Is GENKI worth the money?


People are always asking us about Genki, as this textbook series is arguably the most popular Japanese learning material there is.

While it does have some pluses to it, there are also many things to be cautious about when using Genki, especially when using it as a primary resource due to the abundance of highly unnatural language that is taught throughout Genki.

What Genki does well

The physical book itself.

I (Niko) love the feel of the pages in these books. It’s simply fun to flip through the pages and think about learning the language. The book feels good in your hands.

Market saturation.

If you attend a school or an online lesson with a tutor, they’ll know what Genki is, and they may be accustomed to using it, which is convenient. If you switch tutors, for example, you can still pick up on the next chapter.

Pair exercises.

The books are designed to be used in a classroom, so they contain drills and activities that can be completed with a language partner. Although the sentences students are encouraged to use in these activities can be a bit strange and don’t match up well with real-world spoken Japanese, as they prioritize textbook "accuracy" over naturalness, it’s nice to be able to practice with another human like this.

Where Genki fails

I have a hard time criticizing other language educators.

The thing is, I am so appreciative of anyone who is trying to help other people learn the Japanese language, as doing so can really change a person’s life.

But people keep asking us about Genki, so here is my personal take.

In short, I would not recommend Genki as a primary learning material to virtually any learner of the language, and while I don’t have the space to write every reason why, if you dig into the content below, I suspect it will begin to become apparent why that is the case.

Price & value


Based on this Anki deck, there are somewhere around 1,369 vocab spread across Genki I, Genki II, and the Genki I vocab supplement book. It seems there are 500 to 600 vocab per textbook? It’s hard to find reliable numbers. It’s also hard to figure out which book people are using because there are different editions, versions, and workbooks included.

Based on this deck, it would seem that you get about 317 kanji from both books.

It depends on where you buy it, whether it is on sale, etc. but it seems each book usually costs between $40 and $50. Let’s be generous and say $40.

Based on that, for an $80 investment in their books, you get:

17 vocab and 4 kanji per $1.

(If you want a textbook bundle with the workbooks, which is currently sold on Amazon for $150, then it's closer to 9 vocab and 2 kanji per $1.)

Conversely, if we did one Unit of NS per day for an entire year, completing 365 Units, then you would learn *approximately 2,415 vocab and 1,725 kanji.

*I say "approximately" because I didn't ask the dev team to go into the database and double check these numbers. But we average 5 kanji and 7 vocab cards per Unit starting around Unit 20, which is what I used for this back-of-the-napkin calculation. Since it doesn't take lessons into account, the actual number is probably higher for vocab but quite accurate for kanji.

At the standard annual price ($185.88 for an annual sub), that means you’re looking at:

13 vocab and 9 kanji per $1.

But wait! It’s not that simple.


NativShark is a subscription, so if you subscribe and don’t actually use the platform, then these numbers change.

Additionally, there is no 1-year limit on a textbook. It can sit on your shelf and collect dust when you’re not using it, and it will still be there to pick up someday in the future. The downside to this is that it doesn’t get updated and improved in real-time based on student feedback, like this:


If you want better or more in-depth explanations with Genki, you have to look elsewhere or buy a new edition of the book when it comes out.

In any case, if it’s going to sit on your shelf, why are you buying it?

At NativShark, we don’t want you to buy a subscription if you’re not going to use it. We want you to learn Japanese. We don’t want to sell you the ephemeral dopamine burst of imagining that you’ll learn it. We actually want you to learn it.

Accordingly, if you buy a 1-year subscription, but then you don’t actually log in at all and use the product and we're able to confirm this, just email us (, and we’ll extend your access by some amount even after that subscription expires.

Another reason the above calculations are flawed is that they don’t factor in the value of your time. That is, they don’t factor in the logistics.

The logistics

Your time is valuable.

We’re not on this little planet for very long, so we want to make the most of our time here. One way we can do that is by avoiding unnecessarily inefficient study methods.

In other words, we want to avoid activities that take additional study time without providing an additional boost to your functional ability in the language.


