Japanese

Our Top 30 Japanese Podcasts for Learners of All Levels

Need a break from kanji practice and memorising conjugation tables? Podcasts are an excellent way to unwind while still improving your Japanese.

There are podcasts dedicated to teaching beginner Japanese, pronunciation, slang, vocabulary and more. And then there are the podcasts where the hosts talk in Japanese about their day-to-day life, culture and society, history, technology and everything else you can think of.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a new Japanese student or an advanced learner looking for more specialist topics. Podcasts will help you improve your listening and pronunciation, gain a more intuitive understanding of grammar and common expressions, and above all, enjoy learning and using Japanese.

Plus, the language used will often be more natural than in anime, manga, novels and even your textbooks – because after all, podcast hosts are real people having a genuine (if at times semi-scripted) conversation.

To help you get started, we’ve rounded up some of our top picks for Japanese learners and organised them by level. Of course, identifying the level can be subjective, depending on the vocabulary and accent you’re used to, as well as the episode you’re listening to. So, don’t be put off if one seems harder (or easier!) than you might have expected. Just give another podcast on the list a go.

Japanese Podcasts for All Levels

Some highly prolific podcast creators have gone out of their way to produce content for Japanese learners of all levels – and on the same channel. Never fear, though, because we’ve only included ones that clearly state the target level for each episode in the title. Read on for some podcasts you’re unlikely to outgrow:

JLPT Stories

This podcast has something for pretty much every learner, although you’ll want to get the essentials under your belt first. It contains short stories categorised by JLPT level, from an N5-level story about trying to ask a girl out at Disneyland to an N1-level story of a woman touring Hokkaido on a 50cc motorbike – despite her mum’s nervousness.

Unfortunately, it looks like this podcast might be discontinued. For now, though, there are plenty of previous episodes for you to listen to.

Let’s Talk in Japanese

Learners from N4 (upper beginner) up to N1 will find plenty to listen to on this podcast from Japanese teacher Tomo. The topics vary greatly, from food and sightseeing to Japanese culture and everything in between. Despite being a teacher, Tomo doesn’t set out to teach you anything. Instead, he gives you plenty of level-appropriate listening practice. Sit back, relax and enjoy.

Japanese Swotter

Listening to this podcast won’t just improve your listening and teach you new Japanese vocabulary and grammar. It’s designed specifically to help you improve your speaking, no matter how little – or much – Japanese you know. Although most of the content is aimed at beginner and lower-intermediate speakers, there is an advanced level. Patreon subscribers also get access to full transcripts and translations.

JapanesePod101

JapanesePod101 has literally thousands of Japanese lessons. They go all the way up to advanced, although – like most resources – there’s more material at lower levels. With so many podcast and video lessons, it can feel disorganised. Opt for a pathway and use it alongside a textbook or a resource like Wasabi’s grammar reference to help you stay on track.

Although you can get some material for free, for full access, you’ll need to sign up for a premium account. You can use the code ALLLANGUAGERESOURCES for a 25% discount. Check out our in-depth review for more information.

Japanese Podcasts for Complete Beginners

If you know zero Japanese, this section is the one for you. You’ll learn how to say things like “My name is…” and “Do you speak English?”.

There aren’t many podcasts that cater for complete beginners, and many of them are behind a paywall. But once you’ve learnt the basics, you’ll find there are a lot more podcasts available for you. So as soon as you’re ready, take a look at the next section: Japanese Podcasts for Beginners.

NHK Easy Japanese

This 48-episode Japanese podcast-based course may be dated, but it’s suitable for complete beginners who prefer audio learning and are looking for a gentle introduction to the language.

The lessons start off with an English-language explanation, before playing a dialogue. Then there will be a breakdown in English of the language used. Finally, there’s a “learning point” from the programme supervisor. This is an – admittedly slightly awkward – stage that involves the programme supervisor saying a sentence of Japanese that your regular host then translates into English for you and explains further.

You may find yourself reaching for Google to look up unexplained English-language grammar terms, like “predicate”, but one thing’s for sure: you won’t be overwhelmed by the Japanese.

FUN Japanese Listening

This podcast only has 20 short-and-sweet episodes, filled with even shorter-and-sweeter textbook-style dialogues. Yet the series packs in a surprising amount of basic Japanese grammar and vocabulary. It won’t replace your Japanese course or textbook, but it will give you some extra listening practice in new contexts.

You can also download accompanying worksheets here, read Asuka-sensei’s blog posts about Japanese culture here or sign up to her free hiragana and katakana courses.

Pimsleur

If you liked the idea of the NHK Japanese podcast, but the dated nature and slightly awkward interactions left you unimpressed, you might find Pimsleur more to your taste.

This is a paid-for podcast-esque course that will introduce you to beginner-level Japanese. Some people criticise it for its slow pace and 30-minute lessons, but there’s also a lot in its favour. It’s well-structured and really drills your pronunciation and listening. Even if you already know the material, you’ll likely find your speaking improves after a few lessons.

Read our in-depth review of Pimsleur’s Japanese, German and Spanish courses to find out more.

Japanese Uncoveredjapanese uncovered course

This pay-to-use audiobook is not quite a podcast, not quite a course. It’s a 20-chapter original novel designed to transform you from a complete beginner into an intermediate-level speaker.

First, you’ll listen to a chapter at either slow or normal speed. Then, you’ll get a PDF transcript and translation and do a series of video lessons based on the chapter: vocabulary, grammar, keigo, pronunciation, writing and culture. Each one comes with a worksheet, and you’ll wrap up the unit with a quiz and some recommended speaking activities. Finally, it’s time to move onto the next chapter.

The only catch? It’s one of the priciest Japanese resources around. Check out our detailed review of the Languages Uncovered series for more information.

Japanese Podcasts for Beginners

You’ve mastered the absolute basics, such as これは何ですか and 今日はあついです, but you’ve still got plenty to learn. The podcasts in this section will reinforce basic Japanese vocabulary and grammar, help you learn some more natural phrasing and improve your listening and pronunciation.

Most of these podcasts use English as well as Japanese. However, towards the end of the list, you’ll also find some slowly spoken, all-in-Japanese podcasts that will let you work on your listening comprehension. がんばって!

LearnJapanesePod

Looking for beginner-friendly podcasts that will introduce you to natural phrases? LearnJapanesePod mixes lessons with interviews, and it focuses on conversational Japanese. Expect to hear phrases like すし好き? instead of the textbook-esque あなたはおすしが好きですか. And since it focuses mainly on situational Japanese, it’s a nice supplemental option to more grammar-orientated podcasts and courses.

Some learners may be frustrated by the heavy use of English, but there are plenty of cultural explanations that make it worthwhile. The hosts also have genuine chemistry. But, if you don’t want to listen to the English, don’t worry: they also publish a dialogues-only version of each lesson.

Beginning Japanese

Have you ever learnt a Japanese phrase by heart and then confidently used it in conversation, only to discover that the person you’re speaking to couldn’t understand you?

Often, you’ve actually remembered the phrase perfectly. You just need to work on your pronunciation. Maybe it’s the intonation, maybe it’s the vowels, or maybe it’s that little sokuon or っ sound that can be so tricky. Whatever it is, something’s not quite right.

That’s where the Beginning Japanese podcast comes in. Each episode takes just one word or phrase with one example sentence. Then, it gets you to shadow the hosts, saying it as they say it, so that you pick up natural pronunciation and intonation. It’s a win-win situation: you improve your vocabulary and your Japanese speaking at the same time. And it works nicely alongside a flashcard app like Anki, too.

Manga Sensei

Get ready to expand your vocabulary. Each episode of this podcast is focused on a single Japanese word or phrase, which are generally N5–N3 level. But this podcast doesn’t just explain the basics. There’s plenty of information about natural, non-textbook Japanese so you can choose how to express your personality, gender identity and age when you speak.

Confusingly, the podcast titles and descriptions often use a non-standardised form of romaji transliteration that seems to be based on a US American accent. For example, they sometimes use “d” instead of “r”, add an “h” to the end of vowels or skip vowels. Take あいだ (間): Manga Sensei writes it as “idah” instead of the standard romaji spelling of “aida”.

As such, low beginners should probably approach this podcast with caution. Until you’re familiar with Japanese pronunciation and spelling rules, the non-standard spelling can make it extremely difficult to look up further information or use the language when writing.

