Use Anime Lingo To Boost Your Kanji Reading Ability

Everyone who studies Japanese to be able to watch anime would love to be able to study Japanese with and through that anime. While I wanted to do the same, I had no idea how to approach this.

I’m a fan of a little known anime series called Naruto. A while ago I tried an experiment with some friends (also Naruto fans) where I had them try to solve the following puzzle. They had never studied Japanese and had no knowledge of kanji.

Using Anime Lingo To Boost Your Kanji Reading AbilityNaruto is a 忍者
Naruto wants to be 火影 of the village.
Naruto has crush on a girl whose full name is “Sakura 春野.”
Naruto is a 下忍 and remains as such while Shikamaru becomes the first 中忍 of their group.
The Japanese word for spring is .

Task: Solve the readings for every kanji

If you are not a Naruto fan, you wouldn’t have a clue. But for my Naruto fan friends? They got every reading right, despite not learning Japanese. The readings and kanji stuck with them even a week later. That’s longer than the first standard Anki recall period (3 days).

This led me to a simple but powerful thought:

Learn kanji readings through anime lingo that you knew even before starting to study Japanese.

Through this, you have built in context, strong association, and already have the feel for an extensive library of vocabulary you are passionate about. The best thing about it is you did most of the legwork while watching subbed (or even dubbed) anime and put in no painful effort to learn that Japanese.

When you can save time and lessen your work, do it.

Here are some tips to help you get started actually turning that built in anime association into Japanese learning.

Using Anime Lingo To Boost Your Kanji Reading Ability 2

1. Find anime lingo

Wikia for anime is one of the best places to start. Try to look for stuff like list of “ranks”, “transformation”, “abilities” and “character names.” Observation and RTK will be your ally. The process should be fairly intuitive.

2. Multiple readings

Many kanji have multiple readings. For example 中 can be both ちゅう and じゅう. You can use Rikai-Sama or a dictionary to cover everything or just focus on learning specific readings from the anime and worry about the others later. But sometimes even the anime lingo alone is enough to cover this. For example, learning both readings of 忍 through words like  忍者 (ninja) and 忍び(shinobi).

3. Lesser used kanji

Anime has a lot of words that are common or just sometimes plain made up. That’s fine, because usually the readings are the same as most other words, and what you are after are the readings.

4. Keep the method to pre-Japanese learning knowledge

The point of this method is to save you time by tapping into your potential word knowledge that you didn’t realize you had. Once you start learning Japanese, don’t bother going out of your way to watch new subbed or dubbed anime just to gain the lingo. Stick with familiar series.

5. Keep it fun

Since you are using the fun you had while watching all that old anime and gaining a mastery over the language of it, you don’t want to destroy that by obsessing over understanding and remembering everything. Choose what’s easy, what you remember, what’s nostalgic, and what you are interested in.

Star Trek fans learn klingon because its fun. Use that mindset.

6. Reading boost

Using anime like this is meant to give you a nice kanji boost in a different way. It can’t/won’t cover everything and is meant to compliment other kanji acquisition methods.

Give your vast anime knowledge a purpose

How have you used your built in anime lingo to aid in your Japanese?

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Anime and Visual Novel enthusiast, who has a goal of achieving fluency in Japanese within 1.5 years. After being told by everyone that this is too unrealistic, he now has "realistic" goals of graduating as an alien fairy and helping the world.


Use Anime Lingo To Boost Your Kanji Reading Ability — 9 Comments

  1. Wow, it has been some time since I watched Naruto (before I even started learning japanese) and I remember thinking the Ninja categories were so cool. Now that I see they are just 下,中,上, it sounds so silly XD

    But you are right, these names are great to memorize some readings. I memorized the げつ reading of 月 thanks to Bleach (the protagonist sword is called 残月). All the swords in this anime have a name and they are called contantly, so I´m sure fans already memorized most of them, it´s just a matter of checking the kanji :p

    • でしょう? I remembered most of the readings of Kanji 風 水 雷 土 波 火 陰 星 from just the titles of the kages! The fact that kanji and charaters/techniques are related helps too.
      And checking the kanji makes the show soo much more interesting. I never expected byakugan would literally translate to white eyes. I don’t know whether that’s clever or plain lazy.

  2. I actually think I might try this, specifically with the 斬魄刀 and ability names from Bleach, which I’ve always found super interesting in the first place.

    And if anything, it’ll help put things into perspective from a native language standpoint instead of just the english translations of them. :)

  3. I’m about halfway through shippuden but I don’t get the Japanese word for spring one. It kind of sounds like some of the character’s name’s endings (ShikaMARU, AkaMARU, KonohaMARU) but its haru not maru. Can someone explain?

    • If you are asking about the last statement, keep in mind it was a puzzle. I HAD to give some clues to let my friends decipher the message.
      (a) Naruto is a 忍者—–> Implies that 忍者 is read as “Ninja”

      (b). Naruto wants to be 火影 of the village. —–> Implies that 火影 is read as “Hokage”. Either 火 is Ho and 影 is kage, or 火 is hoka or 影 is ge. 50-50 chance. I haven’t provided any clues as to which version is correct as I can’t let them get them all correct.

      (c) Naruto has crush on a girl whose full name is “Sakura 春野.” —-> Implies that 春野 is read as “Haruno”

      (d) Naruto is a 下忍 and remains as such while Shikamaru becomes the first 中忍 of their group. —–> From (a), we can deduce that 忍 is nin. Consequently 者 is ja, 下 is ge,, and 中 is cyuu.

      (e) The Japanese word for spring is 春. —->Almost every *hardcore* anime fan knows that Haru is spring. So from (c), we can deduce that 野 is no, because 春 is haru.

  4. One method I used to learn hiragana was making flashcards with pictures of anime/manga characters I was familiar with and writing the hiragana for their name next to the picture. Because of Naruto and Yamato, I’ll never forget that と is “to”.

    • It’ll almost be an year, wow, can’t believe how far I’ve come. Here’s a bonus that wasn’t able to make the cut:

      As an exercise, I have compiled 30 words from Naruto (~35 kanji+36 readings) that every Naruto fan should be familiar with.

      Instruction : Use the google images. For example searching for 風影 brings up the image of our red haired friend. If 影 is read as “Kage, what would 風 be read as? (in context of our red haired guy)

      (I have already filled in some readings)

      忍者= にん  じゃ
      忍び= しの  び  
      下忍= げ  ?
      中忍= ちゅう  ?
      上忍= じょう  ?

      影=  かげ
      火影= ほ  かげ
      星影= Although he doesn’t deserve this title :P

      術= じゅつ
      分身の術= ぶん しん の じゅつ

      隠れの里= かくれ  の  さと
      砂隠れの里 =


      Did all the readings stick? Let me know in the comments below!

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