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The 16 Best J-Dramas On Netflix (That I’ve Watched So Far!)

Netflix is one of the largest streaming services out there, and it has a lot of content to choose from and sift through. Often, people will find themselves stricken with decision-paralysis as they endlessly scroll through the titles on offer looking for the perfect thing to watch. I sometimes find myself in the same position, but rather than just mindlessly sitting through The Office or Friends again I decided to implement a different solution: J-Dramas.

J-Dramas are Japanese drama(or comedy-drama) series, usually about 9-10 episodes in length, and last for one season only. They’re essentially like mini-series. This is part of what draws me to them, since it’s never a huge time-investment (compared to a multi-season US show, for example), and there’s no danger of the story being incomplete thanks to a cancellation as it’s all one-and-done.

They come in many forms, from cop series to mysteries to romance to family dramas, so there’s plenty of variety. The following are all the J-Dramas I’ve watched so far on Netflix (and are still available there, at least on the UK service, at time of posting), ordered from most to least favourite. I will also update this whenever I watch a new one, and fit it in its rightful place on the list. If you would like to recommend me any J-Drama in particular, just leave a comment or get in touch with me on Twitter! Here are, from most to least favourite, the best J-Dramas on Netflix!

1) The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House (2023)

Given my glowing review of this series elsewhere on this site and love for Hirokazu Kore-eda in general, it’s probably fairly obvious I’d choose this to take top-spot. For a more in-depth explanation of what I loved about this series, you can check out the full review linked above.

The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House follows two teenage girls and best friends Kiyo and Sumire who, after a trip to Kyoto, dream of moving there to become geiko (the word for geisha in Kyoto specifically). The pair move into a house for maiko (apprentice geisha) in the Gion district of Kyoto and begin their training. Sumire takes to the training like a duck to water. Kiyo however has much more trouble with it, but finds her place in the house through her skills in the kitchen, becoming the house’s makanai (basically its live-in cook and housekeeper).

The series is very warm and comforting. The relationship between Sumire and Kiyo is incredibly charming, it’s a very pure and loving friendship, and it’s an absolute delight to watch it grow as the series goes on. The cast of supporting characters is also fairly deep. Even characters we only spend a short amount of time with feel fleshed out, and each has their own moment to shine, from other maiko to the house mother’s teenage daughter to the quiet and perceptive barman, and beyond. It’s a rich and satisfying series, and one that I’ll no doubt come back to every winter.

2) First Love (2022)

While The Makanai is all about the love found in friendship, First Love is about those intense and passionate feelings of romance that just the right person can instil in us. The series follows two characters in their 30s, Yae (Hikari Mitsushima) and Harumichi (Takeru Satoh) living separate lives in Sapporo, on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido. The pair seem to be drifting along, not really happy, in drastic need of something (or someone) to make their lives complete.

Through flashbacks, we see Yae and Harumichi in their teenage years (played by a different set of actors, Rikako Yagi and Taisei Kido) and learn that they were each other’s first love. By cutting between the past and present, we come to understand how the pair went from wide-eyed, care-free lovers with grand ambitions and the world at their feet to their rather mundane, separate presents, as well as seeing them finally reconnect.

Even though this series is really just about the love of two people, it feels absolutely monumental and all-encompassing. It covers a period of more than twenty years and reaches into the depths of the solar system, all the while never straying from the orbit of its central pairing. The show also looks fantastic with great cinematography, wonderful music (with the series itself inspired by two Hikaru Utada songs), and perhaps most importantly some absolutely electric central performances. Hikari Mitsushima is great in everything, and this is no exception, and the actors playing teenaged Yae and Harumichi have amazing chemistry too. One subplot involving a secondary character is a little bit dull, but thankfully is only a very small part of the series which is otherwise exemplary. It’s another one that feels very wintery, and that I’ll be watching every year alongside The Makanai.

