What is WaniKani?

If you try WaniKani, you’ll be able to complete the incredibly simple task of learning ~2,000 kanji (both meaning and reading) and 6,000+ Japanese vocabulary words. In order to do this, all you need to do is:

  1. Do your available Lessons.
  2. Do your reviews.
  3. Do them every day, without fail. Probably even on Christmas.

“Simple” does not mean easy. The word “easy” is a word copywriters use to get you to buy their language learning product, be it textbook, audio program, or app. But, if you actually want to learn something, and learn it to real fluency… it’s going to be hard. No. Matter. What. If you want to feel like you’re learning without gaining substance you can go anywhere.

Okay, who’s still here?

So if all learning is hard, what makes WaniKani different? We took the incredibly difficult task of learning kanji (what to learn, when to learn it, how to learn it, etc) and simplified it so you can just sit down and do steps 1-3. Still hard, but now it’s simple. Here’s how we do it:

A Focus on the Finish Line

The WaniKani system is focused on the finish line. For us, that’s about 2,000 kanji (that’s most of the Joyo kanji, plus some others) and 6,000 useful vocabulary words. We throw away short-term gains so you can reach that finish line faster. Using traditional methods, a university student may learn ~1,000 kanji in four years (if they’re really, really lucky). On Wanikani, we consistently get members to ~2,000 kanji in one or two years. Of course, how we do that is important to know, and that will be covered in the next few sections.

Kanji Learning for Adults, not Japanese Children

Japanese children learn kanji in order of both usefulness and how simple the meaning of the kanji is, not how simple the structure is. This makes sense because Japanese kids are just that: kids. Even if the structure of a kanji is more complicated (that is, more strokes), they are more likely to learn it if the kanji’s meaning is simple and common.

WaniKani assumes you’re an adult, or at least not an elementary school student. So, we go the other way: more simply structured kanji, even if the meaning is too difficult for a kindergartener to understand. This way we can teach you more complicated kanji (in structure) using your knowledge of simpler kanji. And, you’re not overwhelmed by something with 13 strokes right from the start.

By doing this, you do miss out on some super common kanji right in the beginning. But, a couple months in you’ll know all these common kanji, plus a couple hundred more. It doesn’t take long to see our focus on the long-term pay off.


Every radical, kanji, and vocabulary word you learn on WaniKani comes paired with a hand-crafted mnemonic written by one of our loving staff. These are little stories to help you to remember the meaning and/or reading of each item. You’ll use a mnemonic to learn the radical. Then, you’ll use the radicals to make a story to learn a kanji’s meaning and reading. Finally, you’ll use your new-found kanji knowledge to learn vocabulary words. Not a moment of rote memorization in sight.

While many people are skeptical of mnemonics at first, stories are one of the few things we humans are good at memorizing (now where did I put my keys?). Give it a try and you may be surprised with how much you can learn and remember using these methods.

Spaced Repetition System

After learning radical, kanji, and vocabulary meanings/readings, you need to practice recalling that information! That’s a really important point. If you’re not recalling the information, you’re not memorizing it. So, no multiple choice or self-evaluation allowed. It’s harder, but you’re actually learning (instead of just feeling like it).

To practice your recall, WaniKani utilizes a flashcard system that seems simple at first but is actually doing a lot of that “science stuff” behind the scenes. The biggest thing is the frequency at which individual items appear in your Reviews.

Take, for example, Item A. You keep getting it wrong. The WaniKani system knows this, so it will quiz you on Item A more often. On the other hand, say you’re really good at Item B. You’ve gotten it correct many times in a row. Each time you get Item B correct, the WaniKani system increases the time between reviews for that item. This is good because when you recall a piece of information just before you’re about to forget it, your brain actually tags it as more important, making it easier to recall next time. This series of longer and longer spaces between correct recalls is how we get a radical, kanji, and vocabulary to automatic in your brain (in other words, a state of fluency).

Let the Pain Begin!

Are you ready to actually learn the kanji? It’s simple. Just sit down, do your Lessons, do your Reviews, and repeat. It won’t be easy and it will still take a long time, but one year from now you could be able to read most of what the Japanese language throws at you.

The first step is doing your lessons.