Genki Japanese: My Review of the legendary textbook

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There are certain books that you can look back on and have fond memories of learning through them. Genki Japanese is one of those books. The Genki series of books are the pillars of my Japanese language knowledge and what helped me get to where I am today. It’s one of the best Japanese language textbooks I’ve ever had the pleasure of using and I wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone. With that said, on to the review! 

My personal experience with Genki

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I first got my hands on the Genki I book when I was in my last year of high school. After discovering the existence of the Genki Japanese book, I researched everywhere online to find as much info as I could. The book was expensive and I didn’t want to buy something that wasn’t going to help me.

Long story short, the Genki Japanese book became the sole source of my Japanese learning.

Why Genki Japanese Excels

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genki japanese preview 1
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Genki is thoughtfully laid out. Everything has been planned out for a person just starting to learn Japanese. It’s a big book, but it is crammed with everything to help you grasp the Japanese language. It covers grammar points, introduces a lot of vocabulary, uses dialogues and has reading practice to help ease you into reading kanji.

For complete beginners, Genki Japanese uses romaji (Japanese words written in the English alphabet) for the first three chapters. After that, you should know hiragana and katakana before moving on. This can be a tough thing to transition to, but it is necessary if you truly want to become competent at all in Japanese.

The book makes use of a cast of characters throughout the book that have different situations in order to teach you the phrases and vocabulary. The characters themselves are not too interesting, but they get the job done.

The coolest feature of Genki Japanese is it includes a reading/writing section but in the back of the book. I didn’t even realize it until I was midway through the normal lessons. For every chapter you go through in the front of the book, there is an equivalent in the back for reading practice and kanji teaching. It is because of this section that I became able to read Japanese and actually feel like I was achieving something. It used real kanji and I learned how to read in context, something I never thought I would be able to do.

Genki Japanese VS Minna no Nihongo

As far as I am concerned, there are two major series of Japanese language textbooks. You’re either in the Genki Japanese camp or the Minna no Nihongo one. I don’t like Minna no Nihongo and I’ll explain why.

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Minna no Nihongo is completely in Japanese and requires a separate book with all explanations written in your target native language.

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The layout of Minna no Nihongo is not very clear and there are times when you have no idea what the book is trying to teach you. I blame this on the book being designed FOR Japanese language teachers rather than the people learning Japanese themselves. If that doesn’t make sense to you, maybe it will…one day.

Genki Japanese has English instructions and explanations beside the points it is wanting you to learn. You don’t need to find a separate book or guess what point you need to learn or practice. This is really convenient.

How many books are there?

There are currently two books in the Genki Japanese series. There is an additional workbook available to accompany each Genki book, but I never used them. However, they are available if you need more practice. I should mention that you will need to buy the answer key booklet if you want to check your answers to the tests and quizzes in the textbooks. The good thing here is the answer key booklet covers Genki Japanese I and Genki Japanese II, so you don’t have to buy two answer books. It’s still annoying and I wish the answers were included in the textbooks themselves, but I’m going to guess that the books were already full enough as it was.

Can I self-study with Genki Japanese?

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I believe the Genki series was developed for students in a classroom, but you definitely can use it for self-study. I’m one of the people that used Genki to self-study, but there may be times where you get stuck and need extra help understanding a grammar point. When I was in that position, I usually searched online and found someone else discussing the grammar point in a way that I could understand.

You can’t expect to understand everything 100% your first time through Genki, but use the Internet if something doesn’t make sense to you after going over it a few times.

I should mention that the publisher has a Genki-Online website with additional materials such as videos and even an app for your smartphone. It’s worth checking out even if you don’t have the book.

Link: Genki-Online

Where can I buy Genki Japanese?

I recommend buying your Japanese study books from White Rabbit Press. They’re a really great store that has all sorts of stuff from Japan. I’ve bought several books from them as well as some high-quality flashcards.

Genki 1 Book
This is the first Genki book and will be what you want if you’re just starting out learning Japanese. I love this textbook!

Genki 1 Workbook
This is a workbook for those that want extra practice to go along with the textbook. Or if you don’t want to write in the main textbook, but want to do practice problems. I didn’t use the workbook, but it can be good for those who need it.

Genki Answer Key
This is the answer key to all the tests that are in both Genki I and II. If you want to make sure you are doing the tests right, you’ll need this. The great thing is it covers both books, so you only need it once if you go through the whole Genki set!