3) Orange Days (2004)

Orange Days follows a group of university students and their inter-connected relationships. The leads are Kai, in his final year and trying to determine his career path, and Sae, a talented musician with severely impaired hearing who communicates solely through sign-language. Kai had previously learned sign-language himself through a volunteer program at the university, and the two begin to get to know each other and grow close (after meeting by happenstance). The series is primarily concerned with their growing relationship, but their mutual attraction also brings together their two disparate friend groups: Kai’s friends Shohei and Keita, and Sae’s friend Akane. The five form a sort-of friendship supergroup, and as the series goes on we learn more about each member, both individually and in relation to each other.

The series has a nostalgic, reflective feel to it, which makes sense given its character are all about to close one chapter of their lives and move into working adulthood, but it’s probably also partly because the series itself is twenty years old by now. The music is very good, and it’s a pleasure to spend time with these characters and learn more about who they are. The romance is endearing and also frustrating (but believably so), with engaging and enjoyable performances all around. There are sweet moments, sad moments, moments of fun and levity, but overall it is a comfortable and fairly easy watch. It’s not on the level of The Makanai or First Love, where I’ve resolved to watch it every year, but it’s definitely something I can see myself revisiting at some point in the future.

4) Quartet (2017)

Quartet, like Orange Days, is another series with an emphasis on music. As the title suggests, the series is concerned with a string quartet, four musicians who meet by chance and decide to play music together. They move into a holiday home belonging to one of the member’s family to live together and practice full-time, hoping to make music a profession. The series follows them in this attempt as they practice together, try to book gigs and play shows, and interact with each other. Through all this we learn more about the characters and their pasts, as well as getting to the bottom of one or two mysteries.

My favourite thing about this show was just watching the characters interact with each other. The wonderful Hikari Mitsushima is probably the best thing about this show, but the other three members of the quartet are not without their own charms either. The more mystery-oriented subplots weren’t really my thing, but thankfully that was a very small part of the show. It’s another show with quite a comfortable feel to it, but also not without its own moments of sadness as well. There are also a fair few instances of a character disappearing away down a conversational tangent that isn’t really a part of the plot as such, but tells you a lot about the characters and how they view the world. For example, in the very first episode, one of the characters speaks at length at the dinner table about how they don’t approve of the other characters squeezing lemon over a communal plate of fried chicken without checking first. It seems like a trivial thing, but what it represents in terms of differing manners and outlooks is something that persists throughout the series.

This is another one I plan to revisit in future, they were a very pleasant bunch of characters to spend time with. There’s one episode in particular that I would like to see again, which at the time felt like a very affecting and realistic depiction of a one-sided, failing relationship.

5) Stay Tuned! (2019)

The focus of Stay Tuned! is a local TV station in Hokkaido named StarTV, and in particular a group of new hires in their first year at the station. The members work in different parts of the station, from reporting to production to marketing to on-screen talent, so even though the series is short (only five episodes in total) we still get to see a lot of the station and get a nice sense of its ecosystem.

The star of the show (no pun intended) is Hanako (Kyoko Yoshine), a clumsy but endearing and energetic young woman who has been placed in the journalism department, tasked with investigating leads and reporting on stories. She seems unsuited to the role, but the accidents and mischiefs she inadvertently causes always seem to result in something positive for the station. Although we spend the most time with Hanako, we also get a little bit of time with each of the other rookie employees, allowing them to show off their talents and/or the intricacies of their particular department.

Stay Tuned! is fun, goofy, low-stakes, fairly comfy (again!) and charming. I liked it a fair bit. One issue I did have though was that captions and other on-screen text would often appear in Japanese and was not mostly not translated, so I probably didn’t get to enjoy as many jokes/asides as a native speaker would. The Netflix translation only really covered the spoken dialog, for the most part. Despite this, there was still enough going on that I didn’t feel I was missing out too much, but it would have been nice to be let in on those untranslated jokes/asides too.

6) Riding a Unicorn (2022)

Riding a Unicorn is the story of a tech start-up named Dream Pony with a young CEO named Sana (Mei Nagano), which is now in its third year and losing steam. A middle-aged salaryman named Satoshi (Hidetoshi Nishijima) is looking for a change and quits his management job at a bank. Believing in Sana’s ideals, he applies for a job at Dream Pony and is hired in an entry level position. Satoshi’s old-school methods are a little out of place and sometimes cause setbacks in the office, but Sana comes to find his perspective invaluable, and the two work towards accomplishing all of Dream Pony’s goals together.

