The 9 Best Books to Learn Japanese Fast

Kelsey Wetherbee Last updated on February 5, 2023

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こんにちは, kon’nichiwa, hello! If you’re interested in studying Japanese, you might be searching for the right tool to help you become fluent. There are many options available and finding the right one that fits your learning style can be difficult. If you enjoy learning with a book, you’re in the right place! This article shows some of the best books to learn Japanese. No matter what your level is or why you’re learning Japanese, there’s something for you on this list.

Best Books to Learn Japanese

Japanese is one of the most spoken languages in the world with over 125 million speakers. But did you know that it’s not recognized as the official language of Japan? That’s because there’s no designated official language, but Japanese is the most widely-spoken language.

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Japanese can be complicated for language learners because it uses 3 different writing systems. Hiragana and katakana are native to Japan and help show the pronunciation of words, while kanji is taken from Chinese characters. A sentence in Japanese may involve 2 or 3 different writing styles! But no need to fear. By using some of the best Japanese books included on this list, you’ll be able to understand Japanese in no time.

What Are The Best Books To Learn Japanese?

To find the best books to learn Japanese, we scoured the internet to find popular options for Japanese language learners. We reviewed each book, looking at what it does well and what readers thought of it. Then, we compiled the list below, showing the strengths of each book and who can benefit from using it.

In the table below, you’ll find 9 of the best books to learn Japanese. Scroll down to learn more about each option:

Best Overall Japanese BookGenki
Best for BeginnersJapanese for Dummies
Best for Self-StudyJapanese from Zero
Best for Immersive LearningMinna no Nihongo
Best for Writing KanaLearning Japanese Hiragana and Katakana
Best for Learning KanjiBasic Kanji Book
Best for Learning Japanese with AnimeFluent Japanese from Anime and Manga
Best for Reading PracticeJapanese Stories for Language Learners
Best for Japanese Vocabulary2000 Most Common Japanese Words in Context

Genki

Best Overall Japanese Book

Genki is the best Japanese book because it’s a comprehensive way to learn. There are practices that work all language skills: reading, writing, speaking, and listening. It’s used in many in-person Japanese classes, but can also be used as a self-study guide because it has detailed explanations. The book comes with an audio CD to practice listening and pronunciation.

Genki is one of the most popular options for Japanese learners, and 85% of its ratings are 5 stars. People who bought the book liked that it taught Japanese in a manageable way without being overwhelming. You can see what other reviewers thought about the book here.

Key Features

  • Teaches all language skills
  • Practices exercises and audio CD included
  • Option to rent the book

Japanese for Dummies

Best for Beginners

Japanese for Dummies is a good choice for beginners because it covers the basics of Japanese grammar and vocabulary. It’s good for business or travel because it focuses on getting you conversational without diving too much into the nitty-gritty details. There are practice exercises for each lesson and you can access audio tracks online for further practice.

The book features real-life phrases that Japanese speakers actually use. People who bought the book liked that the information was easy to understand and suggested using it alongside a language app. You can learn more about the book here.

Key Features

  • Covers the basics of the most important grammar and vocabulary topics
  • Mini-dictionary with important words and phrases
  • Online audio tracks

Japanese from Zero! 1

Best for Self-Study

Japanese from Zero! 1 is great for self-study because it explains grammar and vocabulary in an understandable way. The book includes over 800 words and expressions as well as an introduction to the hiragana writing system. This is the first book in the Japanese from Zero series so it’s made for complete beginners. If you are more advanced, you can check out other books in this series.

It’s a comprehensive book and also includes an integrated workbook with answer key, cultural explanations, and example dialogues. One reviewer liked that the language taught in the book was natural-sounding and not forced as in some other language resources. You can see if Japanese from Zero! is right for you here.

Key Features

  • Useful option for self-study
  • Integrated workbook with answer key
  • Cultural notes on Japan

Minna No Nihongo

Best for Immersive Learning

Minna No Nihongo is one of the most widely-used books for learning Japanese. It has two volumes for beginners and is written completely in Japanese. You have the option of purchasing an accompanying book of grammar notes in English to better understand the intricacies of the language. The book teaches vocabulary and grammar and includes a CD to practice listening and understanding.

Since the book is entirely in Japanese, many reviewers recommended it for learners that already have a certain familiarity with the language. They also recommend purchasing the accompanying grammar notes, since they explain important topics in English. You can learn more about the book here.

Key Features

  • Written entirely in Japanese
  • One of the most-used books to learn Japanese
  • Option to purchase accompanying grammar book in English

Hiragana and katakana are the two phonetic systems used to write Japanese. It’s recommended to learn these two (collectively called kana) before learning the more advanced kanji characters. Learning Japanese Hiragana and Katakana is a great tool for beginner learners to learn the characters.

This book covers all 92 symbols of the two writing systems and teaches how to write them in the correct stroke order. There’s also space to practice each one, although you might want to get a blank notebook for additional practice. One reviewer said that it’s “the best book to learn hiragana and katakana if you are learning on your own. Very easy to understand and gives you motivation to finish it.” You can see what other reviewers had to say here.

Key Features

  • Detailed explanation of both writing systems.
  • Learn stroke order and how to write correctly
  • Practice exercises

Basic Kanji Book

Best for Learning Kanji

The title, Basic Kanji Book, says it all. This is a useful resource for learning 250 of the most common kanji characters. There are 2 volumes in this set, so after completing both of them you’ll know 500 characters. Each kanji has writing and reading exercises to help you practice. Each lesson covers 10 characters and there’s a quiz at the end of the lesson to test your knowledge.

