10 Best Japanese Books | Must-read Japanese Books!

by Erika Shinomoto
best japanese books

Looking for Japanese books? Here are the best Japanese books that you need to get your hands on ASAP!

Ever since I remember, I have always found a comfortable corner where I could read to my heart’s content. Throughout the years I have read books of different genres. During all of these years of reading, I came across some of the best Japanese books written by authors that are well renowned and reviewed across the world. 

But today I have brought to you some of the best Japanese books that are my absolute favorites! If you’re an avid reader like me, I am sure you will find this list and the books extremely interesting.

Best Japanese Novels — Quick Summary

Best Japanese BooksAuthorEditor’s Rating
The Tale of GenjiMurasaki Shikibu3.7/5
Snow CountryYasunari Kawabata3.7/5
The Wind-Up Bird ChronicleHaruki Murakami4.2/5
OutNatsuo Kirino4/5
Convenience Store WomanSayaka Murata3.7/5
Strange Weather in TokyoHiromi Kawakami3.8/5
SilenceBest Japanese booksShusaku Endo4.1/5
Tokyo Ueno StationYu Miri3.6/5
KitchenBanana Yoshimoto3.9/5
An Artist of the Floating WorldKazuo Ishiguro3.8/5

Top Japanese Books

The Silent Cry 

Genre: Fiction | Author: Kenzaburo Oe | Release Year: 1967

Kenzaburo Oe was also among Japan’s Nobel Prize winners, and his books are often personal ruminations on family matters that touch on politics but always deal with the pain of growing up.. 

Following decades of separation, two brothers return to their ancestral home, a densely forested village in Western Japan. Faced with personal crises, each brother grapples with the death of a close friend while the other is traumatized by his father’s death. 

His illustrations centered on that topic, and his most refined and adjusted depiction of it was The Silent Cry, which recounts the tale of two siblings who return to their youth town in the 60s. 

One comes from Tokyo, and the other comes from the US. These two bring with them newly discovered things and tell the tale of a home they once knew.


Genre: Fiction | Author: Natsume Soseki | Release Year: 1914

Japan’s most popular author is undoubtedly Natsume Soseki, whose masterpiece is Kokoro (Heart). This captivating novelist not only wrote several treasured books, but he also composed several other masterpieces, including The Tale of Genji. 

The novel, which is set in Kamakura and Tokyo, explores in three parts the relationship between a young man and his sensei. Its narration switches perspectives midway through, providing a touching, detailed, and sober portrait of three-dimensional characters. 

Throughout its length, the novel displays something like poetry, having a great deal of insight and understanding. Edwin McClenlan’s translation is stunning.

The Tale of Genji

Genre: Classic | Author: Murasaki Shikibu | Release Year: 1987

The Tale of Genji is a book that you must absolutely read because this is where Japanese literature began. The book is written by Murasaki Shikibu who belonged to the Heian period in Japan. 

This book is considered to be the first novel ever written in the world. It is also one of the finest works you will ever find in the history of Japanese literature. 

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I absolutely love this novel and the way it describes the lives of Japan’s nobility when it was the capital of Japan. It is also written in a very witty and smart manner and so it is considered to be one of the greatest works of classic Japanese fiction.

Snow Country

Genre: Classic | Author: Yasunari Kawabata | Release Year: 1937 

Snow country is a beautiful novel that is loved and reviewed by novelists across Japan. I love the imagery provided throughout the story that draws me closer to the pages of the book. 

The beginning of Snow country is absolutely pleasing where you read about a train going through the stunning mountainous countryside. 

This is where we meet the narrator. The novel beautifully brings together the different themes of art, beauty, lust, and love. Everything in the story has been strewn together very well.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

Genre: Fantasy | Author: Haruki Murakami | Release Year: 1994

Haruki Murakami is probably one of the most famous authors in the world today. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is considered to be the magnum opus of Murakami’s journey as an author. 

The novel talks about themes that are a part of almost everybody’s lives in today’s age; anxieties and existential crises. I love how these two things have been wrapped around impossible and several scenarios making the book a very fun and thrilling journey.


Genre: Feminist | Author: Natsuo Kirino | Release Year: 1997

I am all into feminist writings and this is one of the best books that give us a scathing and harsh story of Japanese feminism. Out is a book that brings out Natsuo Kirino’s anger and grief. 

The story revolves around a factory worker who murders her husband after she has crossed every limit. After killing her husband, she asks for help from her female work colleagues. It is a very thrilling story that just keeps escalating with every page.

Convenience Store Woman

Genre: Feminist | Author: Sayaka Murata | Release Year: 2016

This is a book I had a very good time reading. I am always on the lookout for stories that have some truth behind them, and this book fulfilled that need. This is a book that brings you closer to the working class of 21st century Japan. 