Now, I’m very much not a work-orientated person, so the success of a company being the focus of a show would definitely not be something that appeals to me. Thankfully, there’s more to Riding a Unicorn than this, and the earnest and idealistic motivations of Sana helps get you on board with the fortunes of Dream Pony as a whole. The various staff members are an engaging bunch, and it’s nice to spend time with them all. The romantic subplots are also worthwhile, and again, the show is largely a comfortable one. I’m not sure that I would seek it out for a rewatch any time soon, but I wouldn’t refuse if someone suggested watching it along together some day in the future.

7) Saving My Stupid Youth (2014)

In Saving My Stupid Youth, an all-boys high school and an all-girls Catholic high school sit right next door to each other, and both are falling on hard times. An idea is floated to merge the two schools together, although given the incredibly poor reputation of the boys school, the girls school isn’t particularly enthused by it. In the end, a trial run is suggested, with a class from each school mixed together. Half of a class in the boys school, accompanied by their teacher Heisuke Hara (Ryo Nishikido), swap with half of a class in the girls school, accompanied by their teacher Risa Hachiya (Hikari Mitsushima). If the trial is successful, the merger can go ahead, and the schools could be saved.

Heisuke is extremely pre-occupied with the past, so the show is tinged with a sense of nostalgia for those carefree days of youth, but in the end is also forward-looking and accepts the inevitably of moving on. The show’s strength lies in its large supporting cast of characters, with students and faculty and various family members rounding things out. With the students, it’s fun to watch the more serious girls let down their defences and grow closer to the irresponsible and directionless boys, who in turn start to get their acts together a little bit themselves. There are a number of individual stories within the student body as well, from crushes to identity crises to career ambitions and having to move away, which help move things along nicely. Hikari Mitsushima is also fantastic once again as Risa, and plays the role with great energy.

One part of the show that I wasn’t really enthused by was Heisuke’s “secret”, his involvement in a devastating fire that ripped through the schools fifteen years before the events of the series. I was much more interested in how the students and staff got along under their new arrangement, and watching characters interact with each other, which thankfully the series itself also puts more emphasis on than Heisuke’s secret (although it does run prominently through the show nonetheless). It’s an enjoyable, energetic, and light-hearted show, and wraps itself up fairly well in the end too.

8) The Full-Time Wife Escapist (2016)

Unemployed after leaving post-graduate school, 25 year old Mikuri (Yui Aragaki) is single, lives with her parents, and is unable to find herself a job. In the meantime her father gets her a part-time cleaning job, and she ends up as a housekeeper on Fridays for 36 year old tech worker Hiramasa (Gen Hoshino). The two eventually come to a mutually beneficial arrangement: the pair will marry, Mikuri will move in to Hiramasa’s apartment (sleeping separately, of course), and he will pay her a wage to maintain the household while he focuses on his career. A contract is even drawn up to make it all official, with various addendums and amendments as the series progresses.

Of course, only Mikuri and Hiramasa themselves know about the contract. For everyone else they must act as an actually engaged couple, even meeting each other’s parents and making wedding plans. Inevitably, the two begin to grow close for real, complicating their contractural arrangement. The chemistry between the central pair works very well: Hiramasa’s quiet and reserved nature rarely betraying his true feelings, while Mikuri is a little more forthright but still reticent to overstep the boundaries of their mutual contract. In terms of passion, it’s quite subdued. Not an explosive fireworks type of courtship, but still meaningful and romantic in its own way.

Mikuri and Hiramasa’s respective friends and families also play a large role in the show, fleshing out the supporting cast. Some are suspicious, trying to figure out ulterior motives or looking for holes in this out-of-nowhere marriage story, while others mostly just try to be happy for the couple.

