Have you watched a show that just captivated you? Whether it was an iconic anime, manga, or drama that got you hooked on the very first episode, you’re always left wanting more; it’s an addiction.
Over the years, Japan has produced superb dramas that have captivated audiences worldwide. We’ll share with you the best 20 Japanese dramas of all time across all genres. You’ll find titles fit for hopeless romantics, horror-crazed fans, supernatural thrillers, and more!
20. Kuragehime [海月姫] (2018) Aka Princess Jellyfish
To kickstart our top 20 list is a romantic comedy that addresses the world’s different stereotypes for men and women.
Tsukimi Kurashita, an 18-year-old jellyfish otaku, resides in an apartment complex called Amamizukan. Tsukimi spends her days at home drawing jellyfishes and hanging out with her otaku peers. Awkward and incapable of striking a conversation with the opposite sex, Tsukimi wishes she could be beautiful and confident like a princess.
One fateful evening, she stumbles upon a bishōnen, a beautiful boy who cross-dresses as a woman as his hobby. Slender, fair-skinned, with stunning features – Tsukimi can’t believe that Kuranosuke Koibuchi is actually a man.
Throughout the show, Kuranosuke helps Tsukimi and her friends find their inner beauty and confidence. Some might find Kuragehime’s over-the-top comedic scenes a bit too much, but the lesson and message it brings are what makes this drama a hidden gem.
If you can understand Japanese, you can get the Japan version on Blu-ray or DVD on Amazon here: Princess Jellyfish (Kurage-Hime) (2BDS) [Japan BD]
19. Nodame Cantabile [のだめカンタービレ] (2006)
If you love music and over-the-top slapstick comedy, Nodame Cantabile is right up your alley. Initially, a manga written by Tomoko Ninomiya, this romantic musical follows the journey of polar-opposite protagonists Shinichi Chiaki and Megumi Noda or “Nodame.”
Chiaki is a musical prodigy whose arrogant and perfectionist ways left him with no friends. On the other hand, Nodame is a disorganized, slightly eccentric young woman who sometimes forgets to shower.
The pair’s accidental meeting ends with Nodame falling for Chiaki and following him around like a dog. Despite her erratic behavior, Nodame is a brilliant pianist who excels in playing music by ear.
Chiaki’s goal is to become a famous conductor, while Nodame hopes to be a teacher. Throughout the drama, the two encourage each other to think out of the box and chase their dreams.
I loved this drama because it shows how the protagonists compromised with each other’s personalities and helped them become better individuals through their love for music.
You can get the DVD on Amazon here: Nodame Cantabile Japanese Tv Drama with English Sub NTSC All Region (3 dvds in Digipak Boxset)
18. Good Morning Call [グッドモーニング・コール] (2016)
Although Good Morning Call’s plot is overused and unrealistic at times, this lighthearted romantic comedy is perfect for viewers looking for a slow-paced high school romance between the school prince and the ordinary girl.
Nao Yoshikawa’s whole life changes when she ends up sharing an apartment with her high school’s most popular boy- Hisashi Uehara. The two students were scammed by the landlord and end up living together to make ends meet.
In the beginning, the new flatmates are wary of each other’s existence, but shortly after, they grow to enjoy living together and even end up dating.
If you enjoyed season 1, check out the drama’s sequel Good Morning Call: Our Campus Days (2017).
You can check out the Japanese version of this drama on Amazon: JAPANESE TV DRAMA Good morning call DVD-BOX2 (JAPANESE AUDIO , NO ENGLISH SUB.)
17. A Girl & Three Sweethearts [好きな人がいること] (2016)
There’s always something refreshing about summer romances. The seaside air, romantic walks by the beach, and beautiful scenery- A Girl & Three Sweethearts is all about that plus a lot of baking.
Our heroine, Misaki Sakurai, is a talented patisserie who’s laid off and struggling to find a new job. One day, she miraculously reunites with her high school crush, Chiaki Shibasaki.
