10 Best Japanese Novels to Read in English

Japanese Books You Must Read in English

Novels written by Haruki Murakami

Are you a voracious reader? If you read a lot, it is recommended to read Japanese novels. Japanese literature dates back to the early 8th century when Kanji (a Chinese character) came from China to Japan. The oldest chronicle Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters) was written in 712 and the second oldest Nihon Shoki (The Chronicles of Japan) was completed in 720. In 1008, The Tale of Genji was written by Murasaki Shikibu, which is famous as the world’s first novel.

There are quite a few modern authors in Japan who are renowned worldwide including the famous Haruki Murakami and the Nobel laureates Yasunari Kawabata (1968) and Kenzaburo Oe (1994). Japanese novels written by them have been translated into multiple languages and have been read all over the world. Today, I’d like to introduce 10 best Japanese novels of all time from the classic books to modern novels. Of course, you can read them in English.

For not only bookworms but also those who are interested in Japanese culture, novels written by Japanese writers are recommended to read.

1. Norwegian Wood (Haruki Murakami)

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami on Amazon.com

Norwegian Wood (ノルウェイの森), one of the most popular novels written by Haruki Murakami, achieved 10 million copies in 2009. The modern novel has been translated into over 30 languages since it was first published in the United States in 1989. Two main characters Toru Watanabe and Naoko are focused on in the realism and romance story.

Published in Japanese: 1987

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2. Kokoro (Soseki Natsume)

Kokoro by Soseki Natsume on Amazon.com

Speaking of Japanese literature in the present day, you cannot avoid talking about Soseki Natsume. His most famous novel Kokoro (こゝろ/こころ), published in 1914, is one of the best selling Japanese novels ever. Kokoro consists of three parts, and the setting is Tokyo in the late Meiji period. The story starts with the encounter with a young man and an older man called Sensei (teacher). The third part is the highlight of the story that proceeds with a letter from Sensei to the main character.

Published in Japanese: 1914

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3. No Longer Human (Osamu Dazai)

No Longer Human byOsamu Dazai
No Longer Human byOsamu Dazai on Amazon.com

No Longer Human (人間失格), which was written by Osamu Dazai in 1948, is one of the most popular Japanese novels of all time as well as Kokoro by Soseki Natsume. The classic novel is sometimes looked on as the autobiography of its writer since he committed suicide just after completing it. It is divided into three major parts, which depict the life of a man who cannot reveal his true self to others.

Published in Japanese: 1948

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4. Rashomon (Ryunosuke Akutagawa)

Rashomon by Ryunosuke Akutagawa
Rashomon by Ryunosuke Akutagawa on Amazon.com

One of the representative modern Japanese authors Ryunosuke Akutagawa completed Rashomon (羅生門) in 1915 when he was in The University of Tokyo. The short novel is set in Japan in the end of the Heian period. The story unfolds when a jobless man meets an old woman in Rashomon which is the main gate of the ruined capital Kyoto. The famous authority literary award Akutagawa Prize, established in 1935, was named after him.

Published in Japanese: 1915

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5. Kafka on the Shore (Haruki Murakami)

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami on Amazon.com

As one of the best books written by Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore (海辺のカフカ) should be added to your bucket list. The full-length novel, published in 2002, has been translated into 30 languages in America, Europe and Asia. Kafka on the Shore made the author much more famous outside Japan since it won some international awards such as the 10 Best Books of 2005 from The New York Times and the World Fantasy Award for 2006. In this book, the 15-year-old boy named Kafka starts his journey to become independent as an adult.

Published in Japanese: 2002

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6. Snow Country (Yasunari Kawabata)

on Amazon.com

Snow Country (雪国) was written in 1937 by Yasunari Kawabata who first won the Nobel Prize in Literature in Japan in 1968. There are several parts in Snow Country, which were based on his real experience during the trip to Yuzawa Onsen in Niigata Prefecture. The old novel represents a live affair between the main character Shimamura from Tokyo and the heroine Komako working as a geisha in an Onsen town.

Published in Japanese: 1937

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7. Night on the Galactic Railroad (Kenji Miyazawa)

Night on the Galactic Railroad by Kenji Miyazawa
Night on the Galactic Railroad by Kenji Miyazawa on Amazon.com

Night on the Galactic Railroad (銀河鉄道の夜), sometimes translated as The Night of the Milky Way Train or Night on the Milky Way Train, is published in 1934. The fantasy novel by Kenji Miyazawa has been made into movie and anime adaptions. The setting is Iwate Prefecture which is the home of the author. One day, a poor young boy Giovanni notices that he rides on the Galactic Railroad with his best friend Campanella, getting away from the hard life.

Published in Japanese: 1934

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8. I Am a Cat (Soseki Natsume)

I Am a Cat by Soseki Natsume
I Am a Cat by Soseki Natsume on Amazon.com

I Am a Cat (吾輩は猫である), published in 1905, is the first novel by Soseki Natsume and it is one of his masterpieces. Its story is narrated by a cat as the first person with the famous opening sentences “I am a cat. As yet I have no name.” The cat observes and satirizes human behaviors and humans themselves including its owner Kushami Chinno.

Published in Japanese: 1905

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9. The Sound of Waves (Yukio Mishima)

The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima
The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima on Amazon.com

The Sound of Waves (潮騒) is a popular romance novel written by Yukio Mishima in 1954 and has been made into movie adaptions for some times. The author visited Kamishima Island in Mie Prefecture as a land away from the hustle and bustle of the city to write this novel. The story focuses on pure love between a poor young fisherman Shinji and a diver Hatsue from a wealthy family. They try to overcome lots of problems and obstacles to succeed in love.

Published in Japanese: 1954

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10. Kitchen (Banana Yoshimoto)

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto on Amazon.com

Kitchen (キッチン), the representative novel of contemporary Japanese literature, was written by one of the most famous female authors Banana Yoshimoto. In Kitchen, a university-age girl Mikage Sakurai loses her parents when she was young and lives with her grand mother. However, the grand mother, her only family, passes away. The story is followed by the sequel titled Kitchen Part 2: Full Moon.

Published in Japanese: 1988

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Did you find the book that made you want to read? Those 10 novels have been must-read Japanese novels for book lovers for the long time. Enjoy modern Japanese literature in English!

If you want know more about Haruki Murakami, check the list of 10 best novels!

▽For manga fans all over the world, check this best manga list of all time in this article below!

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