25 Binge-worthy Japanese TV Shows Every Learner Must Watch

Think Japanese variety shows and non-anime series are too far out of your league?

Well, I’m here to inform you that there are many Japanese TV shows out there suited for your current language level!

Believe it or not, anime shows often use more complicated language and obscure vocabulary.

Choose the right TV show and you’ll discover a fantastic new learning tool that lets you try out your Japanese listening practice strategies.

Contents

5 Reasons Why You Should Learn Japanese with TV Shows

We all get a kick out of watching the telly.

Lots of TV shows are filled with comedic elements, making them very entertaining.

This point is almost too obvious. I mean, we all like to watch something that makes us laugh. It’s easier to pay attention to what people are saying if you’re having a good time.

Compare this to watching a very dry TV show that focuses on stuffy political debate, how canned tuna is made, or the science of watching paint dry.

You’d probably fall asleep on the couch before you learn one new word.

You already know how much fun it can be to study Japanese by simply turning on the Japanese subtitles and watching awesome movies—why not try the same with a good TV show?

Look at your own country’s TV shows! Comedy is an extremely popular genre for a reason. We love to laugh! A lighthearted style can make a TV show’s content much easier to digest.

Didn’t you know? Japanese TV is awesome.

Unfortunately, Japanese TV hasn’t got a very good image in some parts of the world. If you think of the famous American movie “Lost in Translation” then you’ll remember when Bill Murray’s character has a very bizarre interview experience on a Japanese TV show.

However, this isn’t the standard format in Japan.

Of course, you’re bound to find a lot of silliness—Japanese entertainment has a propensity for boisterous, colorful humor. However, you can also find a lot of standard variety shows which aren’t outright crazy if you’re a more mellow soul.

In many programs in other countries, you’ll just have one host that’ll interview other people one at a time.

In Japan, it’s almost always a group experience with multiple hosts and up to ten guests. Instead of a simple question followed by the answer, there’s a group discussion that can go off in lots of interesting directions.

Group discussion is a lot more natural and fluid than the formal interviewer-interviewee dynamic. Don’t worry about teasing apart what each person is saying. Subtitles usually appear on the screen for key sentences that have been said. It’s very interesting as you get the feeling that everyone in the show is speaking more honestly, and what they talk about can be hilarious!

TV opens the door to Japanese culture.

You’ll need to have basic levels of grammar and vocabulary to understand what’s really going on. However, why not let Japan’s rich and famous help you reach proficiency? Japanese celebrities make frequent appearances on a variety of TV shows, so you’ll begin to get familiar with who’s who in Japan these days.

Once you are familiar with a certain actress, actor, singer or model, then you’ll become familiar with their speech patterns, rhythm, pronunciation and topics of conversation.

These star-studded celebs are bound to appear on your favorite dramas and variety shows. Love using music as a means for studying Japanese? If you’re a J-Pop fan like I am, you’ll be psyched to hear that band members from Arashi and SMAP have their own TV shows, starring roles on popular dramas and seem to pop up in all sorts of unexpected places on Japanese television.

TV shows are made for the average Joe.

Think about the language used on your favorite English language programs. TV shows want the biggest possible audience, so they appeal to as many people as possible. Unless you only watch technical engineering shows and Senate debates, you’ll probably agree that the language featured on your favorite shows is conversational, casual and easy to understand. This is true of Japanese television as well.

Group interviews make news programs and variety hours extremely natural. It’s like watching a group of friends get together and chat! This is real, modern-day conversational Japanese loaded with all those common phrases you’ve been learning.

If you come across a period drama, like an old-school samurai adventure show, you’ll be exposed to some more formal, antiquated language as well. By watching the right blend of different Japanese shows, the diversity of vocabulary will dramatically enhance your speaking and listening skills.

TV shows allow you to learn with authentic content.

