Watch Real Japanese Anime with Subtitles: 9 Killer Platforms
Learning Japanese with anime seems way too easy to be a study session.
But TV, movies and yes, even anime are valuable tools to build your vocabulary and pick up authentic Japanese—just turn on those subtitles and turn your binge sessions into opportunities for Japanese learning.
You’ll need to put in some work and watch actively, but the fun of watching anime combined with the helpful nature of subtitles will take you one step closer to Japanese fluency.
In this post, I’ll show you where to find tons of great subtitled Japanese anime shows across nine different platforms.
Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)
How Can Subtitled Anime Improve Your Japanese?
Can you really impotove your Japanese with anime?
You can probably already guess my answer: Yes!
That answer does come with a caveat: You’ll need to remember that anime has its own quirks and often, the language you hear isn’t quite the same as what you’d hear in the real world. However, if you keep this in mind and use anime as a supplement to more traditional Japanese learning resources, you’ll be able to reap the benefits of the genre.
There are a few great reasons why you should add anime to your study plans.
Anime exposes you to the Japanese language
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 our access to daily conversations. Watching anime gives you access to authentic Japanese audio in a fun, meaningful and (usually) informal environment. And it’ll get you up to speed on how Japanese really sounds without making people repeat themselves—just rewind, no judgment!
It allows you to hear many types of speakers
You’ll also get to hear many types of speakers, representing a variety of ages, different genders and distinctive 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 might also hear some of the others.
It introduces you to aspects of the Japanese culture
Anime can also teach you valuable cultural information and manners in social 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 be more formal and when you’re giving the wrong impression.
It exposes you to authentic Japanese content
Educational resources for learning Japanese are indispensable, but content made for learners will only get you so far. Watching anime exposes you to authentic Japanese content—that is, content made by Japanese speakers for other Japanese speakers to watch. This means that all the grammar, vocabulary and other language skills you’re learning with educational content like textbooks and lessons will be naturally reflected in the anime you watch.
That said, it can be easy to get sucked into the story or fall back on English subtitles. That’s why, in addition to the resources I mention in this post, I recommend that you use additional programs that turn anime (and whatever other real Japanese media you’re consuming) into an active learning experience.
Using the FluentU app and browser program, for example, is one way to turn your anime viewing into a learning session. FluentU has anime clips (and other authentic videos) with high-quality subtitles that provide on-demand contextual translations. This means you won’t be left wondering which definition of a word is being used in a particular sentence—an especially important feature when learning Japanese, since so much of the language is contextual.
You’ll also be able to turn any word into a flashcard that’ll show you grammar info, example sentences and other videos where the word is used, then practice your new flashcards with personalized quizzes that include typing and speaking questions.
The videos on FluentU are organized by skill level to make it easier to find level-appropriate content. In addition to movie clips, music videos, news segments and other real Japanese content, the program includes anime clips and trailers from popular shows like “Cells at Work,” “Dr. Stone,” “Pretty Precure” and more.
It lets you practice listening and reading skills
The addition of subtitles gives an important additional boost to your language skills.
You may be one of the fans who prefer dubbed anime. There’s nothing wrong with that, but to use anime for language practice, you’ll need to watch the anime in Japanese with Japanese subtitles (if possible). 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?
Not all anime is created equal. Some anime is very fun to watch but isn’t a great resource for learners. For example, even if you love them, you should avoid magic and steampunk themes, especially if you’re a beginner, 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.)
Instead, you’ll want to focus more on day-to-day-style anime. Solid genre options include high school friendship anime, romance anime, slice of life and lifestyle dramas. These should have plenty of examples of everyday conversations that you might actually use in real life.
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. I’ll also drop a few names as I go through the streaming services below, from a variety of genres to help you find something you’re sure to love (and love to learn with!).
How to Find Japanese Subtitles for Anime
Surprisingly, finding anime subtitled in Japanese is pretty difficult. Because streaming rights are connected to subtitle ownership, many streaming platforms simply don’t have the authority to offer official Japanese subtitled anime, as they’re prohibited from offering their (perfectly legal, might I add!) services in Japan. Japanese anime companies can be very tight-fisted when it comes to streaming rights, much to the dismay of many foreign fans.
