Japanese drama

20 Best Japanese Dramas That’ll Make You Laugh, Cry and Everything in Between

Japanese dramas can be exciting, heartwarming, or hilarious.

And in some cases, they’re all that rolled into one!

I’ve watched more Japanese drama TV shows than is probably healthy, and today I’ll share 20 of my favorites with you.

From fighting for your life in an alternate reality to gambling for a place among the school elite, these J-dramas will take you on wild trips you never knew you wanted to experience.


“Midnight Diner” (深夜食堂)

Summary: The heartwarming stories of people from all walks of life who find themselves drawn to a night-time diner.

If you’re heading home late, you might wind up at this little diner.

It keeps odd hours—from midnight until dawn—and the menu has only four items: three types of alcohol and one soup.

But the owner will make any dish you ask for. It’s his policy.

“Midnight Diner” is the story of a quaint little eatery and the lost souls who pass through. Each episode brings a new customer with a new story—each one touching, funny or surprising in its own way.

You can also make the dishes you see on this show thanks to my favorite Japanese recipe website, Just One Cookbook.

Episodes: 50
First aired: 2009
Theme: Food
Find it on: Netflix has 30 episodes here and 20 more here

“Terrace House” (テラスハウス)

Summary: A reality show where six strangers live together in a house, with more emphasis on aesthetics than drama.

Where American reality shows attempt to ignite drama and focus on it with a rubbernecker’s enthusiasm, the Japanese reality show “Terrace House” takes a much more subdued approach.

The show places three women and three men into a house and follows their interactions over the course of a season. It deviates from the reality show formula in that all participants are free to come and go whenever they want.

The show itself is beautiful, full of aesthetic shots and serene silences—as well as a variety of realistic interactions between housemates. If that’s your kind of vibe, then you’ll be happy to know that there are several seasons available.

Episodes: 46 episodes in the original series, more series followed
First aired: 2021
Theme: Reality
Find it on: Netflix

“Mischievous Kiss: Love in Tokyo” (イタズラなKiss~Love in Tokyo)

Summary: An unlikely romance blossoms when a dim-witted girl and a boy who values intelligence have to live together.

Kotoko Aihara isn’t very bright. But what she lacks in smarts, she makes up for in spirit!

But it’s not exactly a match made in heaven when she falls in love with the smartest boy in her school, Naoki Irie.

When Kotoko finally confesses her feelings, she’s brutally rejected. As Naoki explains, he doesn’t waste his time on “dumb women.”

Shortly after, an accident displaces Kotoko’s family and they move in with some of her father’s childhood friends—and surprise! It’s Naoki’s home. As you can imagine, a whole lot of (generally wholesome) shenanigans ensue.

This sweet story is all about growing up and forming relationships. And although Kotoko can be a little frustrating, you (like Naoki) just can’t help but love her!

Episodes: 16 episodes
First aired: 2013
Theme: Romance, Comedy
Find it on: Crunchyroll, Viki, Amazon Prime

“Atelier” (アンダーウェア)

Summary: An insider look at the lingerie industry, told through the eyes of a woman new to it. 

“Atelier” is actually called アンダーウェア, or “Underwear” in Japanese. And that’s what’s at the heart of this coming-of-age drama.

Mayuko is fresh out of college with big dreams but no idea what to do next. She has a passion for fabric and design, and she finds herself working in a high-class lingerie shop. She struggles with her relationship with her demanding boss and learns what it takes to survive in the business world.

This visual stunning show is about growth, inner beauty and finding your place in the world. See the world of Haute underwear like you never have before!

Episodes: 13
First aired: 2015
Theme: Workplace, Coming of age
Find it on: Netflix

“Angel Heart” (エンジェル・ハート)

Summary: A noir action drama in which a freak accident places the memories of a dead policewoman into the body of an assassin.

Kaori Makimura and Xiang-Ying are living on opposite sides of the law—until their lives become inextricably linked.

Kaori (a police detective) dies in a freak accident, while Xiang-Ying (an assassin) tries to end her own life but is brought back from the brink of death thanks to a new heart—Kaori’s.

