- Life & Culture
The 21 Best Japanese Dramas to Watch
Japanese dramas, also known as dorama (ドラマ), or terebi dorama (テレビドラマ from the English “television drama”), are Japanese TV series. They are usually readily available on lots of online streaming platforms and are often popular based on the casting of popular J-Pop singers and other popular celebrities.
With major streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime advertising and creating more Japanese dramas, they are rapidly gaining popularity amongst the younger generations with many following numerous new series and seeking out older series to watch between newer releases.
Whether you are looking for a new Japanese TV drama to watch to pass your time or want to try something new, prepare yourself because it is very easy to fall in love with all kinds of dramas.
Each offers something different and more intriguing than the next. Take a look through our recommendations for the 21 best Japanese dramas broken down by genre.
1. 3 Nen A Gumi: Ima Kara Mina-San Wa – (“Mr Hiiragi’s Homeroom”)
Released to Netflix in 2019 ‘3 Nen A Gumi: Ima Kara Mina-San Wa’ is a psychological school drama.
With graduation ten days away, homeroom teacher Mr Hiiragi gathers all 29 of his students in class 3-A and takes them as his hostages. His last lesson is on the topic of the death of a student that passed away a few months prior. Nobody can graduate until the truth is out.
This is definitely a must-watch, with only 10 episodes it is a short but gripping ride.
2. Kazoku Game – (“The Family Game”)
Available to watch on multiple streaming platforms, this 2013 family-centred TV drama is a mysterious and heartwarming journey for all characters.
An eccentric home tutor, Yoshi Moto, is hired to tutor the second son of the Numata family. His unconventional teaching methods begin to change the student and his family for the better.
3. Mystery To Iunakare – (“Don’t Say Mystery”)
An adaptation of the manga of the same name, Mystery to Iunakare is available to stream online now.
It follows a mystery-solving student, Kuno Totono, who has recently been brought in by police for questioning on suspicion of murdering his classmate.
The episodes are a true murder mystery with the plot offering lots of questions to be answered, this is a truly gripping series that should be on everyone’s to-watch list.
4. Millon Yen Women
This Japanese Mystery Drama series is about a failing author who accepts payments from five different women to help him with his house payments.
The women are mysterious individuals who agree to help the author on the understanding and agreement that in return he never asks questions about them or their lifestyles. But when a dead body turns up the author can’t help but be suspicious of the women’s roles in the murder.
This series is definitely a must-watch that should be watched until the very end to appreciate all of the details and twists and turns that take place throughout. You can catch this Japanese drama series on Netflix.
Japanese TV Drama Romance
5. Tokyo Joshi Zukan – (“Tokyo Girl”)
Available to watch now on Amazon Prime, ‘Toyko Joshi Zukan’ best known as ‘Tokyo Girl’ follows Aya from when she moves to Toyko at the young age of 23 through to her late 40s.
Aya has to adjust to the different values and perceptions of the big city as she struggles with challenging situations. We get to follow Aya’s move from one neighbourhood to another in the glittering city, as she manoeuvres through her career and love life.
6. Ikemen Paradise
This is the ‘girl disguised as a boy’ plot that started it all, if you’re a fan of films like ‘She’s The Man’ then ‘Ikemen Paradise’ might be a good choice when choosing a new Jdrama to watch.
This is a light and refreshing rom-com that is now available to watch on Hulu TV. It follows Mizuki, a girl who has been raised in California. She is a big fan of disgraced high-jump athlete, Izumi Sano.
To meet him, she enrols disguises herself as a male and enrols into his all-boys high school. Romantic, comedic moments ensue will lots of confusing emotions to follow. This is the perfect high school romance drama for you to watch at ease.
7. Itazura Na Kiss – Love in Tokyo – (“Mischievous Kiss: Love in Tokyo”)
This romantic Japanese TV drama is the fifth remake of the original anime series of the same name, but this time with lots of comedic appeal.
