Top 9 Japanese Books for Low-Intermediate Level Students

Low-intermediate students of Japanese are just beginning to master the basics, and are ready to dive head first into more complex skills.  This is where you’ll spend a lot of time adding to your foundation in all areas of Japanese.  There’s a lot to learn, but the material at this level is very useful.  You’ll be using the Japanese skills you learn at this level A LOT.
A low-intermediate level student should be able to:

Here are some of the best books for you to study at this level.  At a low-intermediate level of Japanese, you will be learning some of the best grammar and vocabulary words that you can use to have daily conversations with people.  You should put an emphasis on speaking Japanese at this level.  Speaking is the best, and probably the fastest way to improve all areas of your Japanese.  My highest recommendation for learning Japanese at this level is the lessons on Japanesepod101.

 1.  The Best Overall Book:  Genki II:  An Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese II

This is probably one of the most popular textbooks used to study Japanese in a classroom setting.  There’s a good reason for this.  It’s a pretty awesome book to learn Japanese!

The first book in the series, Genki I, moved too fast for an absolute beginner of Japanese.  However, once you master the basics, Genki II does an amazing job of teaching you low intermediate level Japanese.

The strength of this book lies in the fact that it is simple and easy to understand, but teaches you a lot of material in a very academic way.

This book teaches you Japanese by first introducing a dialogue.  Then you’ll be show new words and grammar.  I find this style of teaching to be very effective, and made it easy to remember the material.

However, some of the conversations can be a little too simple, which makes it sound unnatural.  The material can be a little bit scattered, so you might have to flip through the pages to find specific information that you want.

Overall, I haven’t found a low-intermediate level book that is as good as Genki II.

At Glance:

Pros:

  • Nice and effective method of learning Japanese
  • Simple and easy to understand
  • Covers all areas of Japanese:  Speaking, reading, writing, and listening (CD)
  • Genki I users will be familiar with the format

Cons:

  • Material could be organized better (might need to flip through the book to find information you need for a certain lesson)
  • Dialogues can sometimes be too simple for this level

Buy it from Amazon here:  Genki: An Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese II [Second Edition] (Japanese Edition) (English and Japanese Edition)

 

2.  Accompanying Workbook:  Genki:  An Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese Workbook 2

This is the workbook that goes along with the Genki II textbook.  It provides you with exercises that will help you to understand and remember the material from the textbook.

However, I feel it isn’t 100% necessary to get the workbook.  There are some exercises in the textbook itself.  Those exercises, along with writing your own notes, can be sufficient.

However, if you want more exercises and to help with your learning, this is the perfect companion to the textbook

At a Glance:

Pros:

  • Provides more exercises to help you understand and remember the material from the textbook
  • Nicely formatted

Cons:

  • Not 100% necessary.  Mostly for extra practice.
  • Need to buy answer key to check your work.

Buy it from Amazon here:  Genki: An Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese, Workbook 2, 2nd Edition (Book & CD-ROM) (English and Japanese Edition)

You can buy the answer key here

 

3.  Most Fun to Study:  Japanese from Zero 4

The Japanese from Zero series once again comes out on top due to its fun teaching style and easy to understand explanations.  Because of its easy to read format and style of writing, you can go through this book rather quickly.  The most important point is that this book teaches you real-world Japanese that you would actually hear and use in Japan.

I feel that volume 4 is especially useful when it comes to spoken Japanese. Here’s a small sample of things you’ll learn in this book:

  • Formal Japanese (very useful to know)
  • More kanji
  • If / then statements
  • It’s okay/not okay (to do something)
  • Have you ever (talk about past experiences)
  • And much more

The whole books teaches you Japanese that you’ll definitely use with native speakers.  I used the grammar patterns taught in this book almost daily while I was living in Japan.

The one bad point about this book is that it can be seen as too “simple” or “childish” for serious and/or older learners of Japanese.  In my opinion, the simple explanations and nice illustrations made it easy to understand all of the material.

At a Glance:

Pros:

  • Real-world Japanese you’ll actually use
  • Well organized
  • Easy to understand explanations
  • Fun to study

Cons:

  • Can be seen as overly simple or “childish” by more serious or older students

Buy it from Amazon here:  Japanese From Zero! 4: Proven Techniques to Learn Japanese for Students and Professionals (Japanese Edition)

 

4.  The Ultimate Study Buddy:  A Dictionary of Intermediate Japanese Grammar

If you look at the books a serious learner of Japanese has, this intermediate grammar dictionary would defiantly be in their collection.

It is PACKED with information that you’ll be referring to over and over again.  This book has over 700 pages of details and insights to intermediate grammar patterns.

Since it is a dictionary, you can’t really use it on its own to learn the Japanese (even though it is written really well).  Using this dictionary together with another textbook will bring your Japanese to another level.

This is because it will help you to understand the nuance and subtle meanings of grammar that other books might not teach.  At the very least, this reference will help you to understand grammar patterns in much more detail.

Even though I consider myself an advanced student of Japanese, this book is on my desk and I still refer to in even till this day.  If you want to have a better understanding and learn Japanese more efficiently, this is a must have book.

At a Glance:

Pros:

  • Over 700 pages PACKED with useful information
  • Helps to understand grammar patterns better
  • Teaches you nuances and subtle meanings that other books don’t
  • Filled with tons of example sentences
  • You’ll refer to this book over and over

Cons:

  • Since this is meant to be a reference, you’ll need to use this together with other materials to learn the context and application of grammar patterns

Buy it from Amazon here:  A Dictionary of Intermediate Japanese Grammar

 

5.  Most Insightful Book:  Making Sense of Japanese:  What the Textbooks Don’t Tell You

This book does not teach you any new vocabulary or grammar patterns.  What it does is dive deep into specific areas of Japanese that most students have problems with.