Ok, Japanese TV shows are awesome and a great way to get into the culture and language. But there’s something else that shows have that makes them a crucial addition to any learning regiment: They’re authentic. When I was studying Japanese in college, I learned formal phrases and sentence constructions. I thought I was doing pretty well after a year, but when I asked my language partner how my Japanese sounded, she admitted that it was overly formal and similar to the speech of a toddler. Oops!

What was missing from my studies was a natural Japanese learning tool. I couldn’t quite understand the Japanese shows, movies and games that I loved so much, so I didn’t think I could study with them. After all, what can I really take away from a show where I understand one out of every 10 or so words?

Today, I know what I’m about to share with you: The earlier you use authentic content like TV shows in your studies, the more natural your Japanese will become.

How to Study Japanese with TV Shows

Like it did for me, studying Japanese with TV shows may seem impossible when you’re first starting out. It can even be daunting at later levels if you haven’t been working with authentic materials from the beginning. So how do you tackle learning with TV shows?

The first step you’ll need to take is to choose TV shows with language suitable for your level. Typically, the more slapstick nature of variety shows makes them easier to keep up with. Exciting action series are also good places to start since they focus on action over extensive dialogue. Try out an episode and use the five-finger rule: If in a five-minute clip, there are more than five words you didn’t understand, then you might want to find something easier.

The next step in your TV studies is to break down episodes into chunks of five to 10 minutes, and keep a pen, paper and dictionary at hand. Stop, pause and replay the segment as much as you need until you understand the full clip without assistance.

You don’t have to do this by yourself—the FluentU app and browser program, for instance, is specifically built to address the difficulties of learning by yourself from real Japanese content like TV shows, music videos, inspirational talks and more. If you enjoy the type of content found in the list below, FluentU also has comedy skits by YouTubers with a similar humor to variety shows, clips and trailers from popular anime like “Mob Psycho” and “Attack on Titan” and even specials like a behind-the-scenes look at one of the TV shows on this list, “Alice in Borderland.”

Each video has accurate subtitles in kanji, furigana and English (though you can customize which subtitles you want to see, if any). These subtitles are also interactive, so you can click on a word to see its meaning in the context of the video. The contextual dictionary makes it possible to understand the different uses of multi-definition words.

You can then study these unknown words by saving the to flashcard decks and then reviewing them with personalized quizzes that test both your and speaking skills. The FluentU program also organizes clips by difficulty level, so you can pick videos that will be challenging but not impossible for optimal learning.

Basically, FluentU mimics what you should be doing every time you start up an episode of your favorite Japanese TV show. Now put down that popcorn and pick up a pen or phone, because you’re about to embark on some of the most fun studying you’ve ever done, thanks to my 25 awesome series recommendations.

Learn Japanese with These 25 Exciting TV Shows

You’re probably pretty excited now, right?

Then get to watching some shows straightaway!

I’ve already ventured into the dark depths of the internet, done the research and put together this fantastic list of Japanese TV shows just for you, friend.

top 10 japanese tv shows learn japanese

1. 『笑っていいとも!』(Waratte ii tomo!) — It’s Okay to Laugh!

Where to stream: YouTube

Learning Level: High Intermediate/Advanced

This is an extremely popular lunchtime show that has been on for over 30 years and only recently ended. Due to the quality of the guests on this show, and the length of time it aired, it’s easy to find on many streaming sites. It was hosted by Tamori (タモリ) who was joined by regular guests every day as well as special guests.

A typical episode would include group tasks, challenges and one-on-one guest interviews. This is a brilliant show if you want a good introduction to the top TV stars of Japan. The group sections are always entertaining! This show is suitable for Japanese learning as well as modern cultural study.

top 10 japanese tv shows learn japanese

2.『アメトーーク』(ame toooku) — Ame Talk

Where to Stream: Abema TV, TVer (VPN required)

Learning Level: High Intermediate/Advanced

You might be tempted to think the title of this show means rain talk, since ame (雨) means rain, but the word ame comes from the name of a comedy duo who hosted this show, “Ameagari Kesshitai” (雨上がり決死隊).

