Must-Watch Japanese Dramas!

Must-Watch Japanese Dramas!

Introduction

Some prefer movies, others prefer TV shows. In my opinion, TV shows are arguably more entertaining than movies, only because they have multiple episodes that tell the storyline longer and in a more elaborate manner. Viewers are able to get attached to specific characters and root for them — that’s the beauty of any series.

The Western TV shows and Korean drama shows have gotten tons of attention and credit in the scene — what about the Japanese dramas? This slightly underrated genre definitely deserves more hype, because it’s not only entertaining and heartfelt, but every Japanese drama gives an insight into the country as a whole and the different aspects of Japanese culture. 

Here are the best 10 Japanese dramas to get you started on your binge-watching!

1. Hana Yori Dango

Hana Yori Dango is a Japanese drama that needs absolutely no introduction because of its high reputation. This drama tells the story of the only poor student, Makino Tsukushi, at a school for the rich and privileged called Eitoku Gakuen. While it is just like any other academic school, there’s a mutual understanding that the school is informally ruled by Flower 4, known more commonly as the F4. 

The F4 consists of four boys who come from extremely influential families who might even be as powerful as the king. All Makino wants is to get through her school days as peacefully as possible. But unfortunately for her, she stumbles onto the bad side of one of the F4 boys. The series follows her school life as she battles through bullying and other mishaps happening in this prestigious school. 

2. Todome No Kiss

The first time Todome No Kiss aired, everyone who had access to the Japanese TV channel was glued to the show. This drama features a popular host, Dojima Otaro. Because of his past, Otaro has this personality of a cocky, full-of-himself man that only strives for power and money. On just a regular normal day at work, a strange thing happens. 

He faces a mysterious lady with a pale face and red lips who kisses him out of the blue, and right after the kiss, Otaro suddenly dies but not permanently. After a while, he regains consciousness, with one minor difference: he wakes up seven days in the past. This highly-rated drama follows the tale of his constant encounters with this mysterious woman, eventual multiple deaths and resurrection, and his quest to finding out why this is happening to him in the first place. 

3. 1 Litre No Namida

This extremely popular Japanese series follows the life of a fifteen-year-old girl, Ikeuchi Aya, who is just about to enter high school. She is just an ordinary girl from a family who works at a tofu shop — a type of bean curd — but she begins to experience unexpected occurrences that are not at all pleasant. Aya starts to walk awkwardly as well as falling abruptly more often than not. 

When she and her mum consults the doctor, Aya finds out that she has spinocerebellar degeneration, which is an extremely rare disease that deteriorates the cerebellum part of the brain. Over time, the victim’s speech and physical acts like walking and eating will be affected. This Japanese drama revolves around Aya’s time in her remaining teenage years till the early twenties.

4. Suits

Suits is a remake of the original American TV series that had stellar reviews internationally — it even has a Korean remake. Even with multiple versions of the storyline, this Japanese drama is just as good, if not better. Suits stars Shogo Kai, an extremely good lawyer from one of the biggest law firms in Japan who prioritises winning more than anything else, and Daiki Suzuki, a young man with multiple hardships in life but extremely intelligent with an excellent memory. 

Impressed by Daiki’s remarkable memory recall and capabilities, Shogo hires Daiki as an associate despite his lack of certificates. Suits tells the adventures this tag team duo has with lawsuit cases and the challenges they face at keeping this secret.

5. Code Blue

 

This Japanese drama series, Code Blue, has a total of three seasons revolving around the mid-2007 legalised system in Japan called the “Doctor Helicopter” system. This system involving dispatching a medical team from a helicopter to patients in need in the quickest time possible. 

The first season shows four newly assigned young physicians to the Doctor Helicopter system and their various encounters with different medical situations. The second and third seasons sets in a few years after the introduction of the system with other characters. Even with the occasional time jumps, the entire series is coherent and easily followed as it has the same concept of fragility of life and growth of the individual characters.

6. Good Doctor

Be moved by the story of Minato Shindo, a passionate man with autism and savant syndrome, in the Japanese drama Good Doctor. Shindo’s older brother passed away when they were young, and because of that incident, he dreams of becoming a doctor. Despite his special needs, he has an amazing memory. 

Akira Shiga, a respected doctor at a local hospital, was amazed at Shindo’s abilities —Shindo was able to memorize the human organs at the age of only seven. After Minato graduates from medical school and passes the national exam for medical practitioners, doctor Akira puts in a recommendation for Shindo to be a part of the pediatric surgery department.

