We find ourselves often giving recommendations of products to learn Japanese with, and we thought it’d be useful to compile a list for your reference.
We have included a number of our own products, only where we are convinced that they are deserving of their place in the list, and we have included paid and free study resources without discrimination.
The list is broken up by category and each item is clearly marked as to what JLPT level it targets. Everything on this list deserves your attention, but resources we’re particularly fond of, the kind we’d use ourselves, are additionally marked with a little star.
- Japanese textbooks
- Reviewing vocab & kanji
- Serious games
- Grammar reference
- Practice & radio
- Podcasts & audio lessons
- Vodcasts & video blogs
- Cheat sheets
Japanese LinguaLift E-Textbook
Our very own textbook. Not written in a ‘hold your hand’ style that some require, but clear and comprehensive, covering all that is needed to prepare for the JLPT exams and most day-to-day situations. Those who prefer romaji should look elsewhere, but the native audio, interactive elements and assessments make it a perfect study and revision tool.
Probably the most popular Japanese textbook, published by The Japan Times, is well worth its reputation. Everything is well laid out, with clear grammar explanations, engaging dialogues, and helpful exercises. Best used with a teacher, working towards taking the JLPT.
An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese
You can think of this textbook as Genki III. Same publisher, similar presentation and structure—definitely one of the best intermediate-advanced paper textbooks on the market.
Another good intermediate-advanced textbook. Pretty much all of the content, including grammar explanations, is in Japanese so be prepared to brush up your kanji and vocabulary before your begin.
Probably the only Japanese textbook distributed as a desktop application has recently also become available on all kinds of mobile devices. Well organized lessons with engaging cultural notes and native pronunciation audio, but it doesn’t go beyond the very basics.
Professional, fun and practical videos, helpful games & exercises, a unique user interface and engaging social features if you’re into that kind of thing. Erin won’t teach you everything, but you’ll learn a lot, and you’ll enjoy the ride.
Japanese for Busy People
As long as you get the kana-version, this can be a pretty good textbook. The title is somewhat misleading though as the textbook is best used in classroom setting and alternatives such as Genki or our Japanese E-Textbook are much better adapted for sporadic one-point learning.
Minna no Nihongo
Quite a good textbook, especially in classroom setting. The content is very comprehensive but the book focuses more on examples than explanations, and there is no English throughout unless you buy the Translation and Grammar Notes volume separately, which can be daunting if you are a complete beginner.
Japanese for Everyone
This textbook is more dense than the others and goes at a much faster pace than for example Genki. If you’re a diligent and motivated learner and other textbooks feel too slow for you, this might be a better choice.
Japanese in Mangaland
This series of text and workbooks uses manga to illustrate what you’re learning, and it does work surprisingly well, especially if you’re into Japanese comics. Give it a try—it might be just what you’re looking for.
We’re not fans of its extensive use of romaji in early chapters, and its slow, progressive introduction of hiragana and katakana, but it is otherwise a decent beginner textbook, worth taking into consideration.
With a hefty price tag, mediocre grammar explanations and boring content this is not a good textbook for self-learners, but good organization and decent activities make it a viable choice in classroom setting.
Reviewing vocabulary & kanji
Japanese LinguaLift Kanji Academy
In this kanji learning & reviewing tool we’re trying to avoid rote-learning obscure characters and readings, instead teaching them in context, through useful compounds, example sentences with audio pronunciation, and mnemonics. The application comes with a handy, colourful kanji grid & look up feature providing an quick overview of your progress.
Japanese LinguaLift Vocab Lab
An SRS vocabulary learning web app full of useful compounds, accompanied with native pronunciation audio and nifty stroke order animations, and tested in a variety of different ways.
Formerly smart.fm, this site has pretty interface and a very well done spaced repetition quiz with high quality curated lists of Japanese vocabulary. It’s not particularly well adapted for reviewing kanji, but its vocabulary-learning features more than make up for it.
Skritter does one thing, and it does it well—it is the only online offering that lets you actually write the Chinese characters using a tablet or your mouse, and then assesses your speed and stroke order.
