Learning Japanese via anime/manga

There’s a fairly large thread about the merits (or lack thereof) of learning Japanese via anime on my main grammar guide page which I deleted primarily to keep the page clean (and it’s also off-topic). I will follow up with a more detailed post but to sum up my opinion on the matter, I would say anything that engages you and helps you spend more time using Japanese is a good thing. However, it also depends on what anime/manga you’re using. The important thing is that you’re using anime/manga to learn Japanese and not just trying to translate or learn Japanese to watch anime or read manga.

Here’s the full thread:

Hi i am from india
I am watcing the japanese anime last 1 year.But i learned basics of japanese language how to learn japanese language
Posted by Anonymous on Apr 22nd, 2010 at 1:44 am.


I think it’s great that you’re learning Japanese, for whatever reason.
Don’t listen to people that say anime/manga is not a good reason.

Good luck with your studies!


Don’t learn Japanese because of anime. The real Japan is completely different than what anime-fans think. You should work on learning English first if you’re going to consult in this language.


Why do you think so,..???
I think your argument is false…
Bacause javanese language is most popular in my country…


Trust me, it is not a great idea to learn Japanese just because of anime. It is a really shallow reason because the truth is, as any Japanese person would tell you, anime is just TV shows and does not bring insight to the culture. Learn Japanese if you intend to interact with Japanese people, which would broaden your world more than just an easy way to watch TV.


You should learn a language for the reason that you want to learn it. It’s annoying when people flank out or look down on anime or manga as an invalid reason or resource for language study – it just shows ignorance on the part of the person giving the opinion.

Denying anime as a resource or considering it ‘shallow’ is denying an element of Japanese culture. A lot of Japanese people would not consider it to be irrelevant or pointless, plus it’s a great way to improve listening and pronunciation without having to struggle through a news bulletin or a long documentary.

Japanese is the third foreign language I’ve studied to a post-school level and the advantage of it over others is the diversity of material available. I was taught to use all and every available resource when studying a foreign language because that’s the only way to learn it naturally as well as grammatically.

I didn’t start learning Japanese becuase of anime – I have an interest in the history and family connections to the country. On my bookshelf are copies of the Heike Monogatari in it’s original kobun, so I take studying Japanese very seriously. However, I have found anime extremely useful and educational along with several other resources. Plus, it’s fun. People seem to think if you have fun studying a language you’re doing something frivolous and wrong. Truth is it’s the opposite – you learn more if you learn from something you enjoy.

People also have this wrong idea that all anime is for children and involves the same stunted and repeated phrases through episode after episode. Doubtless these exist, but perhaps folk outside of Japan forget that anime is not the same as ‘cartoon’ and that it’s not always just for children. Imposing western ideas on learning an eastern language just makes learning it harder.


Does it really matter what the reason is? As long as there is a genuine will to learn I think it’s all right. I started out with Anime as well, and got interested in the culture later.
No offence, but there’s really no need to try to stop someone from learning a language they’re interested in just because you don’t like the reason as to why they’re interested.


Agreed. I don’t know why some people think their reason for learning something is more superior than others.


No, learning Japanese just to watch anime with is inane. Learning it to do business with is a superior reason.


No, it’s not. Learning because of anime and learning because of you want to do business are both extrinsic rewards and doesn’t help motivate you to continue studying the language as much as intrinsic rewards. For example, an intrinsic reward is wanting to expand your views of the world or because it’s a challenge for you to overcome.

So what if they want to learn the language because of anime? Maybe they start out that way but ended up continue learning because they genuinely want to learn about the culture. If to do business is your only reason to learn Japanese… then I want to ask you, that’s it? Only business? Kind of a waste if you ask me. You’re not going to make friends with the language? You’re not going to visit and learn more about their culture? But if that’s what you want. It’s all you.

20 thoughts on “Learning Japanese via anime/manga

  1. > The important thing is that you’re using anime/manga to learn Japanese and not just trying to translate or learn Japanese to watch anime or read manga.

    When you post about it could you elaborate on that? It seems to me that reading manga (or playing games, etc.) is as good a reason as any other to learn Japanese. I mean, why else would you learn it? To get jobs? But then the jobs are a just a means to get money, which is itself a means for some other kind of gratification. Or is it to “interact with the real Japanese society”? But why should the real Japanese society be somehow superior to the fantasy world of manga? In either case, exploring them is something like a hobby. There’s no reason one *needs* to explore real Japanese society. You could just stay at home and explore the real society of your country instead. One turns to Japan because one finds it interesting. If other people find real Japanese society boring but Japanese RPG games interesting, I can see no reason why they shouldn’t study Japanese in order to play RPG games.

