For self study: Genki, Japanese From Zero or Minna No Nihongo

I am kickstarting my text book learning and trying to decide which book to choose. I am currently level 9 on wanikani and my grammar is far behind that of my vocabulary and kanji and I need to make it a priority.

I tried Genki at the very beginning and felt overwhelmed, then tried Japanese From Zero and felt it was a little too lax and didn’t like the hiragana being slowly incorporated instead of immediately.

I also didn’t realise that both of these books have video series online to follow along with:

Which is the preferred book of choice for self study?


The one you feel you learn the most from. For each of the ones you listed I seriously know at least one person who prefers them.

I would throw if you like to learn digitally and tea kim’s guide for a free resource in there.

This is something where the only answer I feel confident giving is “just try out different resources and see what works for you.” I know that sounds like a lot of trial and error (especially with a countless number of Japanese textbooks and websites out there), but what books and resources click with someone is a pretty “your mileage may vary” thing, and I can’t tell you what books you’ll like and learn from and which ones you won’t.

In my case I’m actually currently learning grammar not from a book, but from Cure Dolly’s YouTube channel. Her approach to teaching structure clicked with me better than Genki or Tae Kim did, so I’d recommend it as an option to try if you don’t mind watching videos. She even has a nice little “Japanese from scratch” playlist with numbered lessons that have continuity with each other.


I found JFZ more entertaining, plenty of youtube videos to go through for beginners. You can go through 120 videos in a month easily. Then you’ll have a real good foundation. Genki might be somewhat more effective, but it will get dull, dry and boring really quick.


I’m relatively in the same place you are so this is my two cents as a beginner.

I think a lot of people on reddit etc. tend to always just say “start with genki”, “use anki”, etc. etc. But it’s important to remember that many people learn japanese without genki or anki. These are just recommended tools to get you there. If you have no motivation to open up Genki and use it then it’s not a good tool for the job. I personally have been using a trifecta of Tae Kim’s Grammar guide on my tablet, WaniKani, and the Tango n5 anki deck. To help get more reading practice I’m gonna be following along with the absolute beginner’s book club that starts here in a few weeks.

I’m also going to be signing up to take the jlpt in december when it opens next week for the lower levels and not sure whether I want to take n4 or n5. I’m not taking the test for any clout or as something to put on my resume but It’s a fun personal goal I want to meet regardless of the outcome. Ultimately, whatever motivates you to study and keep up with your learning is better than nothing. Good luck!


I tried starting with Genki but found it daunting so I picked up JFZ for awhile. By the time I reached less than halfway while doing Wanikani, I felt more confident and picked up Genki again. This way I could actually understand it on my own.

Right now I am just about finished with N5 grammar as I switched to an amazing online tutor using his own powerpoints (I believe he follows the Try series, not sure) and this method works well. Will definitely finish with Genki to catch any points that may have been missed.

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For me Genki just…idk it just didn’t hold me in, and I can’t quite put my finger on why. It might have just been a bunch of small issues I had with the book, like there not being any dedicated kanji teachings for the vocabulary for each lesson (I remember the kanji used in the book were in one of the appendices but that was it), the end-of-lesson exercises getting a bit tiring after a while (and the fact that there are some you can’t even do by yourself since the book is made for a classroom setting), and its overall dry feel. I think all of those things combined made each lesson feel a bit unwieldy, and I lost interest at like Lesson 6 of the first book.

I think I’ve also found that I’ve just liked separating grammar and vocabulary studies into their own resources instead of trying to get them all from the same source. I’ve been more engaged with WK for kanji and vocab than I was while studying those things in Genki, and I think Cure Dolly does a much better job of explaining structure and grammar than Genki did (at least, for the lessons I read through) and I think her videos have a bit more personality than the book. Her video format also makes it much easier to insert diagrams and other things, which I find to be very helpful.


Make sense.