Yes, it does sound cliche, but read on. Chiaki offers Misaki a position at his seaside family restaurant and even invites her to stay over at his place.
Misaki gratefully accepts and moves to Kamakura, a coastal town in Kanagawa Prefecture. What Misaki imagined as a summer romance with her rekindled crush turns into a nightmare when she finds out that Chiaki is living with his two other brothers, with one of them hating Misaki’s guts.
A Girl and Three Sweethearts is the perfect Japanese drama to binge when craving summer romantic escapades.
Check out the Japanese edition here on Amazon: A Girl and Three Sweethearts DVD BOX (JAPANESE AUDIO , NO ENGLISH SUB.)
16. Perfect Girl Evolution [ヤマトナデシコ七変化] (2010) Aka The Wallflower
Sunako Nakahara has only one goal in life: to stay away from dazzling human beings. After her first crush heartlessly thwarted her love confession, Sunako renounced her femininity and became a horror-loving, gore-obsessed young lady who never showed her face to anyone.
I remember watching the 2006 anime of the Perfect Girl Evolution and laughing my heart out at the humorous jokes and entertaining characters, with Sunako being my all-time favorite.
The drama perfectly captured the humor of the anime; you won’t be disappointed. Plus, you get to see popular boy band singer Kazuya Kamenashi playing Sunako’s love interest, Kyohei Takano.
For free boarding in Sunako’s aunt’s mansion, Kyohei and three other boys are tasked with the ultimate mission: turn Sunako into a lady fit for society. Easier said than done, especially if you’re dealing with a girl who has mannequins as friends.
You can check out the DVD on Amazon here: Perfect Girl Evolution TV Series DVD English Sub DIGIPAK NTSC All Region
15. Kazoku Game [家族ゲーム] (2013) Aka The Family Game
Adapted from an award-winning novel, Kazoku Game unconventionally tells the story of how a home tutor impacts the lives of a troubled family.
The story begins with Yoshimoto Koya becoming underachiever Numata Shigeyuki’s private tutor. Koya is an eccentric individual who resorts to, at times, violence to get his message across.
This psychological drama will leave you feeling uncomfortable. From the first episode alone, viewers get a taste of Koya’s strange antics, and you’ll wonder how he will be able to “help” the Numata family change.
What makes Kazoku Game a must-watch for J-drama fans is the never-ending plot twists and noticeable character development of each family member- the two brothers and parents – all presented in a creepy air.
There’s still a hint of comedy in the drama if you’re scared that it’s too intense for your liking.
You can get the DVD from Amazon here: The Family Game – Kazoku Game (Japanese Drama with English Sub)
14. The Emperor’s Cook [天皇の料理番] (2015)
How far will you go to chase your dreams? For Tokuzō Akiyama, played by the talented Takeru Satoh, nothing could stand in his way.
The Emperor’s Cook is a historical drama set in the 1900s during the Meiji, Taisho, and Showa Period. We follow the journey of Akiyama as he leaves his family in Japan to work as a chef in the renowned Hotel Ritz in Paris.
His journey was nowhere near easy. But, not once did Akiyama back down despite facing discrimination in a foreign country. Through the undying support his mentor and family provided, Akiyama proved that his hard work paid off when he became the chief for the Emperor of Japan.
The drama has a good balance of humor and a well-written and executed plot. Ultimately, the inspiring message it indirectly instills to its viewers is what made me enjoy each episode.
Check out the DVD on Amazon: Emperor’s Cook (Japanese TV Series w. English Sub, All Region DVD)
13. Mother [マザー] (2010)
Never underestimate a mother’s love. Make sure to have a box of tissue close by before starting this 11 episode tragedy. Over six countries have broadcasted or remade Mother– that’s how good it is.
Nao Suzuhara, a substitute elementary teacher, kidnaps her student Rena Michiki after discovering that the young child is constantly being abused by her mother and mother’s boyfriend.
