Learning Japanese with Anime: Does it actually work?

Unfortunately, nont of us are omniscient like Saiki K. (The Disastrous Life of Saiki K.), which means that we have to study hard to get better at Japanese. Or do we? Some people say learning Japanese with Anime works for them, which seems like a dream come true!

This tactic has become one of Japanese students’ favorite study methods, but does it actually help you learn? If it is, how do you effectively use anime to become better at Japanese? Never fear – we may not be a strong superhero like All Might (My Hero Academia), but we are here to help save the day (and your study session)!

So Can We Learn Japanese with Anime?

Well, the short answer is yes… and no. The long answer is a bit more complicated; like all study methods, using anime may work for some and not others.

There are both benefits to using anime to study as well as some issues.

However, it can be said for sure that you should not try to learn Japanese by using anime alone; not only will this make it hard for you to pick up complicated grammar, but the language that is used in anime is not always the same as in real life.

On the other hand, anime can be used as a tool when studying, which is what we’ll take a look at now.

Benefits of Using Anime for Japanese Learning

One of the biggest benefits of anime is that it can be great listening practice! Although you may not pick up every detail the first time something is said like L (Death Note), it’s a good way to get used to hearing spoken Japanese in actual conversations.

You can always replay sections (or slow them down) and check the subtitles if you need to. Additionally, anime can expose you to a variety of Japanese accents and other ways of speaking that you wouldn’t normally hear in a classroom. You also may be able to pick up on some new vocabulary words along the way!

Another benefit is that characters often use informal and gender-specific speech. Usually, whenever you start learning Japanese, you begin with a formal, neutral speech before eventually moving on to different honorific levels and pronouns.

Whenever you reach this point, watching anime can be helpful to practice distinguishing between these. Who uses what honorific level at what time? When do characters refer to themselves as わたし (watashi) as opposed to おれ (ore) or うち (uchi)? (If you’re confused about the pronouns we just mentioned, try checking out our article about that here

Finally, using anime is simply a great way to keep learning fun! If all you do is read textbooks and quiz yourself over kanji, then studying is bound to become tedious very quickly. The more you dislike studying, the less likely you are to keep doing it – so finding fun things to engage with is important.


However, using anime does have its drawbacks. For one thing, it’s very easy to rely on subtitles and not actually pay attention to the Japanese. You can get caught up in the story and the characters and, next thing you know, you’ve completely forgotten to listen to the Japanese!

This is especially true if you’re still a beginner, as it is hard to understand spoken dialogue with limited knowledge and vocabulary.

Similarly, it’s also easy to watch too much anime under the guise of studying and not spend time working on other things. While listening is a very important skill to have, reading, writing, and speaking are all just as important. You can’t practice these other elements of Japanese if you are spending all of your time watching a show!

Lastly, the Japanese that is used in anime is usually not the same as in real life. Pronunciations are often exaggerated, words can be made up, and characters may use stronger words and expressions than what is actually socially acceptable.

Thus, anime isn’t a great guide for how to properly speak Japanese. You can see some examples of this in our article about anime phrases to avoid.

How to Use Anime to Learn Japanese – The Right Way!

So, should you use anime to study Japanese? The answer is yes – but only if you do it properly. There are a few key elements to remember when using anime, which we’ll outline for you below.

Luckily, they are easier than Saitama (One Punch Man)’s workout routine of 100 push-ups, 100 sit-ups, 100 squats, and a 10K run daily!

Use Subtitles to Your Advantage

While we did just say that subtitles are bad, they can also be good too! There are a variety of ways that you can use subtitles, but here’s a general idea of what we would recommend: first, watch the episode with English (or your native language) subtitles turned on. Enjoy the story and become familiar with what happens.

Then, if you’re at an advanced level of Japanese, turn off the subtitles completely and watch the episode again; this way, you are forced to rely on the Japanese to follow with the story. If this is too hard, you can also turn on Japanese subtitles and read along.

Sometimes, you can download the subtitles for specific anime. Doing this allows you to easily search online for vocabulary or grammar items you don’t understand.

Make sure you don’t skim over items you don’t understand – that defeats the whole purpose of studying! Treat these items the same as you would ones from a textbook (memorize them, practice them, etc.); then, when these items pop up again, you can pick them up easier.

It’s a good idea to then rewatch the episode again after studying with the subtitles to hear (and understand!) that new vocab or grammar in context.

Try Shadowing

No, this isn’t a move from Naurto. Shadowing with language is the practice of reading a text out loud along with a native speaker – in this case, reading the Japanese subtitles along with the characters or narrator1.

This is a great way to get a feel for pacing, tone, pronunciation, and intonation in spoken Japanese. BUT! You’ll have to be careful; as we said before, sometimes the Japanese in anime isn’t an accurate reflection of normal Japanese. Some characters use extremely high pitches or draw out syllables for dramatic effect.

This method is probably best used by those at the advanced and intermediate levels, as you’ll have a better idea of “normal” Japanese by then. If you do try shadowing, it is also a good idea to follow along with someone similar to yourself (gender, age, etc.); that way, you get a good practice using the correct honorifics.

You can also record yourself while shadowing to get a better idea of how you actually sound.

Be Picky With Your Anime

Another important point is to watch the right kind of anime. While shows like Mob Psycho 100 and Tokyo Ghoul are fun, they tend to be filled with vocabulary that is highly specific or made up for specific concepts.

This is pretty typical of fantasy or sci-fi anime! Instead of spending your all time picking up those types of words, try to watch anime that includes more “normal” vocabulary that you can use in daily life. Genres like romance, slice-of-life, mystery, and high school dramas are safer bets.

Anime made for children is also useful! You can get a head start on picking out a show like what we mentioned with our recommendations here.

Check Out the Source Material

As you probably already know, many anime are actually based on manga. Not in just a general idea of the plot and characters, but many take dialogue and images directly from the original comics.

If you’re struggling to maintain good study habits with anime alone, this may be a good option for you. Being able to read the story in Japanese instead of just listening can help you see the vocabulary and grammar in a new light – especially if you are a visual learner. You’ll be able to easily highlight new items and review old ones.

It can also give you something to compare: where does the anime change the dialogue and how? Is the manga easier or harder to understand than the anime? Being able to find these differences may give you extra motivation and make you say waku waku like Anya (SPYxFAMILY)!


Sadly, watching anime isn’t a magical technique that will make you suddenly fluent in Japanese. In order to see results, you’ll still have to put in some serious hours studying and practicing.

However, using anime can be a great way to engage with the language and have fun while doing it. With the above pointers and some resolve, anime can be the tool that will boost your level of Japanese to the next level.

As Koro Sensei (Assassination Classroom) says, “Stay determined – not impatient nor discouraged – and with repeated trial and error, you’re bound to reach a splendid outcome eventually.”

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