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How Real Is Anime Japanese?

How real is the Japanese in books, manga and so on…?

At the moment I’m full on in my immersion. It works and I’m glad to be making big progress.

But now there are people around me who say that the Japanese in movies and manga isn’t the Japanese which is spoken in real life.

Does this mean that I’m learning Japanese that isn’t real?

I don’t believe that. But I’d like to pose the question to people who are in Japan and know better. Please help me!

How real is anime Japanese?

Short answer: Real enough.
Long answer: That is a very good question.

Some anime are more naturalistic (dialogwise) than others.
Just like how in American cartoons, “Ben 10” 1 is much more naturalistic in its dialogue than, say, “Looney Tunes” or “Swat Kats”.
Yes, I am a grown man and I watch cartoons with a fearsome intensity.

Another American example: “Phineas and Ferb”. The dialogue may not be real real real, but the wit definitely is. The fourth wall-breaking, self-deprecating, stream-of-consciousness humor of Dr. Doofenshmirtz is very current, very natural and very adult. Very post-modern, if you will.

The fact is, there are different kinds of “real” Japanese. Just like there are different kinds of wrong.

Arguably, there are billions of different kinds of Japanese: different dialects, different sociolects, different idiolects, different situation-lects, with each individual person possessing their own…set of subsets of these.
So you can’t point to one thing and say “this is ‘The One True Japanese to Rule Them All'”.
There’s telephone Japanese, convenience store Japanese, hanging out with guys Japanese, old friends Japanese, friends’ parents Japanese, strangers Japanese, baby and pet Japanese, news Japanese, politician Japanese, TV discussion show Japanese, comedy Japanese, documentary Japanese. All have their specific “things”.

What can be said about textbook Japanese is that it’s unnaturally normative, pedantic, boring and…unreal as a tournament.

Anime Japanese definitely has its “flavor”.
But then there are many different kinds of anime.
“Shonen Jump” anime Japanese is one thing…
“Samurai Champloo” another,
“Ergo Proxy” another altogether.

Again, anime has its flavor. But it’s a native flavor. A real flavor. A Japanese flavor.
Will you talk slightly funny if all you watch is anime?
Yes, probably.
BUT it’ll be a native-like, Japanese funny, not a gaijin funny.
You’ll be like a guy who watched too much “Full House” and talks like Bob Saget or Uncle Joey. I’m not saying that that’s John Kabira‘s story, but…yeah. Haha.

I had a phase where I wrote and spoke like shonen anime character (thankfully not “Naruto” 2). All my sentences ended in “ぜ”. I also had a phase where I talked like a kid from “Gokusen”. All my sentences ended in “じゃねーぞ”. But I outgrew those phases. And it only took a couple of weeks, literally, two weeks of living in Japan for real, to correct the last of my “imbalances” 3.

So, yeah, there is “anime” Japanese just like there is “Star Trek” English.
But guess what?
“Star Trek English” is more than 90% the same as “regular” English, even with all the jargon.

If anything, what truly separates anime Japanese from “normal” Japanese is not that it’s anime, but that it’s scripted and rehearsed. As are the news, TV dramas, movies, audiobooks…All are good, linguistically at least. All are worth your time if they’re fun for you. But all are scripted and rehearsed.

Real speech is, of course, ad-libbed. (There are some awesome shows that feature ad-libbed Japanese, like Peeping Life). And that is the real difference.

Here it is in a nutshell; if you like, you can call it the Two Laws of Media (anime included):

  1. Any Japanese that’s made by and for Japanese people is closer to real Japanese than anything made “for learners”.
  2. Any scripted Japanese is closer to other scripted Japanese than it is to real Japanese.

