The Best Way to Read Haruki Murakami

The Best Way to Read Haruki Murakami

"When I open them, most of the books have the smell of an earlier time leaking out between the pages--a special odor of the knowledge and emotions that for ages have been calmly resting between the covers." Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami is one of the most popular and respected contemporary authors still writing. If you are interested in finding out why, but you don’t know where to start or where to go after you first dig in, this post will break it down for you. The following gives you an overview of Haruki Murakami’s books and a suggested reading order for his novels and short stories.

I teach literature and writing courses at the college level and always try to include one of Murakami’s novels or short stories in my syllabus. My reason is not necessarily about Haruki Murakami. My goal is always to help reignite my student’s passion for reading. As most of you know, reading any Murakami novel is an absolute joy, even if you feel wrecked by the end.

After one taste of Murakami’s novels, my students are hooked. After that first exposure, they almost always ask what to read next. And even though you can’t really go wrong, I will suggest what I think would work best for most readers. Each of his novels stand alone, but some work together quite well.

The novels I have listed below are grouped by a general style. These are what I like to read in the same general time frame because the reader gets a feel for the way Murakami’s worlds function. If you’d rather read Murakami’s novels in chronological order, you find that here.


SURREALIST NOVELS

The Best Haruki Murakami Books – Surrealism

Murakami & the Unconscious

Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami

These six books are my favorite works of Haruki Murakami and what I consider the best Murakami books because of the way they deal with the unconscious. In each work, the lives of the characters are completely altered because of dreams, memories, nostalgia, or other manifestations of the unconscious.

These stories remind the reader how powerful the mind is, and I’ve remained convinced of this since my first reading of Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. That is part of why I suggest friends and students start with this novel. I have a few different reasons for suggesting others start with Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.

Jacques Lacan says the unconscious is structured like a language, and Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari call the unconscious a producer whose product is real. These theories are only a snapshot of the philosophies at work in Haruki Murakami’s novels. The five novels above, and his most recent book, Killing Commendatore, each explore the way the unconscious influences conscious thought.

I never suggest readers start with The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I consider it the most complex and best novel Murakami has written. If readers are not used to his writing style and alternating narratives, it would be pretty challenging to adapt in such a dense text. If you are a reader who likes when authors take risks and switch up narrative styles, then beginning here should not bother you.

Keep in mind this is only a suggestion, but I recommend reading these 6 books in the following order:

  1. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
  2. Kafka on the Shore
  3. 1Q84
  4. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
  5. After Dark
  6. Killing Commendatore

REAL(ISH) NOVELS

The Best Haruki Murakami Books – Realism

Real Problems Murakami

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, which I have listed below, places Murakami’s thoughts on the unconscious in real circumstances. In a recent interview with the Japan Times, Haruki Murakami admits to this pursuit of the unconscious:

“When I write a novel, I place more importance on the subconscious world than the conscious world. The conscious world is the world of logic. What I’m pursuing is the world beneath logic.”

Haruki Murakami

I have argued for this reading of his novels for almost a decade, specifically saying that his novels are working out a logic of the unconscious, so hearing him say it felt completely gratifying.

These next four books are powerful in their subtleties. They do not deviate completely from the unconscious explorations of the previously mentioned novels, but most of their narratives take place in what we call reality (in fiction).

I’ve taught through Norwegian Wood a few times and despite the awkward sex scenes, it sparks many insightful discussions. I actually don’t necessarily recommend reading these Murakami novels back to back, although you can. When reading his other works, pepper in these novels when you want a quicker, more grounded Murakami experience. These tend to read faster than the others, and they do not operate in the realm of fantasy.

  1. Norwegian Wood
  2. Sputnik Sweetheart
  3. South of the Border, West of the Sun
  4. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

THE RAT TRILOGY + DANCE, DANCE, DANCE

The Best Haruki Murakami Book Series

Murakami Rat & Sheep

Finally, the rat trilogy and Dance, Dance, Dance are the last novels to consider. Returning to these earlier novels is a treat because readers discover some of Haruki Murakami’s earliest writing motivations. Both Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973 leave bread crumbs of the themes and concepts that Murakami tries to hide throughout the rest of his writing.

