Our 10 best books for learning Japanese

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.

Pimsleur Japanese

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. You can sample Pimsleur Japanese for free with a Audible 30 day trial. Download the taster course here.

Kodansha’s Furigana Japanese Dictionary

Best Japanese-English dictionary out there. Lots of example sentences.

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.

28 thoughts on “Our 10 best books for learning Japanese

  1. I think ‘Human Japanese’ is wonderful. Yes, I agree with you self-learning with determination is more effective. To learn good at a language is to spend time and engage in yourself in the environment, listen, speak and read whenever you can. At best is to know a friend of that country, or go there!!!

      1. Human Japanese is not a book but more of an interactive tool for learning that can be downloaded to your smart phone or tablet. I not having a credit card only have access to the demo but through that I’ve easily been able to get through the first two writing systems and some basic vocabulary. It is written in an extremely interesting and accessible manner and seems to have a very everyone can learn Japanese attitude. If you have a smart phone it’s definitely has my recontamination, and when I get my credit working again I will be running straight back to it.

  2. What about Genki? I swear it’s the best Japanese textbook ever created to go along with its workbook. I have been learning from Genki for about 2- 3 years now and I really enjoy it. It covers from basic Japanese grammar and vocab and kanji all the way up to complicated compounds and keigo. I really enjoy it and I have been learning Japanese since about 5 years ago and it is byfar the best textbook I’ve ever used for grammar and vocab. However, if a person wanted to work a lot further on their kanji and get a good grip on onyomi and kunyomi (different readings of kanji – Japanese origin readings and Chinese origin readings) I recommend the Basic Kanji book. It teaches around 500 kanji per book and has great work book pages and teaches radicals. I find it to be my number one supplimentive pick for kanji.

  3. I was wondering if out of these books which ones do you really need? I am on a budget which books are best to start with? Thank you.

  4. Remembering the Kanji is an amazing book, I used it way back to learn the meaning of the Jouyou in about two months, and I managed to preserve above 95% accuracy for quite some time (until I stopped with my Japanese studying). It’s really a one-of-a-kind, so different and so much more efficient than other Kanji-books I’ve tried to learn from.

    I’d also suggest the Japanese For Busy People series (the kana versions), which I used to get started. If you go through all three books, you’ll have a strong foundation to build on, both in terms of grammar and vocabulary.

  5. Hey, I have heard a lot about the Genki books and I was thinking of getting them but since there SOOOOOO expensive, I was wondering if there are any books that might be just as good but a cheaper alternative, or at least any book that would be good to get as well as Genki? please answer soon 🙂

  6. do you know any places where you can Buy the books. Everyone says that all the books are good but I want to know where you can get them, other than amazon though.

  7. The dictionary of basic japanese grammar is a great book. Helped me a ton in understanding it. Also japanese the manga way is a great read for anyone who gets bored reading traditional books

  8. The Basic Japanese Grammar (and intermediate) book and Remembering the Kana were great resources for me as well. I also found Remembering the Kanji to be great, although even after finishing it the road to truly learning kanji is a looong one.

    Please take a look at my website about Japanese NOVELS for Japanese learners if you get the chance. I would love feedback on it from another Japanese learner (and writer focusing on Japanese learners). Thanks!

    1. Hi Andy. Thanks for commenting! Your site looks interesting. Are those books that you have had produced yourself or are you just organizing them in a logical way for learners?

      1. Thanks for your thoughts, Kristin. And I feel like an idiot for misspelling your name before. (Also, I do remember your previous rant about the marriage issue, and I appreciated it at the time.) Oh, and one more thing, I realized a lot of my questions about your writing habit (e.g., where you sit) are answered on your page about that. I just want to know even more.

  9. Hi Frank!

    Thanks for the response, and taking a look at the site. While I have hopes of eventually producing books aimed at learners of Japanese, this site is, a you put it so well, organizing Japanese novels, etc in a logical way for learners. =)

  10. I’m learning Chinese at the moment, but I hope to learn Japanese at some point in the future. If I already am learning Hanzi is it okay to skip learning Kanji or should I still study it?

    1. A fair few of the Handzi have changed or mean something different in Kanji so I wouldn’t recomend skipping it.Though you could probably get away with it if you really wanted.

  11. at first it was really difficult for me to learn this language but a friend of mine have sent me this e book it was really usefull for me http://bit.ly/1V4AWWv i’m not gonna lie and say that i’m a native speaker but i’m not a debutant either

  12. I have to learn Spanish and A bit of Chinese for my job, so I need good books. The best book to learn Spanish in all the lists seems to be: A Good Spanish Book! (University Academic Editions), but I am totally lost for Chinese… there are no rankings… any suggestions?

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