It shows the life of Kotoko Aihara who believes her looks leave a lot to be desired and that she is a poor student, but she’s in love with the ever-so-popular, super-smart, Naoki Irie. This is one for the romantics at heart, a light-hearted JDrama with lots of storyline variations. Now available to stream on Amazon Prime.
8. Nobuta Wo Produce
This Netflix Japanese TV drama offers a classic high school romance, a modern take on the classic Cinderella transformation with Japanese youth. The show tells of Shuji Kintani, one of the most popular boys in his school. He appears to care about his classmates but deep down he is quite apathetic.
A girl called Nobuko Kotani transfers to his school and is immediately bullied over her looks and shy personality, Shuji and his friends notice this and offer to help her out.
The boys come up with the idea of giving Nobuko a makeover to make her one of the most popular girls in the school. Through this journey, the group learn a lot about each other and Shuji goes through his own emotional transformation alongside Nobuko’s physical one, and soon he is willing to open up and express his more emotional side.
9. Hana Yori Dango – (“Boys Over Flowers”)
This is a classic drama, not only in Japan but worldwide and has both Korean and Chinese adaptations. The series begins with four handsome students who were born into rich families. They are popular at school and assert their dominance over other students through bullying and flashing their wealth.
Their latest victim is a shy girl who clashes with the leader of the group. There are lots of major twists and turns in the show as trouble, misunderstanding and romance ensue. Available to watch now on Netflix.
If you’re inspired by romantic Japanese dramas, check out our guide to dating in Japan too!
10. Boku No Ita Jikan – (“The Hours Of My Life”)
Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Boku No Ita Jikan is a heart-wrenching, tear-jerking watch. Sawada Takuto is an ordinary university student who one day receives a diagnosis of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.)
With not much time left to live, he tries to live his life to the absolute fullest. This emotional drama is one that must be put on your watchlist.
11. Ichi Rittoru No Namida (“One Litre of Tears”)
This emotive Japanese TV drama is based on a true story. Aya Kito is a cheerful young lady who is sadly diagnosed with Spinocerebellar degeneration, which is a disease that slowly deteriorates her movements until she is unable to move at all.
The show follows her life from before the diagnosis all the way through to when she loses control of her own body entirely. This is definitely worth the watch and is sure to leave you in tears by the end of each episode.
Science Fiction Dramas
12. Imawa no Kuni No Alice – (“Alice in Borderland”)
Created as a Netflix original in 2020, this thriller drama is an adaptation of the manga of the same name by Haro Aso. Arisu Ryohei is a jobless, video-game-obsessed young man who suddenly finds himself trapped in an abandoned, dystopian Toyko with a group of individuals.
The group are forced to compete in a series of dangerous games and the type and difficulty of the tasks are determined by playing cards. After surviving their first game they are granted visas which are extended the more they play the game. If their visas expire, they will fall victim to certain death.
This is a thrilling watch and is now available to watch on Netflix, with season 2 having just been announced earlier this year in March 2022.
13. Midnight Diner
Another Netflix original released in 2019, based on the manga of the same name by Yaro Abe. It doesn’t offer a main plotline to follow and the episodes are not interconnected, making it an easy Japanese drama to begin watching. You can switch on any episode and it will make sense without having to have followed the series from the beginning.
Meishiya is a chef at a diner that opens until the early morning. Each night he must serve a variety of customers, each ordering a specific dish that does not appear on the main menu. Each episode features a unique story that each visitor recounts as their dish is made. This series offers a magical adventure in each episode making you want to come back for more.
14. Zettai Kareshi – (“Absolute Boyfriend”)
Zettai Kareshi is a technology-based sci-fi romance Japanese TV drama series. There are a variety of series like this one that are quickly gaining popularity such as ‘Are You Human Too?’ Zettai Kareshi, commonly known as Absolute Boyfriend, is available to stream on Hulu TV.
