In the 6 years of Japanese study we have bought many many books always looking for the one to rule them all. It became almost a weekly habit and an obsession, so after all that here is what we think are the best ones we would recommend to others starting the journey.
A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar
There’s a reason why this book is known as the “Yellow Book” or “The Bible” among Japan expats. It is probably the best Japanese learning resource I have ever come across. Clearly and thoroughly written with great example sentences. If you are at a more advanced level, check out the “Blue” and “Red” books by the same authors.
Kodansha’s Furigana Japanese Dictionary
Best Japanese-English dictionary out there. Lots of example sentences.
Not strictly a book, but it’s a great audio course for starting out in Japanese. Gets a bit too corporate for my liking towards the end of the 3rd series, but you will remember and be able to use what you learn with Pimsleur.
Remembering the Kanji, Volume 1: A Complete Course on How Not to Forget the Meaning and Writing of Japanese Characters
An invaluable book for mastering the kanji. Required reading for all serious learners of Japanese. I haven’t used books 2 or 3 much but some people seem to like those too.
Kanji Study Cards
Kanji study cards that accompany James Heisig’s Remembering the Kanji (above). It is definitely nice having all 2048 kanji with their readings in one set and it saves you the effort of making the cards/notes yourself. If you’re lazy like me it’s a no-brainer!
Kanji in Context
Wow..I guess I have a lot of kanji-related books! This book allows you to build a strong vocabulary after using Heisig’s book. Might be hard to get outside Japan, but I also recommend the accompanying workbook.
The Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Dictionary
Great kanji reference. Used this so much it brings back good memories of my first stint in Japan.
Remembering the Kana: A Guide to Reading and Writing the Japanese Syllabaries in 3 Hours Each
In this book James Heisig applies his mnemonics method to learning to read and write the Hiragana and Katakana. I found it helpful when I was starting out.
How to Sound Intelligent in Japanese: A Vocabulary Builder
This is a very useful Vocabulary Builder but more importantly, just owning it makes me feel smarter
Making Out in Japanese
Had a lot of fun with this book! Not a serious one but definitely had a lot of laughs with it.
So there you have it. There are probably more (I have spent $$$s on Japanese books over the years) but those are the books that stood out for me. Enjoy!
Update: We have since posted up some more helpful books for studying Japanese. Check them out here.