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Learning Japanese with Anime Posted Mar 8, 2020

Let us follow a logical course for a moment: if you are learning Japanese, you most likely have a reason to. Whether it is for business, in preparation of a study stint in that country or simply because you, like so many others, have fallen in love with the culture, you are to be applauded.

If the latter reason fits you the best, you love all things Japanese, you surely know about manga and anime; maybe you even have your own manga collection or a host of DVDs featuring titles such as Detective Conan and Slam Dunk.

The question is: do you listen to English dubs or the original Japanese soundtrack? Do you read English subtitles exclusively or occasionally switch to Japanese?

Anime: fantastic and energetic, romantic and heroic; the sometimes mythical tales that come to life through large-eyed characters is a draw for anyone young or old, in love with Japanese culture or not.

Far more than being merely entertaining, anime is one of the few artistic media that is wholly representative of the culture it originates from so if you’ve set your sights on Japan, understanding the anime phenomenon is a step in the right direction.

Learning Japanese is another and, if you’re a fan of anime, you may find your favorite stories can help you master their language.

It takes a bit of effort on your part, though. Simply streaming your latest anime acquisition and kicking back to enjoy it won’t be enough.

Well, the first time through would be fine – it’s a great way to train your ear but after that, you should:

1. Choose the Right Anime

Not all anime is the same and with all the different genres out there, you might wonder which ones would be most effective for practicing Japanese listening skills.

It’s no great secret that, often, the Japanese language you hear in anime is not an actual reflection of how Japanese people speak in everyday situations. Some anime even features completely made-up words that have no meaning at all!

That’s why drawing on certain genres is more likely to hinder than help your learning efforts.

What should you watch, then?

Generally, detective anime are pretty close to ‘true’, so are sports-themed anime and those with a school storyline.

Final note: if you are just starting to learn Japanese, you might think that ‘baby’ anime would work the best but these too can contain a fair measure of nonsense words.

It would be best to steer clear of them.

2. Follow Along in Manga

Plenty of anime have a print version to accompany the series; indeed, most anime starts out as manga.

Depending on where you live, you may have a hard time finding manga printed in Japanese; most books meant for overseas markets are printed in specific countries’ languages.

You may also have trouble finding manga for the series you propose to watch without ordering it from abroad or from a specialty shop.

Once you get your hands on the manga you want, you may find that it follows anime dialog rather closely, effectively putting the show’s script in your hands.

Conversely, if the anime you’re watching takes a completely different tack than the manga, you might challenge yourself to find the differences.

3. Watch with Japanese Subtitles On

Every Japanese kana represents a syllable: pu, ka, no and so on. Thus, every spoken syllable corresponds with a hiragana/katakana.

Making frequent use of your DVD player’s or streaming service’s ‘pause’ feature, as soon as a new subtitle appears, pause the frame and write down what you see.

Once you’ve got everything down, play the clip, listening carefully to what the character says. You can then write each syllable over/under each kana until you have transcribed an entire segment of dialog.

This is an excellent way to train your ear while practicing Japanese writing and the best news is that, because your hand is doing the work, your brain is processing information in more than one way.

Far from permitting those words to fall out of memory, you’re more likely to remember vocabulary that you’ve worked in more than one way than word lists from your textbooks!


Watching anime is a fun way to cultivate your Japanese language skills, especially if you incorporate it into your learning from the get-go. Select anime that is most likely to mirror normal Japanese speech patterns and listen to the original soundtrack – not the dub, so that you can pick up on the natural rhythm of the language.

You could use the anime’s manga to record notes about the show or questions you might want to ask your Japanese teacher.

Use anime subtitles to your advantage, either copying the kana that pop up on your screen and matching them to the syllables you hear or, to challenge your listening skills, turn them off to see how much spoken Japanese you can pick up on.

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