Best App to Learn Japanese (Our Top 5 Picks)

Updated November 5th, 2023

Sometimes it feels like Japanese leaners are at a disadvantage compared to students of other languages. Japanese is one of the most difficult languages to learn for native English speakers. If that weren't hard enough, there aren't as many good resources out there for Japanese like there are for other languages.

Strange to think it's so hard to find resources to learn Japanese when there are over 126 million native speakers around the world!

This is because it's not easy to make courses or apps that teach the language well. It's far removed from English (grammatically speaking), and it's no small feat to break down the Japanese language into bite sized pieces. 

There are a number of significant differences between Japanese and English, and their not always accounted for in apps for those who want to learn Japanese

But even though there are less resources, that doesn't mean that there aren't any good ones. In this post we look at our picks for the 5 best apps for learning Japanese. 

Before we get into our list though, let's talk about what actually makes a good app for learning Japanese.

What makes a great app for learning Japanese?

It doesn't gloss over grammar

A lot of companies will take their best Spanish course, replace it with Japanese words, and then call it a Japanese course. Unfortunately for them (and you), what works for teaching a language closely related to English isn't going to work for learning Japanese. 

Grammatically speaking Japanese has little to nothing in common with English. There's a system of honorifics, different word order, sentence subjects can be implied but not explicitly stated...the list goes on. 

The best apps will teach the Japanese on it's own terms. It will recognize the differences in the language and break them down for native English speakers. 

It doesn't ignore the writing system (specifically kanji)

There are entire Japanese courses and apps out there that simply don't focus on teaching the Japanese writing system; but if you're serious about learning the language this aspect is crucial to becoming fluent! The best and most effective apps will help you learn and use the writing system in a practical way.

The written language is vital for those who really want to learn Japanese 

Written Japanese combines logographic characters (kanji), with syllabic ones (kana). Each kanji character represents a word or idea much like Chinese characters

Kana (hiragana and katagana)

Kana is broken up into two scripts: hiragana and katakana. Both hiragana and katakana function much like an alphabet with each symbol representing a syllable/sound (there are 46 symbols in hiragana and 48 in katakana).


Hiragana is almost always used alongside kanji in Japanese writing, as it helps the reader know how to say and pronounce a given word. Outside of language learning textbooks you’re unlikely to find words written exclusively in hiragana, and there are few words written using only kanji.


However words derived from English and other foreign languages are written in katakana. Words like company names, food menu items, and modern technology terms are common examples of words written in katakana.

If you’re committed to learning Japanese you will need to learn both hiragana, katakana, and kanji. The best apps for learning Japanese will expose you to the various parts of written Japanese, and help you practice using each one

Our picks for best Japanese learning apps

1) Pimsleur Japanese


$19.95 per month

Time commitment

30 minutes a day 

Pimsleur has a long-standing reputation for being an effective way to learn a foreign language in a conversational way. The program uses a method called spaced repetition theory to help you store key vocabulary and concepts in your permanent memory.

The program uses a unique call/response/feedback method to help you practice thinking in Japanese and produce your own answers and sentences. As far as apps go, it’s the closest you can get to speaking practice without being face-to-face with a real-life native Japanese speaker.

You will also find speaking activities within lessons that use speech software to provide feedback on your pronunciation.

The real advantage of this kind of approach is that you learn grammar implicitly (via conversation patterns), and not simply explicitly (through rules and grammar charts). It’s one thing to know grammar, it’s another to use it in a practical way. Pimsleur lets you use Japanese grammar in a conversational context. It’s one of the only apps that does this.

The app also includes a hefty reading track woven into the audio lessons. Learners are first taught hiragana by reading texts phonetically (along with native audio). Then users are gradually introduced to Kanji. This is a great way to learn Japanese.

Pimsleur Japanese teaches reading, as well as speaking and listening. 

Pimsleur offers five Japanese course levels from beginner up to intermediate. For a monthly subscription of $19.95, users get access to all five course levels. Pimsleur offers 1 week of full access to their Japanese courses for free, so you can test the courses out for yourself and see if they’re right for you before you pay for anything.

How to Use Pimsleur’s Japanese App to Learn Japanese

Pimsleur’s Japanese app makes a solid choice for the core of your language learning program because it focuses on all the key elements of the language, including grammar, reading & writing, listening comprehension, and speaking. The thirty-minute audio lessons do require a lot of focus, but they will get you fluent in basic conversation super quickly.

To get the most out of the program, try to complete one full lesson with its accompanying activities each day. This takes about an hour. Consistency helps with the Pimsleur method because you will easily remember the review material as it is re-presented to you in spaced intervals, reinforcing the core concepts you learn.

