• 10 Best Japanese Novels in 2022 (Haruki Murakami, Banana Yoshimoto, and More) 1
  • 10 Best Japanese Novels in 2022 (Haruki Murakami, Banana Yoshimoto, and More) 2
  • 10 Best Japanese Novels in 2022 (Haruki Murakami, Banana Yoshimoto, and More) 3
  • 10 Best Japanese Novels in 2022 (Haruki Murakami, Banana Yoshimoto, and More) 4
  • 10 Best Japanese Novels in 2022 (Haruki Murakami, Banana Yoshimoto, and More) 5

10 Best Japanese Novels in 2022 (Haruki Murakami, Banana Yoshimoto, and More)

Whether you're a bookworm or someone who is interested in learning more about Japan, Japanese novels have a lot to offer. From unique observations of the world around us to exceptional perspectives and commentary that transcend physical borders, Japanese novels are impactful, thought-provoking, and provide a glimpse into the country's rich culture and history. 


To help you choose, we've put together a list of the 10 best Japanese novels in English. While there are Japanese books of all genres, the novels we've chosen highlight genres that are unique to Japan. Our favorite is Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood because it is a coming-of-age story that contends with love and loss. Check out the rest of our list, and read our buying guide for tips on choosing a novel you'll love.

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mybest US Editors
  • Last updated: 08-22-2022
Table of Contents

How to Choose a Japanese Novel in English - Buying Guide

Finding the right Japanese novel for you can feel complicated or overwhelming—after all, there are so many different books that you can choose from! To find the right one for you, we recommend paying attention to its genre and checking whether or not it has a film or anime adaptation. 

Look Into Specific Japanese Genres

There are all kinds of Japanese books available. However, there are some genres and subgenres that are unique to Japan that you should consider when looking for a novel. 

Mystery Novels for Engaging and Chilling Stories

Mystery Novels for Engaging and Chilling Stories

Mystery novels center around an unexplained murder, crime, or event. This genre is highly engaging because you can try to solve the mystery for yourself alongside the characters. You’re probably familiar with different mystery subgenres, like detective fiction and true crime. Japanese mystery novels also have some of their own subgenres.


Honkaku, which translates to “orthodox” in English, is a subgenre where the author sets up the mystery like a puzzle. For example, if there's a locked-room murder, all of the clues and information necessary to solve it are provided to the reader. You can try to solve the mystery for yourself as you read along. Some big names in this genre are Kanae Minato and Seishi Yokomizo; you can also look at the Honkaku Mystery Writers Club of Japan for more examples!


Another popular subgenre is iyamisu mystery, also known as “eww mystery” in English. This term was coined in 2006 by Aoi Shimotsuki, a mystery critic. Iyamisu mystery takes a deep dive into the dark side of human nature to tell an unsettling story that will make you go “eww!” 

I-Novels for Unique Narratives

I-Novels for Unique Narratives

The I-novel is a genre that is entirely unique to Japan. It was created during the Meiji period, which took place from 1868 to 1912. During that time, realism, classicism, romanticism, and naturalism became popular. 


The naturalism literary movement was the basis for the I-novel, which is a story where the author reveals their innermost thoughts, feelings, and perspectives through the narrative. Some famous names in this genre are Osamu Dazai, Katai Tayama, and more.


I-novels are characterized by the author’s use of first-person point of view, and that the events depicted in the novel are drawn from the author’s own life and experiences. Ultimately, I-novels put the emphasis on the individual author to construct unique personal narratives.

Magical Realism for Novels That Are Surreal and Fantastic

Magical Realism for Novels That Are Surreal and Fantastic

Magical realism stories are characterized by a real-world setting where magical, fantastical, or otherwise unusual elements not only exist but are considered to be normal. It initially got its start in Latin America. In 1955, literary critic Angel Flores created the term “magical realism,” which gave a name to a previously unnamed genre. 


Although magical realism is not a genre created in Japan, it is a very popular genre for modern Japanese novels because of its surreal and dream-like qualities. Haruki Murakami, in particular, frequently writes books in this genre. 

Magical Realism for Novels That Are Surreal and Fantastic

For example, in Murakami's Kafka on the Shore, the character Satoru Nakata embodies these characteristics with his ability to talk to cats. Since the magic in magical realism is thought to be normal, how it works is never explained.

Magical realism enables Japanese authors to express their individual thoughts on what's happening in the world around them, often in the form of political and social criticism. Many Japanese authors utilize this genre to discuss themes such as trauma, the hardships faced by the working class, societal expectations, and isolation.

Additional Tips to Consider

In addition to the points discussed above, here are some tips you may want to look into when buying a Japanese novel.

Additional Tips to Consider

Look Into Japanese Novels That Were Adapted Into Movies or Anime

Looking to movies that have been adapted from Japanese novels can be a great jumping-off point for finding a book that you’ll love. Watching the movie adaptation of a book you’re interested in can help you decide whether you want to read it. 


Additionally, if you already know that a movie you enjoy is based on a Japanese novel, you may want to consider checking out the book. However, not only have Japanese novels been the basis for different movies, but some have even been adapted into anime. 


For example, the Netflix original series Japan Sinks: 2020 was based on the science fiction novel by Sakyo Komatsu. You may also be familiar with popular animated movies like Kiki’s Delivery Service and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Both of these movies are also based on Japanese novels.

Consider Visual Novels for an Interactive Story

Consider Visual Novels for an Interactive Story

The visual novel is a video game style that originated in Japan. It combines the narrative elements of a traditional novel with game mechanics to create an interactive story where you are the main character. You can read it on your computer, download it onto your phone as an app, or purchase it to play on a game console.