Overall it’s quite a fun concept, trying to contain marriage within a strictly logical and passionless contractural framework, but pesky things like love and affection slowly creeping in and gumming up the works. Again, it’s quite a light watch, and there’s a two-hour New Year’s sequel special on Netflix too if you watch through the entire series and want a little more. For added cuteness, the actors who played Mikuri and Hiramasa ended up getting married in real life after meeting on the show too!

9) No Side Game / No Side Manager (2019)

This is listed on Netflix as No Side Manager but it’s official name (going by Letterboxd, the title screen, IMBD etc) seems to be No Side Game. I couldn’t pick which title to use for the heading, so just decided to include both!

After a demotion from an executive position at head office, salaryman Hayato Kimishima finds himself transferred to work in the manufacturing arm of the corporation, in a factory outside of the big city. Part of his new role is taking charge of the operation of the factory’s failing rugby team. However, Kimishima hates rugby, and has no real idea how a rugby team should be run. The series follows him as he ingratiates himself with the team, learns about the sport (and in the process, about himself), and tries to turn around the team’s fortunes and steer them to victory.

Basically, there were two parts to this show: the rugby parts and the corporate parts. For me, the rugby parts were the most appealing by far, while the majority of the corporate stuff was incredibly uninteresting. The two would intertwine (the company needs to fund the team etc etc) but I would mostly zone out during these sections and just wait for the rugby stuff to start happening again.

I don’t even like rugby, particularly. I don’t have a great understanding of the rules, I only know the most basic stuff about it, but nonetheless the show presents it in a very exciting, dramatic way. Since it’s such a physical game, it really lends itself to stories about overcoming weakness, being determined etc. However the real strength in the show’s treatment of rugby isn’t so much the gameplay itself, but in its earnest, full-throated commitment to displaying all of the best parts of team sports in general. Team unity, hard work, determination, spirit, having goals and working towards them, community. What’s important in No Side Game isn’t just winning, but in giving everything for the cause and giving everything to your community. I do wish there was less of the corporate espionage type stuff in the show, but spending time with the team and watching them grow made the whole thing worthwhile in the end.

10) Extremely Inappropriate! (2024)

Extremely Inappropriate! is another show on this list concerned primarily with nostalgia, this time for the 1980s. The lead is Ichiro Ogawa (Sadawo Abe), a highly feared middle school physical education teacher and coach living in 1986. In his work, he makes frequent use of verbal abuse and corporal punishment. He is a widower, living in an apartment with his teenage daughter. One day, he takes a bus into town and inexplicably ends up almost 40 years in the future, in 2024. Obviously this results in culture-shock and fish-out-of-water type humour, and Ichiro meets and eventually befriends numerous present-day people.

It’s quite a fun show, doesn’t take itself too seriously, but also makes some strange choices. There is a musical number near the end of each episode, which I wasn’t really a fan of, and there’s one plot-twist in particular that just makes many prior interactions between certain characters very…uncomfortable, to say the least. It’s light sci-fi fare, but also hopes to examine how cultural attitudes of the past and present mesh (or not), how an older style point-of-view can sometimes be valuable, how some things are best left in the past, and even how sometimes “progress” might be anything but. It has enough fun with its premise and characters that it’s definitely watchable (with a few sweet moments thrown in for good measure), but probably not something I’ll seek out for a rewatch.

11) Why Didn’t I Tell You a Million Times? (2023)

Why Didn’t I Tell You a Million Times? begins with Naoki Torino (Takeru Satoh) waking up in his apartment, with no memory of how he got there or anything that has happened to him recently. He soon figures out that no one can see him or hear him, and begins wandering the streets. Eventually, a police officer with latent paranormal abilities named Yuzuru (Kenichi Matsuyama) notices him, and Naoki enlists his help to untangle the mystery of what has happened to him.

While it is a murder mystery, whodunnit sort of show, there is also a strong romance at its core. At the time of his murder, Naoki was in a relationship with Yui (Mao Inoue). The pair were childhood friends who lost touch, but later reconnected as adults and fell in love. Naoki, using Yuzuru as a sort of conduit, communicates with Yui from beyond the grave in an attempt to lend her some comfort, as well as figuring out what actually happened to him.