Dance, Dance, Dance is a kind of sequel to A Wild Sheep Chase. I happened to read DDD first, and I don’t think you miss too much by not having read AWSC prior. Nonetheless, if I could go back and do it again, I’d read them in the following order:

  1. Hear the Wind Sing
  2. Pinball, 1973
  3. A Wild Sheep Chase
  4. Dance, Dance, Dance

HARUKI MURAKAMI SHORT STORIES

The Best Haruki Murakami Short Stories

Murakami Short Stories

So that brings us to his short story collections. I teach short fiction as well, and it’s my second favorite literary form. Murakami’s stories are some of the strangest I’ve read. I attended an event at Berkeley in 2008 where Murakami was interviewed and then read one of his short stories, “The Rise and Fall of Sharpie Cakes,” aloud. It was incredible. This story is in his collection Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman.

Many of his shorter works get reworked in his novels. Sometimes it feels like his fictitious worlds bleed together, and it’s only a matter of time before they bleed into your own. Here is a short list of what I consider Haruki Murakami’s best short stories.

  1. The Elephant Vanishes
  2. Barn Burning
  3. Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman
  4. Birthday Girl
  5. Scheherezade

His short story, “The Strange Library,” was released as a graphic novel. After you read this, you’ll never look at libraries the same. And weird just doesn’t cut it anymore when you need to describe his work. Actually, that goes for all of his short stories.

You can read these in any order at all. Each story stands alone just like the collection it is a part of. If you consider the advice Murakami gives to new writers, you won’t be surprised by how engaging novel and short story is.


NON-FICTION

The Best Haruki Murakami Non-Fiction Books

Murakami Non Fiction

Last, but not least, we have his nonfiction works. His book on running, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, is just as much about the craft of writing as it is about running. Some of his novels, like 1Q84 and Sputnik Sweetheart, work writing into the plot as well. After reading so much of him, the nonfiction is refreshing because we learn more about the man behind the madness.

In Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche, you understand how deeply affected Japan was by the terrorist attacks through the eyes of some of the victims and members of the cult responsible for the gas attack.

Murakami has written a great deal more than this, but these are the main hitters published in English. And if you missed it, here is one of his short stories, Scheherazade, available from The New Yorker.

Happy reading! And if you have a minute, I’d love to hear your Murakami reading experience, whether it’s good, bad, or ugly. If you’d like to read one of Haruki Murakami’s short stories or essays available online, you can find a list of Murakami resources here.

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A break down of the works of Murakami and a suggested reading order for his novels.

96 thoughts on “The Best Way to Read Haruki Murakami”

  1. Amazing Write-up!! I have recently fallen in love with his work and read only few. But I surely wanna read ALL of his work!

  2. Ah! A good guide. I started with his book on running.. more for the running than anything else and then i read his list of books. SO while I have been dying to start somewhere on his fiction, i just didn’t know where.
    After reading your post, I wish i could breathe them in, they all look so interesting.
    Though, I think i will start with a AWSC since it sounds a little linked to my world of marketing!

  3. I have read them in completely strange order..

    1) After Dark
    2) Norwegian Wood
    3) Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki
    4) Sputnik Sweetheart
    5) Kafka on The Shore

    And although I have gone through book descriptions on Goodreads, this order of reading still gave me surprises and sometimes even made me wonder about his range..

    1. Wow. I love that order. The first four speak to each other really well. And then you throw Kafka in at the end, which I think is his weirdest novel.

  4. I read him and reread him for years. His novels give you new things to think about with each new read. My favourites has been always “Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World”, but I first met him with “Norwegian Wood”. I enjoy essay as well such as “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” and “Underground” because you can know another facet of the writer.
    I think that he is a great writer that worth to read and recommend.

    1. Absolutely. I think he helps to reignite a passion for reading for a young 20-something- that’s when I began reading him. He grows with you though.

  5. Excellent blog, Jessica. To read is to create a healthy space, some detachment from the clack and clatter – to probe what is within – the reader, what is all around him or her …

    Keep doing this.

    God bless – congratulations on the new little one … I am a new Grandpa to Jack Seneca Sylvester, 7 months old. Got to be a novelist with that name and two parents who are avid readers.

    Peace be with you,

    Bob @ Spirlaw

  6. Thanks for liking my post. I am new at this blogging world so I do get a little thrill when someone other than my mum likes a post. The only thing I had read till recently was Scheherazade in the New Yorker. I loved it. I can’t stop thinking about it. I find myself wondering about this man while I’m washing dishes or hanging out laundry. I really enjoyed your post. What a great way to discover his works.

  7. For me it has to be:
    1. Kafka on the Shore
    2. Wind-Up Bird
    3. After Dark
    4. Hard-Boiled Wonderland
    5. Colorless Tsuzaki

    (I haven’t read 1Q84!)

