20 Best Japanese Novels You’ll Love Reading

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20 Best Japanese Novels You’ll Love Reading

In this list of best Japanese novels, you’ll be exposed to a plethora of genres, ranging from the best Japanese fantasy books, to the best Japanese romance novels, and every genre in between!

This list of best japanese novels in English includes works from world-renowned authors such as Murakami (a long-standing favourite amongst Japanese literature readers) as well as up-and-coming burgeoning authors in the scene. 

Here are some of the best Japanese novels you won’t want to miss for a truly worthwhile reading experience. 

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For more Southeast Asian book titles, check out 15 Best Books Set In Indonesia You Must Read

My recent Japanese translated literature book review – Review: The Cat Who Saved Books by Sosuke Natsukawa

If you like reading mangas or webtoons checkout:

21 Best Japanese Novels You’ll Love Reading

1. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

Summary: Kafka on the Shore, a tour de force of metaphysical reality, is powered by two remarkable characters: a teenage boy, Kafka Tamura, who runs away from home either to escape a gruesome oedipal prophecy or to search for his long-missing mother and sister; and an aging simpleton called Nakata, who never recovered from a wartime affliction and now is drawn toward Kafka for reasons that, like the most basic activities of daily life, he cannot fathom. Their odyssey, as mysterious to them as it is to us, is enriched throughout by vivid accomplices and mesmerizing events. Cats and people carry on conversations, a ghostlike pimp employs a Hegel-quoting prostitute, a forest harbors soldiers apparently unaged since World War II, and rainstorms of fish (and worse) fall from the sky. There is a brutal murder, with the identity of both victim and perpetrator a riddle—yet this, along with everything else, is eventually answered, just as the entwined destinies of Kafka and Nakata are gradually revealed, with one escaping his fate entirely and the other given a fresh start on his own.

Genre: Fantasy

Goodreads Rating: 4.14

What Are Readers Saying? 

As one of the best translated Japanese fantasy novels out there, I couldn’t leave ‘Kafka on the Shore’ out of this list! 

The book focuses on two protagonists with seemingly separate stories that eventually converge. Kafka’s story is a coming-of-age odyssey, whereas Nakata’s is a pitiful tale of an old simpleton damaged from war. The contrast in the two characters makes for a rich and interesting plot.

This is one of Murakami’s most critically acclaimed novels of all time, weaving themes of boyhood, loss of innocence, discrimination, and mystery – all against the backdrop of a completely riveting fantasy storyline. This is one you won’t want to miss!   

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2. The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

Summary: On an unnamed island off an unnamed coast, objects are disappearing: first hats, then ribbons, birds, roses—until things become much more serious. Most of the island’s inhabitants are oblivious to these changes, while those few imbued with the power to recall the lost objects live in fear of the draconian Memory Police, who are committed to ensuring that what has disappeared remains forgotten.

When a young woman who is struggling to maintain her career as a novelist discovers that her editor is in danger from the Memory Police, she concocts a plan to hide him beneath her floorboards. As fear and loss close in around them, they cling to her writing as the last way of preserving the past.

A surreal, provocative fable about the power of memory and the trauma of loss, The Memory Police is a stunning new work from one of the most exciting contemporary authors writing in any language.

Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Dystopia

Goodreads Rating: 3.75

What Are Readers Saying?

Next on this list of best Japanese books is Yoko Ogawa’s ‘The Memory Police’. This novel is a curious mixture of science fiction, fantasy and dystopia.

A great book for contemplative souls, ‘The Memory Police’  touches on the themes of identity, memory, and social / political degradation. 

If you’re looking for your next Japanese fantasy novel, you won’t be disappointed by this one!

Purchase: Book Depository | Amazon | Kinokuniya

3. Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Summary: In a small back alley in Tokyo, there is a café which has been serving carefully brewed coffee for more than one hundred years. But this coffee shop offers its customers a unique experience: the chance to travel back in time.

In Before the Coffee Gets Cold, we meet four visitors, each of whom is hoping to make use of the café’s time-travelling offer, in order to: confront the man who left them, receive a letter from their husband whose memory has been taken by early onset Alzheimer’s, to see their sister one last time, and to meet the daughter they never got the chance to know.