Let me “draw” that for you as an “ASCII Venn Diagram”:


(Anime/Movies/News/TV) – (“Real Japanese”)

As you can see, JSL (“Japanese as a Second[ary?] Language” = fake, sanitized, whitewashed, “for learners”, “for foreigners” Japanese) is separated from real Japanese by a great horizontal and vertical distance. Anime, on the other hand, actually overlaps and intersects with real Japanese. A real Venn diagram woulda been betta, but…you have no idea how little I can be bothered. If you only knew the depths of laziness we’re dealing with here, you wouldn’t even entertain that thought 😀 .

Ultimately, anime is worth your time.
Anime will not “hurt” your Japanese; it will strengthen it. Yes, it will certainly “color” and “flavor” it to some extent in the process, but not in a way that cannot be balanced out by other “colors” and “flavors”.

Take-home points in support, defense and praise of anime as a learning tool and more:

  • It’s a real and pervasive part of contemporary Japanese culture
    • There are only two types of culture: Living culture and dead culture. Pop culture is living culture. High culture is dead culture. (Twain: a classic is a book that everybody praises and nobody reads). Anime is alive; anime is here and now. Anything considered respectable is high culture: the rotting, badly preserved corpse of once-living pop culture. Remember that Shakespeare used to be pop; kimonos used to be dirty.
  • It’s fun, engaging and addictive
  • It’s close enough to real
  • Occasionally (as in the case of “Peeping Life“) it’s basically 100% real — and exact-L2-subbed, to boot!
  • Schools and jerk-off teachers hate it, which is a good sign that it’s awesome; those people hate smiles, smartphones, pretty girls and comfortable clothes, too, so…yeah.
    • Frankly, the whole anti-anime stance is nothing but a proxy war against fun itself. Nobody gets their knickers in a twist over TV news or the effing tea ceremony or handwritten letters made from cherry blossom paper. Just anime and other fun things.
  • Most anime these days implement some form of “Tarzan”-style media mix 4, so you can enjoy and learn from the manga, the radio play (“Drama CD”), the comic book, the video game, the novelization and the anime reboot of the same basic work.
  • We don’t all want to live in Japan. For some of us, anime itself is the main reason to learn Japanese. It was certainly a big reason for me. So being able to learn the language through the very thing you want to learn the language for is, how you say, a good get.

And that’s all from me, folks.
Sorry for the lack of elegance in the argument…I have much room for development in that regard.
Anyway, the point is not to be convinced by me.
Don’t agree or disagree, just go out there and have fun and be a baller 🙂 .


  1. especially the character “Kevin Levin”
  2. After every mean-spirited joke that’s been on this website, you’re going to be butthurt about this?
  3. When I first came to Japan, outputwise my two registers were über-polite and gangster. I had no stable “middle ground”. It didn’t take but a mo’ to get one, no conscious practice required. Getting over my tendency to fall back on technical language when cornered (lol) took somewhat longer, but that’s a different issue, more of an engineer/geek thing…
  4. (yeah, “Star Wars” came later)

  27 comments for “How Real Is Anime Japanese?

  1. フレヂィー
    March 6, 2013 at 01:19

    I, too, have come across these sites that claim “Oh no! Don’t learn from Anime, it’s not real Japanese… and so on.” Well let me tell you, I don’t watch much anime and when I do it’s usually older stuff that’s in movie format not serialized (i.e. Robot Carnival and Vampire Hunter are a couple of my favorites), but the point I am trying to make is this; Take it from someone who learned English as an L2, how do you think I got there… cartoons of course! As I grew up and came into different situations I realized that “Cowabunga dude! or totally man!” was not appropriate to say to my elders :^) I learned that there was business English, friends English, etc. etc. but I learned that as I went along, it didn’t hit me all in one day. Japanese situations won’t hit you like that either. Eventually if you keep on trucking in your Japanese self-studies you’ll be exposed to such situations and you’ll adjust then. In the meantime don’t worry so much about it, you have no idea how quickly you can adapt, your 脳髄 is kinda kick-ass like that.

