Last updated with new resources: Jan. 2019
We’ve always advocated learning Japanese with anime here at KawaJapa. It can be done and it should be done!
However, to actually learn anything you need subtitles. Japanese subtitles. English subtitles won’t help you learn Japanese with anime, and just listening to things you don’t understand or barely understand won’t do much good either.
Back when I started, and when I started writing about it, getting quantities of Japanese-subtitled anime was a somewhat complicated business. Usually you had to find the anime and the subtitles in two different places and tie them together by hand – often re-timing them several times.
Fortunately for you (you young folks have it so easy these days) there are simpler ways to do it now.
We are currently aware of 4 sites that stream Japanese subtitled anime with a variety of useful features for learners (if you know of others or any changes, please let us know). All of them are free and while there is considerable overlap in the anime they serve, between them they cover a very wide range:
Japanese-subtitled Anime: free resources
Animelon The oldest-established free Japanese-subtitled anime streaming site.
Daiweeb – another excellent source for Japanese-subtitled anime (requires login to watch most anime).
ANJsub Another good very well-presented site
The fourth site is very bare-bones and no longer maintained but we include it here for completeness (it’s worth being aware of all possible resources). It is in fact the second incarnation of ANJsub (the one above is the third) and you can find it here.
ANJsub and Daiweeb both also have a selection of J-subbed Japanese drama.
This video gives a full introduction to sites of this type and how best to use them for actually learning Japanese:
All sites have both Japanese and English subtitles and allow you to turn them on and off at will. I strongly advise not watching with English subtitles because the human brain is hardwired to take the line of least resistance and you won’t learn much even if you think you will.
However, English subtitles can be useful for when you aren’t sure what a particular expression or way of speaking in Japanese means. If you use them for this, it is better to do a quick check by switching a single subtitle to English while paused and then switching back to Japanese before restarting. Think of it as a quick look-up tool rather than a functioning subtitle.
Side-note: if you find you’re having to use the English a lot, you’re probably having trouble with grasping Japanese language structure. No one teaches it the way it really is. Please watch this series.
Also note that you can use Yomichan to pick up, read kanji, get definitions and auto-create Anki cards directly from the on-screen subtitles. You can even have it scoop up the anime sentence in which a word appears and place it on the back of your card as a sample sentence.
There is a lot of good anime between the various sites, including all of Ghibli on Anime Japanese Subtitles and the delightful Shirokuma Cafe on Animelon. Not to mention all the regular shounen stuff that I tend not to bother with.
I used not to be a fan of streaming anime, but these two sites have changed my habits radically. Recently I’ve been enjoying Flying Witch, Hotarubi no Mori e and Hoshi wo Ou Kodomo. Being a doll I tend to like gentler anime with fantasy themes, but whatever your taste you’ll find things you like on these sites.
If you are starting to learn Japanese with anime, life just got a whole lot easier!