Nihongo Master

Nihongo Master mixes cultural insights with language lessons. The latter kick off with an English-language explanation of the target grammar or vocabulary. Next, you’ll hear dialogues, followed by translations or quizzes, and then breakdowns or vocabulary recaps. The episodes can at times feel rushed, but they’re an entertaining supplement to your regular studies.

Tofugu

Tofugu’s a well-known name in the Japanese-learning community, and for good reason: the website contains a wealth of in-depth blog posts, grammar guides and more. Their podcast used to be devoted to information about Japan, but since 2018, they’ve been uploading more and more ones about the language itself.

Most of the topics are beginner-level, although they’re far from superficial. It often feels more like a discussion than a lesson, and intermediate learners may also pick up useful titbits. That said, some learners may feel frustrated by the heavy use of English.

Sakura Tips

It’s time to ease into all-in-Japanese podcasts. Don’t be nervous, though: this is a very slowly spoken podcast that uses easy Japanese. Your host Mari’s pronunciation is extremely clear, and you can also read the Japanese and English transcripts on the website.

Japanese Podcast for Beginners (Nihongo con Teppei)

Ready to take your Japanese listening to the next level? The short-and-sweet episodes of this beginner-level podcast may use basic vocabulary and phrases, but they feel less artificial than most textbooks. The target phrases are used multiple times to help you out, while Teppei’s speaking starts off painstakingly slow and gradually gets faster. As such, it’s a good way to challenge your listening comprehension without throwing yourself in the deep end.

Japanese with Teppei and Noriko

Does one of these names sound familiar? We’ve already mentioned Teppei’s beginner-level solo podcast. In fact, you’re going to see both these names quite a lot on this list, because Noriko and Teppei are prolific podcasters with a good grasp of what makes Japanese tricky for learners.

This entertaining podcast doesn’t use difficult vocabulary or grammar, but even so, it might seem hard at first. This is because it’s the first podcast on this list that features natural, unscripted conversations in Japanese. Listening to a conversation is nearly always more challenging than a dialogue, but it’s also more realistic.

So fasten your seatbelts and get ready to listen to Teppei and Noriko as they discuss Nutella, their Spanish studies, different Japanese accents and much more. This podcast will not only give you more exposure to beginner-level vocabulary and phrases, but it will also help you prepare for conversations with multiple people. Bear in mind that the audio quality of earlier lessons is pretty poor, but it improves over time.

よ・み・き・か・せ JXTGグループ 童話の花‪束

This podcast may be designed for children rather than language learners, but it’s a great way to practise your listening comprehension and broaden your vocabulary. In each episode, the narrator reads out a story – complete with different voices, sound effects, and more. While you might not understand everything, you’ll be surprised by how much you can follow.

Japanese Podcasts for Intermediate Learners

As an intermediate-level speaker, you already have fairly good listening comprehension – providing the podcast host speaks slowly and uses basic Japanese grammar and vocabulary. Now, though, you’re ready to be challenged with more complex language and faster speaking speeds. There’s virtually no English used in most podcasts at this level.

にほんごのたね

Looking for a gentle introduction to intermediate-level content? Try this immersion podcast, in which your host Yumi talks slowly and clearly about Japanese culture, her daily life with her family and much more. It’s designed for upper beginner and intermediate learners, and each episode is just a few unintimidating minutes long.

Double check the level

Learn Japanese with Noriko

Let’s step up the difficulty slightly with this next podcast. We looked at Noriko’s collaboration with Teppei in the beginner section, but lower-intermediate level learners will likely prefer her solo podcast. It’s slightly more difficult, the episodes are a bit longer and yet it’s just as entertaining. Topics vary, but with hundreds of episodes to choose from, you’re bound to find several that interest you. The audio quality is also excellent.

Nihongo con Teppei

We’ve already mentioned the beginner-friendly version of this podcast above. Now it’s time to dive into the intermediate-level version of the Nihongo con Teppei podcast, with its 600+ episodes. The vocabulary and grammar are more challenging, so don’t worry if you can’t understand everything at first. Keep listening, and you’ll be surprised by how much you improve over time.

Nihongo SWiTCH

Podcaster Iku Yamamoto might speak slower than some other podcasters, such as Noriko and Teppei, but don’t dismiss this podcast. She uses more difficult vocabulary and grammar, and the topics are often slightly more challenging too. In fact, her target audience is intermediate and advanced learners.

Most of her episodes are about learning Japanese or Japanese culture. She talks about Japanese news and surveys; traditions, including the less-well known ones; and natural Japanese phrases and vocabulary that might not appear on the JLPT but will come in handy nonetheless.

Let’s learn Japanese from small talk!

If there’s one thing that strikes fear in most language-learners’ hearts, it’s a multi-person conversation. That’s why podcasts like this one are so useful. Two Japanese women studying in the UK chat about their experiences. It’s entertaining, not overly challenging and a great way to get used to more conversational Japanese. They also publish a vocabulary list for each episode online, so if you’re struggling, check that out.

Nあ~ casual nihongo

This relaxed podcast will help you pick up more casual, natural Japanese phrases, especially Kansai-ben. Thanks to the slow speech and online episode guides, it’s not too challenging to listen to. However, there are some interesting topics, such as reverse culture shock and when you can switch to calling a Japanese person by their first name.

Conversations

This 20-chapter pay-to-listen podcast is designed to provide comprehensible input for lower-intermediate speakers. This means it speaks slightly above your level, but not so much above it that you can’t understand it – albeit with a little bit of effort and perhaps a few replays. Although at first this might be frustrating and challenging, it’s a good way to improve your listening comprehension. Bear in mind, however, that Conversations is on the pricier end.

News in Slow JapaneseNews in Slow

Are your vocabulary and grammar better than your listening comprehension? You’re not alone in that. Don’t worry, though, because we’ve got the podcast for you. News in Slow Japanese is designed for intermediate and advanced learners, but you can play the recordings at two speeds: fast, which is still pretty slow; and slow, which is incredibly slow. In short, it’s a great catch-up tool for your listening comprehension.

They’ve uploaded the transcripts on their website, and premium subscribers also get access to worksheets along with shadowing tools that should help you improve your pronunciation. If you don’t want to use the website, however, you can find all the episodes on Apple Podcasts.

Sound Library

Love fiction? You’ll enjoy this podcast-turned-radio programme in which actress Tae Kimura reads stories aloud. It’s proved so popular that an accompanying book has also been published.

While it’s designed for native speakers, we’re including it in the intermediate section because of the slow speaking speed. The vocabulary and grammar may at times challenge you, but it’s a good way to ease yourself into material designed not for learners but for the average Japanese speaker.

Japanese Podcasts for Advanced Learners

As an advanced student, you’re ready to take on content that’s designed for native speakers – and that’s exciting. You’re no longer limited by what’s available. You can listen to anything you want to. Interested in history? There are over 10 million Google results for 歴史のポッドキャスト. Feminism? There are many to choose from. Politics? Just pick your flavour.

So ironically, this section is one of the shortest. After all, you don’t need our recommendations. And even though we’d like to, we can’t possibly tell you which Japanese-language podcasts are most worthy of listening to – that’s going to depend on your personal interests.

The podcasts that we have included are either extremely popular with Japanese learners or include lots of guests. Treat them as useful starting points – but don’t be afraid to branch out on your own.

Tokyo Midtown presents The Lifestyle MUSEUM

Purists may not be impressed by this podcast, which isn’t actually produced by a native speaker. However, your host is a fluent Japanese speaker who not only lives and works in Japan but also presents TV programmes on NHK World. Each episode includes different guests – who are typically native speakers – so the topics vary greatly.

ひいきびいき

This old podcast remains hugely popular with Japanese language-learners, and for good reason. The hosts Daichi and Haruka have genuine chemistry and are animated speakers, which makes for engrossing listening. And since each episode focuses on a different one of “their favourite things”, you’re bound to find a topic that interests you.

ひいきびいき is no longer updated, and the recordings stopped functioning on most podcast platforms in 2020. However, around 300 episodes are still available via The Internet Archive.

Rebuild

This podcast is all about tech, software and gadgets. You can expect some specialist vocabulary and plenty of geeky content. Sometimes, the topics verge onto sociology, too, but it’s always done through the lens of science.

