s picture books, all for free! Unlike the above sites, there are lots of modern books (not just traditional tales). You can browse books by age, from 0 up to 12. Yes, there are even books for babies with just one of two words per page, making this a great resource even for complete beginners!
The only downside is that you have to register. The whole site is in Japanese, so it’s a bit difficult for beginners. Here you can find fantastic instructions with screenshots to help you get set up.
It’s unusual to find reading materials for beginners that aren’t children’s books, but I managed it! This site publishes very short news articles in simple Japanese. You can click the buttons at the top to switch between romaji, hiragana, and full Japanese (with kanji).
You can also download a pdf of the article if you want to write notes. Key vocabulary is listed in English below.
The ‘Tenki Yohoo’ (weather forecast) and ‘Short News’ sections contain very short articles for beginners. The ‘Japan News and World News’ section has slightly longer articles. Only the most recent article in each section is available for free. You can also pay for membership to read the archives.
The author of this site is a high school Japanese teacher who writes simple stories as Japanese reading practice for their students. There are some made up stories and also some traditional Japanese children’s stories, rewritten in simple Japanese. The stories contain some kanji with furigana (pronunciation guide in hiragana). Each story comes with a vocab list, a sound recording and a downloadable pdf. Thank you Matthew for sharing!
Another source for Japanese children’s picture books online. This site is not so user-friendly, but I included it as an extra resource in case you have problems with the above sites.
Just click on an image to go to the book. Then click the yellow ‘next’ button at the top to turn the pages.
One problem with this site is that the writing is an image file, so you can’t copy and paste words to look in a dictionary. You can increase the text size from the homepage.
Intermediate Japanese reading practice
At the intermediate level, you will be able to understand longer sentences and more difficult works. You can also read some kanji. You need some reading resources that introduce these features of the language, but you still need a bit of help understanding new words.
We have just the thing for you! Here are some sites for Japanese reading practice for intermediate students:
Hirogaru is a cute site for Japanese learners. It has short texts and videos on lots of different topics. In particular, it has a lot of articles on traditional Japanese culture, such as calligraphy, tea ceremony and martial arts. There are vocabulary lists (with English translations) of key words for each topic.
Matcha is a cool Japanese travel and culture magazine. It’s available in 10 different languages, including an easy Japanese version! (My link will take you directly to the ‘easy Japanese’ site.) It does use kanji but always with furigana (pronunciation guides) above.
Most of the articles are available in English too. You can read the English version afterwards to check your understanding (use the drop down bar at the bottom of the page to change the language). Be careful though, because the translations aren’t always the same word-for-word.
Watanoc is a ‘free web magazine in simple Japanese’. The name comes from ‘wa’ (Japanese) ‘tanoshii’ (fun). It has a lot of articles of different lengths and different levels, so it’s suitable from beginners to intermediate. The topics include food, culture, events and funny news. After each title, it tells you the approximate JLPT reading level (N5 is the easiest). Also, if you hover your mouse over a word, it will pop up with an explanation in English! Highly recommended for upper beginners and lower intermediate.
NHK is Japan’s national news service. On this site, you can read NHK’s top news stories each day in simple Japanese. It’s aimed at Japanese elementary school children, as well as foreigners learning Japanese.
The site has furigana on the kanji, and Japanese dictionary definitions that pop up when you hover over a word. Many of the stories have videos too.
You can toggle furigana on and off using the blue button at the top of each article labelled 感じの読み方を消す. And, if you’re feeling up for a challenge, you can view the original NHK version of the article by clicking the blue button at the bottom labelled 普通のニュウスを読む.
The site has several new stories each day. If you enjoy reading about current affairs, this is a good site for you.
Short news articles, school lessons, games and bulletin boards in simple Japanese, aimed at elementary school kids. There is no furigana on the kanji so this might be a bit advanced for some users.
Hiragana Times is a magazine that publishes articles about Japan in simple Japanese with furigana, alongside an English translation. You have to subscribe for full access, but you can read selected sample articles on the main website here. You can toggle furigana, romaji and English on and off using the ‘あ’ button to the left hand side. You can also download a free sample magazine here.
This is a blog about many aspects of everyday life in Japan. Each paragraph is written in Japanese, with translation in English underneath. A small number of posts have French translations, too. You can choose to turn the furigana on or off. Unfortunately the blog is no longer updated, but there are several years of posts to read through.
A small collection of Japanese fairy stories with furigana, audio, vocabulary lists and English translations. You can play the audio at different speeds, so this is also a useful site to practise reading aloud and work on your pronunciation! The Japanese texts contain kanji and a bit more advanced than the children’s stories in the beginner section above.
This is from the same site as above but I wanted to list it separately because it’s so useful. If you dream of reading Japanese manga in the original, but you need some extra help, this is a great place to start. On this page you can read Give My Regards to Black Jack, a bestselling Japanese manga about a young doctor. Alongside the original manga, there is the Japanese script with English translation and language notes.
Bunsuke publishes short snippets from famous Japanese writers, together with a vocab list and translation. This is an excellent way for intermediate learners to dip their toes into reading Japanese literature in the original version, without overwhelm. You might even discover some favourite works to explore further!
Previously, Bunsuke sent out his snippets every day in an email newsletter. The daily emails are paused for now, but you can read all previous newsletters in his Substack archive. He also runs occasional interactive reading challenges.
Advanced Japanese reading practice
If you are an advanced Japanese learner, I recommend using real Japanese materials as much as possible. By this I mean books and articles written for native Japanese speakers – not for language learners.
