Learn Japanese by Watching Anime, Movies, and Dramas

If you are learning Japanese, chances are you probably also happen to like some Japanese entertainment such as movies, dramas, and anime. So, are you using those things to your benefit? After all, we learn best when we are engaged with interesting material! If you haven’t tried it yet, then I’ll show you how to get started.


For anyone who has just started or has yet to begin learning Japanese, a dose of reality: you aren’t going to learn the language exclusively from watching stuff. You have to study and work hard. Anime and movies can be a fun part of an overall balanced study regimen, but its only a small piece of the puzzle. Before you get started here, you need to have a solid foundation to work from. Once you have picked up a bit of the grammar and began to build up a vocabulary, then we can start getting into the fun stuff.

If you have been studying for a bit, but are still in the beginner level where you can’t really understand natural Japanese at all, but can pick out a few words and phrases here and there, then you should primarily be watching things with English subtitles at this point. That’s right, with English subtitles, just like you normally do. While you are watching, you want to try to force yourself to really pay attention to what the characters are saying. Listen for things that you recognize, try to get a rough idea of what’s going on, maybe even try repeating lines after the characters say them. At this stage, you are still just gaining familiarity with the language. Don’t expect to really learn anything from the anime itself yet at this point, it’s more just a tool to increase your familiarity and your recognition of what you have already learned.

Some people might wonder “wouldn’t it be better to watch without subtitles?” The answer to that is no. According to Stephen Krashen’s Input Hypothesis, language acquisition takes place when the learner is consuming comprehensible input that is just slightly above the learner’s current level. In other words, if you don’t know what the characters are saying, you can listen to it 100 times and you still aren’t going to know what they are saying. As I said before, at this stage you aren’t trying to learn anything new from the anime, you just want to reinforce what you have already learned. Also, in this paper by Martine Danan, we can see that some research has shown that watching material with subtitles in your native language can be superior to watching without any subtitles.

Intermediate Learners

Once your Japanese is at the point where you are understanding large passages from shows, or you feel like you know most of the words but your mind just can’t process them quickly enough to fully understand, then it might be time to move on to the next step, and begin actually learning from the shows that you are watching.

At this point, you are going to begin using Japanese subtitles. For anime, one of the largest collections of Japanese subtitles can be found at kitsuneko.net. For dramas, take a look at d-addict’s subtitles index. For movies, I’ll just have to leave it in your hands, as I haven’t found a good resource. Also, movies might generally only have subtitles available in the form that comes directly from the DVD or Blu-ray disc, which are actually images rather than text. These are less than ideal, but they can work in a pinch if you can’t find anything else.

While you are still at a lower level in Japanese, I highly recommend trying to choose shows that have simpler language–things like slice-of-life or high school dramas, or maybe things directed more towards children. You want to make this as easy for yourself as possible! I would highly recommend the anime “Chi’s Sweet Home” to start off. You can find both Japanese and English subtitles, the language is simple, and the episodes are only about 3 minutes each!

Next, you generally might want to start off by watching your chosen show with English subtitles if you have never seen it before, to learn the characters and the story. Then, you want to start reading through the Japanese subtitles. Look up words that you don’t know, and try to understand everything that is going on. If there are some parts here and there that you don’t get, that’s alright, but if there are a lot of parts you don’t understand, then you need to either find something easier or study other things for a few more months. If you like, you can load the subtitles up in Aegisub, a subtitling program which will allow you to go line by line and listen to the audio as you read the text. Be sure to look over the Aegisub manual on their website in order to learn how to use this software. I highly recommend using Aegisub to read through the script, because it will allow you to easily make any changes to the synchronization of the subtitles, to make sure they are lined up properly with your audio. Another cool thing that you can try is to “export” the script from Aegisub as a plain text file, and then you can open up the text file in your web browser where you can use Rikaichan to help read it. Update: I now recommend using PotPlayer rather than Aegisub.

Once you have managed to read through the subtitles for an episode, now its time to go to the next stage and utilize subs2srs to generate Anki cards which you can study! Subs2srs is fairly straightforward, and a simple guide to using it is right there on it’s own website. In addition, you can also use Audio Lesson Studio to generate audio lessons which you can listen to on your phone or mp3 player!

Once you have gained familiarity with the language used in the episode, now try going back and watching it without subtitles. You will be amazed at how well you can follow along now! With each episode you go through, you should find that things get easier and easier, as there will be a lot of repeated topics and vocabulary, on top of the fact that your knowledge of Japanese is increasing.

A Starter Deck

If you are looking for something to get started on, I would recommend the following movie.


A cute and somewhat sad film about cats, the narrator speaks clearly and quite simply for the most part. I’ve posted up my subs2srs deck in a thread over on the koohii forums. If it looks like something you would be into, find a copy of the movie and give it a shot. Otherwise, feel free to start off with something that you would enjoy better.

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