With 2021 putting a hold on our epic travel adventures to and across Japan for now, why not turn to some of the best Japanese dramas to temporarily satiate your yearning?
Japanese dramas (or jdrama) are easy to watch due to their length, intricate and interesting storylines, and palpable chemistry between leads. Unlike movies, you will learn to love the characters you watch as the episodes go on, but the dramas never really feel like it drags on.
Whilst underrated compared to westernised tv shows, Japanese dramas truly are a league of their own. They punch through plotlines with tenacity, tackle all sorts of genres (a popular favourite would be rom-coms!), and allow viewers a glimpse into the (slightly exaggerated) lifestyle and culture in Japan.
If you’re looking into starting a jdrama for the first time, you’ve come to the right place. Below we’re listed some of the best classic and recent Japanese dramas you can binge whilst at home right now.
Our Top 12 Japanese Dramas
Let’s go straight to the point! Here’s our list of our 12 favorite Japanese Drama we advice you to watch:
- Hana Yori Dango (2005)
- Absolute Boyfriend (2008)
- Great Teacher Onizuka
- Gokusen (2002)
- Million Yen Women (2017)
- Mischievous Kiss: Love in Tokyo (2018)
- One Litre of Tears (2005)
- Code Blue (2008)
- My Boss My Hero (2006)
- For You in Full Bloom – Ikemen Paradise (2011)
- Midnight Diner – Tokyo Series
- Nobuta wa Produce
1. Hana Yori Dango (2005)
To start this list off, Hana Yori Dango takes the number one spot. This drama is an absolute classic not only in Japan but worldwide. It captured the hearts of many romanticists back in 2005 when it was released and even inspired the Korean and Chinese adaptations ‘Boys Over Flowers’ and ‘Meteor Garden’.
It stars four handsome students who were born into extremely affluent families. They are the alpha males at their schools and assert their dominance by bullying others and flashing their money around. Enter their latest victim, an ordinary girl who has a strong yet humble personality, who clashes with the leader. Trouble, misunderstandings, and romance ensues. The rest is history!
2. Absolute Boyfriend (2008)
Android dramas are becoming more and more popular these days. Technology just keeps proving that there may be no bounds. However, back in 2008, Absolute Boyfriend was one of the first android romance dramas of its kind. It made a huge splash! It was so successful that various other dramas have been created with similar premises, such as ‘Are You Human Too’?
The drama is about Riiko, a single lady who has no luck in the love department. She offhandedly decides to order a ‘boyfriend’ but is very surprised when a humanoid robot actually appears at her doorstep the next day. He is Night Tenjo, a robot who has been programmed to be the perfect boyfriend. Of course, a love triangle then follows between Riiko, Night Tenjo and her colleague.
3. Great Teacher Onizuka
Great Teacher Onizuka is arguably one of the best drama adaptations of the anime with the same name. It follows the story of Onizuka Eikichi, a legendary gang member who enrols to at a school as a part-time gardener.
However, a certain situation arose where he was forced to become the class advisor to the most problematic class in the school. Lots of fun and trouble ensues, but in the end it is one of the best comedy/feel-good dramas around.
4. Gokusen (2002)
Gokusen is an oldie but a goodie. It’s quite a light drama for those who don’t want to be heavily and/or emotionally invested in a drama.
Similar to the previous drama, the storyline for this drama is based around an aspiring 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. Plot twist: she is actually an heir to a yakuza gang!
5. Million Yen Women (2017)
This drama is one of the most recent ones on the list, but it made quite an impression!
The storyline is quite a unique one, which is probably why so many people were hooked on this show. It is about a failing author who accepts money from five women to assist with his house payments. These women are as mysterious as they come, but as part of their agreement for him taking their money, he cannot question them and their lifestyle.
The plot also contains a murder mystery so you must watch until the end to figure out all the twists.
6. Mischievous Kiss: Love in Tokyo (2018)
This drama is actually the 5th remake of the original anime but it’s just as good as every other remake. In fact, it paved its own path and became known as the one with the best comedic appeal.
It follows the life of Kotoko Aihara who believes she’s lacking in terms of looks and is definitely not an A-grade student. However, she is in love with the popular, super smart and ever-so-handsome Naoki Irie.
The story is full of funny and heart-warming moments when Kotoko somehow ends up living with Naoki and breaks down his barriers.
This is one of the lighter dramas that you will instantly fall in love with and want to binge. It’s definitely one for all the romantics at heart!
If you like love stories, make sure you also check out our list of the best Japanese romance dramas.
7. One Litre of Tears (2005)
If the aforementioned drama is super light-hearted, this one is the opposite. Prepare boxes of tissues because this drama will tug at your heart in more ways than you thought possible.
One Litre of Tears is based on a true story about Aya Kito, a cheerful youth who was sadly diagnosed with spinocerebellar degeneration. It is a disease that slowly deteriorated her movements until she was unable to move at all. The drama follows her life from before the diagnosis all the way to when she loses control of her own body.