But the journey into the past does not come without risks: customers must sit in a particular seat, they cannot leave the café, and finally, they must return to the present before the coffee gets cold . . .

Toshikazu Kawaguchi’s beautiful, moving story explores the age-old question: what would you change if you could travel back in time? More importantly, who would you want to meet, maybe for one last time?

Genre: Fantasy, Romance

Goodreads Rating: 3.75

What Are Readers Saying?

‘Before The Coffee Gets Cold’ is definitely one of the best japanese novels for beginners in Japanese literature.

The language and prose is simple, and the storyline is easy to follow. Despite this, the power of this book lies in its impact – both emotionally and mentally.

This book will have you pondering on how altering the past could create ripples in the future.

If you could go back in time, who would you meet? What would you have done differently?

If you’re looking for a short yet deeply introspective and reflective read – this one’s a great option!

There’s also a second book called – Before The Coffee Gets Cold: Tales From The Cafe.

I would recommend you to read the first book before diving into the second one to avoid some spoilers.

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4. At the End of the Matinee by Keiichiro Hirano

Summary: Classical guitarist Satoshi Makino has toured the world and is at the height of his career when he first lays eyes on journalist Yoko Komine. Their bond forms instantly.

Upon their first meeting, after Makino’s concert in Tokyo, they begin a conversation that will go on for years, with long spells of silence broken by powerful moments of connection. She’s drawn by Makino’s tender music and his sensitivity, and he is intrigued by Yoko’s refinement and intellect. But neither knows enough about love to see it blooming nor has the confidence to make the first move. Will their connection endure, weaving them back together like instruments in a symphony, or will fate lead them apart?

Blending the harmonies of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Nocturnes and the sensuality of Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love, At the End of the Matinee is an enchanting and thought-provoking love story.

Genre: Romance

Goodreads Rating: 3.91

What Are Readers Saying?

‘At the End of the Matinee’ is an enchantingly beautiful love story of two people who fall in love but are kept apart by circumstances beyond their control.

The protagonists, Yoko and Makino, will weave into and out of each other’s lives (and hearts), throughout the course of several years.

This novel highlights the parts of love that arouse anguish and anxiety, yet also provides a gorgeous depiction of  what it’s like to truly form a meaningful connection with another soul.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this book ends up going down in literary history as one of the best Japanese romance novels of all time!

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5. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami

Summary: ‘A narrative particle accelerator that zooms between Wild Turkey Whiskey and Bob Dylan, unicorn skulls and voracious librarians, John Coltrane and Lord Jim. Science fiction, detective story and post-modern manifesto all rolled into one rip-roaring novel, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World is the tour de force that expanded Haruki Murakami’s international following. Tracking one man’s descent into the Kafkaesque underworld of contemporary Tokyo, Murakami unites East and West, tragedy and farce, compassion and detachment, slang and philosophy.’

Genre: Fantasy, Magical Realism, Science Fiction

Goodreads Rating: 4.14

What Are Readers Saying?

This novel will fascinate readers with its parallel storylines, alternating between an isolated town (at the end of the world) and a futuristic Tokyo (hard-boiled wonderland).

In the hallmark tradition of Murakami, the storylines do eventually converge, providing a satisfying and mind-blowing conclusion to this notable fantasy novel.

If you’re a fan of magical realism, science fiction, and you enjoy reading storylines with enigmatic characters, you won’t want to miss this read!

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6. Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Summary: Convenience Store Woman is the heartwarming and surprising story of thirty-six-year-old Tokyo resident Keiko Furukura. Keiko has never fit in, neither in her family, nor in school, but when at the age of eighteen she begins working at the Hiiromachi branch of “Smile Mart,” she finds peace and purpose in her life. In the store, unlike anywhere else, she understands the rules of social interaction ― many are laid out line by line in the store’s manual ― and she does her best to copy the dress, mannerisms, and speech of her colleagues, playing the part of a “normal” person excellently, more or less. Managers come and go, but Keiko stays at the store for eighteen years. It’s almost hard to tell where the store ends and she begins. Keiko is very happy, but the people close to her, from her family to her coworkers, increasingly pressure her to find a husband, and to start a proper career, prompting her to take desperate action…

A brilliant depiction of an unusual psyche and a world hidden from view, Convenience Store Woman is an ironic and sharp-eyed look at contemporary work culture and the pressures to conform, as well as a charming and completely fresh portrait of an unforgettable heroine.

Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Asian Literature

Goodreads Rating: 3.72

What Are Readers Saying?

Keiko is by all definitions an outcast of mainstream society.

At age thirty six, she doesn’t long for much and struggles with social interactions, finding solace and purpose in her new job as a convenience store woman. 

Although the everyday happenings of the main character may seem mundane, the book’s insight into her unique and fascinating psyche is anything but. 

This is the perfect summer read. Short, yet charming and completely irresistible. You won’t want to put this book down.

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7. Lonely Castle in the Mirror by Mizuki Tsujimura

Summary: Seven students are avoiding going to school, hiding in their darkened bedrooms, unable to face their family and friends, until the moment they discover a portal into another world that offers temporary escape from their stressful lives. Passing through a glowing mirror, they gather in a magnifcent castle which becomes their playground and refuge during school hours. The students are tasked with locating a key, hidden somewhere in the castle, that will allow whoever finds it to be granted one wish. At this moment, the castle will vanish, along with all memories they may have of their adventure. If they fail to leave the castle by 5 pm every afternoon, they will be eaten by the keeper of the castle, an easily provoked and shrill creature named the Wolf Queen.

Delving into their emotional lives with sympathy and a generous warmth, Lonely Castle in the Mirror shows the unexpected rewards of reaching out to others. Exploring vivid human stories with a twisty and puzzle-like plot, this heart-warming novel is full of joy and hope for anyone touched by sadness and vulnerability.

Genre: Fantasy, Contemporary, Magical Realism, Young Adult

Goodreads Rating: 4.31

What Are Readers Saying?

This is a magical escapism novel about ‘futoko’ – students who, for a variety of reasons, simply refuse to go to school. Kokoro, the main protagonist, is one such futoko. 

One day, she finds herself transported through a portal into a completely new world, akin to that of a western fairytale.

There, she befriends other futoko, and they venture on a quest – to find the key to the Wishing Room and be granted any one wish.

‘Lonely Castle in the Mirror’ is a young adult fiction imbued with a sense of adventure and the search for belonging.

With a staggering 4.31 rating on goodreads, there is no doubt that this is one of the best Japanese fantasy novels out there!

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8. Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami

Summary: Challenging every preconception about storytelling and prose style, mixing wry humor and riveting emotional depth, Kawakami is today one of Japan’s most important and best-selling writers. She exploded onto the cultural scene first as a musician, then as a poet and popular blogger, and is now an award-winning novelist.

Breasts and Eggs paints a portrait of contemporary womanhood in Japan and recounts the intimate journeys of three women as they confront oppressive mores and their own uncertainties on the road to finding peace and futures they can truly call their own.

It tells the story of three women: the thirty-year-old Natsu, her older sister, Makiko, and Makiko’s daughter, Midoriko. Makiko has traveled to Tokyo in search of an affordable breast enhancement procedure. She is accompanied by Midoriko, who has recently grown silent, finding herself unable to voice the vague yet overwhelming pressures associated with growing up. Her silence proves a catalyst for each woman to confront her fears and frustrations.

On another hot summer’s day ten years later, Natsu, on a journey back to her native city, struggles with her own indeterminate identity as she confronts anxieties about growing old alone and childless.

Genre: Contemporary, Feminist

Goodreads Rating: 3.84

What Are Readers Saying?

‘Breasts and Eggs’ is a celebration and critical exploration of women in all their forms.

It tackles themes of aging, womanhood, beauty, motherhood, coming-of-age, and self-worth in the backdrop of modern day Japan. 

There is no doubt that any woman reading this will find aspects of the novel highly relatable.

In that sense, it is a comforting, yet deeply reflective read. One that has earned its place in contemporary literature as one of the best books set in Japan. 

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9. Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa

Summary: Sentaro has failed. He has a criminal record, drinks too much, and his dream of becoming a writer is just a distant memory. With only the blossoming of the cherry trees to mark the passing of time, he spends his days in a tiny confectionery shop selling dorayaki, a type of pancake filled with sweet bean paste.

But everything is about to change.

