Regardless if you’re fluent in Japanese or looking to watch with English subtitles, there are so many Japanese tv dramas that have become hugely popular with a global audience.
However, it can be hard to separate the good from the bad, especially if you don’t speak any Japanese at all, that’s why I've made this article to show you the 10 best Japanese dramas that you should definitely watch.
The list contains a good variety of serious and more comedic Japanese dramas so there should be at least one series that appeals to you.
Todome No Kiss (Kiss That Kills) (2018)
This romance drama that aired in 2018, quickly gained a following as a result of the show’s various themes that appeal to wide demographics.
The main character Dojima Otara who is full of himself works as a host and due to his past, only follows the path of money and power and uses his charm to find himself in casual relationships. Until one day, a mysterious woman with red lips kisses him, he dies but then suddenly regains consciousness however, something's not quite right.
Otara or Eight as we know him in the series, has woken 7 days in the past and a sequence of events and ‘wake up’ calls will lead him to change his path towards his future.
The producers of the show did a great job with casting the actors that they did and viewers will find their feelings conflicted towards individuals in the show, which is nothing short of being due to the writer’s prowess.
The concept of the story is incredibly addictive and you’ll find yourself captivated by some of the raw emotional scenes in the episodes. If you’re looking for a good 10 part series, that’ll entrance you with its emotional paradox that seeps through every episode, then this will be a good one to start with.
Hana Yori Dango (Boys Over Flowers) (2005)
Hana Yori Dango is based on a Japanese shojo manga series, Boys Over Flowers. The series features Tsukushi Makino at a prestigious school, but unlike her school peers, Makino is poor and gets teased by everyone at her school for not being part of this elite society.
One day, Makino has an encounter with the four richest boys in school (F4) whilst she tries to defend her one and only friend at school. F4 are all renowned for their relentless taunting and bullying of other pupils at the school and Makino is the one to take the brunt of the abuse from the group.
However, during all of this, the leader of the F4 group Tsukasa Domyoji is conflicted with his feelings and attitude towards Makino as her confidence to oppose F4 takes him back. The series has been so popular that it has even inspired Korean and Chinese adaptations over the years.
3 Nen A Gumi: Ima Kara Mina-san Wa, Hitojichi Desu (Mr. Hiiragi's Homeroom) (2019)
A school mystery drama that literally translates as Class 3-A: All of you are my hostages from now tells the tale of a homeroom teacher who barricades his students in the school just 10 days away from graduation.
The homeroom teacher, Mr. Hiiragi has claims he will keep his students locked in until he finds out the culprit of a former student’s suicide.
The 10 part series is striking and discusses important topics in today’s society that often get overlooked, so it’s commendable that the producers highlighted these issues in such a stripped-back manner.
3 Nen A Humi is fast-paced, intense, and dark and will leave viewers anticipatedly waiting for the next episode to begin right after.
Kôdo Burû (Code Blue) (2008)
The classic Japanese series Code Blue can be compared to a combination of Grey’s Anatomy and E.R except with less of a focus on the intertwined romantic relationships between all the doctors.
If you’ve seen Grey’s Anatomy then you’ll find yourself trying to relate each of the 4 characters to the main personalities in the popular US show.
Code Blue follows four young physicians who have been assigned to the newly formed Doctor Helicopter system and see them struggle through the personal and professional learning experience of working in the medical world and trying to complete their fellowship.
The series is more centered on the medical aspect of the show rather than highlighting the personal backgrounds and the relationships of each individual character.
There are 3 seasons for viewers to enjoy and each episode spans around an hour-long all of which feature traumatic medical situations.
GTO: Great Teacher Onizuka (1998)
Great Teacher Onizuka is another great adaptation of a popular manga series written and illustrated by Tooru Fujisawa, the series has been remade numerous for live-action television series and films but the initial adaptation in 1998 is one of the best and most acknowledged versions. GTO entails an ex-gang member Onizuka who becomes a teacher at a private high school in Tokyo.
Onizuka has unconventional ways of teaching his students and many teachers oppose his ethos and motives. However, his eccentric past in a motorcycle gang helps him teach and better the troublemaker students around him. Takashi Sorimachi’s portrayal of the main character Onizuka is organic and captures the real essence of the character in the manga series.