If you’re following Heisig’s Remember the Kanji methodology (not that we’re particularly big fans of it), this is the site for you. It has lots of creative community-sourced mnemonic devices which will help you remember the most complicated of kanji, and a simple but functional SRS quiz using an algorithm similar to that in our Kanji Academy.
Read The Kanji
One of the first online kanji reviewing tools. Very streamlined and featuring an aesthetically pleasing user interface but somewhat repetitive and limited in question types.
A recent arrival to the kanji reviewing market, Kanji Plus tries to handle the problem in a slightly different manner by asking you to complete the blanks in Japanese compounds, and it does work pretty well indeed.
If you’re a dedicated learner and have the time and determination to spend perfecting your reviewing habits and environment, Anki—one of the leading SRS applications—might be the product for you.
Kleio is a recently launched competitor to Anki, and while it’s still very young and lacks some of the more advanced features, the app is actively developed and can be found on platforms where Anki is not available. Unfortunately there aren’t many good Japanese decks just yet, so you’re best off creating your own.
The famous White Rabbit Press kana and kanji flashcards are well worth the price if you prefer learning away from your computer but don’t have the time to create your own set.
WRP Kanji Poster
A huge, beautiful wall poster of all jōyō kanji categorized by JLPT level, along with English definitions.
Slime Forest Adventure
For all fans of RPG games out there. Learn hiragana, katakana, vocabulary kanji. Kill some monsters and save a princess while you’re at it. There’s unfortunately no sound, and the graphics are somewhat lacking, but useful mnemonics make up for it.
Dictionary of Japanese Grammar
Indispensable for any serious Japanese learner, this book consists of three volumes covering almost every aspect of the Japanese grammar from the very basics up to truly advanced concepts in a clear and concise manner. If you buy just one book, this is the one to go for.
A Dictionary of Japanese Particles
This handy book covers over 100 particles in alphabetical order, explaining them with sample sentences for each meaning, illustrations and exercises for those who wish to test their knowledge of particle usage.
English Grammar for Students of Japanese
Not so much a grammar reference as an overview of grammar patterns in the English language and how they relate to Japanese. If you’re having trouble getting your head around Japanese grammar, this reverse approach may be the solution.
Japanese Language and Usage
The new addition to the excellent Stack Exchange network, Japanese Language and Usage is the place to ask your intermediate-advanced grammar questions. Don’t forget to do a quick search first, as much has been answered in great detail already.
This site features extremely thorough and fairly well organized lessons covering all kinds of Japanese grammar topics from the very basics up to advanced and colloquial concepts and expressions, and is extremely culturally sympathetic.
Tae Kim’s Grammar Guide
Part grammar reference, part Japanese textbook, Tae Kim’s website is a classic. The grammar guide is not the easiest to navigate, but it covers most beginner-intermediate grammar including colloquial variations and is available in many different formats and languages.
J-gram tried to be the Wikipedia of Japanese grammar, but the result is wanting. The site does have a very extensive grammar database but it can be difficult to find what you need, and errors and inconsistencies can easily lead you off track. Make use only when necessary and make sure to read the discussion in the comments.
If all else fails, Wikipedia generally comes to the rescue, especially if you’re ready to wander into its Japanese language territory. You can find many Japanese grammar points discussed at least in some detail, as well as use it to check how a certain construction is used by searching it in Japanese articles.
About.com has pretty good articles on virtually every topic, and Japanese language is no exception. Their grammar explanations are particularly helpful and generally explain things in simple language without unnecessarily going into too much detail.
Tagaini is an open source application based on the EDICT database by Jim Breen from Monash University which is also used by most online dictionaries. While the content itself is in no way special, the software is very well done with some unique features, especially in the kanji search department.
Babylon is an application that sits in the tray and allows you to translate anything by clicking it and pressing a keyboard shortcut at the same time. The free dictionaries included with the software are in no way exceptional, but what makes Babylon unique is the immense amount of premium dictionaries which can be loaded into it, including gems such as Genius Unabridged and Meikyo listed below.
The best online EDICT dictionary with tons of unique features and a functional user interface. Search kanji by radicals, filter through the results with utmost precision, look up example sentences, create exportable vocab lists and more.
