Tired of learning Japanese with textbooks?
Get yourself out of your language learning rut by getting into anime.
Maybe you’re skeptical about this.
You might be wondering: “Is it really possible to learn Japanese through anime?”
It’s a simple but contentious question that has sparked countless heated exchanges between Japanese learners around the world.
We’re here to tell you that you can learn Japanese with anime—but it will take plenty of work and you can’t rely solely on anime for a full education in the language.
Read on to find out how to milk your favorite anime shows for their language-learning content, followed by 17 awesome anime perfect for learning Japanese!
Where to Find Anime for Learning Japanese
Anyone who’s ever tried to learn Japanese through anime knows that this can be a bit tricky. You need to find the right streaming site for each anime that you’re trying to watch, and all your favorite anime shows aren’t always in the same place.
If you want to buy a DVD version of your anime, the challenge grows—you have to find discs that are compatible with your DVD player in the United States, and the seller has to actually be willing to ship them to your faraway address.
Luckily, in recent years this challenge has become easier to overcome through the rise of streaming websites. Here are a few places where you can legally find anime to watch (usually for a monthly fee):
- Netflix, Hulu and Amazon: These three streaming services might be better known for their shows and movies, but all three have a pretty impressive selection of anime, as well. The links will take you straight to the anime genre section of each.
- Crunchyroll: This is perhaps the most well-known anime streaming service. It has hundreds of anime to choose from and even simulcasts anime (releases them at the same time as they’re released in Japan).
- Crackle: Sony’s streaming service has a smaller selection, but they’re usually good picks.
- Anime-Planet: This site partners with other streaming services like Netflix and Crunchyroll to bring fans a huge selection of anime.
You can find even more options for watching anime no matter where you are in the world on Yattatachi.
A Disclaimer About Learning Japanese with Anime
Japanese is an honorific language with different ways of speaking. Think about it this way: You speak differently with your superiors at work than your do with close friends and family, right?
Japanese takes this to another level.
You have to change the way you speak to someone depending on your relationship, but it transcends the straightforward distinction between formal and casual. Your language will change between talking to a friend, family member, work colleague, manager or customer.
Meanwhile, anime characters live in their own universe where everyone tends to use slang, casual language, informal pronouns and even made up words.
Too often, Japanese teachers encounter eager anime fans who were inspired to learn Japanese from their favorite programs. They sit on the edges of their seats, bursting with excitement to show off the words and phrases they learned while watching anime.
Imitating anime characters can leave you speaking like a child or a rude street punk, but you might never know the true meaning of your words and tone. This can be frustrating for both teachers and peers.
The bottom line here is that you need to be aware of the kind of Japanese you’ll absorb in anime-world. As long as you don’t lose sight of your ultimate Japanese language goal—to speak fluently and properly in any situation—anime Japanese definitely has a place in your language learning progress.
How to avoid common pitfalls when learning Japanese with anime
It’s possible to avoid the issues of learning Japanese through anime by following these two main approaches:
1. Incorporate anime into your language learning routine from the beginning. If you choose this route, you’ll be aware of the language used in anime as you learn about the formalities and nuances of Japanese.
2. Wait until you have achieved an intermediate level of Japanese to actively utilize anime as a learning tool. By the time you’re an intermediate student, you’ll have a solid foundation to work with and won’t become confused by casual tone, slang, and invented vocabulary. This comes more highly recommended.
There are a few more points of distinction to be made between anime Japanese and real life Japanese:
- Don’t adopt a new vocabulary word from an anime until you’re certain of its meaning. For example, the main character of Naruto signs off his sentences with a gibberish word, だってばよ (dattebayo). This word is meaningless to most native Japanese speakers.
- Don’t expect real-life Japanese to sound just like anime Japanese. Many anime fans think they already know correct Japanese speech before formally studying the language, but this is often not the case. For instance, you may rarely hear the polite endings desu (です) or –imasu (-います) in an anime but they’re commonly used in polite Japanese.
- Don’t study Japanese for the purpose of watching anime. You’ll be learning lots of important elements of language that you’ll never once hear in anime, and this can be disappointing.
Hang on a second—you might be wondering why all this doesn’t mean that anime is a lousy learning tool. As long as you mind the aforementioned caveats and totally commit yourself to learning proper, real-world Japanese, anime can be a helpful tool as opposed to a distraction.
Why You Should Learn Japanese With Anime
Now that we’ve gotten all the disclaimers of the way, let’s see why anime actually has a lot to offer any budding Japanese student.
Settling in with a bowl of popcorn to watch your new favorite program is certainly a break from your ordinary language learning routine of scribbling alphabets into a notebook, copying grammar charts and attempting to cram more vocabulary into your brain.
Kick back, relax, switch those subtitles on and enjoy the many benefits of watching anime!
Practice your listening skills
Despite some noteworthy differences, anime Japanese is, obviously, real Japanese. This means that you’ll have the opportunity to reinforce your listening skills for vocabulary, grammar and speech patterns.
Learn about Japanese culture through anime
Anime isn’t just something that children watch—it’s a cultural obsession. As you walk the electric streets of Tokyo, anime characters spring out at you from every direction.
There are statues, paintings, posters, billboards, advertisements, stuffed animals and virtually all possible kinds of merchandise prominently displaying popular anime characters. Large crowds of people dress up anime-style and congregate in downtown Tokyo on a weekly basis.
The artistry and storytelling which characterizes anime permeates every aspect of modern Japanese culture. Watching anime will bring you closer to understanding various aspect of Japanese history and society.
There’s an anime for everyone
Did you know that “Pokémon” itself is a true-blue anime? You might have been a fan all along without even realizing it.
That’s okay, it’s pretty normal—lots of newcomers to anime are under the impression that it’s just about samurai adventures or the antics of high school girls.
In reality, anime comes in all imaginable flavors: romance, action, adventure, horror, comedy, sports, spaghetti western, historical—you name it, there’s an anime in that genre. That means you can pick whatever’s most fun for you to watch!
Tips and Tricks for Learning Japanese with Anime
Okay, we have the “how not to” and the “why” out of the way. Now let’s figure out exactly how to study Japanese using anime! Here are some important tips and tricks to remember when you sit down for a learning session with your show of choice.
High quality anime means high quality learning
There are a ton of anime out there. While this means that you have lots of options available, it also means that you’ll have to filter through a lot of shows that use uncommon Japanese or the wrong kind of language for your learning goals.
The worst offenders are often science fiction and fantasy anime shows. The more outlandish the anime, the more likely you are to hear rather unusual Japanese. That’s why when you’re looking at potential anime for the purpose of learning everyday Japanese, you should steer clear of anything involving giant space robots, magic powers, fantasy worlds and ghosts.
Three broad anime themes that can be trusted to have more normal, casual language and are generally the best choices for learning Japanese are high school shows, detective dramas and sports anime.
We include a wide variety of genres in our list further down in this post, so keep your Japanese skill level in mind when you’re picking one out to learn with.
Watch actively, not passively
It isn’t enough to just catch the gist of what the anime characters are saying and doing. Really pay attention.
Writing will help you remember your new words for later. When you pick up on grammar, vocabulary or speech patterns that you recently learned while studying, take note to strengthen this concept in your mind. If you hear something odd that you haven’t learned yet, jot this down in a notebook and look it up later.
Don’t get too obsessed with understanding every little detail from the get-go—complete comprehension will take time and practice. Just do your best to fill in the blanks as you go along.
Double-check what you’ve learned
Yes, this is important enough that we had to mention it twice!
By now you should be fully aware that anime Japanese isn’t always to be trusted when it comes to language—it can be hard to tell if you’re hearing made up words or silly, messed-up grammar.
When you encounter something new, remember to cross-check your notes with online Japanese language guides and ensure that everything is accurate, real world Japanese.
For all of the tips given in this post, there’s a common theme: You have to listen. One of the best reasons to watch anime is to develop your listening skills. Try not to rely on subtitles more than you need to.
In fact, as your skill level increases, try turning off the subtitles completely and see how much you can understand without them.
Use the accompanying manga to aid in comprehension
Manga refers to graphic novels and many anime are based on manga. One fun approach is to buy the manga version of your new favorite anime program (the original Japanese version tends to be very cheap in Japan) and read it first.
While you may be tempted to cheat and buy the English manga, Japanese manga generally always have hiragana written over kanji (called furigana), allowing for easy comprehension. If you’re at an intermediate level or above, challenging yourself with Japanese manga is a great way to strengthen your reading skills!
Some anime follows the manga dialogue relatively closely, so you’ll basically have a script to follow along with while watching the show. Other anime completely deviates from the source, and comparing the two can be another fun way to test your comprehension.
Use FluentU for more structure
If all of this sounds like a lot of work and you’re looking for a shortcut, then I’m happy to tell you that there is one.
It naturally and gradually eases you into learning Japanese language and culture. You’ll learn real Japanese as it’s spoken in real life.
Just take a look at the wide variety of authentic video content available in the program. Here’s a small sample:
You’ll discover tons of new Japanese vocabulary through these great clips.
Don’t worry about your skill level being an issue when it comes to understanding the language. FluentU makes native Japanese videos approachable through interactive transcripts.
Tap on any word to look it up instantly.
