Breaking into reading Japanese

At the very beginning, reading can seem like an impossible challenge. No matter how many words you memorize up front, you’re essentially guaranteed to see something unfamiliar within moments of trying to read your first book. Looking up every new word and grammar point will grind you to a halt, but trying to maintain momentum can leave you feeling totally lost.

How do you strike a balance? How early can you realistically start reading without it feeling like a complete struggle?

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Japanese reading report

Nine episodes of anime this week (our weekly shows plus a bit left over from last week; 僕のヒーローアカデミア, spy family, ロマンチックキラー, blue lock x2, うる星やつら x2, Mob Psucho x2). This latest episode of Mob felt like a fever dream within the fever dream that the season has been delivering already.

I had planned to continue with 裏世界ピクニック this week, but for some reason Audible recommended me ナルニア国物語 and I had to jump ship. I listened to 魔術師のおい(上下, 6:13, high focus) and ライオンと魔女と衣装だんす (5:44, high focus) and really enjoyed them both. I know the english books practically by heart and have been planning to read through a Japanese box set of them for years at this point, but I think I might not after all. The edition I have is a pretty old translation and based on what I remember about trying to read them originally, the new translation I’ve been listening to is much better. There were a few points where I thought “ooh I wonder how they’ll translate this” and was pleasantly surprised. I also really like how they handled Jadis (the White Witch), with her very regal, haughty speech (your average 妾 character).

圧勝 vol. 8-11 keps on twisting and turning. I do have to say, I was starting to get a bit irritated because it briefly veered into “why aren’t these people talking to each other” territory, which is the worst way to build interpersonal drama, but fortunately it seems to be coming around. I’ll definitely be finishing it this coming week (if not tomorrow).

Read 魔女先輩日報 vol. 2, which is the end of the series. Really nice little self-contained romance with realistic emotional development, adorable art, some funny gags here and there.I need to go buy something from the author’s other work. So far Comic Elmo has yet to disappoint.

I’ve had 吾峠呼世晴短編集 sitting in my library for ages and finally got around to reading it. I expected it to all be about 鬼滅の刃, but only one of the stories ended up being at all related; the other three were standalone modern fantasy that were all pretty interesting in their own way. Makes me curious what we can expect from 吾峠呼世晴先生’s next series.

Finally, 凛とチア vol. 1, which is about competitive cheerleading and challenging gender norms. I bought this because it was by the same author as 青年少女よ、春を貪れ, but it didn’t grab me the same way. Not bad but I won’t be continuing it.

Japanese reading report

This week: seven volumes of manga, two audiobooks, three episodes of anime. I’ve been feeling pretty brainfogged the entire week so despite it being lighter than normal it feels like a victory.

Anime first: three episodes of our weekly shows (僕のヒーローアカデミア, spy family, ロマンチックキラー) brings an end to my goal for the year (365 episodes). ロマンチックキラー is still going strong and despite spy family being as strong as ever this was probably my favorite of the week.

Audiobooks: 裏世界ピクニック vol. 4 and 5 (12:48, high focus) got kinda spicy. I was feeling kind of iffy about the way some developments were going (which might have been intentional considering how one of the main characters was feeling about it) but it all came together. Vol. 5 had a lot of different storylines going on and I think I’m going to need to actually read it in order to shore up some details. Might be trying to finish the last two audiobooks this coming week.

Manga: 圧勝 vol. 4-7. Still very much hooked on this. If I have one criticism it’s that sometimes characters seem to be introduced and then dropped before they have a chance to develop the super dense relationship web that initially got me interested, but on the other hand it does a good job of raising stakes. Highlight this week was an investigation through internet 黒歴史 that had me cracking up over how close to home it hit.

Also read ヴィクトリアの電気棺 vol. 3 (final) and liked the ending a lot. Good way to wrap up a nice series. It tied up some plot threads I didn’t realize had been foreshadowed but didn’t go so far as to make literally everything related to each other, which is a kind of reserve I always appreciate.

Read 東京卍リベンジャーズ vol. 30 the day it came out, like usual. I’ve heard people are mad about the ending but it seems like it could work. There was a bit more flashback than would have be ideal but it was in service of showing the foreshadowing up to this point so we 許す.

Lastly, それでも歩は寄せてくる vol. 9, read aloud. Finally almost caught up to the anime.