    Personally, I’m learning Japanese to enjoy literature and traditional culture; I study tea ceremony and shodō, and hope to someday learn Old Japanese and translate medieval manuscripts. But I can see no reason why my own academic interest in traditional culture should be held as morally superior to being an anime fan. In any case we’re just trying to experience things we like, and we need to cross the language barrier for full enjoyment.

    Of course, if all your Japanese comes from anime it might lack finesse for real-world interaction (excessive colloquialism, etc). But then, the typical anime fan is not really interested in real-world interaction; they’re interested in anime, and for that end anime Japanese is just perfect. Business-oriented Japanese too would lack vocabulary to read horror novels, and “real life” Japanese would lack vocabulary and protocol for a student of koryū martial arts. Studying Japanese from the domain you’re interested in is the best approach, IMHO, since the study itself is already its own reward, the means is the goal—if you want to learn Japanese primarily to read manga, it’s quite rational to learn it *by* reading manga.

    • > The important thing is that you’re using anime/manga to learn Japanese and not just trying to translate or learn Japanese to watch anime or read manga.

      Example: Hey guys, can you help me translate the lyrics for this song?

  2. I don’t think there can be a right or a wrong reason for wanting to learn how to do something, whether it be speaking Japanese or any other skill.

    When I was a kid I taught myself how to program only because I thought it was fun hobby. At the time I had no idea you could be paid to write software. Now I work as a programmer, and get paid to do my hobby full time.

    Do I plan to get a job in Japan? Meh, I already have a job. Right now I’m only learning Japanese because it’s a fun hobby. I also like video games and anime, so I play video games and watch anime in Japanese. My only goal is to have fun, not to walk some optimal path to a preset destination.

    However, who knows what I’ll want to do 5 years from now? I think I’m way better off studying all the things that I enjoy studying, and then I will have a lot of varied skills that will at least have the *potential* to be useful to me in the future. That’s worked out well for me many times.

    Bottom line: you should learn skills for whatever reason that you feel like. If you spend a lot of time teaching yourself new things, it will probably pay of in some way or other, and you’ll certainly be no worse off if it doesn’t.

  3. What is the purpose of life?
    Now, while you are trying to come up with a smart answer, why not to learn a couple of Kanji, for no reason, just because you want it so…

  4. There is a software license (http://sam.zoy.org/wtfpl/COPYING) that states ‘you just do what the fuck you want to’ with a given software. People really just need to do what the fuck they want to if they can, don’t they? So just let people do what the fuck they want to if they wish to learn Japanese because and from anime. I don’t want to be rude or anything of course, you’re a great man with a great Japanese guide, but this post is subpar to your quality of standard.

    A humble guide user.

    • He’s just re-posting what people have said about the subject in commets.

      Individuals learning from anime just need to understand exactly what they’re getting. Most anime uses highly stylized or colloquial language. Don’t expect to be able to use that language for practical communication. (Imagine learning British English from Absolutely Fabulous or American English from Spongebob Squarepants, or somthing.)

      For practical learners, this can be confusing. I think some people say, “Japanese learning takes a lot of time. Learning it with anime only is just wasting that time with no payoff.”

      Personally, it seems like it would be more work to learn just for anime content, but that’s because I’ve been a practical learner and don’t have experience with which to personally relate to anime learners.

  5. I caution everyone against thinking that whatever reason makes you want to learn a language is a “waste of time”. That’s wrong thinking, and trying to convince anyone of this is doing him a great disservice. I started learning English 30 years ago because I wanted to understand rock songs lyrics and read Tolkien (of all things!) in the original language, and I don’t think I’ve wasted my time. I started learning Japanese 20 years ago because of manga, and while my interested in that particular part of Japanese culture has greatly dwindled with age, it was as a good way to start as anything else! ANYTHING that keep you interested in a language is fine, and any reason to learn one is good.

  6. I wrote the last comment of that thread. I actually don’t care what reason you would have to learn a language but I kinda hate it when people look down others for learning Japanese because of anime. With all the difficult particles, kanji, and verb conjugations maybe anime or business is enough of a reason but I think you do find another reason to push yourself through all that. For example, I initially took French to impress girls (which is probably the worst reason to learn a language) but I eventually took it for four years because it was fun and rewarding (and get to impress girls… somewhat).

    • I hear you, Jim. For me, and many others, the issue is not people starting to learn Japanese for anime, but people who say they are learning when it appears they aren’t even trying. I have also been on the other end of “will you translate these song lyrics for me?” along with countless other examples of people who confuse their enthusiasm for anime with the persistence and dedication required to learn a foreign language.

      I started learning Japanese to impress people, but ended up studying it for years and living in Japan. I totally understand initiating that process for a silly reason, but at the same time I’m among the people who feel frustrated when witnessing, for example, an anime fan placing a higher priority over learning the kanji for “ninja” rather than learning how to conjugate ある.

