** Check out the “Best Way to Learn Japanese – 15 Tips to Try Today“, if you want to explore a wider scope of Japanese learning! **
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.
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.
- Lots of reading and listening practice
- A native speaker gives the pronunciation classes
- It’s fun and interesting
- 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
See our Super-Detailed StoryLearning Japanese Uncovered Review
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.
- 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
- Limited reading and writing practice
- Too much English, especially at higher levels
- Can feel unstructured
See our Super-Detailed JapanesePod101 Review
Subscriptions start at $14.95/mo
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.
- 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
- 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
See our Super-Detailed Pimsleur Review
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.
- Decent introduction to kana and beginner-level kanji
- Clear grammar explanations
- Listening comprehension activities
- Fun but effective
- 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
See our Super-Detailed Lingodeer Review
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.
- Good for grammar and phrases
- Lots of example sentences
- Can toggle kana/romaji on and off
- Best used as a supplementary resource
- No speaking or listening comprehension
- Not as engaging as other courses
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.
- Accessible and entertaining introduction to Japanese
- Includes cultural insights
- You can save vocabulary to your notebook
- Lots of listening practice
- Only suitable for beginners
- The organization can be a little confusing
- Limited reading and writing practice
$9.99 for Android or iOS
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.
- Excellent breakdowns
- Engaging tone
- Limited practice opportunities
- The amount of vocabulary can be overwhelming
- Sometimes uses the wrong kana in beginner lessons
- Difficult to navigate on your mobile
See our Super-Detailed Human Japanese Review
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.
- Reading and listening practice
- Grammar and pronunciation guides
- Video and text lessons
- Affordable one-to-one classes
- If studying by yourself, you have to create your own practice drills
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.
- Explanations in multiple languages
- Tutor support is available
- Lots of listening comprehension
- Some speaking practice
- Only for beginners (A1–A2)
- The Katsudoo course has no writing practice and limited reading practice
- Studying Rikai after Katsudoo feels clunky and convoluted
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.
- Native audio
- You can choose between romaji, kana, and kanji
- No writing practice
- Superficial in content
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.
- Exceptionally detailed explanations
- Excellent grammar breakdowns
- Vocabulary and cultural insights
- Material for beginner through to advanced students
- 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
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.
- Realistic dialogues
- Extremely thorough grammar indexes and appendixes
- Some cultural information
- High-quality audio
- Heavily focused on translation instead of output
- The pronunciation explanations and feedback could be improved
- Less engaging than other courses and apps
See our Super-Detailed Assimil Review
FREEMIUM; PREMIUM PLANS FROM $6/MONTH
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.
- 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
- Weak focus on grammar and vocabulary
- Best used as a supplementary resource
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).
- Goes from N5 to N1
- Live classes with a teacher
- Self-study material
- Some videos use lots of English
- Limited practice drills and homework
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.
- Comprehensive, well-structured courses
- Lots of listening and reading practice
- Teaches kana, grammar, and vocabulary
- Audio recordings for all new words and phrases
- Doesn’t teach you how to write kanji
- No writing or speaking practice
- Limited lessons for lower intermediate students
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.
- Teaches you in Japanese from level 4 onwards
- Great for reading
- Native audio clips for some levels
- Limited grammar focus
- No output (speaking/writing) practice
- Pricey for a flashcard system
- Less engaging than other apps
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.
- 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
- Limited focus on writing and reading
- Some users find the heavy drilling monotonous
- Only caters for beginner and lower-intermediate learners
See our Super-Detailed Mango Languages Review