Thoughts about Wanikani

Wanikani has been with me since the very first month of my Japanese-learning journey, and I was a big fan for a long time. Over the years my opinion of it has gradually changed, and at this point I feel like I can’t recommend it in good conscience without some heavy disclaimers. I don’t think it’s a bad platform by any means, and there’s a lot to like — I finished the whole course and I’m quite certain it helped me avoid some common pain points — I just feel like if I’m going to say “wanikani worked for me, it’s pretty good”, it’s only right that I be able to point to a list of criticisms to temper that recommendation.

I’ll also be laying out the strategy and schedule I used to get through the second half of the course quickly and efficiently while also working full time.

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My best-guess approach to learning Japanese

I’ve been learning Japanese for a while now, but whenever someone asks me “how long has it been?” I always feel the need to say something like “between five and three years”. While I fully embrace the fact that language learning takes a long time, I also feel like I could have reached my current level of proficiency in much less time than it actually took me, just due to a years-long false start and lots of wasted effort before I had any idea what I was doing.

This is the guide I wish I could have followed from the beginning, compiled with the benefit of hindsight after much trial and error. It’s likely imperfect, and likely won’t work for everyone, but it’s essentially everything that worked for me without all of the stuff that wasted my time. I hope you find it helpful.

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Japanese reading report

Another very busy week. If not for my audiobooks I probably would have broken my 900+ day immersion streak. Fortunately, thanks to the long weekend and a new series that has hooked me, I read six volumes of manga between yesterday and today, so once again it all came together in the end.

First up: ブレイクブレイド vol. 1. Got this for free a while ago and decided to give it a shot. I’m not totally blown away yet but I am curious about some of the setup, which is pretty unconventional — namely, the core group consists of one underdog shounen boy and his two childhood friends, but they’ve already gotten married before the events of the series and there’s no apparent tension about this from the main character; they all get along and seem to be good friends still. It’s a small thing but it made me realize how uncommon it is to see relationships like this. Other than that it’s kind of a normal fantasy mecha series so far. Will probably read more and see what happens.

In よつばと! vol. 7, yotsuba and the gang go to a farm and they all bully やんだ. There was more but that was the best part.

I read それでも歩は寄せてくる vol. 8 (aloud again), and I think I can tentatively call my monotone reading experiment a success. I kept noticing myself pronouncing certain phrases with the right pitch without even meaning to (mostly stuff like 違うって or っていゆーか), and I think what’s happening is essentially the “monotone” part loosens me up and gets me talking, and then the rest comes naturally as I come across things I’m familiar with. In terms of the actual story not a lot to say, it’s still anime recap and just a good time generally.

My last three volumes of the week (all today) were 圧勝 vol. 1-3. I’ve already started vol. 4, but won’t be finishing it tonight probably. This series started off pretty unspecial but it hooked me pretty good partway through the first volume and I haven’t put it down since. Very basic overview: the loser nerd main character moves in next door to the hottest girl on campus, and it turns out she’s a gamer too! Awesome! …and then it starts to get weird. I don’t really know how I can possibly summarize it here but it’s an absolutely wild ride. Half the characters are manipulating the other half, and the way they all think of each other (wrongly or otherwise) seems very layered and nuanced. Is this person a yandere or is this one just delusional? Sure, that guy might be running a cult but technically his story would explain a lot… I’m quite enjoying it and am planning on prioritizing it for a little while.

I did stay mostly on track with 探偵はもう、死んでいる, though only due to a technicality; I bumped the deadline up one week in order to give me a bit more room to breathe. The writing style continues to be enjoyable. I learned たるや, which completely broke my ability to parse the language for a few minutes when I encountered it.

Audiobooks: First up was a very short story called ぼくは明日、きみと恋する (0:47, high focus). It’s available for free online and I want to recommend it, so I won’t say anything else about it except that it made me cry and it’s surprisingly positive considering the subject matter. You can read it here.

The rest of the week was 裏世界ピクニック vol. 1-3 (20:11 combined, mostly high focus). This series is delightful and I’m already planning to read the novels when I get a chance. The characters are really fun and have great chemistry, the premise is creative and evocative, and in particular, the audiobook is really high production value, with the occasional special effect to bring a scene to the next level. I’ll write more when I get around to reading it properly but I’ve been enjoying this a lot.

Finally, quick anime summary: 11 episodes; caught up on Spy Family, Mob, Blue Lock, and うる星やつら. Started watching ロマンチックキラー and it’s probably the best-executed show this season. The animation is so vibrant and full of character. I read maybe half of vol. 1 a while back and thought it was fun but this is an incredible adaptation so far (one episode in); highly recommended.

