Today, we’re going to list the top 10 Japanese dramas for those just getting started in the glorious world of JDoramas.
This is by no means a listing of the best Japanese dramas, we’re just listing some of the more popular ones which are heavily referenced on the internet.
Luckily, these also happen to be quite good dramas as well, which is why they’re so popular and often discussed.
We’re also going to throw in one or two that are quite good, but perhaps not so popular, or are simply underrated to give potential fans of the genre a little bit more variety.
If you think we’re missing a mega-popular drama that newbies should be aware of, please don’t hesitate to let us know in the comments!
Number 10 – Buzzer Beat
Buzzer Beat follows two characters, Kamiya Naoki, a professional basketball player, and Shirakawa Riko, an aspiring violinist. Naoki has a difficult time showing his true skills on the court thanks to his smaller size and his tendency to crack under pressure and stress. Riko is a strong-willed music college graduate who hopes to become a professional violinist.
Thanks to serendipity, Riko finds Naoki’s lost cell phone on a bus. After returning it, they quickly become friends and their friendship matures into something more. However, Naoki already has a girlfriend which he has been thinking about marrying. To complicate matters, Naoki’s basketball coach fell in love with Riko at first sight.
Number 9 – Hana-Kimi
Based on the manga, Hanazakari no Kimi Tachi E, Hana-Kimi tells the story of Mizuki Ashiya, a Japanese girl living in the United States, who sees a program on TV featuring a high jumper named Izumi Sano. Wowed by his atheletic ability and performance, she begins to idolize him and follow his athletic career. After some research, she discovers that he is currently attending Osaka High School.
Unfortunately, Ashiya discovers that the school is an all-boys school. This doesn’t stop Ashiya, who decides to attend anyways. To enter the school, she moves back to Japan, cuts off her long hair and disguises herself as a male to achieve her dream of being with her idol.
Number 8 – Hotaru no Hikari
Hotaru no Hikari tells the story of Hotaru, who works for a popular interior design company. It’s a glamorous job but Hotaru’s life outside her job is anything but. She lives by herself, and when she isn’t working she’s lazes about her home in scrubby training wear.
She isn’t interesting in anything, least of all men, with her motto proclaiming, “I’d rather lay around than fool around.” Unaware someone is living at the home, her landlord’s son, who has just separated from his wife, comes to inspect the home. He is shocked at the mess, but not as shocked as Hotaru. He turns out to be her boss.
Number 7 – Love Shuffle
Usami is a salaryman who has risen high in his company thanks to an engagement with his girlfriend, who happens to be the daughter of his company’s president. On the day she decides to break off the engagement, a power failure leaves him stuck in the elevator of his apartment building.
With him, are three others who happen to live on the same floor. Ojiro, a model photographer, Masato, a psychiatrist and Airu, a trilingual interpreter. Waiting for the power to come back on, their conversation turns towards their love lives and they ponder whether there is truly only one fated partner for everyone. As a result, they decide to try “shuffling” their relationships with each other. The Love Shuffle begins…
Number 6 – Nobuta wo Produce
Shuji is the popular guy in school who gets along with everyone, except one person – Akira. To Shuji, Akira is just straight up annoying thanks to the way he acts, and his overall disposition. However, things are about to change when a new girl arrives at the school by the name of Nobuko Kotani.
Noboku is a girl who has absolutely no self confidence, she is shy and as a result, is constantly being made fun of and bullied in school. Shuji and Akira come to an agreement that in order to make use of their youth, they will “produce” Nobuko to be the next popular girl. One of the conditions, however, is that nobody can find out that they are working together as a team to make this happen. Nobuto wo Produce is the story of true friendship between three unlikely individuals who would not have been friends if not for the special circumstances which have taken place.
Number 5 – Gokusen
Gokusen, based on the manga with the same name, revolves around Kumiko Yamaguchi, the granddaughter of a Yakuza boss. Her parents died when she was young, and since her grandfather has no other descendants, Kumiko is next in line to head the family business. However, her dream is to be a teacher. While her grandfather approves of her choice, others in the family want her to become the next boss.
