Top 10 Chinese Graded Readers for Improving Your Mandarin
If you’ve learned Chinese for a while, you’ll know that it’s important to read Chinese stories to speed up the process.
With that in mind, there are interesting Chinese readers that can guide you through new Chinese words and sentence structures.
I’ve come up with 10 of the most reliable Chinese graded readers here. This list covers both graded reader books and apps, with options for all levels!
- Classic Chinese Graded Reader Books
- Best for Beginners: Mandarin Companion
- Best for Lower Intermediate: Chinese Breeze
- Best for Modern Stories: Graded Chinese Reader
- Best for Chinese Culture: Tales and Traditions
- Best Full-Length Story: The Lady in the Painting
- Best for Literary Essays: Readings in Chinese Culture
- Best Advanced: Capturing Chinese
- Must-Use Chinese Graded Reader Apps
- Our Criteria for Choosing Chinese Readers
- And One More Thing...
Classic Chinese Graded Reader Books
Chinese graded reader books give you a very immersive reading experience, and they usually come in a series too so you can steadily improve as you make your way through each book. These tried-and-tested graded reader books come with different themes, from folklore to modern mystery:
Best for Beginners: Mandarin Companion
Level: Beginner to low intermediate
The Mandarin Companion series is a series of readers that consists of lots of stories. There are lots of great features within the series, like definition annotations for select words, and some fantastic artwork to help visualize the story.
However, what really stands out is that it’s beginner-friendly because it chooses simplified, translated versions of popular stories or characters. It has carefully chosen titles like “Sherlock Holmes and the Scandal in Shanghai,” “The Secret Garden” and “The Prince and the Pauper.”
What’s more, these stories are adapted to fit Chinese culture—for example, Sherlock is named 高明 (gāo míng), and the setting is in Shanghai instead of London.
Best of all, they’re centered around a certain set of vocabulary. Some books are written with only 400 words in mind, which is accessible for beginners.
Best for Lower Intermediate: Chinese Breeze
Level: Beginner to intermediate
Chinese Breeze is another popular series of Chinese readers among Chinese learners.
While it presents Chinese stories in a similar manner to Mandarin Companion, the style of the stories is a little different. The Mandarin Companion series is more geared towards classic fiction, but the Chinese Breeze series is more varied in genre, with titles such as “Whom Do You Like More?”, “Secrets of a Computer Company” and “Green Phoenix.”
In terms of illustrations, the Mandarin Companion series feels more modern and fresh.
While it doesn’t have expansive grammar explanations like the Mandarin Companion series, it’s still a good series of Chinese readers for beginner or intermediate students.
Best for Modern Stories: Graded Chinese Reader
Level: Intermediate to advanced
The Graded Chinese Reader is similar in presentation to the two series above. However, I’d place its level higher. Most stories are not written specifically for Chinese learners—instead, they are taken from real stories written by contemporary Chinese writers.
Some example story titles include: “People’s Fish” by Su Tong, “The Beauty of Ice and Snow” by Mo Yan, “Buddha’s Warrior Won’t Change” by Bi Shumin and “White Flower All Over” by Liu Qingbang. As you can see, these have a much heavier Chinese flavor than the first two series.
Coupled with audio, the Graded Chinese Reader series is great for Chinese learners who really want to challenge themselves with some difficult but guided reading material.
Best for Chinese Culture: Tales and Traditions
Level: All levels
Tales and Traditions is an interesting series because it covers all levels but its stories are very much centered on Chinese culture.
As a matter of fact, a lot of these stories are actually stories that explain the origin of chengyu (Chinese idioms), sayings and mystical tales like 杯弓蛇影 (mistaking the reflection of a bow for a snake), 朝三暮四 (three in the morning and four in the evening), 三人行必有我师 (one out of every three must be my mentor), 盘古开天地 (Pangu creates the Universe).
It’s recommended for Chinese learners who aren’t only interested in learning new Chinese words but also about Chinese culture.
Best Full-Length Story: The Lady in the Painting
The Lady in the Painting is an entire story all on its own—unlike some of the graded readers in this list, where every chapter is a different story. Because the plot is interesting, I thought it’s worth mentioning in this list.
I won’t ruin the story by telling it here, but alongside each chapter, there are glossaries, as well as grammar notes explaining key sentence structures that are introduced with each chapter.
It’s great for Chinese learners who want a Chinese reader that’s comprised of one complete story.
Best for Literary Essays: Readings in Chinese Culture
Level: Upper intermediate to advanced
This is a series that’s made up not only of short prose and texts, but also poems. It really puts Chinese learners to the test because it presents material that’s more literary.