Your main host, Miyagawa, articulates clearly and the audio quality is good. The guest hosts, however, sometimes have thicker accents. If you find yourself struggling, try a different episode. And if you find a guest host whose perspectives you find interesting, check out the web version of the episode. You’ll be able to click on the host’s image and see every other episode they’ve appeared on.

Honourable Mention:

Audiobook.jp

We’ll hold our hands up and admit it: this isn’t a podcast. It is, however, a website that will let you buy Japanese audiobooks without a Japanese bank card or billing address – and that’s something of a rarity.

Audiobooks and podcasts aren’t really the same thing. Podcasts will often introduce you to more casual, conversational language. Yet audiobooks will also improve your listening, broaden your vocabulary and help you internalise tricky grammar. And there is no shortage of topics. Whether you love fantasy novels or like to learn more about business, you’ll find something here.

So there you go: 30 podcasts, audiobook sites and podcast-esque audio courses to help you improve your listening comprehension, pick up new vocabulary, and above all, have fun learning Japanese.

Podcasts might be less structured than traditional study materials, such as courses and textbooks, but they’re an excellent language-learning tool. You’ll get used to hearing how Japanese people really speak, whether you’re listening to a one-person monologue or a multi-host conversation. So don’t hesitate to add a couple of the podcasts on our list to your study routine.

And of course, as you learn more Japanese, you can expand from our list to find the podcasts that really interest you – whether that’s geeky lectures about science or history, passionate breakdowns of current affairs or lighthearted explorations of popular culture.

Related Posts:

Top 25 YouTube Channels For Learning Japanese – Beginner To Advanced

YouTube is a goldmine of Japanese language lessons and listening practice. Whether you’re looking for grammar breakdowns, non-textbook language, beginner vocabulary, or advanced-level Japanese debates on current affairs, you’ll find it here – and for free.

But search for “Japanese YouTube” and you’ll get over 300 million videos. And unfortunately, there’s a lot of dross on that list.

That’s why we’ve rounded up some of our favourite YouTube channels for Japanese learners. We’ve also divided them into beginner (roughly A1–A2/N5–N4), intermediate (B1–B2/N3–N2), and advanced (C1–C2/N1). Of course, these divisions aren’t always clear cut. You’ll see some channels repeated, and you can also expect the difficulty to fluctuate slightly within each level.

However, we’re certain you’ll find plenty of interesting, educational, and entertaining YouTube channels on this list – no matter your level or personal interests.

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The 16 Best Online Japanese Courses: Kanji, Grammar, & More

Japanese is poetic, musical, fascinating – and undeniably tough. But learning it is worth all the effort. It will let you visit temples in Kyoto and otaku towns in Tokyo, watch un-dubbed Studio Ghibli movies, and make Japanese friends all over the world.

What’s more, the right Japanese course will help you make better progress in your studies. You’ll find yourself speaking with confidence, understanding kanji, and perhaps most importantly of all, having fun while learning.

Not all Japanese courses are the same, however. Some are more focused on listening, others on grammar, and others on kanji. Some include manga and others have workplace dialogues. And some… just aren’t that great.

A bad Japanese course will potentially leave you confused by grammar, speaking with the wrong register, and perhaps worse of all, demotivated and frustrated. It’s easy to believe that you’ll never master Japanese, when really, you just need to change your study materials.

So we’ve rounded up our top online courses for learning Japanese. Each one gets a rating of at least 3.5 out of 5 stars, which puts them above average here on All Language Resources. Whether you’re looking for comprehensive self-study materials or a 5-minutes-a-day app to use alongside Genki or Minna no Nihongo, we think you’ll find the right course for you on this list.

Sort By:

I Will Teach You A Language Logo
Learn Japanese through reading and listening to a story

Reading and listening in Japanese as a beginner is tough. It has an extremely fast speech tempo, i.e. people really do speak Japanese faster than Spanish, Mandarin, and English. And when you’re reading, there are no spaces between the words. Unless you recognize them, it’s really hard to isolate them and look them up in the dictionary. 

Enter Japanese Uncovered from I Will Teach You a Language. This 20-module course focuses on learning Japanese through a multi-chapter story. In doing so, it will give you lots of reading and listening practice.

First, you’ll read and listen to a chapter. Then you’ll learn the vocabulary from that chapter, followed by the grammar, the pronunciation, and part of the script. Finally, you’ll get some cultural and politeness insights and a quiz. Then, it’s onto the next chapter.

Not everyone likes being pushed into the deep end of the swimming pool – even with armbands. For some learners, Japanese Uncovered will likely be too intense. But for others, it will be a fun way to engage with the language and get more listening and reading practice. 

Pros

  • Lots of reading and listening practice
  • A native speaker gives the pronunciation classes
  • It’s fun and interesting

Cons

  • Uses a lot of romaji, especially at the beginning
  • The review/quiz is very basic for the quantity of information you learn per chapter
  • Currently only for beginners
4/5
Price: From $8/month
japanesepod101
Heaps of audio and video classes

Podcast-lovers will likely enjoy JapanesePod101, which teaches the language through relaxed audio and video lessons with charismatic hosts and often-humorous dialogues.

There are plenty of lessons to choose from, but if you’re not sure where to get started, just pick a “pathway” or specific series. 

The lessons are mostly dialogue-centric. You’ll listen to a target dialogue, and then the hosts will break it down for you line by line. Often (but not always), the lessons build on each other, using material from past lessons while also introducing a new grammar point and some vocabulary.

That said, there is a very limited focus on reading and writing Japanese, so you’ll want to pair JapanesePod101 with some extra resources or a textbook like Minna no Nihongo or Genki.

Pros

  • Huge number of lessons with various hosts
  • Premium subscribers get access to extra features, including topic-specific flashcard decks
  • Voice recorder function
  • Fairly decent for grammar

Cons

  • Limited reading and writing practice
  • Too much English, especially at higher levels
  • Can feel unstructured
4/5
Price: $14.95–$19.95/month
Slow but good-quality audio courses

Struggling to remember vocabulary lists? Tripping over long Japanese words? You might find Pimsleur helps you improve your vocabulary recall and pronunciation.

These audio courses are based on the Pimsleur Method, an approach to language learning that’s based on scientific research. It’s made up of four principles: never learning too much at a time, studying new vocabulary in context, revisiting it after increasingly longer intervals, and giving you time to formulate the correct answer.

The courses contain 30-minute audio lessons in which you’ll listen to new vocabulary being used in conversation, hear brief explanations, and then practice saying and creating the sentences yourself. 

It also uses a technique called backchaining to help you learn Japanese pronunciation. If you’re struggling with phrases like ittehaikemasenka/行ってはいけませんか or the infamous sokuon/double consonant, this could be helpful. 

Bear in mind that you don’t get much writing or reading practice, while grammar explanations are rare. If you’re looking to build a sound grammatical foundation or want to focus on kanji, you might prefer one of the other options on this list.

Pros

  • Well-structured lessons that build on each other
  • The lessons encourage active rather than passive learning
  • The method is backed up by scientific research
  • You can learn on the go

Cons

  • The 30-minute-long audio lessons can drag
  • Limited focus on grammar
  • Very little reading and writing practice
  • Visual learners may find it’s not the best resource for them 
  • The supplementary practice activities feel basic and not overly useful
4.3/5
Price: $11.99/month or $55.99/year
Fun app with clear grammar explanations

LingoDeer is an entertaining (and kawaii) app that will teach you Japanese grammar, vocabulary, and basic kanji. The company claims it will take you up to B1/N4. However, serious learners will likely want to combine it with other resources, including additional word lists/vocabulary-builders.

Each bite-sized lesson teaches you a grammar point and some vocabulary, which you drill with a variety of practice tasks: writing sentences, identifying the unnecessary word in a sentence, multiple-choice quizzes, and more. The units wrap up with listening comprehension exercises, and you can record yourself saying the target dialogue. 

There are character drills, too, but only for 100 kanji. And you can also take their Fluent Japanese dialogue lessons, which go from N5 to N3 and sit alongside the main course.

LingoDeer’s companion app, DeerPlus, has additional vocabulary, grammar, and comprehension exercises. It’s a fun expansion option that will add some variety to your studies, but it isn’t included in your premium subscription.