In addition to the tips to remember each kanji, the book includes practice pages for writing the characters. One reviewer recommended using a whiteboard to be able to practice even more. You can read what other reviewers thought about the book here.

Key Features

  • Learn 250 kanji characters
  • Explanations and examples of each kanji
  • Practice writing pages

Fluent Japanese from Anime and Manga

Best for Learning Japanese with Anime

Fluent Japanese from Anime and Manga is not meant to be a comprehensive textbook. Instead, it’s a guide that shows you how you can learn Japanese by watching anime, reading manga novels, and any other source produced in the Japanese language.

It’s a unique concept, as anime and manga are growing in popularity around the world. And those that enjoy watching/reading it can use it to learn a language at the same time. Reviewers liked the interesting approach to learning Japanese. See if this book is right for you here.

Key Features

  • Short and sweet (and inexpensive!)
  • Learn how to study Japanese with anime and manga
  • Suggests many resources and learning techniques

Japanese Stories for Language Learners

Best for Reading Practice

Japanese Stories for Language Learners is a compilation of 5 short stories that have Japanese and English translations on facing pages. Two of the stories are traditional Japanese folktales, and the others are more modern stories from 20th-century authors. Each story includes detailed notes from the translator, vocabulary lists, and practice questions.

In the included audio, each story is read aloud by a native Japanese speaker so you can hear the correct pronunciation. People who purchased this book liked that the stories were written in kanji, but also included hiragana to better understand the pronunciation. You can read more reviews here.

Key Features

  • 5 stories with Japanese and English translations
  • Japanese audio narration of the stories
  • Beautiful and unique illustrations

2000 Most Common Japanese Words in Context

Best for Japanese Vocabulary

As the title explains, 2000 Most Common Japanese Words in Context will help you learn the most frequently used vocabulary words in Japanese. According to the book, understanding these 2,000 words will help you understand 92% of Japanese speech. That fact alone is worth checking out this book!

Each word has an English translation as well as an example sentence in both Japanese and English so you can learn the context of the word. One reviewer wrote that this book was a good resource, but best used along with other study materials. Learn more about this book here.

Key Features

  • Learn the most common Japanese vocabulary words
  • Example sentences to learn in context
  • English translations

Why You Should Use Books To Learn Japanese

Using a book is an effective and detailed way to learn Japanese. Books provide in-depth explanations and many have practice questions that help you check your understanding of the material. Books are also an inexpensive option when compared to other learning methods and are portable so you can learn almost anywhere.

How To Use Books To Learn Japanese

Using a book is one of the best ways to learn Japanese. The most effective way to use a book is to study on a frequent basis. Creating, and sticking to, a language learning routine is important if you want to see continuous improvement. It’s best to study every day, or at least a few times a week if you want to learn and retain information.

It’s also a good idea to use a book in addition to another Japanese language resource, such as a Japanese language app or a Japanese online course. Books are a useful tool for learning vocabulary and grammar, but an app or course might help you improve your speaking and listening more.

Best Books To Learn Japanese: Final Thoughts

I hope this article has helped you find a book that can help you on your Japanese language learning journey. It’s a difficult language to learn, but it can be a rewarding and fun experience. Finding a book, or another resource, that fits your learning style and budget can make studying a breeze. Before buying a book, be sure to read user reviews to see if it’s a good fit for you. Whichever book you choose from this list, you’re sure to understand Japanese quickly!

Best Books To Learn Japanese: FAQ

What book is best for learning Japanese?

Genki is the best book to learn Japanese because it is comprehensive and teaches all language skills like reading, writing, speaking, and listening. It’s commonly used as a textbook in college-level classrooms. It’s so popular that there’s even the option to rent the book for a semester at a reduced cost. The book includes detailed explanations, practice questions, and an audio CD.

Does it take 1 year to learn Japanese?

To reach a conversational level of Japanese, you will probably need more than one year of study. According to the US Department of State, it takes 88 weeks (or 2200 class hours) to learn Japanese. This number is an estimate. You can learn Japanese faster if you have a natural ability to acquire languages or speak a related language like Korean or Chinese.

To see how long it will take you to learn Japanese, check out this fluency calculator.

What is the best way to learn Japanese for beginners?

The best way to learn Japanese for beginners depends on how you prefer to learn, but using a comprehensive Japanese textbook is an excellent way to begin learning Japanese. Books are useful because they have in-depth explanations and examples that many language apps don’t have. Taking online classes or a course is another effective way for beginners to learn, but often comes at a more expensive price than a book.

Can I learn Japanese by myself?

You definitely can learn Japanese by yourself! While you may not become 100% fluent, you can reach a good level of speaking and understanding through independent practice. You can use one of the books on this list to help you learn basic Japanese grammar and vocabulary. Other popular learning methods include using an app, like Rocket Japanese or Mondly, and taking a comprehensive online course.

Kelsey Wetherbee

Kelsey is a language lover that wants to help others on their linguistic journeys. As a former ESL teacher and foreign language learner herself, she hopes her experiences can benefit others and help them learn more effectively. She loves to travel and enjoys meeting people from all over the world. Connect with Kelsey on LinkedIn.

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