    Remember, when you’re on your journey to learn Japanese or anything else consider yourself a child BUT the difference is this, as an adult you will adapt and learn much quicker then your 7 year old counterpart so don’t get caught up on what sounds adult or child-like or “real” now, you’ll learn, you’ll get it, it will happen, trust YOURSELF that it will. The more you worry about things like “real Japanese” the more time you are wasting and not going with the flow.

    Don’t fight the language river because it doesn’t have the same undercurrent as the Grand Canyon. You can bog yourself down and stay there unless you just go with the flow.

  2. フレヂィー
    March 6, 2013 at 01:28

    Sorry to bog the comments, but after I hit post I recalled a real-life situation at my job. We have a Japanese office where I work, same set up, same duties, except, well…, they’re in Japanese doing Japanese things. We had an emergency and we needed a fix asap for the Japanese website, due to the time difference we didn’t feel like waking anyone up, so, I was asked to translate something and I did. Pretty good, too, I might add, except for one tiny thing. I used “買う” and not “購入” this is for a very reputable company, too. The next day I had a few emails explaining the differences and how one sounded (waaaay) too casual for the situation… i.e. “買う.”

    So, that SITUATION happened and I LEARNED, and like khatz said, you adapt and change so quick!

    Okay, that’s it. Thanks for reading.

  3. dave
    March 6, 2013 at 09:41

    Even if there is a good chunk of not-very-relevant-to-every-day-life vocabulary words being thrown at you in an anime, you can trust that there is a good amount of communication that is very real to everyday life; otherwise, why would it appeal to native speakers?

    There’s much more to human communication apart from the lexis itself and acrolect-basilect distinctions. Anime dialogue and communication is often riddled with figures of speech and rhetoric and humorous themes and emotions, a good chunk of which are generalizable to other languages and not native to Japanese. Language buttressed by these other elements of communication is not only very fun but more real to day-to-day Japanese than the lifeless, stale textbook sentences.

  4. mark95427
    March 6, 2013 at 14:35

    I totally agree with the last point. (Not the “lack of elegance” part)
    You learn languages for whatever reason you want to and by whatever means you enjoy. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

  5. March 6, 2013 at 23:27

    We should all just learn Japanese from Peeping Life. That series is gold.

  6. 魔法少女☆かなたん
    March 8, 2013 at 02:59

    You can learn a lot of different situational Japanese if you like variety in your anime. It’s not all just the Japanese equivalent of Popeye or whatever. Eventually it becomes easy to pick up on when a character has some amusing idiosyncrasy in the way they speak-su~.

  7. alex
    March 8, 2013 at 18:39

    Are there any plans to offer SilverSpoon (Vanilla/BigBoi/Neutrino) anytime soon? Am definitely interested thank you.

  8. emk
    March 10, 2013 at 06:48

    I’ve learned much of my French from a strange mix of sources: graphic novels, science fiction translated from English, humor websites, science documentaries, and even political philosophy from the early 1800s. (Hey, don’t knock it, it’s actually pretty interesting.)

    After a while, it all sort of balances out. If I want to spend a few months reading graphic novels or science fiction, no problem. That gives me a nice, predictable “niche” that I can learn in depth. Eventually I get bored and go try something else.

    After a while, it becomes really obvious that some words are very formal, and some words are very slangy. For example, “interpellé par la police” starts to sound like “arrested by the police”, and “chopé par les flics” starts to sound like “busted by the cops”, because they each appear in certain contexts. Even in a single cop show, there’s judges, police officers, coroners, and criminals, and each speaks a little differently.

    But overall, it’s all the same language. Once you can understand *any* genre fluently, everything else just requires a little bit of exposure and you’ll adjust in no time flat. It’s like growing up in a small US town and watching Monty Python for the first time—sure, they speak funny, but after an hour, it’s no problem at all and you can already imitate them a little bit.

    So read and watch whatever you want. When you get bored, try something else.

  9. Viridian
    March 10, 2013 at 16:35

    Haganai’s one of the funnier shows.