They are very funny comedians, Hiroyuki Miyasako (宮迫 博之) and Tōru Hotohara (蛍原 徹) who, alongside a panel of guests, have extremely funny chats and make their guests undertake humorous tasks and competitions while answering interview questions.

This show is laugh-out-loud funny and bound to get you hooked on Japanese TV.

top 10 japanese tv shows learn japanese

3.『しゃべくり007』(shabekuri 007) — 007 Talk

Where to Stream: Hulu (VPN Required)

Learning Level: High Intermediate/Advanced

007 Talk includes hosts and a panel of guests. The interesting thing about this one: guests have to come forward about more taboo subjects they might usually dodge. As can be guessed from the title, it’s about having a secret discussion in order to hear the silliest of the silly.

Some of the things that guests say can be quite surprising! Just as we all enjoy a bit of gossip, this TV program features gossip on a more public stage.

top 10 japanese tv shows learn japanese

4. 『SMAPxSMAP』(sumappu sumappu, or suma suma)

Where to Stream: YouTube

Learning Level: High Intermediate/Advanced

Do you know SMAP (スマップ)?

SMAP are popular celebrities who appeared virtually everywhere, including most of the shows mentioned in this article, up until they disbanded in 2016. They’re the hosts of this show.

They invite guests onto the show which features interviews, cooking and comedy. In the first part of the show, the members of SMAP compete in two teams to cook the best meal possible. In the second part of the show, they’ll normally do comedic skits and finish with a song.

top 10 japanese tv shows learn japanese

5.『YOUは何しに日本へ?』(You wa nani shi ni nihon e?) — Why Did You Come to Japan?

Where to Stream: YouTube

Learning Level: Intermediate

This TV show goes outside of the studio and features presenters, normally at Narita airport, asking foreigners who have just arrived what they are doing in Japan.

It’s a really interesting show as often they speak to people who speak the language and who have come to Japan to work or study. Other foreigners have interesting Japan-related hobbies, are getting married, meeting up with friends, and so on.

The Japanese language that’s used can be quite easy to follow, especially when spoken in a familiar accent, and quite often there’s English translated into Japanese. This show is really fascinating as you can learn about other people who love Japan.

top 10 japanese tv shows learn japanese

6.『笑ってコラえて』(Waratte koraete) — Laugh and Be Patient

Where to Stream: Hulu (VPN required)

Learning Level: High Intermediate/Advanced

This show has regular and guest hosts, along with a panel of guests. They usually throw a dart at a map of Japan, and then either the host or a presenter will go to that part of the country. They talk to local people about the area and activities, and quite frankly a lot of these conversations are really funny.

They aim to speak with old people or very young children, simply because they tend to say very funny things. This has since expanded to trips overseas as well.

top 10 japanese tv shows learn japanese

7. 『行列の出来る法律相談所』(Gyouretsu no dekiru Houritsu Soudanjo) — Legal Office: Advice So Good You Stand in Line

Where to Stream: Dailymotion

Learning Level: Advanced

As you may have realized from the title of this show, there are primarily conversations about legal matters. However, the majority of the show is actually a very enjoyable group discussion with two hosts and a number of guests.

As in all Japanese TV shows, the guests are quite often comedians, actors, models, singers and so on. In addition, normally the format of the show includes visits from special guests who are often quite exceptional non-famous people.

The discussions are diverse and funny, and as expected there’s normally a section about current law changes or legal issues. Admittedly, this can be a bit harder to follow unless your language ability is quite high, but the show actually makes law seem fun!

top 10 japanese tv shows learn japanese

8.『天才!志村どうぶつ園』 (Tensai! Shimura Doubutsuen) — Genius! Shimura Zoo

Where to Stream: YouTube

Learning Level: High Intermediate

This show features animals from around the world interacting with the hosts and their guests; it can be very funny to watch—especially for the reactions of the guests to a particular animal.

