Are you a drama queen?
If you’re learning a new language, maybe you should be!
Japanese learners often enjoy watching Japanese television shows as a way to study the language and culture.
But when you aren’t in Japan, or if you don’t understand Japanese very well, finding a show to watch can turn out to be a difficult task.
Today, we’ll be showing you how and where you can watch some Japanese drama shows online, complete with English subtitles. Here’s the best part: You’ll be able to watch them on practically any device.
So go ahead and grab yourself some popcorn and a soda because this show’s about to hit the road!
Watch Japanese Drama Online with 4+ Sources
Even though it has a name that evokes images of a sweet, delicious snack, Crunchyroll is unfortunately, not a type of food.
However, it’s definitely a treat for all Japanese language learners who have a craving for quality dramas. The main focus of this source is anime, but it also offers users a decent number of live action dramas and a couple of Japanese movies. Crunchyroll even has a few anime of their own production.
You can access Crunchyroll from any device with an internet connection by downloading the app, or by reaching it through a web browser.
Crunchyroll is very easy to use due to its simple interface, which means you can start enjoying your favorite show in just a couple of clicks or taps. It’s also free to use, but if you opt for the premium option, you’ll gain access to some neat extra features and a larger library of shows.
As far as benefits for Japanese language learners go, there are a few worth mentioning. The subtitles are very good and they tend to resemble the original structure as much as possible. Also, there are plenty of dramas available and basically each one brings something new to the table, from different levels of sentence complexity, to special expressions or dialects.
One inconvenience that can break your focus while you’re listening to native Japanese conversation are the ever-present ads in the free version. But to be fair, nowadays most streaming services have them so you can get used to them relatively quickly. If you want them gone from Crunchyroll, you’ll have to purchase the premium account package and enjoy ad-free dramas.
Lastly, even though this service offers a decent number of dramas to users with a free account, a few are locked behind a subscription paywall. If you enjoy using Crunchy, consider the Premium subscription.
Recommendation: “Death Note”
If you enjoyed the “Death Note” anime or manga, you’ll find the same mind games and outsmarting in the live action Japanese drama. If you’re not familiar with the premise, a teenager finds a magical notebook belonging to a death god, where writing down any living person’s name and cause of death results in the death coming true.
Why should you watch it? Well, for starters, it’s interesting and mesmerizing. But it’s also extremely useful for grasping and understanding certain grammar constructions. When the rules of the notebook are being explained, you get to hear structures that express forbidding or allowing.
Similarly, you can familiarize yourself with causality and conditionals (“if you do this, that will happen”). These are some of the most difficult aspects of Japanese grammar and learning about them in a fun way can help you master them much faster.
Viki is just about the top choice for most Asian drama enthusiasts. The main focus is on Korean dramas and variety shows, but they also offer a large library of Japanese dramas, as well as other popular shows from the rest of Asia, including China, Taiwan and the Philippines.
Viki can be accessed through a web browser or by downloading an app for your device.
The sheer number of Japanese dramas on this source is really surprising, especially since their main focus is the Korean shows. You can also find a movie or two in there and even some anime. On Viki, you also get to watch a few dramas that are usually quite hard to find online legally.
The quality of videos is pretty high, which makes understanding the language a bit easier due to the good sound quality.
If you decide to get a Viki Pass, you’ll gain access to more dramas, TV streaming and a few other cool perks.
Guess what? This one has ads as well. If you want them gone, you better pay up and get a Viki Pass.
I’ve noticed a few technical glitches, like videos that just don’t want to start playing at times. (If you come back after a while, though, the videos often play normally.) Also, for some reason, it might ask you to confirm your birth date from time to time which can be a tad annoying.
Recommendation: “Osaka Loop Line”
Did you ever wonder what kind of life the person next to you at the train station has? Yeah, neither have I. But this drama did, and it decided to show us. With different characters in each episode and 10 separate stories for each station, this drama shows you what kind of ordinary lives people in Osaka live. Such an interesting concept makes this show unique and fun to watch.
Here’s the part that concerns us learners: Osaka dialect. This drama allows you to get familiar with the dialect gradually. The characters don’t talk only in Osaka dialect but instead subtly fuse it with the regular Tokyo one. That’s great because it helps you learn some Osaka style expressions without you even noticing it.