Xiang-Ying now remembers both her own memories and Kaori’s. Given a new chance at life, she’s determined to make the most of it—and she finds her way to the side of Ryo Saeba, Kaori’s bereaved fiancé. But soon the two become embroiled in a battle for their lives.

This drama is full of action, noir elements, humor and heartwarming moments.

Episodes: 9
First aired: 2015
Theme: Mystery, Crime, Sci-fi
Find it on: Crunchyroll

“Good Morning Call” (グッドモーニング・コール)

Summary: Due to a mixup, a boy and a girl are forced to live together and keep the arrangement secret from others.

Nao Yoshikawa is living the dream! She finally gets her own apartment when her parents move back to their farm in the country.

But she’s not alone after all. She discovers that she’ll be sharing the apartment with Hisashi Uehara, a beloved (and very good-looking) boy from her class. Oh, and they have to keep their arrangement a secret, of course.

At first, Nao finds Hisashi aloof and self-centered. But as they get to know each other, she finds herself warming up to him. Feelings blossom as Nao struggles with schemes, bullying, love triangles and other shenanigans.

“Good Morning Call” is everything you could ever want from a romantic comedy J-drama.

Episodes: 17
First aired: 2016
Theme: Comedy, Romance
Find it on: Netflix

“Erased” (僕だけがいない街)

Summary: A young man goes back in time to solve his mother’s murder.

Satoru Fujinuma can travel back in time to prevent terrible incidents from occurring. But at what cost?

Satoru is convinced that his mother’s recent death is linked to a serial killer. Determined to get her back, he heads 18 years into the past to try and stop a series of child killings.

Of course, time travel is never simple. Every action has consequences.

Will Satoru manage to save everyone? How is his mother’s death connected to a series of killings nearly two decades ago? Binge your way through this addictive J-drama to find out!

Episodes: 12
First aired: 2017
Theme: Fantasy, Mystery
Watch it on: Netflix

“Coffee & Vanilla” (コーヒー&バニラ)

japanese drama

Summary: The steamy story of a young submissive woman who’s taken under the wing of a confident, much older man.

Shiroki Risa is a shy (and very beautiful) college student. She attracts a lot of attention from men but has no idea what to do with it.

But when the much older Hiroto Fukami saves her from an overzealous suitor, the two fall instantly in love. And it gets pretty steamy right away. You’ve been warned!

As the relationship blossoms, Risa’s subdued nature still makes her a target for nefarious men. If you hate the dynamic of a defenseless girl constantly needing to be rescued, you might want to skip this one.

But if you like a romance that doesn’t tease with “will they or won’t they” plotlines, then “Coffee & Vanilla” is the drama for you.

Episodes: 10
First aired: 2017
Theme: Romance
Watch it on: Viki

“Massage Detective Joe” (マッサージ探偵ジョー)

Summary: The ridiculous tale of an unwitting murder-solving massage therapist.

Sherlock Holmes used his keen powers of deduction to solve mysteries.

Massage therapist Joe solves crimes with… well, massage.

Joe just needs to find the correct pressure points and wham! Case closed.

And murders just seem to follow Joe around, so he keeps getting pulled into investigations despite his best efforts. When the husband of one of his clients dies, all the clues seem to point to Joe. How’s Joe going to massage his way out of this one?

This show doesn’t take itself very seriously. It’s a lot of silly fun with over-the-top scenarios and acting. Don’t skip the ending credits if you want to watch a ridiculous (yet oddly entrancing) dance performance.

Episodes: 12
First aired: 2017
Theme: Comedy, Crime
Watch it on: Amazon Prime

“Meet Me After School” (中学聖日記)

japanese drama

Summary: A taboo drama about the romance between a 25-year-old teacher and her 15-year-old student.

Hijiri Suenaga and Akira Kuroiwa are falling in love. Unfortunately, she’s a 25-year-old teacher and he’s her 15-year-old student.

Meanwhile, Hijiri is engaged to be married to a successful businessman while Akira has an admirer among his classmates. Will these star-crossed lovers find a solution to their predicament?

This show could have gone in many directions, but it chose to tell the story without glamorizing the relationship. It explores the emotional turmoil and social consequences of a love that’s taboo at best and an abuse of power at worst.

