Reading Visual Novels in Japanese

Anime is now a global phenomenon, but visual novels are still far more niche. Many visual novels remain untranslated, and sometimes the localizations we do get are…lackluster.

Often, the best way to experience a visual novel is in their original language—Japanese. Whether you’re already interested in learning Japanese for some other reason, or want to learn Japanese purely to play visual novels in their original language, either motivations is perfectly valid.

This guide will prepare you for reading visual novels in Japanese and introduce you to a suite of tools designed to make the process more comfortable.

How Much Japanese Should I Know Beforehand?

Not as much as you’d think! Visual novels can be attempted by beginners in Japanese, albeit with some difficulty.

It’s common for learners to assume they need to know a lot of Japanese before they can even think about reading something in Japanese, but the truth is that the earlier you engage with native material, the better off you’ll be. You study the Japanese language in the classroom, but you can only learn and acquire the language by throwing yourself into situations where you’re forced to rely on and develop your Japanese ability. It doesn’t matter whether that’s speaking with strangers in VRChat, exchanging letters with a Japanese pen pal, or reading visual novels—you need to engage with real Japanese to make real progress.

Visual novels are a great way to learn Japanese! Unlike novels, the dialogue is usually voiced by an actor, so you’re getting both reading and listening practice. Visual novels tend to be quite long, so as you get deeper into the game, you’ll come across fewer new words because the author will re-use language introduced to you earlier on. This is better than learning from several shorter novels because you can get comfortable with the visual novel’s language over time, and it’ll be more fun when you can follow the story with fewer interruptions.

It won’t all be fun, of course, because of how many look-ups you’ll need to do, and how much you’ll sometimes struggle to understand. However, it’s much easier to read something you’re interested in than something “level-appropriate”.

Before you jump into reading visual novels, you should make progress in these areas:

  1. Learn Hiragana and Katakana. You don’t need to master them before moving on to step 2, but you should recognize a lot of them. You’ll naturally acquire proficiency with them the more you progress in other areas. Spend no more than 3 days on this.
  2. Start a grammar guide and finish the basic sections. This step should take a month or two and be done concurrently with step 3. Tae Kim’s Grammar Guide is a popular place to start, but you can also try Cure Dolly’s video tutorials for deeper explanations. These are among the best free guides available to beginners, but other guides exist.1)
  3. Start learning words. You should know at least 1,000 words before you attempt a visual novel. We recommend using Anki, a flashcard program for learning new words and reviewing recently-learned words as it will help them stick better than constant dictionary look-ups.
    1. While you should eventually transition to making your own cards from the visual novels you're reading2), there are pre-made Anki decks with words that appear in a wide range of native material with high frequency. Anacreon's Core 2k deck is a good place to start.
    2. As you learn more words, you’ll learn how Kanji are used in words as a byproduct. Kanji are only useful in the context of words, so there is no reason to study them on their own.

These three steps might not seem like a lot of preparation before you embark on your journey into the weird and wonderful world of Japanese visual novels, but no amount of study will make tangling with real Japanese easy. You can’t acquire ability in Japanese without engaging with native material, so you can't put this off forever. Our advice is to engage with native material early—whether that be anime, manga, or visual novels.

For a dedicated guide to learning Japanese, check out TheMoeWay’s guide.

Warning About TheMoeWay: This site includes many links to files that have been illegally redistributed without the copyright holder's permission. The knowledge and direction in the guide is valuable so we have decided to link to it, but we highly discourage you from downloading these illegally-redistributed files and advise you to buy these games from the developer instead.

We've written an extensive guide on buying visual novels—both DRM-encumbered and DRM-free, for Windows and non-Windows operating systems—and encourage you to purchase visual novels from one of the vendors linked on our Buying Visual Novels page.

What Visual Novel Should I Start With?

Pick something that interests you! Your interest is the primary factor, but there are some types of games to avoid. High Fantasy and other games likely to have a lot of technical jargon are usually poor choices because you’ll spend most of your time looking up uncommon, niche words, meaning you’re improving in only that particular area of Japanese.

