In a previous post, I took a in-depth look at how you can learn Japanese with visual novels. However, I did not provide a list of easy visual novels that can be read in Japanese.
The /r/visualnovels subreddit has an extensive list of visual novel recommendations for Japanese learners. Unfortunately (or fortunately—depending on your tastes) many of the visual novels in that list contain NSFW adult content.
In this post, we’ve picked out only visual novels that are SFW (good for all ages). Hopefully, this will help you readers and learners choose a good visual novel to get started with. As I always say, try not to overthink these decisions! It’s better to pick something that interests you and get started as soon as possible.
Before we jump in to the list, let’s look at what criteria help make a visual novel a good option for beginners.
Characteristics of good visual novels to read in Japanese
So what makes a visual novel a good option for beginners? Here are a few things to look out for:
- How difficult is the language? This is self-explanatory. How difficult, on average, is the Japanese being used?
- How much dialogue? How much narration? As narration is generally much harder to read that dialogue, beginners want to choose visual novels that have more conversation and less narration.
- What is the context? Does the story take place in commonplace locations like the school or the workplace? Or does it take place in a fantasy land filled with strange things that one doesn’t see in real life?
- Is it “lookup-able?” How easy is it to look up difficult words and phrases you come across. This is about (a) how easy it is to extract text from your VN for lookup and (b) how ‘standardized’ the terminology is (the stranger the language, the less likely it is to show up in a dictionary or grammar book).
Of course, there is a lot more that you can consider when trying to find good visual novels to read in Japanese. You also want your novel to be fun, engaging, relevant, affordable, and so on. But the questions above should make a good start.
Let’s jump into the list!
This is the first of a the four-part FLOWERS series by developer Innocent Gray. It is a ‘yuri’ girl-on-girl romance novel. From official English site:
Surrounded by immense walls in the middle of a forest, lies the prestigious all-girls school, Saint Angraecum Academy. It’s a school that prides itself on growing bright and cultured young women.
The school’s Amitié program is designed to help foster new friendships that will last a lifetime. This is why Suoh Shirahane, a painfully shy girl with a mysterious past, has enrolled. As her first year of high school begins, she is filled with hopes of a new life.
The setting at a school also makes a good choice for immersion into casual language. However, the Reddit reviewer points out that some of the speech can be more formal than in other visual novels. In other words, this is a good VN to learn honorifics with!
This is short and simple slice-of-life VN that is great for beginners looking for an easy visual novel to read in Japanese. From VNDB:
The story revolves around four girls who attend Saint Michael Girls’ School and highlights all their cute … love for one another during and after school. The story is quite lighthearted and follows the four girls at school, shopping, hanging around and coming together for a pajama party.
It has many phrases taken from school and everyday life. As the Reddit reviewer points out, when it comes to difficulty for VNs, “this is about as easy is it can get.” If you’re a beginner, this might be the best visual novel to start out with. If you’re a bit more advanced, this may just end up boring you to death.
This is a long (50+ hours) suspense visual novel from developer Registra. The story revolves around nine characters trapped in the basement of a giant science research facility. From VNDB:
At “LABO”, a giant scientific research facility built by a lake on the outskirts of “Rokumei City”, an “incident” occurs…! And thus, nine souls are trapped in LABO’s basement.
Because of the scientific theme, this VN will give you more exposure to terms from biology, physics, and related subjects. This also means more scientific jargon that you may have to filter out. You might want to balance this with a slice-of-life visual novel.
This is a mystery visual novel about a female protagonist trying to recover her lost memories. The play length is 10-30 hours. From the official English website:
That morning, when she awoke, the heroine found herself without any memories from before August 1st…… Everything, from the sort of life she lived, to the relationships she had, was a blank……
A young boy named Orion appeared in front of her, referring to himself as a “spirit.” Under Orion’s guidance, the heroine began the struggle to regain her memories. She searched her house for clues about her everyday life, and received a message on her phone…
This is another good beginner choice because, as the Reddit reviewer says, “the narration is usually the most difficult part [of a VN] to read and this has none.” This also means that this can be a good VN if you want to focus on conversational language. At $69.99, the price point is ridiculous, though.
This is a sports-themed visual novel about the “Flying Circus.” The play time is 30-50 hours. From VNDB:
The protagonist once had a bright future ahead of him in that field of sports but due to an overwhelming defeat in addition to a certain other reason, he has left that field.
However, he meets the transfer student Kurashina Asuka and regains his passion as he teaches her how to fly.
This seems like another solid choice. However, the reviewer points out that the VN starts off with some special terminology concerning the game’s theme—the “Flying Circus.” In my experience, running into technical terms can be quite frustrating, especially if you fail to find them in a dictionary.
This is a hard science fiction visual novel from developer Applique -Imouto-. At 10-30 hours play time, the VN is of medium length. Make sure you choose the all ages version instead of the adult version. From VNDB:
In 2040, a mysterious natural disaster causes all planes to stop functioning above 500 feet (150 meters) of the Earth’s surface, resulting in over 20 million deaths. The year is 2060 and it is forbidden to fly above this limit. Pilots call this stretch from 500 feet to outer space ‘Artemis’s hymen’. Now a group of people operate a transport agency from the abandoned building that was to be the New Third Tokyo International Airport (nicknamed Edowanzu). They wish to fly higher than what is permitted by aviation laws.
According to the reviewer, the advantages of this VN seem to be (a) “straightforward dialogues” and (b) engineering vocabulary (due to the games SF theme). The dialogue is not as weird as it can be in anime because the characters are adults. Like Root Double -Before Crime * After Days-, this can be a good VN to pair with more casual, slice-of-life manga featuring school life scenes.
Enjoy reading your visual novels!
That’s all for our list of easy visual novels to read in Japanese. Any one of these options should give you weeks (or months) of Japanese reading practice. And you get to have fun while doing it!
If you haven’t already, check out our post on how to learn Japanese with visual novels. You might also like our posts on how you can learn Japanese with manga, with anime, and with Twitter. Need even more reading material? Check out our manga subscription service, Box of Manga.