I started learning Japanese when I was just 13 years old, and from then on I already stopped and started again a bunch of times. Japanese is not an easy language, especially in the beginning, but if you put enough effort and pick the right books to learn Japanese for beginners, you will soon be able to understand each one of those ‘crazy sticks’ as people like to call them.
Here I compiled a list of the best books to learn Japanese to help you choose the best ones for you so that you don’t need to waste a lot of time jumping from one book to the other, as I did in the beginning.
Best books to learn Japanese
Ok, let’s start with what is probably the most famous book to learn Japanese out there.
Most people, just like me, start studying Japanese with Minna no Nihongo, especially for those whose English is not their first language, or don’t speak English at all.
Minna no Nihongo offers books in many languages like English, Portuguese, Spanish, Thai, Russian, and the list goes on. It is the only book in this list available in other languages besides English, so if you are just starting to learn Japanese, and prefer to study it in your own language, I highly recommend Minna no Nihongo.
This series is divided into four levels, two for beginners and two for intermediaries. Each level contains two books, a textbook, and a workbook.
Although this is the most popular book to learn Japanese and probably the most commonly used in classrooms, it is not my favorite, maybe I just didn’t adapt well, but honestly, I found it a bit confusing, also I don’t really know how it is nowadays, but back when I started studying Japanese, Minna no Nihongo was not the most updated book of the time I may say, meaning there were some words and sentences that were not been used anymore. I believe since then they might have updated the series, but just a heads up.
But again, I started with this book and pretty much everybody starts with Minna no Nihongo. Especially if you are a non-native English speaker I highly recommend you to start with Minna no Nihongo, as Japanese is not an easy language, and the easier material for you to understand, especially in the beginning, the better.
If you would like to give it a try, here is the first book to start with, Minna no Nihongo Beginner 1:
Or you can buy the set of beginner books, with Beginner 1 & 2 alongside their workbook and Vocab table here:
Well, I just talked about the book I like the least, now let’s talk about the book I like the most so far.
First thing, the layout. The layout of Marugoto is very clean and well organized, it is not over saturated with new information, which makes it easy to visualize things.
The content is great and teaches you little by little in each chapter, which gives a nice flow to the book. It does feel like small steps but, as you move forward, you realize how much you have improved.
Each level comes with two books, Rikai (Comprehension) and Katsudou (exercises), so one book focus on the lesson with dialogues, vocabulary, and grammar, and the other is purely the exercises as the name suggests.
Of course, I recommend buying both of them as it is always good to practice what you have learned, however, if you want to buy only one, go for the Rikai one here, this one is essential.
So far, Marugoto is the book I recommend the most, for all levels (as they have books for all levels) but especially the beginners who want to start with an easy yet deep book that won’t make them grow tired and bored, nor lose interest.
Marugoto books Beginner A1:
Marugoto Katsudou book Beginner A1:
Or, if you like saving money, go for this Beginner set, which contains the Rikai and Katsudou books of A1 and A2 (the two first Beginner levels of Marugoto) plus the Elementary 1 (Rikai + Katsudou) and a Vocab table, great price for this whole set!:
Another great book to learn Japanese as a beginner. Genki 1 and Genki 2 are equivalent to N5 and N4. I haven’t personally tried this one, but a friend of mine did, so I got the chance to take a look at the books.
I like how the chapters are structured in Genki. Each chapter gives you a conversation, followed by all the vocabulary and grammar of that chapter, the vocabulary for example is divided between adjectives, verbs, subjective, and so on, which makes it really easy to understand and to learn the usage of each word.
In the grammar section, Genki’s book gives you around 5 grammar points per chapter, explaining each point in English, in a super-easy way to understand, really. After the grammar section, you still get some ‘bonus’ information about Japanese expressions, and at the very end of the book, you get some exercises to practice what you have learned in the chapter.
As I said, I haven’t tried Genki myself, but the book looks really nice and easy to understand, my only down point is that the exercises might be a little hard for those learning by themselves, without a teacher to correct them, but exercises apart, Genki is a great option if you are looking for a beginner book to learn Japanese.
If you want to get a feeling of this Genki series, you can buy the first book here:
Or go for the full Genki Beginner set here to save some money!:
Somatome has a huuuuge collection of books on all sort of things the Japanese language-related. This series is the best option if you are looking for books focused on the JLPT exams, they cover from N5 to N1.
The collection counts with the basic reading and listening books for each level, but also counts with different books that focus on different aspects of the language alone, like books dedicated to Grammar, Kanji, Vocab, Etc.
Honestly, I wouldn’t recommend the grammar book if you are learning all by yourself, rather it is best if you have a teacher as the grammar books don’t really come with deep explanations on things.
The kanji book on the other hand is very interesting and very easy to follow along, even if you are studying alone, so this one I super recommend for those learning with or without a teacher.
And of course, the Nihongo Somatome vocab book, which gives you a list of vocab per page with their meaning in English and how to write them in Japanese pretty straightforward.
Besides the lesson books, Somatome also has exercises books that you can use for studying for the JLPT test, they don’t come with lessons or explanations, but offer a bunch of questions that can come up on the JLPT test, so it is not bad to take a look in this book 😉
You can buy the N5 (Beginner) book here:
And the N4 book here:
These are the two easiest levels, considered as beginner, but for the more advanced students you can go for the whole set of books for each level, you can get them below.
Complete set of books for N3 students:
Complete set of books for N2 students:
Or the complete set of books for N1 if you are super advanced sin Japanese: