Comparison of Japanese Textbooks Table

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Here is a comparison of the best Japanese textbooks, based on user reviews and samples. (Scroll down to see the table)


The Comparison Table

The following table is not exhaustive, but it does arguably include the most popular and highest rated textbooks. There is definitely enough variety here for you to find a textbook (or resource) that you would like. The most popular beginner textbook is Genki. So if you don't want to think and just want to buy something immediately, get Genki, assuming it fits into your budget. If you want something less expensive, there are many options below (I'm partial to Japanese for Everyone).

This is a work in progress. Please add to the wiki yourself if you own the book. If you don't know how to edit the wiki, you can give me the book's information in the forum discussion and I can add it. Please add prices if you can find them. Try not to put in your own opinions unless you think they are relatively factual and helpful to others. I'm new to editing wikis, so please make the table flashier or better formatted if you know how!

I put a link to a sample of the textbook if I could find one. Google Books, Amazon.com and/or Amazon.co.jp, White Rabbit Press, and The Japan Shop often have previews, so check those places.

I've tried my best to estimate vocab numbers, types of exercises etc. based on samples and reviews if I don't own the book. If you think I'm incorrect, please let me know in the RevTK forum discussion (linked above).

I made a template for each row that you can copy if you want to add another book to the table. To see the template, go into Edit mode and look below this line. |- | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |


Choosing a Textbook

Think about what's most important to you and see which books fit most of your criteria (price, kanji w/ stroke order, #vocab, #grammar exercises, reading passage topics, etc.). You probably don't have the same criteria as me. To start your research, look at this table, read samples, read customer reviews, and visit the book's website. If you can find the introduction to the textbook (the samples provided below often have it, or amazon.com, or amazon.co.jp), reading through it can give you a good idea of the structure of the book, its possible strengths/weaknesses, as well as how the authors intended it to be used. If you want a book that focuses on writing, for instance, you probably don't want to choose a book that emphasizes speaking. You can also tell if the book has an appendix and how much work you will have to do to finish each chapter (are you going to have to look up the English definitions of the words yourself? Do you care? Smaller details like this may be important to you).

Most of these books assume you already know the Japanese kana (hiragana and katakana writing systems). Some of them, however, at least show you the general stroke order in a table. If you need to practice the kana, try out this website: Tae Kim's Japanese Grammar Guide: Kana

In general, all of these textbooks have gotten pretty good reviews (at least 3/5 stars). None of them are perfect though. You may like one better than another, but if you spend too much time searching for the perfect textbook, you won't learn any Japanese! So choose one that you think will suit you best, stick with it until you finish, then move onto the next level. I suggest not buying multiple textbooks unless you want one for supplemental material, otherwise you probably won't progress very far in either of them, and you will also waste money. Have fun learning!


Other Books/Resources

I have only included textbooks that have pretty good reviews on Amazon and other websites (at least 3 stars). Because of this, some popular textbooks are not in the table. Here is a list of some books that are not included and why. There are also other books/resources that I did not include because I wouldn't consider them to be official textbooks, though they may be great resources, and I've included them in the list below with a few comments.

  • Nakama - not rated highly on Amazon, seems better suited to classroom use with a good teacher, but it may still be a good fit for some people.
  • Japanese the Spoken Language - This used to be a very popular textbook series and it does have some good merits, but there are better books out there now. If you want lots of detail on grammar, this series might be good for you. Uses lots of romaji unfortunately since it focuses on speaking first. There are also books that go over reading/writing.
  • Hiyaku: An Intermediate Japanese Course - a new textbook. I removed it from the table because I don't have much information about it. Here is the companion website.
  • Basic Technical Japanese - If you are in a technical field and will be reading technical papers/resources, the Technical Japanese book series would be helpful to you. I didn't include it in the table since it is rather specific. (Other books in the series are: Intermediate Technical Japanese 1 & 2, Kanji for Comprehending Technical Japanese, Comprehending Technical Japanese, as well as books about biotech, solid-state physics, etc.)
  • Tae Kim's Japanese Grammar Guide -- A wonderful FREE resource, and you could easily use it instead of a textbook! To learn vocab, you could grab a shared vocab list from the Anki spaced-repetition software program (corePlus is a good vocab list), and you'd be all set!
  • Japanese the Manga Way - an excellent book that teaches you grammar in a fun way. You'd need to supplement vocab, but this is a nice alternative to a traditional textbook.
  • Japanese from Zero - a good book series that teaches Japanese at an easy-to-learn slow-pace for absolute beginners.
  • Japanese Demystified - a nice self-study book to learn basic Japanese and it is inexpensive. More of a study-guide and supplement to a meatier textbook.
  • Human Japanese - software for the PC, Mac, and smart phones to learn the kana, basic Japanese grammar, and vocab.
  • Huge list of FREE Resources to help with your Japanese studying.


Scroll to the right to see entire table ==>

Price JLPT Level #Textbooks Chapter Format #Vocab (total) #Kanji (total) (stroke order?) #Grammar points/chapter #Grammar exercises/grammar point (or per chapter) Type of grammar exercises #Chapters (total) Workbook(s)? (Are they necessary for practice? Please note price) Answer Key? (Included, or separate -- please note price) Audio? (Y/N and included or separate) Detailed Explanations? (Easy to understand?) Kana or Romanization? (stroke order?) Pace Setting/Topics (if applicable) Formal or casual Japanese? Comments Sample
Textbook
Japanese for Everyone (JFE) ~$20 N4 1 Dialogue, vocab list, Grammar functions with exercises, reading comprehension, listening comprehension 2500 450. Does not teach stroke order. Uses furigana over new kanji. ~5 grammar points/chapter 1 to 4 exercises (~3 on average) per grammar point. 10-15 per chapter Variety of exercises. Describe pictures, answer questions, partner dialogues, fill-in-the-blank, reading comp, listening comp. 27 chapters There is a grammar workbook and kanji workbook (~$40 each?). (Hard to find. Not necessary) Answers included in back Audio is separate (Hard to find and technically out of print. But can download online. If you special order from somewhere will probably be at least $80) Has brief explanations with sample sentences. Pretty easy to understand most of the time. Does not go into paragraphs of explanation. Kana. Starts using kana in Chapter 1. Romaji is gone by Chapter 4. Does not show stroke order. Pretty fast-paced. Probably not best for absolute beginners or people who freeze when something doesn't make sense right away. Husband and wife go to Japan for business. Teaches both formal/informal speech. Starts using casual in chapter 1. A great bargain. Not for absolute beginners or people who need lots of handholding. Demanding, dense, fast-paced, and challenging. sample
Genki I & II $50 per textbook. $30 per workbook. $15 for answer key (I and II). N4 2 textbooks Dialogue, vocab list, grammar, exercises, culture note, useful expressions, kanji list 1700 vocab 317 kanji total (stroke order shown). 3-7 grammar points/chapter Generally multiple exercises per grammar point. There's quite a few compared to most other textbooks. With the workbook you will have lots of practice. Answer questions, describe pictures, translate, reading comprehension, listening comprehension, conversation with a partner. 23 chapters total (12 in Vol. 1, 11 in Vol. 2) Workbooks are supplemental. There are quite a few exercises in the textbook. ($30 each). Answer key separate ($15). Includes answers to Book I and II. Audio included in 2nd edition. Mostly easy to understand, pretty good explanations. Kana. Hiragana taught in chapter 1, katakana in chapter 2 of Book I. Slower-paced (may be too slow for some people) School focus. Focuses on formal style in book 1. You learn some casual Japanese in book 2. Probably the most popular textbook. sample
Minna no Nihongo (Shokyuu I & II) $40/textbook (no English, only Japanese). $30/Translation and Grammatical Notes (required). $20/workbook. $70 for audio. N4 2 textbooks for beginners. (There is also one for intermediate study called Chuukyuu) 1980 vocab (~1000/book) 518 kanji (introduced in texts, discussed in more detail in kanji workbooks). ~3 grammar points/chapter. At least 3 exercises/grammer point. Textbook: Drills with sentence patterns, reading/listening comprehension, pairwork with partners. Workbook: fill-in-the-blank, answer questions about pictures, complete the sentence, etc. 50 chapters total (25/book) Grammar workbooks and kanji workbooks are supplemental. Answer key either included or separate based on set bought (?). Workbooks should have answers in back. Audio is separate ($70) Majority of people think that explanations are fine. Kana. Does not teach stroke order. Average pace. Various useful situations. Comprehensive (doesn't leave special cases out) and very "Japanese." Information taught is very practical. Textbook has quite a bit of pairwork, so probably better for classrooms. But with workbook probably fine for self study. Teaches things that are useful in everyday conversation. May not have an index for vocab? Translation/Grammar Notes Sample Workbook Sample
An Introduction to Modern Japanese (Bowring and Laurie) $100 for textbook. $80 for workbook (contains vocab list). N3 1 textbook. 1 workbook (necessary). Grammar explanations, dialogues. Book 2 has vocab and exercises. 3000 vocab 1000 kanji You'll have plenty of practice. Study the examples and then perform the same operation, translate to English/Japanese. Reading comprehension. 52 chapters 1 workbook. Goes along with textbook and isn't supplemental. ($80) No answer key? No audio. Very detailed explanations. Kana from chapter 1, but also has romaji throughout. Teaches kana stroke order. Slower paced and very comprehensive. For serious students who want lots of detail and want to learn significant number of kanji through their textbook. After finishing, students should be able to start reading a newspaper (with the help of a dictionary). Sample
Elementary Japanese I & II $40/textbook. $25 for teacher's guide. Workbooks (~$15?) N4 2 textbooks Dialogue, Usage notes, Grammar notes, Exercises, New kanji and explanation, Kanji review exercises, New vocabulary 1800 vocab 300 kanji Not sure, but people say there are quite a few exercises in the text itself. 27 chapters Workbooks are supplemental (hard to find). Answers in teacher's edition ($25) Audio included. Pretty detailed explanations. Lots of examples, too. Mainly kana. Slower pace, similar to Genki. Mainly formal. See Amazon
Japanese in Mangaland I, II, & III $25 per textbook. $25 per workbook. N4 3 textbooks Theory/explanations/overview, vocab/verb tables, manga examples, questions. ~2000 vocab (just an estimate from the index, could be more or less). ~1000 kanji using kanji workbooks. Teaches stroke order in workbooks. 10 questions per chapter. Not many true "exercises." You'll need to buy the workbooks for practice. Workbook: Manga story for reading practice. Questions about the manga, grammar, vocab, etc. 60 total (1st book has 30, 2nd and 3rd books have 15 each) 1 grammar workbook per textbook, contains short manga story. Three Kanji workbooks also available (~$15-25 each). (Note: The 3rd kanji and grammar workbooks have not yet been released as of 2/1/2012.) Answers included. English translation of manga available on official website to download. No audio. Reasonably detailed explanations, easy to understand for most part. 1st book is combo of romaji/kana. Kana-only in 2nd/3rd books. Teaches stroke order, but assumes you are not a complete beginner to kana. Slower-paced Uses manga examples in the textbook. Workbooks have a mini manga story. Both formal and informal speech. You will learn actual (casual) Japanese used in manga. More fun than other textbooks, with a sense of humor. Manga is original and was made for the book. One of the best for self-learners. Preview Short Sample
Yookoso! I & II ~$50 (older editions cheaper) N4? 2 Vocab, Grammar, Culture Notes, Reading/Writing, Skills Practice ~5 7/book Grammar workbook ($40) Yes, audio included kana Seems more geared towards classrooms. sample workbook sample
Adventures in Japanese 1-4 $40-$50 per textbook AP level/N4 4 ~10-16/book Grammar books are $40. audio separate ($30-40) Yes kana slower pace variety (school, food, studying abroad, World War II) People seem to enjoy this textbook, it is geared towards high school students. sample
Japanese for Busy People (Kana version) I, II, & III $20/textbook. $10-20/workbook. N4 3 textbooks Dialogue, vocab, sample sentences, exercises. ~2000 vocab 340 kanji, stroke order included. (Note: Book I has very little kanji). ~2 major grammar points, plus some smaller grammatical items. ~5-10 exercises per chapter. repeating vocab, conjugating verbs, substitution drills, conversation practice, sentence pattern practice, listening comprehension, ask/answer questions in Japanese. 25 chapters/book Workbooks (~$10-20). Supplemental. Answers included Audio included. Opinions vary on whether explanations are good. Some people think it relies more on memorization over understanding. Kana. Has kana table depicting stroke order. Average pace (on the slower side). Business. Most people think the newer edition is improved compared to the original. sample
