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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.

DramaWiki Link
Genre: Comedy
Who should watch this show: People who like rooting for the nerd loser underdog and dramas with continuously ridiculous situations.

9. Moteki

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.

DramaWiki Link
Genre: Comedy
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.

DramaWiki Link
Genre: Romance
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.

DramaWiki Link
Genre: Comdey
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.

DramaWiki Link
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.

5. Pride

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.

DramaWiki Link
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.

DramaWiki Link
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.

DramaWiki Link
Genre: Romance
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.

DramaWiki Link
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.

DramaWiki Link
Genre: Comedy
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.

  • Lin

    I forgot to mention Cupid no itazura and Secret agent Erica, which round out my current top 10 (although I’ll probably leave Gto and Gokusen out of my top picks once I see a few of the dramas I’ve been wanting to see).

  • abeer ahmad

    there not a lot off dramas . ahat i meen whay isn’t there drams love romance ..so i hope they do a lot of drama romance ..-_-…!!

  • Ugly Pig

    Uhm, you are quite wrong. The first GTO drama is one of the highest rated dramas of all time. The new one, while not nearly as successful, did fairly good still and I believe it won its timeslot fairly consistently. They did not rush to finish it, it lasted about as long as any regular drama, and they’ve followed up on it with several specials – and with more to come.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=40105343 Shaun Sticka

    I’ve never been able to get into J-dramas. It’s absolutely killed my Japanese study. Along with hating anime and manga it’s really tough to get in any kind of practice. The only one I have watched on this list is Densha Otoko and I loved it. Too many J-dramas are about high school life or pretty boys/girls, neither of which I have any interest in. However, going through your list I think there are at least 4 or 5 here I can possibly get into. Thanks for the list, I’ll be checking one of them out later tonight.
    Also, I just have to say that Tokyo Love Story certainly deserves a place in any top 10 of any language.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=40105343 Shaun Sticka

    Your rant is EXACTLY how I feel about J-dramas. Every time I see a suggestion thread it’s GTO this and Gokusen that. I was happy to see at least some different selections on here. I’ve watched the first 3 episodes of Gokusen and had to stop. I couldn’t take how terrible it was anymore. I feel like I should be 13 watching these shows. They treat the audience like they are a juvenile. Bad storylines, characters who are supposed to be 16 years old (as a grown adult I don’t care to watch a show about teenage problems), women who all act like they couldn’t function for 5 seconds without someone taking care of them (the most annoying J-anything trope), and highly dramatized moral wrap-ups.

    I have a friend here in Japan who’s love for the country all started with Ryoumaden. It’s still his favorite show ever and he swears up and down by it. He also, like you, has a long list of favorite dramas most English speakers have never heard about. The really good dramas seem to be the ones least appealing to Japanophiles.

    As for watching these shows try DramaCrazy. They are all subbed but you can ignore that if you have the Japanese level. If you don’t, bonus.

  • EskimoJo

    Any way you (or Kintaro if he reads this) could share some of the shows that feature on your ‘not the usual’ lists? Pleeease?!

  • Katie

    Awww, no Zettai Kareshi? Freaking great j-drama.

  • Shepard

    Yeah the name of the drama is called Beautiful Life and sometimes called Life is Beautiful.

  • Jeremy Arey

    This list is pretty good, but you gotta watch more j-dramas! There are so many that should be on this list above others. Whew, I can’t even begin.

  • Paul smith

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  • teruru

    Manga to animation obviously translates better 9/10 times than manga to live action and I’m pretty sure that’s what Luke’s point was.

  • teruru

    I agree with this sentiment. The only comedy drama I absolutely loved was Hero and that’s because, in my opinion, it maintains a good balance of quirkiness and doesn’t go overboard.

    The problem I see with most modern Jdrama is the over-usage of post-processed special effects that make the respective dramas too cheesy. Acting is also a big factor and the reason why I couldn’t enjoy the much recommended Densha Otoko; Interesting premise, terrible execution.

