Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Course Review: Is It A Waste of Time?

By Donald Ash | Japanese Kanji

Kodansha Kanji Learner's Course Review

Today we'll take an in-depth look at a a kanji-learning textbook in this Kodansha Kanji Learner's Course Review...

Remember when you started studying Japanese and you thought, “This is fun!” “This is exciting.”

You started learning those basic phrases and actually started remembering them! You even got that hiragana stuff down without even breaking a 汗 (あせ-sweat).

You started wondering what all the “learn Japanese” fuss was about. THIS is one of the hardest languages to learn…PSSH, whatever.

But somehow or another you stumbled on a trainload of Japanese symbols that you couldn’t read whatsoever: KANJI!

In hiragana/katakana fashion, you started studying the kanji too. "SURELY it couldn’t be as hard as everyone is making it out to be, can it?"

Just a few short days in you got that swift, rather sobering kick in the pants revealing that not only is kanji as hard as everyone made it out to be…it may be even harder for you because you don’t have a formal teacher

It’s right when some people get into the early stages of kanji, that Japanese self-study goes from something fun and interesting to something that requires some form of consistent, structured practice. There are so many kanji (over 2000 if you want to be able to read almost anything). There are so many that look alike. There are so many ways to read each one.

Learning kanji may very well be one of the toughest endeavors you’ve ever attempted.

Wait. Why are you sitting in seiza? Why do you have that small dagger? NO!!!!

(Donnie runs in slow motion and grabs your wrist just in time!)

WHEW! That was close!  Before you go 切腹-ing (seppuku-ing) yourself, I have a book I’d like to share with you. It’s called THE KODANSHA KANJI LEARNER’S COURSE. And if you’ve been struggling to get those kanji to stick, it may be just the book for you:

A Kodansha Kanji Learner's Course Review | Recommended Japanese Levels: Upper Beginner - Advanced


This is where Kodansha "shines bright like a diamond!"

The kanji course is set up in a way that's simple & logical for even the newest of newbie kanji students.

Grouping like symbols together, clearly showing stroke order, and keeping explanations only as long as they need to be, helps reduce kanji overwhelm .

You get a clearer understanding of a complex subject from page one.


Highly Effective.

While won't say that you're going to be able to instantly know how to read as soon as you crack open the book, you WILL have moments you come across kanji that you couldn't remember, but now you can because of the course.

In my opinion, this system is more effective in helping wiht character recall (which IS important!) than it is with kanji reading.


The Kodansha Kanji Learner's Course is pretty reasonably priced.  But I would say that I slightly under-delivers on the "course aspect of the book.  

As a result I think a slightly lower price would be justified, but only slightly.

All things considered, it's one of those essentials to have in your Japanese learning library...a solid buy. 


Don't panic!

Kodansha has the same weakness that most textbooks in it's class does...there's nowhere for the self-studier to go for assistance.

When you're studying that gets to be as complex as kanji, I think this is vital.

Is the book still crazy useful.  YOU BET! But this review looks at the great stuff as well as the shortcomings. 

Please note that this post does contain affiliate links, and I do get commission when you purchase from links on this page.
Even though I'm happy to be a Kodansha Kanji Course owner and user, but Kodansha will receive the same thorough breakdown (good and bad) that all of the books & courses do in the Japan Guy Reviews. ONWARD!


I think the title says it all – The Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Course: A Step-by-Step Guide to Mastering 2300 Characters. Andrew Conning’s course attempts to systematically help English speakers make sense of one of the biggest Japanese challenges they will ever face, learning to read & understand kanji symbols. Why does the book focus on 2300 symbols? Well there are 2136 that the Japanese Ministry of Education lists as regular-use kanji the JOYO kanji (this will constantly change and flux). The Kodansh Kanji Learner’s Course also includes an additional 164 kanji that are useful, but not designated in this official list. The reasoning behind this is that if you know all 2300 of these (I mean genuinely know them) you will have the ability to read just about any newspaper, magazine, etc. here in Japan. The core principle of the system is to use memory aids to make the kanji stick. Does it work? Keep reading this Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Course Review to find out!


What makes the Kodansha Kanji Leaner's Course worth its salt? Why is it a better purchase than some of the other kanji books out there today?

  • 1. Simple Yet Memorable Kanji Explanations
  • 2. Comprehensive Kanji
  • 3. Very Useful Indices and Appendices
  • 4. Related Kanji Are Grouped Together
  • 5. Non-Stuffy Instruction
  • 6. Confusing Character Cross-Reference

...(Click each section below to read more)...