A larger and more useful area like Slice of Life is a good place to start. Once you have a good grip on that, you can start to specialize. If you’re only interested in reading visual novels in a particular area, like High Fantasy, though, then give it a shot. However, you should definitely avoid any visual novels that are known for their wordplay—you’re not going to appreciate it as a beginner. Slice of Life visual novels will have enough diversity in vocabulary to challenge you while still being useful for a wide range of domains.

Our recommendations page is one place to start looking for a visual novel to play.

Looking Up Words With Japanese Dictionaries

Your most reliable companion throughout your Japanese adventure will be your dictionary. Beginners should be using a Japanese-to-English dictionary. JMdict is the largest and most easily accessible Japanese-to-English dictionary available for free.

When you get to a more advanced level, you’ll want to start using a “Monolingual Dictionary”, which is a dictionary that explains the meaning of Japanese words in Japanese. These definitions are far more accurate and detailed than multi-lingual dictionaries like JMdict, as there is no language barrier and a lower risk of misconceptions forming in the learner’s mind.

We recommend using Yomichan where possible for managing and accessing your dictionaries, and web dictionaries when necessary.

Yomichan is a browser extension that allows you to look up words by hovering over them. Yomichan is not a dictionary itself, but allows you to install multiple dictionaries and easily access them when you need to look up an unknown word. Yomichan can be used offline. Yomichan's project page provides detailed instructions on how to take advantage of all its features.

We recommend beginners use these dictionaries, which can be freely redistributed:

Dictionary Usage
JMDictGeneral lookups
KANJIDICKanji Lookups
BCCWJ (LUW version)Displaying frequency of words
アクセント辞典Pitch accent information

More advanced learners may be interested in monolingual dictionaries. We don’t know of a Japanese dictionary publisher that allows its users to freely redistribute its dictionary files, so we cannot provide any links to monolingual dictionaries.

If you want to use a monolingual dictionary with Yomichan, You will need to acquire an electronic monolingual dictionary in the EPWING format and use Yomichan Import to convert the dictionary into a format Yomichan can work with. MarvNC's guide to Yomichan dictionary creation has some pointers. Alternatively, you can use a web dictionary listed in the next section instead of one integrated with Yomichan.

We also recommend integrating Yomichan with Anki. The project page's Anki Integration section provides instructions on how to accomplish this.

The most popular Japanese-to-English dictionary, JMdict, can be accessed through It allows you to look up words, Kanji, identify a Kanji character with radicals, and provides example sentences for each word.

These dictionaries explain Japanese terms in Japanese, and are recommended for more advanced learners. They are also referred to as Japanese-to-Japanese (J-J) dictionaries, in contrast to Japanese-to-English (J-E) dictionaries like JMdict.

Dictionary Usage
Weblio Includes more than 500 Japanese-to-Japanese dictionaries.
goo辞書 General purpose dictionary.
Japanese Zokugo DictionarySlang dictionary.
Pixiv EncyclopediaSlang and colloquial language.

Extracting Japanese Text From Visual Novels

So, you know some Japanese, you’ve read our Buying guide, and you’re holding the Complete Edition of H2O: Footprints in the Sand. You’re ready to start reading this visual novel.


What happens if you don’t know a word, and you don’t know how to type the Kanji characters that make up the word so you can look it up? For this scenario, there are two main methods of extracting text from a visual novel; injecting hooks into the game, or using Optical Character Recognition (OCR).

Textractor is a program that injects a series of hooks into a game designed to extract the text from it in a computer-readable format. In the best-case scenario, there will be a clean hook that displays the full line of text in the visual novel's textbox, which will be automatically copied to your clipboard. If you were using ITH, VNR, or ITHVNR before, Textractor is the most recent evolution in text-hooking.

The latest version of Textractor can be downloaded here:

To use Textractor on GNU/Linux, see this page.

