Are you Interested in learning Japanese? Have you been studying the language for a while but want to brush up a bit? Yearning to move to the country but are unsure of the language barrier? Well, Japanese language books can help!
Whether studying abroad, traveling, or watching anime or films, exposure to Japanese is more accessible than ever today. However, with so many books available, such as those that focus on helping you pass the JLPT test, phrasebooks, or even just books focused on grammar, as well as different levels, it can be difficult to know what books can help you learn the best.
To help you out, we've compiled a list of the ten best Japanese learning books and a buying guide to help you find the best Japanese language book.
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Table of Contents
Choosing the right Japanese learning book depends on your goals, current level, and preferred study method. Keep reading to learn more!
It's important to determine your level to choose the right language book. If you have no prior experience learning Japanese, look for books suited for beginners starting from zero.
If you have experience, no matter how little, we recommend beginning by taking an online practice Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT). The JLPT is Japan's most widely accepted standard of language comprehension, starting at the easiest level of N5, and increasing in difficulty up to N1.
N5 is considered beginner, while N1 is considered fluent. Alternatively, you can read the requirements for all levels to get a feel for where you fall. Knowing your level will help you find a book that best matches your proficiency. If you're considering working in Japan, be aware that Japanese companies often require candidates to have N2 or N1 proficiency when hiring!
The Japanese language uses two alphabets: hiragana and katakana. Some books assume that you have already learned one or both of these systems, so be sure to check that the book is suitable for your level of prior knowledge.
Japanese also uses kanji, or Chinese characters, for certain words. If you can't read any kanji, look for books that include hiragana readings of the characters, called furigana, to help you pronounce the characters.
Some beginner books have romaji, or English letters that represent Japanese phonetic sounds. If you can't read hiragana, consider a book that includes romaji or teaches you the two alphabets.
Once you've figured out your proficiency level, next is to find a book that best suits your purpose. Japanese language books have different purposes or goals for studying, like passing the JLPT exam or simply traveling.
Comprehensive books should offer a little bit of everything, including reading, writing, speaking, grammar, and vocabulary. They are best for people just starting to study Japanese or who want a general understanding of the language instead of focusing entirely on specific aspects. Advanced learners may have a harder time finding general books that meet their level and match their study interests.
Comprehensive books often take a lot of time to master due to their broad focus, so think about the amount of time you can commit to studying every day or every week. To help you learn, make sure these books offer a variety of exercises and listening drills.
Business-focused books focus on vocabulary and sentence structures useful in professional settings. For example, they cover keigo, an honorific speech style used in many professional situations.
Additionally, when conversing in Japanese, keigo is the default speech style that most people use when speaking to someone for the first time, regardless of social status or age. If you want to live in Japan or work with a Japanese company, this focus is likely the best for you!
If you are planning to travel to Japan, a basic phrase and vocabulary book will be the most useful. These books teach you how to communicate in everyday scenarios at supermarkets, restaurants, train stations, and more.
Some phrasebooks may focus on unique topics meant more for reference, like manga or anime. These can be fun to flip through for casual learners!
Sometimes there's a particular area of Japanese you want to focus on or strengthen, like speaking, reading, or grammar.
If you want to improve your reading, pick text-heavy books that have passages and stories for you to study. This is a great way to expand your vocabulary and learn more kanji.
Most text-based books are sorted by level so that you can easily find a book that includes vocabulary and kanji within your comprehension. If you are a visual learner, another great way to improve your casual reading skills is to pick up a Japanese manga or children's book.
Grammar and syntax are arguably the most difficult parts of learning Japanese, so many books exist to help deepen your understanding. They cover conjugations, tenses, and sentence structures to ensure that your writing or speaking is correct.
Grammar is especially useful in academic and technical contexts. If you're planning to write papers or read formal texts, these books will help you polish your skills.
The number of words you know in Japanese will either limit or expand the quality of your writing, reading, listening, and speaking skills. Once you have a grasp on grammar, increasing your word bank will allow you to be more detailed and specific when you communicate.
Some books cover essential words and phrases for beginners, like the 500 most common kanji. Others cover the words found in each level of JLPT. However, you can also find options that focus on vocabulary related to travel, business, or pop culture.
Speaking books often focus on specific vocabulary and easy sentences that are useful when conveying yourself in everyday situations. Some may concentrate more on life in Japan, while others are geared towards travel.
These books can help you introduce yourself, open up a bank account, or get around town using the appropriate politeness level. If you are hesitant about learning Japanese, these types of books are a great place to start exploring the language. However, they may not always offer in-depth grammar explanations.
Not all Japanese learning books are the same! Be sure to pick one that works the best for you and your Japanese learning goals.
Reference books are extremely helpful in Japanese learning. They contain concise information that's easy to refer to, making them ideal to use alongside other learning materials such as books, audio, or videos. They tend to be small and compact, which is excellent for those learning on the go!
Textbooks are the most common type of book used in Japanese learning. Japanese textbooks usually cover all of the important points of language, including drills, exercises, and conversations for practice. Separate workbooks may be required to complete these exercises.
Textbooks can be used for self-study or with the guidance of a class or tutor. However, some textbooks may be geared more towards classroom use, making them more challenging to use as a solo learner.
For those who want to practice reading and comprehension, storybooks are a solid choice. They test your knowledge of kanji, phrases, and understanding. Storybooks are often focused on beginner, intermediate, or advanced levels.
Storybooks specifically made for Japanese learners usually have translations, explanations, and follow-up questions. Manga is also a fun option for testing your reading comprehension.