Genki II Book
This is the second book in the Genki series. Only buy this AFTER you finish the first Genki book or you’ll be lost!

Genki II Workbook
The workbook for the second Genki book. Buy if you like extra writing!

Final Thoughts

I love the Genki series. I left the two textbooks back in the U.S. when I moved to Japan and I really wish I had brought them. I probably can’t really learn anything new from them now because I’ve increased my level since then, but I have such fond memories of going through them. I’d like to crack them open again and see just how much my knowledge has changed since then.

If you’re starting from zero and want to make the journey to learn Japanese, you will not regret buying the Genki series. They may seem pricey, but they are well-made and will serve you far into the future should you continue to study Japanese.

Are you interested in the Genki series? Prefer Minna no Nihongo? Be sure to let me know in the comments!

16 thoughts on “Genki Japanese: My Review of the legendary textbook”

  1. Hello. I’m currently self-studying Japanese with the first Genki textbook and I just wanted to know about where would you be (JLPT wise) after you complete Genki II?

    • Hey Jessica! Thanks for commenting. If you complete Genki II, I would say you’re at JLPT N4 level. With a regular schedule of studying from a dedicated JLPT book, you could build yourself to N3 from there.

  2. I’ve always been in Minna no Nihongo camp. Since I first started learning Japanese. Personally, I think Minna no Nihongo’s layout is consistent and well laid out. They give you sentence example, sentence pattern, etc. The separate translation and grammar book is very useful, since you’re English speaking person you might not have any difficulties with the English translation in Genki, but for person like me whose second language is English and Indonesian as my first I find it very useful to compare the English translation one and the Indonesian translation. Some context can’t be conveyed well in foreign language, however it does make sense when I read the explanation in Indonesian. If you get what I mean.

    I tried Genki once but I don’t really like the layout. While it saves you money being bilingual in 1 book, I found it made me lazy to read the Japanese text, while MNN forced me to memorize the Kana early on, and again forced me to memorize Kanji at some point. My friend who used Genki didn’t have any improvement on her Kana.

    That being said, I love reading your review. Please keep reviewing books specialized for JLPT.

    • Ester, thank you so much for telling everyone your experience with Minna no Nihongo. I haven’t gone all the way through it, so it’s really great to hear from someone that likes the layout and teaching style.

      You’re right that Genki is useful for native English speakers, but probably not as great for non-natives. The best thing about Minna no Nihongo is it can be used in a variety of languages if you pick up the explanation book in your native one.

      Do you mind if I ask how you studied/are studying with Minna no Nihongo? Are you self-studying or using it in a class?

  3. In Japan, I used minna no nihongo because in the classroom I was the only american there while everyone else was from different parts of asia (Thailand, China, Korea, etc). I can see why they chose this book because the companion native language text everyone had was in their native language (english, korean, mandarin..etc) but all of us together studied the main text only in Japanese. So it was fun we all had the same book while at home we had to memorize and help get more explanations in our own language. Then the next day its pure Japanese again from that book. Genki would have been useless for my classmates since they couldn’t speak much english at all lol.

    I’ve used both and it is kind of hard to decide which is better. Genki or MNN.

    • Jason, thanks for sharing your experience with Minna no Nihongo! It definitely has its strengths when you’re in a mixed international environment with people from various backgrounds. I would imagine that Minna no Nihongo is more popular in Japan due to that separate flexibility while something like Genki would be used more abroad in classrooms in North America.

      Would you be able to comment on some of the layout or teaching differences between the two series?

  4. Honestly, I’ve never even bothered to pick Genki due to the price difference. For fair comparison, I’ll compare both using the older editions, since I’m using the older MNN version: Around 30$ for one book vs 10$ total for two books. And this just the first level. If you’re also buying the second level, that would mean you need to double the price for both. Book size is also moot since one Genki book is very thick, even larger than MNN’s two books.

    Admittedly, using the older edition may mean that you may learn/not learn something that has been revised such as older vocab/kanji. But from what I know, it’s not that much, and as such see no reason to buy the newer editions (for both books) which spans from 60$ – 70$. The major problem is listening skill which requires CD that comes along with the newer editions, though this is easily solved using open-source material from YouTube and such. This is probably the point where Genki excels, though I honestly don’t know whether the older Genki comes along with audio or not.