Into his life comes Tokue, an elderly woman with disfigured hands and a troubled past. Tokue makes the best sweet bean paste Sentaro has ever tasted. She begins to teach him her craft, but as their friendship flourishes, social pressures become impossible to escape and Tokue’s dark secret is revealed, with devastating consequences.

Sweet Bean Paste is a moving novel about the burden of the past and the redemptive power of friendship. Translated into English for the first time, Durian Sukegawa’s beautiful prose is capturing hearts all over the world.

Genre: Contemporary 

Goodreads Rating: 4.07

What Are Readers Saying?

Tokue, an elderly woman who suffered from leprosy as a teenager, has grown into adulthood with disfigured hands, shunning her from normal society.

Sentaro is an ex-convict who works at a dorayaki shop. After Tokue proves her ability to make exquisite sweet bean paste, Sentaro concedes and hires her at the shop. 

Together, Tokue and Sentaro form an unlikely friendship that will warm the hearts of readers.

This is an enchanting story of two very different characters, against the beautiful backdrop of cherry blossoms and springtime in Japan, that readers are sure to love.

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10. Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

Summary: Banana Yoshimoto’s novels have made her a sensation in Japan and all over the world, and Kitchen, the dazzling English-language debut that is still her best-loved book, is an enchantingly original and deeply affecting book about mothers, love, tragedy, and the power of the kitchen and home in the lives of a pair of free-spirited young women in contemporary Japan. Mikage, the heroine of Kitchen, is an orphan raised by her grandmother, who has passed away. Grieving, she is taken in by her friend Yoichi and his mother (who was once his father), Eriko. As the three of them form an improvised family that soon weathers its own tragic losses, Yoshimoto spins a lovely, evocative tale that recalls early Marguerite Duras. Kitchen and its companion story, “Moonlight Shadow,” are elegant tales whose seeming simplicity is the ruse of a writer whose voice echoes in the mind and the soul.

Genre: Contemporary 

Goodreads Rating: 3.88

What Are Readers Saying?

‘Kitchen’ is a novel about loss, grief, and loneliness, balanced with happier themes of love, food and family.

Mikage, the protagonist, suffers through the loss of her grandmother. After moving into the Tanabe household to heal, Mikage grows fondness for and an endearing bond with the family over home-cooked food. 

It is through this simple joy of sharing meals with a found family does Mikage begin to recover from the sorrow brought about by her grandmother’s death.

If you enjoy contemplative and deeply reflective contemporary novels, then this one’s for you!

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11. Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami

Summary: Tsukiko is drinking alone in her local sake bar when by chance she meets one of her old high school teachers and, unable to remember his name, she falls back into her old habit of calling him ‘Sensei’. After this first encounter, Tsukiko and Sensei continue to meet. Together, they share edamame beans, bottles of cold beer, and a trip to the mountains to eat wild mushrooms. As their friendship deepens, Tsukiko comes to realise that the solace she has found with Sensei might be something more.

Genre: Contemporary, Romance

Goodreads Rating: 3.76

What Are Readers Saying?

A chance encounter with her old high-school teacher spurs Tsukiko into an unexpected romance.

At the ages of 37 and 70, both protagonists fall in love and discover a relationship that is characterised by their social awkwardness and notable age gap.

Humorous and quaint in equal measure, it’s hard to resist a novel with such memorable and charming characters, especially against the exciting backdrop of bustling Tokyo.

‘Strange Weather in Tokyo’ deserves a spot on the list of best Japanese romance novels out there.

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12. Earthlings by Sayaka Murata

Summary: Natsuki isn’t like the other girls. She has a wand and a transformation mirror. She might be a witch, or an alien from another planet. Together with her cousin Yuu, Natsuki spends her summers in the wild mountains of Nagano, dreaming of other worlds. When a terrible sequence of events threatens to part the two children forever, they make a promise: survive, no matter what.

Now Natsuki is grown. She lives a quiet life with her asexual husband, surviving as best she can by pretending to be normal. But the demands of Natsuki’s family are increasing, her friends wonder why she’s still not pregnant, and dark shadows from Natsuki’s childhood are pursuing her. Fleeing the suburbs for the mountains of her childhood, Natsuki prepares herself with a reunion with Yuu. Will he still remember their promise? And will he help her keep it?