You’ll see definitions, in-context usage examples and helpful illustrations. Simply tap “Add to” to send interesting vocabulary words to your personal vocab list for later review.
FluentU even uses a learning program which adapts to your specific needs to turn every video into a language learning lesson and get you to actively practice your newly-learned language skills.
Access FluentU on the website to use it with your computer or tablet or, better yet, start learning Japanese on the go with the FluentU app for iOS or Android!
Learn Japanese with Anime: 17 Series About Everything from Tennis to Idols
We’ve selected a broad variety of great anime shows. We tried to include both shows that are useful for learning everyday Japanese and some of the most popular action and fantasy anime for more advanced learners.
In this energetic anime, we follow a trio of high school students determined to solve any problem that besets them in their daily lives. Together, they’re known as the school club that handles odd jobs, and plenty of students come to them with problems they, well, don’t feel like solving themselves.
The friends are always happy to help, but the results are… not always what they intended, but always hilarious.
Enjoy their escapades while learning school vocabulary!
This anime is a romantic high school drama about Tenma Tsukamoto, a girl who really wants to win the love of the notorious delinquent in her school. The story focuses on good old-fashioned high school drama and comedy as she navigates the choppy waters of love and friendship.
Due to the nature of the plot, the language revolves a lot around casual talk between close friends. Try this useful vocabulary out while chatting up your own friends!
Based on an award-winning manga series, this anime follows Houtarou as he participates in the high school literature club and solves perplexing mini-mysteries around campus.
He and his club-mates investigate the old urban legend surrounding their school, and in the process learn that you can find mystery and wonder in everything around you.
The language can sometimes be a little complex since there’s a lot of exposition, but each episode has a very intriguing story.
Look at those happy girls! Don’t you already want to watch?
In this idol anime, Four high school girls form a band and dream of super-stardom. Watch their struggle to master their instruments and become the best of the best.
The vocabulary is less focused on high school and more on the language of performing artists, since the anime revolves around their musical careers.
Conan is without doubt the most famous detective in Japan; he not only appears in anime and manga but also in live action TV shows and more. Since the first episode in 1996 over 900 episodes have aired! You’ll never run out of learning material if you choose to learn Japanese with this anime.
The anime shows the adventures of Conan, a high school detective named for Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the famous Sherlock Holmes mysteries.
The Conan in the anime has been transformed into a child but that doesn’t stop him from solving crimes and nabbing the bad guys.
Fans of mystery novels will love this one, which uses a mix of formal and informal language and plenty of mystery-related words (though we hope you don’t need to know words like “suspect” and “murder weapon” in your everyday life).
“Lupin III” is a mystery anime which follows the adventures of a master thief. It’s another extremely popular anime which has been adapted into several formats and is well known across Japan.
Lupin is considered to be the world’s greatest thief and, with the help of his friends, he pulls off the most daring thefts around the world while chased by inspector Zenigata. (In fact, Lupin and Detective Conan have even gone head-to-head before!)
As you might imagine, the language used here is what you’d expect to hear on the streets—usually casual and often very gruff. Lupin himself has a very distinct way of pronouncing his words, so listen out for eccentricities!
A very popular movie about Lupin was made by Studio Ghibli’s Hayao Miyazaki under the title “The Castle of Cagliostro.” A more modern reboot is also currently available, in case you want to enjoy the escapades of Lupin in HD.
This manga and anime is considered to be the main reason why many Japanese people became interested in tennis.
The story focuses on a group of high school tennis players and their desire to improve and win tournaments. When a new player turns out to be a prodigy tennis player, their chances of becoming the best get within reach.
This is a sports anime with heart, with plenty of language relating to friendship, family and camaraderie, and it explores the drive to win in the players’ hearts.
“Slam Dunk” is one of the best-selling manga series in history, earning over $120 million in manga sales since its debut.
It centers on Sakuragi who joins the school basketball team with the aim of becoming the best team in Japan. But first, he’ll need to learn to work with them and overcome personal and more wide-reaching issues.
In certain polls, it’s been voted as the top manga in history and one of the top anime of all time. It’s more “real” than many other sports anime, featuring very casual language between friends and teammates.
In any discussion with an anime or manga fan, you’ll hear tell of “One Piece.” This is pretty much the ultimate anime: The first episode came out in 1999 and it’s still going strong with over 800 episodes. It’s spawned an insane amount of tie-ins like over a dozen movies and more than 40 video games. Wow!
Its popularity comes from its exciting and often ridiculous nature. The story follows the adventures of pirate Monkey D. Luffy and his crew in their search for a famous treasure called “one piece,” as well as Luffy’s desire to become the pirate king.
This anime is an excellent resource for casual conversation practice, words for adventure and (aww) friendship.