I dont go through Genki as most people do. I dont look at the kanji because i have wanikani for that and i only go through the vocab once or twice because I use anki and too much vocab lessens retention. Additionally, i only do a few of the grammar drills because theres only so much drilling you can do before you realize actually using the language is the only sure fire way to grow. Lastly, the back of the book has the reading exercises that i find useful and in this way I dont burn myself out with Genki (“one more thing” lol, i always find myself taking breaks from it anyway as yes it can get boring all on your own)

I think most of those books are resources that would be great if you’re working with a tutor or a class, but would be very difficult to stick with on your own. I haven’t seen it mentioned on here, but I think a great book to start with would be 80/20 Japanese or Tae Kim’s as others have said.

80/20 Japanese:

Tae Kim:

I haven’t used Genki or Japanese from Zero but I used Minna No Nihongo with a teacher (face to face). I still found Minna No Nihongo difficult to use (lack of explanations) and later on I found my teacher wasn’t very good at teaching.

I’m sure biased because my only experience was with Minna no Nihongo a long time ago. As a self-learner, I can’t be more grateful for it…

As far as grammar goes, I feel very confident thanks to MNN. I can understad almost every sentence. Sure it can be frustrating at first but, the progress is certainly steady.

My two cents of advice, whatever method you choose:

  1. Learn Hiragana and Katakana by heart… I mean, study them HARD until you can read both almost effortlessly. That will make your process a lot easier.

  2. Make your lesson a habit… Just some time every day. It doesn’t matter if is something short, like 15 or 20 minutes. Be sure to advance a little bit each time and remember: People usually overestimate what they can do in one week and almost always underestimate what they can do in one year (second time I post this sentence here :wink:).

Good luck with your Japanese adventure: 頑張れ!

I’m seconding the advice that all three of them work, and whichever you prefer tends to be personal preference. For the beginner level, most resources will get you to more or less the same place anyway, assuming you’re able to follow one of them through to completion.

I’m a fan of Minna no Nihongo personally. I haven’t found it difficult at all, but I think the trick to using it successfully is SRS-ing all the vocab before attempting to read the lesson chapter. Also, the benefit to learning vocab and grammar together is that you can learn the vocab in context so that you have a better sense of how exactly the words are used.

As far as using MNN for self-learning goes, I’ve found the explanations in the grammar and translation book to be perfectly satisfactory. I’m able to understand everything in the textbook just fine just by consulting the translation book.

The thing I like the most about MNN is the way the sentences gradually gain complexity as you learn more and more grammar, so it provides a lot of reading practice that is perfectly at your level. It has helped me get so much better at intuitively understanding Japanese sentences, even ones containing lots of unknown grammar.

Getting the workbooks and practicing production will slow you down a little, but I’ve honestly been super grateful for that time that I’ve put into it, because I have needed to produce Japanese lately (I didn’t think I would when I started learning), and MNN has given me enough to at least get started with that. So if you really want to deep dive, the resources are there for that.

But also, if you try out MNN and don’t vibe with it, that’s totally fine! It does take quite a bit of dedication to work through a textbook on your own, and MNN can be very intimidating at the beginning. It isn’t for everyone.

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MNN is hard to get into. I would almost say that their supplementary books are where their true value shines, and you don’t actually need the main textbooks to use them.

In terms of approachability, engagement and ease of access, I would recommend JFZ of the three. In terms of overall coverage of all topics, Minna wins hands down if you include the supplementary books.

I would actually recommend other books though, in retrospect, TBH. I own more N4-N5 books than I would wager most people in this forum do. It’s true that everyone learns differently, but there are books that I feel would give most people a more engaging and enjoyable experience.

The Try! series is an absolute gem for absolute beginners. It breaks down JLPT competency in an instructive manner, rather than simply being a review and knowledge check like many other JLPT resources. “Try! Start” even gives you a pre-N5 boost to ease you into the JLPT and Japanese language learning mindset.


The book Beginning Japanese: An Integrated Approach (no relation to the Intermediate Approach book by the Genki folks) was also very fun and teaches through manga panels, similar to Japanese the Manga Way, but much more beginner friendly. You start learning Kanji immediately and drop the romaji, an advantage over Japanese from Zero, without making the transition seem intimidating.