The unlikely pair flee Hokkaido and travel to Tokyo, where the two struggle to survive. Nao is now not only Rena’s substitute teacher but also her substitute mother. Through Nao, Rena experiences familial love for the first time.
Brilliant acting, impressive cinematography and direction, and a heart-gripping plot – Mother shows the many hardships different mothers go through for their children.
A mother’s love is a force to be reckoned with. This drama paints a bleak picture of the scars abuse leaves on a child. Give this show a try; you won’t regret it.
If you can understand Japanese, you can find the Japanese version on Amazon here: Mother [DVD] Japanese Version
12. Bloody Monday [ブラッディマンデイ] (2008)
High school life is far from ordinary for Fujimaru Takagi, a prodigy hacker known in the cyber world as the “Falcon.”
Recruited by a secret agency branch called Third-i, Fujiwara juggles mundane school activities with top-secret missions capturing corrupt villains. In season one, Fujimaru races against time, fighting a terrorist attack aimed at Tokyo.
Bloody Monday is full of plot twists and action-packed scenes that keep viewers on the edge of their seats. Played by the late Miura Haruma, Fujiwara’s character is a breath of fresh air. He’s exceptionally cunning and outsmarts all of his enemies, well, most of the time, and cares deeply for his friends and family.
If you enjoyed season 1, Bloody Monday thankfully has a season 2 that is just as full of suspense and mystery!
You can get a collectable 3 DVD box set here on Amazon: Bloody Monday Japanese Tv Drama Digipak Collectible 3 Dvd Boxset English Sub NTSC All Region
11. Mischievous Kiss: Love in Tokyo [イタズラなKiss] (2013)
Like Hana Yori Dango, Mischievous Kiss has its fair share of adaptations with a 1996 Japanese version, a 2005 Taiwanese adaptation, and a 2010 Korean counterpart. You know a story is good when different countries are remaking them left and right.
Having watched all seasons of the Japanese version, this drama has a special place in my heart for its perfect portrayal of what a slice-of-life story should be.
Yes, the plot is heavily overused and seen in other stories like Good Morning Call and Marmalade Boy. Still, Mischievous Kiss stood out for its sincerity and ability to make viewers wish the impossible: that the not-so-bright heroine achieves her life goal of making the boy who’s light-years out of her league hers.
Aihara Kotoko, a passionate and highly unintelligent young girl, falls for the aloof school prince, Naoki Irie. Kotoko even went the extra mile and wrote him a love letter, which Irie rejected in a heartbeat.
After a series of unfortunate events, Kotoko’s family ends up losing their home and moving in with Irie’s family- that’s the start of the two’s love story full of heartfelt interactions, trivial misunderstandings, and finally, acceptance.
True to its manga plot by Tada Kaoru, Mischievous Kiss is for J-drama fans looking for something lighthearted with a lot of character growth.
Check out the director’s cut edition on Amazon: Itazura Na Kiss Love In Tokyo (English Subtitles) Director’s Cut Edition. DVD-Box 2 (4DVDS)
10. Mr. Hiiragi’s Homeroom [3年A組-今から皆さんは、人質です] (2019)
It’s not every day you see a high school drama where a homeroom teacher holds his class hostage for, surprisingly, good intentions. Initially, you’d think, “Oh, this is just another mystery/thriller drama that doesn’t make sense,” but Mr. Hiiragi’s Homeroom is far from that.
The story revolves around art teacher Ibuki Hiiragi and his 29 students he holds hostage ten days before their graduation. For what purpose? To get to the bottom of one student’s suicide.
Hiiragi’s character, played by Masaki Suda, in my opinion, carried the entirety of the show. His dedication and sincerity in teaching his students life lessons, albeit in controversial methods, had such a strong impact on viewers; you’re left reevaluating your views on serious matters such as cyberbullying, revenge, and even hopelessness.
“Let’s think!” is Hiiragi’s signature phrase throughout the drama, and it’s brilliant and perfectly captures the show’s message. Would you go along with Hiiragi’s wishes if you were a student in his class?
