No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai is a seminal work of Japanese literature that covers its protagonist’s psyche, offering a grim exploration of existential despair, alienation, and the complexities of the human condition. This is about a man who hates himself and makes terrible choices with awful consequences. It is a point of view from Yozo, who goes through different stages of his life dealing with different traumas. He doesn’t know how to have feelings for other people. It makes you wonder how others feel.
This book gives off major magical realism vibes because it is told that it could happen in real life. The story is about a teenage boy who runs away from his father because his father cursed him when he was younger by making him kill his father and fall in love with his mom and then his sister. Most of the other characters in this older man are psychotic. These books might interest you if you’re looking for books that tackle similar themes or offer a comparable emotional intensity.
10 Books Like No Longer Human (Japanese Literature)
No Longer Human was the second best-selling novel in Japan. The novel is divided into three parts, known as a memorandum. The first part deals with the childhood trauma that Yozo faced. The second part is when he goes to university and meets a painter who becomes his friend. He also becomes one of the main reasons for his descent into drugs and alcohol. In the third memorandum, we follow Yozo as he gets married and does not fill the void he feels even after marriage.
The novel imprints heavily on themes of depression and social anxiety. To understand this book, we first must understand Japanese culture. Japanese people have this thing where you’re supposed to feel part of society, and you are supposed to be included and fit into what you’re supposed to do and your role in society. I will discuss 10 Japanese literature books similar to No Longer Human. Let’s go!
1. Kafka On The Shore
This book came out in 2002, and Philip Gabriel translated this copy into English. It follows two alternating storylines. The first is by Kafka Tamura, a 15-year-old boy running away from home to avoid a prophecy. The other is an older man called Nakata, who had this weird accident when he was a child in the war, which made him dumb in his own words. Nakata can also communicate with cats, so that’s cool.
In Greek mythology, there is a prophecy that Oedipus would kill his father and marry his mother. Kafka’s dad puts this prophecy on him when he’s young: he will kill his father and then sleep with his sister and his mother. By super mystical circumstances, he does end up killing his dad. Then, one of the first girls he meets when he runs away turns out to be a sister who gives him a cheeky hand job. It’s magical realism, metaphysical, and alternate realities like No Longer Human.
Author: Haruki Murakami
Average Rating: 4.6/5
Category: Contemporary Fantasy, Magical Realism
Available: Audiobook | Paperback | Hardcover | Kindle | Audio CD
2. Norwegian Wood
This book came out in 1987 in Japan, was published in English in the year 2000, and was phenomenally popular. Haruki Murakami was a famous author in Japan, putting him on the international stage. It is the story of Toru Watanabe. Also, it takes place mainly as a flashback from him when he was in his 30s. So he had a strong childhood friend, the only person he ever felt he understood. Who understood him called Kazuki, who killed himself on his 17th birthday without explanation.
This starts when Toru goes to university in Tokyo when he’s 19 and bears that grief. He gets to know his best friend’s girlfriend, Nalco, who is also struggling with grief and other mental issues. Then there’s another girl named Midori he meets with her own problems. But they meet at university, and it’s about all their shouldering grief.
It’s a triangle love story similar to No Longer Human. There are a lot of perpetuating stereotypes by enforcing gender division. This book was in a letter from Nalco to Watanabe. The central question for them is not whether something is fair but whether or not it’s beautiful or will make them happy.
Author: Haruki Murakami
Average Rating: 4.5/5
Category: Psychological Fiction
Available: Audiobook | Paperback | Library Binding | Kindle | Mass Market Paperback
3. The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea
It translates into the sailor who betrayed his life of alienation, nihilism, voyaging, and indifference for a sense of belonging and companionship. The sea meant the depths of the darkness of the world. It was only in this darkness that he knew was a point of light for him alone that would draw closer to him to illuminate him someday. That’s the fulfillment in death that Yukio Mishima often speaks about in his books.
In this book, the author writes that the sailor essentially belongs neither to the land nor the sea. Yet, he is tormented with the absurdity of longing for something that he lauds. He becomes very sentimental about harbor towns, and this sadness stems from a neglected part of the self. Noboru turned out to be a fascinating character in the book. He belongs to this group of schoolboys who are equally disturbing, especially the chief of the surreptitious gang.
