Is it really possible to learn Japanese with anime? We’re here to tell you that yes it is… BUT it will take plenty of work and you can’t rely solely on Japanese anime for a full education in the language. Though it’s a great additional resource, we recommend using this method for intermediate level and advanced learners of Japanese.
Anime or アニメ is the Japanese word to describe any type of animation, regardless of style. However, outside of Japan, anime is categorized as a common style of Japanese animation, which is hand-drawn and computer-animated. Typically the animations use vibrant colors and the characters have exaggerated physical features such as large eyes or big hair. Anime has become more mainstream in recent years, with fans wanting to learn Japanese so they can watch the films and shows without subtitles.
When you’re learning Japanese, it’s best to choose an anime show without a complex plotline. Children's anime (子供向けアニメ, kodomomuke anime), such as Pokémon, Dragon Ball Z, Card Captors Sakura, and Sailor Moon, which you might be familiar with if you grew up in the 90s or 00s, are great to begin with.
Then you can branch out into different anime genres, such as Shōnen anime (少年アニメ), which is geared towards teenage males or Shōjo anime (少女アニメ), which is marketed towards young females.
Netflix and Amazon Prime Video both have anime shows on their platform, just make sure you find one that hasn’t been dubbed in English so you get some language learning value out of it. Try searching Ghibli (スタジオジブリ), a Japanese animation film studio best known internationally for their film Spirited Away, for suggestions.
If you want to go all out and subscribe to an anime streaming service, try Crunchyroll. For a small monthly fee, you can get access to a huge catalog of anime, as well as popular manga titles.
Kicking back with a bowl of popcorn to watch your favorite program is certainly a break from your ordinary Japanese language learning routine of learning grammar structures and overloading your brain with more new vocabulary. Well, almost. To effectively learn Japanese through watching anime, some work and effort is required on your end. Here are some of our tips on how to maximize your efforts.
Say goodbye to English subtitles and get comfortable with reading Japanese subtitles. Having English anywhere on the screen is doing yourself a major disservice. This means that you should have at least an intermediate level of Japanese for it to aid you with your learning. This is a great opportunity to reinforce your listening skills for vocabulary, grammar and speech patterns.
Don’t get too bogged down with understanding every little detail from the beginning, though. Gaining complete comprehension will take time and practice, as long as you are able to fill in the blanks as you go along, then you are making progress.
When watching an episode, write down all the new words you have come across and put them into a spreadsheet. This helps you to keep track of what you’re learning. If you’re into using flashcard applications, such as Anki, you can import your spreadsheet and test your knowledge. The most important thing is you learn all these items and their meaning before moving on to the next episode.
Language shadowing involves reading the subtitles out loud along with the speaker (anime character, narrator, etc.). This will help you to develop your pronunciation abilities in Japanese. Having said that, be careful to not mimic characters who don’t sound like real people… you could be training yourself to sound like a weirdo!
Most streaming platforms also offer you to slow down the speed of the video which is a major help if you’re still getting used to the Japanese pronunciation.
When choosing which anime program to watch, it’s recommended to avoid outlandish themes such as science fiction and fantasy. These themes use more unusual Japanese that will generally not stand to you in real life. Three broad anime themes that can be trusted to have more normal, casual language, however, are high school shows, detective dramas and sports anime.
Check out our article on chrome extensions for language learners for more ideas.
Japanese is an honorific language with different ways of speaking. It goes beyond the generally straightforward distinction between formal and informal though and depends on whether you are speaking with a friend, family member, acquaintance, colleague, or superior.
It’s important to be aware of this when watching Japanese anime because the characters live in their own universe where slang, casual language, and even made up words are very much part of the anime-world. Imitating anime characters can leave you speaking like a child or a rude person if you aren’t fully aware of the context. Find out more about Japanese etiquette in our article "Learn Japanese Online."
楽しんで！ (have fun!)