When starting out with Japanese, it can be really difficult to find appropriate language learning materials. I myself struggled with this – the usual recommendations of books aimed at children, but these are often full of unusual or nonsensical vocabulary.
Fortunately nowadays there are much better (and free!) resources out there for Japanese beginners. Here are a few of my favourites that are appropriate for JLPT level N5-N4 learners.
This is a free web news magazine with short and interesting articles aimed at Japanese beginners up to intermediate level. You can filter by JLPT level, or narrow down articles by topic if you prefer. If you click on certain pieces of vocabulary you can check the kanji reading and English meaning. Translations of each article are available in English, Vietnamese or Chinese. The articles have a lot of pictures , as well as the Japanese audio too which all in all makes it a great place to read interesting stories about Japan.
Like Watanoc, this is a website with short articles on Japanese culture aimed at students of the language. It is an excellent site for practising your reading comprehension as you have to option to add furigana, hide the vocabulary lists and a mini quiz at the end of each article to test your understanding. All articles have pictures and short video clips as well as the Japanese audio which provides a fun multimedia experience. The articles are grouped by topic, so you can easily focus on a topic of your choice. There is no indication of the level of language used, but I believe that the articles are very accessible to N5 and N4 level learners.
This website has been around for a fairly long time, but still remains a really good resource for Japanese learners. There are a lot of learning materials on the Coscom website, but I particularly recommend the Weather Forecast and the Headline News articles for upper beginners (in terms of vocabulary and grammar I’d estimate this to ne around N4 level) on the left hand side bar. Both pages are comprehensive in content as they have the option to view the articles in romaji, kana or kanji and also include Japanese audio, vocabulary and grammar points used. Unfortunately only the most recent articles are available for free but it is worth checking the website every week or so for new material to read.
The English language Matcha Magazine website is a Japanese travel magazine full of recommendations for places to visit and things to do in Japan. I recently discovered that if you click on the languages drop down menu, you can change the website language from English to やさしい日本語. This allows you to read the same types of travel articles but in simpler Japanese compared to the Japaneese version of the website.
Each article comes with furigana and English for some of the katakana words (this is pretty useful as some words can be incredibly difficult to work out!). As this does not have a lookup feature within the website and does not directly link to the English language versions of the same article, I’d say this website is better for upper beginner to intermediate learners (N4 and above).
I hope the above four websites are of some use to Japanese beginners. I am aware that all of the above are either news articles or non-fiction, so if you are looking for something a bit different to the above keep your eyes peeled for Part 2.