iStudy Japanese: 2 Best Free iPhone Apps for Learning Kanji

Learning to read Japanese is no picnic.

It even beats out Mandarin Chinese, due to kanji mixing and matching with kana. 

But, hey—we’re modern learners armed with awesome iPhone apps. 

We all know by now that good quality apps can make any aspect of life a lot easier, including learning how to read Japanese.


What Makes the Japanese Writing System So Hard?

Well, for starters, there’s the fact that there are technically four different writing systems that could be mixed up together in one sentence: katakana, hiragana, kanji and romaji.

But what makes it really tough is that, in order to be fully literate in Japanese, you have to learn the meanings and sounds of over 2,000 ideograms.

Oh, yeah.

Welcome to the world of learning kanji.

Kanji characters, Chinese characters that came to Japan centuries ago, present an astounding headache for anyone studying Japanese. But luckily, there are kanji iPhone apps that can help.

iStudy Japanese: 2 Free iPhone Apps to Help You Learn Kanji

These apps can take the drudgery of kanji study and transform it into games so that it’s (believe it or not)… fun!

So, I took it upon myself to try out some kanji learning apps that are free and easy to use. All of these apps are:

  • Free. In other words, they’re not trial samples of premium apps that you have to pay for if you want to unlock content.
  • Available without the need for sign-ups, memberships or any other complications.
  • Available for the iPhone.

For each, I’ll give you a quick description along with my recommendation for which type of learning — and learning situation — each app works best for.

KanjiQ by Aribada Inc.

6 free iphone apps to help you learn kanji

Focus Area: Learning how to write kanji at all skill levels.

Kanji Q is a simple, straightforward app that helps you practice writing kanji characters. It shows you the stroke order and you follow it, tracing the lines by number. It shows the character at the top of the screen but you can challenge yourself by clicking on the character and making it disappear.

For characters you already know, you can skip ahead. If you want to know more about the character, you can click on a book icon and it tells you the meaning, all of its readings in Japanese, its reading in Chinese and Korean, what JLPT level it is and in which grade kids learn it.

This app is good for all levels because you can choose which JLPT level or school grade kanji you want to learn, making it a personalized experience.

Kanji Star by Aidan Povedano

6 free iphone apps to help you learn kanji

Focus Area: Learning to write kanji for any level.

Like Kanji Q, Kanji Star teaches you how to write kanji, but it has a bit more to offer. First of all, in addition to choosing characters based on school grade and JLPT category, you can also choose a thematic category. The categories are numbers, colors, animals, geography and the body. So, if you want to brush up on your color kanji, you can focus on only that.

It also offers a challenging twist — you don’t just trace the character. You have to actually remember it.

At first, it shows you how to write the character. Once you start the lines disappear, leaving you with only a tiny circle that shows where to start. After you draw each line, the circle shows you where to connect to the next line. You really have to think about where each line goes and it’s quite a challenge, even if you can already read Japanese pretty well. But don’t worry. If you’re really clueless, it’ll give you a hint and show you the general direction in which the line is supposed to go.

It also provides readings and meanings. You can practice characters in order or skip the ones you know. There’s also a shuffle mode.

Kanji Star doesn’t technically fit the bill of “free iPhone apps” entirely here — JPLT levels two to four and school grades one to four are free, but you have to purchase more if you want to advance. I liked this one so much, I decided to include it anyway. Plus, unlike other teaser apps that offer just a sample, this one actually has quite a few characters you can practice (rather than just the most basic level available for free).

Keep Exploring to Find More Apps!

Of course, there are tons and tons of other apps and resources that can help you learn kanji. Some of them are very reasonably priced, offering you more unique ways to learn that aren’t necessarily accessible with a free app.

For example, the FluentU immersion program pairs Japanese media clips with interactive subtitles in Japanese, furigana and English, which is helpful for learning and reviewing kanji pronunciation. Personalized flashcards and quizzes are also available to reinforce any new kanji picked up from the videos.

Other than apps, you can also use children’s books and manga to get started in a fun way.


Free iPhone apps to learn kanji are just one tool in your arsenal for studying Japanese — but make sure you keep this handy tool sharp!

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