Amazon Prime gets you some sweet shipping deals, but more importantly, you also gain access to a fair amount of Japanese drama, some of which are even free to watch. And if you pair it with Hulu or Netflix, you’ll get to enjoy Japanese drama in ridiculous amounts. (Just don’t forget to sleep and go outside to absorb some vitamin D.)
As mentioned above, Prime offers a lot of Japanese drama for viewing, and practically all of them have really good subtitles. You can access it through a web browser on any device, since it supports smartphones as well.
Certain shows are Prime exclusives and can only be found on the service, so check out what it offers before you go to other sources.
Obviously, the greatest downside is the fact that Prime costs money and there’s no free account option.
Another inconvenience is the unavailability of some videos. Sometimes they just aren’t available and that’s that.
Recommendation: “Final Life”
This Amazon original takes the “drama” thing seriously: One main character has an incredibly sad past while the other can’t remember his past because of an experiment conducted on him in the United States. With this sunny premise behind them, the two characters work together to solve grisly crimes as part of a secret “Special Unit.” You know fun times are ahead.
Starring Shota Matsuda and K-Pop supserstar Taemin (SHINee), the gritty drama often feels melodramatic. But the elements that other viewers might find annoying—like the frequent repetition and slow pacing—are perfect for Japanese learners!
AsianCrush is somewhat similar to Viki, although they offer different shows in their libraries and AsianCrush doesn’t have an app. You can watch dramas from all over Asia here, including a decent number of Japanese dramas and movies. You don’t even need to create an account to start watching what you desire.
This source doesn’t shy away from controversial shows. In its library you can find shows that touch on the subjects of sexuality, family relations, corruption and discrimination. This is important for us learners because it provides us with a certain cultural perception we usually don’t have as foreigners.
AsianCrush is free to use and can be accessed from most of the world.
To be honest, the following downside can be interpreted as a benefit as well but for now, it stands here in the cons section: Some drama are raw. This means they have no subtitles.
I consider this a benefit, though, because I learned Japanese in a Spartan way. Our teacher spoke nothing but Japanese and we had to figure things out on our own. This method proved to be very effective, so watching dramas like this can also turn out to be quite useful.
Recommendation: “Samurai Cat”
The name pretty much explains what the drama is all about. A cat of a samurai. A samurai receives an order to assassinate a cat but naturally, he can’t kill something so cute. So he takes her in instead and comedy ensues.
The old Japanese language heard in this drama can help you acquire a very handy tool for your linguistic toolbox. When you learn some vocabulary and grammatical constructions of that period, you’ll be able to understand and translate old poems like haiku or tanka.
Let’s not forget these few sources that also have something to offer to Japanese language learners:
Although it doesn’t offer you the possibility to watch full drama shows, FluentU can help you improve your pronunciation, enrich your vocabulary and learn kanji in a fun way with cool videos.
That’s because FluentU takes real-world videos—like drama and anime clips, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons. The program pairs videos with interactive subtitles, flashcards, adaptive quizzes and more. So if you’re looking for a way to learn Japanese with authentic content, FluentU’s the way to go!
Viu is available in over 30 countries, including Thailand, Malaysia, Iraq, India, South Africa and other Asian, Middle Eastern and African locations. It’s a great source for drama watching if you live in the countries it covers. Enjoy your favorite shows with subtitles in your native language!
Another source that offers streaming services for people outside of US and Europe, Iflix is currently streaming in Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Brunei, the Maldives, Pakistan, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, Nepal and Bangladesh.
Iflix gives you the option to watch streaming shows or download episodes to watch later. And if you get tired of Japanese dramas, there are plenty of other options on this pick.
For a small fee, you can enjoy watching the best and the latest HBO movies and TV shows wherever you are. A few Japanese movies and shows—like the Japanese version of “Sherlock Holmes,” featuring a female Sherlock—will satisfy your hunger for Japanese drama.
As you can see for yourself, all of these sources are great for improving your Japanese pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary.
Instead of picking the best among them, we suggest you try them all out to get your fix and watch Japanese dramas online!
Now, where did I put that popcorn bucket?
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Japanese with real-world videos.