Genre: Horror, Contemporary, Magical Realism

Goodreads Rating: 3.57

What Are Readers Saying?

This book is not for the faint-hearted. If you loved ‘Convenience Store Woman’ by the same author, think of ‘Earthlings’ as its evil twin. 

Natsuki’s childhood trauma has alienated her from society. In adulthood, Natsuki ends up in a sexless marriage.

Together, she and her husband isolate themselves from the world and survive only through natural instincts, the aftermath of which will not be easy for readers to stomach.

A melting pot of horror, magical realism and contemporary features – this book is definitely not one to miss in this list of best Japanese novels. 

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13. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

Summary: A young woman named Aomame follows a taxi driver’s enigmatic suggestion and begins to notice puzzling discrepancies in the world around her. She has entered, she realizes, a parallel existence, which she calls 1Q84 —“Q is for ‘question mark.’ A world that bears a question.” Meanwhile, an aspiring writer named Tengo takes on a suspect ghostwriting project. He becomes so wrapped up with the work and its unusual author that, soon, his previously placid life begins to come unraveled.

As Aomame’s and Tengo’s narratives converge over the course of this single year, we learn of the profound and tangled connections that bind them ever closer: a beautiful, dyslexic teenage girl with a unique vision; a mysterious religious cult that instigated a shoot-out with the metropolitan police; a reclusive, wealthy dowager who runs a shelter for abused women; a hideously ugly private investigator; a mild-mannered yet ruthlessly efficient bodyguard; and a peculiarly insistent television-fee collector.

A love story, a mystery, a fantasy, a novel of self-discovery, a dystopia to rival George Orwell’s — 1Q84 is Haruki Murakami’s most ambitious undertaking yet: an instant best seller in his native Japan, and a tremendous feat of imagination from one of our most revered contemporary writers.

Genre: Fantasy, Magical Realism, Science Fiction

Goodreads Rating: 3.93

What Are Readers Saying?

Japanese fantasy books really do have the ability to transport readers to exciting realms, luring you in with enchanting storylines, keeping you engrossed in the fantastical science fiction and paranormal elements. ‘1Q84’ is no exception! 

Acclaimed as one of the best Japanese novels in the literary scene, 1Q84 is one of Murakami’s critically acclaimed reads.

You will no doubt be drawn in by the plethora of intriguing and awe-inspiring characters, action-packed storyline, and transportive magical realism. 

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14. A Man by Keiichiro Hirano

Summary: A man follows another man’s trail of lies in a compelling psychological story about the search for identity, by Japan’s award-winning literary sensation Keiichiro Hirano in his first novel to be translated into English.

Akira Kido is a divorce attorney whose own marriage is in danger of being destroyed by emotional disconnect. With a midlife crisis looming, Kido’s life is upended by the reemergence of a former client, Rié Takemoto. She wants Kido to investigate a dead man—her recently deceased husband, Daisuké. Upon his death she discovered that he’d been living a lie. His name, his past, his entire identity belonged to someone else, a total stranger.

The investigation draws Kido into two intriguing mysteries: finding out who Rié’s husband really was and discovering more about the man he pretended to be. Soon, with each new revelation, Kido will come to share the obsession with—and the lure of—erasing one life to create a new one.

In A Man, winner of Japan’s prestigious Yomiuri Prize for Literature, Keiichiro Hirano explores the search for identity, the ambiguity of memory, the legacies with which we live and die, and the reconciliation of who you hoped to be with who you’ve actually become.

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Contemporary

Goodreads Rating: 3.96

What Are Readers Saying?

A psychological thriller that will keep you on your toes, ‘A Man’ is about a divorce attorney who has been tasked with investigating a former client’s deceased husband, whom she suspects has been living a lie all along. 

A propulsive, intriguing and philosophical read, ‘A Man’ delves deeply into the themes of identity, legacy and obsession.

There is no doubt of its merit as one of the best books set in Japan.

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15. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Summary: Toru, a quiet and preternaturally serious young college student in Tokyo, is devoted to Naoko, a beautiful and introspective young woman, but their mutual passion is marked by the tragic death of their best friend years before. Toru begins to adapt to campus life and the loneliness and isolation he faces there, but Naoko finds the pressures and responsibilities of life unbearable. As she retreats further into her own world, Toru finds himself reaching out to others and drawn to a fiercely independent and sexually liberated young woman.