These types of books tend to be more fun, focusing on unique topics or a smaller scope of words. They are often meant to flip through and don't offer practice exercises or in-depth explanations.
For example, casual Japanese language books for travel may teach you a few phrases and offer cultural insights. Or, you can find fun books focusing on specific topics in Japanese, like anime, pop culture, or food.
Extra features can help you immerse yourself and study more efficiently. Many language books include an accompanying CD, smartphone application, or website. These usually include writing and listening exercises to help you practice. Or, they may have instructional videos, vocabulary lists, and more.
Some also come with audio programs, including podcasts, to help you increase listening comprehension by hearing different voices and speeds of speech.
Books may also offer physical extras, like transparency sheets to test yourself and cover answers on the pages. Or, they may have reference sheets for easy referencing. Sometimes there are additional downloadable resources like flashcards or activity sheets.
Click to purchase
Best for Self-Motivated Learners
Best at Immersing Yourself in Japanese
Best for Grammar Learners That Have Mastered N5
Learn From Zero
Best for Those With Zero Prior Knowledge
Best for Those Beginning to Study Japanese Seriously
Best for Intermediate Learners Who Want to Take It to the Next Level
Best Manga With a Fun Story
Ask Publishing Co
Best for Studying Business Language and Keigo
Best for Practicing Reading Comprehension
Best for Perfecting Your Grammar
Genki is one of the most popular textbooks to learn Japanese among students and self-learners alike. It primarily focuses on conversation and grammar in situations that reflect the real world. Chapters are broken down into dialogue, vocabulary, grammar explanations, and practice problems.
Some readers felt the text was slightly translated awkwardly. However, most learners said this is a great guide for beginners, and also appreciated that each chapter offers lots of practice opportunities.
This textbook is written entirely in Japanese, making it ideal for learners of all backgrounds. Plus, it encourages the learner to read the characters. We also like that it incorporates kanji and covers grammar well.
Some readers complained that since it's written entirely in Japanese, it was tough to study alone and would be more useful with the help of a teacher. Still, most readers agree that this textbook is extremely immersive and will help you learn kanji early on, and liked how fast they learned when dedicating themselves to this book!
The Kanzen book series gives you the necessary tools to pass each level of the JLPT. This grammar book is part of its N4 set. It offers slightly more advanced grammar for beginners, making it an ideal next step for those familiar with the basics.
Some readers struggled with the text-heavy information. But, the majority of reviewers liked how it offers detailed grammar points, followed by an explanation and example sentences. They also appreciated that it provides ample practice exercises.
This book begins entirely in English and slowly introduces hiragana, grammar, and vocabulary. It includes many cultural tips and common phrases, making it more interesting and practical. Moreover, it comes with plenty of supplementary study materials, including a Discord community.
Some readers think that the pace is too slow for those serious about learning Japanese. However, most readers love that it includes web-based video lessons and quizzes, saying they feel like they are taking an actual Japanese class. They also reported that it's enjoyable to use since it doesn't overwhelm the reader with information.
This book focuses on conversational skills, pronunciation, and basic grammar. It's great for new learners who want a general foundation of the Japanese language. It also includes many common phrases and vocabulary.
Some readers found that their knowledge wasn't developed well over the course of the book. Overall, many other readers liked the native voices on the audio tracks. They also said that the information about Japan was interesting to read. In general, reviewers said this is a great supplementary text for beginners.
This intermediate textbook is an excellent transition between intermediate and advanced levels of Japanese. It helps you develop skills through learning about Japanese geography, pop culture, and history. These fun topics make learning Japanese an interesting, engaging experience.
Some readers said the chapters were too long. However, most readers liked that there was no English translation for anything, forcing them to use their prior knowledge of Japanese. They also liked that the same grammar points were used in multiple chapters, enforcing their learning.
This beginner's textbook follows the story of Kiara, an American exchange student living in Japan. It includes manga strips and an engaging storyline about her travels into Japanese history. Plus, it has kanji lists, printable exercises, and dialogues.
Some learners said that it's essential to master the basic characters before using this book. However, many liked the uniqueness of this textbook, saying it's immersive without being overwhelming. They also liked that it barely used romaji and contained natural, relevant dialogues.
This book is for intermediate and upper-level learners who want to master keigo, or honorific speech. Keigo will help you work in a Japanese office and communicate professionally. Many Japanese learning books introduce keigo, but this book is all about putting it into practice with the correct usage.
Some readers thought that it was difficult to decipher some more complex phrases. However, most said that this book was very comprehensive. They liked that it gave great examples of what to say and what not to say. Readers say it's ideal for intermediate-level learners (N3) and above.
Inside this book are 20 short stories to help you improve your language proficiency and expand your vocabulary. Each story has a full English translation with vocabulary lists and follow-up questions in Japanese to review.
Some readers wished that the vocabulary lists were more comprehensive, and others noted errors with furigana. Still, most readers thought it was great for learners looking to build upon basic skills. They appreciated that the stories were relatable and entertaining to read.
This handy supplemental reference book covers over 70 different particles. It explains their multiple uses and gives examples. It's an excellent resource for quickly looking up the particle you’re having trouble with while reading or studying Japanese.
Some learners thought the example sentences used were too difficult to comprehend for beginners. But, most readers said that this book is essential for serious learners. They loved that it explains the uses and offers examples for each particle.
Learning a new language is hard! You can never have too much help- check out our other articles about language learning below.
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