To get a decent handle on the structure of Japanese, you need a solid textbook (or the equivalent) to explain grammar concepts, provide practice exercises, and introduce material that’s only +1 above your current ability level.
Below is a list of our favorite textbooks; the ones we feel are the best books for beginners to learn Japanese
TOP 11 best books to learn Japanese for beginners
1. Mina no Nihongo
Minna no Nihongo is very in-depth. It covers a lot of material and uses complex terms to teach grammar points. It even explains pitch accents with new grammar you learn! This is great because the pitch accent should be learned early but few textbooks cover it.
- Covers more ground than other textbooks
- All Japanese text—lots of reading practice
- Intense, in-depth grammar explanations
- Requires second “translation book” to use the main textbook
- Moderately expensive
A perfect starting point for beginners, Genki has an easy-to-follow lesson structure that begins with dialogues using target vocabulary and grammar, which are then taught more clearly in the succinct and easy-to-understand lessons.
All in all, Genki is a fantastic series and going through both books will give you the foundation you need to start intermediate studies.
- Perfect for beginners
- Reliable lesson structure
- Scaffolding progression
- Clear, concise grammar explanations
- Audio CDs and workbook available
- Not designed for self-learners
3. Yookoso! An invitation to contemporary Japanese
What sets Yookoso! They’re academic and brief to the point of being a little unclear. But there are a lot of example sentences, tables, and other material to flesh out target concepts.
This focus on example sentences is a great way to get a feel for Japanese in its native habitat and will give you a strong collocation background. Though short, the grammar explanations do a fine job of teaching you.
- Real-world conversations with accompanying vocabulary words
- Grammar taught through example sentences
- Not great for self-learners
- More expensive than other textbooks
4. Japanese for Busy People
As long as you get the Kana Version of this textbook (there is an all-romaji version), you’ll learn some valuable things. Each chapter introduces target grammar and vocab gradually. And at the end of each chapter, there’s a quiz you can use to self-evaluate.
An interesting quirk: there’s no kanji at all in this book. I guess they named it “Kana Version” for a reason.
- Quizzes at the end of each lesson and an accompanying answer key
- Dialogues are more realistic, less like “classroom talk”
- Clear grammar explanations at the beginning of each chapter
- Audio CD included
- Aimed at business people so be prepared to talk about photocopiers
- All kana, no kanji makes for difficult reading
5. Japnese for everyone
Japanese for Everyone is an inexpensive alternative to Genki. In fact, it covers almost as much as Genki I. Unfortunately, there’s no audio component.
The grammar explanations are minimal, so you’ll need outside sources to supplement what you learn.
One drawback is that kanji aren’t used often in the book itself.
- Packed with content, maybe as much as Genki I and II combined
- Teaches grammar through real-life situations and expressions
- Covers complex grammar concepts early
- Grammar explanations are brief and require an outside supplement
- Audio lessons are difficult to find
- Not many kanji used in reading comprehension and exercises
6. Japanese: The spoken language
- Great audio lessons
- A unique approach you won’t find elsewhere
- Teaches pitch accent
- Complex and detailed grammar explanations
- Written by linguists
- The phonetic script takes getting used to
- Grammar explanations may be too complex for some students
7. Adventures in Japanese
- Aimed at junior high and high school
- Easy to self-measure progress
- Great companion website with free bonus material, no login required
- Concepts can be overly simple
- In an effort to simplify complex grammar points, some explanations can become confusing
8. A guide to Japanese grammar
- Grammar explanations are easy to understand
- Some grammar explanations may contain errors
9. Elementary Japanese
- Companion CD-Rom included
- Written for classrooms and self-learners
- Built around grammar, not teaching situations
- Grammar explanations are clear, concise, and thorough
- Lots of kanji and little to no furigana
- Takes a while to drop romaji completely
- Design can be visually confusing at a glance
10. Japanese from zero
- The writing style is fun and easy to follow
- Exercises are light and breezy
- Support from JFZ community
- Slow Pacing
- No audio CD or pronunciation help
- Though some content is free, you have to pay extra for access to all the supplemental content on the website
11. Japanese the Manga way
- Simple, step-by-step teaching style
- Lessons reinforced with manga examples
- Enjoyable content
- Uses uncommon terms for verb types
- Romaji used alongside kana and kanji
- No exercises
The above is Top 11 best books to learn Japanese for beginners. Wish you learn Japanese well.
If you have any question please comment below, we’ll give you an answer.