This is one of the best “serious” beginner’s books in Japanese. It is supposed to be able to teach college students, high school students, and adults learning on their own, although I think it was definately meant for the former. If you are going to self-teach with this book, although if you’re already doing things via the input method (reading, watching tv and movies, and listening to a lot of Japanese) then you can skip the workbooks and CDs. You can practice for free via Lang-8 and get the pronunciation correct through lots of listening.
It uses everyday examples, which is a whole lot better than using business-type settings. Basically, you follow Mary, an American foreign exchange student, as she goes through University life, making friends, watching movies, ect. This structure gives the book a good flow, and it helps introduce Kanji gradually. By the end of these two volumes, the JLPT 4 or even 3 should be no sweat.
Building a person’s vocabulary is one thing that it does quite well. Too many Japanese books, and even online sources, give you a few example sentences to teach you basic sentence structure, and then they go give you an amazingly long list of vocabulary words for you to memorize. Genki does have vocabulary lists, but they do a good job of using the words over and over so that you don’t forget them. Again, this is very good, especially for people who learn like me and can’t stand staring at charts.
Speaking of staring at charts, that’s the one thing that may not be so good with this book. When I was a beginner, I learned characters primarily through Power Japanese. Being a textbook, Genki can’t really help but write all the kana and kanji out in charts. Luckily, it makes you read them for practice, but it would help if you learned the kana, at least hiragana, on your own before you pick up the book. That is, unless you’re a classroom student, but these reviews are geared primarily towards self-learners.
All in all, this series is proving to be one of the best beginner’s tools in the world of textbooks. Yes, it’s a little boring, but no beginner’s text isn’t. If you really want to get into the language, then this is for you.