Pros

  • Decent introduction to kana and beginner-level kanji
  • Clear grammar explanations
  • Listening comprehension activities
  • Fun but effective

Cons

  • Subscribing to two different apps, while optional, is annoying
  • Serious learners will want to combine it with other resources
  • Only includes character drills for 100 kanji
  • No speaking feedback
4.3/5
Price: From $6.99/month
bunpo-logo
Well-organized grammar lessons that go up to N1

Let’s be honest: Japanese grammar and sentence structure can be challenging. And although learning vocabulary, writing kanji, and speaking are important activities, sometimes you just want a resource that will cover the main grammar points at each JLPT level. That’s where the app-based course Bunpo – not to be confused with BunPro (review) – comes into play. 

Bunpō means grammar, and this is the course’s main focus. However, it also teaches the kana and basic vocabulary in the elementary level. 

Once you’re into the JLPT levels, each course is divided into themes which are further divided into topics. For example, the first lesson of N5 is on the basic sentence structure, with lessons on the standard declarative sentence, questions, indicating possession, negatives, and も/also.

The lessons themselves start with an explanation and plenty of example sentences, followed by some practice activities. These are a little dull and monotonous, but the grammar is broken down well. To get the most out of this course, try making your own sentences afterwards.

Pros

  • Well-structured
  • Good for grammar and phrases
  • Lots of example sentences
  • Can toggle kana/romaji on and off

Cons

  • Best used as a supplementary resource
  • No speaking or listening comprehension
  • Not as engaging as other courses
4.2/5
Price: Free
NHK-World-Japan
Beginner-level audio and video course

Looking to dip your toe into the world of Japanese studies? Easy Japanese is a great place to get started.

You’ll learn useful expressions for everyday situations, such as shopping in a bakery or hanging out with friends. The course is structured like a drama, with you learning a bit of Japanese in every session.

The lessons themselves are short and sweet, at just 10 minutes per audio lesson and 30 seconds per video lesson. There’s plenty to learn, however, with a combined 96 lessons.

Since Easy Japanese contains lots of audio recordings, it could also be a good supplementary choice if you’re currently studying with a textbook or app.

Pros

  • Accessible and entertaining introduction to Japanese 
  • Includes cultural insights
  • You can save vocabulary to your notebook
  • Lots of listening practice

Cons

  • Only suitable for beginners
  • The organization can be a little confusing
  • Limited reading and writing practice
4.2/5
Price: From $9.99
Human Japanese Logo
Textbook-esque course with lots of vocabulary

Fed up of apps and courses that expect you to pick up Japanese without any explanations? Try Human Japanese instead. 

This course feels like an interactive textbook, complete with detailed explanations, cultural notes, word lists, chapter reviews, and more. If you liked studying languages in school, you’ll probably like Human Japanese.

Bear in mind that you’ll dive into Japanese vocabulary and grammar before you’ve learned the kana. This could trip you up later on. For example, when you first study toire, meaning toilet, you’ll see it written in hiragana – even though it should be written in katakana. Given that the course also shows the romaji version of beginner-level vocabulary, this is a strange and unnecessary choice that could get confusing.

You’re probably also best pairing it with a flashcard app to help you remember the extensive vocabulary lists. Try something like Anki or one of the Human Japanese courses on Memrise.

Pros

  • Excellent breakdowns
  • Engaging tone

Cons

  • Limited practice opportunities
  • The amount of vocabulary can be overwhelming
  • Sometimes uses the wrong kana in beginner lessons
  • Difficult to navigate on your mobile
4.2/5
Free/Classes from 3,780¥/month
Japanese classes plus a huge amount of free self-study material

There’s nothing spicy about this online school, but there’s plenty of mouthwateringly good resources. 

There are two main ways to learn Japanese with Wasabi: you can sign up for one-to-one online classes, or you can study by yourself using their extensive amount of self-study material.

The classes are subscription-based: you sign up for a monthly pack and can add extra classes as and when you wish. The teaching is typically done in Japanese, but you can request an English-speaking teacher if you’re a complete beginner.

The self-study materials, meanwhile, include grammar guides, graded readers with audio recordings, video lessons, and more. They do not include drills or practice activities, so you’ll have to create your own tasks and revision tools. However, there’s a wealth of information that you could use to structure your studies or simply supplement other courses and textbooks. 

Pros

  • Reading and listening practice
  • Grammar and pronunciation guides
  • Video and text lessons
  • Affordable one-to-one classes

Cons

  • If studying by yourself, you have to create your own practice drills
4/5
Price: Free
Choose how much you want to be challenged with these beginner courses

Maybe you just want some basic Japanese practice before you vacation in Kyoto. Or perhaps you actually want to learn Japanese and are looking for something that will give you a fairly comprehensive foundation. The great thing about Marugoto is that it has courses for both types of learners.

Katsudoo will get you speaking and listening to basic Japanese vocabulary. With Rikai, you’ll study the same Katsudoo lesson, but then you’ll do some extra activities to get you working on kanji, reading and writing comprehension, and more.

The courses use a variety of activities, from audio clips and videos through to questionnaires and PDF downloadables. You can also sign up to study in groups with a tutor who will give you feedback.

Plus, it’s designed to accompany the Marugoto textbook series, so you’ve got plenty of expansion options.

Pros

  • Explanations in multiple languages
  • Tutor support is available
  • Lots of listening comprehension
  • Some speaking practice

Cons

  • Only for beginners (A1–A2)
  • The Katsudoo course has no writing practice and limited reading practice
  • Studying Rikai after Katsudoo feels clunky and convoluted
4/5
Price: Free
Yes Japan course
Video course that accompanies a beginner textbook series

Intrigued by Japanese, but intimidated by kanji and the very different sentence structure? YesJapan is a relaxed introduction to the language.

Their textbook series, Japanese From Zero!, is fun and easy, while admittedly moving at a snail’s pace. And their video course arguably outshines the books.

You’ll learn vocabulary, grammar, and cultural insights, while the videos feature dialogues and quizzes. You can save key vocabulary and toggle between romaji, kana, and kanji.

As a video course, it’s short on reading and writing practice. However, the native audio means you’ll quickly get used to hearing Japanese pronunciation.

Pros

  • Native audio
  • You can choose between romaji, kana, and kanji

Cons

  • No writing practice
  • Superficial in content
4/5
Price: Free
Comprehensive grammar course for dedicated self-study

Imabi is not your typical course. It’s an intense series of online text lessons with lots of information – perhaps too much for the average student. 

The primary focus is grammar, but unlike other grammar guides such as Tae Kim (review) and BunPro (review), there are also dedicated lessons to vocabulary. There’s plenty of cultural information, too, and some excellent lessons on pronunciation. On the other hand, there are no exercises; drills; or reading, writing, or listening activities. It’s up to you to practice this material. 

Beginners could find Imabi intimidating or even demotivating. There’s no gamification here, and the lessons never shy away from the technical aspects of Japanese. However, the information is excellent. Even adept Japanese speakers might learn something from the beginner lessons. 

Extremely dedicated students will be able to use Imabi as their principal course, but it’s important to also use external resources to practice writing, listening, reading, and speaking. Alternatively, Imabi makes a great supplementary resource that you can dive into when you want more information about a topic.

Pros

  • Exceptionally detailed explanations
  • Excellent grammar breakdowns
  • Vocabulary and cultural insights
  • Material for beginner through to advanced students

Cons

  • No exercises
  • No reading, writing, listening, or speaking practice
  • Beginners will likely find it overwhelming technical and detailed
  • For most students, it’s probably best as a supplementary resource
4/5
Price: €49.90
Translation-based course with natural dialogues

With Assimil, you can try learning Japanese through immersion, no matter if you’re in Nebraska, the Welsh Hills, or Auckland. Or that’s the theory, anyway.

The Assimil courses are designed to replicate the way children learn: by hearing how native Japanese speakers talk and eventually mimicking them. In fact, it’s not until lesson 50 that you begin speaking Japanese and actively learning grammar. Until that point, you’ll just be listening, translating, and doing comprehension exercises.

Assimil’s been publishing language textbooks for almost a century, and in recent years, they’ve also turned their hands to online courses. The brand has some passionate fans who believe the Assimil method helps them achieve conversational fluency.