1. Simple Yet Memorable Kanji Explanations

2. Comprehensive Kanji

3. Very Useful Indices & Appendices

4. Related Kanji Are Grouped Together

5. Non-Stuffy Instruction

6. Confusing Character Cross-Reference


Then this just might be the book to do it. There lot of positives to this book. It's worth trying.


Let's take a look at three of the major shortcomings of the Kodansha Kanji Learner's Course:

  • 1. Some Kanji Explanations Don't Stick
  • 2. No Units or Sections
  • 3. No Area to Practice Writing Kanji

...(Click each section below to read more)...





If after the full, pros & cons, Kodansha Kanji Learner's Course Review, you feel like it's still right for you, Try It!


    • The Japanese student who doesn’t have a teacher for whatever reason

      (Scheduling, money, or just lazy arseness
    • Those of you you enjoy simplicity.

      The Kanji Learner’s Course gets right into it: here are the characters, here’s what they mean, and here’s how you read them.
    • Open-Minded Students
      Some times it takes little bit of creativity to grasp or understand some of the creative mnemonics that com up throughout the book.
    • LEVEL: Upper beginner to advanced-level Japanese students


  • Students who learn kanji better via rote memorization and structured drill, I think there are better book options out there for you.

    Don’t feel bad about it, either!  If this isn’t the book for you, but for the love of Konoha (Naruto reference) please find a book that suits you. There will be a lot more reviews to come if you need help.
  • Students who lack discipline.

    Sorry, DISCIPLINE NOT INCLUDED!  Because one of the shortcomings of The Kodansha Kanji Learner's Course is structure, you probably need better than average discipline to realize it's full value.
  • LEVEL: Brand newbie Japanese students 


The Kodansha Kanji Learner’s course is designed for you to follow the kanji in sequence. I generally do the following eight things to not only get the meaning but to get the kanji to stay in my head:

  • STEP 1. Look at the character, CAREFULLY (differences may be more minor than you think)
  • STEP 2. Read the basic meaning
  • STEP 3. Read the note on how to easily remember the kanji’s meaning
  • STEP 4. Scribble down the character five-ten times (maybe more if it’s one that’s hard to remember)
  • STEP 5. Read the compounds
  • STEP 6. Write the compounds with circled superscripts  (*The circled compounds (words) are common readings)
  • STEP 7. Review every 10-15 characters
  • STEP 8. Rinse/Repeat

I generally like to have a notepad nearby when I use this book because there are not places to actually write the kanji in the book as I mentioned in the “bad” section (it’s not a bad a idea to write in your page margins, though). Writing is one of the most useful ways to acquire the kanji that you’re studying. It’s almost like kanji muscle memory.

Step number 6 is HUGE!! I have found that writing the kanji compounds has been one of the most useful steps in actually being able to read the kanji I come across.

I have never really found memorizing on-yomi (Japanese readings) and kun-yomi (Chinese readings) in isolation very effective. Hopefully that tip will reach someone out there who’s struggling.

As an intro to Japanese Genki One would beat or provide serious competition for even the best beginner textbooks on market today. It’s a solid course that delivers.


The Kodansha Kanji Learner's Course got a whopping 4.8 out of 5 stars on Amazon, probably one of the highest rated Japanese books around, and understandably so...it kicks major butt!


Back when I purchased this textbook, it cost me $34.00, but that was a while back and undoubtedly prices have changed. I’ve seen Amazon listings (as of 2017) for less than $30.00. At those prices, you’re getting one hell of a deal.


You should be able to find this book in any bookstore that has a good, foreign books section here in Japan. Yaesu Book Center and Maruzen come to mind. Keep in mind, though that for some reason you’ll end up paying noticeably more when you buy the books in Japanese book stores. If you’re in a hurry and need the book in hand ASAP, the bookstore is cool. If you want to save money, though, it’s got to be Amazon all-day-long (you can click the button below):


The jury is still out on this one. I gonna have to reserve judgement for now.  Despite having just done a full, in depth, Kodansha Kanji Learner's Course Review, I have to fully go through one other WILDLY popular kanji course (Heisig's Remembering the Kanji...perhaps you've heard of it?) and compare.  After going through both, I will update this section with my honest answer. 