    Great post though! ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Both. I’d definitely stick with the first 2. Jumping in at the deep end with Murakami was a mind blowing experience for me. The others are somewhat interchangeable. All were great though of course.

    2. I absolutely respect that jump. A close friend of mine is actually starting with Wind-Up, and I support his decision, although I wouldn’t recommend it for most. I think it’s really cool you began your journey with Kafka.

    3. A friend mentioned ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’ and i took to not just for my Marathon training. ???

      I am impressed that Haruki Murakami is a hard working, very honest and sincere personality and writer.

      A fellow lover of (impro jazz) music, having run his own jazz club as his first career, before changing career via his success with Pinball 1973.

      Next my friend lent me Underground since I remembered the terrorism committed against innocent Tokyo subway commiters in 1995.

      I thought that Haruki Murakami could tease out some of the details of how misfits would be lured, brainwashed and committed to murdering their fellow citizens.

      I learned a lot but sadly there are still murderous cult gangs luring misfits and criminals into evil acts around the world, even where I live.

      I recommend starting with these two nonfiction books, to learn about *Haruki Murakami the person* first.

      By chance I read ‘Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage’.

      I could see a lot of Murakami’s elements of the above two books in his fiction!

      Tsukuru could be the best novel I have read in Decades!!!

      This one will tug at your heart, your soul and your younger self.

      ???????. Which one next? ???

    4. Hi Matt,

      We have the same reading order for the first two so do you recommend me continuing with the other three as per your order?

      Thanks! ๐Ÿ™‚

    5. It really depends what you’re looking for. Tsukuru was slow and thoughtful whereas Hard-boiled Wonderland is fast paced and quite sci-fi. It really depends on your mood ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Pingback: Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami | Peter's Blog

  9. One of my favourite writers. I love his style. It is so different. I have read everything he’s written. I hope he’s got a dozen more in the locker!
    Best wishes
    Opher from Opher’s World

  10. I stumbled across this post right after finishing Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki. It was my first Murakami book and I loved it! I was thinking about trying Kafka on the Shore next, but after reading this post, maybe I’ll go for Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.

    1. I love Kafka on the Shore. You can’t really go wrong, but this is my recommendation. I feel like Hard-Boiled Wonderland grounds his theory in the most direct way that all his other novels are written to help prove in an indirect way. Colorless does it in the most real way in that a lie became a memory and changed reality. The others are a little more absurd and fun- all great. Let me know what you decide and what you think of it!

    2. I finished the book a couple days ago and I loved it! I actually wrote a book review of it on my blog, and I linked to this post because I thought it was so useful. ๐Ÿ™‚

    3. So I finished Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and I loved it! I actually wrote a blog post reviewing it (and I linked to this post at the end as a reference because I found it so enlightening – hope you don’t mind).

    4. Of course I don’t mind. I’m thrilled you enjoyed the book and the post. I loved your review. It was a very melancholy read, and sometimes that’s how life is. I’m looking forward to your next review!

  11. Very nice article. Thanks for sharing! For some reason despite loads of reading I have missed him…probably becuase I’ve been readng Infinite Jest for the decade…

  12. Nice article. I am also looking forward to the new editions of Pinball/Hear the Wind Sing. I managed to pick up editions while living in Japan, but those new editions are too pretty to pass up.

    They’re a little rougher around the edges than his later works, but if you’re interested in seeing the evolution they’re more than worth reading.

    1. I know what you mean. I am reading A Wild Sheep Chase for the first time and you can tell it’s written by a young Murakami. I’m glad I was introduced to his later books first.

  13. As a fan of Japanese literature, I’m really glad to see you recommending Haruki Murakami’s work. My entry into his writing was through Wild Sheep Chase. When reading literary fiction, I enjoy underlining brilliant passages, and Wild Sheep Chase was so full of them that practically half the novel was underlined!

    1. His writing definitely transcends boundaries. A Wild Sheep Chase was one of the last works I read of his; it was definitely neat to see his voice in the beginning of his writing career.

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  15. A really helpful post, thank you. I’ve been meaning to read Murakami for years, but didn’t quite know where to start – your guidance is fantastic!

    1. I’m so glad you found it helpful. It’s just one gal’s opinion, but I realized how helpful it might be because after assigning one of Murakami’s short stories in class, my students kept asking me where to start with his novels. Once you check him out, let me know what you think!

