Japan is known for its rich and unique culture, which extends to its entertainment industry. Japanese dramas, or “j drama,” have captivated audiences worldwide with their compelling storylines, intricate characters, and high production values. I just love Japanese dramas because of how they blend various genres, such as romance, mystery, and comedy, into a single story. They also often explore deeper themes such as family, community, and morality. In this list, I’ve compiled 25 Japanese dramas that showcase the country’s talent for storytelling. Whether you’re a longtime fan of Japanese dramas or looking to discover something new, these shows are sure to keep you glued to your screen.
Top 25 Best J-drama
1. 3 Nen A Gumi: Ima kara Mina-san wa, Hitojichi Desu – 2019
Action, Thriller, Mystery, Psychological, Drama
This j-drama is a story about a group of students who are troubled and have difficulty fitting in at school, and their homeroom teacher, who goes to great lengths to understand and help his students succeed. It explores personal relationships, bullying, and family problems, but also focuses on the importance of creating a positive environment within the school system. It is a story with a lot of heart and a fantastic message that is sure to resonate with both students and teachers. This j drama is sure to be a big hit with audiences of all ages.
This is a twisty, unpredictable J drama that constantly pushes you to question your own perceptions. The story is always surprising, with twists and turns that keep you on the edge of your seat. 3 Nen A Gumi shows how destructive cyberbullying can be and explores the impact it can have on victims. The series doesn’t take the PC approach hiding the cruelty of nowadays social media cruelty, it shows the impact cyberbullying can have on young people Suda Masaki’s performance as Mr. Hiiragi in this series was excellent. He was able to capture the complexity and nuance of the character, and his emotional range was impressive
2. Unnatural – 2018
Thriller, Mystery, Medical, Drama
Mikoto Misumi is a pathologist at the UDI lab, an organization dedicated to investigating unnatural deaths. She is passionate about her job and believes there is a truth behind each death—no matter how unnatural it may seem. Her colleagues include Kai Nakado, a talented autopsy doctor; Rokuro Kube, a dedicated recorder; Yuko Shoji, a meticulous clinical test technologist; and UDI director Yasuo Kamikura, a compassionate and capable leader who helps to keep the team on track. This team of individuals is committed to uncovering the truth about unnatural deaths and bringing closure to the loved ones of the victims.
A dark Japanese medical drama takes place at a UDI lab in Japan where forensic pathologists investigate unnatural deaths. The main theme of the show is how the prospect of losing a loved one can change reality, and stories unfold against the backdrop of the UDI lab with its creepy setting and mysterious characters.
3. Underwear (Atelier) – 2015
Business, Drama, Netflix
This Japanese drama centers around two women with opposite ideals: the young Mayuko Tokita (portrayed by Kiritani Mirei), whose passion is all things fabrics, and the accomplished Mayumi Nanjo (played by Mao Daichi), head of a luxury lingerie atelier. When the pair first start working together, they quickly butt heads over each other’s attitudes towards appearance and style, but eventually learn to appreciate each other’s strengths and differences.
I’m not saying that I wouldn’t watch a Japanese drama adaptation of The Devil Wears Prada. I’d probably binge-watch the hell outta that show. But this drama is so much more than just The Devil Wears Prada story. The plot twists were unexpected and kept me engaged throughout. The portrayal of Emotion’s lingerie was so well done that I found myself wanting to own some.
4. Alice in Borderland (Imawa no Kuni no Alice) – 2020
Action, Thriller, Sci-Fi, Drama, Netflix
Arisu is a young man who finds himself transported to a parallel world full of deadly games that he and others must survive to return home. The mysterious entity known as the Game Master runs the games and sets the tasks, and players can either cooperate to complete them or compete against one another in cutthroat struggles that will determine who lives—and who dies. The drama is full of e and action as players strive to save themselves and each other while also trying to stay one step ahead of their enemies and the deadly world itself.
Alice in Borderland is a gripping death game Japanese drama set in a dystopian Tokyo. The drama is reminiscent of Squid Game, Battle Royale, and The Hunger Games franchise with its tense pacing and brutal violence. Fans of all of these series will undoubtedly find something to love about Alice in Borderland, especially with its cast of engaging characters who aren’t afraid to get their hands stained with blood. With its second season just around the corner, this show is a must-watch for fans of high-stakes, bloody entertainment.