Whether it’s for its simple domain name, or some of the unique features it has under the hood, Jisho.org is by far the most popular EDICT-based dictionary outside of Japan.
Why online translators are bad news
This site is all in Japanese, but the UI is simple enough to navigate even if you don’t understand all of the labels. This is the dictionary for intermediate-advanced learners, especially valuable due to its accurate definitions, many example sentences, and synonyms look-up (類語).
Another good Japanese dictionary, but only really useful for advanced learners. The content is crowd-sourced and targeted at translators so lots of definitions are too intricate, confusing, or quite simply wrong.
This is by far the most comprehensive Japanese kanji etymology dictionary on the internet. Search by character, reading or English definition to find out more about historical origins of Chinese characters, including illustrations of related pictographs and cultural tidbits.
Jim Breen WWWJDIC
There can’t be a list without Jim Breen’s WWWJDIC, the original EDICT dictionary which spawned countless, including most dictionaries on this list. The user interface is slightly dated, but the recent addition of pronunciation audio make it at least worth checking out.
Meikyo Japanese-Japanese Dictionary
A new Japanese dictionary that came on the market in 2002. With information regarding usage of honorific words, typical misusages, Kanji conjugations, nuances between the different words and expressions, new Katakana words and grammatical do’s and don’ts this dictionary is a must-have for intermediate-advanced learners.
Kodansha’s Furigana Japanese Dictionary
One of the most popular dictionaries among beginner-intermediate learners, and for a reason. The dictionary contains detailed explanations of Japanese words, there are lots of example sentences, and most importantly, all kanji have furigana (small kana above the characters to show their pronunciation).
Taishukan’s Unabridged Genius English-Japanese Dictionary
At 2508 pages, this is the largest and most detailed English-Japanese dictionary on the market, without sacrificing the quality and good organization for which the Genius brand of dictionaries has always been known in Japan. Unfortunately, it is not an easy book to get a hand on outside of Japan.
Kodansha’s Kanji Learner’s Dictionary
With its unique System of Kanji Indexing by Patterns (SKIP), an indexing system that enables the user to locate characters as quickly and as accurately as in alphabetical dictionaries, this book answers the urgent need for an easy-to-use kanji dictionary compact enough to be easily carried around, yet detailed enough to satisfy the practical needs of the beginning and intermediate learner.
Kenkyusha’s New Japanese-English Dictionary
One of the oldest (first published in 1928) and certainly the most authoritative Japanese↔English dictionary. Considered to be the reference book for scholars and translators, with over 260,000 entries this dictionary is intended for those who already have some knowledge of kanji, looking to expand their word usage out of the common and everyday.
A Dictionary of Japanese Food: Ingredients & Culture
A complete dictionary for finding words related to food in other languages. Since food is such an international subject, the dictionary contains food-related words in English, French, Italian and Chinese. Need to look up words in a Japanese bento book? This dictionary of food words will help a lot.
Practice & radio
italki is an online language learning service where you can find the best language teachers from around the world. Take a lesson when and where it is convenient for you. All you need is an internet connection.
Write Japanese, get corrected by native speakers, help others in return. One of the first, and certainly the most successful site of this kind. Try to write regularly and take the time to understand the corrections and your writing ability will improve in no time.
All Japanese All The Time
The notorious AJATT will show you how to immerse yourself entirely into the Japanese language. We’re not into this kind of stuff, but if you have the time and money, you should give it a try. Those who claim success using the system are quite messianic in their reverence for the system and its creator.
Japanese Graded Readers
Graded readers are a great way to practice your Japanese. Each book has a collection of engaging texts using kanji and vocabulary at your level. No need to wade through the dictionary every sentence, looking up words and kanji you might never see again in your life.
Breaking into Japanese Literature
Reading Japanese novels is an engaging experience and a great way to learn, but it can be a daunting task, especially if kanji are not your forte. This books presents well known works with furigana on the first occurrence of the kanji, translations, helpful explanations and downloadable audio recordings.
Read Real Japanese Fiction
Another great source of real, contemporary Japanese stories with translations and detailed explanations of nuance, usage, grammar, and culture. The book includes a free CD with the texts recorded by professional narrators.