    I’ve never had any real problems self-studying with Minna no Nihongo. I find that as long as you know that you require both books (the actual book along with the grammar & translation book), you’d be able to trudge along just fine (Of course, Memrise helped with vocab/kanji retention, though I’m sure this applies to Genki as well). The major point that i truly like in MNN is that you’re at full-on kana/kanji immediately, which helps reading skill develop much faster, unlike Genki which holds your hand for a bit.

    From what I hear, both will more or less bring readers to the same level in regards to grammar understanding and vocabulary with differences here and there (approx. N4 level, with MNN having additional 100-200 vocabs). As such, I see no reason to pick Genki over MNN. Very biased, I understand. But I if both books will bring me to approximately the same level, then why spend the extra money?

    • Thank you for taking the time to post your thoughts about both Genki and MNN. You bring up a great point about cost. If someone can get the MNN series at a much lower cost than Genki, I say go for it. However, I think it’s definitely worth taking a look at the contents/layout of the lessons before committing to either one.

      Great post and thanks a lot! I’m sure it’ll be a great reference for a lot of people.

  5. Hello, I really enjoyed your review. Both this one and the japanese graded readers, wich I end up buying.
    Now as for me, I’m currently studying using both, Genki and MNH. It’s been 3.5 months so far…. And I kinda went bananas on my method 😅😆.
    I initially borrowed both books from my local library. And I started doing one lesson of each a week. To be honest MNH seems quite more intimidating at first. But following along some YouTuber’s lessons, it was very easy to follow.
    In the end I end up buying both books. Genki plus workbook, and MNH plus the supplements ( workbooks, listening book, reading practice)…. Like I said… Bananas😅.
    Both methods are really good, MNH lessons are shorter (25 lessons total) so they seem more approachable, given I’m doing the full workbooks load too. They bring 3-4 grammar points per lesson, with the respective dialogue and vocabulary.
    Genki plus the workbook per week it’s a bit harder , 6-7 grammar point’s, sometimes one of those can be really thick, so it takes time to grasp. The dialogues are much more the same, different context (university life vs. Corporate life more oriented in MNH).
    The textbook in Genki it’s more classroom oriented , a lot of pair exercises😕. But the workbook solves this.
    As for the kanji… MNH doesn’t teach kanji, and honestly the MNH supplement it’s not very good (I bought it too). But then even though this could be a point for Genki here, neither of this methods are really good for kanji learning, which it’s a separate topic I think (me personally I’m doing the Heisig method plus the Kanken series).

    They are both terrific options to start, and if self learning I would recommend to get the supplements for MNH and the workbook for Genki (plus answer key).
    After 3.5 months (lesson 8 in both books so far) I feel they cover pretty much the same , vocabulary wise, grammar wise. Small differences, more polite vocabulary (and a bit old fashioned) in MNH.
    Study from both books doesn’t feels redundant if you wonder, so I totally recommend it. You get to review the vocabulary and grammar, in different context, and sometimes with some nuances explained in one the other book, that can be passed by in the parallel lesson on the the other book.
    Don’t depend on any to do your kanji learning, the way Genki does is it’s rely mainly on memory (mnemonics and more examples are a great tool, and you can find it in kanji methods). Even so I do the reading and writing lessons too, but I really can only say I’ve learned the kanji once I’ve gone over it in my kanji methods (Heisig o Kanken).
    Nice surprise was this last week to receive the 1st volume in the graded readers series and realize I could totally read it and get the story. So that was my confirmation that the textbook workload (I enjoy it, but after sometime it feels like work more than fun) it has totally paid off.

    So basically you can’t go wrong with any of the two. And actually can do both👍

    • Nicolás, thanks so much for posting your review! I think it would really help those that are trying to consider which series to get into. Also, good to know your kanji learning method. If I were starting from zero again, there are a lot of new ways to go about learning without rote memorization. 😛

      Seriously, great info!

  6. I’ve self-studied MNN and Genki to completion (both volumes of each series). I’m a native English speaker.

    I prefer the teaching style and explanations in Genki but MNN gives broader coverage so might set you up better for moving up to intermediate level.