You can get Japanese version (no English subs) on Amazon here: JAPANESE TV DRAMA 3rd year Class A ?You are hostage now? [Blu-ray BOX] (JAPANESE AUDIO , NO ENGLISH SUB.)
9. Code Blue [コード・ブルー] (2008)
With three aired seasons, a special, and a movie- it’s hard not to say that Code Blue is fit for the title of one of the best Japanese dramas of all time. The medical drama follows the story of four budding interns assigned to the latest medical system called “Doctor Helicopter.”
Our four heroes test their physical and emotional strength at the forefront of this new medical response that dispatches a team of doctors to the patients via a helicopter.
Each protagonist has a unique character that makes them relatable and easy to love, with J-POP singer Tomohisa Yamashita being a fan favorite.
The drama beautifully executes the ingredients of a great show: a compelling plotline, interesting character development, with a hint of romance.
If you’re looking for a medical drama to kickstart your J-drama binge, Code Blue is the perfect place to begin.
You can find the DVD here on Amazon: Code Blue DVD Digipak Boxset English Sub NTSC All Region
8. Rich Man, Poor Woman [リッチマン、プアウーマン] (2012)
Despite this drama’s title making it seem like another “Cinderella love story,” Rich Man, Poor Woman is nothing like that. It’s a corporate romance drama tackling the ins and outs of working as an intern in a multi-billionaire IT company.
The male protagonist of this drama is 29-year-old Toru Hyuga, the short-tempered CEO of the successful IT company Next Generation. He suffers from prosopagnosia, or face blindness.
Under a series of events, the heroine, Makoto Natsui, works under Hyuga, who needed her photogenic memory for an important job. At first, the relationship between Hyuga and Natsui is far from amicable, but Natsui starts to fall for her tyrant boss after seeing his soft sides.
As the story unfolds, viewers see that there’s a reason behind Hyuga’s short temper and that he has a secret.
Rich Man, Poor Woman has enough romance told through an engaging corporate-centered plot to keep people hooked.
However, it’s worth mentioning that some might not find this drama enjoyable because of the crass attitude of Hyuga to Natsui and the people around him. Still, if that’s your cup of tea, dig right in!
You can find a region 2, Japanese only version on Amazon: Japanese TV Series – Rich Man, Poor Woman DVD Box (6DVDS) [Japan DVD] PCBC-61701
7. Million Yen Woman [100万円の女たち] (2017)
Shin Michima, played by Yojiro Noda, is a failed novelist barely making enough to meet his monthly expenses. One day, a mysterious woman turns up at his house and announces that she will be Shin’s roommate and pay one million yen or roughly 8,000 USD monthly rent.
Soon after, four other women declare the same ludicrous offer. What’s the catch? Shin can’t ask any questions. Who sent the women? What are their backgrounds? Throughout the series, the struggling novelist swims in a deepening sea of unanswered questions.
The engaging plot and superb cinematography of a Million Yen Woman, plus the noteworthy acting of the cast, immediately set this mystery J-drama apart from its competitors. It aired on Netflix and received positive feedback from the global audience.
What’s great about this drama is how each character’s unique personality shined in each scene through the dialogue and interactions. Despite only having 12 episodes in the first season, viewers got a look into the complex relationship between Shin and the women.
Each episode is only 20 minutes or so, making it perfect for the binge-worthy series.
Amazon offers a DVD of the Japanese version here: JAPANESE TV DRAMA “1 million yen women” DVD BOX (JAPANESE AUDIO , NO ENGLISH SUB.)
6. Alice in Borderland [今際の国のアリス] (2020)
Imagine living in an alternate universe where your days are numbered, and citizens fight in a series of deadly games to earn the right to live. That is the reality for Ryōhei Arisu, an unemployed, lackluster gamer who suddenly finds himself in a post-apocalyptic Tokyo run by game masters.