The chief is a schoolboy who talks about real danger, not physical, but the inevitable outcome of living life. Moreover, strongly bordering on fanaticism, he believes killing is the only way to fill the world’s great hollows. That’s how they would achieve real power over existence. The cultural aspects and theme are very relatable with No Longer Human.
Author: Yukio Mishima
Average Rating: 4.7/5
Category: Classic Literature
Available: Audiobook | Paperback | Hardcover | Mass Market Paperback
This book reflects the author’s preoccupation with conflicting cultural attitudes transitioning from the late Tokugawa Shogunate to the capitalist, more industrialized, modernized Japan. So you would see during the Meiji restoration beginning in 1868. Bureaucratic, political, and military reforms didn’t mark this period. These contradictions and cultural tiffs trickled into people’s personal lives and families. This intensely personal impact of cultural tensions at a personal level is what Suzuki looks at in culture.
Kokoda tells the story of a narrator who sees a man walking down a beach one day. He eventually befriends this man, whom we only know as Sensei, a teacher. Developing their friendship and growing their relationship forms the first part of this book’s three-part structure. The narrator repeatedly emphasizes his name. The Tae is his innocence, in contrast with Sensei’s worldliness and cynicism.
Sensei is an exciting man, and he is very guarded. He has few close friends, and he doesn’t wear his emotions on his sleeve. While the innocent young narrator initially sees Sensei as the stereotypical older, wise man. Then, he slowly begins to realize as the novel unfolds that it has unique to teach him.
Author: Natsume Soseki
Average Rating: 4.5/5
Category: Asian American Literature
Available: Audiobook | Paperback | Hardcover | Kindle | Mass Market Paperback
5. Confessions of a Mask
Gay Japanese author Yukio Mishima writes Confessions of a Mask. He’s plotting or giving the reader the plot points of his life regarding growing up in Japan, being gay, and dealing with his sexuality. As it relates to the author’s own life, he stemmed much of his material from his life like that. That has to be undeniably present in this book.
The author went through his school years, not necessarily being bullied but recognizing his differences regarding his peers. They were attracted to women and girls and him on the other side, and he wasn’t. He was attracted to his peers. He’s struggled with that. Like No Longer Human, the writing was fluid, and the lyrical skills were prose and poetry. It was a landmine of literary stimulation.
Author: Yukio Mishima
Average Rating: 4.7/5
Category: Japanese Literature Fiction
Available: Paperback | Hardcover | Mass Market Paperback
6. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
This Russian classic explores the mind of Raskolnikov, a man who tries to justify murder for a perceived greater good, only to find himself consumed by guilt and paranoia. Dostoevsky’s exploration of moral dilemmas, social estrangement, and existential despair mirror the themes found in “No Longer Human.” The psychological depth achieved in depicting Raskolnikov’s internal conflict makes this a must-read for fans of introspective, dark literature.
7. The Stranger by Albert Camus
Camus’ existentialist masterpiece features Meursault, an emotionally detached French Algerian who commits an inexplicable act of violence. The book explains absurdism and existential ennui, providing a lens through which to explore a life devoid of meaning or purpose. Its emotional detachment and exploration of existential themes make it akin to “No Longer Human.”
8. Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky
This novella serves as an existential critique of 19th-century utopianism. The unnamed narrator, the “Underground Man,” is a bitter, retired civil servant who shuns societal norms. Like Dazai’s protagonist, the Underground Man is a study of self-loathing and social dysfunction, making it a fitting companion read.
9. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
This semi-autobiographical novel follows Esther Greenwood, a young woman who experiences a mental breakdown. Plath’s honest portrayal of depression and women’s societal pressures make it a timeless classic. The narrative dives deep into its protagonist’s psyche, much like “No Longer Human,” offering an unflinching look at mental illness.
10. Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse
This novel features Harry Haller, who views himself as a “Steppenwolf,” torn between his humanity and a more destructive, wolf-like side. The book focuses on Haller’s internal struggles and disillusionment, akin to the existential despair in “No Longer Human.” It shows Eastern and Western philosophy, exploring complex themes of identity, loneliness, and the duality of human nature.
More Japanese Cultural Books: Books About Geisha
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