Learning Japanese without Anime or Manga

Be it the rich history of samurai, or subtle flavors of washoku (traditional Japanese cooking), you are inspired to learn Japanese. But there’s one slight drawbackーyou’re not really into anime or manga. No big deal. They may be a huge part of what inspired a generation of language learners but learning Japanese without anime or manga is possible.

Red torii gates with Japanese characters on them

Subs or dubs? Who even knows what that means?

Learning Through Television

While Netflix’s and Hulu’s Japanese sections are predominantly geared towards anime fans, there are plenty of other dramas available for streaming.

Tip #1: These will depend on your region, of course, but try to find something in the “slice-of-life” genre. Unlike a lot of anime, which uses specialized vocabulary and grammar that is not necessarily used by ordinary people, slice-of-life shows are going to depict people doing ordinary things. As such, the conversations will more accurately reflect those of everyday interactions.

Personal recommendation: One popular listing is the live-action adaption of What Did You Eat Yesterday (きのう何食べた?). This series is great for studying Japanese; the perfect blend of easy listening and binge-able content.

Tip #2: Also consider reality TV, variety shows, and game shows—especially trivia shows that can help you learn about Japanese history or irregular kanji.

Tip #3: Just cannot find anything that interests you? Take a show you have already seen and loved, and try watching it again with Japanese subtitles or voiceover. It might be strange listening to Michael Scott speak Japanese, but it is great practice, especially considering you are already familiar with the content.

Bonus tip for any Google Chrome users: try the Chrome Extension “Language Learning with Netflix.” It allows you to watch shows with both English and Japanese subtitles. You can also click on words to see their definitions, among a host of other features.

Red torii gates with Japanese characters on them

Improve Your Listening Skills With Music

Getting away from television, another way to practice listening is to find Japanese bands that are listener-friendly.

Tip #1: Ballads tend to be easier! You can try listening through while reading along with the lyrics, or just throwing something on in the background while you are working on other things.

Personal recommendations: Ikimonogakari, famous for their songs Bluebird and Arigatou, is one of the best bands to practice Japanese listening skills. Singer Kiyoe Yoshioka’s pronunciation is easy to follow, and a good number of their songs are slow enough to be able to pick up on the lyrics.

Some others to try are:
– back number (クリスマスリング、水平線、etc.)
– Hiraidai (Tonight, Hoshininosete)
– Hata Motohiro (ひまわりの約束)

A Japanese book

Reading in Japanese Can Be Easy

Don’t be scared to read due to the abundance of kanji characters. There are resources that provide different levels of text as well as fun topics.

Tip #1: Use NHK Easy. The Japanese media giant has an entire website that is dedicated to sharing the latest news and current events in easy-to-read language. They also put readings above each kanji, and you can click on a word you don’t know to see its definition.

Tip #2: Try the free app Mondo. It gives you a wide variety of articles organized into categories from food to travel to sports. One unique feature, though, is that you can save words you want to remember and be quizzed on them later.

Bonus tip: For beginners, go on a language journey (literally!) with cute characters from the Brunchy family with the Japanese Language RPG Quest.

While anime and manga are great resources for getting lots of input, they are not the only methods available. Try learning Japanese without anime or manga with the options above.

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