The Eternal Anime Argument: Subs or Dubs

There are two ways to watch anime, subtitled or dubbed. To this day, all anime fans still contest which is the best way to watch anime. It is a heated debate within the community. Today we will discuss the benefits of each. Afterward, it will be up to you to decide. 


The subbed version of anime is the original production. Usually, it is available to watch first. It takes time for anime to be released with an English dub. If it even gets a dub in the first place. Not all anime produced gets cleared for an English script. If a person only watches dubbed anime they will be missing out on the ones that don’t get dubbed. 

Then there is the translation process. All of the little cultural details are displayed in the original subbed anime. In the dubbed version, those can be lost in the translation and localization process. Not only that but jokes in the original dialog can be lost or misrepresented in translation. This happens frequently as it’s no easy feat to translate cultural context and humor. There’s a scene that has been immortalized in memes for this very reason. In a subbed pokemon episode, they are eating onigiri (rice balls) and Brock offers them to Ash. In the dubbed version they called them donuts, without changing their appearance. It caused confusion but never changed the story.

The dub doesn’t significantly change the show if it is a good dub. Sadly not all dubbed scripts are made equally. Sometimes drastic changes are made which completely alter the audience’s experience. One of the most notorious examples of this is in the original Sailor Moon anime. In the subbed version two female characters were a lesbian couple but in the dubbed version they were changed to cousins. Clearly, there’s a big difference in how we view these two characters depending on which version you see. 

Some people just like to read what the characters are saying. If something is said that is hard to understand it’s nice to have subtitles to read what is occurring. A plus for me is having subs makes it easier to eat loud food like chips without missing anything. On a serious note though, if someone wants to watch anime and they have a hearing disability then they might as well watch subbed. If you have to read the dialog regardless might as well read the original. 


When you watch dubbed anime it is just nice to have the dialog in your native language without having to constantly read. With subtitles, if you look away from the screen for too long you’ll miss dialog. Naturally, many people don’t like having to read subtitles while watching tv or movies for this reason. Kids would probably have an easier time watching the dubbed version. I can’t imagine many kids with the patience to read while trying to watch tv. Those who have vision disabilities or disabilities that affect reading skills have an accessible way to watch anime with dubs. 

Sometimes you watch shows just to have something playing in the background. You can watch dubbed anime without paying complete attention to it and still understand what’s going on in the show. You can’t do that with subs unless you want to hear Japanese you can’t understand in the background.

People who don’t watch anime may find it easier to start with dubbed anime. Anime is far more popular than it used to be but it is still a niche interest. It does have its oddities so having anime in your native language makes it feel a little less strange. When watching a dubbed anime you won’t have as many Japanese cultural references that you won’t understand. Dubbed versions may be less confusing to those new to the genre. 

Another thing I have noticed in dubbed versions of the dialog is that it may be edited to be more “appropriate” to an English speaking audience. This doesn’t usually work out that well but typically doesn’t have much of an effect on the overall story. It might mean there are just a few lines that don’t make sense. There might also be a few jokes that fall flat or just feel awkward because it wasn’t translated well. It’s more of a minor annoyance than anything. 

My Thoughts

If someone asked me point-blank to choose subs or dubs I would pick subs. I like having the cultural context and the voice actors of the original. Not only that subbed anime typically is released sooner. Why wait for the dubbed when subbed is right there? I’m not a very patient person so I’ll watch things as soon as they are available. There are some anime series that never get an English dubbed version. If I watched dubbed anime exclusively then I’d be missing out. Plus I like seeing the Japanese cultural details that don’t always translate, the ones I understand at least. 

Honestly, I prefer to have both options. I enjoy watching both and will choose based on circumstances. Sometimes I like having something playing in the background. So I’ll put on a dubbed anime that I’ve already watched. Then I’ll tune in now and then while doing other things. My husband prefers dubbed anime. If I want to watch an anime movie or series with him we almost always pick dubbed when the option is available. When I am in the mood to watch anime and want to devote all my attention to the show I’ll pick subbed. With the animes I really like I’ll watch the subbed version first and then the dubbed when it’s released. In certain cases, I just prefer whatever version of the anime I saw first. There are a few animes I watched with friends in the English dub so that’s what I prefer for those particular animes. 

Luckily, now subbed and dubbed anime is widely available with streaming services. There’s no answer as to which is better, as it all a matter of preference. The important part

is being willing to compromise if you’re watching with other people and not being obnoxiously insistent that your way is best. No matter the activity it is never fun when you have someone who will only accept their method of how it should be done without being flexible to considering other opinions. Watch whatever way makes you happy. Subs and dubs are equally valid ways to watch anime.

Do you watch anime? Let me know in the comments about your thoughts on subs v. dubs. 

*Image does not belong to me. It belongs to Studio Ghibli

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