Top 10 Japanese Dramas That Made J-Dramas a Global Sensation
Japanese dramas, also known as J-dramas, have become incredibly popular worldwide in recent years. Known for their gripping storylines, high production values, talented actors and unique directing styles, J-dramas have something for everyone.
Top 10 J-Dramas You Need to See
From tear-jerking romances to exciting action thrillers, J-dramas showcase the best of Japanese entertainment. If you’re new to the world of J-dramas, here are 10 must-watch shows to get you started:
Number 1: Good Morning Call
Good Morning Call is a lighthearted romantic comedy based on a popular manga series. It centers around high school student Yoshikawa Nao, who moves into an apartment by herself. But due to a real estate agency mix-up, she soon finds herself sharing her tiny apartment with Uehara Hisashi, a high school playboy she can’t stand. Forced to become roommates, Nao and Uehara begin a comedic journey of bickering, awkward moments and eventually friendship and romance.
Good Morning Call is the perfect J-drama for fans of cute romantic comedies. The two leads have great chemistry, and their silly spats will have you laughing throughout the entire two seasons. It’s an upbeat, energetic show that will leave you feeling good.
Number 2: Erased
For fans of mystery thrillers, Erased is a must-see. The show centers around struggling manga artist Satoru Fujinuma, who possesses a strange ability—he unwillingly travels back in time right before a life-threatening incident, allowing him to prevent it from happening.
When his mother is murdered by an unknown assailant, Satoru’s ability sends him 18 years back to his elementary school days. He now has a chance to stop the string of kidnappings and deaths that occurred during his youth, including saving his classmate Hinazuki Kayo. But Satoru only has a limited amount of time before his future self will return to the present.
Erased is a gripping, suspenseful show filled with plot twists that will keep you on the edge of your seat. With its time travel elements and high stakes, it will appeal to viewers who enjoy suspenseful thrillers.
Number 3: Hanzawa Naoki
Hanzawa Naoki is a gripping drama thriller centered around a bank employee seeking vengeance against the company that wrongfully demoted him. Hanzawa Naoki was a successful banker on the fast track to promotion when he was unjustly demoted to manager of a rural branch. Believing the demotion was an elaborate scheme set up by executives, Naoki begins maneuvering to get payback against the bank and reclaim his former prestige.
Veteran actor Masato Sakai delivers an intense, chilling performance as the cunning, ruthless Naoki, earning him widespread acclaim. With its themes of corporate corruption and one employee’s calculating quest for revenge, Hanzawa Naoki is an enthralling, high-stakes suspense series.
Number 4: Nigeru wa Haji da ga Yaku ni Tatsu
Nigeru wa Haji da ga Yaku ni Tatsu is a delightful “contract marriage” rom-com between kind-hearted heiress Mikuri Moriyama and anxious employee Yūsuke Kamuro. To gain access to her inheritance, Mikuri needs to get married. Meanwhile, Yūsuke could use the financial support. The solution seems simple: a mutually beneficial contract marriage where they split living expenses. But pretending to be newlyweds soon leads to real romantic feelings.
Yui Aragaki is radiant as gentle Mikuri, while Gen Hoshino garners laughs as anxious, easily flustered Yūsuke. Watching their fake marriage blossom into love is pure rom-com fun.
Number 5: Legal High
Legal High is a sharply written legal dramedy starring Masaki Okada as unorthodox lawyer Kensuke Komikado. Komikado loves defending clients using unique, unpredictable methods that infuriate firm higher-ups but get results. Alongside newbie attorney Machiko Mayuzumi, eccentric genius Komikado takes on tricky cases in his own peculiar way.
Okada shines as the brilliant, arrogant Komikado, nailing the fast-talking speeches and comedic beats. For a fresh legal series lawyer with plenty of courtroom drama and laugh out loud moments, Legal High hits all the right notes.