So silence your knee-jerk reaction and give this show a try. You may be surprised at how hard it hits you.

Episodes: 11
First aired: 2018
Theme: School, Romance
Watch it on: Viki

“Princess Jellyfish” (海月姫)

Summary: Awkward nerd girls band together to save their beloved home.

What do you get when you take a jellyfish-obsessed nerd, a doll collector, a history geek, a train enthusiast and a hypochondriac? You get the Sisterhood!

This ragtag group of outsiders all reside in Amamizukan, an apartment building in a cozy neighborhood. When the building comes under threat of redevelopment, these NEETs must overcome their dislike of stylish people and fight for their precious home.

Luckily, they have the beautiful cross-dressing son of an influential political family on their side. Together, can these misfits turn away from their respective fixations long enough to save Amamizukan?

This is a charming show with a strong theme of self-acceptance.

Episodes: 10
First aired: 2018
Theme: Romance, Coming of age
Watch it on: Viki

“Kakegurui” (賭ケグルイ)

Summary: A high-stakes drama about a school where students are ranked based on their gambling exploits.

At the prestigious Hyakkaou Private Academy, students are ranked based on their gambling skills. Those who win gain fame, money, and a place among the school’s ruling elite. And those who lose must serve them.

When Yumeko Jabami transfers in, she has no idea what she’s getting herself into. Luckily, beneath her innocent exterior, Yumeko happens to be a compulsive gambler—and she does not play to lose.

As Yumeko claws her way up the social ladder, the stakes keep getting higher. Just how much would you be willing to wager if your life is on the line?

Episodes: 15
First aired: 2018
Theme: Suspense, School
Watch it on: Netflix

“Miss Sherlock” (ミス・シャーロック)

Summary: Sherlock Holmes, reimagined as a woman in a much darker and more violent version of the classic.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective Sherlock Holmes has had many interpretations over the years.

“Miss Sherlock” reimagines the brilliant sleuth yet again, as a woman.

Set in modern-day Tokyo, the show follows consulting detective Sara “Sherlock” Shelly Futaba and her roommate Dr. Wato Tachibana. The two solve crimes together and pursue the secretive group that seems to be behind many of these crimes.

This is a rather dark reimagining that features stomach bombs and other horrendous deaths. And in the midst of it all is Wato-san and the wonderfully eccentric and unpredictable Shelly.

Episodes: 8
First aired: 2018
Theme: Mystery
Watch it on: Apple TV, Google Play, Hulu, YouTube, HBO Max, Amazon Prime

“The Naked Director” (全裸監督)

Summary: The true story of Toru Muranishi, Japan’s “Emperor of Porn.”

“The Naked Director” is a docu-drama about the man who revolutionized the world of pornography in Japan.

The titular director is Toru Muranishi, who chances upon a career in the adult media industry after he finds his wife cheating on him. Toru begins by peddling audio of couples in hotel rooms, moves on to racy magazines and finally lands squarely in the film industry.

Toru is known in real-life Japan as the “Emperor of Porn.” This show follows his ups and downs (not literally, though there’s a lot of that, too), making it an oddly inspiring underdog story.

Be aware that this show is rated TV-MA and isn’t suitable for viewers under 17.

Episodes: 16
First aired: 2019
Theme: Historical, Mature Content
Watch it on: Netflix

“In-house Marriage Honey” (社内マリッジハニー)

Summary: A man and woman impulsively get married and have to deal with the ensuing fallout.

Miura Manatsu and Haruta Ami meet each other and immediately get married.

But it wasn’t love at first sight. It’s a marriage of convenience. Both have their reasons for wanting to get married hastily, and they happen to be in the same place at the same time… you know how it is.

The two are co-workers, so they decide to keep their marriage a secret. But even though they didn’t marry for love, love has a way of sneaking into your heart when you least expect it.

Watch this adorable couple learn to trust one another. Because sometimes, first comes marriage and then comes love.

Episodes: 7
First aired: 2020
Themes: Romance, Comedy
Watch it on: Viki

“Alice in Borderland” (今際の国のアリス)

Summary: A young man and his friends play deadly games to survive in an alternate version of Tokyo.