  7. A lot of people say that Japanese anime is just so damn different from how real people talk. That really gets to me for some reason. I mean, I believe in any field. Yeah, there are going to be some specialized vernacular that we won’t normally use. But I do believe that 70-90% of the language we use is pretty much the same, or at least very similar.

    Now, let’s just pick Naruto, for example, since it had flabberasted and annoyed so many ”Japanese-learners” across the world with its stupidity and stunted phrases and “fake-Japanese”…whatever it’s called.

    And many people believe that animes like Naruto are just childish, shallow, uses simple language that comes NOWHERE near real, novel Japanese….right?

    Alright, so basically, being the anime fan that I am, I watched a couple of episodes of Naruto….and lo and behold,

    here are some of the dialogue that they speak:











    I mean, sounds Japanese to me….and the sentences they speak are far more interesting and complex than anything you will learn in Japanese class or from a textbook.

    In fact, I’ve seen a lot of anime….and man….Naruto is really up there with long, winded and complex dialogue. More so than a lot of other anime.

    Yeah, you replace a couple of hard and advanced vocabulary like 虱潰し、駒, 冒涜 with something else and replace the ぞ、ぜ at the end of sentences with です, and there you go.

    I believe that

    • Actually, yeah. I’ve been very much a doubter of using anime as a learning tool: I guess my doubts stem from people learning Japanese to understand anime (and wholesale ignoring “boring” parts of language acquisition in the process) instead of vice versa.

      Yet I remember flicking channels in Japan quite a few times and stopping on Naruto because it was well, easy to understand but still with language above my level. Some of the adult characters in particular are very well spoken. Now, of course, it’d take a fool to just assume that you could repeat verbatim some of the “anime-slang” the younger ones spout, but even there listening practice is still good practice. Nice way to get used to dealing with unexpected pronounciation patterns, final conjugations or gobi; the type of stuff you actually DO have to contend with when listening to regional dialects.

  8. It may not be a good primary source, but reading the kanji in manga is still a good reinforcing exercise, and hearing it in anime helps develop an ear for the spoken language.

    As for whether it can be dismissed as ‘just anime/manga’ and not ‘real’ Japanese — if the culture doesn’t inform the fiction and the fiction doesn’t in turn inform the culture, then Japan is a very unique place. In fact, unbelievably so. Lacking a familiarity in both leaves a lopsided perspective, (just look at Japanese adaptation of western mythology and media for examples of that,) so one should approach with that in mind.

  9. “Trust me, it is not a great idea to learn Japanese just because of anime. It is a really shallow reason because the truth is, as any Japanese person would tell you, anime is just TV shows and does not bring insight to the culture.”

    LOL, I don’t think learning Japanese just because of anime is shallow. It’s just that different people like different things. What if one is interested in the cartoons but not the culture? What if the other is interested in the culture and not the cartoons? All people are different and have different priorities, and different needs.

  10. I think its a great idea to learn a language through children’s books, comics and children’s television shows. It keeps you interested and it is fun at the same time. Many of my friends who are not native English speakers learned to read and comprehend the English language by watching cartoons and reading English story or picture books.
    I started to learn Japanese, because I became interested in anime and manga. I started researching the history of anime and manga and came into contact with “real life” Japanese which fascinated me. I also enjoyed listening to the language, even though I did not understand anything, just because I enjoyed the sound of it.
    Since this time, I have met and made Japanese friends and I have also visited Japan. Japan and it’s culture have become a great passion of mine.
    I think the initial interest in a language needs to come from somewhere. I believe you have to find something that sparks your interest in a language or something that you like about it; even if it’s just the sound of the language.

    In closing, I would like to add that anime and manga are a huge part of the Japanese cuture. You are exposed to manga and anime from the moment you leave the plane and step foot onto Japanese soil. It is vertually impossible to avoid it.
    So, have fun studying. Gambatte!

  11. I personally do believe that there’s nothing wrong with learning Nihongo through Jdramas, animes, or mangas. What matters most is how motivated these learners are in speaking and understanding the language. Yes, textbooks may give us the formal grammar rules and all. But, every now and then, we need consultations from these Japanese programs in order to really understand their culture, and also to be imaginative of the different real-life encounters one must face in the real world.

  12. I’m learning Japanese with boring grammar books and such. But to keep me interested, I watch anime without subtitles to enforce it. I know Japan is nothing like anime, but I learn a lot about pronunciation.

  13. If anything, we should be encourage people to learn and experience new things. It is like the quote, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” So is taking on the task of learning a new language and, just as in life, the experiences and the lessons learned will often change the course. Why discourage people from even starting out on this journey?

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