Number 6: Code Blue
Code Blue is an addictively binge-worthy medical drama packed with high stakes emergency rescues. It follows the talents doctors of a busy hospital emergency room as they navigate challenging, intense cases every day. The dedicated doctors including Aizawa Kousaku, Hiyama Mihoko and Fujikawa Kazuo utilize their specialties and teamwork to make on-the-spot diagnosis and treat patients in life-threatening conditions.
With its appealing ensemble cast, urgent rescues happening back-to-back, and romantic entanglements between the doctors, Code Blue makes for a riveting, emotional rollercoaster viewing experience. Once you start, it’s hard to stop watching these doctors race to save lives.
Number 7: Tokyo Love Story
Before trendy J-dramas aimed at young viewers, there were thought-provoking, emotionally complex dramas for adults like Tokyo Love Story. This 1991 show revolves around four friends ‒ nice guy Kanji, playboy Sakamoto, gentle Rika and vivacious Satomi. As the friends navigate careers and relationships, feelings inevitably get complicated when Kanji and Satomi begin developing an attraction.
Tokyo Love Story is a realistic look at love and adulthood with nuanced character growth. Unlike many J-dramas about young love, it portrays its characters as mature working adults facing difficult choices. With its slice-of-life approach, Tokyo Love Story is one of the classics of Japanese drama.
Number 8: Nodame Cantabile
Nodame Cantabile is a quirky, heartwarming drama about students at a top music conservatory. Gifted pianist Chiaki is a perfectionist who dreams of becoming a conductor in Europe. Despite his talent, he’s impatient and lacks leadership skills. One day he meets Megumi (aka Nodame), a messy, eccentric piano student who plays by ear.
As Chiaki helps whip Nodame into shape, he learns to be more patient and nurturing. The pair begin growing closer through their musical aspirations, leading to a sweet, odd couple romance. Nodame Cantabile beautifully depicts the passion of young artists pursuing their dreams and finding love. The amazing classical music is simply the icing on the cake.
Number 9: Hana Yori Dango
Before Boys Over Flowers, there was the original live-action adaptation of the popular shojo manga Hana Yori Dango. This 2005 version also revolves around Tsukushi Makino, a strong-willed working class girl who attends an elite academy and clashes with the arrogant, wealthy F4.
Like Boys Over Flowers, Makino and F4 leader Tsukasa Domyoji get off to a very rocky start before developing feelings for one another. However, Hana Yori Dango explores their relationships and class differences in a bit more nuance and depth. The show sparked the meteoric rise of lead actor Jun Matsumoto, who imbues Domyoji with plenty of charm. For Makino, actress Mao Inoue balances toughness with vulnerability. If you love Boys Over Flowers, Hana Yori Dango offers an entertaining and more refined take on the classic manga.
Number 10: 1 Litre of Tears
J-dramas aren’t afraid to tackle heavier, emotionally devastating subject matter. Case in point: 1 Litre of Tears, the devastating 2005 drama based on the true story of a 15-year-old girl diagnosed with an incurable degenerative disease.
The show chronicles Aya Ikeuchi’s journey as she begins losing control of her body, yet continues pursuing her dream of writing a diary to inspire others. The physical and emotional toll tears both Aya and her family apart even as Aya finds inner strength.
1 Litre of Tears is an incredibly moving, honestly portrayed story of a family’s unconditional love and resilience in the face of tragedy. Have plenty of tissues on hand for this must-see J-drama that will stay with you long after it ends.
Japanese dramas have cemented themselves as a major force in entertainment, captivating viewers globally with their innovative stories, first-rate production, and talented actors. From heartwarming romances to pulse-pounding thrillers, this list showcases the very best J-dramas have to offer across a variety of genres.
Whether you’re a K-drama fan looking for your next obsession or someone new to J-dramas, these 10 shows are must-see viewing and a perfect introduction to the unique world of Japanese television drama. So grab some snacks, put on your comfiest clothes, and let these fantastic shows transport you.