Help with what textbooks to purchase first

Hello! I’m completely new to learning Japanese, and I’ve just cleared learning Hiragana and Katakana. I’m now ready to move onto books, but my goodness have I spent days researching into all the options, all with pros and cons which my mind is struggling to wrap around.

From what I’ve gathered, and all the research I’ve done, these are the books/CD sets I want to get. I would love for someone to check to see if this seems to be an efficient starting point for an incredibly dedicated learner that wants to hopefully be able to read complex Japanese texts within the next 3-4 years. (And to be used for future career opportunities!)

I want to purchase Minna No Nihongo Shokyu 1, the complete 9 book set for a whopping A$286.

Next, The Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Course.

And then Tobira

Expanding on more complicated books later - would these get me very far? Should I drop any for something else?

Thoughts? Thank you!

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The path at the start is more ambiguous than later on. You will find answers of different types here:

  1. Genki > MNN:
    This makes sense as MNN is even more classroom-oriented than Genki is.
  2. Lots of resources available for Genki, so use that:
    This is true. But Genki put some to sleep, so I can’t recommend it myself.
  3. Why pay for things you can get for free?
    I disagree with this logic in general, but it is true that Tae Kim is very good for grammar study, and it’s free.
  4. Use book X:
    This would have worked for whoever is replying to you but may or may not work for you. The best way to find our is to pick up something and try it for yourself.

Personally, I would recommend neither MNN nor Genki. I prefer TK and Bunpro and Lingodeer and Bunpo. But YMMV. When I first started out, I got Human Japanese (which is actually very, very good), so you can have a look at that too.

For the later stages, the consensus seems to be Tobira followed by either Sou Matome or Shin Kanzen Master (or both), depending on your objectives, along with a bunch of Native material that interests you.

Huhh? That’s a big leap in term of difficulty Minna and Tobira.

Minna is an absolutely beginner book and I don’t reccomend you start with it without real life teacher to help you. It’s because minna is designed for teaching in school not for self study. It’s not impossible but you would be confused with many fundamental grammars.

Tobira is like a gate way to intermediete and advance level. You might not be able to use it effectively even if you finish whole Minna series.

All that said I recommend Tae Kim’s book.

However, on the beginner level I don’t think you need any book. There are many good resources available online and the topic are quiet easy to follow. But if book is the method you prefer, sure go for it.


The reason I’ve been looking at MNN is due to it being fully in Japanese, and then having the English book on the side. I feel as this would immerse me better and truly help my brain pick apart things and work hard. I’m not really interested in anything online, and really want to have a physical textbook rather than staring at a computer all day.

I’m willing to spend hundreds on them if needed, but I already made up my mind that I would not be choosing Genki. So you’re saying that I shouldn’t give MNN a go? It is a lot to spend at once, which I’m fine with, but if it won’t get me very far then I probably shouldn’t. I am a very dedicated learner, so I would try my best to work around things on my own even if it’s more classroom-oriented, I’m sure it’s not impossible.

Thanks if you can get back to me explaining more on what you mean!

I wouldn’t recommend a beginner textbook for self-study. I got Minna no Hihongo and it was so boring that I dropped it after just one chapter.

What really worked for me is Lingodeer app. It covers N5 and part of N4 grammar and vocab. The best thing about it is the drills and assignments. You could switch the input to a normal Japanese keyboard and even learn typing in Japanese.

After you’re done with the basics you can get Shin Kanzen Master N4 and N3 grammar books. They are really solid.

Would a separate grammar book outside of Minna give me a better chance at understanding things better if I did decide to go down that route?

Ah, so you’re saying that Minna really isn’t the most efficient way to learn/wouldn’t progress me very far even if I continued down with their bookline? Odd, I would have thought that it being in Japanese and then you having the English version on the side would progress you quicker in terms of reading than most other books.

I’m not sure where to look from here, then. I don’t really want to use many online resources - I’d much prefer to study with textbooks, and I want to put a decent amount of money into one or more of them to hopefully progress decently in a fair amount of time; and for it to cover a wide range of fundamental topics. Everyone has different opinions and I honestly have no clue what would fit the way I want to study more than Minna from what I’ve read about it.


Definitely go with what you feel works best for you. It seems most people prefer to use online resources, I personally study much better with putting my PC away and sitting with a textbook myself. You’ll definitely get furthest using what you would prefer to use and idk about you but personally speed or ‘most efficient’ was never my goal while learning as long as I was enjoying the journey. I can’t speak for MNN since I used Genki but I did Genki I > Genki II and I’m almost done with Tobira now and it’s worked out just fine. I first started WK after finishing Genki II and it is my first and still only online resource for learning except when I’m looking up something online. I know the university here uses MNN and then Tobira so I don’t see why that progression wouldn’t work.


Well, I’d just recommend you drop this and use Wanikani instead. A dedicated learner will learn ~2000 kanji in 1.5-2 years. I certainly think doing Wanikani gave my reading skill a big boost (from struggling to read simplified news to reading novels).

