6 Japanese Animated Movies to Bring Your Learning to Life

Do you love watching movies as much as I do?

It’s one of the best ways to relax after a long day and get sucked into another world.

Japanese books, video games and films are well-known for extravagant world creation, unforgettable characters and tear-jerking moments.

In addition, anime and manga are Japanese cultural staples.

Cartoons, comic books and animated movies from Japan have become famous all over the world.

So if you’re learning Japanese, don’t leave animated movies off your study list.

Here are a few benefits of watching movies when you’re not hitting the textbooks:

  • Listening practice. Whether you use subtitles while you’re watching or not, your ears are exposed to authentic, native Japanese and that gives you great listening practice.
  • Context-specific vocabulary. Depending on the genre, you can pick up new vocabulary. Fantasy movies expose a huge range of vocabulary on magic or creatures, dramas offer useful words to do with emotions, family films can teach you children’s language… things like that.
  • Great chat topics! If you’ve seen some Japanese movies of any kind, they can be a great conversation starter when you’re practicing real-life conversations with your peers!



Learn a foreign language with videos

Tips for Studying Japanese with Animated Movies

It’s understandable if you’re eager to just sit down and get sucked in, but don’t start without keeping these vital tips in mind first!

  • Watch the whole movie with English subtitles if it’s your first time watching it. Absorb the sounds and the rhythm of the Japanese.
  • Write down any new phrases and vocabulary you hear. It’s best to watch the movie on DVD or Netflix so you can pause and rewind. Don’t worry about getting every single new word down, however, or you’ll be there forever.
  • Watch with Japanese subtitles. If you have both the subtitles and the audio, you’re twice as likely to catch what’s being said.
  • Write down any new kanji. Watching with Japanese subtitles can provide new kanji to words and phrases you might hear. Studying kanji isn’t all textbooks and novels; it’s common to be able to pick up new characters from subtitles, too!

Japan has produced some animated masterpieces over the years. Here are a few recommendations for you to enjoy.

In addition to Amazon and other sites, you can get all of the below recommendations on DVD from Right Stuf Anime, which is a great option for learners in the U.S. and Canada, especially if you buy your anime in bulk (this can mean free shipping). They also have other Japanese products, like manga and games, that you can bundle together with your movies.

Japanese Animated Movies: 6 Masterpieces Learners Will Love

Love learning with movies? Of course you do, that’s why you’re here! Well, you’re in luck: FluentU uses authentic videos like movie clips, music videos, inspirational talks and other real-world content to teach Japanese in a structured and fun way.

FluentU is about so much more than videos: You also get access to interactive flashcards and vocab lists, annotated subtitles and personalized quizzes that evolve as you learn. It’s an entertaining method to immerse yourself in Japanese the way native speakers really use it, while actively building your vocabulary.

1. “Princess Mononoke” (1997) by Studio Ghibli

Genre: Fantasy/drama
Japanese name: もののけ姫 (もののけひめ)
Types of vocabulary: nature, fantasy
Level: intermediate

Princess Mononoke

“Princess Mononoke” is set in the Muromachi Period (around 14th-16th century) and tells the story of a war between the guardians of a forest and the people who want to consume its resources. Through this fantasy story, we learn about the world around us and the dark undertones of human greed. Although it’s animated, viewer discretion is advised, as it has minor violence and potentially frightening scenes for young children.

Where to watch: This title is available to rent on DVD on DVD Netflix (US only).

Buy the DVD: Amazon US (English and Japanese audio; English subtitles only) or Amazon Japan (Japanese and English audio; Japanese and English subtitles).

2. “My Neighbor Totoro” (1988) by Studio Ghibli

Genre: Fantasy/drama
Japanese name: となりのトトロ (となり の ととろ)
Types of vocabulary: fantasy, family
Level: beginner to lower-intermediate

Considered one of Studio Ghibli’s masterpieces, “My Neighbor Totoro” is a classic tale that remains popular with all generations. Boasting several awards and more dark undertones, it’s well worth a watch.