5. Koisenu Futari (A Couple Without Falling In Love) – 2022
Sakuko is an aromantic/asexual woman living in a society that operates under the assumption that people will fall in love with each other. Her mother is pushing her to get married, but she is unwilling to conform to that expectation. She meets supermarket employee Takahashi, who understands where she is coming from because he too is aromantic/asexual. The two become housemates and end up helping each other navigate tricky romantic situations and overcome societal pressure to find romantic connections. This is a fascinating and thought-provoking story that explores the lives of people who exist outside of mainstream societal norms.
6. Midnight Diner (Shinya Shokudo 3) – 2014
Food, Life, Drama, Netflix
Every night, Master runs a popular restaurant in Japan, where he caters to a variety of customers. He is always busy preparing their meals and making sure their experience is a positive one. While he is hard at work, he is also keeping an eye on a funeral urn reminding him of his mortality.
Midnight Diner is an anthology j drama that focuses on the lives of ordinary people going through difficult situations. Each episode of the drama is relatively self-contained, with a different set of characters and a different conflict, but there is a common thread of food and fellowship that connects them all. This heartwarming, slow-paced drama features a variety of culinary delights that viewers can’t help but be tempted by, and the philosophical dilemmas presented in each episode offer viewers a deeper insight into the human condition. Midnight Diner is a delicious and thought-provoking show that will leave viewers feeling full and satisfied.
7. 1,000,000 yen no Onnatachi (100-manen no Onna-tachi) – 2017
Thriller, Mystery, Romance, Drama, Netflix
This Japanese drama is about Shin, a struggling author who agrees to a j drama of strange requests from five different women in exchange for his rent money. They must all adhere to strict rules to pay him 1,000,000 yen rent. The women have secrets that they all want to keep hidden, but the author can’t help but be suspicious of their involvement in a murder.
The dark nature of human nature has never been shown in such a realistic yet captivating way. The characters are well-developed and nuanced, and the story will keep viewers on the edge of their seats as it explores the intricacies of the mind and the heart. This series is a compelling and thought-provoking psychological drama that should not be missed by those who love psychological thrillers and want to be challenged and enlightened by the darker side that all of us are capable of possessing.
8. For You in Full Blossom: Ikemen Paradise – 2007
Comedy, Romance, Youth, Drama
The j drama follows the story of Ashiya Mizuki, a girl disguised as a boy who enters a boys’ boarding school after being raised in California. She is immediately drawn to a disgraced high jump athlete named Sano Izumi, and she enters the school in the hopes of winning him over. The series centers on her efforts to win his affection while also dealing with the hardships and hurdles that come with living as a boy in such a strict and restrictive environment.
It is a lighthearted Japanese comedic drama that features an engaging story, a likable cast, and plenty of comedic and dramatic moments. The gender-bender plot is well-developed. It’s a perfect mix of lighthearted fun and heartfelt emotions.
9. Call Me Chihiro – 2023
Chihiro works at a bento shop. She spends her days making sandwiches and serving tea to the customers. She takes pride in her work and enjoys helping the people who come to her shop. However, she also has a dark past that has made it difficult for her to open up and connect with other people. Despite her best efforts to remain positive, her past still haunts her and she struggles to find happiness and purpose in her life. Chihiro makes friends with people from all walks of life, including a young boy with a single mother, a high schooler with an abusive father, a homeless man, and a blind woman married to her boss.
Chihiro can impact so many people around her with her kindness and love that it’s truly remarkable. What a moving and sweet film that shows the true power of human connection.
10. Tokyo Joshi Zukan (Tokyo Girl) – 2016
Comedy, Romance, Life, Drama
Aya is a young woman, fed up with small-town life, dreams of experiencing the high life in Tokyo, and embarks on a new adventure, trying to live out her dream and get established in the big city. The Japanese romantic comedy-drama features a strong focus on feminism, exploring the topic of stay-at-home vs working women through the lens of the protagonist, who finds herself at the center of the debate. While the show is largely aimed at a Japanese audience, it also explores themes of satisfaction and happiness, changing ideologies, and the meaning of life in general, which makes it very relatable and touching.
11. Mother – 2010
Suzuhara Nao is an elementary school teacher who spots signs of abuse in one of her students, Michiki Rena. To protect the girl, she decides to kidnap her and flee Hokkaido to Tokyo. The two experience various events along the way, with Nao acting as a motherly figure and Rena finally experiencing the warmth and love of family for the first time.
In 2010, the drama “Mother” received numerous awards, including best drama, best actress, and direction. It is deserving of every accolade it received as it can deeply affect its audience. This thought-provoking drama is one of the few that encourages reflection on life.
