Wanikani review: Best app for learning kanji

Of all the apps for learning Japanese kanji Wanikani is one of the best – if not the best – apps there are. After using it for almost two years now there is no doubt in my mind about that. It’s always my first recommendation to people I meet that want to learn kanji. But there are however a few things that might not make it worth subscribing to. I will cover those “issues” in this Wanikani review so you can make a better decision before paying $100 per year.

Before you learn kanji: Here are some great free apps for learning hiragana and katakana

But first, let’s me go through the basics on how the app works and how it compares to kanji studies in a Japanese language school in Japan.

wanikani dashboard
The dashboard in Wanikani displays your current level progress as well as over all progress. Here you also see how many lessons and reviews you have left.

How Wanikani works

The Wanikani app is a web application where you practice the meaning and reading for single kanji on’yomi reading (Chinese reading) as well as the kun’yomi reading (japanese reading) and vocabulary that include the kanji you are practicing. The vocabulary consists of 6000 words. You also learn radicals, the pieces that make up all the kanji.

I’m not going to lie, when I open a text book to study it takes me about 4.3 seconds to fall asleep. This is not the case with Wanikani. What makes this app actually fun to use are two things. One, it’s very aesthetically good looking, smooth and easy to use anywhere on your phone or computer. Secondly, the level system makes it feel more like a game which will help you with your motivation.

Wanikani kanji radicals
“Drawer”?! The radicals are sometimes confusing in Wanikani. Like this one. You learn that it is “drawer” and when you unlock “mother” you will make frustrating errors.

Reviewing kanji in Wanikani

How it works is that you have lessons where you get new kanji to learn and then you have reviews where you practice those kanji. When you have passed enough kanji reviews on that level (about four times for reading and meaning per kanji) you get to a new level where you get new lessons. If you make a mistake you will drop a level on that kanji (you never drop your overall level) and you have to repeat it more times. The SRS (Spaced Repetition System) does a pretty good job of keeping track of which kanji you know and which kanji you suck at and need to practice more often.

A lot of people complain about how few reviews there are in the first levels, but trust me, it will get horrible later so enjoy the slow pace and brace yourself – kanji are coming! I’m currently at level 20 and a few weeks ago I was lazy so I had around 500 reviews to catch up with. I did them all but two or three days later they were back at 500. In order to not get overwhelmed you need to do a bit of reviewing every day, which can be difficult if you are working or studying at the same time.

Wanikani review
Wanikani review. This is what it looks like when you’re reviewing your kanji. In the top right corner you see how many reviews you have left. Have mercy on my soul…

Great for memorizing kanji

Before going to Japan in 2016 for Japanese studies I did Wanikani for about 6 months. In the langauge school we had kanji classes three times a week. After one year we had worked through about 700 kanji. We obviously did a lot more kanji during that whole year than I did in Wanikani six months prior, but I noticed that the kanji I learned in the app stuck way, way better in my brain than the ones I only had in class.

This could ofcourse differ from person to person, but for me repitition is the boring but nessecary way of learning a langage. Therefore I think using an app like Wanikani, or other kanji apps for that matter, is way better than attending a class when it comes to vocabulary and kanji. And Wanikani does a great job with the SRS system for repetition. Kanji you don’t know get repeated more often and kanji you know are shown less and in the end they are burned.

wanikani forum
In the Wanikani Forum you can talk with people all over the world struggling with the kanji.

Active forum

When you subscribe to Wanikani you also get access to the Wanikani Forum. It’s not the prettiest or most userfriendly forum design-wise, but there are loads of active members. Here you can get help from other people studying Japanese, support from the Wanikani team or just post manga gif:s showing your frustration with your kanji studies. It’s a very friendly and supporting community that definitly adds value to the app itself.

Wanikani pricing

The first three levels of Wanikani are free but after that you have to pay $100 per year or $10 per month. What you need to take into consideration is that you will not finish Wanikani in one year and know all the kanji. No, a more realistic timeframe is 2-3 years, depending on how diciplined and serious you are about learning the kanji. This means that in the end you will spend about $300 on Wanikani. To me $8-10 a month is not a lot considering what you get, but if you are short on cash you might want to look for free alternatives like Anki or Memrise.

Lifetime access purchase: There are ways of getting a lifetime prescription for Wanikani. In my experience you will get the opportunity to buy a lifetime subscription when it’s time to renew your subscription. When I got the offer the price was $300 which is good if you plan on studying for more than three years.

Wanikani review conclusion

Wanikani is the best app for learning kanji that I have tried to this day. There are minor hiccups, like when you accidentally write the meaning instead of the reading and the damn app doesn’t stop you, so you fail to level up.  But overall it’s a very solid app and a great way to learn Japanese kanji in a structured maner.

Wanikani puts a lot of responsibility on you however, and if you slack off and don’t do your reviews Wanikani is not going to be very forgiving. There is one way of doing the “program” and that is to regularly do the reviews. If not every, at least every other day is required unless you want to cry when you login and see the reviews piling up. I think it would be better if Wanikani put a stricter limit on how many reviews that can pile up, say 100, and not move on until you’ve done those. Much better for keeping the motivation intact and not get a mission impossible feeling if you’ve not done your reviews for some days.

So is Wanikani worth the money? Yes, definitely!

But – here are a few things to consider before you open your wallet.

Tedious for advanced students. Even though Wanikani has 60 levels, it will start from level 1 no matter how good you already are. This means that you have a lot of repetition to do if you’ve already studied a lot of kanji. And it will take you a long time to get up to your current level. I don’t really understand the thinking behind this since it’s a lose-lose situation. Wanikani gets fewer subscribers and advanced users have to look elswhere for good kanji practice.

Wanikani is a commitment. In order to do Wanikani properly you need not only motivation, you also need discipline. If you don’t do your reviews regularly Wanikani will crush your soul. Once you get to the higher levels the lessons and reviews will pile up big time. And logging in after a few weeks of doing nothing and get greeted by a thousand reviews will only make you think of one Japanese word: Seppuko… If you don’t have the motivation your hundred bucks will be wasted.

Wanikani Features

  • SRS (Spaced Repetition System)
  • Mnemonics to make remembering easier.
  • Vacation mode. You can pause Wanikani if you have other things to do. This way the reviews won’t pile up on you. You have to wait at least one day before activating again.
  • 3rd party support. By taking your user ID you can log in to 3rd party apps. For example one site that keeps track of your progress, or the inofficial Wanikani app for Iphone and Android.



Total Score



  • Free trial
  • Both on’yomi and kun’yomi readings
  • Big vocabulary
  • Great design
  • Active user forum


  • You have to start from the beginning no matter how advanced your level is
  • Radical names
  • Can get overwhelming

2 thoughts on “Wanikani review: Best app for learning kanji”

  1. Pingback: 5 best free apps to learn japanese hiragana and katakana - Japanese Guide

  2. Pingback: Keep track of your Wanikani progress with smart 3rd party app - Japanese Guide

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