I’m not really a fan of whodunnits, so that aspect of the show was mostly lost on me, but I did appreciate the romantic core of the story and this is where I derived most of my enjoyment. Takeru Satoh has a kind of stoic charisma to him which is very powerful, and Mao Inoue’s performance opposite him did a great job in establishing their relationship as long-standing, deep, and unbreakable. The investigation itself is fine, but I was much more invested in the show’s explorations of grief and loss, both in the central pairing and in some of the (non-murder related) subplots which dealt with these themes.

I think if you like mystery and crime-related shows you’d probably enjoy this more than I did, but the romantic elements were enough for me that I still enjoyed it overall.

12) An Incurable Case of Love (2020)

In An Incurable Case of Love, a teenage student named Nanase (Mone Kamishiraishi) is visiting the city when an elderly person collapses in the street in front of her. She’s alone, but manages to work out where she is and call an ambulance while comforting the injured person as best she can. Suddenly, from a side-street seemingly out of nowhere, a handsome man appears to take control of the situation. He reveals himself to be a doctor, Kairi Tendo (Takeru Satoh, again!). He helps the injured party, and kindly reassures Nanase that she has done well in a very difficult situation, before departing in the back of the ambulance to continue his work at the hospital. Nanase is instantly smitten, declaring herself to be in love with Dr. Tendo, and resolving to study hard at school and become a nurse. A few years later, that’s exactly what she has done, and begins work at Dr. Tendo’s hospital. However, that dreamlike vision she had of Dr. Tendo is quickly shattered when she finally meets him once again, and finds him irritable, taciturn, and blunt. The series follow Nanase as she navigates her first year as a nurse, and her relationship with Dr. Tendo as well as the many other staff members (and patients) of the hospital.

It’s a series with some serious moments, but is largely light-hearted. That aforementioned stoic charisma serves Takeru Satoh well in this show, helping give the impression that there might be a soft centre under the gruff exterior. The show belongs to Mone Kamishiraishi, really, who puts in an incredibly endearing performance as the earnest and idealistic Nanase, who strives to fight against the odds to achieve her goals (both professional and personal). There is also a fairly large case of supporting characters, and it’s easy to find yourself rooting for each and every one of them. In summary I’d probably describe the series as “nice”, but not something that sticks long in the memory. I’d maybe be tempted to revisit these characters if there was a TV special like The Full-Time Wife Escapist had, but I doubt I’ll watch the series itself again.

13) ISHIKO and HANEO: You’re Suing Me? (2022)

ISHIKO and HANEO: You’re Suing Me? is another work-place J-Drama, but this time the setting is a small-town law office. The central pairing of the show is paralegal Shoko Ishida (Ishiko, played by Kasumi Arimura) and a somewhat unconventional lawyer with a photographic memory, Yoshio Haneoka (Haneo, played by Tomoya Nakamura). The pair work at the law office owned Ishiko’s father, who hires Haneo to work for him in the series very first episode. The show follows Ishiko and Haneo as they help local residents with various court cases and problems with the law they might have, and through working together we see how their relationship grows and develops, and learn more about each character.

I appreciated that the cases were all fairly low-stakes and at a local level rather than being monumental, career-defining juggernauts, as this allowed the characters more freedom to interact rather than being hamstrung and dominated by the complexity and size of their cases. Not that the cases they take on are unimportant to those involved, but still the cases are definitely of a smaller-scale. They do highlight various cultural and societal issues in Japan (with some stats/info at the end of each episode), but this seems like a small part of the show, just a little added flavour to the stories rather than being the whole story themselves.

There were some little, fun touches that I liked, like the small-town being known for its large portions meaning that any time the characters went to eat out or ordered delivery they’d each end up with an outrageous mountain of food in front of them. The show is also quite light-hearted, and doesn’t take itself too seriously (which helps given the largely small-scale of the cases). I had a nice enough time learning more about these characters, and spending time with them. There is a small romantic element to the show as well, but it’s mostly downplayed and the professional relationships are more important. Another one that was just fine, but not much more.

