Photo from Netflix

10 Japanese dramas you should be streaming on Netflix right now

There exists a whole world beyond Alice in Borderland if you want to dip your toes into the world of J-doramas.

Japanese dramas don’t get the same hype as their Korean counterparts do. This doesn’t mean that J-dramas, also called “J-doramas” or just “doramas” by fans, pale in comparison to K-dramas. It only means that you must start rooting through your streaming provider’s library because there’s a whole lot of them worth watching, trust me.

J-doramas have their own charm, with my favorites usually gentle, slice-of-life dramas that make you appreciate the little things in life—ideal antidotes to life’s daily stresses. The Japanese also do romance and thrillers quite well.

If you want to give Japanese dramas a try (for films, check out a previous article), because there exists a whole world beyond the super popular Alice in Borderland. We’ve rounded up 10 series which are excellent for dipping your toes into the strange (at times) yet wonderful (always) world of J-doramas.

1. The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House (2023)

Let me start the list with my favorite drama of 2023 which follows 16-year-old besties Kiyo (Nana Mori) and Sumire (Natsuki Deguchi). Both girls leave their native Aomori and head south to Kyoto to fulfill their dream of becoming maiko or apprentice geiko —the Kyoto-specific term for geisha.

The elegant Sumire easily becomes a maiko. Childish and clumsy Kiyo, meanwhile, is deemed unfit as an apprentice geiko but she wins her mentors’ hearts through her delicious cooking, earning her the spot as in-house cook or makanai.

The Makanai is as much a story about Sumire’s journey toward being a geiko as it is about Kiyo mastering her skills in the kitchen. It is a tender, heartwarming story of friendship and food—what more can you ask for? The series is so calming it almost feels like a dream, and the food shots so mouthwatering they trigger instant cravings.

Watch if you need a balm to soothe your weary soul—or if you’re craving Japanese food.

2. First Love (2022)

This is a story about a man and a woman who rekindle their first love after meeting again years later. Sounds familiar? It sure does as it fits the bill of a cliché, but before you cross this one off your list, its being clichéd is actually its strength. It embraces all the clichés and this is what makes First Love an unforgettable series.

It doesn’t pretend to be a smart, profound love story; it is just a love story, but one that is told with such earnestness that it tugs at one’s heart strings. 

Inspired by the songs of Japan’s superstar Utada Hikaru, First Love is unapologetically sappy and romantic—which is how all first love stories should be in the first place! The actors playing both Yae (Hikari Mitsushima and Rikako Yagi) and Namiki (Takeru Sato and Taisei Kido) have snuggled into their roles so well not only are they believable, you’ll also see yourself rooting for them from the very first episode. 

Watch if you want to relive your first brush with kilig.

3. Burn the House Down (2023)

From a gentle drama and a kilig series, let’s move on to a revenge thriller that was surprisingly among my faves last year.

The series follows Anzu (Mei Nagano), who is hell-bent to uncover the truth about the fire that ruined her family 13 years ago. She goes to great lengths such as pretending to be a housekeeper for Makiko (Kyoka Suzuki), the glamorous new wife of the owner of their former home. 

Japanese dramas Netflix: Burn the House Down
Kyoka Suzuki (left) and Mei Nagano in Burn The House Down, a revenge drama about a girl who is hell-bent to uncover the truth about the fire that ruined her family. Photo from Netflix

Though not without its share of plot holes and with an ending that was met with mixed reviews, Burn the House Down nonetheless manages to maintain its heart-pumping momentum from start to bitter end.  

Watch if you’re a revenge drama junkie like me.

4. Midnight Diner (2014) and Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories (2019)

I discovered the first three seasons pre-Netflix years, so I have to admit that I watched the series by downloading it. The slow torrenting was worth it (J-Dramas take longer to download than K-Dramas), with Midnight Diner becoming one of my favorite J-doramas of all time. The two-season remake, Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories, is just as good.

