Grammar Books for Self-Learners

Genki lets to choose a bunch of “paths” to follow, like both Genki books, both Minna no Nihongo and Tae Kim.


Ok I’ll keep that in mind. Definitely leaning towards Genki at the moment. Like I said to @techneko once I get more money or I progress a bit more through grammar I’ll grab the Dictionaries of Japanese Grammar but until then I’ll check out Tae Kim’s Guide to Japanese Grammar and Imabi. Just clarifying Imabi is a free online resource right?

Yeah Imabi is free and online.
As is Tae Kim

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Hi! Welcome to learning grammar! I’m an early N3 and almost 100% self-taught, and I’m also an ESL teacher so I have Opinions™ about curriculum.

I’ve recently finished going through Genki I & II, and overall I don’t think they’re the verrrrry best choice for self-learners. They’re VERY expensive and you will likely end up wasting a very large portion of the books because the textbooks are designed for the classroom with pair/group work. I think Genki I is a lot stronger than II; I found many explanations in Genki II to be a bit over-complicated for simple concepts, and there’s a really dense section on polite speech introduced earlier than I’d personally put it since the book is geared toward people getting jobs/studying in Japan… that was rough getting through. That said, a strength of Genki is definitely its workbooks. Tons of written practice there if you like that sort of thing. Another strength is just how many people have used them, so it’s helpful if you need to ask questions or reference where you are in your study journey. Plus you can read about Mary and Takeshi

I think that Human Japanese is a good alternative to get the Genki experience where there are a lot of explanations, but it’s tailored to self-learners. And it’s way cheaper!!

I took a Japanese class at a little local language school last summer, and they used the TRY series. I really love it, and I don’t often see it recommended, so I’d like to put it out there. It works for me very well with my background because it has to-the-point grammar explanations and very solid example sentences that will help you really get the usage and meaning without a lengthy English explanation. Great for confidence cos you can just read it and understand without a translation. It’s intended as a JLPT prep book, but it presents grammar points essentially in Genki order anyway, and the practice tests are a good challenge imo. One downside is it doesn’t have too much in the way of actual exercises, which I find just fine for my current level, but it might be a little too light for beginners. I haven’t checked out the N5 book, just N4 and N3.

The other series I adore is Nihongo Sou-Matome. Also geared toward the JLPT but work just great for general study. They’re split into categories, so grammar, vocab, reading, etc. N5 is is an exception, where all skills are together, and I wish I’d known about the book when I was a beginner! Each book is split into weeks and days, so it helps to keep you on track as a self-learner. They’re meant more as a review, and they group concepts together in ways that make them easier to remember or notice patterns, or get the hang of words or grammar that are very similar and therefore easy to mix up. That sort of thing. Again the questions are JLPT-style, which I find to be a pretty good brain workout a lot of the time! The publisher also makes vocab handbooks that are grouped by theme (I like this way more than Genki’s more or less random word lists, or doing a 5k Anki deck), and neat little books with 500 questions at a given JLPT level that have kanji, vocab, and grammar all mixed in. It’s pocket-sized, so I bring it out with me (which is admittedly almost never now because of the whole pandemic thing… but the point stands!)

I’ve got Shin Kanzen Master N3 books sitting on my shelf waiting for me to finish TRY N3 so I can’t review them yet, but they’re what I’ve chosen after researching a lot. I think probably it’s not the best choice till you’re a bit comfier with the language though, unless you’re like me and an intense grammar nerd… they’re dense.

There are varying opinions out there about if the JLPT is good or whatever, but I’ve concluded in my decade of Japanese study and with my professional background that it makes for really good structure and order for presenting the language whether you take the test or not.

Beyond that, I recommend picking up A Dictionary of Japanese Grammar at some point a few months down the road into your journey (google is great but sometimes I need the reassurance of an old tried-and-true book), and reading when you get comfy, maybe with a book club here on WK, or using Satori Reader (it’s a sister site to Human Japanese). Reading is SO important.

Good luck and have fun!! I personally love sitting down with my textbooks every day, so I hope it brings you joy and motivation to complete page after page, too!


It really boils down to what type of learner you are.

Do you need the grammar spelled out, or can you soak up grammar like a sponge by getting to use it?
Do you need a book that gently moves you from topic to topic or a book that you tackle by yourself?
Do you want a workbook with loads of practice tasks, or do you prefere to just read examples and move on?
Do you want a series or single standing books (that might stop or start at different points than other books)?
And the most important question - what is your goal?

Minna no Nihongo is a series made for classroom teaching and pretty hard and boring to work through on your own, but it can guide you up to intermediate level. Grammar points are sometimes explained unnessecary complicated and since the main book is just in japanese, you will need at least 1-2 extra books (translations & grammar).