The ultimate goal is to speak fluent Japanese, the way native speakers do. You will learn the most natural language by using real life sources.
The good news is, it’s incredibly easy to find real life Japanese resources online! You can also find resources on literally any topics.
I recommend thinking about what you read in your native language for fun. What do you read in your spare time, just because you love it? Find the Japanese version of that! This means you’ll be more likely to stick with it. Plus, you’ll learn new words specific to your hobbies and interests.
This is also a good time to change your phone, computer, Facebook settings into Japanese and create an immersion environment.
Here are a few websites to start you off. I tried to choose a selection of websites from different genres. Remember, this list is just to give you some ideas! When you know advanced Japanese, you can read whatever you want 🙂
NHK – the Japanese national broadcaster. As well as reading the news online, you can stream radio and watch some TV shows (might be blocked depending on location)
Yomiuri Shimbun – national newspaper (conservative)
Mainichi Shimbun – national newspaper (moderate/left leaning)
Asahi Shimbun – national newspaper (left leaning)
Aozora Bunko – free digital copies of books for which the copyright has expired
Project Gutenberg (Japanese) – another site for free out-of-copyright books
Shousetsuka ni narou – a site where budding authors publish their work online for free to get reviews
University of Virginia Japanese Text Initiative – a huge library of Japanese texts online, and you can even choose to read with furigana
Bookwalker – Bookwalker is a Japanese ebook store and app. They specialise in manga and light novels. Although you have to pay for most of the content, they have a large selection of volumes (mostly manga) that you can download for free. Just look for the section marked 無料.
Also, you can usually read several pages of other (paid) books on the site for free. This is good if you want to try out some Japanese reading materials in different styles or by different authors. Just look for the 試し読み button on the product page.
Note that there is an English version of the website, but this will only show you English language books. You need to navigate the website in Japanese to download Japanese books (tutorial on how to sign up).
Bauddha – This website publishes bilingual stories and excerpts from famous writings, political speeches and other sources. You can read the Japanese version alongside the English version. This website is actually for Japanese learners of English, not the other way around! The language level here is quite advanced because the writings are mostly literary classics.
Comicwalker – free manga from the publisher Kadokawa. You can read the comics online, or there’s an app too. Look for the ones with the red 無料マンガ (free manga) triangle. From the same people as BookWalker above but it has some different content.
Shonen Jump – the best selling manga magazine in Japan. On their website you can read their latest manga instalments and also news articles about new releases and so on.
Sai Zen Sen – you can read some Japanese manga online for free
Comico – another site with some free Japanese manga to read online
Yahoo Questions – people ask and answer questions on all kinds of topics.
Ameblo – a Japanese personal blogging platform similar to Blogspot or Livejournal. You can browse blogs and articles by topic.
Mixi – a Japanese social network. You can read news articles and some public threads without signing up. There are communities on different topics similar to Reddit. It’s not as popular as it used to be but there is still plenty of content for free Japanese reading practise.
Magazines, lifestyle and more
Japanese magazine lists – This site and this one have huge lists of popular Japanese magazines with links to their websites. They are mostly fashion magazines but there are some in other categories such as business, tech and travel. Note that the amount of free content varies by site; some have a lot of free articles online whereas others just want you to buy the print magazine.
Rocket News – short funny news articles on topics such as pop culture, viral content, new releases etc.
Hatena Bookmarking – a social bookmarking site. Users share interesting articles from around the web.
1000moji – user-submitted short stories in 1000 characters
Kinarino – women’s lifestyle blog covering food, fashion, travel, interiors and more
CanCam – a popular Japanese women’s fashion magazine
Lifehacker – interesting tips and tricks, and tech news
Toyo Keizai – a well-known business and finance magazine
BuzzFeed Japan – you probably know this one! Funny and interesting things from around the internet
The Rising Wasabi – satirical news site
Nippon.com – news about and from Japan. Many articles are also available in English (and other languages) so you can switch to check your comprehension.
Note – a Japanese magazine style site as recommended by our reader Erik. It covers lifestyle, education, culture, work and more. Content is user generated and very varied.
Orange Page – one of the biggest Japanese cooking sites. Love Japanese food? Why not kill two birds with one stone and learn to cook some Japanese dishes while you get your Japanese reading practise! In addition to recipes, they also publish some lifestyle articles.
VNs – VNs or Visual Novels are interactive games with lots of text. They are like a cross between novels and games. Personally I have never played one but I have heard some people swear by them to improve their Japanese reading, so I thought I’d give them a shout out here! Freem and Novel Game have lots of free Japanese VNs. Here is a blog all about learning Japanese with VNs.
Browser extensions for reading Japanese online
No doubt about it, learning to read in Japanese in slower than most other languages simply because of the Japanese writing system! I just wanted to finish off by sharing a few useful browser extensions that can help you read Japanese websites.
- Rikaikun (for Chrome) – hover over any Japanese word and a dictionary box will pop up.
- Yomichan (for Firefox) – same as above.
- Furigana Extension (for Chrome) – adds furigana (pronunciation guide) to kanji.
- Furigana (for Firefox) – same as above.
There are dozens of similar extensions out there but these are some of the top recommended!
More free resources to learn Japanese
And finally, if you enjoyed this list, please check out my other round-ups of free native materials to practise Japanese:
Do you know any other good sources for free Japanese reading practice online? Please share in the comments!
Rebecca is the founder of Team Japanese. She spent two years teaching English in Ehime, Japan. Now back in the UK, she spends her time blogging, self-studying Japanese and wrangling a very genki toddler.