Arisu’s adventures in Borderland are filled with betrayal, death, and a stream of unanswered questions. Who sets up the games? How do we return home? Is everything just a dream? Together with the new friends he makes along the way, Arisu fights for survival in a rabbit hole unlike any other.
Currently, season 1 is available on Netflix, with a season 2 already confirmed.
This thriller, sci-fi, action-packed drama will leave you wanting more. If you’ve recently watched the hit Korean survival drama Squid Game and loved it, you’re sure to appreciate the concept and plot of Alice in Borderland.
Check out the DVD on Amazon: Alice In Borderland (Japanese Drama, English Sub)
5. 1 Litre no Namida [1リットルの涙] (2005) Aka One Liter of Tears
When you’re faced with the grim reality that you don’t have long to live, what do you do? I remember watching 1 Litre no Namida as a teenager and being left wondering how living is a gift not everyone receives.
Yes, expect a lot of tears to be shed when watching this heartwrenching drama based on the true-to-life story of Aya Kito, a 15-year-old girl diagnosed with spinocerebellar ataxia, a disease that attacks the nervous system causing muscle failure.
This drama does not focus on the romance between Aya and Haruto, the male protagonist, but rather on different aspects surrounding the life of someone dealing with a life-altering disease.
The drama beautifully portrays the pain, acceptance, and even hope Aya and the people around her went through. You’ll see how her parents take the news. You’ll see firsthand how Aya accepts that she is dying and how she handles it until her last breath.
1 Litre no Namida is a must-watch and should not be skipped. It’s still one of my all-time J-drama favorites to this day.
You can find the DVD on Amazon here: One Liter of Tears / 1 Litre no Namida – Japanese Drama with English Sub
4. An Incurable Case of Love [恋はつづくよどこまでも] (2020)
If you enjoy the classic shoujo manga trope where a headstrong, happy-go-lucky girl falls madly in love with a genius, standoffish male lead- you’ll enjoy An Incurable Case of Love.
The medical drama stars two popular Japanese actors- Takeru Satoh and Mone Kamishiraishi. The onscreen and offscreen chemistry of these two stars is one of the reasons why fans couldn’t drop the show.
Kamishiraishi plays Nanase Sakura, a 23-year old rookie nurse who tries her best to gain the affection and recognition of her longtime love interest Doctor Kairi Tendo, played by Takeru Satoh.
Sakura studied to be a nurse after witnessing Tendo save a woman who collapsed on the street. Oblivious to Tendo’s true nature, Sakura imagined her prince charming to be warm and friendly to all. However, after being admitted to the same hospital Tendo worked in, Sakura’s dreams shattered when she saw her prince’s true character- an aloof perfectionist called “the Devil” at work.
An Incurable Case of Love has the perfect mixture of romantic scenes that leave you wishing you had your own Tendo and an impelling medical plotline that keeps you hooked on the characters.
The growth of Sakura as a nurse was a significant factor why I enjoyed the show. You’ll see her work hard for her goals and never back down from a fight; she’s great. Plus, Satoh Takeru’s eye-candy visuals, smoldering gaze, and sultry voice- what’s not to love?
You can purchase the DVD of this drama on Amazon here: Love Lasts Forever – Koi wa Tsuzuku yo Doko Made mo (Japanese Drama, English Sub, All Region DVD)
3. Hana-Kimi [花ざかりの君たちへ] (2007)
In the eyes of Mizuki Ashiya, a Japanese girl living in California, no one can compete with her high jumper idol, Izumi Sano. Mizuki adored Sano and religiously followed his athletic career. When Sano has an unfortunate accident and loses his passion for high jumping, Mizuki takes it upon herself to get Sano back to doing the sport he loves.
Hana-Kimi, short for Hanazakari No Kimitachi E, is a romantic comedy filled with bishounen, or beautiful boys, surrounding one girl. Mizuki disguises as a boy to enter the all-boys school that Sano attends in hopes of getting him to high jump once again.