  • Learning sentences that a native speaker would be very unlikely to use in the real world
  • Matching up downloadable audio files to a paper book when trying to improve pronunciation
  • Doing matching and fill-in-the-blank activities
  • Quizzing ourselves on grammar “rules” that you can learn if you simply expose yourself to the language as it is actually used
  • Studying lists of vocab that are not inside of sentences, and sentences that are not inside of specific contexts (this is especially important with a high-context language like Japanese)

From this perspective of logistics, Genki fails on almost every metric. It’s simply a highly inefficient learning material.

Unnatural language

A few times now, I’ve mentioned that the language in Genki is unnatural or doesn’t match up with how Japanese speakers actually… well, speak.

I should explain.

Let’s open the Genki I textbook to a random page. I’ve landed on page 258. Let’s use this sentence:

anata no shourai no yume wa nan desu ka.*
What is your dream for the future?

*I added the romanized version.

Japanese is a “high-context language” relative to other major languages. As a result, the exact thing you say differs widely depending on the situation in which you say it. For the sentence shown above, try to guess when you might say or write it:

A) When asking your Japanese teacher about their dreams
B) In a blog post on goal-setting
C) When talking to your spouse about the future
D) When addressing a classroom of elementary school students
E) In a late-night text message to someone you’ve been on a few dates with

💀💀 Thinking Space 💀💀

💀💀 Thinking Space 💀💀

💀💀 Thinking Space 💀💀

💀💀 Thinking Space 💀💀

💀💀 Thinking Space 💀💀

💀💀 Thinking Space 💀💀

The answer is B because the sentence is very stiff-sounding, and it fits to use the word あなた (anata) for “you” when you don’t know the name or title of the person being addressed.

A is wrong because it’s rude to call your teacher “you”.

You might be able to argue that C is right because some wives call their husbands あなた (anata), although the sentence is so stiff and formal that for most couples this would sound like a joke.

D is wrong because it would be more natural to say みんな (minna), “everyone”, to a group of children.

E is wrong because presumably you know the person’s name, so you would either use their name or just let them infer from context that you’re asking about them. Also, most native speakers would use a question mark in casual writing when asking a question instead of the Japanese period.

If you learn a Japanese sentence from a book or app and it doesn’t point out the specific context in which it is being used, then you’re probably going to use it incorrectly, even if you memorize it perfectly.

I have to mention that some learning materials — *cough* NativShark *cough* — provide the context when teaching sentences, in addition to filtering concepts so that you can stack comprehensible input.

Another good method to avoid context deficiency is to avoid learning materials and instead study content in which the context is built-in — for example, learning a sentence on a page of your favorite manga (Japanese comic book). The challenging part with this approach is that it’s extremely time-consuming and can be quite frustrating if you’re still a beginner. It’s also an imperfect approach because many fictional characters speak much differently from real native speakers.

Grammar concepts

Content-wise, if Genki gets a passing grade on anything, it is teaching the basics of grammar — parts of speech, sentence structure, conjugation patterns, and so on.

It was designed first and foremost to be used in classrooms. In other words, it was designed to teach quizzable content, and grammar "rules" are perfect for that, especially if you are willing to disregard the rule-breaking conventions used in natural speech.

Closing comments

I can’t go so far as to say the book is a complete waste of time or money.

If you like flipping through the paper pages and doing the exercises, I think it’s a perfectly good study material to use, especially as a supplement to one’s core studies.

I just wish that they also mentioned how the language is actually used when people talk. Because it is so lacking in this area, I cannot recommend it as a primary learning material.

Obviously I think a platform like NativShark is a better option for that. But I'm biased, so I recommend talking to the many people using and not using NativShark in our community, if you want a second or third opinion.

And remember that, even if something isn't efficient, good value, etc., doing anything is better than doing nothing. Showing up consistently over time will always be the most important metric.

Good luck with your studies!

Niko & the NativShark team

P.S. If you want to read more about the pitfals of textbooks, check out this article.