I was at a convention the other day talking about how beginners can learn Japanese for anime and manga. At the end one person asked me. “I was thinking of starting Japanese with Rosetta Stone, but is it worth the price tag?” I’d never used Rosetta Stone but after asking others everyone said: nope. Which got me thinking, do you need to break the bank to learn Japanese? Here are some cheap Japanese language options for beginners and intermediate.


There are plenty of free resources online (such as flashcard programs Anki and Memrise) that are easy to find. But the following are all low-cost alternatives. Sometimes people prefer to invest a little money into their learning. Knowing what to invest your money in, on the other hand, can be a little tricky.

I like to invest a little money into Japanese to help make me feel accountable. I have a huge pile of Japanese language books from my many years of studying Japanese. But not all of them have been that useful!

Which is why I’ve put a list of my favorite resources and investment suggestions together…


Cheap Japanese Resources

Note: Amazon prices change often so the actually prices may be slightly different from below.

Cheap Japanese hiragana and katakanaJapanese Hiragana & Katakana for Beginners

Price: $12.50

This is one of my top recommendations for brand-new beginners.

You should try and learn the Japanese alphabets (hiragana and katakana) first and this is a great place to start.

It doesn’t just teach you hiragana and katakana, it teaches you them through basic vocabulary. Right from the start you learn very simple words and how to write them.

It even comes with a CD so you can start to practice your listening and correct pronunciation.

I suggest you don’t write in this book. Write in a note-book or create your own flashcards so you can use the book over and over again.


Cheap Japanese kanji for beginnersJapanese Kanji for Beginners

Price: $14.50

This book is from the same series as Japanese Hiragana & Katakana for Beginners. It covers beginners kanji (JLPT N5 and N4) in a logical way, by grouping them by topic. I.e., People, time, animals, verbs etc. This makes it easier to learn them by chunks, in context with one another. (Rather than random kanji in an arbitrary order that doesn’t make sense.)

This book is also great because it teaches you the vocabulary that uses the kanji you’re learning! It highlights which words have different readings from normal.

AND it comes with a CD to help you practice your listening and correct pronunciation.

I suggest you don’t write in this book. Write in a note-book or create your own flashcards so you can use the book over and over again.


Cheap Japanese speak Japanese in 90 daysSpeak Japanese in 90 Days: A Self Study Guide to Becoming Fluent

Price: $12.50

I was a little blown away by this book. It seems like the perfect book for beginners wanting to focus on their speaking, and is accessible to people who do and don’t know the Japanese alphabets. (I kind of wish I had this book as a beginner.)

The book is made up of 90 lessons with about 10 vocabulary a day and one or two grammar points.

The idea is that you practice these everyday by creating your own flashcards and saying everything out loud. This is something I’ve said myself in A Simple Way to Start Speaking Japanese. Practicing your Japanese out loud is key!

Each lesson teaches core vocabulary and grammar which you’ll find useful for daily-life Japanese.


Cheap Japanese the spoken languageJapanese the Spoken Language

Price: $45

This book is a little steeper in cost, but also worth it.

It’s very similar to Speak Japanese in 90 Days, but it only focuses on two thing: grammar and pronunciation.

The entire book teaches you Japanese phonetically, which can be strange at first but fantastic in the long-run.

It also teaches you grammar in such a logical manner that you won’t need another grammar book ever again. You will be able to conjugate any verb easily after working through this book.

The only downside is the lack of vocabulary and lack of guidance for people teaching themselves.

Japanese the Spoken Language – Part 2 is about $48.


nihongo tango speed masterNihongo Tango Speed Master (aka Quick Mastery of Vocabulary in Preparation for the JLPT)

Price: $27.50 – $31.00

I LOVE these books. I picked up the Intermediate and Advanced books and boosted my vocabulary with 5000 new words!

The books give you vocabulary broken up into chapters and sorted by topic. This is fantastic for learning related words and their kanji!

It provides example sentences for how the words are used, a CD and a card to hide the answers with so you can quiz yourself!

I wrote a review with a some tips on how you could use this book here: Review of Nihongo Tango Speed Master


Cheap Japanese dirty japaneseDirty Japanese

Price: $10

Dirty Japanese is a fun phrase book with some surprisingly useful information. It contains incredibly colloquial language which you don’t want to use in everyday life.

I suggest it, however, because it’s great for learning words and phrases that you’ll see a lot in anime, manga and dramas. Especially if there are yakuza or yankees involved.


Tobira (Japanese – English Intermediate to Advanced Textbook)

Price: $47

Cheap Japanese tobira Japanese intermediate advanced

This is another book that’s on the higher end of the price scale, however it is worth the cost if you are at intermediate (JLPT N3-N2) level Japanese.

This book is fantastic for people teaching themselves Japanese as it provides you with vocabulary and grammar for a wide range of subjects. It explains things in a way you can understand while also giving you lots of Japanese example sentences.

The book doesn’t come with a CD, however you can get audio and video materials to practice with on the Tobira website FOR FREE.

You can also access practice worksheets for kanji, vocabulary and grammar from the website, which you can print off again, and again. So you never have to worry about writing in the book.

This book is perfect if you’ve just finished Genki or Minna no Nihongo and don’t know where to go next.


Invest Your Money in the Right Places

You should put your money into the areas you want to focus on most.

Let’s say you want to focus on speaking more than reading. Then get free flashcard programs for vocabulary and kanji, but buy some books for speaking.

Or if you want to focus on reading, then spend a little money on some kanji resources.


No matter what, I always suggest investing in a teacher.

Teachers are a great way to improve all aspects of your Japanese.

They’re great for starting to speak and listen, but also for remembering grammar and using the vocabulary you’re learning.

Getting the Most out of a Personal Japanese Teacher. – If you are interested in investing in a teacher, a good way to save money is to find one that’s right for you.

I recently started lessons with a new teacher who is a little more expensive than my previous teacher, but he’s WORTH it. Lessons with him are only $15 an hour and he is very good at pointing out my mistakes. At 2 lessons a week, that’s $30 a week or $120 a month. Which to me is a worthy investment.
(He speaks very fast though, so might not be good for beginners.)

I strongly suggest at least watching a bunch of introduction videos on italki and pick out a few teachers who feel right for you.

If you’re new to italki you can use this referral link to get $10 of italki credit.

Otherwise, local colleges and language schools may offer evening courses. Although I find these can go a little slower and are more expensive than one-to-one lessons online. But some people prefer in-person classes with other people.


Don’t waste your money on fancy lessons, programs or long-term subscription fees.

Don’t waste your money on a program that you think is good just because it’s well know. As I mentioned, I asked around and everyone said Rosetta Stone was a waste of time and money. You’re paying for the brand, not the quality of the material.


Subscription services can be good or bad. It really depends on you. Personally I’m terrible at keeping up with a subscription service, then I feel guilty for not using it. Kind of like a gym membership…

But many people like subscription services to force them to study on a regular basis. So they can be worthy investments if they work for you.

Cheap Japanese K-On money scene

At the end of the day it’s up to you what you want to invest your money in. I strongly suggest not buying a mountain of textbooks that you won’t use (like I’ve done… multiple times…). Buy one, work through it. Then get another if you find you want to study something different or keep working through the same series of books.

Remember, you don’t need to break the bank to get good quality Japanese language materials.


Cheap Japanese – You Don’t Need to Break the Bank to Learn Japanese
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