However, it’s not for everyone. If you’re itching to start speaking Japanese from day one or prefer not to focus on translation, take a look at one of the other courses on this list.

Pros

  • Realistic dialogues
  • Extremely thorough grammar indexes and appendixes
  • Some cultural information
  • High-quality audio

Cons

  • Heavily focused on translation instead of output
  • The pronunciation explanations and feedback could be improved
  • Less engaging than other courses and apps
4/5
Price: Freemium; premium plans from $6/month
Kanshudo
Kanji-focused courses and games with some grammar explanations

It’s easy to neglect studying kanji, but Kanshudo’s structured course and games will help keep you on track.

In the free 20-lesson beginner course, you’ll be introduced to five different kanji in each lesson, along with some example words and sentences. You can practice tracing the kanji on your phone and tablet, and finish up with some games to check your memory. There are also some interspersed grammar points.

However, Kanshudo is best used as a supplementary resource. The grammar isn’t drilled, while the vocabulary is at times not explained very well. For example, when you learn the kanji 大 for big in lesson one, you’re also shown how it turns 学生 into 大学生, university student. Unfortunately, however, the text forgets to mention that 学生 means student, so you don’t see the relevance of this. It’s still a useful lesson overall, but it would be even more effective if you knew some basic Japanese vocabulary before taking the course.

The intermediate course will teach you 1,000 kanji, but with the exception of the first three lessons, it’s behind a paywall. This course is a more interesting one since you’ll practice using the kanji in sentences, but it’s still best used alongside other resources.

The website also contains reading materials organized by level and free exercises and drills for some of the most common Japanese textbooks, including Genki, Minna no Nihongo, and Japanese for Busy People.

Pros

  • Lots of drills and games 
  • Great for reviewing kanji
  • You can earn Study Points by studying and then exchange them for free access to the Premium content

Cons

  • Weak focus on grammar and vocabulary
  • Best used as a supplementary resource
3.8/5
Price: From $5/month
Live and video classes that go from N5 to N1

BondLingo does it all: a textbook, live video classes where you can ask questions, pre-recorded video lessons for self-study, JLPT quizzes, level test, and vocabulary lists. And it will take you all the way from complete beginner up to N1.

The website also has a blog with posts on everything from the Obon festival to how to describe your sexuality and gender in Japanese.

Some of the lessons use a lot of English, but others are predominantly in Japanese. Bear in mind that you can only type in the lessons; there’s no option for speaking (or feedback on your speech).

Pros

  • Goes from N5 to N1
  • Live classes with a teacher
  • Self-study material
  • Textbook

Cons

  • Some videos use lots of English
  • Limited practice drills and homework
3.7/5
Price: Free
Thorough beginner Japanese courses from the University of Kyoto

For beginner students looking for a solid foundation in Japanese, samidori is a great place to start. You’ll learn the kana, vocabulary, grammar, and more, while there’s plenty of listening and reading practice.

It’s not a perfect course, however. You’ll need to look elsewhere to learn how to write kanji, plus there are no speaking and writing exercises. And although they have lessons for lower intermediate students, most of their material is designed for beginners.

That said, the course and lessons alike are well structured. Most lessons follow the same format: the lesson topic and vocabulary is introduced in Japanese and English, then there are example sentences and audio recordings for the target language, and finally you get timed practice questions to check your understanding.

If you’re looking for a free resource that will cover the basics of Japanese, and you don’t care about gamification, flashcards, and other features, then samidori is a great choice. Just make sure to also use a kanji app or workbook and practice speaking and writing. 

Alternatively, if you’re looking for something more engaging, try LingoDeer.

Pros

  • Comprehensive, well-structured courses
  • Lots of listening and reading practice
  • Teaches kana, grammar, and vocabulary
  • Audio recordings for all new words and phrases

Cons

  • Doesn’t teach you how to write kanji
  • No writing or speaking practice
  • Limited lessons for lower intermediate students
3.5/5
Price: From $99.99/level
Japanese Level Up
A flashcard course that will take you from beginner to advanced

Jalup promises to help you level up your Japanese, and it does so through a leveled-up flashcards system.

Flashcards can be dry, but Jalup does its best to keep it engaging, with sentences from Japanese manga and novels. In fact, you might even recognize some of the content.

Each new flashcard builds on previous ones, while spaced repetition will help you to remember what you’ve learned. You can either use these flashcards on Anki or the Jalup app. The latter is more expensive but includes far more features.

In theory, the structured, nine-level syllabus takes you from the very basics (kana) through to “Jalup Expert”. The two-person team behind Jalup has also mentioned that they hoped to add a tenth and final level at some point.

However, more analytical learners might get frustrated with the lack of grammar explanations, while you’ll also want to pair it with activities for practicing listening comprehension, speaking, and writing. 

Pros

  • Teaches you in Japanese from level 4 onwards
  • Great for reading
  • Native audio clips for some levels
Cons
  • Limited grammar focus
  • No output (speaking/writing) practice
  • Pricey for a flashcard system
  • Less engaging than other apps
3.5/5
Price: From $7.99/month
Mango-languages-Logo
Compare your pronunciation to a native speaker’s

Looking to polish your pronunciation while learning basic grammar and vocabulary? Mango Languages might be a good option.

It has some things in common with Pimsleur: you’ll listen to a dialogue, get a grammar or cultural explanation, and then practice building your own sentences and questions using the target language. Repetition is a key feature of this method, but unlike Pimsleur, the lesson pace doesn’t feel quite so sluggish. 

However, what really makes Mango Languages shine is the ability to record yourself speaking a Japanese phrase and lay it over a native speaker’s. While Japanese pronunciation isn’t too challenging for English speakers, it can be hard to get the difference between similar words like いえ (ie, house) and いいえ (iie, no) or to reproduce that tricky sokuon/double consonant. Mango Languages will help you spot when you haven’t quite got it right.

Bear in mind, however, that Mango Languages is mostly focused on speaking and listening. You’ll need to look elsewhere to learn how to write and read Japanese.

Pros

  • It’s great for spotting unnatural pronunciation
  • You’ll practice making sentences from the first lesson
  • Lessons build on each other well
  • Some North American libraries and universities offer free access

Cons

  • Limited focus on writing and reading
  • Some users find the heavy drilling monotonous
  • Only caters for beginner and lower-intermediate learners
4.3/5
Price: $11.99/month or $55.99/year
Fun app with clear grammar explanations

Chinese For Us is an exceptionally thorough series of courses for beginner and lower-intermediate Chinese learners. In fact, it’s so thorough that even higher-level students may benefit from taking these courses to fill in gaps in their knowledge.

The syllabus takes a tortoise rather than a hare approach to learning Mandarin, preferring a comprehensive curriculum to fast progress. If you’re hoping to reach fluency or live in a Mandarin-speaking territory, it will give you an excellent base. However, if you want to quickly learn survival Mandarin or pass an HSK exam, you may be better off opting for a different resource.

The teacher, Lili, speaks very clearly in Mandarin, plus her explanations are clear and detailed. The courses mix video lessons, quizzes, and reviews, while some lessons have downloadable worksheets so you can practice writing the characters. You’ll also get access to two remarkably thorough courses dedicated to pronunciation and tones.

Pros

  • Decent introduction to kana and beginner-level kanji
  • Clear grammar explanations
  • Listening comprehension activities
  • Fun but effective

Cons

  • Subscribing to two different apps, while optional, is annoying
  • Serious learners will want to combine it with other resources
  • Only includes character drills for 100 kanji
  • No speaking feedback
4.3/5
Price: From $6.99/month
bunpo-logo
Well-organized grammar lessons that go up to N1

Let’s be honest: Japanese grammar and sentence structure can be challenging. And although learning vocabulary, writing kanji, and speaking are important activities, sometimes you just want a resource that will cover the main grammar points at each JLPT level. That’s where the app-based course Bunpo – not to be confused with BunPro (review) – comes into play. 

Bunpō means grammar, and this is the course’s main focus. However, it also teaches the kana and basic vocabulary in the elementary level. 

Once you’re into the JLPT levels, each course is divided into themes which are further divided into topics. For example, the first lesson of N5 is on the basic sentence structure, with lessons on the standard declarative sentence, questions, indicating possession, negatives, and も/also.

The lessons themselves start with an explanation and plenty of example sentences, followed by some practice activities. These are a little dull and monotonous, but the grammar is broken down well. To get the most out of this course, try making your own sentences afterwards.