The issue is compounded by the fact that many anime streaming services are only available in select countries.
However, with a little careful finagling, you can watch anime on legit websites with Japanese subtitles. I dug around and came up with a few solid options for Japanese subtitled anime below.
If you want even more options, this Reddit user developed a web tool called Jimaku Player for watching anime on legal websites with Japanese subtitles. Currently, it’s only compatible with VRV and Crunchyroll. Combine it with subtitle files from a website that provides downloadable Japanese subtitles (there are a few big-name ones that can be found with a simple Google search) and you have an invincible study combination.
Keep in mind that this isn’t exactly a legal method, and finding legal Japanese subtitles may be more trouble than it’s worth.
At the end of the day, you’re best off using officially subtitled resources like the ones in this list. Don’t forget that you can also find anime clips on FluentU subtitled in Japanese, furigana and English (each of which you can toggle on and off as you wish). More on this in a bit!
9 Resources for Finding Japanese Anime with Subtitles
Netflix may be the best-known streaming service on the web. They have a robust selection of anime, including some original shows that they’ve created on their own. Better yet, you can easily see what anime is available with subtitles thanks to the platform’s dedicated anime category. That’ll significantly cut your time looking around to find something with subtitles.
There’s also a drama anime section where you can find exciting shows that’ll also let you hear common conversations.
Netflix’s anime selection has boomed over the past few years to include not only hits like “Erased” but also their captivating original shows like “Beastars” and “Teasing Master Takagi-san.” There are dozens upon dozens of shows for you to browse!
Best of all, many of the anime on Netflix have Japanese subtitles!
An additional cool feature is the audio description option. Audio description is a Netflix mode that narrates what’s happening on screen, like actions, facial expressions, clothing and more. Although it’s probably intended for visually impaired individuals, Japanese learners can reap huge benefits from the feature, as well. Check out the many anime—and other titles—that have Japanese audio descriptions, and get an extra dose of learning from your watching session.
The costs for Netflix run about $8.99 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 on the help page—it varies by device.
Crunchyroll boasts anime that’s available one day after it releases in Japan, and even offers many simulcasts if you just can’t wait.
The library here is massive, with subtitles for hundreds of shows ranging from big names like “Naruto” (and “Boruto”!) and “Dragon Ball Super” to cult hits like “Blood Blockade Battlefront” and “FLCL: Alternative.”
Most shows feature subtitles in several different languages, from Spanish to Russian, which you can toggle on or off with the gear in the lower right-hand corner of the video player. However, Japanese subtitles aren’t available at this time.
Crunchyroll is a paid service, so you’ll need to get a subscription if you want access to everything, although many options are free with ads. Keep in mind that non-paying members have to wait an extra week to watch the simulcasts.
Costs for paid access to Crunchyroll depend on the particular plan you select, with the lowest price starting at $7.99.
Like Crunchyroll, Funimation has a mix of free and paid content. Though it used to specialize in English dubbed anime, it now features plenty of options in the original Japanese.
Plus, if you’re a simulcast junkie, you can find some titles on Funimation that you won’t find on Crunchyroll (and vice versa). For instance, at the time of this writing, you can only watch the ridiculous (and wonderful) action skating anime “Sk8 the Infinity” on Funimation, and “Cells at Work: CODE BLACK!” (the gritty reboot you didn’t know you needed) first aired here before it made its way on to Crunchyroll.
The subtitle options are more limited here, with most shows only supporting English subs. Once again, it seems that Funimation doesn’t have Japanese subtitles, either.
The Anime Network is an on-demand channel you can get through TV streaming services like Roku and Spectrum On Demand. Subscribing to the channel costs about $6.99 per month, though the channel advertises that non-subscribers can watch the first episode of any series, as well as clips and trailers.
Once you’re in, you’ll find all the anime nearly organized by genre. The channel doesn’t appear to offer Japanese subtitles.
