If you are starting out with Japanese but are unsure of which apps to go with, Duolingo has a course in Japanese that will go through step by step some basic phrases separated into topics while also introducing you to Japanese' three writing systems—hiragana and katakana, and the Chinese characters called kanji—based on context.
The layout of the app is easily to follow and as you clear your topics and levels through tests, you can progress onto more difficult topics and vocabulary centred around each new topic. The feel of the app is clean and set out in a game format as you can earn hearts (which are lives in case you make mistakes during your studying), crowns as you progress through levels, and badges as you compete against others online to earn your place in leaderboards.
The app and the course are free with adverts at the end of each lesson but an option to upgrade to Duolingo Pro is available for US$6.99 (¥752) per month with a free 7-day trial.
You can download Duolingo on Android, iOS, and desktop platforms. For those who prefer not to download apps, the courses are also accessible through a desktop browser.
Scripts by Drops
If you are having a difficult time with the Japanese alphabets (kana) and trying to get your head around the differences between hiragana and katakana, then try Scripts by Drops.
This app helps you focus on just the kana and gives you the pronunciations of each one and allows you to trace over each kana so that you also get used to writing them out as well.
The app is available on Android and iOS platforms, and the free version limits you to 5 minutes of learning per day. The premium subscription offers a bundle to include their app Drops and its language courses which are similar to Duolingo and provides offline access without ads and unlimited time of learning every day.
Their monthly subscription is currently at £10.49 (¥1,400), a yearly subscription at £6.17 (¥823) per month, and their lifetime subscription at £139.99 (¥18,675).
Once you have mastered all the Japanese kana, then you will want to move onto mastering Japanese characters called kanji.
iKanji is an excellent app focusing on kanji categorized either by Japanese school grades, JLPT levels, stroke count, and frequency of use in the Japanese language. This allows you to tailor how you approach your kanji study.
Each kanji shows you the stroke order so you can practice writing each one yourself, the English translations, radicals, different ways of reading each kanji, and example vocabulary which can be built from the kanji itself. Example sentences are also available so you can view how each kanji can be used in conversation and writing.
This app is only available on Android platforms but the same developers have a JLPT Test app for all levels for iOS users. The apps are free but do contain ads. However, all content is saved offline so you do not need an internet connection to enjoy the apps.
For iOS users, the imiwa? app is a fantastic alternative.
TODAI Easy Japanese News
Now that you have a decent grip on Japanese script and vocabulary, it is time to put it to the test. There is a saying among Japanese learners; "Once you can read a newspaper fluently, you have mastered the Japanese language".
Through the TODAI Easy Japanese News app, you can be one step closer to achieving that goal by reading news stories from multiple Japanese news sources, which is quite important during this pandemic.
There is a section for "easy" news stories for beginners and a "difficult" section for advanced learners. An option to show the pronunciation (furigana) above each kanji or vocabulary helps facilitate reading the stories fluently. If you are unsure of any of the words, just tap to be presented with a translation alongside example sentences, kanji stroke order, grammar information, and other similar vocabulary.
The app is available for free on Android and iOS platforms. They are supported with adverts but a one-time purchase of ¥900 will give you ad-free and offline access.
There is a multitude of resources out there to enhance your Japanese study aside from the recommendations above. Here are some additional ideas to help you supplement your language learning.
Jisho.org is an excellent online dictionary providing example sentences and related vocabulary. If you are not sure how to search by typing a kanji that you have seen, there is also a function for you to draw the kanji into the dictionary.
Terrace House is a reality TV show on Netflix looking at everyday life for 6 young men and women who live together. This is an excellent resource for listening and understanding Japanese being used in a natural setting. Though filming has currently stopped due to the Coronavirus pandemic, there are plenty of backdated seasons and episodes available to watch.
Language exchange apps such as Tandem and HelloTalk also offer the chance to practice your Japanese with others around the world. Here, you can put your Japanese to good practice and eventually seem like you are a native speaker.
While this unprecedented pandemic situation is difficult for everyone, there is no reason to avoid finding ways of adjusting your lifestyle to keep moving forward and use this unusual amount of free time to your advantage. Turn every negative situation into a positive one and get fluent in Japanese!