Pros

  • Well-structured
  • Good for grammar and phrases
  • Lots of example sentences
  • Can toggle kana/romaji on and off

Cons

  • Best used as a supplementary resource
  • No speaking or listening comprehension
  • Not as engaging as other courses
4.2/5
Price: FrEE
NHK-World-Japan
Beginner-level audio and video course

Looking to dip your toe into the world of Japanese studies? Easy Japanese is a great place to get started.

You’ll learn useful expressions for everyday situations, such as shopping in a bakery or hanging out with friends. The course is structured like a drama, with you learning a bit of Japanese in every session.

The lessons themselves are short and sweet, at just 10 minutes per audio lesson and 30 seconds per video lesson. There’s plenty to learn, however, with a combined 96 lessons.

Since Easy Japanese contains lots of audio recordings, it could also be a good supplementary choice if you’re currently studying with a textbook or app.

Pros

  • Accessible and entertaining introduction to Japanese 
  • Includes cultural insights
  • You can save vocabulary to your notebook
  • Lots of listening practice

Cons

  • Only suitable for beginners
  • The organization can be a little confusing
  • Limited reading and writing practice
4.2/5
Price: From $9.99
Human Japanese Logo
Textbook-esque course with lots of vocabulary

Fed up of apps and courses that expect you to pick up Japanese without any explanations? Try Human Japanese instead. 

This course feels like an interactive textbook, complete with detailed explanations, cultural notes, word lists, chapter reviews, and more. If you liked studying languages in school, you’ll probably like Human Japanese.

Bear in mind that you’ll dive into Japanese vocabulary and grammar before you’ve learned the kana. This could trip you up later on. For example, when you first study toire, meaning toilet, you’ll see it written in hiragana – even though it should be written in katakana. Given that the course also shows the romaji version of beginner-level vocabulary, this is a strange and unnecessary choice that could get confusing.

You’re probably also best pairing it with a flashcard app to help you remember the extensive vocabulary lists. Try something like Anki or one of the Human Japanese courses on Memrise.

Pros

  • Excellent breakdowns
  • Engaging tone

Cons

  • Limited practice opportunities
  • The amount of vocabulary can be overwhelming
  • Sometimes uses the wrong kana in beginner lessons
  • Difficult to navigate on your mobile
4.2/5
Free/Classes from 3,780¥/month
Japanese classes plus a huge amount of free self-study material

There’s nothing spicy about this online school, but there’s plenty of mouthwateringly good resources. 

There are two main ways to learn Japanese with Wasabi: you can sign up for one-to-one online classes, or you can study by yourself using their extensive amount of self-study material.

The classes are subscription-based: you sign up for a monthly pack and can add extra classes as and when you wish. The teaching is typically done in Japanese, but you can request an English-speaking teacher if you’re a complete beginner.

The self-study materials, meanwhile, include grammar guides, graded readers with audio recordings, video lessons, and more. They do not include drills or practice activities, so you’ll have to create your own tasks and revision tools. However, there’s a wealth of information that you could use to structure your studies or simply supplement other courses and textbooks. 

Pros

  • Reading and listening practice
  • Grammar and pronunciation guides
  • Video and text lessons
  • Affordable one-to-one classes

Cons

  • If studying by yourself, you have to create your own practice drills
4/5
Price: $14.95–$19.95/month
Slow but good-quality audio courses

Struggling to remember vocabulary lists? Tripping over long Japanese words? You might find Pimsleur helps you improve your vocabulary recall and pronunciation.

These audio courses are based on the Pimsleur Method, an approach to language learning that’s based on scientific research. It’s made up of four principles: never learning too much at a time, studying new vocabulary in context, revisiting it after increasingly longer intervals, and giving you time to formulate the correct answer.

The courses contain 30-minute audio lessons in which you’ll listen to new vocabulary being used in conversation, hear brief explanations, and then practice saying and creating the sentences yourself. 

It also uses a technique called backchaining to help you learn Japanese pronunciation. If you’re struggling with phrases like ittehaikemasenka/行ってはいけませんか or the infamous sokuon/double consonant, this could be helpful. 

Bear in mind that you don’t get much writing or reading practice, while grammar explanations are rare. If you’re looking to build a sound grammatical foundation or want to focus on kanji, you might prefer one of the other options on this list.

Pros

  • Well-structured lessons that build on each other
  • The lessons encourage active rather than passive learning
  • The method is backed up by scientific research
  • You can learn on the go

Cons

  • The 30-minute-long audio lessons can drag
  • Limited focus on grammar
  • Very little reading and writing practice
  • Visual learners may find it’s not the best resource for them 
  • The supplementary practice activities feel basic and not overly useful
4/5
Price: Free
Choose how much you want to be challenged with these beginner courses

Maybe you just want some basic Japanese practice before you vacation in Kyoto. Or perhaps you actually want to learn Japanese and are looking for something that will give you a fairly comprehensive foundation. The great thing about Marugoto is that it has courses for both types of learners.

Katsudoo will get you speaking and listening to basic Japanese vocabulary. With Rikai, you’ll study the same Katsudoo lesson, but then you’ll do some extra activities to get you working on kanji, reading and writing comprehension, and more.

The courses use a variety of activities, from audio clips and videos through to questionnaires and PDF downloadables. You can also sign up to study in groups with a tutor who will give you feedback.

Plus, it’s designed to accompany the Marugoto textbook series, so you’ve got plenty of expansion options.

Pros

  • Explanations in multiple languages
  • Tutor support is available
  • Lots of listening comprehension
  • Some speaking practice

Cons

  • Only for beginners (A1–A2)
  • The Katsudoo course has no writing practice and limited reading practice
  • Studying Rikai after Katsudoo feels clunky and convoluted
I Will Teach You A Language Logo
Learn Japanese through reading and listening to a story

Reading and listening in Japanese as a beginner is tough. It has an extremely fast speech tempo, i.e. people really do speak Japanese faster than Spanish, Mandarin, and English. And when you’re reading, there are no spaces between the words. Unless you recognize them, it’s really hard to isolate them and look them up in the dictionary. 

Enter Japanese Uncovered from I Will Teach You a Language. This 20-module course focuses on learning Japanese through a multi-chapter story. In doing so, it will give you lots of reading and listening practice.

First, you’ll read and listen to a chapter. Then you’ll learn the vocabulary from that chapter, followed by the grammar, the pronunciation, and part of the script. Finally, you’ll get some cultural and politeness insights and a quiz. Then, it’s onto the next chapter.

Not everyone likes being pushed into the deep end of the swimming pool – even with armbands. For some learners, Japanese Uncovered will likely be too intense. But for others, it will be a fun way to engage with the language and get more listening and reading practice. 

Pros

  • Lots of reading and listening practice
  • A native speaker gives the pronunciation classes
  • It’s fun and interesting

Cons

  • Uses a lot of romaji, especially at the beginning
  • The review/quiz is very basic for the quantity of information you learn per chapter
  • Currently only for beginners
4/5
Price: Free
Yes Japan course
Video course that accompanies a beginner textbook series

Intrigued by Japanese, but intimidated by kanji and the very different sentence structure? YesJapan is a relaxed introduction to the language.

Their textbook series, Japanese From Zero!, is fun and easy, while admittedly moving at a snail’s pace. And their video course arguably outshines the books.

You’ll learn vocabulary, grammar, and cultural insights, while the videos feature dialogues and quizzes. You can save key vocabulary and toggle between romaji, kana, and kanji.

As a video course, it’s short on reading and writing practice. However, the native audio means you’ll quickly get used to hearing Japanese pronunciation.

Pros

  • Native audio
  • You can choose between romaji, kana, and kanji

Cons

  • No writing practice
  • Superficial in content
4/5
Price: From $8/month
japanesepod101
Heaps of audio and video classes

Podcast-lovers will likely enjoy JapanesePod101, which teaches the language through relaxed audio and video lessons with charismatic hosts and often-humorous dialogues.

There are plenty of lessons to choose from, but if you’re not sure where to get started, just pick a “pathway” or specific series. 

The lessons are mostly dialogue-centric. You’ll listen to a target dialogue, and then the hosts will break it down for you line by line. Often (but not always), the lessons build on each other, using material from past lessons while also introducing a new grammar point and some vocabulary.