  • mit_souko

    I disagree with you entirely! I find most American TV show boring, poorly acted, etc.. Obviously not every JDrama is good, but I have watched so many that I loved. Then again, they rarely make it overseas, as they are not subbed commercially, but by volunteer subbers.

  • Jarrod

    Well, I didn’t know that having a show being aired in the USA was what Japanese drama producers were aiming for…

  • David

    Have you watched 49 Days? It’s also VERY good.

  • Eve

    My favourite j drama of all time is ‘Mukodono’, highly recommended, funny, heart warming, and very entertaining… After that would be Nodame Cantabile as everyone has mentioned…

  • yang yasmin mellyna

    My All time favorite drama is Liar Game. :] and the most recent drama I just finished watching which just finished airing too, is Kazoku Game. that’s brilliant!

  • Rochelle

    I disagree with some of the other people in the comments. Thank you so much for putting together a list of dramas I’ve 1) never heard of/watched and 2) don’t rehash the same story concepts that top everyone else’s lists but which I… don’t really enjoy. I’ve started watching Wataren and love it already.

  • Phoebe

    I watch a lot of Korean Drama, just recently started watching JDrama. Thanks for the list, best part is i haven’t watched a lot of them so it gives me something to look forward to. If your looking for a good website to stream from try http://www.gooddrama.net. They have everything, Korean, Japanese, Taiwanese, Hong Kong and Chinese drama. Oh and ya you should watch ‘Rich Man Poor Woman’, the title sounds dull but it is an amazing drama!! The best Japanese one i’ve watched so far. Oguri Shun is awesome in it.

  • omarimik

    this list is missing nobta wo prodce and nodame cantabile
    these 2 one of kind shows are really epic and in my opinion no other drama can get passed them .

  • miku

    After seeing your favorite Japanese dramas, I’m assuming that you’re a Johnny’s fan too! After all, not every guy likes Johnny’s so I’m just glad. While I do agree with most of your choices, allow me to add some of my favorites as well that also stars some of the main lead from your fave.

    Yamapi- Kurosagi and Code Blue season 1 and 2 (Aragaki Yui is also in Code Blue)
    Abe Hiroshi – Dragon Zakura (also stars Yamapi, Aragaki Yui, and Masami Nagasawa)

    Also, I’m a huge fan of detective/crime/police dramas and your list is sadly lacking anything from that genre, so allow me to recommend police dramas with a bit of comedy for starters, try: BOSS, Keizoku2:SPEC, Mr. Brain, Galileo, and Tokyo Dogs.

    Moreover, I’m into medical dramas as well, try “Doctor X” and “Iryu:Team Medical Dragon”.

    Lastly, based from the comments here, I really hope you’ll try Nodame Cantabile since it’s really funny. There’s also Hotaru no Hikari and classics (early 2000) love stories like Orange Days and Love Revolution (Fujiki Naohito).

  • finaar

    This list is most different than other list. I like it. It’s recommend many new drama for me. But trust me, you should add The Great Teacher Onizuka (the old version),Mr. Brain, Galileo (first season),and Good Luck.

  • kaka

    Hana Kimi? The 2007 Japanese version. It’s quite popular and you’ll understand why when you watch it. I actually know guys who liked this drama. I wouldn’t really consider this a romance drama compared to the other 3 versions. This version is more of a comedy. Some of the things they do are overly stupid but that’s what makes this drama unique and hilarious.

  • Dushi

    totally agree! :D Rich man Poor womemn is soo cutee!

  • Dushi

    women*

  • xyz

    Gotta say, I was pretty surprised to see Wataren on the list. Not because it isnt good (I’ve watched it myself), but because I thought it was more catered to ladies and guys wont be watching it.

    Would you happen to have an updated list to share?

  • vids

    Awesome post. I recently started watching J-drama having watched anime for more than 5 years… I recently watch Love generation (1999) and currently watching Hero (2001). Both must be watched for excellent acting skills.