An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese (IAIJ) $45 for text. $20 for workbook. N3+ 1 text Dialogues (3 dialogues, varying politeness), reading practice, kanji, vocab, grammar points. ~1500 vocab. Depends on your incoming level. ~1000 kanji. Stroke order practice in workbook. ~300 should be review from beginner text. ~5-10 grammar points/chapter Not many exercises. Workbook provides most of the practice. (workbook) fill-in-the-blank, answer questions, describe pictures. Kanji stroke-order practice. 15 chapters Workbook ($20). Not required, but provides extra practice. No answer key Audio included in 2nd edition. Less explanation than beginner text. Brief and to the point. Expects more from intermediate students. Kana. A jump up from Genki, but manageable. College/study abroad/homestay. Both. Dialogues/reading shows various levels of politeness. Unofficial sequel to Genki. Lacks grammar exercises in textbook, but has more than Tobira. Workbook helps, but no answer key. Some might find topics a bit boring. sample
Tobira: Gateway to Advanced Japanese $50 for textbook. $40 for kanji workbook. $40 for grammar workbook. N3+ 1 text Extended reading sections, several short dialogues, ~15 grammar points with examples, discussion of difficult grammar, 100-150 new vocab, 50-70 words recommended for memorization ~1000-1500 vocab depending on your incoming level. 800 kanji (workbook has stroke order). ~300 should be review from beginner text. ~15 grammar points/chapter Not many exercises. Additional ones available through website and workbook. (In textbook) Fill-in-the-blank, answer questions, reading, listening etc. 15 chapters Kanji book available ($40). Grammar workbook now available ($40). Not required, but provides extra practice. Answer key included for workbooks. Audio included. There are also videos on companion website. Less explanation than beginner text. Brief and to the point. Expects more from intermediate students. Not much English explanation. Kana Average Variety of interesting and current topics. Japan's geography, pop culture, technology, food, religion, sports, nature, politics, education, etc. Both formal/casual speech Strengths are: the current/interesting cultural topics, multimedia, reading/listening practice. Vocab, reading passages, and dialogue available as audio for free online. Amazon sample website
Minna no Nihongo Chuukyuu (or Chukyu) I & II Textbook is $40 (all Japanese). Translation and Grammar Notes book is $25. N3+ Volume I has been released. (Volume II forthcoming?) Each chapter has 14 pages: Grammar/Exercises (5 pages), Talking/Listening (4 pages), Reading/Writing (3 pages), and Questions (2 pages) 12 chapters (Volume I) Translation and Grammatical Notes book is $25. No grammar workbook. Audio CD Included. Kana. See White Rabbit Press for a few pages. publisher's website
Nihongo Chukyu J301 and J501 ~$40/textbook. $40/Audio. $50/teacher's manual. N3 (J301) to N2+ (J501) 2 textbooks Reading section (interesting articles), comprehension activities to test your understanding, grammar is explained in English, grammar/vocab exercises. No workbook. Separate -- answers in Teacher's Manual ($50) Audio separate ($40) Kana. (Can anyone comment on the differences between J301/J501 and the Chukyu books?). J series has interesting articles at the beginning instead of dialogues. J301 Sample J501 Sample
Aozora $30 N3+? 1 book (vocab appears to be only kanji with pronunciation. Need to look up English definition. No appendix, but there are vocab lists.) No workbook Audio included (through website). Kana. Printed using a university press, so layout is not as pretty as other textbooks. Very little English. No appendix. Looks like more of an upper-intermediate to advanced textbook. Preview of Teacher's Guide Short Sample of Teacher's Guide
Authentic Japanese: Progressing from Intermediate to Advanced Textbook ($60). Workbook ($30). CDs ($70) N2+ 1 textbook Essays from various real articles. Grammar/vocab from articles. Sample sentences for grammar. (You will probably need to look up English definitions of vocab) (Very little furigana. You are expected to know most readings and be familiar with kanji. You'll need a kanji dictionary if you need more info). Workbook is $30. Supplemental. No answer key. Audio is $70. Explanations are generally in Japanese. There is some English for the sample sentences. Kana. Average for advanced (this is an advanced textbook, so it's not going to be easy). Various articles. Sequel to IAIJ. Very little English. This is more of an advanced reader with grammar notes and vocab. Workbook sample