The hosts and guests have very interesting conversations about animals and usually, quite famous people appear on the program. This show can be enjoyed by anyone and you can learn vocabulary related to nature.

top 10 japanese tv shows learn japanese

9. 『食わず嫌い』(Kuwazu girai) — Food You Don’t Eat and You Don’t Like

Where to Stream: YouTube

Learning Level: High Intermediate

This is hosted by comedy duo とんねるず (Tonneruzu), Takaaki Ishibashi (石橋 貴明 ) and Noritake Kinashi (木梨 憲武 ). A panel made up of regular guests and special guests goes on a food journey where the participants try to guess which food the special guests won’t like.

It can be a very funny show and normally ends with a competition between the special guests. As you can imagine there’s a lot of food vocabulary, and which is always useful! Especially if you learn it in an entertaining way.

top 10 japanese tv shows learn japanese

10.『世界一受けたい授業』(Sekai ichi uketai jugyou) — The Class That You Want to Take Most in the World

Where to Stream: Hulu (VPN required)

Learning Level: Advanced

This show is hosted by two people and joined by a “class.” Celebrities get mixed in with non-famous guests, and they invite specialists in different fields onto the show to talk about their particular focus subject.

Sometimes it can bring up rather serious topics, but usually, the banter is lighthearted and fun. The point is for the “class” to learn about that subject, and in this way, we are also part of the class!

japanese tv shows

11.『99.9-刑事専門弁護士-』(99.9 Keiji Senmon Bengoshi) — 99.9 Criminal Lawyer

Where to Stream: Amazon Prime (VPN required)

Learning Level: Advanced

This legal drama follows a defense lawyer named Miyama, whose goal is to find the hidden truth behind every case he works on. When he gets recruited to work at Madarame Law Offices in their new criminal defense division, he teams up with Atsuhiro Sada, a former prosecutor whose primary objective is earning a hefty fee. Together, they work to defend the innocent.

As the name implies, there’s a lot of legal terminology flying around. Each episode features unique investigations, clever puzzles and great chemistry between the realistic Sada and the eccentric Miyama. Both seasons of this drama are hilariously charming, with a movie scheduled for release in late 2021.

japanese tv shows

12.『グッドモーニング・コール』(Guddo Mooningu Kooru) — Good Morning Call

Where to Stream: Netflix

Learning Level: Intermediate

After a mishap with a real estate agent, high school students Nao Yoshikawa and Hisashi Uehara end up renting the same apartment. To save costs, they agree to live together under the same roof, all while keeping their arrangement secret from everyone in school.

Fans of romantic comedies will love this sweet story between the aloof Hisashi and the earnest Nao. This drama is a great place to keep up with youth slang and school phrases, as well as discussing romance and feelings.

japanese tv shows

13.『宇宙を駆けるよだか』(Sora wo Kakeru Yodaka) — Switched

Where to Stream: Netflix

Learning Level: High Intermediate

Popular high schooler Ayumi is delighted after being asked out by the guy of her dreams. However, her classmate Zenko envies her perfect life and steals Ayumi’s body. Now, with only her friend Kaga by her side, Ayumi has to figure out how to convince Zenko to get them to switch back before it’s too late.

This show contains powerful moral messages, shining a light on the cruelty of bullying as well as showing how envy can drive someone to take drastic measures.

All four main characters are fantastic, with a complicated web of emotions spinning between them. School life is at the forefront, with a few supernatural twists, making it a great show for intermediate learners to practice their listening skills.

japanese tv shows

14.『アンダーウェア』(Underwear) — Atelier

Where to Stream: Netflix

Learning Level: Advanced

Mayuko is a young grad who has begun working her dream job at Emotion, a high-end lingerie store in Ginza. Her strict boss, Mayumi Nanjo, is an icon in the lingerie world who is very set in her standards of beauty.

Mayuko begins learning all about the business from her coworkers as Emotion’s star begins to rise. With many textile and fashion terms, this show highlights the fashion industry and how Mayuko seeks to find her place in that big picture. Her sometimes catty interactions with Mayumi are great to watch as a mentor-mentee relationship develops between them.

japanese tv shows

15. 『深夜食堂』(Shinya Shokudo) — Midnight Diner

Where to Stream: Netflix

Learning Level: High Intermediate

In an alley in Shinjuku, there’s a diner that opens only at midnight run by a scar-faced man. His policy is to make any food his customers want, so long as he has the ingredients.

