Learning Japanese with anime sounds a little bit crazy.
I mean, you’re watching TV.
It seems way too easy to be studying!
But if you’re leaving TV and movies out of your learning regimen, you’re actually missing out.
With anime especially, it’s a valuable tool to build your vocabulary and pick up authentic Japanese. Just turn on those subtitles and watch how quickly your vocabulary grows and how much more natural your own Japanese speech becomes.
We’ll show you where to find tons of great subtitled Japanese anime shows across six different platforms.
But first, are you still skeptical?
Can Subtitled Anime Really Improve Your Japanese?
You know our answer: yes! There are a few reasons why you should add anime to your study plans.
For those of us who don’t have access to a large native Japanese-speaking population, anime is one of the best ways to supplement your access to daily conversations. It gives you authentic Japanese audio in a fun, meaningful and informal environment. And it’ll get you up to speed on how Japanese really sounds without making people repeat themselves—just rewind, no judgement!
You’ll also get to hear many types of speakers, representing a variety of ages, different genders and sometimes accents. There are seven major dialects of Japanese to contend with and you’ll hear a few, usually Tokyo and Osaka, in anime. Depending on the setting and time period you may hear some of the others. But you should know that Tokyo is the dialect of most Japanese media.
Anime can also teach you valuable cultural information about levels of manners in interactions. These can be notoriously hard to gauge for students who don’t come from languages with built-in levels of formality. It can be hard to know when to use them and when you’re giving the wrong impression.
The subtitles give an important additional boost to your language skills. You may be one of the fans who prefers dubbed anime. There’s nothing wrong with that, but to use anime for language practice, you’ll need to watch with Japanese subtitles. That way, you can learn new Japanese words both spoken and in writing.
The subtitles provide helpful context, especially for students who can’t quite catch everything from the audio alone. They’ll help you pay attention to key issues like pitch and intonation without losing the thread of the story.
Beginners who don’t have an expansive vocabulary yet may want to start with English subtitles. We’ll provide options for viewing with Japanese and English subtitles below.
What Type of Anime Should You Watch?
Even if your tastes run towards them, you should avoid magic and steampunk themes, as you’ll encounter highly specialized vocabulary from them. Learning how to say “Half dog demon” may be a lot of fun, but it probably won’t help you in real life conversations. At least not very often.
So, you’ll want to focus more on day-to-day style anime. Solid genre options include: high school friendship anime, romance anime and lifestyle dramas. These should have plenty of examples of the kind of everyday conversations you’ll become fluent with.
If you’re not familiar with these genres, this article gives some specific suggestions on the best titles to get started learning Japanese with anime.
Watch Real Japanese Anime with Subtitles: 6 Killer Platforms
Netflix may be the best known streaming service on the web. They have a modest selection of anime, including some original anime that they’re creating on their own. Better yet, you can easily see what anime is available with subtitles thanks to the site Anime on Netflix. That’ll significantly cut your time looking around to find something with subtitles.
There’s also a slice of life section where you can find shows that’ll let you hear common conversations.
Netflix’s anime selection is, at this stage, very limited. So, you should think of this as a place to begin, more than as a comprehensive library of audio samples to help with your Japanese study.
The costs for Netflix run about $7.99 for a basic account, but there are other options that’ll cost you more. On the bright side, if you want to have a service that’ll give you more than just anime (or if you’re sharing your account with another person) it’s a nice option. You can find information on turning on/off subtitles from the help page—it varies by device.
Crunchyroll boasts anime that’s available one day after it releases in Japan, and even offers a few simulcasts.
While the library here’s massive, it’s important to note that you’re going to have to manually search for subtitles. In other words, click the videos you’re interested in and see if subtitles are there—you can quickly check by looking at the “About this video” box to the right of the video player. Fortunately, most videos have subtitles, often in several different languages.
Crunchyroll is a paid service if you want access to everything, but there are some options that are free with ads. Costs for paid access to Crunchyroll depend on whether you go month-to-month or commit to a full year. The lowest price per month is $6.95.
If you want to be completely sure that any anime show you watch has subtitles, FluentU is for you. FluentU takes real-world videos—including anime clips as well as music videos, movie trailers, inspiring talks and more—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
Unlike regular video players, FluentU actively teaches you Japanese with interactive subtitles. You can click any word for an in-context definition, visual learning aid and native pronunciation, plus links to other videos where the word appears so you know how to use it in any context. The subtitles are in both Japanese and English, but you can simply toggle off the English for a tougher language workout.
Each video also comes with tailor-made flashcards and exercises to help you remember the words when you’re done watching.
The videos are organized by genre and learning level, so it’s easy to find something that interests you. Plus, FluentU suggests videos based on what you’ve already watched, for a truly personalized learning experience.
You can explore the full video library with FluentU’s learning tools for free with a FluentU trial.
Funimation is a mixed site, with free content and aggressive marketing. It’s important to know that it’s not available in all countries and there are some changes to the lineup/availability fairly frequently. It’s best to keep an eye on their Twitter feed to see when things are down for work.
Just click the gear in the lower right corner to toggle subtitles on or off. This is probably a better resource for beginners since subtitles are mainly available in English.
You’ll only get anime that’s put out by Funimation, and you can get a lot of the same content on Crunchyroll (where you’ll also get content by other anime producers).
Funimation does have an official YouTube channel of Japanese subtitled anime as well, which is great for watching anywhere. Just be sure to change your language settings to Japanese and change your location to Japan, or all of the videos will translate (or filter out) to your native language. If you’re still having trouble you could just try starting from the Japanese YouTube site.
The Anime Network is a channel you can get through TV streaming services including Roku and HIDIVE. Subscribing to the channel costs about $6.99 per month, and everything is separated out by genre. You’ll get a mix of subtitled anime and dubbed anime, but you won’t know which is being offered until you select the show.
The selection is strong in genres such as romance, fantasy and horror. You may have trouble with historical-based series or dramas on this network being in English instead of Japanese, so be patient with your searches.
Hulu is another well-known streaming service that has a mix of anime and non-anime content. The anime listings are surprisingly robust, but geared towards a younger audience up to people in their mid-20s. The selection is so nice that Anime Underground made a list of the best 50 titles on Hulu.
Turning on subtitles will depend on the device that you’re using, but you can find a comprehensive how-to here. It’s important to know that the site leans towards dubbed anime, so you may have some trouble finding the show that you want in Japanese. However the auto-generated subtitles are of high quality, so you’re far less likely to have the same problems with auto-translation that you have with YouTube options.
In the end you have a lot of options for subtitled anime for Japanese language learning.
Just be sure to pick anime that’ll give you vocabulary that you can actually use!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Japanese with real-world videos.