Keep in mind that kanji is only aspect of learning Japanese. While I think having functional understanding of kanji does reflect, to some degree, your knowledge of the Japanese language, being able to speak and understand do, too.


Kodansha Kanji Learner's Course Review

All in all I thought that the Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Course was EXTREMELY well thought out.

It reads far more like a reference book than an actual course, so the title may be a bit misleading to some. However, this does not take away from how useful this book is!

I don’t think book is structured to suit true beginners. But I do HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT for intermediate and advanced students who are struggling to remember kanji.

If I had to grade this book like the A-F grades we used to get in school. I’d give it a solid ‘B.’


As of 2017, I still have my (now dogeared) copy of The Kodansha Kanji Learner's Course. It's even more useful for me today, than the day I decided to buy it.  

Have you tried this textbook before? I'd love to hear your thoughts (good, bad, or neutral) in the comments section below.

If any of you are purchasing for the first time, and you've got questions...I'll do the best I can to help with what knowledge I have.

You can reach me via the “Contact Me” form in the menu bar at the top of this page.


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Japanese Textbooks ain't your thing? You many want to try Japanesepod101.


About the Author

Donald Ash is an Atlanta, Georgia-born, American expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last eleven years. While in that time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator of thejapanguy.com blog. Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.

  • Xaromir says:

    How come you don’t use something like WaniKani? It’s rather good. Reminds me that I should go back to learning. Motivation is a bitch.

    • Starbitrator says:

      I’ve tried wani kani and everything else, and Conning’s book is by far the best. Use its Memrise course for automated study. In a year or two everyone will be using Conning’s system.

  • thejapanguy says:

    Good question, Xaromir. I know that WaniKani is a great application and support it 100%.
    I actually interviewed Kouichi about WaniKani a bit this interview: https://www.thejapanguy.com/the-man-who-successfully-created-a-crabigator/

    Right now, I’m open to all kinds of learning tools and applications, as long as that core goal of actually improving my Japanese all-around happens. The only reason I’m not using WaniKani at the moment is because I have other materials that I’m trying focus on.

    • Starbitrator says:

      I’ve tried wani kani and everything else, and Conning’s book is by far the best. Use its Memrise or Anki courses for SRS (Anki is much better if you know how to use it).

      This is the best Anki course:

      This is the best Memrise course:

      Pretty soon everyone will be using Conning’s system.

  • V says:

    Hi, Im trying to read the genki review but it keeps redirecting me back to the homepage. Can that link be fixed? Thanks

  • Florian says:

    Thanks for the review. Just placed my order. 🙂

  • Hi,
    I am just beginning to learn Japanese. Would you recommend this book over the “Remembering the Kanji” series by James Heisig ?

    • Adam Katz says:

      The Kodansha book is infinitely better than Remembering the Kanji.

    • Hard call on that one, CV. I know there are people out there who swear by Heisig’s “Remembering the Kanji.” I didn’t like it personally, BUT I bought the Kindle version (which apparently not very many people were fond of). I “browsed through” both books at my local bookstore for about and hour, and Kodansha just felt better to me. But it may be a different call for you.

  • jomteon says:

    I spent an embarassingly long time in the learning-about-learning Japanese phase, and I’m pretty sure I looked through 90% of all the available resources on learning kanji and this is, without a doubt, the best one I’ve come across yet. The mnemonics he provides are, for me, a perfect balance of incorporating historical meaning, readability, interest, and wise choices on when he needs to “Westernize” his explanations. I appreciate that the book doesn’t talk talk down to the reader and provides engaging and memorable information in a very compact space. I use it in conjunction with WaniKani, actually 🙂

  • Well, it’s a wonderful thing that you have created some information that helps other people about that kind of book and what will be the things that they can earn from it as a benefit. It will going to be a good thing for them especially if they are still students or having a work that needs to have the skills that this books is capable of giving them.

    • Thank you so much for that. I sincerely appreciate the feedback. I know there are aspects of learning Japanese that can be a struggle. Heck I definitely still have ones of my own that I’m creatively trying to deal with.

  • Mr Tanaka says:

    yeah kodansha book is really effective and we are providing this book in ebook format in just $5, snd yeah it s compatible with kindle devices.
    so if you are going to buy this then what are you waiting for just go to the link below and contact me and i will provide you this ebook in no time and if you mention this site then I will also provide an aditional ebook of your choice so what are you waiting for just go and place your order in hurry

    link= https://goo.gl/dMPuY7

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