7. 99.9: Criminal Lawyer

The crime scene in Japan is incomparable to the rest of the world. Just by watching 99.9: Criminal Lawyer, you’ll get an insight into how it’s like in the country through the form of an entertaining TV series. 

The main character, Hiroto Miyama, is a lawyer who takes on criminal cases but doesn’t profit as much because the conviction rate for such cases in Japan is 99.9%. He teams with a successful civil lawyer, Atsuhiro Sada from one of four biggest law firms in the country, Madarame Law Firm. This amazing duo goes onto uncovering the truth about the remaining 0.1% of the crime scene in the country.

8. Ouroboros

This Japanese TV drama features two orphans, Ryuzaki Ikuo and Danno Tatsuya, who were brought up by an orphanage staff that they regarded as an older sister. When these two were in elementary school, they witnessed the murder of their older sister right before their very eyes. Despite the statements made to the police, it was buried by an officer with a golden watch. 

On top of that, the same guy covered up the case and no one knows why. A decade and a half later, Ikuo became a detective while Tatsuya is a leading member of an underground organised crime group. Despite being in two different worlds, these two people come together to expose the truth of what happened to their older sister as well as taking down the powerful organisation behind it.

9. Mare

This Japanese drama will definitely warm your heart and soul. Named after the main character of the story, Mare tells a story about a girl who grew up constantly running from city to city because of her family’s debt crisis. She and her family find themselves in a small village town called Noto where she settles in and rebuilds her life. 

When Mare grows older, she didn’t want to be like her family who was always running around without a passion to strive for. Instead, she is determined to chase after her childhood dream of being a patisserie. Follow Mare’s life journey as she strives to become a world-class patisserie, with the occasional romance here and there.

10. 3 Nen A Gumi: Ima Kara Mina-san Wa, Hitojichi Desu

Follow the story of the lead character of 3 Nen A Gumi: Ima Kara Mina-san Wa, Hitojichi Desu, Ibuki Hiiragi, in his career at a high school as an art teacher and also a homeroom teacher to third grade’s Class A. His job started off normally two years ago, but it took a twist a few months prior to graduation day. 

With just 10 days to graduation, Hiiragi gathered all of his 29 students of class 3-A and claimed that they were his hostages — none of them was able to leave until Hiiragi knows the truth behind the suicide of one of a past student. 

Conclusion

There are various Japanese dramas in every genre, from action-packed and mystery to heartwarming lifestyle and romance. Without even moving a muscle, you’ll be able to learn a thing or two about Japan and Japanese culture, just like how the drama Mare introduces the pastry scene in Japan while the drama Todome No Kiss sheds light onto the host culture. Japanese dramas are both educational and entertaining — why not get into it right now?

Essential Japanese Drama Keywords

Essential Japanese Drama Keywords

Introduction

Don’t lie — you love drama (ドラマ). I mean, everyone loves one specific drama at some point in their lives. For me personally, I’m into every kind of drama, so best believe that Japanese drama is one of them. In fact, Japanese drama was the reason I got into learning Japanese in the first place!

When I was starting out, there were a few Japanese words that struck out — especially the ones that you don’t really learn from the textbooks. These keywords stuck with me, because not only are they repetitive but they are also used pretty often in casual, daily conversations. 

Which brings me to writing this very article: to spread the love of these essential Japanese drama keywords — you can thank me later.

1. Mattaku (まったく)

The first one is something you’ll hear being said both on its own or in a sentence. Those two cases have different meanings. 

If “mattaku” (まったく) is being used as an exclamation or reaction, it has the nuance of a mild curse — kind of like when you say “jeez” under your breath at something your friend said. It’s used the exact same way; let’s say your friend and you agreed to meet at a certain time but she ended up being late, with a load of excuses to boot. Of course, your natural reaction would be shaking your head and letting out a small sigh — “mattaku” fits perfectly with all of that.

Another way of using “mattaku” is to emphasize something. If you want to say someone is not only wrong, but they’re completely wrong, then add “mattaku” before the verb: “mattaku machigatte iru yo!” (まったく間違っているよ!)

2. Mou ii (もういい)

This one also has two ways of using it — one a positive way, the other a negative or neutral way. The first way of using “mou ii” (もういい) is when you’re telling or describing something that is of sufficient level or suitable. For example, if your friend is pouring a cup of water for you and it’s about to reach the level you prefer, simply say “mou ii yo” (もういいよ) to her.

Another way to use this phrase is when you’ve had enough of something — kind of like saying “that’s enough” or “forget it”. Say your sister is annoying you with her whining and you just want to be done with it; use this remark “mou ii” to shut her up. I would do it to my sister, if only she speaks Japanese too.

