Which Japanese textbook is right for you?

best japanese textbook

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Your Japanese textbook will be your first and most important decision during your journey.

If you’re just starting to learn Japanese, your textbook choice will be an important decision.

It will decide how and what you learn for a large portion of your time. And that won’t be great if you don’t get on with it’s teaching style.

They don’t come cheap, either.

And it’s all well and good having your favourite online resource to teach you, but they won’t give you the structure a Japanese textbook can.

I’m going to do my best to explain who each textbook is for and whether it’s a good choice for you to learn Japanese.

Genki 1 – 5

Perhaps the most well known Japanese textbook of all.

It’s an absolutely great place for beginners to start, but it really isn’t for the faint hearted.

At first glance, this textbook might seem overwhelming especially with 382 pages!

But the amount of information and practical language learning activities are well worth the ‘struggle’.

However, if you aren’t a motivated learner, or you’re just dipping your feet into the world of japanese language then I wouldn’t recommend this as your first purchase.

Is Genki good for self study?

Genki can be a fantastic tool for self study, especially if you’re using the Japanese Workbook alongside it.

That said, some of the concepts may be a little hard to understand and unless you have a japanese friend, tutor, or enjoy outside research

Another problem you may encounter is pair work.

As the book was designed primarily for classrooms, there’s understandably group and pair speaking exercises which you won’t get the most out of unless you have someone to practice with.

But that’s no excuse not to do the exercises just because they’re meant for two people.

Why not do both of the speaking exercises yourself?

Is Genki the right Japanese textbook for me?

If you’re an extremely motivated learner, and you’re dedicated day in and day out to your study then it’s by far the most comprehensive study book around. If you’re just toying with the idea of studying Japanese or want to learn in a more casual fashion, you’ll find the next book more suitable.

Is Genki 1 enough for N5?

Yes, Genki should be enough for the JLPT N5 exam. The book has loads of practical exercises as well as sections to teach you hiragana, katakana and kanji. Genki also features an audio CD to help you practice Japanese word pronunciation, great to follow along through the book.

Is Genki worth it?

Genki is an extremely well written textbook, but it might not be worth it if you’re studying solo. If, however, you have the opportunity to speak to or interact with a Japanese tutor on a regular basis then It’s probably worth the investment (time and money).

That’s not to say you definitely won’t get on with it if you’re just starting out, you just need to understand what goals you have before committing to it. I don’t have access to any Japanese teachers and still found it a nice book to work through when starting out.

Japanese from zero!: proven techniques to learn Japanese for students and professionals.

If you’ve tried Genki but it’s just too intense or simple doesn’t fit your style of studying then you might want to try Japanese from Zero!

Japanese from Zero! vs Genki

I’ve used both books extensively, and I found this one far more accessible and less intimidating as a beginner. Maybe that’s because Genki Textbook isn’t meant for self study or perhaps the way it’s taught in JFZ is just more suitable to my type of learning. Either way, it’s the book I’ve had most success with.

Japanese from Zero also seemed to keep my interest more, even through the more mundane grammar sections. This was in part because of the YouTube study videos that coincide with almost every lesson throughout the book.

George Trombley runs the YouTube channel Learn Japanese From Zero! and has created a really friendly community of like minded people all looking to study Japanese. It’s a great place to hang out if you need help with your japanese learning or even if you’re just looking for friends with similar interests.

Japanese from Zero feels like something bigger than just a book. It feels like even if you’re just a solo learner, you have the backup of an entire community. That can be really nice when you’re just starting out, especially with such an intimidating language.

It’s also a great way to help you see a topic from a different angle. You’ll read it in the book, listen to it from George, and then also have the comments. It’s almost like having a classroom to bounce ideas around which can be really nice when you’re trying to understand a concept.

How many Japanese from zero books are there?

There are currently 5 books in the series. This means that if you get on with how the language is taught through the first book, you’ll be able to continue studying Japanese to a much higher level through the other 4.

Is Japanese from zero worth it?

As we’ve previously talked about, you’ll likely be wanting to chose a single Japanese textbook to use as your ‘Japanese Bible’.

If you’re going diving in at the deep end and willing to do extra research, then Genki might be for you. If you’re looking for a more self contained option that will have most of what you need to learn as a beginner (and does a dam good job at explaining it) then Japanese from zero is your best bet.

As far as my choice went, it was Japanese from Zero. The inclusion of such a big YouTube channel with a huge community of people as well as a book that held your hand through the learning made it the best Japanese textbook for me.

A guide to Japanese Grammar by Tae Kim

As I’ve already stated here, Tae Kim has the best resources for Japanese grammar and that’s the case with his book as well.

Is Tae Kim’s Guide good?

Though I haven’t used his grammar book, I would imagine it’s equally as extensive as his online guide. I can quite honestly tell you that I’ve yet to find a place to learn Japanese grammar that’s as in depth and well written as Tae Kim.

The only problem (and this is me clutching at straws) is that it’s simply a guide and nothing else. There isn’t any practice workbooks or exercises to let you go over what you’ve just learnt.

Because of the lack of practice material, Tae Kim’s guide may only be helpful to the proactive learners among you.

If you aren’t willing to put what you’ve learnt into practice, then this book is certainly not for you.

Kodomo no Nihongo

Buying a Japanese textbook is the first decision during your learning journey. We've made a guide to help you decide which one is best for you.

This is a bit of a weird one, and probably not a book a lot of you expected to see on this list.

It’s certainly not one of the most recognisable textbooks, so why’s it on here?

Well, think about it.

You’ve picked your base Japanese textbook to help carry you from beginner to absolute expert.

You’ve grabbed the grammar guide to help with sentence constructs.

What’s left?

Cultural Japanese, not just one size fits all sentences. Similar to the Casual Nihongo podcast.

Is Kodomo no Nihongo any good?

It’s written entirely in Japanese, so it’s definitely going to be different to what you’re used to. It also skips over several points and explanations which means it won’t be replacing Genki or Japanese from Zero any time soon.

But, we aren’t asking it too.

Kodomo no Nihongo has its quirks and isn’t perfect by any means, but it can certainly have a part to play in your journey to learn Japanese.

Most of the activities are pretty straight forward and the entire book is FILLED with activities.

It’s basically the complete opposite to Tae Kims Grammar Guide. Loads of activities, no too much explanation. But that’s not a problem if you’re getting the bulk of your information from other sources.

Which Japanese textbook should I buy?

At the end of the day, it only matters which Japanese textbook works well with you.

Now, you probably don’t want to spend the money figuring that out so let me make it more simple for you.

If you’re new to learning a language or the thought of learning one makes you feel overwhelmed, get Japanese from Zero!.

If you’ve studied language before or have a wider support network of people to ask for advice, try Genki.

You’ll also want to supplement your learning with other Japanese resources to completely immerse yourself.

Let me know below which textbook you’ve had the best experience with, or maybe one that I’ve missed out!

じゃあね! ^_^

Jonny Gleason

Jonny is the founder of A Day of Zen and has an unhealthy obsession with Japan. In 2022 he moved to Japan on a mission to give his audience the best possible information. He's helped over 300,000 plan their trip so far, and is eager to make that number much bigger!

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