The series has just the right amount of comedic moments without being too corny but also does highlight some pivotal issues with the school system. The 1998 series has 12 episodes, each of which concentrates on a different student and problem to overcome in every episode. This comedy-drama will have you laughing, weeping, and altogether feeling inspired from start to finish.
Good Doctor (2018)
Good Doctor is another medical tv drama that is a remake of the South Korean television version.
The series features an autistic protagonist played by Japanese star Kento Yamazaki who becomes a pediatric surgeon despite his communication difficulties due to his disorder.
His incredible memory and medical knowledge provide him with a great foundation to be a doctor, but his fellow colleagues underestimate him and don’t believe he belongs there.
If you avoid medical shows due to the blood and gore, then you’ll still be able to enjoy this without being squeamish as the producers took a more sensible approach to portray medical emergencies.
Main character Minato will be admired by viewers as his naive nature yet determination to make it in his career leaves the audience in awe.
Good Doctor only lasted for one series and featured 10 wholesome episodes of which many fans of the show said could easily be carried over to further series.
Hanazakari no Kimitachi e: Ikemen Paradise / For You in Full Bloom – Ikemen Paradise (2011)
The series is based on a popular comic and features Japanese-American athlete Mizuki Ashiya who transfers from her school in California to Osaka High School.
However, Osaka High School is an all-male school so to fit in, Mizuki must disguise herself as a man in the hopes to get closer to her hero Izumi Sano, who is a former athlete who attends the high school.
Mizuki has moved to the school because she wants her hero to return to his sport but what she doesn’t anticipate is becoming roommates with him.
Mizuki has most of her peers fooled with her short hair, flat chest, and low voice, but not for long. Her roommate and hero, Izumi clocks on that she is a girl and quickly falls in love with her, but Mizuki doesn’t suspect a thing.
Another classmate has also discovered Mizuki’s real identity and also starts to fall for her, becoming jealous of Izumi’s infatuation with the girl. The belly laughing comedy is incredibly lighthearted and will leave you wanting to rewatch it over and over again.
Ouroboros is a gripping series about two orphans who seek to find out the truth about the murder of a teacher at their elementary school.
The teacher Yuko, who was like a big sister to the boys, was killed right in front of their eyes and has haunted them throughout their adult lives. The orphans Ikuo and Tatsuya never found out what happened to their teacher and put it down to the police officer who covered the case, who notably wears a gold watch.
15 years on and one of the orphans has become a detective, whilst the other is has become a prominent leader in the Yakuza (an organized crime group in Japan), however, they both share the same goal of hunting down the officer with the gold watch and try to uncover what really happened to their teacher and to expose the dark side of the police once and for all.
The series has a lot of unexpected twists and the two protagonists portray a convincing rendition of the orphans in the original manga series that the live-action series has been adapted from.
This series is a complete Japanese remake of the original American version, however, unlike the US version, this interpretation only lasted for one season. The male lead Shogo Kai is a lawyer at one of the biggest law firms in the whole of Japan and is obsessed with winning, something that becomes of concern to his boss.
Shogo is an arm's reach of becoming a senior partner at the firm but first is instructed by his boss to take on a younger associate to reach this goal.
After a series of interviews, Shogo decides on Daiki Suzuki who he feels his intelligence will make him a great fit for the open role. However, what Shogo doesn’t know is that his new associate has a troubled past and has run into some financial difficulties whilst trying to care for his grandmother.
The series is very much a watered-down version of a lawyer drama series as the cases they deal with are quite predictable. That being said, it is very enjoyable and it’s fun to see how the producers have added the local flavor of Japan to what had been a US television show.
Ichi Rittoru No Namida (One Litre of Tears) (2005)
If there’s any series that you should have tissues at the ready for every episode, it’s this adaptation of a true story 1 Litre No Namid. The true story is about a 15-year old girl called Aya who gets diagnosed with an incurable disease that will leave her unable to function completely when the disease has reached its peak.
Despite knowing this will happen to her, Aya still tries to live her life to the fullest surrounding herself with the love from her family, friends, and her boyfriend. Many of the quotes and sentences in the film come directly from the book and have a huge impact on the audiences viewing experience.
The series is one to be rewatched and will cause viewers of the show to reflect and deconstruct their own outlook on their lives.