My Neighbor Totoro

“Totoro” tells the story of a family that moves into a new house in order to be closer to the hospital where the mother is recovering from a long illness. Totoro appears as a guardian and a friend to the two girls, Mei and Satsuki. Some fan theories suggest that Totoro isn’t just a kindly magical being, but something more sinister. Watch this charming classic and decide for yourself.

Where to watch: This title is available to rent on DVD on DVD Netflix (US only).

Buy the DVD: Amazon US (English and Japanese audio; English subtitles only) or Amazon Japan (Japanese and English audio and subtitles).

3. “Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection ‘F'” (2015) by Toei Animation

Genre: Fantasy/action
Japanese name: ドラゴンボールZ復活のエフ (どらごんぼーる ぜっと ふっかつの えふ)
Types of vocabulary: action, fantasy, onomatopoeia
Level: intermediate

Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection 'F'

The 19th Dragon Ball movie is one of the best yet. Frieza has returned, and is training himself to be more powerful than ever so he can defeat Goku for good. With great music, good animation and the return of our favorite Dragon Ball characters, this exciting movie should definitely be on your list of must-sees.

Where to watch: This title is available on VUDU, Google Play and more. See the JustWatch website for more options.

Buy the DVD: Amazon US (Japanese audio only; English subtitles only) or Amazon Japan (Japanese audio and subtitles only).

4. “Wolf Children” (2012) by Studio Chizu

Genre: Fantasy
Japanese name: おおかみこどもの雨と雪 (おおかみ こどもの あめ と ゆき)
Types of vocabulary: fantasy, family, school
Level: lower-intermediate

Wolf Children

Children of a werewolf father and a human mother, Yuki and Ame are “wolf children” who can change between their human and wolf forms. Ame is more interested in exploring the wild whereas Yuki is desperate to join human society and go to school. This charming tale shows the struggles of motherhood, and how children must be free to choose their own path.

Where to watch: There’s no current legal way of watching this title online.

Buy the DVD: Amazon US (English and Japanese audio; English subtitles only) or Amazon Japan (Japanese audio and subtitles only). You can also buy the DVD on CrunchyRoll.

5. “5 Centimeters Per Second” (2007) by CoMix Wave Inc.

Genre: Romance/drama
Japanese name: 秒速5センチメートル びょうそく ご せんちめーとる)
Types of vocabulary: romance, family, school
Level: intermediate

5 Centimeters Per Second Blu Ray [Blu-ray]

Japan is famous for heartbreaking love stories, so if you love a tear-jerking romance, “5 Centimeters Per Second” is worth checking out. Childhood sweethearts Takaki and Kanae are separated when their families move away from their hometown. They keep in touch via letters, but time slowly pulls them apart. Can love survive?

Where to watch: You can watch this title on Hulu (Japan only; Japanese only).

Buy the DVD: Amazon US (Japanese audio only, English subtitles only) or Amazon Japan (Japanese only; English subtitles only).

6. “Spirited Away” (2001) by Studio Ghibli

Genre: Fantasy
Japanese name: >千と千尋の神隠し (せんと ちひろの かみかくし)
Types of vocabulary: family, fantasy, Japanese history
Level: lower-intermediate to intermediate

One of the most well-known Ghibli movies is “Spirited Away,” the tale of a family who accidentally enter a spirit world and pay the price. Chihiro’s father takes a wrong turn while they’re traveling, and insists on exploring the new-found world. As Chihiro’s parents eat in an empty restaurant stall, a spirit warns Chihiro to leave across the river before it’s too late. However, Chihiro’s parents have been turned into pigs, trapping them all in the spirit world.

Spirited Away [Blu-ray]

“Spirited Away” was named the fourth best film of the 21st century in 2016. If you love Studio Ghibli, it would be a crime to miss this movie.

Where to watch: There is no current legal way of watching this title online.

Buy the DVD: Amazon US (English and Japanese audio; English subtitles only) or Amazon Japan (Japanese and English audio; Japanese and English subtitles).

With these six animated movies under your belt, you can pick up an enormous amount of Japanese by listening to the authentic language and reading the provided subtitles.

You can also get some great new conversation topics to talk about with your friends.

So grab a blanket and a cup of tea, or coffee if you prefer, and soak up your new language with the joys of cinema!

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