Does studying Japanese through anime work? Is it an effective study method?

Last month I posted a link on Facebook to this site’s article on how to actually learn Japanese from anime.

The post got a lot of attention, which kind of surprised me. What I found really shocking, though, was the amount of people that were quick to criticize anime as a study resource…

japanese through anime

japanese through anime2


I’ve heard people hating on anime as a study resource for a long time. Usually I try to stay out of it (mostly because I don’t watch much anime).

For those who are interested in (or hating on) studying through anime, maybe consider the following…

Does Studying Japanese Through Anime Work?

Recently, I made Rei an Anki Flashcard deck from some episodes of the TV show Friends in order to help her study English.

After a few days of using it, she told me that she’s not sure if it’s actually useful, because all of the characters have a strange way of talking (it is, after all, a comedy).

I responded by explaining my mental process when it comes to studying via Japanese entertainment media.

Don’t ask, “Is it useful, common language?”

Instead, ask yourself two other questions:

1) Do I enjoy studying it?

2) Should a Japanese person be able to understand this?

Let’s start with number two:

Anime is for “Mastery,” not “Fluency”

fluency vs mastery-smaller

“Fluency,” aside from being the most ill-defined word in the English language, refers to communicative ability.

“Mastery,” refers to deep, thorough understanding in addition to accurate communicative ability.

It doesn’t take long at all to be “fluent” in Japanese, because you can be “fluent” with a basic understanding of sentence construction and a smattering of useful words and phrases.

“Mastery,” however, takes time. It takes time because it requires tens of thousands of vocabulary, plus lots of cultural knowledge, and ability to manipulate grammatical constructions.

What is your goal for Japanese?  Fluency or Mastery?

Personally, I want to master this language. Since a master of Japanese (i.e. a native speaker) would understand Japanese TV shows (e.g. anime), I too want to understand TV shows and anime.

Also, a master of Japanese would also have enough knowledge of Japanese to understand when language in a show is inappropriate for everyday usage. Making mistakes regarding these while still at lower levels (on the way to mastery) only enhances understanding of the appropriate usage of the language.

The Power of an Enjoyable Study Method

The other question I ask myself is, “Do I enjoy studying this?”

I’ve always said that the only way any masters any language is to get high volumes of structured, constructive language exposure. Since we can make watching anime into a structured, constructive learning experience, then we can learn from it.

Then, if you enjoy it, you will have an easier time getting high volumes of exposure… which leads to more Japanese in your brain… which improves your Japanese.

The best way to learn any language is to not quit studying it. This makes finding enjoyable study resources a huge priority.

For example, a little over a year ago, I played all of Skyrim in Japanese. Talk about obscure language. 90% of that games language is pretty much useless in everyday life.

However, as is the nature of video games, I got super addicted to the game, and I spent like 100 hours on it. Also, while I was studying, I bookmarked every single word that I didn’t know in imi wa? Then later I went back and added those words to my Anki deck.

Long story short, I learned a lot of Japanese from it.

Just the other day I heard the word (四字熟語 / yojijukugo / “kanji compound”) 相思相愛 / soushi souai, which means something like “mutual love” or “to be deeply in love with one another.”

But if you say 相思相愛だ / soushi souai da, for example, it means “(We) love each other,” or “(They) love each other.”

I’ll never forget this phrase, because it’s what Aela the Huntress (Queen of Side-Boob) said to me when I asked he to marry me:


“We’re in love with one another.”


I learned useful Japanese from someone named Aela the Huntress. Surely you could learn a bit of Japanese from anime.

By the way, last night Rei and I watched an episode of Friends that’s she’s already been through on her flashcards, and she was stoked. Because it feels awesome to understand TV shows in the language you’re studying. It’s motivating, fun, and reassuring.

Isn’t that more important than studying something useful and boring that makes you want to quit entirely?

Just saying…

By the way, an even better way to learn Japanese is to sign up for the totally spam-free NihongoShark newsletter.

We also have this sweet free course:

Or, if you’re really serious, you could check out the Hacking Japanese Supercourse.

Good luck with your studies everyone!



Yo! I'm Niko, the founder of NihongoShark. I'm also a Japanese translator, writer, and all-around language nerd.

I created this site to help as many people master Japanese (any language, really) as possible.

Uh, what else? Well... I live in Tokyo, Bangkok, Sapporo, Saigon, San Diego, Tokyo, Chiang Mai, Portland, Oregon! So if anyone wants to meet up for a refreshing nama beer, I'm probably down for that. Or a coffee. Learning Japanese is tricky-tikki-tavi. But we're in this together. ファイト!

Good luck with your studies!


p.s. If you like my articles, you may very well love my daily lessons.