12. Ore no Ie no Hanashi (Story of My Family!!!)- 2021
Comedy, Life, Drama, Family
Now that his father is old and sick, Juichi Miyama, a retired famous pro-wrestler, finds himself sidelined due to injury and age. When he learns that his father intends to marry his young caregiver and leave all his money to her, he decides to return home to help with his father’s care in hopes of stopping the marriage and taking back what he believes is rightfully his. This pits Juichi up against his father’s caregiver, and the feud that unfolds between the two of them will have major implications for the future of the Miyama family.
The pacing of this J drama is very well done, flowing smoothly, making the viewer feel as if they are truly watching someone’s family story unfold. The main character, a professional wrestler with a noh-related family in his background, is indeed unique; some would even say strange but in a compelling way. The characters are all carefully developed, with the main actor Nagase Tomoya doing a fantastic job of portraying Juichi’s complicated and multi-layered personality, and Toshiyuki Nishida is also stellar in his portrayal of Juichi’s father, Jusaburo.
13. Hyakuman Kai Ieba Yokatta – 2023
Mystery, Romance, Drama, Supernatural
When childhood friends Soma Yui and Torino Naoki meet again as adults, they quickly fall for one another and Naoki decides to propose. Just as he’s about to pop the question, however, Naoki suddenly disappears from Yui’s sight after being embroiled in a mysterious incident. Naoki continues to wander in this world as a spirit without knowing that he has passed away and asks Detective Uozumi Yuzuru for help communicating with Yui. Despite Naoki’s best efforts, however, he is unable to properly convey his feelings to his beloved and ultimately ends up breaking her heart.
14. Miss Sherlock – 2018
Romance, Life, Drama, Melodrama
Miura Haruma takes on the main role of Sawada Takuto, a schmoozer who had the charisma and the looks but not the sincerity at the beginning of this Japanese drama. As the story progresses and the struggle with ALS is presented, Haruma plays this part exceptionally well, portraying Takuto’s confusion, distress, and despair in a way that is very convincing and relatable for many viewers. The j drama also offers a realistic portrayal of the disease’s progression and the despair it causes, including how it affects Takuto’s personality and his interactions with others.
Miura Haruma is simply amazing as the lead in this drama, giving a believable, relatable performance that makes the character’s struggles and emotional journeys feel real and relatable. The rest of the cast is also excellent, but it’s Haruma’s portrayal that makes this Japanese drama truly stand out and shine.
15. Switched – 2018
Thriller, Psychological, Drama, Supernatural
Kohinata Ayumi mysteriously finds herself in the body of another female student, who she had previously considered to be unattractive. Kohinata discovers that the possession is not reversible and that she is stuck in a body that she does not recognize as her own. Ayumi is excited to finally have a boyfriend. She goes on a first date with him, but during the date, she receives a worrying call from a classmate. The classmate, a girl named Zenko Umine, says she is going to die.
The j drama revolves around Kohinata’s experiences and challenges as she attempts to live out the remainder of her first year of high school in a new body.
16. Hanzawa Naoki – 2013
Thriller, Business, Drama
Hanzawa Naoki’s story is one of intense and unpredictable Japanese drama, full of high-stakes negotiations and nail-biting twists and turns. He is an ambitious banker who gets caught up in the volatile world of Japanese finance, and his willingness to take risks and seize opportunities sets him apart from his competitors and leads to his eventual rise to the top of the financial industry.
It’s certainly worth checking out for anyone who enjoys intense dramas or business-minded tales, and with a strong first half, it’s worth watching if only to get to the intense and unpredictable second half.
It is still certainly worth checking out for how well it explores the dynamics and politics of the Japanese banking industry.
18. Code Blue – 2008
One second could make the difference between life and death, and the “Doctor Helicopter” medical system could be the key to saving lives in urgent situations. Young physicians assigned to this medical system must deal with the fragile nature of life, the uncertainty of the medical field, and the intense pressure to make the right call in seconds.
This j drama is one of the most intense and emotional Japanese dramas out there, and it is sure to leave you feeling inspired and touched by the hard work and dedication of the doctors and their efforts to save lives.
19. Kamisama no Ekohiiki – 2022
Romance, Drama, Fantasy, Supernatural
“Kagura Tendou” is a heartwarming story about a young man’s quest to confess his feelings to his crush, despite his feelings of insecurity and self-doubt. He seeks assistance from the local shrine, where he is granted the ability to rebirth as a high school girl named Kagura Tendou by the local deity. When he’s reborn, he discovers that the deity and his chihuahua, Ukon, intend to watch over his love life and make sure that everything goes smoothly between him and his crush. It’s a sweet and touching story with many lovely messages about friendship, love, and self-acceptance.
