The ~3500 "most important" kanji

There are tens of thousands of kanji in existence, but you don't need to know all of them in order to be considered fully literate. Below are the 3530 most important characters according to a few lists compiled by the Japanese government.

~3500 kanji made from 270 components

What sets Kanjisense apart from other kanji-learning resources is the systematic way that it treats the graphical components of the kanji. Though literacy in Japanese requires knowledge of thousands of characters, it's possible to break them down into just around 280 distinct components. The idea is that, by learning to recognize these components, it becomes much easier to learn new kanji. Here you can see a list of all the components which appear in the 3530 kanji below.

Do I need to learn all of these kanji?

The exact number of kanji you need to know really depends on how much you tend to read. If you're the kind of person who likes to read novels, you will apparently get by with about 3,500 characters; otherwise, you will probably get by with closer to 3,000 or fewer.

The kanji below happen to match 3,500 almost exactly. Combined, these four kanji lists offer the closest thing we have to an official collection of all the kanji you are likely to encounter in modern Japanese media aimed at the general public.


A disclaimer

Lists like these should not be taken too seriously. I call them "the most important kanji" throughout Kanjisense only because it's too cumbersome to always say "the closest approximation we learners have to an official collection of all the kanji you are likely to encounter in modern Japanese media aimed at the general public." In the end, what's "most important" is subjective.

These lists were compiled at various times for various reasons, and none of those reasons was "to help the second-language learner of Japanese". That is to say, these lists may not be the best way to figure out which characters you personally should focus on learning next. That said, I reckon these lists serve as a good benchmark for your long-term goals as a student of Japanese.

The Education Kanji

The Kyōiku Kanji are those characters officially approved for use in the Japanese primary school curriculum.

This list was taken from the Japanese Ministry of Education.

Grade 1

Grade 2

Grade 3

Grade 4

Grade 5

Grade 6

The Regular Use Kanji

The so-called Jōyō Kanji comprise those approved by the Japanese government for use in government documents and secondary school course materials. These are the only kanji you are likely to encounter in a newspaper without furigana phonetic marks. The jōyō kanji include all the kanji from the Education Kanji lists above, plus the additional 1,130 below, to form a total of 2,137 characters.

The list has been modified over the years, with some additions as well as removals. This list reflects the latest revision, from 2010.

The Kanji from the Extra-Regular-Use Kanji List

In 2000, the Japanese government published a list of just over a thousand kanji falling outside the Regular Use Kanji list which they deemed to be common enough to warrant a standard form in print.

The list of 890 kanji given here includes all of those kanji, except those which have since been moved to the Regular Use kanji list (and are thus already listed above).

The Personal-Name Use Kanji

The Jinmeiyō Kanji are those approved for use in personal names despite falling outside the list of Regular Use Kanji. There are 863 in total, as of 2017; the list below includes just those 504 which are not also included in the Extra-Regular-Use Kanji List detailed above.

Many of the characters below are traditional forms (旧字体 kyūjitai) of characters in the Regular-Use Kanji list. That is, they are the original forms that were used before the characters were simplified to their present-day 新字体 shinjitai forms. Traditional variants of jōyō kanji are distinguished below via a white border.