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The problem is you need to understand the fundamental grammar first to be able to digest what is in Minna no Nihongo. This is the part that Minna does not teach you. I think the book expect the teachers to take this role.

Minna no Nihongo mostly teach you in polite langauge form, which is understandable because that is what they expect you to use in classroom. However, it’s much better to understand their dictionary form first then you can change them to the other forms.

So if I were you I will study the fundamental grammar first like Tae Kim book. After you understand the those grammar you can move to Minna no Nihongo.

I tried to do the hard way and study in all Japanese from the start. But I feel like it really counter intuitive because I need to look for explanation and dictionary constantly. It just unnescessary consume my energy and time.

I think there is a gap between Minna and Tobira that why I said what I said.

If I were you I will

  • study fundamental grammar, kanji and vocabs
  • use all Japanese book like Minna
  • use online pratices and quizes
  • then probably Shin Kanzen Master N4
  • Tobira

It’s all up to you. You might choose different path. But there is one thing you and me share in common. I also a really dedicated Japanese learner. I spend almost day and night studying Japanese right now. Since I quit my job due to the pandemic outbreak a month ago.


I’m currently using Minna no Nihongo! I went into it as an absolute beginner (well, I memorized hiragana and katakana and had about 5 levels on WK and had watched several dozen episodes of Japanese Ammo with Misa’s absolute beginners playlist, but I’ve never had formal instruction and had never attempted self-study before then), and so far, I have had absolutely no trouble following the textbook. I’m only on lesson 5, so I suppose this could change in the future, but it’s not difficult at all to use as a self-learner if you’re very dedicated and you work well with textbooks.

My process is to pre-learn the vocab, then once I’m comfortable with it (I add the chapter’s vocab to my Anki deck and go through it each day until I know it), I read the grammar section in the translation book, then set the translation book aside and read the lesson in the main textbook and attempt to do all of the exercises in the book and in both of the workbooks that I own (I don’t own any of the other supplemental resources, just two of the workbooks) without consulting the English text. It works really well, and I don’t have to do any flipping back and forth between the main textbook and the translation book. It feels awesome to be able to read the book in Japanese, and it’s satisfying to be able to read without looking anything up!

That said, if I do run into any confusing grammar points, I have other resources on hand to help out, such as A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar, and I’ve also watched enough Japanese Ammo with Misa that I have a basic understanding of the plain form of verbs as well as the ます form, and other things about informal grammar that my textbook has not yet taught. I’m basically treating the book as practice for approaching native materials, with a plan of starting to read graded readers and then manga once I get further along.

The various supplemental books and audio/reading practice are supposedly pretty handy if you can afford them, according to reviews I’ve heard from others. It all gives you further opportunities to drill the knowledge that you’re learning in the textbook. Using all of them at once would be pretty in depth study and would take a fair amount of time, but if you managed to complete it, you’d probably come out of it with a very solid understanding of the material that the book teaches.

There are some aspects that I’ve heard that it teaches more than others (polite speech over casual speech, for example), but honestly you need to learn both anyway, and you can get practice with the other grammar from other sources and ideally native media once you have a strong enough foundation of grammar and vocabulary to begin to look beyond the textbook.

A lot of people hate textbooks in general and hate MNN specifically, but if you’ve had success with textbook study in the past and are very dedicated, I think you would probably do fine with this one. I know that it’s very doable to learn on your own from it. And if you do happen to get stuck, there are plenty of people on the forum who could try to explain things for you or point you in the direction of additional resources to clarify things that you find to be confusing.


Yeah, the recommendation for SKM N4 before Tobira is pretty solid.

You mentioned you wanted a physical textbook. Tae Kim is available in print, I believe. Some people enjoyed Japanese The Manga Way, but unlike TK which is pretty neutral and good for everyone, JTMW may or may not be suited to your style.

I definitely do understand the preference for textbooks, it’s just unfortunate that for self-learners of Japanese, most textbooks suck. The popular ones all seem to have major pitfalls.

  • Genki and MNN are classroom-focused (though Genki is usable outside the classroom, while MNN is less so).
  • SKM would be great, I think, if they had N5.
  • Sou Matome is great for reviewing but not for learning.
  • Tobira is unavailable in N5 and for good reason.
  • JFZ has an annoying Romaji habit.
  • 80/20 Japanese, which isn’t mentioned much is more interesting but I haven’t seen enough of it to be able to comment much.
  • Making Sense of Japanese is a very good read, but should be used in conjunction with another resource.
  • As above, DoJG is also great as an additional resource.

Let’s be clear though, as you can see from the list above, this is subjective and I am Goldilocks. Maybe one of the above works for you, but the reasons above are why, I think, a lot of learners for whom Genki/MNN don’t work suggest Tae Kim (online, not usually the print version), and a few apps. When you get passed N5, SKM N4 may well be the way to go.