  • HeWhoCantMarry

    You should watch the korean version of Kekkon Dekinai Otoko. Koreans brought that drama to perfection, they even added some details and filled some holes to make the narrative smoother and naturally funnier.

  • Keroro

    I recommend Yasuko to Kenji and Legal High for commedy.

  • John

    I had trouble getting into Legal High, but Yasuko to Kenji looks interesting. I’ll have to check it out – thanks!

  • Greenskyesbluegrass

    Just because Koreans copy everything and make every drama have someone die it doesn’t mean they are better

  • Yodi Danusastro

    This is the best that found among all the list in the other websites. What’s the update? Is there any better that Kekkon Dekinai Otoko?

  • Just Bryan

    PRICELESS – Very recommended, just try to watch first episode…

  • asha97

    i most like buzzer beat… because they have a good chemistry

  • LeoP

    I just watched love shuffle. I thought it was great. One of those shows where I kept saying just one more episode and I will go to bed. Then before I know it its 5am.

  • Bebeto

    Hi John,
    I watched most of the other poster top 10, but your list is the best that suits my taste. Other posters suggestion is either too childish, illogical and annoying at times and ended up not finishing the dramas. I enjoyed all ten dramas you suggested. Thanks so much. Can you give me your next new top ten?

    Regards,
    Bebeto

  • jssy

    me too

  • Najika

    What about hana yori dango?!?! that is one amazing drama! it has two seasons and a film!! If you haven’t watched it then i highly recommend it!!! It the Japanese version of boys over flowers, but it is much better!!!

  • Faleea

    I think the storyline of most Japanese drama is awesome, but the emotion and expression of the actor and the actress is null. they are expressionless or lack for both of it. so when we watch Japanese drama we can rarely drag into the movie and full metal enjoyment. we just —— flat, boring. but i didn’t say it for all Japanese drama, i say, most of it. compare to Korean dramas, they are faraway left behind, for dramas, Korean did the great job, emotion, expression, and wonderful storyline so after we watch it we can watch it all over and all over again without being boring. but for the manga and anime…oww my Good God… Japanese manga and anime are A-W-S-M!!! Japanese mangaka and animator both are GREAT!! they poured all the emotion into it. full of emotion and expression and they can grab our emotion too when we read their manga or when we watch their animation movie

  • shuumai

    i havent seen Ryoumaden, and i havent watched too many american dramas, but i suspect your hooked on that big budget, and action packed instant gratification. in j dramas i feel its about growing with the characters or a slice of life whereas american dramas are just kinda instantly rewarding. i would like to say your focusing on the wrong things ( like the acting and the budget, over the story) but hey whatever floats your boat. just know that after i finish johns list, and i finish Ryoumaden, ill be back to give you a piece of my mind

  • shuumai

    i agree with everything you said, (although i havent seen the movie) but i would HIGHLY HIGHLY recommend watching the actual j drama! i recently finished it, and although it may be bleak or even cheesy at times, it has become one of my favourite shows ever! i binge watched breaking bad a couple months ago, and i thought nothing could take away its spot on the throne, but BOTR did that and then some! breaking bad never reduced me to tears…. but hey im a weird guy

  • Anonymous

    Currently having a blast watching ‘Kekkon Dekinai Otoko’. Thanks for this list.

  • http://therealmofoldebrooklyn.wordpress.com/ LadyGin

    Thanks for creating this list, I’m saving it. I love K-drama best, but I’ve found some gem J-dramas. And I also loved Kekkon Deninai Otoko. Abe Hiroshi is one of the best. My favorite is Shinzanmono the Detective. There’s a new one out I didn’t even realize! If you haven’t seen it, I recommend Shiroi Haru with him. My other favorites are Zetta Kareshi, Hammer Session, Oh my girl! (All three starring Hayami Mokomichi.) Meichan’s Butler, Tokyo Dogs and Rich man, poor woman…but I’m sure that list will grow.

  • Dijah

    i love kekkon dekinai otoko! the dog is so adorable and smart!