How long does it take to be able to watch anime without subtitles?

Has anyone here gone through Wanikani and other services (Duolingo, Genki etc.) and gotten to the point where they can watch Japanese television without subtitles? How long did it take you and at what level did you start to feel that you didn’t necessarily need the subtitles anymore?

I’ve been at Duolingo for a while and learned a lot of hiragana and katakana, but finding that Duolingo is ineffective for kanji so coming here to supplement that. I do find that I’m able to understand sentences on Duolingo reasonably well, but wondering how long it’ll take for that to translate over to the shows I’m watching.


Although I am not there and cannot answer the question yet; a helper to watching even with JP subtitle is Language Reactor.

Perhaps you don’t like Language Reactor’s dictionary; or want to add to Anki? That can be done with Yomichan.

There are several alternatives to Language Reactor as well, that I don’t know much about.

I believe watching without subtitles is both about being successful with listening comprehension exams (in textbooks), and knowing enough vocabularies.

I believe the answer is around JLPT N3, and that can take ranging from 1 year, to forever, or never; depending on you.


So for reference… I am passed N4 and have Japanese conversations with Japanese people semi-regularly and still cannot watch anime without subtitles.

I can understand bits and pieces. I think give me another year of speaking and listening on the daily and I’ll be close.

So my guess… right now… about 3.5 years+ of continuous daily study.


This also strongly depends on which anime you are watching. If you watch からかい上手の高木さん you will probably start to comprehend a lot of it in N4. However, if you try to watch something like デスノート, you will probably evening struggle at upper N3.

I found a good step in trying to get to watching anime with no subtitles for me was switching to japanese subtitles. You’ll get most of the conversational kanji by the time you are level 15 in wanikani (for more simple animes).


The answer highly depends on what you’re watching (Highschool romance or Fantasy World War?), as well as how much comprehension you’d like to have.

With N4 you should know enough to watch easy anime and understand enough to know what’s going on, but there’ll be a lot of speech you won’t understand yet.
I agree with polv that somewhere in the ballpark of N3, you’ll should know everything you need to watch easy anime (e.g. Slice of Life) with fairly high comprehension.
After that it gets more specific, because at that point it’s mostly about e.g. knowing military vocabulary if you want to watch said Fantasy World War anime.

One thing I’d like to stress though, WaniKani levels are probably the worst indicator for being able to watch and understand anime without subtitles. You need high frequency vocabulary and grammar, neither of which WaniKani teaches you. It’s a kanji learning tool, which obviously won’t help a lot with listening comprehension.


So I have not gotten to that point either, but I’d at least like to offer my 2 cents that using Duolingo is pretty much not going to get you anywhere. If you haven’t mastered all the hiragana and katakana from duolingo yet, you’d probably benefit from learning it elsewhere, since they are considered to be the easy part of Japanese and most people don’t take very long with it.

It seems like you’ve already figured out that kanji on there isn’t going to work out. I’d recommend getting off Duolingo entirely so you can spend on your time on better resources.

Now for the main question, I can say that finishing WaniKani alone won’t get you there, there are other aspects to consider like grammar and vocabulary. You’d also need listening practice too.


I guess my advice thus boils down to:

> Be brave and just turn off those annoying letters occupying screen real estate and fight it out! :muscle:

:smiley:You can always watch anime in Japanese without subtitles, you will not always understand anything though… I do not mean to be sarcastic here, neither :grin: I mean it is never to early to expose yourself to the sound of Anime (note the difference to “sound of Japanese in general”) .

Having said that, when I was first learning Hiragana and first 200 words or so, it was exciting that I could somtimes catch an ありがとう and こんにちは…

Around the time I did N5 I could understand some more loose words, but more imprortantly, I could tell where a sentence begins and ends and so on.

Around N4 level I could follow the standard stuff like everyday phrases and simple, straight forward sentences. I could identify the key words of around 25% of loose sentences, but failed on caual speech and more complex grammar.

Now (preparing for N3) I only need subtitles for longer monologues and complicated matters I would say that I will be comfortable switching off the subtitles completely a around N2?

three tips regaridng Anime and J-Studies though:

  • Do watch thing repeatedly, then with subtitles, then without again and try retro-engineering the translation, it helped me a lot.

  • Do not overdo it, if you notice your brain went to standby and is just letting the Japanese go past, switch back to subtitled mode, elso it will just get used to ignoring Japanese in general. Happend to me for a while.

  • Do not let anime TEACH you Japanese, there is tons of characters that for comical or other purposes speak in a particular or straigntforward grammatically incorrect way. You do not want that to pollute your develping Japanese skills…


for me personally, it was after jlpt n4. Try to cover jlpt syllabus by levels instead of just doing wk


in addition to what you said: a friend told me, that speech in anime is much less formal, than regular every-day speech. He said something about how verbs are conjugated.IIRC the -masu form is used in most real-live settings, while in anime it appears much less. Also he told me, that imperative is almost never used in real-live settings, and pretty often in anime, as it is quite insulting. Also there seems to be an even more insulting version of the imperative, where you pronounce the last syllables differently (i forgot how though)

my take-away is that anime is great listening practice, but very bad for learning new things.

1 Like

That’s brilliant. It gives you a crutch without sending you all the way back into English mode. I’ll try it next time I’m feeling brave.

For what it’s worth, I managed to pass N2 without the skills you describe, but that was because I was living in Japan and had picked up enough listening skills through survival. I was just barely getting to a place where I could hold on to conversations on screen, but it was tiring. Maybe if I wasn’t already exhausted by the time I got home, I could get through a whole episode.


Well, you don’t need to know how to read kanji or kana to be able to watch anime without subtitles. After all, that comes down to listening comprehension.

I could watch anime without subs before I started doing WK, since I focused on doing listening practice all the time. I wanted to be able to listen to drama CDs, so no visuals, and as a side-effect, watching anime without subs came with it.

But, it does help to know a lot of vocab. Again, you don’t really need to know how to write or read them, but if you know enough words, you can usually decode what’s being said, even if there are unfamiliar grammar or other words you still don’t know about. But, obviously, knowing the basics of Japanese grammar is defo necessary to parse spoken language.

So, to speed up this process, learn more grammar and focus on learning a lot of vocab, would be my suggestions for getting to a point of watching anime with no subs.


About the amount of time it takes to become a professional pianist.

Joking aside it can be as easy as today if you don’t mind watching a lot of Anpanman

Or about 5+ years if your trying to watch AoT.

I see, that’s a great suggestion once I have a decent number of conversational kanji down. I just started and now at level 2 I’m realizing this is definitely going to require a great deal of commitment and structure on my part.

That makes a lot of sense, what kinds of focused listening practice were you doing to get to that level before studying kanji thoroughly?

1 Like

Nice, that’s a good point. I do notice some of the ways people interact with each other in anime is incredibly informal and I don’t even know whether I’d interact with most of my American friends in that way. Will definitely keep that in mind.

1 Like

Thanks for the replies everyone! This seems like an incredibly welcoming and active community :slight_smile:

1 Like


This topic was automatically closed 365 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.