A magnificent blending of the music, the mood, and the ethos that was the sixties with the story of one college student’s romantic coming of age, Norwegian Wood brilliantly recaptures a young man’s first, hopeless, and heroic love.

Genre: Contemporary, Romance

Goodreads Rating: 4.03

What Are Readers Saying?

‘Norwegian Wood’ has no doubt earned its spot as one of the most famous Japanese books of all time.

Unlike Murakami’s other books which heavily feature elements of fantasy and magical realism, this book is just straight-up REAL. 

This novel is a romance unlike any other, reflecting the realities, pain and beauty that come with deep-rooted love.

It also tackles the topics of lust, isolation, mental health and coming-of-age in a delicate and poetic way.

You won’t find a better book amongst the category of best Japanese romance novels.

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16. The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

Summary: He is a brilliant math Professor with a peculiar problem–ever since a traumatic head injury, he has lived with only eighty minutes of short-term memory.

She is an astute young Housekeeper, with a ten-year-old son, who is hired to care for him.

And every morning, as the Professor and the Housekeeper are introduced to each other anew, a strange and beautiful relationship blossoms between them. Though he cannot hold memories for long (his brain is like a tape that begins to erase itself every eighty minutes), the Professor’s mind is still alive with elegant equations from the past.

And the numbers, in all of their articulate order, reveal a sheltering and poetic world to both the Housekeeper and her young son. The Professor is capable of discovering connections between the simplest of quantities–like the Housekeeper’s shoe size–and the universe at large, drawing their lives ever closer and more profoundly together, even as his memory slips away.

The Housekeeper and the Professor is an enchanting story about what it means to live in the present, and about the curious equations that can create a family.

Genre: Contemporary

Goodreads Rating: 4.03

What Are Readers Saying?

This is a beautiful story about a burgeoning friendship between a maths professor, his housekeeper, and her son.

An injury has left him with only his short-term memories, so his relationship with the other two characters is refreshed anew everyday.

Written in a lucid, delicate and lyrical manner, ‘The Housekeeper and the Professor’ is an enchanting read of family, the beauty of mathematics, and also friendship, that will leave hearts warmed and inspired.

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17. The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa

Summary: Sometimes you have to leave behind everything you know to find the place you truly belong…

Nana the cat is on a road trip. He is not sure where he’s going or why, but it means that he gets to sit in the front seat of a silver van with his beloved owner, Satoru. Side by side, they cruise around Japan through the changing seasons, visiting Satoru’s old friends.

He meets Yoshimine, the brusque and unsentimental farmer for whom cats are just ratters; Sugi and Chikako, the warm-hearted couple who run a pet-friendly B&B; and Kosuke, the mournful husband whose cat-loving wife has just left him. There’s even a very special dog who forces Nana to reassess his disdain for the canine species.

But what is the purpose of this road trip? And why is everyone so interested in Nana? Nana does not know and Satoru won’t say. But when Nana finally works it out, his small heart will break.

Genre: Contemporary

Goodreads Rating: 4.31

What Are Readers Saying?

If you’re a lover of emotional, tear-jerking novels, you won’t want to look further than this. ‘The Travelling Cat Chronicles’ is a truly heart-warming and sentimental read about a cat, Nana, and his owner, Satoru. 

Together, they embark on a seemingly normal road trip, winding down the varied scenes, landscapes and seasons of Japan.

It is only at the very end where Nana, and thus the reader, discovers the real purpose of this road trip. And I promise you, you’ll want a box of tissues nearby! 

With a staggering 4.31 rating on goodreads, this definitely deserves to be on the list of best Japanese novels.

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18. The Keeper of Night by Kylie Lee Baker

Summary: Half British Reaper, half Japanese Shinigami, Ren Scarborough has been collecting souls in the London streets for centuries. Expected to obey the harsh hierarchy of the Reapers who despise her, Ren conceals her emotions and avoids her tormentors as best she can.