    MNN positive points vs Genki:
    – MNN covers more vocab. I’d guess around 800 or so extra words vs Genki.
    – MNN covers more grammar points (although it doesn’t cover causative-passive form at all, which is included in Genki).
    – Reading speed improves quickly since the main book is all in Japanese.
    – It’s easy to use in a classroom where students don’t all speak English (this is more of an advantage for language schools perhaps…).
    – Chapters are small and focused on related points. Genki has larger chapters which can be overwhelming.

    Genki positive points vs MNN:
    – More varied exercises in the book. Since the MNN textbook is all in Japanese, the exercises are very basic ‘replace this blank with a word’. To put it another way, you hardly need to think at all when working through MNN exercises. As a result, the material doesn’t stick as well as it could.
    – More flexible structure on grammar explanations. MNN gives good but terse grammar explanations in the translation booklet (everything has to fit inside two sides of a page). I noticed that Genki will often have footnotes and caveats about usage/nuance, which I found quite handy.
    – Less books to buy. I like that the Genki book has vocab, grammar, exercises and reading comprehension in one book (the reading comprehension stuff is really nice to see your progress). With MNN you need to buy yet another supplementary book for extra reading practice (in the past you even had to buy the CD separately for 30$ which is quite ridiculous).
    – Slightly more focused on plain speaking styles that you can use with your friends. MNN is relatively stiff and formal.
    – I found the university setting in Genki a bit more engaging than the corporate setting in MNN.

    Either series should set you up well for passing N4 but maybe not acing the test. Both series lack a bunch of minor grammar points that could theoretically come up (I sat the old level 3 after completing MNN 2 but still had to learn about 20 or so extra grammar points just to be sure I had covered all bases).

    • Gavin, I can’t thank you enough for sharing your experience and knowledge with both textbooks. I will definitely reference your post for others looking for a textbook to study Japanese.

      Having read through your thoughts, if I had to start again I would be inclined to choose Genki, but everyone has their preference. Thanks so much!

  7. Hello from France !

    I have read carefully your various reviews and I think it’s valuable to anyone who really dive seriously into japanese by his own. The comment section gives a lot of informations as well, especially for lower grades, which is a nice addition.
    As a beginner, or kind of, I want to progress by myself more quickly and effectively. I feel kind of stuck at the moment, maybe because I can’t find the way to improve, to keep interested because doing it by myself, all alone, makes me, somehow, frustrated… Anyway, from your reviews, I think I have find a way to solve my problem.

    I’ve made a list of books that should help me going throw basics knowledge without making it neither too boring or repetitive.
    I’d like your feedback and eventually your expertise in regard, because I’m sure I can make this list even better with your help.

    So, here we go :

    – Genki 1&2 + Answer key (for general basic learning up to JLPT 4) ;
    – Try! N5, N4 and N3 (mainly for grammar and general improvement of my basic knowledges) ;
    – Japanese graded readers (one volume of each. It should help me not get bored while making me used to classic and somehow usefull reading stories ;

    Now, I’m not sure about the listening section, so I’d be more than happy to get your personal opinion and advises.

    Finally, sorry for my english. It’s far to be perfect ! 🙂

    • Hello Rémi and thank you for taking the time to comment!

      My advice is don’t buy too many books at once. It will be overwhelming and you might spread yourself too thin.
      The book list you wrote seems like a great choice.

      For listening, I think the Sou Matome series is fine for JLPT practice. If you want more news listening, I would recommend NHK News Radio.

      If I may ask, what is your current level in Japanese?

      • My current level is probably between JLPT 5 and 4, but because I learned by myslef, it’s hard to tell.

        I used the Heisig method for kanjis : « Remember the Kanj », and for everything else « Japanese step by step » by gene Nishi back. it was back in 2012, and right now, after a long break, I’m using the website Japan Activator as my main tool, crossed with SRS Anki, but I want more to improve quicker.

        Thank you for your advise about the listening part. I’m gonna check the Sou Matome series too beside all the other books, and as you said, I should try to reduce the volume, at first, to the minimum to not get overwhelming !

        Maybe I should slip my learning journey like this :

        JLPT 5 & 4 with Genki 1&2 + Answer key ; Try! N5, N4 ; Japanese graded readers 0.X, 1.X, 2.X ; Sou Matome N4 & N5 Listening.

        When I will feel confortable, I will go for JLPT 3 level with Try! N3 ; Japanese graded readers 3.X, 4.X and Sou Matome N3 Listening.

        I feel like it’s more digest this way, but still 10 books for JLPT 5 and 4 !

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