The Great Chokochoko Library
Quite a few texts on all kinds of topics, at all the different levels. The texts are in PDF format, well formatted and followed by vocabulary lists.
Today’s Aesop’s Fable
Aesop’s fables are well known all over the word and thus it comes as no surprise that his writings were also translated into Japanese. An entire year of daily reading material with an intuitive interface, beautiful illustrations, and mp3 recording of most of the texts.
Japanese Classical Literature at Bedtime
Free audio recordings of engaging Japanese and bilingual bedtime stories with PDF transcripts. New ones are added several times a year.
Free Japanese audiobooks
A list of free audio books, in Japanese, with transcripts and occasionally English translations. These are famous works from both Japanese and world writers and so the content is fairly advanced.
U of V Japanese Text Initiative
An extensive database of Japanese texts compiled by University of Virginia and easily searchable by author, title and chronological period. There’s even a hand handy option to display the text vertically or display furigana.
Japanese radio shows on all kinds of topics, from market trends, through horse racing, all the way to podcasts on being an ecological mother and news from Russia. Natural speed but clear and professional which makes them easier to follow than most amateur broadcasts.
Podcasts & audio lessons
Learn Japanese Pod
Probably the best Japanese language podcast. Great grammar lessons at all difficulty levels, interesting cultural tidbits, and more.
Another great podcast. There’s a lot of content, at all difficulty levels, but most of it requires a paid subscription.
This is in no case the fastest way to learn the language, but what you will learn you’ll probably remember forever. Fairly enjoyable, well thought out lessons, but beware of the hefty price tag.
NHK’s Japanese Podcast Lessons
Very professional, free Japanese audio lessons. Each starts with a simple dialogue around one or several useful expressions and then goes on to discuss every word and sentence in more detail.
Vodcasts & video blogs
Victor aka Gimmeabreakman’s videos are full of helpful tips on learning Japanese and lessons on all kinds of topics at all difficulty and politeness levels. Especially check out his Japanese for Morons series.
One of the few Japanese video bloggers. She’ll speak Japanese, and teach you some every once in a while too.
If you like Japanese food, this is the channel for you. Bobby Judo will show you how to cook, and teach some handy vocabulary at the same time.
Top 10 YouTube channels for learning Japanese
Hikosaemon speaks in fluent Japanese on all kinds of topics from current events to random thoughts. If you’re beginner or intermediate, check out his Genki Japan videos which might be closer to your proficiency level.
Beautiful videos on all aspects of the Japanese culture. Some are in Japanese with English subtitles, some in English with Japanese subtitles, all equally worth watching.
JapanesePod101 started as a podcast, but has since expanded to YouTube and offers some of the most professional video lessons out there.
Wonderful stories by NTT, professionally narrated and accompanied with lovely illustrations.
Nihonshock’s Ultimate Japanese Cheat Sheet
The Japanese cheat sheet of all cheat sheets. Nihonshock managed to cover all the fundamental Japanese grammar into two compact, yet readable A4s. Print, laminate, and don’t let out of your sight.
Japanese colour names
Our Japanese colour names cheat sheet is beautiful and useful at the same time. Quickly lookup the right colour name for the occasion, as well as a bunch of other, related vocabulary.
Japanese adjectives declension
Similar to the verbs cheat sheet but this time covering the declension of Japanese adverbs and adjectives.
Japanese hiragana & katakana table
Whether you’re just beginning your Japanese learning journey, or simply can’t help but forget some of the kana characters every once in a while, check out our kana cheat sheet.
Chrome extensions all language self-learners need to know about
Other study resources
Advanced expressions & grammar
Making Sense of Japanese
Previously known as Gone Fishin’, this book is an American scholar’s attempt to convey his conviction that the Japanese language is not vague. Rubin explains how to find the subject in a subjectless sentence, explains a number of confusing expressions, and teaches how to properly read and analyze Japanese texts. Unfortunately, all examples are written in romaji.
Basic Connections: Making Your Japanese Flow
This book provides basic information about expressions and usages that facilitate the flow of ideas and thoughts in written and spoken Japanese—from basic particles and sentence structure, through common connective expressions, all the way to common mistakes.