When her failure to control her Shinigami abilities drives Ren out of London, she flees to Japan to seek the acceptance she’s never gotten from her fellow Reapers. Accompanied by her younger brother, the only being on earth to care for her, Ren enters the Japanese underworld to serve the Goddess of Death… only to learn that here, too, she must prove herself worthy. Determined to earn respect, Ren accepts an impossible task—find and eliminate three dangerous Yokai demons—and learns how far she’ll go to claim her place at Death’s side.

Genre: Fantasy, Mythology, Young Adult

Goodreads Rating: 3.71

What Are Readers Saying?

‘The Keeper of Night’ is an action-packed YA fantasy fiction about a half British Reaper and half Japanese Shinigami whose purpose in life has been to collect souls in the streets of London for centuries.

The protagonist’s alienation causes her to seek refuge in Japan, where she must prove herself worthy of the protection and acceptance of the Goddess of Death.

Full of mystical appeal and elements of science fiction, ‘The Keeper of Night’ is a notable read that can be categorised as one of the best Japanese fantasy books out there.

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19. Where the Wild Ladies Are by Aoko Matsuda

Summary: In this witty and exuberant collection of feminist retellings of traditional Japanese folktales, humans live side by side with spirits who provide a variety of useful services—from truth-telling to babysitting, from protecting castles to fighting crime.

A busybody aunt who disapproves of hair removal; a pair of door-to-door saleswomen hawking portable lanterns; a cheerful lover who visits every night to take a luxurious bath; a silent house-caller who babysits and cleans while a single mother is out working. Where the Wild Ladies Are is populated by these and many other spirited women—who also happen to be ghosts. T

his is a realm in which jealousy, stubbornness, and other excessive “feminine” passions are not to be feared or suppressed, but rather cultivated; and, chances are, a man named Mr. Tei will notice your talents and recruit you, dead or alive (preferably dead), to join his mysterious company.

In this witty and exuberant collection of linked stories, Aoko Matsuda takes the rich, millennia-old tradition of Japanese folktales—shapeshifting wives and foxes, magical trees and wells—and wholly reinvents them, presenting a world in which humans are consoled, guided, challenged, and transformed by the only sometimes visible forces that surround them.

Genre: Fantasy, Horror, Feminist

Goodreads Rating: 3.85

What Are Readers Saying?

If you like reading collections of short stories, ‘Where the Wild Ladies Are’ is an exuberant read that you won’t want to miss!

Each story will take you through odd turns, leading you to endings that are completely unexpected.

At once a delightful, intriguing and all-consuming read, ‘Where the Wild Ladies Are’ is an exciting exploration of female insecurities and desires that will leave you wanting more. 

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20. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

Summary: Japan’s most highly regarded novelist now vaults into the first ranks of international fiction writers with this heroically imaginative novel, which is at once a detective story, an account of a disintegrating marriage, and an excavation of the buried secrets of World War II.

In a Tokyo suburb a young man named Toru Okada searches for his wife’s missing cat. Soon he finds himself looking for his wife as well in a netherworld that lies beneath the placid surface of Tokyo.

As these searches intersect, Okada encounters a bizarre group of allies and antagonists: a psychic prostitute; a malevolent yet mediagenic politician; a cheerfully morbid sixteen-year-old-girl; and an aging war veteran who has been permanently changed by the hideous things he witnessed during Japan’s forgotten campaign in Manchuria.

Gripping, prophetic, suffused with comedy and menace, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is a tour de force equal in scope to the masterpieces of Mishima and Pynchon..

Genre: Science Fiction, Psychological Fiction, Magical Realism

Goodreads Rating: 4.16

What Are Readers Saying?

I couldn’t end this list without sneaking in another Murakami read.

It’s no question that he is one of the most celebrated Japanese authors worldwide today. ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle’ is yet another dazzling read by this critically acclaimed author.

A tour de force steeped in magical realism and science fiction, ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle’ features an exploration into the secrets of World War II, the search for a missing cat, and an undiscovered netherworld underneath the familiar city of Tokyo. 

It is at once a compelling and dream-like read, perfect for fans of psychological fiction and fantasy novels. 

Purchase: Book Depository | Amazon

And there you have it! A intense list of best Japanese books.

Whether you’re looking to delve into the realms of magical realism, have your heart be fluttered by beautiful love stories, or be immersed by the gory and gruesome details of a horror story – you will no doubt find a fantastic read amongst this list of best Japanese books!

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