Japan has become very well-known to international consumers from anime. However, live-action Japanese dramas are significantly less well-known. Considering the rise of K-Dramas’ popularity, shouldn’t we explore even more Asian drama opportunities? Japan has a wide variety of TV shows that are quickly becoming more and more loved by the rest of the world. It’s time for you to get in on it too!
Here are 10 Japanese dramas that are sure to be loved by any K-Drama fan!
Note: Both the English titles and the Japanese titles are included due to the fact that sometimes they are easier to find or are more well-known with the Japanese instead of the English.
1. We Married As A Job (Nigeru wa Haji da ga Yaku ni Tatsu)
Moriyama Mikuri (Aragaki Yui) graduated but had no job offers. When she became an employee, she was laid off. She eventually starts work as a housekeeper for Tsuzaki Hiramasa (Hoshino Gen). One day, he proposes a contract marriage to her.
Love the contract relationship genre? This J-Drama is one of the best out there! Even though it’s a comedy, the emotions and relationships feel natural, and the plot gets heavy and serious when needed. Even if it doesn’t sound like something you would be into, this show has a surprising way of sucking you in.
2. Gangster Teacher (Gokusen)
Yamaguchi Kumiko (Nakama Yukie) is a young, optimistic teacher who enters Shirokin Gakuen hoping to make a difference. However, she finds out that she will be teaching 3-D, the worst class in the school. The students try to bully her into quitting, but what they don’t know is that Kumiko is the heir of a notorious yakuza clan (gang) and is tougher than she looks.
This show is an absolute classic spanning 3 seasons. Despite it being from 2002, it has remained timeless and enjoyable for all audiences. This series is both silly and heartfelt, making it a must-watch for Japanese dramas.
3. Alice in Borderland (Imawa no Kuni no Alice)
Ryohei Arisu (Yamazaki Kento) is a jobless, video-game-obsessed man who suddenly finds himself in an empty Tokyo in which he and his friends must compete in dangerous games to survive. Arisu meets Yuzuha Usagi (Tsuchiya Tao), a young woman who’s playing the games alone. After a dangerous game where they worked together, the two team up and set out to unravel the mystery of this new world.
This recent J-Drama absolutely exploded on the internet when it came out on Netflix, and for good reason! It’s amazingly confusing but incredibly engaging. Even though there are only 8 episodes (so far), you care for each character who all have unique personalities and different ways of playing the game. It brings you into an almost apocalyptic world that you can’t help but be curious about.
Warning: This show does not hold back on death, blood, and violence, so if that is difficult for you to see, this is not the show for you.
4. For You in Full Blossom: Ikemen Paradise (Hanazakari no Kimitachi e)
This comedy follows Mizuki Ashiya (Horikita Maki), who has just returned to Japan from California, where she was raised. She fell in love with Izumi Sano (Oguri Shun), a high jump athlete who quit after an accident. Since she wants him to go back to the sport, she joins the same all-boys boarding school in disguise. She surprisingly ends up sharing the same room with Sano.
K-Drama fans will recognize this as To the Beautiful You; however, many may also know it by its manga title Hana Kimi. This is a great watch that goes for the classic gender-bending theme and nails it. It’s light-hearted, funny, but serious enough to make you want more!
5. Nobunaga Concerto
Saburo (Oguri Shun), an ordinary high school student, travels back in time to the Sengoku era (1549). He encounters a lord who looks exactly like him and is told to be his substitute. Now he begins life as Oda Nobunaga, a samurai who wishes to unite the country.
If you’ve never experienced a historical Japanese story, this is a fantastic place to start. It’s a time travel show, but instead of trying to go home, he tries to live as best he can in the past. It’s a charming comedy that presents the historical genre in an easily digestible way.
6. Sunshiny Asa (Asa ga Kita)
In the late Tokugawa Shogunate (around 1868), Shirooka Asa (Haru) was born as the second daughter of a wealthy merchant in Kyoto. Later, in Osaka, Asa works various business fields like coal mining, banking, life insurance, and even founding the first female university in Japan.
Based on the legendary real-life figure Hirooka Asako, this show gives an amazing deep dive into her life. It’s a great gateway into asadoras, or “Morning Dramas,” that often have short episodes (usually 15 minutes), but many of them (this one has 156). Even though that seems daunting, this series of female empowerment does an amazing job of being engaging and making it feel fast.
7. From Today, It’s My Turn!! (Kyou Kara Ore wa!!)
Two transfer students, Mitsuhashi Takashi (Kaku Kento) and Ito Shinji (Ito Kentaro) decide to take their arrival at a new school as an opportunity to reinvent their image and become delinquents. Shinji’s justice clashes with Takashi’s mischief, but they soon become friends and go on adventures to be the greatest delinquents.
If you couldn’t tell by the photo, this J-Drama is based on a manga/anime! Because of this, it is often ridiculous and exaggerated but is a great way to ease yourself into the somewhat stranger side of J-Dramas.
Unnatural is a medical mystery show that explores the UDI, or Unnatural Death Institute. Medical coroner Misumi Mikoto (Ishihara Satomi), lab technician Shoji Yuko (Ichikawa Mikako), and rookie medical recorder Kube Rokuro (Kubota Masataka) examine bodies to find the truth about these unusual deaths.
If you grew up watching CSI, NCIS, Criminal Minds, and more, this J-Drama will be a perfect match for you. It is a case-of-the-week series meaning that there is a different crime scene in each episode, making you want to come back for more. However, if you’ve never watched an investigation show, this is still a highly enjoyable watch.
9. Kiss That Kills (Todome no Kiss)
Dojima Otaro (Yamazaki Kento) works as a host, but he believes that love makes people unhappy because of a past incident. He meets a mysterious woman (Kadowaki Mugi) who kisses him, killing him. However, he quickly regains consciousness and finds himself 7 days in the past with the woman following him.
Even if this show has an odd premise to some, it is actually profound and interesting. Each character has obvious flaws, but you see how those flaws either fix themselves or don’t towards the end. It will make you love everyone you meet… even the evil ones.
10. There’s Something Wrong With Us (Watashitachi wa Douka Shiteiru)
6-year-old Hanaoka Nao’s mother, Yuriko, is a single parent and a confectioner at a traditional Japanese confectionery shop. That is how she meets Takatsuki Tsubaki, the shop owner’s son, and they become each other’s first loves. However, Tsubaki’s father is stabbed by someone, and Nao’s mother is arrested as the suspect. Nao is kicked out, and her mother passes away, causing a rift between Nao and Tsubaki. 15 years later, they are reunited at a confectionary competition where Tsubaki is interested in Nao’s food. He quickly asks her to marry him without knowing that she is his childhood friend. Nao hides her true identity and attempts to prove her mother’s innocence.
This is a short series of only 8 episodes but packs a lot in a short amount of time, making it easy to finish. It can be quite fast-paced and chaotic at times, so if you’re not used to it, you may need to work up to it. It will also make you very hungry… so make sure to have sweets ready!