If you struggle to set aside a full hour every day for study, you could easily listen to the audio portion of each lesson while doing chores, going on a walk, or commuting to work if you ride a bus or train (you may not want to try this while riding a bike or driving, as the lesson takes a lot of attention and active listening).

That said, you will likely still want to pair your Pimsleur course with extracurriculars like tools for conversation practice. 

If you have a more visual learning style, you might want to pair Pimsleur with video learning tools, too. You can find lots of free Japanese learning videos on YouTube, or subscribe to an app like FluentU to access a library of Japanese videos with interactive subtitles.

2) Japanesepod101


From $4+ per month

Time commitment

15+ minutes a day 

Japanesepod101 is one of the most popular apps on this list, and there’s a good reason for it. The site/app is centered around podcast-styled audio lessons and features a ton of useful features and resources to go with them (including spaced repetition flashcards for learning kanji).

While it’s not as strong on the written aspect of the language, Japanesepod101 is an excellent resource for learning grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, and reading.

Each lesson (aka episode), is centered around a Japanese conversation between two native speakers. There are also two English-speaking hosts who will break down the grammar and Japanese vocabulary found within the dialogue.

Plus, you will find many video lessons produced by tutors in the vast library of lessons in JapanesePod101, too!

One of the best things about this format is that you learn new words and grammar in the context of a real conversation.

But there’s a lot more to Japanesepod101 than just the podcast audio and video lessons. Each lesson is complete with example sentences, vocabulary lists, grammar guides, audio transcripts (in English, Romanji, and Kanji), as well as review tools for Kanji.

There are literally hundreds of lessons on Japanesepod101 which cover material for absolute beginners all the way up through the advanced level. Not many other apps for learning Japanese provide users with so much useful content.

There are some notable free features on the Japanesepod101 app, but to get full use of it you’ll have to sign up for a paid subscription which starts at $4 per month.
How to Use JapanesePod101 to Learn Japanese
JapanesePod101 could easily serve as the core of your learning program if you supplement it with other resources. Because it offers both audio podcast-style lessons and video lessons, the format works for both audio and visual learners.

Plus, the lessons range in length from around two minutes to twenty minutes so you don’t have to commit to serious focus like you do for some other programs.

That said, you do need your own motivation and goal-setting ability to make the most of this program. Unlike a gamified program such as Duolingo, you need to mark your own progress and set your own goals in JapanesePod101.

You can skip around from one topic to another if you want or follow course tracks laid out for you (depending on your subscription level). Either way, a self-directed learner will do best with this program.

Another option is to use JapanesePod101 as a supplement to your core learning program. The library of videos and podcast lessons makes a great resource for learning vocabulary and developing listening comprehension, especially because the lower subscription levels have such a low cost.

3) Kanji Study


Free for N5 level (beginners). $12.99 for access to levels N4-N1

Time commitment

15+ minutes a day 

Kanji Study is among the best apps for learning to read and write Japanese. The app provides a thorough and comprehensive approach that will take you from a N5 reading level (absolute beginner), all the way through N1 (advanced)

Kanji study is free for beginners. At this level users will learn kana, radicals, and first level Kanji. They will also have access to a full Japanese dictionary. 

For a one time purchase of $12.99, users get access to all  kanji, which the popular app breaks down into 10 levels. Each level is broken into sets of  kanji. The beginner level has eight sets of ten kanji (80 total), while most other levels have as much as two or three hundred individual kanji which are sorted into sets. 

Beginners can use Kanji Study for Free, but more advanced students will have to pay to unlock the rest of the app's content

The method Study Kanji uses is simple, straight forward, and very effective. The app will show you a set of kanji with their translations and some example phrases or sentences. After this users are given three options for studying the kanji set.

Kanji Study allows users to practice writing kanji, in order to remember them

The first is a flashcard style route memorization and the second is a timed multiple choice option. The third option will provide you with the English translation of a word and require you to draw the kanji with correct stroke order.

The only drawback to this app is that it remains available only for Android, not iOS.
How to Use Kanji Study to Learn Japanese
Obviously, Kanji Study will work best as a supplement to your core learning program, especially if you pick a primarily audio course like Pimsleur that doesn’t have a heavy emphasis on literacy.

Besides helping you gain literacy in Japanese, using Kanji Study can break up the routine of your regular language study time and keep things interesting. You may want to focus on your core learning program for most of the week, and then spend an hour or two with Kanji Study on the weekends.