3. Bikkurishita (びっくりした)

There’s no direct comparison to an English phrase for this one, but “bikkuri shita” (びっくりした) is used when you’re surprised or shocked by something. I guess in English we would have a reaction phrase like “oh my god!” or something of the like — maybe in Japanese, one would scream too. 

But the difference lies after the reaction; in English, it’s not really that common to say out the obvious like, “you scared me” or “I was surprised”, but in Japanese, it’s almost always natural to say “bikkuri shita” right after. While it does translate to “I was surprised”, it’s more of a matter-of-fact saying rather than letting the other person know what has happened. 

4. Jaa ne / mata ne (じゃあね / またね)

There’s more than one way to say goodbye in English — bye, see you, later, etc. So, it’s only fair that there’s also more than one way to say goodbye in Japanese. Two of the most common ones you’ll hear in Japanese drama are “jaa ne” (じゃあね) and “mata ne” (またね)

I mean, you could say “bai bai” (バイバイ) like the katakana version of a “bye bye”, but “jaa ne” and “mata ne” is kind of cooler, I’d say. It’s like “see you later!” — more casual and natural, less…structured?

5. Dame (ダメ)

One word you’ll hear quite often in dramas is “dame” (ダメ). The translation’s pretty simple: no. Well, it doesn’t exactly translate to “no” but it gives off a similar nuance. It’s kind of like saying something’s a no-go, or it’s not good, or you can’t do that. 

If you’re trying to walk down a prohibited path, expect a “dame dame!” from people around you. In my personal opinion, “dame” carries such a strict vibe that if I hear it, I feel like I’m being reprimanded — but it’s just my sensitive self talking, it’s not really like that! 

6. Yabai (やばい)

This one is where it can get quite confusing — the older generation has a different definition from the youngins, but both are correct. 

See, yabai (やばい) actually means “horrible” or “bad”, so the expression “yabai” implies that the thing you’re referring to is not good at all. That is how the older generation looks at this word — they’re not wrong, in fact, they’re technically right.

In the modern generation however, and also when used in dramas, the meaning is completely opposite. When someone exclaims “yabai”, more often than not, it implies that something is so cool! Kind of like when we say something is “the shit” — it’s not shit, it’s so good that it’s the shit.

7. Urusai (うるさい)

Need a phrase that can be a direct or indirect way to tell someone to shut up? “Urusai” (うるさい) is your guy — it translates to “noisy”, but you can use it to tell someone that they’re too noisy they need to tone it down.

If your friend is shouting too loudly in an izakaya while you’re having a few drinks, just say to him “urusai!” to be extremely direct that he needs to be quieter. If a group of people next to you is making a huge ruckus and you just want to say  “they’re noisy”, “urusai” also works for that without actually telling them they are.

8. Ossu (オッス)

You know how you can say bye a few different ways? You can say hello a few different ways too — in fact, if you want to know more ways of saying hello and bye, there are other articles where I’ve listed down the top ways to do so!

Anyway, the one you’ll hear among friends in dramas is “ossu” (オッス). It’s basically “hey” in the most casual way possible. Keep in mind that it’s actually a greeting used by the guys due to its more masculine tone. I’ve never used it myself, but I’ve heard my male friends using them — it sounds cool.

9. Saitei (最低)

Some Japanese dramas are a little more dramatic than others, so you’ll hear them saying “you’re the best” and “you’re the worst” quite often. Even though in English it has quite a heavy tone to it, I guess it’s as bad in Japanese. “Saitei” (最低), which means “the worst” is mentioned quite a few times in the dramas I’ve watched.

So if someone did something horrible to you and it made you upset, I guess you could throw out “saitei” to them — I personally don’t recommend doing it, but it’s great to know especially when it’s always in the dramas.

10. Mukatsuku (ムカつく)

Our last drama keyword is another slang word, and it’s more often used among the younger generation and adults — not so much the oldies. While “mukatsuku” (ムカつく) has the meaning of “irritating” or “annoyed”, when someone tells you this, it’s basically implying that you’re annoying to that person — so I hope no one has said this to you before!

From the dramas that I’ve watched, “mukatsuku” is usually said under the breath, not so much face-to-face. I reckon you could still tell someone they’re irritating you with this phrase — just make sure it’s not your superior!

Conclusion

And that concludes the top 10 essential Japanese drama keywords that I personally have noticed popping up more than a few times in all of the dramas I’ve watched. All of them are extremely casual and sometimes some of them can be considered rude, so use it sparingly — or not at all if you’re too afraid to offend anyone. Regardless, it’s great to know them and make your drama time a lot more meaningful, literally!