The selection is fairly limited, mainly offering shows in romance, action and slice of life. You may have trouble with historical-based series or dramas on this network being provided in English instead of Japanese, so be patient with your searches. Still, if your main source of shows is your on-demand service, this might be a good option for you since it’ll ensure you have no additional hoops to jump through in order to watch your favorite anime.
Hulu is another well-known streaming service that has a mix of anime and non-anime content. The anime titles are surprisingly diverse, and include many of the most popular shows like “Assassination Classroom” and “One Punch Man,” as well as plenty of less well-known titles. The selection is so huge that Ranker made a list of the best 100+ titles on Hulu!
Turning on subtitles will depend on the device that you’re using, but you can find a comprehensive how-to on Business Insider. 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.
Hulu requires a monthly subscription, and prices start at $5.99 per month.
A newcomer to the anime streaming game, HIDIVE is operated by Sentai Filmworks, a notable anime dubbing company that provides hundreds of dubbed and subbed anime. Many big-name anime are featured on this site, including the classic romance anime “Clannad” and tantalizing cooking series “Food Wars!” HIDIVE offers a few exclusive shows, as well.
Users are given the option to search for shows based on audio and subtitle language, so you can learn with the language that works for you. Unfortunately, Japanese subtitles aren’t available in this service.
Another great feature is the ability to have watch parties and live chat with your fellow viewers—why not take advantage of this for a Japanese study group?
HIDIVE is also one of the more budget-friendly options out there, at $4.99/month. While it does have a mobile app, it’s incredibly buggy for now, so stick with browser streaming to get the most out of this service.
Want the best of all the services? VRV is one of the most comprehensive streaming services out there. The service partners with anime services like HIDIVE and Crunchyroll to bring you the latest and greatest in anime hits, like “Jujutsu Kaisen” and “Demon Slayer.”
While it’s only available in the US, VRV operates by offering several channels (like a cable TV service) to watch content. With one account, you have access to all of the channels VRV has to offer, so you can get all your anime streaming services in one place. Subtitle toggling is as easy as clicking the gear on the lower righthand corner of the player. Japanese subtitles aren’t available at this time.
Many shows are available for free (supported with ads). But if you want to subscribe to its premium services, you can watch plenty of shows on VRV for its single base rate instead of paying for separate subscription services. Talk about economical!
For some of us, monthly subscription fees just aren’t in the budget. So how can you watch anime legally for free? That’s where tubi has stepped in, by offering classic anime and recent hits in Japanese—all for free!
Okay, so you do have to watch some ads. You can’t get something for nothing, after all! But it’s a small inconvenience to an otherwise excellent platform with subtitled anime in abundance.
Some subtitles are built-in, and it doesn’t always distinguish between the subbed and the dubbed versions of a show, so you’ll need to browse around to find what you’re looking for. Subtitles on tubi are only available in English.
tubi tends to go for older anime, but it does have more modern shows, as well, like “Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure” and “Overlord.” They also offer a number of niche shows—I was pleasantly surprised to discover a few of my own fringe favorites on the platform!
As the name suggests, this service is great for fans of the anime classics. Featuring shows from the 70s, 80s and 90s, as well as modern shows that fall into old-school anime tropes, RetroCrush offers a nostalgic look at the bygone eras of anime.
While retro anime does have a reputation for being largely sci-fi and action, plenty of school life and romantic comedies are also available to learn from. Since some of these shows are older, there are times when the subtitles are a part of the anime and can’t be turned off. For the same reason, as far as I can tell, subtitles are only available in English.
Feeling lucky? Don’t know where to start? Click the “Random” button! You can also speed up or slow down playback to suit your learning needs.
This service offers all of its shows for free, with a subscription service to get rid of ads starting at $4.99 per month.
In the end, you have a lot of options for subtitled anime for Japanese language learning.
By picking anime that will give you practical vocabulary skills, all you need to do is pay attention while you watch to have your Japanese skills grow by leaps and bounds!
Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)