The show focuses on a single woman called Riiko who has no luck in finding love and so she decides to order herself a boyfriend but is very surprised when a humanoid robot appears on her doorstep the very next day.
His name is Night Tenjo and he has been programmed to be the perfect boyfriend. But, a love triangle quickly emerges between Riiko, her coworker and Night Tenjo. All must play an important role and learn a lot about themselves and each other to resolve their romances.
If you love science fiction, why not check out our guide to robots and AI in Japan!
Action Dramas and Thrillers
15. Hanzawa Naoki
This 2013, action drama is due to come to streaming platforms very soon. Hanzawa Naoki works as a loan manager at a large corporate bank, he chooses to involve himself in corruption and wrongdoing.
While forging ties with some unlikely allies he must use his financial expertise, knowledge of human nature and improvisation skills to stay one step ahead of his powerful enemies.
This is an older Japanese Action Drama released in 2007, but is still available to stream online. It follows Ban Shogo who is an enthusiastic, cocky young man from Fukuoka who comes to Tokyo to perfect his cooking skills in Italian cuisine.
After a year of working in a neighbourhood Italian restaurant, he discovers that he has much to learn and has to prove himself to the very competitive quick and efficient staff at the upscale Italian restaurant.
17. Code Blue
Code Blue is an excellent Japanese action drama that boasts 3 seasons and a movie that is available to watch on Netflix.
The series follows four newly assigned physicians as they learn and grow through a variety of medical situations that call for them to think and act fast and make life-saving decisions on the spot. This is one for those who enjoy the thrill of a fast-paced TV drama and who love medical dramas.
18. My Boss, My Hero
A relaxed action-comedy streaming to Netflix that tells the story of Sakaki Makio, a 27-year-old heir to a famous Yakuza gang. He loves having fun, pulling pranks and messing around. But one day his father reminds him that as heir he will one day be in charge of the gang and insists that he turns his attention to gaining his high-school diploma.
His father promises that if Sakaki fails his diploma then his younger brother will be the one to take the reins and responsibility as head of the gang. Disguising himself as a 17-year-old and enrolling at a local high school, Sakaki must face a multitude of challenges from taking educational leaps of faith to bracing social turmoil, this Netflix series has a lot to offer.
19. GTO Great Teacher Onizuka
This Japanese drama series is a great adaptation of the GTO anime. It follows the story of Onizuka Eirkichi, a gang member who enrols at a school as a part-time gardener.
However, a certain situation occurs and he is forced to become the class advisor to the most problematic youths in the school. Lots of fun and trouble follow, a classic comedy and some feel-good drama. Available to stream on Peacock TV.
If you’re in love with the idea of Japanese school life, why not become a teacher in Japan with us?
Gokusen is an older Jdrama that is a light watch. This is another drama about a teacher who is assigned a troublesome class. Kumiko initially finds it hard to gain respect and control her class but eventually breaks down the barrier and connects with them individually.
But, plot twist, she’s actually an heir to a Yakuza gang. Watch to find out how she manages the two strikingly different sides of her life and whether she chooses her work or her family. There is also a movie available on Netflix that was made after the series aired.
This is a gripping Japanese thriller that is available to watch on Hulu TV. It tells the story of two orphans Ryuzaki and Danno, who witness the murder of a member of staff at the orphanage as children, they give their statements to the police but the case is quickly closed and both have their own suspicions.
Fifteen years later, Ryuzaki is a decorated police officer and Danno has risen to the top of the underworld as a leader of an organized crime gang. Together they work to discover the truth behind the murder they witnessed as children and uncover magnitudes of police corruption.
The Last Word on Japanese Dramas
Japanese dramas really are in a league of their own. You will fall in love with their rom-com leads, root for the underdogs and be on the edge of your seat in the thrillers.
Whether you’re just introducing yourself to Japanese dramas or looking for a new JDrama to add to your watch list, there really is something for everyone and every interest.
Can’t get enough of Japanese culture? Check out our best books to read before going to Japan!