Gamer Ryohei Arisu is great at logic games. One day, he’s transported into a parallel version of Tokyo, where his survival depends on his ability to solve some crazy puzzles. Perfect!

Well, maybe not, since one mistake can mean death for Arisu and his friends.

This thrilling drama is a bloodier twist on “Alice in Wonderland,” with playing cards being central to the plot and a character named Usagi (Japanese for “rabbit”) entering the fray before long.

The stakes are high and Arisu must use everything he knows about gaming and logic to make his way out alive.

Episodes: 8
First aired: 2020
Themes: Thriller, Fantasy
Watch it on: Netflix

“Cherry Magic!” (30歳まで童貞だと魔法使いになれるらしい)

japanese drama

Summary: A 30-year-old virgin suddenly develops the powers to read minds, and discovers that his male co-worker is in love with him.

The series’ full title, “Cherry Magic! Thirty Years of Virginity Can Make You a Wizard?!” is infinitely more epic and more informative.

When Kiyoshi Adachi turns 30, somehow his virginity gives him the power to hear people’s thoughts when he touches them. One day, he touches his coworker Yuichi Kurosawa and discovers by accident that Yuichi is in love with him.

What’s an inexperienced guy to do?

This wholesome queer romance drama features an absolutely adorable budding relationship. This beautiful love story is a sure win if you’re a sucker for heartwarming romances.

Episodes: 12
First aired: 2020
Themes: Romance, Fantasy
Watch it on: Crunchyroll

“JU-ON: Origins” (呪怨:呪いの家)

Summary: The spin-off of the classic horror film “The Grudge,” about a haunted house that curses visitors. 

The Ju-On movies, known in America as “The Grudge,” were big international hits. Now you can revisit the chills with the Netflix original series, “JU-ON: Origins.”

The premise of the movies is that when a person dies with enough rage in their hearts, they leave behind a curse. “JU-ON: Origins” is presented as the true story that inspired the films. In “Origins,” a paranormal investigator tries to uncover the mystery behind a haunted house that curses anyone who comes into contact with it.

The emphasis in the series is less on jump scares and more on a growing feeling of dread. But there are some pretty brutal moments that’ll make you afraid to be alone after dark!

Episodes: 6
First aired: 2020
Theme: Horror
Watch it on: Netflix

“An Incurable Case of Love” (恋はつづくよどこまでも)

Summary: A woman becomes a nurse to work with a beloved doctor, only to find that he’s standoffish and rude.

The lovesick Sakura Nanase pursues a career as a nurse just so she can be near doctor Kairi Tendo. But when she finally gets to work alongside him, she discovers he’s nothing like she imagined.

Tendo is known as a “Devil” at work, a stickler and a perfectionist who’s cruelly blunt to his co-workers. This doesn’t stop Sakura from openly proclaiming her love for him.

Her persistent and passionate nature shines through in her work, and Sakura gradually gains respect from her co-workers.

And she seems to be thawing Tendo’s heart. And if anyone can win him over, it’s the plucky heroine of this cute romance!

Episodes: 10
First aired: 2020
Theme: Romance, Medical
Find it on: Viki

“The Ingenuity of the Househusband” (極主夫道)

Summary: A former Yakuza teaches you how to correctly perform household chores.

Cleaning the scum off a bathroom mirror. Properly sharpening a knife. Smoking pork. These are all skills to be taken seriously.

“Ingenuity of the Househusband” is a spin-off miniseries of the “househusband” anime and live-action shows, which focus on Tatsu, who was once a yakuza leader. But now, he has abandoned that life for a much more dangerous occupation: that of a house-husband.

This strangely entrancing show shares a series of vignettes of a house-husband dealing with chores. He is serious and meticulous about his work.

Each of the 10 episodes is only about three or four minutes, so you can watch this in one sitting.

Episodes: 10
First aired: 2020
Theme: Comedy, Slice of life
Find it on: Netflix


Japanese dramas have a way of capturing our hearts and minds, no matter what the topic. Whether you’re in the mood for a cheesy romance or an action-packed romp, you’ll find a Japanese drama for you on this list!

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