  10. Saben
    March 10, 2013 at 23:58

    I’m working at a Japanese High School and some of my kids use anime-inspired vocabulary. Or language that’s too casual ○○先生いますか? instead of ○○先生いらっしゃいますか. The teachers correct them. That’s part of growing up.

    We’re all starting off as Japanese babies, we need to have our childhood before we can grow up.

  11. Anonny
    March 13, 2013 at 00:35


    Wow, that’s amazing. I’ll be sure to use my phrases I learned from fansubs!

    It’s weird that online dictionaries tell me “onna” doesn’t mean “F###ing bitch!” and “yameru” doesn’t mean “Epic fail!” though..


    • Gadget Hackwrench
      March 20, 2013 at 12:23

      lol well have you ever thought maybe you should try watching anime WITHOUT the fansubs!!??!?

  12. Nishikata
    March 15, 2013 at 06:48

    Oh Khatsumoto! You know you are just encouraging the kids who make (and presumably beleive) comments like “Nobody says desu”

    Real live Japanese people talk just like in the text books- some of the time.

    Sure, you don’t want to be a walking text book with no other registers at your disposal.

    At the same time you don’t want to be without the ability to use that stuff. Unless you intend to be 13 forever.

  13. person
    March 15, 2013 at 07:02

    *laughs* you actually went through a phase of regularly ending sentences with ぜ? That’s gold. Seriously, though…really?

  14. Jason
    March 23, 2013 at 05:54

    95% of Japanese used in anime is normal Japanese…..don’t know why people don’t get that.

    If you have problems believing that anime uses real Japanese then here’s an experiment:

    Watching any random anime and try to find a phrase that is completely outlandish, unreal, and incorrect Japanese. Just try to find one….chances are you won’t.

  15. Mark95427
    March 23, 2013 at 12:24

    More like 100%, if it were made by Japanese people

  16. March 23, 2013 at 20:47

    The Japanese is anime is as real as the English in books by Dr. Seuss. And as we all know nobody learned from them. (Oh, wait…)

  17. Mei Smith
    November 2, 2013 at 13:46

    So just like American movies, shows in Japan can be over dramatize. I have this kid who watches anime and comes and asks the teacher questions in class. Granted yes some shows do similar things sometimes in real life, majority of the time it’s over dramatic. My teacher is from Tokyo and currently here working on her masters while teaching. She lets us know when we can drop certain words at certain times due to the relationship between the people talking but she teaches us beyond the textbook. So I would say no it’s not that real. Yes it’s Japanese but you have to take in consideration the characters relationship, which dialect they are using or based off of and some words in anime are not commonly used.

    • 名前
      November 2, 2013 at 14:48

      Honestly, that is knowledge that you pick up by just reading or watching stuff that isn’t just anime. If your basis for the language is anime, that doesn’t mean you don’t know how to read a mood or to determine when certain phrases are appropriate or not.
      By the time your Japanese is at a level to really get into trouble for not using it appropriately, you’ll know the nuances (to an extent) of certain words and probably wouldn’t use them unless it was intentionally.

      Honestly, I’ve had more feedback from Japanese people on the vocabulary that I picked up from the news than I have from anime. They tell me it isn’t really used except for… well, in the the news.

      You’ll pick up a different flavor of Japanese no matter what the material you use to study it with. These flavors will balance each other out, and you can choose the one that you like the most. You can get lots of different flavors from anime alone. I find it unlikely that someone will solely experience Japanese through anime anyway… and if they do, why should they even care if it is ‘real’ or not?

      • ライトニング
        November 2, 2013 at 16:41

        I agree.

        I would say probably 75% of my audio is Anime, yet tons of Japanese people I talk with say I speak super naturally and that there is no 違和感.

        So the whole thing with anime-japanese not being that real, I find to be false.
        My Japanese self was born and raised on anime, and if all these people say that I am speaking perfectly, something must be going right. Of course, perhaps it’s one huge conspiracy and they just want to make me feel good so I get a false impression and then tell my boss 自分でやれ、この野郎!