Of course, posing as a boy in an all-boys school is close to impossible, especially if you end up roommates with your idol. To add to Miyuki’s daily struggles, Sano finds out her secret but doesn’t let her now. Instead, he ends up falling in love with her.
The drama was a big hit and ended up with a 2011 remake called Ikemen Paradise. In addition, Korea released its adaptation called To the Beautiful You.
Check out the DVD here on Amazon: Hanazakari no Kimitachi e 2011 (Hana Kimi) / Japanese Drama TV Series (3 DVD set, English subtitles)
2. Gokusen [ごくせん] (2002-2008)
Gokusen is a classic J-drama that has aged well and is still loved by many fans worldwide. The lighthearted drama is an adaptation of the hit manga series written by Kozueko Morimoto. It tells the story of Kumiko Yamaguchi’s adventures as the homeroom teacher of a delinquent all-boys class.
Kumiko does her best to inspire her deadbeat students into graduating high school by gaining their respect. However, her family background is something she’s not proud of and has to keep a secret; she’s next in line to be the head of an infamous yakuza gang!
The way Kumiko builds a strong bond of friendship and trust with her students, plus the humorous comedic portrayal of yakuza, is what makes Gokusen worth watching.
Gokusen’s plot is well-written and full of enjoyable characters. You even get a hint of romance between the leader of Kumiko’s class, Shin Sawada, and the heroine. Sawada finds out about Kumiko’s family background but doesn’t report her to the school; but rather, helps her keep it a secret!
You can get season 1 of this drama on Amazon here: Gokusen 1 – Japanese Drama TV Series (3 DVD set, Japanese Version with English subtitles)
You can check out season 2 here: Gokusen 2 – Japanese Drama TV Series (3 DVD set, Japanese Version with English subtitles)
And season 3 here: 2008 Japanese Drama: Gokusen (III) w/English Subtitle
1. Hana Yori Dango [花より男子] (2005-2008) Aka Boys Over Flowers
Makino Tsukushi, the heroine of Hana Yori Dango, is a resilient, brave, and hard-working middle-class student at the esteemed Eitoku Gakuen, a school where your income defines your social status.
Makino only wished to live an ordinary high school life, past the scrutinizing radar of her superficial peers; however, she miserably fails when she catches the attention of the notorious but extremely handsome school bullies- the F4 or Flower Four.
The leader of F4, Tsukasa Domyouji, falls in love with Makino’s tenacious personality and fights for her affection throughout the whole drama series. Given their polar opposite personalities and the disparity in wealth and family background, Makino and Domyouji overcame many hardships and proved that love wins.
You can not call yourself a true J-drama fan without having watched Hana Yori Dango. Initially, the story was published as a manga by Yoko Kamio, running from 1992-2008 with over 37 volumes. It then got an animated series and a film of its own.
Sadly, not many people know that Hana Yori Dango’s story was originally adapted from a manga as most fans came to love the F4’s narrative through the 2001 Taiwanese adaptation Meteor Garden. Shortly after, Korea and China released their adaptations.
Having watched all variations of the drama, I enjoyed the Japanese version the most for its perfect portrayal of the main characters’ arduous love story. That’s not to say that the other versions are not worth watching, though, as they still shine in their own way.
The Hana Yori Dango 1 can be found on Amazon in a 3 DVD set here: Hana Yori Dango 1 / Boys Over Flowers 1 Japanese Drama 3 DVD, Digipak Boxset, NTSC All Region
You can also get the sequel on Amazon here: Hana Yori Dango 2 / Boys over Flowers 2 (3DVD, Digipak, English Sub, NTSC All Region)
Was your favorite J-drama on our top 20 list? Comment down below and share your all-time favorite title!
A lot of the J-dramas we mentioned in this article have a high rewatch value. You’ll have days that are perfect for a rom-com like Hana Yori Dango and days that are made for supernatural thrillers like Alice in Borderland.
We hope you enjoyed reading our detailed list! We’ll leave you be now to rewatch Gokusen for the 10th time.