There are several volumes in this series, and some sample chapter titles include: 为什么尊敬老人 (Why Respect the Elderly?), 星星的爱情故(Celestial Love Story) and 长城故宫兵马俑 (Great Wall, Imperial Palace, Terracotta Warriors).
An excellent choice for upper intermediate to advanced learners who really want to challenge their Chinese reading ability with higher-level prose.
Best Advanced: Capturing Chinese
Out of all the Chinese Readers presented here, this is the most challenging series. Taken from texts written by famous contemporary writer 鲁迅 with titles such as 祝福 (Best Wishes), 阿Q正传 (The True Story of Ah Q) and 呐喊 (Call to Arms), as well as essays and short stories by revolutionary authors, it presents material on par with prose studied by Chinese high school students.
Coupled with comprehensive annotations to explain vocabulary and the cultural aspects of these works, the series is excellent for the advanced Chinese learner with ample Chinese reading experience, who wants to further their Chinese proficiency by reading contemporary prose.
Must-Use Chinese Graded Reader Apps
Aside from books, you can try out Chinese graded reader apps, which come with handy features, like pop-up dictionaries and audio. The three apps below are among the best, and they constantly have new content that’ll keep you busy:
Best for Reading News: The Chairman’s Bao
Level: All levels
Available on: Android | iOS | Web
The Chairman’s Bao is a Chinese graded reader app that teaches you a lot about modern Chinese culture because its material is based on actual Chinese news clips and articles. As one of the most popular apps for Chinese learners, it has a lot of diverse content, with topics like traditional festivals, the gig economy in China and viral online trends.
The articles are categorized by HSK level, from HSK 1 to 6 (and beyond). Reading a news article on the app is very convenient because of all the digital tools. You can click on any word for a pop-up definition and even listen to a native speaker reading the article out loud, with the speed adjusted depending on your level.
It’s not just about passive reading, either—each news sample comes with grammar notes plus reading and listening exercises.
Best for Diverse Learner Material: Du Chinese
Level: All levels
Available on: Android | iOS | Web
For more diverse materials outside of news articles, Du Chinese is another Chinese graded reader app that has been around for a while. It lets you read and listen to different types of content, and there are more than 2,000 lessons, with several new ones added every week.
Levels are roughly based on the HSK, with levels from newbie to master. Each article comes with human-spoken audio. Aside from being able to check the meaning of each word with a tap, you can also look at full sentence translations that are actually written by humans.
Whether you want to read about everyday life or explore Chinese history and literature, you’ll find interesting content here. There are even lesson series that are adapted from popular movies and short stories.
Best for Chinese Webnovels: Readibu
Levels: Upper intermediate and advanced
Available on: Android | iOS
Readibu makes reading Chinese webnovels way more approachable for learners. The world of Chinese webnovels is vast and among the best (and most addictive) reading resources at an advanced level, and you can get started tackling them with Readibu.
The app sorts webnovels into different categories, like romance, science fiction, mystery, wuxia and mystery, and assigns levels to these. If webnovels sound intimidating, you can always get started with short stories and essays, which are rated at least HSK 4.
Once you open a webnovel, Readibu lets you tap on any word and access a pop-up dictionary. It can also break down each word into pinyin and read text out loud.
You’re not really limited to webnovels—you can load your own articles or Chinese books into it and get a guided reading experience!
Our Criteria for Choosing Chinese Readers
Here’s how I chose the Chinese graded readers above:
- Well-written stories. If the stories aren’t interesting, it defeats the whole purpose of learning Chinese with them. You’ll forget about what you’ve read easily!
- Appropriate level. For our Chinese readers, we’re looking for stories that are written in modern Chinese, with clear levels. We’re not particularly interested in stories written for children, so a basic proficiency in Chinese is necessary.
- Well annotated. These stories must be well-annotated with explanations of words and grammar points that are worth adding to our repository of words.
- Questions and exercises. If questions and exercises are included, it would really help reinforce what was learned in these short stories.
- Series. Chinese graded reader series get a bonus point, because having a series of stories usually indicates that it’s well received by Chinese learners.
- Availability of both traditional and simplified characters.
Chinese graded readers are all about increasing your amount of comprehensible input so that you learn the language naturally. You can actually do this in video form too. For example, FluentU’s Chinese program also sorts Chinese videos by level, with subtitles connected to a pop-up dictionary and helpful exercises.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Beyond studying textbooks, being strategic about comprehensible input will help you internalize the language better, especially at the higher levels.
So there we have it—10 graded readers that a lot of Chinese learners love.
Hopefully, you’ll have gotten an idea as to what types of stories are presented in each reader, their format and why Chinese readers are a great way to learn new vocabulary while delving deeply into Chinese culture.
Reading is the essence of learning any language—and I hope you will enjoy taking up one of these Chinese readers to guide you in learning Chinese.
And One More Thing...
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