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  18. Pingback: Review: Hard-Boiled Wonderland & the End of the World by Haruki Murakami | Lilolia

  19. I started Murakami when I saw Sputnik Sweetheart and was intrigued by the cover. I didn’t like the book too much and found it hard to understand his writing style. I then tried Hard-Boiled Wonderland… and my mind was just blown. Amazing. I agree with you that it’s a great book to suck you into his world.

  20. I stumbled across a great deal a few weeks ago, and remembered this post, so I picked up Strange Library. I may or may not get slight anxiety when visiting libraries now. I’m looking forward to making my way through this list.

  21. Thanks for liking my post! I love that you love Murakami so much! I haven’t read nearly as much of his work as I want to but I was late bloomer when it came to reading and there’s so much to catch up on.
    I hope you can find the time to read some of my own work one day.

    1. My first was 1Q84 and thought it was brilliant in its weirdness. Though I felt that the Ushikawa character in the third part was a bit flat. After that, I read Norwegian Wood, Colorless Tsukuru, Yesterday (short story) and finally Wind/Pinball.
      I think Kafka on the Shore will be next, but I’m a big re-reader and am tempted to go back to 1Q84 again.

    2. I want to reread all of his works. I am thinking 2016 might be a good year for that. We’ll see. I certainly enjoyed Kafka. When do you think you’ll get to Wind-Up?

  22. I’m almost done reading his collection of books (that are translated into English ) and I can’t remember the order I’ve read them in, except for 1Q84 was the first. I’m sad because once I’ve read em all, that’ll be it until who knows when…my advice is to savor his works, and don’t read them too fast! I never read one back to back, but as soon as I’m done with another author I can’t wait to go get one of his books and get lost in his world. Hands down the greatest author ever!!!

    1. The anticipation that builds when I learn about a new book of his being published in English is huge! It’s so nice to meet a like mind and someone else who enjoyed his worlds as much as I do. Cheers!

  23. Thank you!! This is an in depth article about Murakami. I am new his books and just finished Norwegian wood. I would love to explore more of it. This article helps alot!

  24. Great article! This is an insightful way to categorize Murakami’s works.

    My own experience:

    “Hard-Boiled Wonderland” is probably my Murakami favorite, and one of his novels with the most depth, in my opinion. Have you found anyone who felt it was too abstract to lure them in? I don’t recommend it to certain people for this fear.

    My first Murakami book was “Kafka on the Shore”. I found it a great intro into the world of Murakami, thanks to its blend of accessability (being not so abstract) and depth/introspection. Murakami’s ability to blend these two often exclusive characteristics in novels shows his genius, in my opinion, and in this book, he’s flawless. I know many people who can’t get over how amazing “Kafka on the Shore” is. Then again, maybe we’re all a little biased for our first Murakami read, as this new world is being shown to us for the first time, making a greater impression.

    I’ve also had positive results recommending “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki” as an intro book.

    I agree that while “Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” is a masterpiece, it’s not the best intro to Murakami, as it’s quite complex and, dare I say it, lags a bit in the middle?

    My first five Murakami novels, in order, were:
    1. Kafka on the Shore
    2. Sputnik Sweetheart
    3. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
    4. Norwegian Wood
    5. Hard-Boiled Wonderland

    Looking at this order in this new subconscious vs reality light, I like the order, although if I were to do it again, I would suggest this order:

    1. Kafka on the Shore
    2. Norwegian Wood
    3. Hard-Boiled Wonderland
    4. Sputnik Sweetheart
    5. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

    Sorry to blad, but I just love talking about Murakami’s books, and I want as many people to read him as possible:)

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  26. Given your take on Murakami you will like — if you’re not already familiar with it — the review John Updike wrote of Kafka on the Shore. He saw Murakami’s work in the context of shintoism, perceiving just the elements I think you’re talking about and framing them in a Japanese context about which Updike seemed surprisingly knowledgeable. I’m no judge, really, being minimally informed on the subject, but it was enough to impress me anyway. The review shifted my understanding of Murakami in such a way that after reading it much that hadn’t fully made sense before now made a spiritual or, as you say, unconscious sense, particular when the animals and plants start to talk. My favorite books of his are Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, Kafka, and After Kobe (as it was called when I read it years ago), now known the US as After the Quake. This way people won’t think it’s about Kobe Bryant.

  27. Thanks for this. I have read three of his novels (though not in the order you suggest) and love them. One I have returned to and read for a second time. FYI: I just finished Patti Smith’s M Train, and she writes a good bit about Murakami and about Wind-up Bird Chronicles particularly. Also thank you for visiting my site and “liking” my post.

