Whether you’re a designer working for Japanese clients or just want to impress your Japanese girlfriend or boyfriend with your Photoshop skills, you’ll soon become bored with the very limited choice of Japanese typefaces that comes with your operating system, be it Windows, OSX, or Linux.
Here’s a collection of some of my favourite kana and kanji fonts, categorized by shōtai:
Mincho typeface, also known as Ming or Song , is the most used font style in print for Chinese and Japanese. It’s main characteristics are the presence of small serifs vertical stroke width (vertical strokes are generally narrower than horizontal strokes).
Gothic type, also called Kaku Gothic, is nearly as popular as Ming. It is characterized by plain rectangular strokes with equal width and no serifs and its main benefit is great legibility at small sizes.
Meiryo (Free) is my favorite free Japanese font. In preparations for Windows Vista release, Microsoft realized that their current Japanese fonts (mainly MS Gothic and MS Mincho) are incompatible with their ClearType subpixel rendering technology and decided to create a new one.
Meiryo is one of the first Japanese fonts created on and for the computer screen and took two years to create and engineer. The Japanese characters were designed by Eiichi Kono who designed the New Johnston font used by London Underground. The Latin characters were designed by Matthew Carter, creator of the great Verdana font. The font is incredibly readable at small sizes and is one of the few fonts where Latin and Japanese characters look well together.
Maru Gothic is basically Gothic with rounded corners. If the first two styles could be considered as equivalents of Western serif and sans-serif fonts, Maru Gothic could be compared to rounded sans-serif typefaces such as Arial Rounded.
TB Maru Gothic ($100) is a nice Maru Gothic font by the famous Japanese TypeBank foundry. It’s rather expensive, but well worth the money if you are a designer in need of a professional Japanese font.
Yokobuto Mincho can be described as a combination of Minchō and Gothic typefaces. It adopted equal width strokes but retained the serifs.
TB Yokobuto Mincho ($100) is one of the only Yokobuto Minchō fonts currently available but this fact doesn’t make it any less beautiful. It’s rather expensive, but well worth the money if you are a designer in need of a professional and original Japanese font.
Pop & Handwritten
New Japanese font style resembling characters drawn with a marker pen. It’s mainly used on shop signs and leaflets. Some of these fonts try to imitate real-life handwritten text and transpose it onto the computer screen.
Anzumoji (Free) is a kawaii font with a kawaii name (あんず means apricot, もじ means letter/character). It’s quite amazing how well this handwritten Japanese font looks on the screen, especially in longer paragraphs which are generally problematic for similar fonts.
KF Himaji (Free) — another cute Japanese handwritten font, with an appropriate name (ひま means spare time/leisure). I especially like round shapes which are clearly visible in the 日 and 語 kanji.
Ice Cream ($40) — Yet another lovely Japanese font by Flop Design, this time inspired by ice cream. This one isn’t free, but for only $40 you can get it in a collaction of 110 fonts by Flop Design.
Shirousagi and Relax (Free) are just two of the many beautiful Pop style Japanese fonts by gau+.
I hope that this list contains at least one Japanese font that warmed your heart. Please post your tips in the comments, and tell me whether you are interested in reading more Japanese typography related articles on my blog.