I really enjoy Japanese dramas. As far as Japanese entertainment media goes, dramas are right up there with anime for me. When I was first getting into Japanese stuff, I was all about the anime until one day I realized that there was a whole side of Japanese TV I was completely missing out on: J-dramas. I couldn’t believe I’d been missing out on so many great shows.
Over the years, I’ve checked out a great many of J-dramas. Some were bad, some were just okay, and some were downright fantastic. Below is a list of my top ten favorites. If you’re into dramas at all, I’m sure you’ve seen or at least heard of many of them. For those of you new to dramas, however, this list is an excellent place to start (assuming you have the same taste in shows that I do).
10. Boys on the Run
Boys on the Run is about a salaryman who works for a small toy manufacturer and has never had a girlfriend in the 27 years of his life. He has no experience with women and is a hopeless employee nowhere near getting ahead in life. He’s in love with one of his colleagues at work, but has no idea how to approach her. One day he runs into a salaryman from a competing toy company who decides to help him woo the girl.
Over time, Boys on the Run might rank higher on this list of mine. The reason for this is that I haven’t actually finished watching the series yet, but what I’ve seen so far is really good. Every episode is a riot. I can’t remember the last time I yelled at the screen so much during a show, just because of all the ridiculous things the main character does and says. It’s a bit raunchy, but I’ve really been enjoying this show so far.
Who should watch this show: People who like rooting for the nerd loser underdog and dramas with continuously ridiculous situations.
Moteki is about a temp worker who has never had any luck with women. One day, he suddenly starts getting invitations to hang out from several beautiful women, and he finds himself confused about how to deal with this new experience of having a “moteki” (a period when one is very popular and attractive to others).
This one was actually recommended to me by one of my friends who is teaching in Japan. It’s really funny, much in the same way that Boys on the Run is. The main character supposedly has no luck with women and is suddenly thrown into situations where he doesn’t really know what to do or how to act. Like Boys on the Run, this show can be a bit raunchy at times, but it’s hilarious, and I highly recommend it.
Who should watch this show: People who like rooting for the loser underdog in ridiculous love triangle situations.
8. Watashi ga Renai Dekinai Riyuu
Wataren highlights the lives of three women who are all looking for love but each one has something that is getting in the way of their romantical happiness. As the show progresses, they all grow and learn more about themselves and what they want out of life.
I liked this one so much I even wrote a Tofugu post about it earlier this year, soon after I finished watching it. This one came to me after a long stretch of sub par dramas, so this show was responsible for reinvigorating my interest in them.
Who should watch this show: Those interested in seeing the love lives of three different women unfold in a humorous and entertaining manner.
7. Papa to Musume no Nanokakan
Papa to Musume no Nanokakan is about a salaryman and his teenage daughter. One day, the two ride a train together and by some mysterious force, they swap bodies. Unfortunately, they have no choice but to swap lives, pretending to be each other at school and work.
This show is great. I really like the actress that plays the daughter in this show, and it’s hilarious to see her acting like a middle aged salaryman, not to mention seeing a middle aged salaryman act like a high school girl. This show is both hilarious and touching, as it ultimately brings the two closer together.
Who should watch this show: Those who like life-swap shows and seeing middle-aged men act like teenage girls.
6. Buzzer Beat
Buzzer Beat is about a young player from a professional basketball team. Due to his relatively smaller size and his tendency to crack under pressure, he’s unable to really shine as a player. Meanwhile a strong-spirited music college graduate aims to become a professional violinist. One day they have a chance encounter and their meeting begins a friendship that eventually turns into love. However, the main character is already considering marriage with his current girlfriend. What will happen!?
This show was recommended to me by one of my Japanese friends when I was studying abroad in Japan. The main character is played by Yamapi, who has become one of my favorite drama actors, and he really shines in this show. You don’t have to enjoy basketball at all to enjoy this one, it’s merely the glue that holds everything together. This show is funny, romantic, and touching.
Genre: Romance, Sports
Who should watch this show: Anyone who has a passing interest in basketball, or just really enjoys well done romantic comedies with love triangles.
Pride is definitely the most serious drama on this list and it centers around a playboy hockey player and his new-found love interest. He doesn’t like commitment, and the main girl has a long distance boyfriend who seems to have left her with no intention of coming back. This show tells their story and all the trials and tribulations they face.