  28. Thank you so much for this post! Will use this as a personal reference. Murakami’s works are really magical and I really like his quote that you mentioned. I’m glad I’ve read/is reading two books in your recommended list even though it’s not in the order you suggested. I’m currently reading Wind-Up Bird so what would you suggest me reading next?

  29. Pingback: Review: Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami – LILOLIA

  30. I love this write up! I’ve only read about 4 of his books (hard boiled wonderland, after dark, the elephant vanishes and Norwegian wood) but I am absolutely in love with his prose. I found it interesting that you put Hard Boiled Wonderland first on the list, because its such a deeply mind-bending and confusing book, it’s actually quite hard to read (although it’s DEFINITELY worth it in the end!!!!) but then again I suppose it’s sort of trial by fire. If you survive that book that you can survive any Murakami! I really liked that you write from a teacher’s perspective and I’ll definitely consider reading in this order when I have the chance. Thanks for the great post! And for liking my humble little post, too.

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  32. I’m glad Murakami is getting such wide recognition! My sister gifted me The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle five years ago for my birthday, so that was my first time foraying into his complex world of the unconscious and dreams. I hope to read Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage next! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and recommendations for exploring his complex themes and writing intricacies.

  33. Pingback: After Dark, Haruki Murakami | theaustralianlegend

  34. Wow…..wonderful write up Jessica…..Thanks for reading my Murakami review. I will try to follow the sequence you have suggested for my next Murakami read. Thanks for this highly informative write up.

  35. I’ve just finished reading Kafka on the Shore, my first foray into the world of Murakami, and am dreading the withdrawal symptoms that are sure to follow.
    Feel like I’m ready to dive into another Murakami creation but am afraid I won’t like it as much as Kafka.

    1. No kidding! That book hangover is rough. I’d go to Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World next. You can’t go wrong, though. Please let me know what you decide.

  36. Wonderful post. My first Murakami, Kafka on the Shore, lead me here. Was wondering what to read next. Wonder if I’ll like the next Murakami book as much as I liked Kafka.

  37. Murakami is a ringmaster of a cortege of thoughts that can be traced back to the little dots that constantly construct our ever expanding space that bridge the gap between the conscious and beyond. I started reading Murakami five years ago, and rereading his books introduces me to a man I never knew existed in me. He is a strange kind of nostalgia. Here is the order, I got acquainted to my little stinky Dolphin hotel,
    Kafka on the shore
    The wind up bird chronicles
    After dark
    Norwegian wood
    Sputnik Sweetheart
    South of the border, West of the sun
    Hear the wind sing/Pinball
    A wild sheep chase
    Dance dance dance
    And somewhere in the middle I’ve read Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman.
    I have yet to read 1Q84 and I’m currently reading Hardboiled which I bartered from a thrift shop with a pair of jeans because I had no money to buy a book, I’d spend it all on cigarettes and cheap Chinese takeaway.

  38. Wow! Thank you for this in-depth write-up on how to read Murakami. I never wanted to read him based on the synopsis at the back of the books. But I saw a secondhand copy of Colorless Tsuzuki and when I ran out of materials to read I finally opened it and I was blown away. I am now reading Norwegian Wood but after this I will try to follow your suggestions because they make sense.

    1. I really like that you coupled those two books – I very much felt like Colorless was connected to Norwegian Wood. No matter what order you read them in – enjoy. Also, we have a Murakami Reading Group working through his entire body of work if you’re interested.

  39. I’m reading his latest right now. He’s the only author whose books I will buy reflexively. I started with Hard Boiled Wonderland while looking for a literary criticism on Melville’s works (still in the ‘M’s). It helped that I’d just finished reading a lot of Kobo Abe.

    Murakami can make the commonplace interesting and treats the interesting with such a passive eye that you do not know if it is important or just something that happened. I’ve been spreading the word on Murakami and it has cost me a few books…

  40. I love the idea of being ‘wrecked’ by a novel!
    Long ago ‘Jude the Obscure’ wrecked me and I always refused to teach it to A Level students because it was so precious to me – close to the bone. ‘Return of the Native’ I taught many times

  41. Greetings Murakamites….
    Iโ€™ve read the following in order:
    Norwegian Wood
    Wild Sheep Chase
    Dancex3
    Hard-boiled Wonderland…

    What should be next? Iโ€™ve narrowed it down to Kafka and Windup Bird. Windup Bird is often called his greatest, but it came before Kafka. Would it make an impact which is read next?

    Any input would be greatly appreciated. Thanx!

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