Each episode follows the regular customers that come in, showcasing their individual struggles and life problems they hope to overcome.

Each customer’s story is touching, with smooth transitions between their meals at the diner and their personal lives. You really feel for the customers and the owner who exists at the center of their universe, making food that brings them comfort. As might be expected, there’s lots of talk of food—you’ll be dying to try some of the tasty meals the cast is enjoying!

japanese tv shows

16.『今際の国のアリス』(Imawa no Kuni no Arisu) — Alice in Borderland

Where to Stream: Netflix

Learning Level: High Intermediate/ Advanced

Arisu is a shut-in who spends all his time playing video games. When he and his two best friends hide from the cops after an outing gone awry, the three of them are mysteriously transported into a Shibuya where all human life has disappeared.

They quickly learn that they’ve been sucked into a twisted game of life and death, where they have to clear horrendous trials to stay alive.

Gritty and dark, this show is great for fans of survival horror. A heartbreaking tale of survival that follows Arisu as his knack for puzzles helps him through the trials he’s forced to overcome. You’ll also hear him discussing strategy and weapons with his fellow game players.

japanese tv shows

17.『ドクターX ~外科医・大門未知子~』(Dokutaa X Gekai Daimon Michiko) — Doctor X

Where to Stream: Amazon Prime Japan

Learning Level: Advanced

The mysterious doctor Daimon Michiko travels from hospital to hospital, taking on their most impossible surgeries. She’s highly eccentric and highly skilled, refusing to partake in anything that doesn’t require a medical license and yet boasting a near-perfect success rate.

This hit drama has several sequels, going into hospital politics and complicated medical procedures. It’s worth noting that there are a lot of similarities between the popular American show “House M.D.” and “Doctor X,” so if you’re a fan of diagnostic medicine performed by antisocial doctors, you’ll likely enjoy this show.

japanese tv shows

18.『コンフィデンスマンJP』(Konfidensuman JP) — The Confidence Man JP

Where to Stream: Amazon Prime Japan

Learning Level: Advanced

This TV show follows the three-man crew of con artists who take on corruption in Japanese society. The crew of Mimi, Boku-chan and Richard face off with evil businessmen and scheming heirs, pulling off elaborate cons to take them for all the money they’ve got.

A great popcorn show that features fun games of cat and mouse, with clever cons and great chemistry between the leads while at the same time touching on what true happiness means to different people. Each villain has a different industry, including real estate, gambling and medicine, providing new types of vocabulary with each episode.

japanese tv shows

19.『今日から俺は!!』(Kyou Kara Ore Wa!!) — From Today, It’s My Turn!!

Where to Stream: Amazon Prime Japan (VPN Required)

Learning Level: High Intermediate

When Takashi Mitsuhashi transfers to a new high school, he decides to refresh his image by becoming a delinquent. There he meets Shinji Itou, who had the same idea, and the two join forces to become the top gangsters in all of Japan.

Set in 1980s Japan, this fun episodic series focuses on the rough and tumble adventures of Itou and Mitsuhashi as they battle other gangs of high schoolers to reign supreme. This show is full of laughs and slang being thrown around in tandem with fists.

Plus, the catchy opening theme is sure to get stuck in your head!

japanese tv shows

20.『ウロボロス この愛こそ、正義』(Uroboros Kono Ai Koso, Seigi) — Ouroboros

Where to Stream: n/a; DVD only

Learning Level: Advanced

Two foster brothers, Ikuo Ryuzaki and Tatsuya Danno, were raised in an orphanage and cared for by a loving woman. After her brutal murder was left unsolved, the two swear to get revenge. 15 years later, Ikuo is a police officer and Tatsuya is a yakuza, and they work together from opposite sides of the law to put together the pieces of the puzzle.

