I’m still relatively new to this, but here is what has been working for me. Sorry for the length, I’ve tried to trim it down and format it a bit.
TL;DR it will be painful to start, find something that interests you enough to struggle through it and it will get easier over time - seriously consider graded readers, book clubs (& their vocab sheets), and Anki.
The single best thing I’ve done:
Joined in with the Absolute Beginner Book Club (ABBC) and worked through asking (and occasionally) answering questions (see below for details).
Even if a book club is finished you can still read through and use past posts as help, many members watch old threads and will reply if you ask a question even long after the club has finished.
At the start grammar will likely be the harder part - remember that you don’t have to understand everything, your goal is progress not perfection.
With that said, whatever you read you will be looking up vocab - your goal shouldn’t be to try learn it all, as many of those words won’t reoccur for a long while so its not an efficient use of your time (unless they’re words that particularly interest you or something).
Learn to tolerate a certain level of ambiguity and uncertainty.
Reading (particularly within a series / author / genre) will act as a kind of informal SRS (see here and here), as you’ll naturally come across the same words and grammar patterns repeatedly.
(IMHO) How to use Anki (optional)
I personally use Anki as I find it works for me, but many others prefer to spend that time reading instead.
If you want to use Anki then your goal should likely be to build a core vocabulary of words you will start to see in pretty much anything you read - this will start to form naturally as you read more - I tried to jump start it a bit using Anki.
Don’t be afraid of suspending cards and coming back to them later, the more times you are exposed to a word and have to look it up, the easier it will be to eventually learn.
I found this shared Anki Anime vocab deck to be super helpful, in particular for some of the contractions and grammar points it covers. I suspended any card which I didn’t feel was helping me.
And of course I add words as I come across them through reading, overhearing in Anime, or things I eventually want to know in Japanese.
My starting point:
I’ve tried to go through Genki multiple times, and every time I would eventually exhaust myself on it and give up, so I tried to find a path that worked for me. I wanted to be able to read Manga, so your path might differ if you have different goals in mind.
I just found textbooks tedious, so if you’ve finished Genki I then the good news is that you’re likely way ahead of where I was when I started reading!.
I eased into reading with graded readers
To ease into reading I read graded readers by ASK, particularly packs 1 and 3 for level 0 and 1 and 2 for level 1. These packs cost $, each level contains 3 packs and each pack is usually around 5 books. Every book within a level / pack is slightly more complex than the previous. These particular packs might be below your level, but within the series you should be able to find a pack that is right for you.
Free graded readers (linked up thread) can also be great, I’ve recommend them to some friends who had great results with them.
I mined some vocab sheets from previous book clubs
Yotsuba book club
I think I bought the vol 1 vocab sheet from here, they also sell a vol 2 sheet, and the reading club has a vocab sheet from vol 3.
After removing duplicates and some other filtering I ended up with about 849 entries in a spreadsheet - 415 of these have since made their way into my Anki, although many of them only after I’d encountered them somewhere else.
I tried to only bring across words which seemed important / common. I did a lot of cross-referencing with dictionaries and other vocab sheets. If the word didn’t stick in Anki, I’d suspend it to come back to later rather than burning more time on it. Learning out of context like this is hard,
I have also gone through the vocab sheet for Shirokuma cafe book club but I don’t think it was as helpful as Yotsuba. It looks like out of the 206 entries for Shirokuma, 101 made it into Anki (although some would be duplicates from Yotsuba).
I haven’t read Yotsuba or Shirokuma yet as they both have quirks which put me off a bit, but many find them to be excellent. Yotsuba has child-speak and weird contractions, Shirokuma makes silly puns often involving strange / uncommon vocabulary words which aren’t worth my time learning at this stage.
But both contained a wealth of super common words so it’s still paid dividends.
how I read and do breakdowns
For my learning style I find it helpful to write out and breakdown non-trivial lines (example breakdowns), others prefer to aim for breadth rather than depth, find what works for you.
For my first book I wrote out every non-trivial line and did a breakdown, initially I wrote these by hand but I’ve switched to using a Google doc as writing them by hand was a huge time sink and was harder to convert to Anki cards or search through later on (being able to search is huge).
The first book club I joined ended up being the single best thing I’ve done for my Japanese, I cannot recommend them enough.
My first manga was struggling through からかい上手の高木さん (ABBC), the community was beyond amazing with their help (examples 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).
I’m now reading 大海原と大海原 (ABBC) and absolutely loving it.
if you are remotely interested I’d highly recommend trying to read this, I’m finding this easier (and more interesting) than からかい上手の高木さ and harder (and more interesting & rewarding) than チーズスイートホーム.
チーズスイートホーム (ABBC) is a particularly beginner friendly manga, at least the first 8 or so chapters, in the time it would take me to read a page of からかい上手の高木さん I could read a chapter of チーズスイートホーム. Although at times it is quite light, and I think I’m getting less from it than I do from either からかい上手の高木さん or 大海原と大海原, so I haven’t been focusing on it.
Ichi.moe for helping break down sentences, in particular its super helpful for breaking down why a verb is in a certain form (it can make mistakes! be careful!).
Jisho.org is just a superb online dictionary.
Learnnatively is a great website for helping to find manga / books to read at different difficulty levels.
- Koohi.cafe post and direct link can rank books by difficulty based on how much unfamiliar vocab they contain, and it can automatically find an overlap between different books and generate vocab lists based on that.
Cure dolly’s Japanese Youtube course, another user recommended the first 24 videos here.
- A grammar dictionary can be a godsend, I love my copy of A Dictionary Of Basic Japanese Grammar. You can likely find similar things online - just find something that works for you.