There are two feelings that can make almost any human being happy.
The first is curling up with a cup of tea and a good book on a cozy weekend afternoon.
The second is getting free stuff.
Want to combine both of those wonderful feelings?
It’s easy! With free e-book sites—some of which are focused specifically on Japanese titles—you can build a massive digital bookshelf to explore every weekend of the year, without ever spending a penny.
As a Japanese learner, you can get even more out of these sites, since you’ll be developing your reading comprehension skills and diving into the world of Japanese culture and history. From manga to short stories to classic novels, there’s so much for the book-loving Japanese learner to explore.
We’ll show you the four best sites for free Japanese e-books, so you can spend less time searching for a good read and more time actually reading!
How E-books Give You the Authentic Japanese Experience
Translations can be great—but there’s nothing like being able to read a Japanese book the way the author originally wrote it.
You’ll get a feel for the time period, culture and speaking or writing styles that the author came from. You’ll see how Japanese is used in different genres and in dialogue versus description. And best of all, you’ll be able to confidently discuss what you’ve read with native Japanese speakers who’ve read the same titles.
With authentic Japanese reading, you’ll also avoid the issue of “localization” that can come with translated books. For those of you not familiar with the idea, localization is a way of adapting things from one culture to another in order to make it acceptable, or more commercially viable.
For example, localization might involve changing place names, currency, holidays and even the way gender roles are represented in a book. When it’s done wrong, it can cause mistakes that range from silly to serious.
Of course, you get all these benefits with physical books in Japanese, so why focus on e-books in particular?
If you’re a language learner, the convenience of carrying multiple e-books in a small device is hard to overstate. You’ll be able to squeeze in Japanese reading practice at any point in your day, helping you advance toward fluency faster. You’ll also be able to quickly shift between books of different genres and styles, diversifying your learning experience.
If you enjoy this type of authentic but digitized learning, you’ll want to supplement your Japanese reading with other tools like FluentU.
FluentU takes real-world Japanese videos—like music videos, movie trailers, documentaries, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
It naturally and gradually eases you into learning Japanese language and culture. You’ll learn real Japanese as it’s spoken in real life.
Just take a look at the wide variety of authentic video content available in the program. Here’s a small sample:
You’ll discover tons of new Japanese vocabulary through these great clips.
Don’t worry about your skill level being an issue when it comes to understanding the language. FluentU makes native Japanese videos approachable through interactive transcripts.
Tap on any word to look it up instantly.
You’ll see definitions, in-context usage examples and helpful illustrations. Simply tap “add” to send interesting vocabulary words to your personal vocab list for later review.
FluentU even uses a learning program which adapts to your specific needs, to turn every video into a language learning lesson and get you to actively practice your newly-learned language.
What File Format Should You Get E-books In?
It’s easy to get confused about the different e-book file formats and which ones you should be using. So let’s clear that up.
The preferred Kindle format is called MOBI, but Kindles can also read ePubs and HTML files.
ePub works on a variety of devices—most of the major readers support it. You’re usually safe if you use this format, or PDF on all of the major devices. HTML is also fairly universal, as long as you have a web browser.
If you want something Apple-specific then you can use the iBooks format.
4 Japanese E-book Sites for an Impressive (and Free!) Digital Library
Looking for light reads in Japanese? This resource tends more toward manga and short stories than heavy literature, so it’s a good place to start.
Since the books on this site aren’t region-restricted, as they can be on Amazon, you’ll be able to get the exact same titles as a person in Japan would. Often, you can get them on the same day.
You can find Honto’s free e-books here. Below are some popular titles to explore (however, note that the selection of free books is updated regularly, so different titles may be offered at different times):
Undying creatures known as “Fellows” are being aggressive toward humans. A former high school student and current Fellow, Kei, finds himself in the middle of the conflict.
This book is great for intermediate readers, as the images help readers grasp the more complex issues that are covered.
The former wandering reverse-blade swordsman, Kenshin, tries to get away from his violent past. But a peaceful life isn’t easy to get.
With shadows of the past that won’t quite rest, things will need to be settled. This book does require a more advanced reading level, because it makes references specific to the restoration era of Japan.
Just be aware that if you share devices with underage users, this site does have its fair share of hentai, yuri and yaoi, and some of it can be prominently displayed on the main page. For those of you not familiar with those terms, they refer to books/manga that are about sexual topics. They can range from romance with a sexual aspect to pornography. So with Honto you may want to figure out the parental controls on your device.
This site is similar to Honto but with a larger Japanese library. Aozora Bunko has works in progress as well, so you can enjoy current works from living authors.
The site is a little hard to navigate at first, but you’ll get the hang of it.
Two popular titles include:
Both are collections of short stories that’ve been carefully edited for both language and cultural accuracy. The topics range from marriage and family to traditional culture.
Project Gutenburg is a well-known database for free e-books. It has a fair sized Japanese page, with more than 50 books to read.
Since the site is a kind of open archive of the world’s public domain literature, it’s always free. On the flip side, you won’t likely find too many modern books here. So if you’re mainly interested in exploring Japanese history, culture and classic writings, this is a great resource.
Titles are usually available in ePub or Kindle’s native format. Sometimes you can find audiobooks as well.
Some top picks include:
This is a work of historical fiction, set in 1914, focused on the first world war. The story has a strong main character with relatable motives. There’s a little bit of mystery here, too.
This is a space-based story that seems to feel less like science fiction than you may expect at first glance. On the whole it’s a fun, short story.
Just be aware that since the Kindle store ranks titles by popularity, there are also some smutty options on the main page. Be careful with little ones who share your Kindle.
Some top Kindle store options right now include:
A beloved children’s classic that needs no introduction. The familiarity from the English original can help beginners get comfortable with reading in Japanese. Just pace yourself and you should be fine.
The good news is that this e-book and the whole series have been translated. So if you enjoy this one you can go in on all seven books.
This one is a classic Japanese tale. The book is better suited to advanced readers, and can help you to get a feel for classic Japanese culture and history. It’s a great way to begin getting deep into the culture of Japan.
In the end, you should focus on the books that are of the most interest to you. Don’t just read what’s popular. Read what makes you happy!
Just be sure that you’re challenging yourself as you go. You might start out with basic fantasy manga, then as your ability progresses move to short stories. After that you might be able to move up to a translation of your favorite novel. From there, why not move to an authentic Japanese novel?
You’ll find that when you read what you like, things go more quickly and you get more out of the material. After all, no one said that your study time couldn’t also be your fun time!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Japanese with real-world videos.