Kumiko gets a job as a teacher at an all-boys high school. Her class is full of delinquents, but she tries her hardest to teach them not just about academics, but also about life lessons. Though she’s forced to keep her family a secret from the public, her upbringing in the Yakuza gives her the experience to reach out to her students, while also providing comedic moments.
Number 4 – Liar Game
Liar game is a battle of the wits show which begins when a “stupidly honest” college student, named Nao Kanzaki, receives a box containing 100 million yen and a note that she is now a contestant in the Liar Game Tournament.
In this tournament, contestants are encouraged to lie and cheat to obtain other contestants’ money; those who lose have to pay back a 100-million-yen debt. When Nao’s first opponent, her trusted friend and old high school teacher, steals her money, she seeks help from genius swindler, Shin’ichi Akiyama. While they manage to beat the teacher and get their money back, Nao and Akiyama decide to buy out his debt and continue through the increasingly difficult rounds of the Liar Game Tournament. Against ruthless and cunning contestants, they attempt to free their opponents from debt and to defeat the Liar Game organization by bringing it down from within.
You can read our full review of Liar Game here.
Number 3 – GTO
GTO, short for ‘Great Teacher Onizuka’, follows Onizuka Eikichi, a graduate of a low class University and the leader of a motorcycle gang with the lifelong dream to become a teacher.
After being hired by a seemingly eccentric director, Onizuka begins his unusual way of teaching with a classroom full of delinquents. Although his unique methods meet much opposition from the students and even the teachers themselves, his passion for his students, and teaching eventually win out and convinces everyone that Onizuka has the makings of a fantastic, or ‘great’ teacher.
Number 2 – Nodame Cantabile
Megumi Noda, or “Nodame” is an eccentric piano student attending college. Despite being a very talented pianist, she dreams of being a kindergarten teacher. She is extremely messy and disorganized, takes baths several days apart and loves to eat, often stealing her friend’s lunchbox when it is filled with delicious food.
Shinichi Chiaki, is the top student in college. Born into a high-class family, he is excels at the violin and the piano with ambitions of becoming a conductor. He is also an arrogant perfectionist who once lived abroad in the music capitals of the world as a boy. Shinichi feels stuck in Japan because of his fear of flying and boating thanks to a childhood trauma.
The two meet by accident. Nodame quickly falls in love, but it takes much longer for Chiaki to even begin to appreciate Nodame’s unusual quirks. Their relationship eventually grows, which helps them both mature as musicians. Thanks to Nodame, Chiaki gets the opportunity to lead a student orchestra and begins to have an appreciation of people’s musical abilities. Because of Chiaki, Nodame faces down her fears and enters a piano competition. Opportunities start to open up as both begin taking risks they wouldn’t have before, and extending themselves much more than they ever thought possible.
Number 1 – Hana Yori Dango
Makino is the only poor student at Eitoku Gakuen, a school for insanely rich and privileged kids. The school is is ruled by 4 boys in a group called Flower 4: Hanazawa Rui, the introverted son of a large company; Domyoji Tsukasa, the heir of the Domyoji World Finance Group; Nishikado Sojiro, a womanizer who is the heir of a tea ceremony school; and Mimasaka Akira, a madam killer with ties to the Yakuza.
Makino wants to pass her days quietly – without drawing attention to herself – but one day, she snaps and stands up to Domyoji in defense of her friend. The next day, Makino gets the dreaded red notice – a notice which gives everyone the green-light to bully you until you eventually drop out of school.
Despite being harassed and picked on, the stubborn Makino decides to keep going to school because she is a “tough weed”. In a surprise turn of events, she declares war right back on F4. Her steeled resolve is noticed by her crush Hanazawa Rui and oddly enough, stirs romantic feelings in her worst enemy, Domyoji.