Genki was also made for classrooms, but with a nod to people studying without classes.
There are group and pairwork tasks, but even if you ignore those, it can guide you up to intermediate level without too much trouble.
The grammar is easy to understand and - which is a big plus point- will show up later in the tasks and workbook again.
There is an additional workbook and an answer key available.
Where Minna starts chuukyuu, Genki moves to “An integrated approach to intermediate japanese” and later “authentic japanese - progressing from intermediate to advanced”, but you can also easily exchange that for Tobira too.

Then there is “Marugoto”, which offers free online classes up to A2.2 and textbooks up to B1.2.
The program is more intuitive and offers little to no written grammar points, BUT it has tons of fun practice, forces you to actually write and has a test to let you check your knowledge after completing a course.
That said, if you supplement this with a grammar source that you like (dictionary of basic japanese grammar/ Tae Kims guide/Tofugu etc), it is pretty doable.

If textbooks are not yours, you could also work your way through grammar sites or dictionarys (mentioned above) But… it’s not easy and pretty dry usually, so I don’t really reccomend it ^^’

A last point - most textbooks have free chapters online, so you can get a feeling for the book and if you feel like you can stick with it. Before throwing money, it’s a good way to test what you like. (… and that comes from someone who calls almost every available textbook series her own (。・//ε//・。’) )


I agree completely! This is probably my favorite after The website ( is great, and I love the videos that go with every chapter in the book. WELL WORTH the money!

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@solidquartz You’ve pretty much just listed all the books I love.

Glad to see someone else who loves the Try series as much as I do. I have the N4 and N3 books. I’m planning to go back through the N4 and try to understand the Japanese explanations this time so I can eventually learn grammar using Japanese.

I have the Sou Matome N3 book for listening practice as well as the 500 questions book. I also have the Shin Kanzen grammar book for N3 to work through.

@angietom31 I second @solidquartz recommendation about reading as soon as you can, it really does help to see everything in practice.

There are many different book clubs on the forum here from Absolute Beginner to Advanced.

Personally I started with graded readers before I started attempting to read native material. If you’ve never heard of them they’re books specifically written for foreign learners of Japanese. Since they’re for learners they use controlled language and grammar so that the difficulty gradually builds as you go through the levels. They’re a good stepping stone to help ease you into reading Japanese as you can read them alongside your grammar studies to get a bit of confidence.

There’s a graded readers book club as such here on the forums as well if you want to look into them more.

A book I like as a quick reference to supplement my grammar studies is Japanese the Manga way, I wouldn’t use it as your main source of grammar though. I’d use it to read through just to get a different perspective on the grammar.


Wow thank you so much for that. I noticed a few people mention Shin Kanzen Master, is that a more intermediate lvl book? For Genki cause you said its geared to group/pair work, I was wondering I have a younger sister who’s learning Japanese as well but in school could I just do those exercises with her??

Damn that’s nice. I definitely want to start reading books in Japanese but I thought that would be something I start later on. I’ll definitely take a look at the Book Clubs, ありがとう!

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Genki would definitely be great to do with your sister! It will give you both some speaking practice, which is super valuable as a self-learner. You won’t have a teacher to correct you, of course, but the point is putting in that effort to speak and catching your own mistakes (in the biz we call this self-correcting) which is more useful than you might think! The answer key does have some answers for the textbook practice sections, but not all.

Yeah, Shin Kanzen Master is a little higher level. It starts at N4, so approximately where Genki II starts. So if you wanted to really sink your teeth into tougher grammar exercises and lose the lengthy English that Genki contains, Shin Kanzen Master might interest you (some pages have no English at all in my N3 books, and when there is English, it’s like one short explanation sentence). TRY is a bit of a middle ground between Genki and SKM.

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ありがとう! This really helped :slight_smile:

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As an addition to this, whatever you choose as your main source, remember that it’s a good idea to get info from multiple sources in case the lesson doesn’t click with your main source. For example, techneko said he’s about to start verb conjugation in Genki, and while I haven’t looked at third edition, their explanation in second edition is overly complicated. However, watching a Cure Dolly video on it immediately cleared things up.

Basically have one source be your path, while other sources help guide you along your chosen path.


I am checking this out right now after haunting the grammar topic looking for resources. This looks like exactly what I am looking for!

Yeah, in the 2nd edition, it’s not only overly complicated but it’s also not even that clearly arranged or laid out on the page. They don’t consistently show +/- present/past. And then their practice problems mix up types up types of verbs so that one is left without any sort of logical understanding how things are actually working, which is why Cure Dolly is helpful.

(So far, I’ve found Minna no Nihongo more logical in its presentation and practice style.)

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