For example, almost every student of Japanese has problems with the particles “wa” and “ga.”  I was no exception.  The explanation in this book opened up my eyes on difference between to use these two particles, and more importantly, how to use them correctly.

While I can’t say that I 100% mastered the “wa” and “ga” particles (there are some cases that still confuse me) I can say that this book helped me to use it right 90% of the time.  It was the explanation I was always looking for.

The author, Jay Ruben, goes on to give you insight about other mysteries of Japanese like the “subject less sentence,” or verbs of giving and receiving, and differences between similar words such as “shiru” and “wakaru” and “kimeru” vs. “kimaru.”

I consider this book to also be a reference.  When I was at a low intermediate level of Japanese, I only understood a few parts of the book.  But as I learned more, I kept referring to this book to give me insights on things that confused me.

It definitely is one of the books that brought my Japanese to another level

At a Glance:

Pros:

  • Gives insight that other books don’t talk about
  • Helps you to understand the subtle differences between the meaning of Japanese words and particles
  • Addresses areas of Japanese that most students have problems with

Cons:

  • The Romaji translations are sometimes long and complex, which makes it difficult to read

Buy it from Amazon here:  Making Sense of Japanese: What the Textbooks Don’t Tell You

 

6.  Real-World Japanese Book:  A Guide to Japanese Grammar: A Japanese Approach to Learning Japanese Grammar

This book is awesome for 3 reasons:

  1. It explains things and gives insight to Japanese grammar that are missing from many books
  2. It has teaches real-world Japanese, even slang
  3. The author, Tae Kim, is awesome. Pretty much all the material in this book can be found for free, on this website here

Yup, you can get virtually all of the information in this great book free on this website.  This book was printed for those who prefer a hardcopy (which might be better for learning).

This books covers a lot of material, and teaches it very well.  I used this material to supplement my other books.  To put it simply, it’s a great book

At a Glance:

Pros:

  • Useful insights not fully explained in other books
  • Teaches useful Japanese grammar, and even casual/slang expressions
  • Material can be found for free on website

Cons:

  • At the time of this writing the book was printed in black and white, which made some charts harder to understand.

Buy it from Amazon here: A Guide to Japanese Grammar: A Japanese approach to learning Japanese grammar

 

7.  Speak Smooth Japanese:  Basic Connections:  Making Your Japanese Flow

This book does a great job at teaching you how words, clauses, and sentences come together.  In doing so, you’ll learn how to speak more effectively, and smoothly.

The books first teaches you some very basic sentence patters and connection words, which you probably already know as an low-intermediate level student.

Then it starts to pick up.  The author goes on to teach you about Japanese expressions that are commonly used incorrectly.  I found this section to be very insightful.  The rest of the book teaches you other miscellaneous connections, which are useful to improve your speaking ability.

At a Glance:

Pros:  

  • Gives good details and information about common problems that students have
  • Helps to improve your speaking ability by connecting your words and sentences together

Cons:

  • Not a stand-alone book.  Must use with other books
  • Must have an understanding of basic/intermediate level Japanese

Buy it from Amazon here:  Basic Connections: Making Your Japanese Flow

 

8.  Best Book for Learning Kanji:  Remembering the Kanji

This is the best book when it comes to remembering the meaning of each kanji character, as well as how to write them.

However, this book does not teach you the Japanese reading of each character.  It only gives you a one word definition of teach character in English.  So you’ll need to study his second kanji book to learn all of the readings.  So learning Kanji by this method becomes a 2 step process.

Why would you do this?  Because it WORKS.

By remember what each character means, I was able to look at kanji in Japan and work out what they meant.  Also, the meaning given to each character helps you to remember how to write and remember all of the kanji.  I had much more success with this method than the other traditional methods of learning the reading, writing, and meaning all at once.

At a Glance:

Pros:

  • Best way to remember how to write and recognize kanji in the shortest amount of time
  • One word definitions make it easy to remember the meanings of each characters
  • Remembering characters by breaking them down into smaller parts is ingenious

Cons:

  • Learning how to read kanji becomes a 2-step process

Buy it from Amazon here:  Remembering the Kanji 1: A Complete Course on How Not to Forget the Meaning and Writing of Japanese Characters

 

9.  Best Overall Kanji Book:  The Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Course:  A Step-by-Step Guide to Mastering 2300 Characters

In the review above, I just said that the Remembering the Kanji by James Heisig book is the best way to recall all of the commonly used kanji.  So why am I recommend this book as well?

This book is a great alternative to the Remembering the Kanji book.  It teaches you how to remember, read, and write teach kanji.  It’s a one step process.  However, I think the Heisig method is better at helping you remember each character.

Even better yet, you could use this together with the Remembering the Kanji book.

If you live in Japan, you’ll typically see the same kanji over and over in places like restaurants or stores.  You can practice how to write those kanji using the Heisig method, then use this book to see how to read it.  This will give you a head start to remembering all of the readings of each kanji.  Doing it this way will allow you to read kanji in textbooks as well, so you can immerse yourself in this complex writing system.

This book is excellent, and can be used to remember all of the kanji without the use of the Remembering the Kanji book if you choose.

At a Glance:

Pros:

  • Excellent organization of characters
  • Good examples on how to remember each character
  • Tons of vocabulary to learn as well as kanji
  • Breaks down kanji into similar radicals
  • Nice progression of kanji

Cons:

  • I feel the Heisig method allows you to remember how to recognize and remember each character easier and quicker

Buy it from Amazon here:  The Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Course: A Step-by-Step Guide to Mastering 2300 Characters

If there’s any books we’ve missed or any if you have any comments, feel free to write them below.

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