The eight-episode series delves into the physical and psychological elements of the body swap genre, providing an exploration of this unique concept. Unlike a typical romantic comedy, the j drama takes a different approach, following the relatable and genuine journey of four teenagers as they deal with the challenges and issues that are prevalent in the lives of young people. At the center of the story is an endearing Chihuahua who is a BL-fan at heart, adding an adorable touch to the narrative.
Kurumi is a fashionista who cares deeply about her appearance and what others think, but she slowly learns to let go of her worries and insecurities and enjoy the simple pleasures in life.
20. Kikazaru Koi ni wa Riyuu ga Atte – 2021
Romance, Life, Drama
A unique and riveting j drama about a group of individuals who come together under one roof to live together in a share house. Mashiba Kurumi is a young woman who works as a publicist for an interior design company. She is a fashionista who cares deeply about her appearance and the opinions of others, and she works hard to gain the admiration of her co-workers and her boss. She forgets to renew her apartment lease, and she finds herself living in a share house with three strangers.
Kikazaru Koi Ni Hanatte Riyuu ga Atte is a modern-day Japanese drama with a touch of romance. A love triangle and some family drama help make this modern story enjoyable.
21. Chugakusei Nikki (Meet Me After School) – 2018
Romance, Youth, Drama
Suenaga Hijiri is a woman whose wish to become a teacher has come true, only to be torn between the mysterious allure of a mysterious boy and the security of her fiancé, Shotaro. Hijiri faces an agonizing decision between the boy and her fiancé. A dramatic story about two characters who defy the mainstream to live their own lives on their terms, despite the challenges they may face.
A dramatic story about an inexperienced teacher struggling to relate to her students, especially rebellious and confused teenager Akira. The characters are well-written and feel real, and the narrative is well-paced, with time skips at key points in the story that provide context and continuity.
22. Kazoku Game – 2013
Mystery, Psychological, Life, Drama
Yoshimoto Kouya (played by Sakurai Sho) is hired by the Numata family to tutor their rebellious son, who adamantly refuses to attend school. Despite the family’s concerns, Kouya assures them that he can handle the situation, on the condition that they do not intervene with his unorthodox teaching methods. The father agrees to the terms and signs a contract, unwittingly unleashing chaos and unpredictability.
“Kazoku Game” is a satirical and biting drama that explores the clashes and discrepancies between private and public personas and the hypocrisy that often exists between the two in Japanese society. With the addition of bullying as a theme, the story widens its relatability and makes for an engaging viewing experience.
23. First Love: Hatsukoi – 2022
Romance, Drama, Melodrama, Netflix
A Japanese drama that tells the story of a young woman, Yae, who works as a taxi driver due to her passion for driving. She encounters an old crush, Harumichi, a former Self-Defense Force soldier turned security guard. The two begin a relationship full of challenges but also filled with romance. The story has a lighthearted tone, but there are still moments when the two characters must deal with tragedy and loss. Overall, it is a touching tale about finding love in unexpected places and the transformative power of human connection.
The drama skillfully incorporates historical events, cultural references, and social and political issues into its storyline, even touching upon the COVID-19 pandemic. But I’m not entirely convinced by the romantic story, the script and plot devices were frustratingly poor and predictable.
24. Boku Dake ga Inai Machi (Erased) – 2017
Thriller, Mystery, Drama, Supernatural, Netflix
Fujinuma is an aspiring manga artist whose mysterious ability allows him to travel back in time. When his mother is murdered by an unknown assailant, he travels back eighteen years, only to find himself at elementary school again. He has the opportunity to save the lives of three of his childhood friends who were killed during a kidnapping attempt
“Boku Dake ga Inai Machi” also known as Erased is a thriller live-action adapted from a popular anime (which further inspired an anime) The j drama starts strong with a solid ten. The younger timeline had a greater impact and stayed truer than the anime adaptation, which I recently viewed. However, the final episodes were a disappointment.
25. Rich Man, Poor Woman – 2012
Business, Comedy, Romance, Drama
A 29-year-old man, Hyuga Toru, runs a successful internet business from his home. He enjoys his solitude and is skeptical of people who approach him, believing they want his money. Sawaki Chihiro is a job fair attendee who unexpectedly ends up working for Toru. Chihiro realizes that there is goodness in Toru, despite his loneliness and she begins to care deeply for him.
This is a charming and complex j drama about four young adults who all have their internal struggles and goals. Despite the differences in social status, the characters can connect and grow emotionally throughout the story.