Visual novels are available in a range of genres and use a combination of illustrations, music, and written dialogue and narration to tell their stories. Some are fully published, while others are published chapter by chapter, so you may find yourself waiting for updates to the story.


In a visual novel, you are presented with different sets of choices as the story progresses. Each choice you make has an effect on the story’s outcome. They're a great option for someone who craves an interactive story, or if you are someone who struggles to visualize the characters and settings of traditional novels.

10 Best Japanese Novels

Here are our picks for the 10 best Japanese novels translated into English. We've included a variety of stories across different genres, so you're sure to find one here that you'll love!

Image
Haruki Murakami Norwegian Wood 1

Haruki Murakami

Osamu Dazai No Longer Human 1

Osamu Dazai

Sayaka Murata Convenience Store Woman 1

Sayaka Murata

Haruki Murakami IQ84 1

Haruki Murakami

Keigo Higashino The Devotion of Suspect X 1

Keigo Higashino

Yoko Ogawa The Housekeeper and the Professor 1

Yoko Ogawa

Hiromi Kawakami Strange Weather in Tokyo 1

Hiromi Kawakami

Banana Yoshimoto Kitchen 1

Banana Yoshimoto

Kanae Minato Confessions 1

Kanae Minato

Yasunari Kawabata Snow Country 1

Yasunari Kawabata

Name

Norwegian Wood

No Longer Human

Convenience Store Woman

IQ84

The Devotion of Suspect X

The Housekeeper and the Professor

Strange Weather in Tokyo

Kitchen

Confessions

Snow Country

Features

Best Coming-Of-Age Story From One of Japan's Most Well-Known Authors

Best I-Novel With Insight Into Mental Health

Best for a Quick, Amusing Story About Individuality

Best Exploration of a Dystopic Parallel World

Best Entry Into Japanese Mystery Fiction

Best Novel About Non-Romantic Love and Connections

Best Glimpse Into Japanese Culture Through a Charming Romance

Best to Explore Themes of Love and Loss

Best Revenge Story With Abundant Twists and Turns

Best Illustration of Japanese Poetic Prose

Price$13.49$9.70$11.48$15.99$13.69$11.99$14.95$14.49$14.99$12.69
FormatPaperbackPaperbackPaperbackPaperbackPaperbackPaperbackPaperbackPaperbackPaperbackPaperback
GenreRomanceFiction, I-novelFictionScience fiction, magical realismMysteryFictionRomanceFictionMysteryFiction
Movie/animeYesYesNoNoYesYesNoNoYesYes
Available formatseBook, audiobook, library binding, paperbackeBook, paperbackeBook, audiobook, hardcover, paperback, audio CDeBook, audiobook, hardcover, paperback, MP3 CDeBook, audiobook, hardcover, paperbackeBook, audiobook, hardcover, paperback, audio CDeBook, audiobook, paperback, MP3 CDeBook, audiobook, hardcover, paperback, MP3 CDeBook, library binding, paperbackeBook, audiobook, paperback, MP3 CD
eBook price$12.99$7.91$9.02$12.99$11.99$10.99$11.99$9.99$9.99$12.99
Page count2981771761184320192192160234195
Publication year2000197320192013201220092017200620141996
Link
FormatPaperback
GenreRomance
Movie/animeYes
Available formatseBook, audiobook, library binding, paperback
eBook price$12.99
Page count298
Publication year2000
FormatPaperback
GenreFiction, I-novel
Movie/animeYes
Available formatseBook, paperback
eBook price$7.91
Page count177
Publication year1973
FormatPaperback
GenreFiction
Movie/animeNo
Available formatseBook, audiobook, hardcover, paperback, audio CD
eBook price$9.02
Page count176
Publication year2019
FormatPaperback
GenreScience fiction, magical realism
Movie/animeNo
Available formatseBook, audiobook, hardcover, paperback, MP3 CD
eBook price$12.99
Page count1184
Publication year2013

Keigo HigashinoThe Devotion of Suspect X

$13.69

FormatPaperback
GenreMystery
Movie/animeYes
Available formatseBook, audiobook, hardcover, paperback
eBook price$11.99
Page count320
Publication year2012

Yoko OgawaThe Housekeeper and the Professor

$11.99

FormatPaperback
GenreFiction
Movie/animeYes
Available formatseBook, audiobook, hardcover, paperback, audio CD
eBook price$10.99
Page count192
Publication year2009

Hiromi KawakamiStrange Weather in Tokyo

$14.95

FormatPaperback
GenreRomance
Movie/animeNo
Available formatseBook, audiobook, paperback, MP3 CD
eBook price$11.99
Page count192
Publication year2017
FormatPaperback
GenreFiction
Movie/animeNo
Available formatseBook, audiobook, hardcover, paperback, MP3 CD
eBook price$9.99
Page count160
Publication year2006
FormatPaperback
GenreMystery
Movie/animeYes
Available formatseBook, library binding, paperback
eBook price$9.99
Page count234
Publication year2014
FormatPaperback
GenreFiction
Movie/animeYes
Available formatseBook, audiobook, paperback, MP3 CD
eBook price$12.99
Page count195
Publication year1996

Want More Books?

Want More Books?

A Japanese novel is a perfect addition to any bookshelf, but your personal library isn’t complete yet! Check out more of our favorites below to find other great books to get lost in.

Author: Alexa Nogueira


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