Books, yes, those age-old vehicles that can take you to places you never imagined of, are a great source for learning Japanese, irrespective of the level of learning you are at. Japanese textbooks are as much of a help to a beginner as they are to an advanced speaker of the language.
The right textbook can make all the difference in the world. The wrong one might just be a waste of time, energy, and money.
To find which textbooks are the best textbooks to learn Japanese, consider the following criteria:
- Your skill level
- Your immediate studying needs
- Your future plans and needs as a student
- Your learning style
- Your budget
The Japanese language is a beautifully unique language that can introduce its students to a world of rich culture and language patterns online any other in the world! However, learning Japanese takes time and effort. Let's get started with finding the right books for your Japanese learning journey!
Types of Books for Japanese Beginners
For students enrolled in formal, classroom-based courses, textbooks are the first resource you will need for learning Japanese.
You may not need to search for a basic textbook on your own as the course guidelines would ideally provide you with leads. However, those self-studying, decide how to supplement classroom material with a good textbook or two.
Textbooks are great general, all-around learning resources.
Textbooks focus on major lessons, subdivided into relevant topics, including Japanese greetings, asking for directions, or going to the grocery store.
These lessons are accompanied by practice exercises, vocabulary lists, grammar tables, and (sometimes) even audio, video, and games as well.
Many textbooks, nowadays, also include an online component for students to ask questions, interact with other learners, take tests, and keep track of their progress.
For an in-depth understanding of the Japanese language, it is essential to own a Japanese grammar textbook. There are 2 basic types of grammar books, namely, reference books and practice-based books.
Reference books provide big-picture information when students need it. Practice-based books are designed to teach grammar through exercises.
Learning Japanese vocabulary can be a long, but steady process. There are many vocabulary books that can help students learn the words which would help them improve their Japanese language fluency.
A vocabulary book is not the same as a dictionary. The process of learning and understanding when and how to write, spell and speak Japanese vocabulary can be complex. Vocabulary books are created to do a bit of handholding when students can't find it in a Japanese dictionary.
Dictionaries are the basic requirements in the learning of any language. This holds true for the learning of Japanese as well. Do some research and pick a dictionary that is suitable for your level of learning and language skills.
Kanji books or books on Japanese alphabets are also essential for students of the Japanese language. Some Kanji books help students learn Japanese characters, while some serve as references. Both are, however, useful for any student who wants to become fluent in Japanese.
Learn Japanese Fast the Manga Way
Manga comics make an ideal resource for learning the Japanese language, especially for beginners. Here is why.
Fewer Words, More Pictures
To put it simply, manga is just the Japanese version of a comic book. And, as we all know, everyone has enjoyed reading comics, at some age. Children find it easier to follow comics since there are plenty of pictures and fewer texts than in a regular book.
Therefore, Japanese learners can read manga comics as a great starting point in their learning journey. Manga comics contain lots of Japanese onomatopoeia as well as short, simpler sentences.
Acceptable for All Age Groups
As with any other form of comics, manga comics also have a diverse demographic audience - from children to young adults to adults. In other words, manga comics are socially acceptable for and by adults in Japan.
Manga comics use extensive furigana which younger (foreign) readers can use as a learning aid. Many furigana is repeated for the same Kanji character, which makes it a simple way to learn Kanji.
Manga also helps to develop your Japanese reading ability. The short sentences with illustrations and the use of furigana are especially useful for Japanese language learners.
Ateji (当て字, “assigned characters”) are kanji that represent a word based on phonetics, not meaning. Ateji can also be explored in manga comics. The kanji, used for a word, may not have meanings that are relevant to the actual word but do have the correct sounds for it.
Onomatopoeia refers to words that are written as the sound they represent. Onomatopoeia adds a level of dynamism to the story, particularly when they complement images in manga comics.
The Japanese language makes extensive use of onomatopoeia both in and outside of manga - animal sounds, animal movements, or even as far as each type of rain, and so on.
Considering the extent of the usage of onomatopoeia, students might not know where and how to start learning such words. Manga comics can be their starting point!
Best Books to Learn Japanese
Japanese from Zero! by Trombley
A popular textbook series that is both approachable and easy to use, the textbook is:
- Ideal for beginners and intermediate students.
- Follows a lesson-based structure that covers grammar, vocabulary, writing, pronunciation, and more.
- For students interested in extra practice, the series includes workbooks that are sold separately and can work as companions to the textbook.
Learning Japanese by Living Language Method
An established language teaching company, Living Language offers books specific to students' level of learning or complete packages that include books for all levels.
The reasonably priced textbooks include CDs for speaking and listening practice. the textbook series can be used as a standalone course by those not enrolled in a formal class.
Practice Makes Perfect by Sato
As is clear from the title of the book, Practice Makes Perfect is a practice-based book. Students get to learn grammar through a series of lessons that teach all the essentials.
The exercise-based approach helps students internalize grammar.
The book is suitable for beginners, easy to get started, and easy to understand. It includes exercises on phonetics, Japanese writing, and other often-neglected areas of language learning. The book also comes with a dictionary.
The Handbook of Japanese Verbs by Taeko Kamiya
The Handbook focuses on verbs and their usage. It explains how verbs work and how they conjugate. The book relies heavily on practice exercises to ensure that students understand the material as they progress.
The book is ideal for beginners and intermediate students who want a solid understanding of verbs. The exercise-oriented approach is easier for students who are looking for some hands-on practice. The book also includes several appendices and methods for looking up verbs.
Kenkyusha’s New Japanese-English Dictionary by Kenkyusha
Kenkyusha’s New Japanese-English Dictionary is the most comprehensive and in-depth Japanese to English dictionary on the market. It is the preferred dictionary of translators and language professionals. Many entries have multiple sub-entries.
The dictionary is suitable for all levels of Japanese learning - intermediate students, advanced students, and translators. Use the latest editions for access to more entries and more modernized terms.
New Nelson Japanese-English Character Dictionary Nelson
Considered the industry standard kanji dictionary for years, the Nelson dictionaries, both the compact and standard versions, include enough characters for most students. Kanji can be looked up by radical, pronunciation, stroke count, and more.
The dictionary can be used by students of any level. Each kanji includes a long list of vocabulary words. The dictionary also includes a variety of appendices and indexes for additional look-up methods.
A Guide to Remembering Japanese Characters by Kenneth G. Henshall
A book specifically designed to help students master kanji, the Guide contains all the General Use Characters. Moreover, it has extremely detailed etymology for each character, including historical character forms and previous meanings.
The guidebook is suitable for intermediate to advanced students. Entries include meaning, pronunciation, and vocabulary words. Students can use the guidebook as a supplement to other study materials.
Manga Series Ideal for Learning Japanese
One Piece (ワンピース)
This series is huge in the world of manga (or anime) in Japan. Everyone in Japan knows One Piece and people of all ages enjoy reading it. The series has attained cult status in the Land of the Rising Sun. The series follows the adventures of Luffy and his crew on their quest to obtain the legendary pirate treasure, One Piece.
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Golgo 13 (ゴルゴ13)
A manga series over 40 years old, having sold over 200 million copies, Golgo 13 follows the story of Golgo 13, a professional assassin, who is available for hire from anyone who can pay his fee.
Detective Conan (名探偵コナン)
On the right side of the law, Detective Conan is a high school detective. This hugely popular series has seen a number of adaptations, including live-action and anime. A typical story includes a mystery that has to be solved.