If you don’t have much experience with kanji, you can use the “split set” feature in the app to focus on a smaller number of characters at one time. This is also a good trick if you only have a few minutes a day to work in a bit of study time.

If you constantly get stuck on a certain character, you can “favorite” it so it keeps popping up in your reviews too! This way, you will learn the tricky characters over time.

If you really want to get the most out of the app, try writing characters by hand with a pen and paper as you complete lessons and quizzes in the app. This gives your brain another way to remember the character, and develops your literacy, too!

4) Obenkyo



Time commitment

15+ minutes a day 

Obenkyo means “study” in Japanese so it is no surprise that this popular learning Japanese app helps students study and master the written aspects of the language. The app also has a notable grammar section and a lot of vocabulary, but it’s with written Japanese that it truly shines the best. Obenkyo teaches kanji, katakana, and hiragana.

Obenkyo isn’t structured like a traditional course. It’s more for independent learners. You’re free to learn Japanese and explore all of the content of the app at once, versus walking through a step-by-step lesson system.

The real strength of Obenkyo is that it lets you study and practice through multiple-choice questions as well as written answers. You can literally practice writing kanji on the app. The app is also free to use, which is awesome.

It also features over 1,000 Japanese words you can learn as you learn characters.
How to Use Obenkyo to Learn Japanese
Because it’s free, Obenkyo may make the best literacy supplement to your core Japanese learning program. It isn’t quite as intuitive as some programs, but you can use the menu to navigate among topics like alphabets and vocabulary.

Plus, the wonderful feature of allowing you to write in the app will help with muscle memory and train your brain to remember characters better than simply reading them from the screen.

One of the best ways to work Obenkyo into your daily or weekly study routine is to set goals for yourself, like learning ten new characters or words at a time. You could also set a time limit, and see how much you can learn in ten or fifteen minutes after your regular study time with your core program.

Because Obenkyo does not feature structured lessons and mostly just teaches writing systems, you may also want to pair the app with reading materials like these fun stories. This way, you can start learning how to read Japanese in context. Plus, finding fun ways to break up your regular study routine will keep you motivated and help you enjoy the learning experience!

One important thing to note about this free app is that to date, it is only available for Android, not IOS. 

Obenkyo lets you practice writing in Japanese

The real strength of Obenkyo is that it lets you study and practice through multiple choice  questions as well as written answers. You can literally practice writing kanji on the app. The app is also free to use which is awesome. 

5) Tae Kim's Guide to Learning Japanese



Time commitment

Up to you

Tae Kim’s guide to Japanese puts difficult grammar and vocabulary explanations into layman’s terms.

The app also provides sentence examples, dialogues, and tips for using what you learn. In addition to grammar and vocabulary, learners are also exposed to hiragana, katakana, and kanji.
How to Use Tae Kim’s Guide to Learn Japanese
This is a pretty remarkable app even before you realize it is totally free!

While you probably don’t want to pick this app as the core of your learning program because it doesn’t focus on speaking or listening, it does make a phenomenal supplement once you get past the beginner basics of your learning program.

You can use this grammar tool just to look up a confusing concept once in a while, as the clear explanations will likely help more than the average Japanese grammar textbook. Plus, you can easily search in-app to find whatever concept or theme you want.

Or you can work through the chapters one after another. Each chapter includes videos and audio as well as charts and examples. Some even have practice exercises to help you try out writing the new syllable or character.

Pairing this app with a more conversational program like Pimsleur or even JapaneePod101 would work really well, as you would get a strong emphasis on both conversation and

Honorable mention:



$6-$60 per hour (varies between teachers)

Time commitment

30 minute or 1 hour lessons 

Italki is an app that gives you access to an online marketplace that connects language learners with language teachers for one-on-one Japanese language classes via video or audio chat. You can learn Japanese with these videos from other students and teachers.

You can connect with Japanese teachers from Japan and around the world for real individual Japanese lessons or tutoring sessions.

There are also a lot of free features, such as a forum where you can ask native speakers language-related questions, and a public notebook where you can write in Japanese and have your entries corrected by the community. This can be a fun way to learn Japanese through an internet connection.

There’s also a free language partner search option that allows you to connect with Japanese speakers who are learning English (so you can help each other in your respective target languages). After all, one of the best ways to practice a language is by speaking it with a native!

How to Use Italki to Learn Japanese

One thing to keep in mind is that italki itself does not create or approve lessons or curriculum, so the content you learn depends totally on the quality of the teacher you select. One good tip here is to look for a tutor with lots of lessons taught as well as returning students. You can find this info in the teacher’s profile.

It’s also a good idea to make sure your teacher is a native Japanese speaker before you sign up for classes. This will help you use lesson time to perfect your pronunciation.

