Learn Japanese Through Anime

By John Dinkel

Why do Japanese people bow so much? 


While I would love if people learned Japanese through our comic, this article will hopefully give you a couple more help and direction in learning the best language in the world. Manga, or Japanese comic books used to be part of a deep nerd culture. Only the “Otaku” would watch series such as Naruto, Inuyasha and Fruits Basket. 


With the emergence and growth of Japanese culture and maybe partially due to the power of manga and anime, learning Japanese is now more on the minds of language learners more than ever. I mean who in their right mind would not want to speak the same language as their heroes and heroines? I know I always wanted to watch the original Power Rangers and read Bakuman in its original language. Maybe even make sense of that odd naming scene in the beginning of the first book. 


How to Start

If you want to learn Japanese and use Manga or Anime, there are a number of things you should think about. The first of which is what manga or anime do you want to learn through? Why does this matter? Unless you actually want to speak like Zaraki Kenpachi or Naruto I would shy away from things that will only confuse you, and the people that will hear you speaking. Make sure to pick something that is close enough to reality, and close enough to normal conversation so that you don’t sound too odd. I mean image who you would sound if you learned Japanese by learning to speak from John Wayne or Cardi B? Here are a few manga that I recommend that are really close to real life.  

  • Silver Spoon
  • Yotsuba
  • Bakuman (my personal favorite)
  • Oishinbo
  • Darker Than Black And basically anything in the Nichijou category is really safe. 


While you can try something a little more edgy, like Boku no Hero Academia or Shaman King, a lot of the vocabulary words aren’t going to help you in the long run. Just make sure to used a small amount of common sense when choosing a title. 


Another thing to take into consideration is picking something that is you level. Shooting too far out of you language level will only limit what you will be learning. Try to read thing that you understand 75% or more of the vocabulary.Thing to pick up on Vocabulary The first and easiest thing to do when listening or reading Manga/Anime is to pick out vocabulary words. When you hear or read you don’t know make a note and then decide if the word is actually something that you use. An easy way to think if you will use it or not, think if you have used it in your past week, if not, put it away for a later date.Another key to learning vocabulary is making sure to use it within 24 hours. Kemushi-chan the youtuber is famous for this wonderful rule. Make sure you can use the new word, potentially around native speakers, within a 24 hour window. 


Subtitles. We all need them, and at the same time quietly hate them. While the euphoria of being able to watch Parasite and interpret for my wife was a fun experience, making the most of subtitles can be tricky. This is often because translators often translate the meaning of the sentence rather than the direct translation. Take a word like くそ which can be translated at $h!t or crap. I have even heard it being used as S0B or the f-bomb. However, that translation is relative to the translator. They often take many liberties which can be troubling, so first make sure you look up the word or grammar point.


A couple sources to do that are sites like Jisho.org & Discovernihongo.com. Sites like these can tell you the many ways something can be used and said. When you think “How did they say that” it is a good rule of thumb and try using it right away. Contractions/SlangSomething awesome about Manga and Anime, is you sometimes get how Japanese people actually sound as opposed to how textbooks make them sound. For example, when learning how to use ‘ing’ in Japanese it is often taught as Baseて+いる, however, it is often spoken as Baseて+る; cutting out the い entirely. This is something that you would only get from reading manga or talking to a native and being really good at listening. This is important to know and can make you sound a lot better when you learn how Japanese people actually say them. 



Shadowing: This may be the common method of learning Japanese though Anime. Take a character whom you like from a anime or even J-Drama (Jin is amazing) and practice imitating them. A great way to do this is try repeating what the person is saying immediately after they say it in the exact same way. I used to heavily imitate a roommate of mine until I could fool people over the phone. Even now I listen to people whom I like the sound of until I can voice their way of speaking. This is great for intonation and learning where to place emphasis. 


Read and Repeat: Go through a book and highlight everything word you don’t know, but only look up the words that you may have many gaps in what you are reading, and if a word pops up more that 3-5 times go ahead and look up the word. Ignore all other words. Then after reading that section re-read the section or book and see how much you can understand. Then, read the section again after filling in all words you didn’t know. You will find your brain is able to take in something new each time you read it. This is great with dense wordy manga like DeathNote or even Full Metal Alchemist. I commonly do it with books. A great place to start with that is My Individualism by Souseki if you are really into that kind of thing. 


The Act: Read the book out-loud and then make voices for each person. Really. This method is used by actors and many language learners. Then after you feel you have a scene down read it with a native speaker. Focus on what/how they say it and if possible record you reading aloud. This will force you to improve and help you learn with something called “full body response” which helps you learn words faster. While you may feel kinda silly it is a legit method that I have personally used. 


Dual Reading: Pick a common manga or Anime and become the interpreter or translator. When I worked as an interpreter we would often listen to Ted Talks (Takafumi Horie is awesome) and practice simultaneous interpretation. One interpreter would listen, while the other interpreted. After 20 minutes we would switch and give the other one notes which consisted of 2 good points, a Vocab list, and 1 major improvement.




In the same fashion, many language learner find it very helpful to translate the content they are reading. To do this, take a common manga or anime like One Piece and write on a piece of paper the translation of everything on the page. For any words you don’t know mark an X in their place and translate the chapter or page. Then open the English or native language text and see how a professional did this. I recommend a widely accepted translation of a particular text. The more popular the better. That way you get a really nice clear translation. The more obscure, the worse less likely you are to get a good translation. Once you see how you measured up against a professional, take note of what you wanted to learn, add it to your daily use list, and then switch. Take the native language text and translate it into Japanese. See if you can articulate yourself into speaking like that particular character. You will find this method very stressful and labor intensive, but it is also a great way to mold your mind to start thinking in Japanese. While these are the main methods, there are many other methodologies for learning through manga and anime, the biggest thing is to actually learn and enjoy it. 


Language learning isn’t and should never be limited to the classroom. Japanese is much bigger than any stupid textbook but is something that happens through life and learning. Make sure you use what you love and learn. Japanese is a wonderful and lovely language that has connected me to fantastic people and dear friends. It has literally changed my life. If you want to really learn a language you need to try and not be afraid of failure. You are going to make mistakes, but those pitfalls and slips are the stepping stones to true language acquisition.  


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