Oh, one more thing (very much a bonus; only accounted for maybe 15 minutes of my morning today). My friend こむぎさん from twitter, whom I’ve done several manga translations for, frequently shows up in Twitter spaces and I’ve always been too shy to try joining. Well, today I decided to go ahead and give it a try, and I wish I’d done it sooner. I didn’t get offered the chance to speak (thankfully), but when she noticed me in the space she also said some nice things about me and the work I’ve done for her, which felt pretty nice haha. The rest of the time was just spent listening to her talking to her friend about a recent camping trip (slipping into 奈良弁 from time to time). It’s always nice to be able to fully follow along with real unscripted speech. All told a very nice time. I’ll be looking for other opportunities to do it again.

Japanese reading report

First things first: I decided to pause 月夜の島渡り for a while. I finished the first chapter and while I could tell I would like the rest, I was extremely unmotivated to prioritize it and kept falling further and further behind. When I eventually get back to it I might restart from the beginning. It’s definitely a me problem. Just trying to follow the fun. On that note, I decided to start reading 探偵はもう、死んでいる after finding the anime to be surprisingly decent. I’m about a quarter of the way through it and interestingly enough, the entire structure is completely different from the anime. It with a very brief teaser flashback, then picks up in present day when the detective is actually already dead. I’m curious why the anime did so much rearranging. Anyway, I’m having fun with it. Of the new vocab I’ve learned, 鎖骨 is one that stuck out to me and weirdly enough I’ve seen it a few places since.

Only four episodes of anime this week: ep. 5-6 each of 僕のヒーローアカデミア and Spy Family. Not looking forward to all the catch-up I’ll have to play over the next week. Also listened to three audiobooks; スーパーカブ vol. 6 (5:38, med focus), スーパーカブ reserve (4:42, low focus), and やはり俺の青春ラブコメはまちがっている 1 (7:09, low focus). Honestly, I was quite enjoying vol. 6 because it was more like what I expected from the series to begin with — travelling to faraway places, trying new food, meeting new people, being more or less agreeable– and then it ended. Oh well. Reserve was kind of an おまけ volume and I don’t remember much about it. 俺ガイル was extremely meh.

A total of nine volumes of manga this week, with four of them being read aloud (new experiment). I’ll group them by series instead of sticking to chronological order.

瞳のカトブレパス vol. 1 and 2, another early series by 田中靖規 of サマータイムレンダ, and just like 鍵人 it had a kind of weirdly open-ended story, probably due to being cancelled early. It didn’t seem like it had a lot of potential honestly, but I did like the characters a lot more this time around. The main girl was delightful and was always talking in 関西弁 so it wasn’t a total waste. One very weird thing that stuck out to me — the last chapter, an おまけ, was literally the same key story beats from the original first chapter, almost like an alternate retelling or something? It’s already weird to have a bonus chapter after the end of the story but this was an especially weird way to do it.

I’ve had よつばと! vol. 6 on my shelf untouched for years at this point, and I figured it had gone on long enough. This series is so good. I was laughing the whole time and as soon as I finished I went on mandarake to buy the rest of the series. Will probably be tearing through these pretty soon.

Read いじめるヤバイ奴 vol. 1-3. I’ve had these in my library for a little while but was recently reminded of them and ended up reading all three in quick succession. Basic premise is that the main girl has some kind of kink or something where she likes getting bullied in public, so she bullies this guy (apparently her childhood crush? but maybe he forgot?) into bullying her in a variety of awful ways. At first I thought there was some potential for interesting character depth (was getting 火傷少女 vibes for a little bit) but I think that’s probably expecting too much. It’s definitely not something I’ll be continuing unless they keep giving out free volumes, but it was gripping enough to keep me hooked most of the way. I read vol. 2 aloud and regretted it. Every character is a psychopath.

Finally got clearance to read 呪術廻戦 vol. 17 and as usual I devoured it. There were a few extremely text-heavy pages which were exhausting to read aloud but besides that it was just a wild ride from start to finish. Probably my favorite volume so far.

Lastly, vol. 6 and 7 of それでも歩は寄せてくる. I’ve decided that I’ll be reading the rest of the series aloud in order to keep it from going by so quickly. Reading aloud is fun and this is a perfect series for it (also makes me feel slightly less like I’m cheating with the low page count/difficulty + slightly more like I’m getting my money’s worth).

