HanziHero: a WaniKani alternative for Chinese


HanziHero is a web application for learning hanzi, also known as Chinese characters. It does this by breaking down each hanzi into its various visual components and sounds, and using those to build a memorable story to remember the meaning, appearance, and pronunciation of each hanzi.

WaniKani is a web application for learning kanji (Chinese characters used in Japanese) that is popular with students of Japanese.

In this article, we go over the differences and similarities between these two language learning applications, and why HanziHero is a great alternative to WaniKani for those who are learning Chinese.

HanziHero vs WaniKani comparison: what are the similarities?

In our post on why we believe HanziHero is a great Anki alternative for learning hanzi we listed several ways in which HanziHero and Anki differ for the task of learning hanzi.

In the case of WaniKani and HanziHero, our approaches are more similar, despite being tools for two completely different languages. Let’s go over on the similarities before we focus on the differences.

Both break down Chinese characters into components

Both WaniKani and HanziHero break down Chinese characters into their visual components, or groups of strokes, and assigns each of those components names. Chinese characters can often be quite visually complex, but they consist of similar looking groups of strokes, which we call components and WaniKani calls radicals.

By decomposing each character into its components, we make the character much easier to remember. More importantly, it allows us to use those various components, and the names of each, in stories that help you remember and recall the overall meaning or pronunciation of a character.

Both leverage mnemonics

The human mind is great at remembering things that are interconnected with other concepts or memories. Additionally, it is better at learning stories with people and places in it than it is at abstract concepts.

Both HanziHero and WaniKani have our own mnemonics, or stories that help with memorization, to help you learn Chinese characters. At HanziHero, each of the 3,000 hanzi in our curriculum has a handcrafted story that weaves together a given hanzi’s components, sound, and meaning to help you remember each of them.

Both use a spaced repetition system

The hardest part about learning hanzi or kanji is not the actual learning part, but rather remembering what was learned as long as possible. We often immediately forget what was just learned. So both WaniKani and HanziHero have a built in spaced repetition system to assist in ensuring you remember what was learned.

A spaced repetition system is any sort of system that continually quizzes you on items you have learned to ensure you still remember them. It does this by quizzing you on an item right before the point where you may begin forgetting that item.

Both of our SRS systems will take into account which items you get correct, and which you get wrong, and adjust accordingly. So we will not quiz you often on things you clearly know because you get them correct, but will continue to quiz you on items you get wrong as it shows you know those items comparatively less.

This means that our apps save you time by using advanced algorithms to only quiz you on items you need to recall right now, and not on items you already know quite well. Think of it as an advanced flashcard system that mostly knows what you know, and also knows what you don’t know.

What HanziHero does differently

While HanziHero and WaniKani have many similarities, there are also many parts of the two applications that are dissimilar. Let’s go over each of those.

No vocabulary (yet)

HanziHero currently only teaches hanzi, and does not teach any Chinese vocabulary. WaniKani, however, teaches both.

We have plans to add vocabulary in the immediate future.

Integrated meaning and pronunciation mnemonics

WaniKani and HanziHero both use mnemonics to make a story that involves all of the components of a given character to make the pronunciation and meaning more easy to remember.

HanziHero uses one integrated mnemonic to help you remember the meaning and pronunciation with a single story. We do this by having the various sounds associated with a hanzi all be part of the mnemonic. By having these parts all be in the same story, it makes it easier to use one aspect of the story that you remember to recall the other parts you may not remember as well.

However, WaniKani uses two separate mnemonics for each kanji. One mnemonic for the meaning, and then a separate one for the reading. While the mnemonic are often related, sometimes the relation is quite weak. This means users of WaniKani need to remember two different stories for each kanji, effectively increasing the amount one needs to remember by a factor of two.

More characters

WaniKani teaches around 2,000 kanji, taking most of those from the list of jōyō kanji published by the Japanese ministry of education. These are all of the kanji taught in primary and secondary school in Japan.

HanziHero teaches around 3,000 hanzi, which is the number needed to achieve a baseline level of Chinese literacy. We teach the 3,000 most common characters as well as ensuring that all characters covered in China’s HSK Chinese language proficiency test and Taiwan’s TOCFL Chinese language proficiency test.

If you are one of the extremely ambitious few that plan to learn both Chinese and Japanese, one benefit of learning Chinese first is that you will also learn the meaning of every kanji you will later learn in Japanese, as the kanji used in contemporary Japanese are just a smaller set of the hanzi used in Chinese.

Two great languages, two great choices

Of course, the choice of which tool to use comes down to which language it is you want to learn. We created HanziHero to be the simplest and most streamlined way to learn hanzi, in the same sense that WaniKani was created for the sake of making kanji easy to learn. HanziHero is the synthesis of a wide variety of modern tools, approaches, and academic studies - and in that sense we have also taken much of the best parts of WaniKani and improved and better adapted it to the challenges of learning Chinese.