If you can afford to pay for personal lessons, working with a tutor has tons of advantages like the chance to practice real-life conversations in Japanese and a way to get specific questions answered. You can also ask your tutor if they will tailor lessons to particular subjects you want to focus on. Obviously, you can’t do any of those things in a standard app-based course!

That said, if you can only afford to pay for a handful of classes, you may want to get through a beginner-level course first using a different learning program, and then come to italki when you feel ready to handle slightly more advanced topics. That way you can really get the most out of your expensive hours of tutoring.

*with a purchase of $20 or more. After your first purchased lesson, a credit of $10 will be added to your account




Time commitment


Anki isn’t exclusively for language learning. But it is one of the best in a long line of customizable flashcard system apps that use spaced repetition. It is a powerful language-learning tool and is extremely popular in Japanese learning circles.

Anki won’t actually teach you Japanese. Rather, it helps you remember and retain the Japanese you’ve already learned. Again, the app is literally a personalized flashcard study system.

You could use this app to transcribe with translating practice, so you can try to stray away from Japanese translation apps, Google Translate app, and translating Japanese characters.

Anki is probably the least user-friendly app in this article. It does take some leg work to set it up and start creating your own decks and flashcards. but don’t let that scare you away. Here’s a step-by-step video to help get you started learning Japanese with Anki.

The app is completely free, and many learners swear by it, especially for memorizing kanji. Why not learn to speak Japanese for free?
How to Use Anki to Learn Japanese
Once you get past the work of setting up your own flashcards, you can use Anki daily or weekly to drill yourself on new words and characters. This can make a fun break from your regular lessons, or serve as a review session if you consistently update your flashcards.

It is a good idea to use Anki consistently, though, because this will make the most of its Spacred Repetition cycles. Basically, Anki is smart enough to help you review material in a timed way that helps you remember things better. It also helps you pinpoint words or characters you struggle with so that you can circle back until you learn them.

If you start using Anki as a beginner in Japanese, you probably want to focus on Hiragana first and save kanji for last. This will help you develop fluency more quickly.

Duolingo Japanese


Freemium (paid version starting at $7.99 per month)

Time commitment

5+ minutes per day 

Duolingo is one of the most popular language learning apps, and it offers courses for a plethora of languages, not just ones from Asia.

Duolingo has a long-standing reputation for being one of the best learning apps for languages that are more closely related to English, such as the Romance languages and the West Germanic languages.

However, many Japanese learners have mixed feelings about Duolingo. Japanese is a world away from English grammatically speaking. Thus a learning program that works well for a language like Spanish or French, won’t necessarily carry over well to Japanese.

There are a lot of grammatical nuances that don’t get explained well in the app, if at all. This may not be the best option on how to become fluent in Japanese.

The app does expose the reader to hiragana and then to kanji, but it also starts throwing out kanji a lot faster than most beginners can handle at one time. Learners also complain that it’s too easy to guess the app’s multiple-choice questions for kanji, and because of this, the material doesn’t stick.

The app uses a freemium model, meaning there’s a lot of content you can use for free (with ads), but you will need to pay to use the full features of the app, called Super Duolingo, and get rid of the ads.

How to Use Duolingo to Learn Japanese

If you need a challenge or love playing video games, you may find that Duolingo’s gamified style appeals to you. In this case, it might be a good place to start and at least get your feet under you as you learn basic vocabulary. Plus, you can easily work the short games and challenges into your day to try out the free app.

That said, you shouldn’t stick with Duolingo long-term. It has lots of potential issues like confusing translations, lack of grammar lessons, and stilted sample dialogues. You will do better if you pick a structured and comprehensive course like Pimsleur as the core of your Japanese learning program.

Final thoughts

There are a ton of Japanese learning apps out there, and you’re certainly able to try them all. Hopefully, this post helped you decide which Japanese app might be best for you, so you can dive into Japanese and start leaving right away.

Every app on our list offers some sort of free version or free content. If you’re interested in an app or you’re on the fence about which one might best suit your learning needs, it’s a good idea to try out an app before paying anything.

Language learners tackling Japanese learn in different ways and for different reasons. It may not be realistic to have “Japanese lessons near me.” This is why these apps are the best options depending on the needs of the individual learning the language. Don’t be surprised if you favor one app over another. These are great options on how to learn Japanese at home at a convenient time for you.

Apps are awesome and they really can make a difference in your Japanese learning, but don’t forget the most crucial element in your language learning: you. It’s your commitment and dedication that will ultimately bring you success, regardless of which app you use!

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