Japanese reading report

This week was my first full week on a new project at work and I was keen to make a good impression and get up to speed quickly. As such, I ended up being pretty tight on time for everything else, and as expected that meant my reading took a hit as well. I did manage to hit my goals for the most part, but I did let some stuff fall by the wayside. Such is life.

First things first: I finished サマータイムレンダ2026 小説家・南雲竜之介の異聞百景 (finally, I’ll never have to use that title again!) in the first few days of the week. The final chapter was another standout and I feel like the story ended pretty well, tying together some threads that had been sneakily foreshadowed throughout the rest of the book. I’m curious to see what the author’s other work is like; it was sometimes difficult to tell whether I was enjoying myself more due to the characters and subject matter or due to the writing style. While I don’t think this book would be a worthwhile read for anyone who isn’t a fan of the main series, I did have a good time with it.

My first manga of the week was それでも歩は寄せてくる vol. 5. Another quick read that didn’t leave too much of an impression but was nonetheless enjoyable throughout. Some new material that wasn’t adapted for the anime. One chapter in particular connected the dots between うるし’s fascination with と金 and the obvious pun in 歩’s name, which I thought was pretty fun.

I finally started reading とんがり帽子のアトリエ (vol. 1) after having it on my list for over a year. I love it. The characters are so charming and the art is gorgeous, full of sumptuous detail and highly dynamic poses. A few of the panels have yet to leave my mind, the composition is so great. I really like the worldbuilding and the magic system design is really interesting. I feel like it sapped my stamina faster than some other series but I would like to keep reading it soon.

I took a chance on a new series that I saw on the front page of cmoa, 虎は龍をまだ喰べない (vol. 1, and then 2 immediately after finishing), which is about a tiger lady and a dragon boy and their weird ツンデレ relationship. It’s somewhat sparse on dialogue at times but makes up for it by having really nice artwork. Most of the characters in this series can shapeshift between animal and human form, and there’s an unexpected focus on power dynamics and intrigue. If I had to guess I’d say it’ll probably go one more volume? I’ll be looking forward to it.

Another new series I decided to try was ほてりほてってファーストキス (vol. 1). I loved this one and wish there was another volume to read right away. It reminded me a lot of きみが、すき if the stories were longer, or 徒然チルドレン with not as much ridiculousness. Just really nice character-driven short romance stories with good pacing and a nice balance of humor and drama.

Finally, I read 恋獄の都市 vol. 3, 4, and 5, finishing the series off. I feel like the story started getting rushed along towards the end of vol. 4, but all in all, I thought it wrapped up pretty well. Not an amazing series all things considered, but it had a good balance of suspense and horror elements with an interesting premise that kept me uncertain (in a good way) about what was really going on the entire time.

I watched kind of a lot of anime this week (admittedly, mostly on my second screen while I was working). Imo is out of town so I didn’t watch any of our usual weekly shows, but I did watch the whole first season of 探偵はもう死んでいる (ep. 1-12), which was actually pretty nice, much better than I had heard. I only started watching it for 白砂沙帆 , but she didn’t end up being in it much unfortunately. Still, interesting premise, executed pretty well. I might give the LNs a try.

I also watched ep. 2-4 of 転生したら剣でした with the intention to drop it, but I haven’t gotten around to dropping it yet. I probably wouldn’t be sticking with it if I was spending focused time on it, but it’s decent as background noise.

Lastly, I watched the first (double-length) episode of 昭和元禄落語心中. I’ve been curious about 落語 and this seemed like a good way to get some. Honestly a LOT of it went over my head. I expect to be in the dark for a while on this one.

I mentioned that some stuff had fallen by the wayside. I did manage to listen to one full audiobook (スーパーカブ 5, 6:12, medium focus). I still don’t really care for this series but it’s easy to put on and dip in and out of. One cool thing we learned about こぐま this time around: people who don’t ride cubs are just ゴミ, and people who used to ride but have stopped are ゴミ以下. Um! What!

Aside from Soul Hackers 2 (which I have once again completely neglected), I really struggled to find time for 月夜の島渡り, my new book by 恒川光太郎. If you take out the table of contents etc, I’ve literally only read about one page per day. Decided to extend my schedule to three weeks to give myself a fighting chance, but I really need to try and prioritize this. The setup seems interesting so far; a remote island chain where the events of certain myths and folktales actually occurred and are essentially treated as local hazards that the islanders have learned to deal with. The main character gives me slight Rawhide Kobayashi vibes. Hopefully that doesn’t last for long.