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Oh, I should add that if you use WaniKani, you probably won’t need any of the kanji resources that MNN offers. The kanji in the MNN lessons doesn’t map at all to the order that you learn things in WK haha (here’s a spreadsheet I’m working on that has all the kanji in the vocab for the first five lessons alongside the level that WK teaches them, if you’re curious how MNN and WK match up). If you try out WK and it doesn’t really work for you and you’d rather use a different tool to learn, then maybe you could try learning kanji from a book, but the program is very good and if you get all the way to level 60, your knowledge of kanji will be very thorough.

But I’m also someone who works very well with SRS. If you’re not, then my method of WK + Anki to learn the MNN vocab might not work as well for you.

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If you are like me and got bored easily reading books…then skip textbooks, it would be harder to study without teachers - not to mention the slow progress. I bought Genki and Minna No Nihongo and got disappointed, It’s much more fun studying using LingoDeer + DeerPlus, Duolingo, and BunPro for grammar study. Duolingo has hiragana and katakana training which I think is enough.

For books, I only use them for review. Get N5 books such as NIHONGO SO-MATOME N5 and 500 Practice Questions for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) Level N4-5. For grammar books, get Dictionary of Japanese Grammar. For JLTP exam training, use Migii app. Don’t use books for kanji, WK is enough.

So what’s the point of this thread? You’ve already made up your mind, surely, no amount of coercion will be useful. Why ask for suggestions if you’ll just insist on what you believe instead of listening to others?

That remains to be seen.

I am more of a fan of trying things out instead of theory crafting, so, if you know where to look, you can try out the books for free and see where it leads. Then again, you’ve made up your mind and you can confidently say that you’re a “dedicated learner” even though you haven’t studied anything about Japanese. You can research and believe how things should be all you want but I think this is a big waste of time… JUST DO ITTT!

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Oh and regarding Tobira, I’m obviously not there yet myself haha but from what I’ve heard and the research I’ve done, going from MNN 1+2 to Tobira isn’t that hard, and is actually easier than going from Genki 1+2 to Tobira because there’s less of a gap (since MNN is a little more thorough than Genki). But I haven’t put a whole lot of thought into what I’m going to do once I reach an intermediate level, because I feel like I’ll have a better idea of what I’m looking for when I’m no longer a complete beginner. MNN also has an intermediate series (which I think would also take you further than Tobira, though it has pluses and minuses), but there aren’t many reviews of that one online. Either way, I would recommend focusing on one thing at a time and waiting until you’re out of the absolute beginner stage before you put too much thought into intermediate resources.

Honestly, I think a lot of the responses to this thread have been unnecessarily discouraging. It’s true that MNN can be hard, but it’s not unreasonably so, and I don’t know why so many people say that it’s impossible to use it outside of a classroom, because that’s simply not true.


I think besides resources you should also try doing lessons with native Japanese tutors.

italki is great but if you don’t want to spend much check out the ASAO school. You can have unlimited lessons with trainee teachers for just $8/month.

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I shouldn’t have been so fast to turn down Genki, actually.

Thank you all so much for the fast responses! I’m refining things a bit more now, and would love to get a bit more feedback if possible.

I’m now thinking about getting Minna No Nihongo 1 set, as well as Genki I and II so I can figure out the best studying method between them both.

After that, A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar … and still the Kodansha Kanji Leander’s Course just for help, while using WK and Anki as my main.

Using Tae Kim’s book too - then signing up for a Bunpro subscription. I’ll leave the more intermediate books for now and instead purchase them when I actually get to that stage.

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I have no experience with Minna No Nihongo, but I love Tobira! (Tobira is a different species of textbook in my opinion, and the only ‘textbook’ that I have come across and that is also viable for full self-study).

The Kodansha kanji course I personally have and I wouldn’t really recommend it unless you for some reason WaniKani isn’t an option for you. It’s far more of an index of kanji and mnemonics. This means that you have to personally organise your revision sessions which can be a pain. It’s an economical solution if you pair it with Anki though.

Here’s the route I would personally recommend (it’s also what I’ve done after lots of fannying about):

Stage 1. Tae Kim’s Grammar Guide + WaniKani + Nihongo No Mori,
Stage 2. Tobira + WaniKani.

I’ve included Nihongo No Mori because Tae Kim’s Guide and WaniKani don’t offer much in the way of listening practice.

Better try them out before buying. They are covering the same material. At least one set will be collecting dust on your bookshelf.

You honestly don’t need it in addition to WK. WK will take up 1-2 hours per day already.

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Errmahgerd. This is such a waste. For Kanji, WK is plenty.

Replace Anki with Kitsun for vocabulary and other flashcards since you are not averse to spending. Kitsun is way better.

This is also an incredible waste. Even if you don’t mind spending money on books, which is an approach I can understand, why spend money on a set that will become nothing more than a doorstopper?

Also, what if neither is good for you? Two paperweights for the price of two sets of language learning books?

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