14) Unnatural (2018)

Unnatural is probably the closest thing to a straight-up police procedural of all the shows mentioned so far, which is probably also why it’s making its appearance towards the bottom end of the list. The setting for Unnatural is the UDI (Unnatural Death Investigation) Lab, and the series follows the cases taken on by the small team of pathologists, doctors, and technicians who work there. In each episode, the lab takes on a different case by conducting an autopsy on a new body in order to determine the cause of death and, where applicable, find the culprit and bring them to justice. There is also an over-arcing mystery that progresses over the series as a whole, and forms its conclusion.

There isn’t really any romantic element to this series at all, which is probably for the best given it’s a fairly serious workplace, and the series itself has a largely serious tone too. There are still moments of relief sprinkled throughout though (like a lab technician who is obsessed with Moomins), and the characters are fairly engaging. It’s not really my sort of series, but I was kept going by the characters and their interactions with each other. For me, the mystery and criminal elements were mostly secondary. Again, one I was fine with while watching, but can’t see myself revisiting. If you do like crime shows in general though, you’ll probably have a good time with this one.

15) From Me To You (2023)

Based on a manga series, From Me To You is the story of high school student Sawako Kuronuma (Sara Minami). Nicknamed Sadako by her classmates (thanks to a passing resemblance to the girl from Ringu who crawls out of the television), Sawako is unpopular, awkward, and largely ignored. However, one of the more popular boys in her class, Shota (Oji Suzaka), takes notice of her and begins talking with her, which in turn causes other members of her class to accept her as well. As the series progresses, we watch Sawako navigate her newfound friendships and the various romances and dramas of high school, gradually being drawn out of her shell.

While I did think the series was quite nice, on the whole, it still did feel a bit lacking. Firstly, it didn’t really feel like they did very much to establish that Sawako was an outcast. This means that when she does become accepted, it doesn’t really feel like all that much has changed, or even that much has happened at all. It also feels very sudden, rather than a gradual move from class outcast to “ordinary” student, accepted by all. The two leads, Sawako and Shota, also didn’t strike me as being especially interesting. Mostly they just seemed like nice people, but boring. The romantic element isn’t all that strong, but I suppose that makes sense given Sawako’s mostly meek disposition. In truth, the stories of the supporting characters in this drama were much more engaging than anything relating to Sawako or Shota, but these were a much smaller part of the show so I didn’t get to enjoy any of that for too long.

I won’t be revisiting this one. Apparently there’s an anime (also on Netflix!) which is supposed to be better, but I don’t know if I’ll ever bother with it. The fact there are more episodes (and thus more time to establish characters/setting) might alleviate some of the problems I had with this live-action adaptation, but I don’t imagine I’ll ever find out.

16) He’s Expecting (2022)

The last entry on the list is also the shortest series of them all. He’s Expecting is about exactly what you’d…expect. An advertising executive working for a big firm in the city ends up becoming pregnant, and has to deal with all the associated pressures, pitfalls, and social mores that come along with that, only this time it’s from a male perspective.

There’s no explanation really on how he became pregnant, but that’s fine. It’s basically just accepted in this world that, although very rare, men can sometimes become pregnant instead of women. The problem I had with the show is that there’s not so much meat on its bones. It’s fine, it shines a light on various problems women in the workplace and in society at large have to face, especially when pregnant, but the characters themselves are rather flat. The series is short though, so it’s an easy enough watch. Probably I’d only really recommend it if you’re looking for something to fill a few hours with and find the concept interesting.

Conclusion/Added Bits

And that’s my list! As mentioned in the opening blurb, I will be updating this whenever I watch another J-Drama on Netflix. If you have any suggestions or recommendations, feel free to leave a comment or get in touch via my Twitter! There was one J-Drama that I started but didn’t include on this list, as I only made it about an episode and a half in, which was called Dearest. The show seemed fine, but it was a crime/murder type show which isn’t really my sort of thing, so I gave up.

I also have a full ranked list of J-Dramas I have watched, which can be found on Letterboxd here.

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