I particularly loved the political and social backdrop of Convenience Store Woman. The take on the working class of Japan has been described in a very unique manner, which is why the book made headlines across the planet. 

The book follows the life of a woman who works in a convenience store. This is actually the life of the author herself. She worked in the convenience store for 18 years and she is absolutely happy working this job. 

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However, despite being happy, the book delves deeper and tells us about the expectations and the corporate ladders that our protagonist faces. If you have ever worked in retail, you will find yourself relating to every single thing that is happening in this book. 

I absolutely love the way in which the book explores the normal in terms of expectations that Japan keeps with its citizens. Our protagonist Keiko completely refuses to conform to these norms and she lives her unconventional life.

Strange Weather in Tokyo

Genre: Romance | Author: Hiromi Kawakami | Release Year: 2001

Who can say no to a very good love story, right? I know I cannot pass by one without opening the pages and consuming it all. The author Hiromi Kawakami is known to write about human characters in the most beautiful way. She writes about love and friendship in a manner that you will not find waiting by anyone else. 

Strange weather in Tokyo is one of the best examples in which you understand these themes to their full potential. The story brings to us the blossoming romance between a salary woman and a Japanese teacher. 

By using these two central characters, the author tells us the marriage between traditional Japan and the new corporate world of Tokyo. If you want a very sweet and easy-going read this is definitely the one for you.

Silence – Best Japanese Books

Genre: Historical Fiction | Author: Shusaku Endo | Release Year: 1966

I am not somebody who reads books that delves into religion and international politics but this book has been written with a unique perspective that drew me in. As is well known, Japan has always had a very complicated relationship with other religions but the country does have a small population of Christian and Catholic people. 

Silence is a novel that is inspired by all of these real-life events and people. The book was globally accredited for its words and impact; it also saw its way to the theatres when it was adapted by Martin Scorsese.

Tokyo Ueno Station

Genre: Literary Fiction | Author: Yu Miri | Release Year: 2014

Yu Miri is one of the most outspoken political writers in Japan. Tokyo Ueno Station is a novel that unflinchingly and unapologetically brings out the political scenarios of Japan. The narrator of the novel is the ghost of a working man who died in Ueno park. 

Even though the narrator spent his entire life building the modern cityscape of Tokyo, he himself did not have a home. 

Our narrator was born on the same day as the emperor but he did not have the good luck or fortune of the emperor and died in obscurity. The novel is a socialist tale that talks about all that a working man has to go through.


Genre: Romance | Author: Banana Yoshimoto | Release Year: 1988  

I cannot talk about Japanese books and leave Banana Yoshimoto behind. She is one of the most well-known writers in contemporary Japanese literature. Kitchen is a book that I got very close to. It is a very sweet book but there is a certain amount of sadness associated with it. 

The first time I read this book I remember having to snuggle with a mug of warm coffee. Kitchen is a story that meditates on grief and loss. There are two stories here; one novella length and the other is more of a short story. 

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Both of these stories talk about two young women who have known so much about laws that it is very difficult to fathom and comprehend. 

The first story is about Mike age who finds some peace and Solace in the homeliness of kitchens. There is no other room in the house where she feels more at peace. However, this is something that she is quite distant from because she has lost her entire family. 

The second story Moonlight Shadow is my absolute favorite even though it is much shorter. This story is again about grief that is described in a very beautiful way.

An Artist of the Floating World

Genre: Historical Fiction | Author: Kazuo Ishiguro | Release Year: 1986

An Artist of the Floating World is a very complex novel that brings out the political scenario of Japan in the aftermath of World War II. The story follows the life of an aged artist who was known to draw propaganda Posters for the Japanese Empire during World War II. 

This job of his did not give him any fame, in fact, he earned a lot of disgrace for it. He is shunned by society but is still living. The story revolves around this man’s life and how he is trying to grapple with his past, his art, and the choices he made. 

What is the most read book in Japan?

The most read book in Japan is “The Tale of Genji“. It was written by a woman named Murasaki in the 11th century. The tone of the book is often considered feminine, and the writer refers to herself as “the lady in the mirror”. The writer also uses Japanese terms for things typical of women, such as putting on makeup, sewing and weaving. The book is interesting from a historical perspective, as it was written before the Heian Period.

Also Read:

  1. Best Books to Learn Japanese for Beginners
The Tale of Genji

Looking for Japanese books? Here are the best Japanese books that you need to get your hands on ASAP!

URL: https://www.amazon.com/Tale-Genji-Penguin-Classics-Deluxe/dp/014243714X/

Author: Murasaki Shikibu

Editor's Rating:

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