10. ナルト (“Naruto”)
This is another long-running anime you may have heard of, with the first episode appearing on our screens way back in 2002.
Naruto starts off as a boy training to be a ninja. However, he’s an orphan and the circumstances surrounding his birth hide a dark secret not commonly known to his classmates.
The first series sees Naruto make his first friends and deal with his sense of self and loss. The second series picks up two and half years later and sees Naruto and his friends become fully proficient ninjas who eventually join in a great war.
It’s best to be aware of some made up language, such as Naruto’s signature phrase dattebayo. Generally, though, the language in the show’s easy to understand.
11. ブリーチ (“Bleach”)
This anime series ran from 2004 to 2012 and is consistently ranked as a favorite by many anime fans.
Ichigo Kurosaki lives in the world of the living while soul reapers live in a spirit world. By complete chance, he becomes a substitute soul reaper. The series is about his quest to fight and protect the human world and the spirit world from “hollows,” souls of people who died but didn’t, or couldn’t, move on to the next world.
Altogether there are 366 episodes and although the language used can be a little complicated—such as when it describes different worlds and abilities—it’s a very enjoyable and addictive anime to watch. Higher intermediate and advanced learners, check it out!
12. 銀魂 (“Gintama”)
“Gintama” isn’t as well-known as the previous three and in terms of language it’s quite challenging, but it’s truly one of the funniest anime out there.
In a fictional world, the country of the samurai was invaded by aliens. Twenty years later, Gintoki Sakata is one of the last samurai with his trusty wooden sword always by his side. He’s joined by three sidekicks, along with their giant and very fluffy pet, to offer their services. Basically, they’ll do anything for money.
The language can be quite hard to follow at times as their work can literally be anything from working in a shop to being hosts at a bar. However, there’s always a large dose of humor, much of it slapstick, which makes every new situation as enjoyable as the last and funny even if you don’t understand all the words.
This is also a great show to pick up bits of Japanese history and culture, as there are tons of historical references, but set against a ridiculous backdrop. To tell truth from fiction, try looking up the characters that the gang come across on their adventures. Do it in Japanese for an extra language-learning boost!
This anime incorporates four different series with the first one running between 1986 and 1989, and the latest one from 2009.
The story starts with a boy called Goku and a girl called Bulma on a quest to find the seven dragon balls. Goku ends up getting trained in martial arts, and along with his friends goes on a series of adventures including participating in tournaments.
This is a truly iconic anime, partly due to how many years it’s been running and the international popularity that it’s accrued. The language varies from serious show-downs and signature move names (say it with me: “Kaaameeehaaammeeeha!”) to sillier speech accompanying similarly silly antics.
“Sword Art Online” is an example of a new generation of manga and anime which feature a more up-to-date world.
In 2022, a new game is released, which features a virtual reality helmet that literally puts people into the game. However, at the end of the first day, no one can log out. An announcement by the game’s creator informs them that they won’t become free until the game is completed—and death in game means death in real life.
The story follows Kazuto Kirigaya, known in the game as “Kirito,” over the subsequent years as he fights, makes friends and falls in love, the whole time stuck in the game. It’s an interesting mix of action, friendship and love and the language reflects this.
This anime has gotten plenty of attention from fans for its excellent action and intriguing characters and story.
The plot centers on Eren Yeager alongside his family and friends. Humanity is under attack by massive titans and people have been forced to shelter behind giant walls. After the wall is breached in his hometown, Eren’s mother is killed and he vows vengeance.
The show expands beyond this to explore human nature through gigantic, skin-less titans.
This intense anime is really enjoyable and the language is fairly straightforward. Episodes in the later seasons feature a lot of exposition and flashbacks so you’ll get both fun action and valuable learning material.
Ginji Amano and Ban Mido are two powerful people known as GetBackers. For a price, they’ll go into the more dangerous parts of Tokyo to retrieve stolen or lost things.
One mission leads them deep into a mass of buildings known as the Limitless Fortress. Watch to find out more and enjoy plenty of casual language!
Although this anime only consists of 49 episodes, the story can be quite complex and unusual at times.
“Polar Bear Café” may appear to be slightly more childish and aimed at a younger audience compared to other anime on this list, but it’s surprisingly fun to watch at any age.
The plot’s centered on a wise polar bear that runs a café (as you may have guessed), a very lazy young panda and a penguin. Together with their friends they discuss life, do silly animal things and enjoy life.
The language is quite easy to follow, but at the same time it’s a goldmine for animal words, useful everyday vocabulary and even wordplay. For example, the polar bear adores bad puns where he pretends to mishear a word and his friends keep correcting him.
Truly one for all ages!
You’re all set to have fun while you learn Japanese with anime!
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