That said, there is a very limited focus on reading and writing Japanese, so you’ll want to pair JapanesePod101 with some extra resources or a textbook like Minna no Nihongo or Genki.

Pros

  • Huge number of lessons with various hosts
  • Premium subscribers get access to extra features, including topic-specific flashcard decks
  • Voice recorder function
  • Fairly decent for grammar

Cons

  • Limited reading and writing practice
  • Too much English, especially at higher levels
  • Can feel unstructured
4/5
Price: Free
Comprehensive grammar course for dedicated self-study

Imabi is not your typical course. It’s an intense series of online text lessons with lots of information – perhaps too much for the average student. 

The primary focus is grammar, but unlike other grammar guides such as Tae Kim (review) and BunPro (review), there are also dedicated lessons to vocabulary. There’s plenty of cultural information, too, and some excellent lessons on pronunciation. On the other hand, there are no exercises; drills; or reading, writing, or listening activities. It’s up to you to practice this material. 

Beginners could find Imabi intimidating or even demotivating. There’s no gamification here, and the lessons never shy away from the technical aspects of Japanese. However, the information is excellent. Even adept Japanese speakers might learn something from the beginner lessons. 

Extremely dedicated students will be able to use Imabi as their principal course, but it’s important to also use external resources to practice writing, listening, reading, and speaking. Alternatively, Imabi makes a great supplementary resource that you can dive into when you want more information about a topic.

Pros

  • Exceptionally detailed explanations
  • Excellent grammar breakdowns
  • Vocabulary and cultural insights
  • Material for beginner through to advanced students

Cons

  • No exercises
  • No reading, writing, listening, or speaking practice
  • Beginners will likely find it overwhelming technical and detailed
  • For most students, it’s probably best as a supplementary resource
4/5
Price: €49.90
Translation-based course with natural dialogues

With Assimil, you can try learning Japanese through immersion, no matter if you’re in Nebraska, the Welsh Hills, or Auckland. Or that’s the theory, anyway.

The Assimil courses are designed to replicate the way children learn: by hearing how native Japanese speakers talk and eventually mimicking them. In fact, it’s not until lesson 50 that you begin speaking Japanese and actively learning grammar. Until that point, you’ll just be listening, translating, and doing comprehension exercises.

Assimil’s been publishing language textbooks for almost a century, and in recent years, they’ve also turned their hands to online courses. The brand has some passionate fans who believe the Assimil method helps them achieve conversational fluency.

However, it’s not for everyone. If you’re itching to start speaking Japanese from day one or prefer not to focus on translation, take a look at one of the other courses on this list.

Pros

  • Realistic dialogues
  • Extremely thorough grammar indexes and appendixes
  • Some cultural information
  • High-quality audio

Cons

  • Heavily focused on translation instead of output
  • The pronunciation explanations and feedback could be improved
  • Less engaging than other courses and apps
4/5
Price: Freemium; premium plans from $6/month
Kanshudo
Kanji-focused courses and games with some grammar explanations

It’s easy to neglect studying kanji, but Kanshudo’s structured course and games will help keep you on track.

In the free 20-lesson beginner course, you’ll be introduced to five different kanji in each lesson, along with some example words and sentences. You can practice tracing the kanji on your phone and tablet, and finish up with some games to check your memory. There are also some interspersed grammar points.

However, Kanshudo is best used as a supplementary resource. The grammar isn’t drilled, while the vocabulary is at times not explained very well. For example, when you learn the kanji 大 for big in lesson one, you’re also shown how it turns 学生 into 大学生, university student. Unfortunately, however, the text forgets to mention that 学生 means student, so you don’t see the relevance of this. It’s still a useful lesson overall, but it would be even more effective if you knew some basic Japanese vocabulary before taking the course.

The intermediate course will teach you 1,000 kanji, but with the exception of the first three lessons, it’s behind a paywall. This course is a more interesting one since you’ll practice using the kanji in sentences, but it’s still best used alongside other resources.

The website also contains reading materials organized by level and free exercises and drills for some of the most common Japanese textbooks, including Genki, Minna no Nihongo, and Japanese for Busy People.

Pros

  • Lots of drills and games 
  • Great for reviewing kanji
  • You can earn Study Points by studying and then exchange them for free access to the Premium content

Cons

  • Weak focus on grammar and vocabulary
  • Best used as a supplementary resource
3.8/5
Price: From $5/month
Live and video classes that go from N5 to N1

BondLingo does it all: a textbook, live video classes where you can ask questions, pre-recorded video lessons for self-study, JLPT quizzes, level test, and vocabulary lists. And it will take you all the way from complete beginner up to N1.

The website also has a blog with posts on everything from the Obon festival to how to describe your sexuality and gender in Japanese.

Some of the lessons use a lot of English, but others are predominantly in Japanese. Bear in mind that you can only type in the lessons; there’s no option for speaking (or feedback on your speech).

Pros

  • Goes from N5 to N1
  • Live classes with a teacher
  • Self-study material
  • Textbook

Cons

  • Some videos use lots of English
  • Limited practice drills and homework
3.7/5
Price: Free
Thorough beginner Japanese courses from the University of Kyoto

For beginner students looking for a solid foundation in Japanese, samidori is a great place to start. You’ll learn the kana, vocabulary, grammar, and more, while there’s plenty of listening and reading practice.

It’s not a perfect course, however. You’ll need to look elsewhere to learn how to write kanji, plus there are no speaking and writing exercises. And although they have lessons for lower intermediate students, most of their material is designed for beginners.

That said, the course and lessons alike are well structured. Most lessons follow the same format: the lesson topic and vocabulary is introduced in Japanese and English, then there are example sentences and audio recordings for the target language, and finally you get timed practice questions to check your understanding.

If you’re looking for a free resource that will cover the basics of Japanese, and you don’t care about gamification, flashcards, and other features, then samidori is a great choice. Just make sure to also use a kanji app or workbook and practice speaking and writing. 

Alternatively, if you’re looking for something more engaging, try LingoDeer.

Pros

  • Comprehensive, well-structured courses
  • Lots of listening and reading practice
  • Teaches kana, grammar, and vocabulary
  • Audio recordings for all new words and phrases

Cons

  • Doesn’t teach you how to write kanji
  • No writing or speaking practice
  • Limited lessons for lower intermediate students
3.5/5
Price: From $99.99/level
Japanese Level Up
A flashcard course that will take you from beginner to advanced

Jalup promises to help you level up your Japanese, and it does so through a leveled-up flashcards system.

Flashcards can be dry, but Jalup does its best to keep it engaging, with sentences from Japanese manga and novels. In fact, you might even recognize some of the content.

Each new flashcard builds on previous ones, while spaced repetition will help you to remember what you’ve learned. You can either use these flashcards on Anki or the Jalup app. The latter is more expensive but includes far more features.

In theory, the structured, nine-level syllabus takes you from the very basics (kana) through to “Jalup Expert”. The two-person team behind Jalup has also mentioned that they hoped to add a tenth and final level at some point.

However, more analytical learners might get frustrated with the lack of grammar explanations, while you’ll also want to pair it with activities for practicing listening comprehension, speaking, and writing. 

Pros

  • Teaches you in Japanese from level 4 onwards
  • Great for reading
  • Native audio clips for some levels
Cons
  • Limited grammar focus
  • No output (speaking/writing) practice
  • Pricey for a flashcard system
  • Less engaging than other apps
3.5/5
Price: From $7.99/month
Mango-languages-Logo
Compare your pronunciation to a native speaker’s

Looking to polish your pronunciation while learning basic grammar and vocabulary? Mango Languages might be a good option.

It has some things in common with Pimsleur: you’ll listen to a dialogue, get a grammar or cultural explanation, and then practice building your own sentences and questions using the target language. Repetition is a key feature of this method, but unlike Pimsleur, the lesson pace doesn’t feel quite so sluggish. 

However, what really makes Mango Languages shine is the ability to record yourself speaking a Japanese phrase and lay it over a native speaker’s. While Japanese pronunciation isn’t too challenging for English speakers, it can be hard to get the difference between similar words like いえ (ie, house) and いいえ (iie, no) or to reproduce that tricky sokuon/double consonant. Mango Languages will help you spot when you haven’t quite got it right.

