If you were to only buy ONE book

I’m on a budget. I’m loving wanikani although it’s very early days. I’ve bought a variety of random Japanese language books over the years, but the only one that’s held my attention is “Japanese from Zero” as it’s kind of interactive.

My Japanese class (years ago) used ‘Japanese for Busy People” and it bores me senseless.

I am very easily distracted and bored by blocks of text (ADHD ftw!). I mainly see posts/comments about Genki or Minna no Nihongo - are they interesting or fun at all?

Basically, what book have you found MOST valuable for learning Japanese? And… is it engaging??


Edit: also just looked up genki package (textbook and workbook) on Amazon and it’s $100 :sob::money_with_wings:



Genki is awesome for N5-N4 Level, so if I was a beginner I would definitely buy Genki 1. If it’s too expensive, maybe try to find secondhand ones. Tae Kim is another option, his content is literally free on the Internet.

Now that I’m somewhat intermediateish, I would only buy Dictionary of Intermediate Japanese Grammar or Dictionary of Advanced Japanese Grammar. I’m nosedeep into these books for about an hour everyday. Whether they are engaging or not is all up to one’s attitude to learning.

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If you liked Japanese From Zero, why don’t you just stick with that?


One book doesn’t necessarily cut it. Genki is light on exercises in the main text book, so you’re best served picking up the accompanying workbook to get additional practice. Minna no Nihongo would be a struggle if you didn’t buy the translation book to go with the main book.

To answer your question though, Minna no Nihongo gets an extremely strong recommendation from me. The main advantage of it is that its main textbook is entirely in Japanese. You do all of your reading, thinking and answering in Japanese, there are never any moments, as in Genki, where you are prompted to translate something from English or to English, or just given questions in English. Working in that headspace of pure Japanese feels very effective.

The only thing about it is that it’s a bit unintuitive to get into. My recommendation is to read to section 4 of the translation book is the first thing you read in each chapter, since that’s where the overt teaching is. The rest is just practising sentence patterns.


My understanding is that Minna no Nihongo is more immersive - so you’ll be learning Japanese in Japanese from the get go, which depending on your understanding could be a little frustrating (or lead to misunderstandings) but is a good style of learning for some. That being said, I’ve never used it myself.

Genki is really great for beginners - I do own it and enjoyed working my way thought it. You’ll need to be sure to get the workbook and the textbook (which is similar to Minna no Nihongotoo I think). I bought mine used and then found the CDs online as recordings (since my computer didn’t have a disc drive).

In college I used a series of textbooks called Nakama which were okay but I don’t think I’d recommend for self study.

I also used some JLPT specific materials which I really liked, they were cheap but I bought them in Japan so I imagine they’d be more expensive to buy out of country. They were also an immersive sort of text - learning Japanese in Japanese.

Why are you deciding to not work with Japanese from Zero if you liked it?

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@seanblue @danarchy i don’t see many people talking about Japanese from Zero so kind of assumed that while it’s a fun resource, it’s not the best. Maybe I’m wrong?

I’d get the Genki workbook alongside the textbook, it’s just expensive and I don’t wanna fork out on something that’s gonna completely unmotivated me!

@sinkiepwnsinkie thank you, I shall check our Tae Kim!


Language learning can be a tedious business at times, so it’s definitely recommended you stick with what keeps your attention.
Honestly, JFZ is what I always recommend when someone asks me what to start with when learning Japanese.
JFZ, Tae Kim, and the internet in general


It’s just less well known I think. I used the first three Japanese From Zero books when I was first getting started (literally didn’t even know hiragana at the time), and they worked great for me. The books go pretty slowly, which is good or bad depending on your needs, but it worked well for me. After the third book I kind of outgrew them, but I don’t know what I would have done without them.


Where are you located? I saw the Genki 2nd edition combo for $82 and free delivery if you have Amazon Prime. As far as I heard, there are no major improvements regarding the 3rd edition. Also, if you want to take a look at Genki before deciding to buy, you could try searching Google for genki+pdf+reddit.

Japanese the Manga Way

you can always search for references later on,

Here are my 2 Cents:

Don´t bother with Genki. It´s extremely boring and made for classrooms. As a compelte self-learner it has really let me down. Without a partner / teacher only a fraction of the book is really useful (and who wants to learn school vocab if you´re not at school!?), but then again only as yet another perspective. There is nothing in the book that you couldn´t easily find online or somewhere else.

So my recomendation would be to either stick with Japanese from Zero! as it´s fun, made for self-learners and it has a youtube series accompanying it (and the teacher is very funny tbh).
Only one problem: There isn´t all that much content in one single book, you would need to get pretty much all of them for a good foundation.

So if you really only want ONE book i choose: A dictionary of basic Japanese grammar. Even just the basic book will get you very far in your journey. I´m lvl 30 and only just recently finished every last point it teaches (JLPT5, 4 and some 3).
Of course there is one caveat yet again - It´s a dictionary and it´s full of grammar. Not perfect if you want a well rounded textbook.

And as my last point: You really don´t need a textbook in the first place, the internet has you covered (e.g. tae kim or something).


“80/20 Japanese” by Richard Webb is my choice if I could only buy one book. It’s my favorite textbook thus far.


@seanblue @Haios That’s so good to hear!! I’ll continue using them just now then :heart:

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I have the Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar but I always keep using the Handbook instead (another grammar dictionary) since it has more material than the basic and (for me) the explanations are written in a more straightforward manner, https://www.amazon.com/Handbook-Japanese-Patterns-Teachers-Learners/dp/4874246788/ref=sr_1_11?dchild=1&keywords=japanese+grammar&qid=1617630212&sr=8-11


I either own or have owned nearly every single beginner textbook out there (except Minna… as I just never got around to it and it was just so many books that go with it so it was expensive), including some old and rather obscure ones. The comment of consistency is important. Whatever you choose, stick with it and only hop around if you aren’t getting what you need from that resource. Personally, I don’t like Genki (I have completed both volumes for the record), just my personal preference. There are ways to use it without a teacher by watching YouTube videos and the like. It is useful because there are a lot of people talking about it and making resources for it since it is used in basically what all colleges/universities seem to use now (outside of Japan). MnN is easier to use for teachers (particularly in japan) so it is used for that reason, but my impression is it is even more “textbook-y” than Genki. There are lot of other textbooks out there and a lot of them really work best with a teacher or the content is just boring and vocab not relevant to me.

If you enjoy the From Zero books keep with them. They take longer to cover content, but are a good resource for self-learners. The 4th and 5th books are more… dense (I’m not sure that’s the best way to put it, but maybe) than book 3 and books 1-2 are very slow (intentionally slow). Just know that they pick up as you keep going. You should also watch the YouTube videos that go with the series (they are free). I do also really like the grammar dictionaries (I have both of the ones mentioned here so far, either is totally fine), but if money is an issue they aren’t exactly cheap (in the end, nothing really will be though). Depends on what kind of learner you are if you should get them right away or wait and save up for them (or hope to get them as a gift maybe). That’s something you’ll have to answer.

Anyway, don’t know if that helped, but… bottom line is I would say stick with JFZ if it is working for you.

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well, i did only buy one book and it’s JFZ :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes: don’t know why it’s not more talked about despite it being very popular. i mean it’s frequently an amazon bestseller and enjoys fantastic ratings there for example.

if you like george’s attitude and personality it’s even better, cause you get the author himself making supplementary videos on youtube. plus, as old and out-of-date the website is, the online version of the books is really great cause there are interactive tests at the end of each lesson and you can select between showing romaji / hiragana / hiragana+katakana / kanji.

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