        Once you get good enough, your style of speaking is more of a choice anyways, just like it is in your native language. You won’t be formal papers with the “gonna” or “I’ma go…” in English, so why would you do the same in Japanese?

        I use slang like no other, but when it comes time to use formal language, you gotta use it.

        Most people who say the whole deal about anime, are usually not that good with Japanese in the first place. If you were good with Japanese, you would know the differences and how/when to use them.

    • 魔法少女☆かなたん
      November 4, 2013 at 02:40

      I would be careful taking what a teacher told you as the only authority. The reason is that there’s no way she can tell you everything. At best, you’re going to get adult guidance, which is fine, but is there anyone who hasn’t rebelled again adult guidance at least a little? Do you really want to end up using “四角張った” language all the time? That’s just as bad as being dramatic.

    • kai
      November 4, 2013 at 07:54

      Personally, I think that there’s a ton of myths concerning anime around the Japanese language community. I don’t have the experience of being one of those exclusive anime guys, but even if I were, I couldn’t see it having the detrimental effect talked about by some people. Like the other commenter said, anime itself, no, even an anime SERIES itself provides variety. Think of the various speech styles, dialects, characters and slang a single series can have.

      In my opinion, it doesn’t matter how “real” it is. I don’t want others to find themselves reading a newspaper article that they would never read just because some guy on the internet says not to learn from anime and manga.

    • Oli M
      November 4, 2013 at 13:47

      I like to think about about anime-based audio immersion this way: you are incidentally training to be a professional voice actor. And if you’re shadowing, then you’re already an aspiring understudy. It contains the same challenges and pitfalls–the threat of being type cast, not being able to get into the character, not being able to understand the character’s motivations from one scene to the next, not having a wide enough repertoire, etc. The biggest pitfall is getting chased out of the business before you get a chance to play a part at all.

      What would be pretty abhorrent to me: having to play the understudy for a textbook dialogue voiceover artist. And people saying that’s the only damn way I’m going to learn. Maybe that’s just my experience with textbook dialogues and there’s some really riveting stuff out there. (The closest I’ve seen in any language were the readings in the Cambridge Latin books–dogs dancing on the table, drunken ancillae, death and betrayal–all sort of crazy stuff.)

  18. Julie
    February 15, 2018 at 19:09

    Hi Crazy People (count me in),
    Actually I’m learning more about english than japanese yet and as a matter of fact, that’s the best occasion I’ve been given to improve my english so far. Then thanks a lot.
    Well tha’ts not the point. Here it is: I’m not an anime nerd. Not at all. I need advice to get introduced to this wonderful world.
    I’m not completely disconnected as I know a few ones like Miyazaki’s movies or The Cat returns…
    I love the Monthy Pythons, nonsense humour, Sci Fi, everything epic or legendary, with a lot of suspense and drama.
    Please help me! What could fit my taste?
    Thanks in advance 🙂

    • Some guy who started learning Japanese but is kinda taking a break to learn Nederlands for the next 2 years before going back to Japanese
      September 11, 2018 at 20:35

      You do realize that the last comment left was 5 years ago?
      Anyway, here’s a list:
      -Star Wars/Trek
      -Basically all Hollywood films have good English
      -All Disney and Pixar films if you like cartoons
      -Mr. Robot
      -The big bang theory
      -Two and a half men
      -That 70s show
      -Breaking bad
      -Harry Potter
      -Game of thrones
      -Stranger things
      -House of cards
      -The walking dead
      -Modern family
      -Avatar the last airbender
      -Courage the cowardly dog
      -A clockwork orange
      -All Christopher Nolan films
      -American Gods
      -There is just so much I can still add to the list. Maybe do a Google (Yahoo/Bing/gizoogle/whatever search engine you use) search to find more series and movies and stuff. Good luck with your language learning.

      Anyway, do you happen to know some good Dutch (Nederlands) content for me to watch?

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