Start the Textractor.exe executable in the x86 folder. You can remove some of the extensions, like Google Translate and Extra Window, but be sure to keep Remove Repeated Characters, Regex Filter, Copy to Clipboard, and Extra Newlines extensions. Make sure the visual novel is running and click “Attach to Game”. Select the process for your visual novel and click “Ok”.

Click through the game to process the next line of text so Textractor has something to work with. Now, you’ll need to click the dropdown menu at the top of Textractor and go through all of the hooks until you find a clean extract of the text. Continue playing through the game to see if the hook works well, and if it does, you’ve succeeded.

If you're unable to find a clean hook for your visual novel with Textractor's default hooks, try looking here for a working hook:

Textractor comes with a Google Translation extension, which will use Google’s machine translation service to render every extracted line in English. We don’t recommend machine translation services in any circumstances; especially for checking your understanding of the text, because it’s more liable to leave you with misconceptions. Translation is difficult even for human translators because of how different Japanese and English are—and the more idiomatic the language, the worse it gets.

Machine translation will struggle to render a passable translation in some situations, but it will almost certainly strip out any of the flair present in the original language. The only reason you should use a machine translation service is if you have no intention of learning Japanese.

It isn’t possible to extract text from some visual novels with Textractor. Never fear, there is another way! You can use one of the many OCR programs available to parse the Japanese characters on the screen. Beware that OCR is less reliable than Textractor.

This simple OCR tool will attempt to parse screenshots of Japanese text, and the resulting transliteration will be saved in your clipboard.

Download Transformers OCR

See the Transformers OCR README for instructions on installation and usage.

ShareX has an OCR function you can map to a hotkey as explained here:

Download ShareX

You can download ShareX here:

Apple has developed their own powerful, proprietary OCR software built-in to macOS called Live Text, which supports Japanese as of macOS Ventura and iOS16.

Needs Expanding

If you have used Live Text for reading visual novels, please make this page more useful by sharing your experience. Is it useful? Is it reliable? Is it hard to use?

Running Japanese Visual Novels on GNU/Linux

While running older games on GNU/Linux distributions is often easier than on Microsoft Windows, Japanese visual novels might be encumbered with certain types of DRM, which can prevent you from running them. See our guide to running visual novels on GNU/Linux for a full tutorial on setting up an environment to play visual novels.

To find out more about DRM compatibility with GNU/Linux on our Problems page. This is the most common reason a Japanese visual novel won't work on GNU/Linux.

ames For Automating Anki Cards

ames (Anki Media Extraction Script) is a GNU/Linux program that uses AnkiConnect to update the latest created Anki card with an image and audio from the visual novel you’re playing. It’s a bash script with only a few dependencies. It makes creating Anki cards much faster. Follow the README to install and configure ames.

If you're on Wayland, use the Python port of ames. You can run echo $XDG_SESSION_TYPE in the terminal to find out if you're on Wayland or X11.

Frequently Asked Questions conveniently lists official patches from the developer for physical releases under 修正パッチ with a direct link to download it. has guides for a lot of Japanese visual novels that will teach you how to “conquer” (攻略) a certain character's route and a handy checklist for every choice you’ve made along the route.

Paste the word, ○○○ and all, into Fuseji3) and all will be revealed.

If you want a really advanced breakdown of a grammar point, try Imabi. Imabi uses a lot of vocabulary in its many example sentences, so it’s often too rigorous for most learners, but it’s by far the most advanced guide on this list available for free. If nothing else, the introductory lesson offers some insights on the Japanese language you are unlikely to encounter elsewhere. Advanced study of Japanese grammar should be done in Japanese; there are plenty of native Japanese resources available, so unfortunately, Imabi occupies a very niche spot in most learner's study plans, as it's an advanced grammar guide to Japanese written in English.
Animecards has a good guide on how to start doing this:
伏せ字 is the technical term for the censored character used in place of the actual character. They can take several forms: ○、x、*
  • visualnovel/readinjp.txt
  • Last modified: 2023/10/21 09:02
  • by spectacle8011