The drama is a tragic one and will most likely leave you crying after every episode, so prepare yourself!
8. Code Blue (2008)
This is Japanese drama classic. Hitting the small screen in 2008, Code Blue was one of the first dramas of its kinds. It was inspired by the ‘Doctor Helicopter’ system, where a small medical team are dispatched via helicopter to patients around the country.
The drama was wildly successful as it followed the drama, tension and adventures of four newly assigned young physicians as they learned and grew after encountering many medical situations.
In total, Code Blue has three seasons and a movie.
9. My Boss My Hero (2006)
This hilarious drama is a great one for a relaxed watch on the weekend. It follows Sakaki Makio, a 27-year-old heir to a famous yakuza gang. He loves having fun and messing around, but before he can take over the reins of the gang, his father insists that he get a high school diploma. If he fails, his younger sibling will replace him as the head of the gang.
Of course, Sakaki decides to go under the disguise of a 17-year-old high school student. His pathway to graduation is a rollercoaster but along the way he meets great friends and experiences some great, if not hilarious, learning moments.
10. For You in Full Blossom – Ikemen Paradise (2011)
This is the ‘girl disguised as boy to enrol in boy school’ drama that started it all. A light and refreshing rom-com, it’s for anyone who enjoys adorable romance and students navigating the wondrous world of relationships…all under disguise!
Mizuki is a girl who was raised in California. She is a big fan of Izumi Sano who is a disgraced high-jump athlete. To meet him, she disguises herself as a male and enrols into his all-boys high school.
This is where the fun really begins!
Imagine heaps of awkward encounters, mishaps, almost-reveals, and confusing emotions. That’s exactly what you get with this hilarious drama. And don’t even get us started on all the eye-candy in the film!
11. Midnight Diner – Tokyo Series (2016)
This drama is not your typical drama. It does not have a main plotline, but rather it follows Meishiya, a chef at a diner that opens until the early AM. He serves all types of customers, from real estate agents to taxi drivers, to comedians and lawyers. They all request a specific dish from him that isn’t on the menu but he is always happy to oblige. Each episode features a specific story that each unique visitor recounts.
This drama is one where you can switch on any episode at any time and watching it will still make sense. They’re not interconnected, per se, and each patron’s stories are very unique in their own way. This is a great drama to unwind to after a long day.
12. Nobuta wa Produce (2005)
This drama is a modern take on a Cinderella transformation within Japan’s society of youth.
Shuji Kiritani is one of the most popular guys in his school. Although on the outside he appears to care for his classmates, deep down he is rather apathetic. There is one exception though. When he is around his friend Akira Kusano, an eccentric and bouncy character, Shuji can’t help by be himself.
One day, Nobuko Kotani transfers to their school. She is immediately bullied for her looks and shy personality. Shuji and Akira witness this, and try to help her by telling her to reach out to the other students and be friendly with them, but she rebuffs this by recounting the many times in the past that she’s done so without any results.
Akira then comes up with the grand idea of giving Nobuko a proper makeover, from her looks to her personality, so that she can become one of the most popular girls in school.
As you can see from this extensive list, Japanese dramas are seriously 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 seats in the thrillers. The unique characteristics of the Japanese people will be glaringly obvious in some dramas and it will make you miss Japan that much more.
Whether you’re just looking for something to pass time or looking to try something new, prepare yourself because it is very easy to fall in love with J-dramas. Watch this entire list and we guarantee you’ll be craving more!
When you are done with dramas, make sure you also watch the best Japanese movies of all time or the best Japanese historical dramas.
If you prefer to read, check out our selection of the best books about Japan.
And if you are looking to visit Japan soon, make sure you check out these blog posts: Japan Blog Travel.
Absolute Boyfriend is my favorite <3
I watched 3 on 10 already ! 🙂
I love Midnight Diner – Tokyo Series 1 & 2. I’ve watched them twice already. I’ve watched so many of them and will still continue watching. Some are even better than the Korean versions.
The trailer you have for Absolutel Boyfriend is for the recent Korean version…
All time favorite drama that got me started on J-dramsa is HYD back in 2009!!
Yes you are right Angie, it’s fixed! Thank you for your comment. 🙂
Uhh, My Absolute Boyfriend is a Korean drama, not Japanese lmao??
The one we talk about is a Japanese drama produced in 2008. It’s different than the Korean drama My Absolute Boyfriend. 🙂
Kotaro Lives alone (2021)
My husband won’t fit (2019)
You also have a Korean video for Ikemen Paradise.
Otherwise great article
You are right. It’s fixed! 😉 Thank you! 😀
Forgot to add Alice in Borderland. For me it’s a great one
Switched is also a best drama I think. The story is hypothetical but it felt so real.🤩 actors did their best.
Liar Games was great too! A bit like Squid Games, but with money/debt. And game theory !
And I agree with a previous comments about My husband won’t fit and Alice in Borderland, both are great.