As each man tackles the mystery of their foster mother’s death from different sides, the story becomes an engaging whodunnit that has twists hiding around every corner. With legal and criminal terminology abounding, you’ll have a great time using this show for advanced studies.

japanese tv shows

21. 『BG~身辺警護人~』(BG Shinpen Keigonin) — BG Personal Bodyguard

Where to Stream: GYAO! (VPN Required)

Learning Level: Advanced

After an accident with a former client, Shimazaki Akira quits being a pro bodyguard. However, he is persuaded to join a personal defense agency, where he hides his past and pretends to be a rookie.

While juggling his rookie act and raising his son on his own, he works with the other members of his unit to protect their clients from the very real threats against them.

Veteran actor Kimura Takuya stars in this fast-paced action drama, which will leave you on the edge of your seat. With a mix of family and law enforcement dialogue, there’s no shortage of variety in listening practice.

japanese tv shows

22. 『テラスハウス』(Terasu Hausu) — Terrace House

Where to Stream: Netflix

Learning Level: High Intermediate

In this hit reality show, six people—three men, three women—are moved under one roof. The cameras follow their daily lives and careers as they build relationships with one another…with some turning romantic. In a separate building, four hosts provide their thoughts on how things are progressing between the housemates.

Compared to most reality shows, “Terrace House” is very low-key, yet somehow addicting. There’s no overarching plot; it’s simply six people living in an extravagant house and sometimes doing things together. Since it’s entirely unscripted, the stars speak in natural Japanese to one another, making it the ultimate in daily conversation.

japanese tv shows

23.『火花』(Hibana) — Hibana: Spark

Where to Stream: Netflix

Learning Level: Advanced

Hibana tells the story of two comedians, a struggling newcomer named Tokunaga who approaches the more confident Kamiya to become his apprentice. Kamiya agrees to take him on, with the condition that Togunaga writes his biography. Over the years, the two climb to conquer the entertainment industry and make it as comedians.

The pair’s struggles and triumphs that come with their at times oppositional views on comedy tug at your heartstrings, with the underlying message that you should never give up on your dreams. If you’re interested in Japanese humor, you’ll love keeping up with the fast pace of manzai comedy. It’s also a good chance to hear the Osaka dialect!

japanese tv shows

24. 『Life 線上の僕ら』(Life Senjou no Bokura) — Life: Love on the Line

Where to Stream: Viki

Learning Level: Intermediate

For those looking for Japanese LGBT shows, this heartfelt miniseries is a must watch. Akira Itou is a popular, serious young man who falls for the goofy Yuki Nishi, who he meets when they both happen to play a game of walking on the sidewalk’s white line.

Each episode follows Akira and Yuki through different parts of their lives as their relationship blooms, going from their teens to their twenties and beyond. As time goes on, Akira feels pressure to conform to societal expectations and grow up, while Yuki wants to live in their fantasy world where they can love freely.

japanese tv shows

25.『1 リットルの涙』(Ichi Ritoru no Namida) — 1 Litre of Tears

Where to Stream: YouTube

Learning Level: Advanced

Based on a true story, this drama follows high schooler Aya Iekuchi, who notices that she’s been having a hard time walking and staying upright.

When her concerned mother takes her to a doctor, she receives the heartbreaking news that she has spinocerebellar degeneration. This brain-wasting disease will eventually leave her unable to walk, speak and even eat, but she is still determined to keep on living.

Undoubtedly, the show lives up to his name—from the obstacles Aya has to overcome to her family’s anguish, audiences across the globe have been moved to tears. While it’s a great chance to hear medical terminology and family interactions, you’ll have to stifle your sobs long enough to do so!

 

The world of Japanese TV is perfect for engaging with real Japan. Group-style talk shows can make you feel part of a circle of friends, while dramas provide a new style of storytelling that may have never occurred to you.

However, what matters most is loving what you watch—do that, and you’re sure to boost your studies of Japanese.

So turn on that TV and get learning!

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