Tobira, the “infamously difficult” intermediate book, now has beginner books covering mostly the same information as the series you’ve mentioned, but the approach is fairly different, and the books feature full-colored pages and helpful row-shading to make extended reading easy on the eyes.

At the end of the day, this is your journey, so research as best you can and do what works for you. It’s too cost prohibitive to get almost ALL of the beginner books to try them out, and you don’t need to (but it costs about $2500 if you’re curious and have the money kicking around). If you do have that kind of money, almost every book offers some nugget of insight, although you won’t really gain much advantage over a person that diligently studied from just a couple of resources. Besides, that money could be spent on an actual trip to Japan, the experience of which is vastly more valuable than any number of textbooks :slight_smile:

I hope this helps.


I recently choose Genki. Not because it is the best persé (I honestly can’t judge that), but because its the most used.

If you do ever take classes (either in group or a private tutor), chances are high that your teachers knows exactly what you learned if you say you just finished Genki 1 or 2, or are at a specific chapter. They probably have the book themselves.

I do often miss some background info with the grammar that helps to better understand why things are a certain way, which in turns helps with memorising how to do it. So it can help to supplement Genki with videos that do that (you can usually also take the videos from other lesson methods if the video covers the same grammar point, add some variation :slight_smile: ).

None, get Human Japanese instead! It’s a digital textbook you can get as an app for phone, computer, tablet, etc.


I personally had used MNN and I feel it has its own difficulties. But all isn’t a bed of roses when learning language.

What’s important is that:

  1. You know what specific goals (read/speak/write) you want out of learning Japanese. MNN isn’t going to help you with accents/pronunciation, which I believe most Japanese teachers find is the biggest problem with foreigners learning Japanese. It did help me a lot with grammar and vocab.

  2. You are able to find opportunity to practice whatever you have learn to achieve your goal. In this aspect, MNN has exercise books with tons of question. And hell, they even wrote 2 (beginner to intermediate level) books starring one of textbook character, which were a pleasure to read. I could read it rather smoothly after lesson 32. Plus point: It gave some insights and backstory to the textbook lesson stories and characters, and they are quite humorous.

I would say, use at least two resources, one for textbook/stepwise style, and another for exploratory.

There might be some other methods, like studying by JLPT levels, to cram for exams, or quizzing (SRS’ing, like

Many people complained about vocabularies in textbooks, but the answer is quite simple – study vocabularies by chapter in advance, like SRS’ing the vocabularies.

Personally, I am glad I used Minna no Nihongo / Tobira, and Tae Kim; but there is no limit to just that, perhaps also like, Learn Japanese the Manga Way or alike.

I am also worried about reviewing. My MNN is still there, but I can’t find my Tobira anyway. Just recently, I bought Tobira workbook, but yet to say whether it is recommended or not.

There is another thing I didn’t try enough – getting a living teacher to talk with. It might be nice to get an offline class and I might gladly throw my money for it, but I have less confidence in investing for online ones.


If it doesn’t have to be a textbook, Japanese From Zero has a new website ( where all the books/courses can be accessed with a version selector (romaji/progressive/kana/kanji). So it’s basically the books without the activity sections (they will be implemented at some point) but you can decide which text display system you want to use for studying.

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Depends on time you can spare:

Japanese From Zero (>30 min)
Genki (30 min+)
Minna No Nihongo (More?)

I don’t have experience with MNN but from what I have heard you hop between the main book (all Japanese) and the reference book (the translation). So, I assume you need more time to get through it.

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MNN is weird in that, by the time you are comfortable working through the material, you don’t need the translation notes. I noticed immediately that the translation companion isn’t crucial if you already have N5 kanji and some vocab down. But as an absolute beginner, you’re right, you’ll be flipping back and forth between books and it’s a little cumbersome. Would definitely recommend getting the translation notes in digital format because that just makes everything logistically easier.

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