I was actually very skeptical about this one when I first heard of it. A serious romantic drama centering around hockey? Psh, yeah okay- that sounds really interesting. But boy was I surprised. This show really pulls on your heartstrings and really draws you in. It’s definitely one of the most emotional shows on this list, and for that, I highly recommend it.
Genre: Drama, Romance, Sports
Who should watch this show: People who like Queen music. Seriously, that’s all this show plays.
4. Densha Otoko
Ah, the mighty Densha Otoko. The show is probably the most famous and well known on the list. This show is a true love story that was turned into a bestselling novel, drama, and movie. A typical office lady gets into trouble with a drunkard on a train and it saved by the main character, who also happens to be the epitome of otaku. This act of bravery was extremely uncharacteristic of him, but it starts a friendship with the woman that soon blooms into romantic interest. Having no idea how to handle women, he seeks advice on message boards and all of Japan helps him along the way.
This show is awesome. It was one of the first dramas I really got into and it remains one of my favorites. It’s funny, heartwarming, and emotional. It’s a roller coaster ride of feelings, but I loved every minute of it. Also, the opening sequence is great. It really gets you pumped for each new episode.
Genre: Comdey, Romance
Who should watch this show: Anyone who likes dramas. Really, you can’t go wrong with this one.
3. Proposal Daisakusen
Proposal Daisakusen is another Yamapi drama and coincidentally was recommended to me by the same girl who told me about Buzzer Beat (apparently she’s a Yamapi fan, too). Anyway, the show is about two people who have been friends since elementary school. The guy has been in love with the girl pretty much ever since he can remember, but she’s about to get married to another man. While he and other friends attend the wedding ceremony, a fairy appears and sends him back in time, giving him a second chance to win the girl he loves.
The premise of this show is really, really cool. Each episode a new picture of the main group of characters is shown on the wedding picture slideshow, and the picture represents the time that the main character gets sent back to. Depending on how he acts and what he says differently from the first time around, the picture changes. It’s just really interesting and you really get into it and can’t help but root for the main character. Just thinking about it makes me want to watch it again. This show is great.
Who should watch this show: People who enjoy romantic comedies with a time traveling twist.
2. My Boss My Hero
This show is about pudding. Just kidding – it’s about other stuff too. In My Boss My Hero, the main dude is a tough 27 year old high school drop-out who is the son of a gang boss. The main character is pretty dumb, so his father decides to force him to return to high school in order to get his diploma. If he doesn’t graduate, the position of boss will be given to his younger brother.
This show is like Billy Madison with a Yakuza twist. Only this time, no one at the high school knows his true identity, so the 27 year old gangster has to learn to act like a 17 year old kid. The main character is a great actor and really plays the part perfectly. Also, the main girl in the show is the same actress from Papa to Musume no Nanokakan, so that’s great too. Also, if you’re a dude, or if you’re somebody trying to get a dude to get into drama – this is probably the best one to start with.
Genre: School Drama, Comedy
Who should watch this show: Anyone who likes to laugh or really likes pudding.
1. Kekkon Dekinai Otoko
Kekkon Deninai Otoko is hands down my favorite drama of all time. I’ve watched it many times over the years, and it never gets old. The show is about a 40 year old architect who enjoys living by himself, doesn’t like people, but somehow is able to design wonderful houses that people really enjoy. Eventually he begrudgingly becomes friends with a handful of people who wonder if anyone would ever want to marry him.
I don’t even know where to begin with this show. Everything about it is great. The main character is played by Abe Hiroshi, one of my favorite Japanese actors. He really nails the part and I can’t think of anyone better than him to play this hermit-like architect. You can check out an awesome scene from the show back in the post I wrote about okonomiyaki. The show is funny, interesting, and never gets old.
Who should watch this show: People who like Abe Hiroshi or have any interest in dramas at all.
And there you have it – my top ten favorite Japanese dramas of all time. I know there’s a ton out there, and even though I’ve seen a bunch, I’m sure there are still more great shows to be discovered. Also, there’s a good chance that I totally forgot about a show or two while compiling the above list just because I’ve seen so many.
While entertaining, Japanese dramas are also great for study, especially if you really enjoy the show. To get the most out of them, you can check out Koichi’s guide on Studying with Japanese Dramas. It’s a great way to learn.
So tell me, how many of these shows have you seen? What did you think of them? What’s your favorite drama? I’m always looking for new shows to watch, so let me know down in the comments!
And just for fun, here’s the latest Perfume PV. I hope your eyes and ears enjoy the experience.