Bear in mind, however, that Mango Languages is mostly focused on speaking and listening. You’ll need to look elsewhere to learn how to write and read Japanese.

Pros

  • It’s great for spotting unnatural pronunciation
  • You’ll practice making sentences from the first lesson
  • Lessons build on each other well
  • Some North American libraries and universities offer free access

Cons

  • Limited focus on writing and reading
  • Some users find the heavy drilling monotonous
  • Only caters for beginner and lower-intermediate learners

Mondly

Quick Review

2.7 

Summary:

Mondly is a language-learning app that teaches basic vocabulary and grammar structures. It seems most appropriate for learners with little to no exposure to their target language.

The activities mostly rely on passive recognition of vocabulary and phrases, and therefore are not very challenging. However, they are varied enough that you probably wouldn’t get bored with short, daily practice sessions.

Although I wouldn’t recommend Mondly to anyone looking to seriously learn a language, it may be appropriate for individuals studying languages with less available resources, or for individuals who are preparing to travel abroad.

Quality

Both the interface and the course itself could be designed better.

Thoroughness

It’s decent for learning vocabulary, but I thought a lot of the material wasn’t explained very well.

Value

It’s fairly inexpensive.

Price

There are three plans…
$9.99 per month for one language
$47.99 per year ($4/mo) for one language
$47.99 per year ($4/mo) for all languages

Strangely, I was able to access multiple languages even though I only signed up for one month at $9.99.

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Miageru

3.3 
Price: Free

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Fun fact: miageru means to raise your eyes upwards, to admire, or to respect. Yet it’s not entirely clear why this course is named Miageru, or who is supposed to be looking up to whom (or what).

Miageru contains basic, easy-to-understand explanations for beginner-level Japanese kana and grammar. It also has games to help you drill kana, kanji, vocabulary, and grammar. However, you’ll only learn how to recognize kana and kanji, not how to write them.

While a useful tool, Miageru is not the most well-organized platform. There’s no learning pathway, for example, and neither is there a section on essential Japanese phrases (greetings, directions, etc.). When we tried it out, there was no way to even learn how to say hello and introduce yourself.

To study kanji, you have to select sentences that you’re interested in learning. Studying a kanji in a sentence isn’t a bad idea: learning things in context will help you remember them. Yet this system does mean that you might learn things in an odd order.

Miageru claims it’s a replacement for Japanese courses and includes everything you need to know for JLPT N5. We’re not convinced because it misses out a lot of essential phrases. However, it’s a helpful supplementary resource for drilling beginner Japanese alongside a course or textbook.

The current rating is our best estimate. We haven’t had the opportunity yet to more thoroughly evaluate this resource, as we do for our full reviews.

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Japanese From Zero!

2.5 
Price: From $25/volume

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If you’re looking for an easy introduction to Japanese, you might like Japanese From Zero! It is engagingly written and has lots of information about Japanese culture, but it teaches the language at a snail’s pace.

In fact, it reminds us of storybooks designed to teach young children foreign languages, in that it mixes kana with romaji. You’ll see words written half in hiragana, half in romaji. And the entire first textbook won’t teach you any katakana or kanji at all.

There’s also an accompanying video course, YesJapan (review), which contains a ton of useful material. Ironically, in this course, kana and kanji are used.

For serious learners, we think there are better textbooks out there, such as Genki and Minna no Nihongo. But if you’re looking for the textbook equivalent of Duolingo, you might like Japanese From Zero! It’s an easy, fun way to learn the language while never feeling overwhelmed. You’ll make extremely slow progress – but it will still be progress.

The current rating is our best estimate. We haven’t had the opportunity yet to more thoroughly evaluate this resource, as we do for our full reviews.

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Minna no Nihongo

4.7 
Price: From $35 per volume

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Minna no Nihongo, along with Genki, is one of the most recommended Japanese textbooks you can find – and it lives up to expectations.

There are two beginner-level (shokyu) volumes that roughly correlate to A1–A2 or N5–N4 and two intermediate-level (chokyu) volumes that should take up to N2. Each textbook contains 25 chapters and will teach you grammar, vocabulary, and more. They also come with a CD.

Minna no Nihongo’s main selling point, especially at the beginner level, is that it’s generally more in-depth than other popular textbooks. Compared to Genki, it has more vocabulary and grammar, more exercises, and more accompanying workbooks, including ones specifically for kanji, reading, and writing.

That said, many students are put off by the lack of English in the main textbook. They are entirely in Japanese. You can buy the official Translation and Grammar Notes for each level in a variety of languages, including English, Mandarin, and Spanish. While purchasing two separate texts can be annoying, it also has its positives: you’re pushed to try to understand the Japanese first, plus it makes it more accessible for people who don’t have English as a first language.

You should also learn the kana before getting started with Minna no Nihongo. If you’ve yet to study this, apps like Skritter (review), Scripts (review), and LingoDeer (review) will help you pick it up.

If you’re planning to move to Japan, or want to learn the language as thoroughly as possible, then Minna no Nihongo is a great starting point. You’ll get a strong understanding of the grammar and learn a lot of vocabulary. However, if you’re looking for an easier entry point or don’t want to buy the official translation, check out our review of Genki.

The current rating is our best estimate. We haven’t had the opportunity yet to more thoroughly evaluate this resource, as we do for our full reviews.

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Wasabi Mini Review: Japanese Classes & Self-Study Lessons

4.2 
Price: Lesson packs from 3,780¥/month

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Wasabi is an online Japanese school that also publishes an impressive amount of free resources for beginner and intermediate learners. This includes grammar guides, graded readers with audio recordings, video lessons, and other self-study materials.

The online classes are one-to-one and typically taught in Japanese, although they will allocate you a teacher who speaks English if you request it. You need to purchase the classes in monthly packs, with a minimum of two per month. There’s no upper limit.

Meanwhile, you can study by yourself without classes using their self-study materials – although, of course, you’ll miss out on the practice opportunities and personalized feedback. These materials are written in English and contain clear, easy-to-follow breakdowns of Japanese grammar, pronunciation, and more. There are no exercises, however, so you’ll have to drill the material on your own.

Whether you take classes with them or not, Wasabi is worth bookmarking. There’s an enormous amount of free, quality resources for beginner and intermediate-level Japanese students. You could use them to supplement courses and textbooks or even to structure your independent studies.

The current rating is our best estimate. We haven’t had the opportunity yet to more thoroughly evaluate this resource, as we do for our full reviews.

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Japanese For Busy People

2.5 
Price: From $27/volume

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Japanese For Busy People is a popular textbook series, but unless you’re set on learning business vocabulary, we think there are better books available.

The biggest issue with this series is that you won’t learn how to write Japanese in the standard version, which only uses romaji. This not only makes it impossible to read or write, but also means learning the pronunciation is much harder. You can purchase a kana version of the textbook instead, but even that doesn’t teach kanji until the second volume.

The grammar explanations are quite superficial, while the vocabulary is limited and tends to be business-oriented. If you’re learning Japanese to travel, watch anime, or study in Japan, you might become frustrated with the material.

In its favor, it includes a variety of exercises and practice drills. However, we believe there are better Japanese textbooks available. We recommend trying Genki or Minna no Nihongo instead.

The current rating is our best estimate. We haven’t had the opportunity yet to more thoroughly evaluate this resource, as we do for our full reviews.

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Samidori

3.7 
Price: Free

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samidori is a free online Japanese course from the University of Kyoto, and as you might expect, it’s a comprehensive, well-organized introduction to the language.

There is an extensive range of lessons from absolute beginner up to lower intermediate. They cover the kana, grammar, vocabulary, listening, and reading. However, there are no writing or speaking activities, and although you’ll learn to recognize them, you won’t be taught how to write any kanji. Higher levels also contain fewer lessons than the lower levels.

Most of the lessons follow the same format: the lesson topic and vocabulary are introduced in both Japanese and English, then there are example sentences, audio recordings for the vocabulary and example sentences, and finally practice questions.

For beginners, samidori is a decent introduction to Japanese, although you’ll want to pair it with kanji studies and writing and speaking practice. Intermediate learners, however, will likely want to use it as a supplementary resource only.

The current rating is our best estimate. We haven’t had the opportunity yet to more thoroughly evaluate this resource, as we do for our full reviews.

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