Common Japanese Collocations
A great book on the most frequently used noun-and-verb and noun-and-adjective combinations categorized by topic and accompanied with example sentences and common usage errors. A must read for any serious student.
Japanese Sentence Patterns for Effective Communication
An excellent book for self-learners covering many important Japanese sentence patterns, arranged by difficulty, with lots of example sentences and exercises.
The Structure of the Japanese Language
A unique book targeting students who already have a good knowledge of Japanese grammar, and want to learn how not to use given grammatical patterns. The book deals with those problems of Japanese that are either completely ignored or erroneously treated in conventional grammar books and shows what kinds of sentences one should check with native speakers to prove or disprove one’s initial hypothesis.
How to Sound Intelligent in Japanese
This is a quick and concise way to build difficult specialist vocabulary across many topics from law and politics, through business and science, all the way to philosophy and religion. Also helpful to better understand some of the more advanced kanji and how they‘re used in compounds.
Rapid Reading Japanese: Intermediate and Advanced
Great book for intermediate-advanced level students who are still uncomfortable reading real-world texts. The first section teaches you how to scan Japanese texts, the second part teaches you to skim-read, the third combines the two and some longer challenging texts at the end give you something to practise on.
All About Particles: A Handbook of Japanese Function Words
Another good book about particles. More simplistic than the Dictionary of Japanese Particles mentioned above, but easy to understand and with a large number of varied example sentences.
Japanese Core Words and Phrases
This book covers a great number of common Japanese words, idioms and phrases that are not explained satisfactorily in dictionaries or textbooks for they cannot be conveniently defined. Each explanation is accompanied with useful example sentences and dialogues.
Niche and dialectal language
A website dedicated to kansaiben, a major dialect of the Japanese language spoken primarily in and around Ōsaka. If you plan to live in the Kansai region, this site will be of great help to understand and communicate with the locals.
Colloquial Kansai Japanese
With clear explanations of grammar, a Kansai-ben dictionary, and a helpful index, Colloquial Kansai Japanese is an indispensable guide to the rich speech of Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe.
Writing E-mails in Japanese
Published by The Japan Times, this is the book if you’d like to learn the intricate art of e-mail correspondence in the Japanese language.
Japanese in Anime & Manga
One of many well done websites by The Japan Foundation, in this case teaching all kinds of anime and manga vocabulary, kanji and expressions through interactive games and exercises.
101 Japanese Idioms
This book will teach you over a hundred Japanese fixed expressions, crucial if you want to sound natural in your speech, and understand that of others. Each expression is accompanied with an illustration and natural example sentences.
Jazz Up Your Japanese with Onomatopoeia
Onomatopoeic and mimetic words are an integral part of the Japanese language, used more frequently and in a wider range of contexts than their English counterparts. This book, full of easy to understand explanations and many example dialogues will not only teach you what some of these words mean, but also show you how they are actually used.
An Illustrated Dictionary of Japanese Onomatopoeic Expressions
Another great book covering onomatopoeia, and especially gitaigo, in great detail, with short and precise explanations, and amusing illustrations.
Making Out in Japanese
A fun book on colloquial Japanese which despite its title goes beyond romantic relationships, covering all aspects of Japanese slang and informal language. Be sure to check what you learn with a native as some of the content might be outdated or potentially offensive.
Another book on colloquial Japanese. From slang, through insults and swear words, all the way to explicit sex terms, Dirty Japanese teaches the casual expressions heard every day on the streets of Japan. Again, be sure to check what you learn with a native as some of the content might be outdated or potentially offensive.
Dating, Love and Sex in Japanese
Love, Hate and Everything in Between
Staying on the topic of emotions, good or bad, this book covers more than 400 phrases that are useful when talking about personal experience and nuances of feeling. The book includes loads of example sentences which will allow you to understand the material and start using it confidently in your own speech.
70 Japanese Gestures: No Language Communication
If you’re low on words, but still want to express your emotions, gestures are where it’s at, and this book is one of the more thorough and especially enjoyable resources on the topic.
This is a great book for those of you who’d like to expand your history and geography related vocabulary. The book is full of pictures and is made to be easy to understand, but it does require good knowledge of kanji.
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