Japanese dramas Netflix: Midnight Diner
Kaoru Kobayashi stars as the Master in Midnight Diner. Photo from Netflix

Its TV anthology format allows viewers a peek into the lives of a myriad of characters who come from all walks of life—from salarymen to yakuza, a writer to an aspiring porn actor. And with Tokyo as the backdrop, nothing could be uninteresting right?

The series’ focal point is a traditional shokudo, a type of hole-in-the-wall eatery much like our own carinderia. The proprietor, known as the Master (Kaoru Kobayashi), only has a few items on the menu—pork miso soup set, sake, beer, and shochu—but he makes whatever his customers request, as long as he has the ingredients on hand.

As his clients share their stories with him, they find nourishment not only for their rumbly tummies, but for their troubled hearts and souls as well. 

Watch if you need the proverbial chicken soup for your soul. 

5. The Road to Red Restaurants List (2020)

This low stakes, slice-of-life drama follows the adventures of Suda Tamio (Hamatsu Takayuki), a salaryman who travels around Japan in his minivan in search of “red restaurants,” endangered dining spots at risk of disappearing in the future. These establishments are run by old chefs who have no clear descendant willing to inherit the business.

Japanese dramas Netflix: the Road to Red Restaurants
Hamatsu Takayuki is Suda Tamio, a salaryman who travels around Japan in search of “red restaurants,” those at risk of disappearing in the future. Photo from Netflix

The photos flashed at the end of every episode show the real people who run those “red restaurants” next to the actor/s who played them. This seemingly small gesture adds more depth to the series and makes it even more worthwhile to watch—it’s about real people after all. 

Watch if you love heartwarming food stories. It will make your heart feel lighter as your stomach hankers for a bowl of ramen or a slice of crispy katsu.

6. Samurai Gourmet (2017)

Quite similar to The Road to Red Restaurants List in that it also features a salaryman who indulges his foodie self by trying different restaurants. In Samurai Gourmet, however, the passionate foodie Takeshi Kasumi (Naoto Takenaka), spends his days roaming around, not Japan, but his tranquil Tokyo neighborhood, in search of new places to eat.

The recent retiree is accompanied by his fantasy companion, a samurai who urges him to embrace this new chapter in his life.

I love how Takeshi finds joy even in the humblest things. In one episode, he relishes what seems to be an ordinary bento box, as he contemplates: “It’s just a plain lunch, but eating it under a clear sky makes it special.”

Described by The Guardian as “hypnotically dreamy,” Samurai Gourmet makes me want to do the same thing once I retire—explore, not just my neighborhood, but the world in search not only of good eats, but of fresh perspectives on life. 

Watch if you need a dose of optimism.

7. Life’s Punchline (2021)

Masaki Suda (Haruto Takaiwa), Ryunosuke Kamiki (Shunta Asabuki), and Taiga Nakano (Junpei Minowa), three of my favorite J-actors, star as members of an unpopular comedy trio called Macbeth. Another favorite, Kasumi Arimura (Rihoko Nakahama) co-stars as the waitress of the family restaurant the siblings frequent.

Japanese dramas Netflix: Life Punchline
Life’s Punchline stars some of Japan’s most in-demand actors. Photo from Asian Wiki

I started reaching out for the tissue box as early as the first episode, with the series being equal parts heartwarming and relatable, tackling issues from family to friendship, love to career.

Come for the stellar performance of the cast, stay for the life lessons.

8. An Incurable Case of Love (2020)

Another Takeru Satoh starrer, this is one of my favorite series in 2020, and which I’ll always remember as one of the bright spots of our first few months in lockdown. 

Japanese dramas Netflix: An Incurable Case of Love
An Incurable Case of Love (2020) will be remembered by many as a pandemic hit.
Photo from Asian Wiki

The story follows Nanase Sakura (Mone Kamishiraishi), a rookie nurse who fell in love with Dr. Kairi Tendo (Satoh). Hoping to meet him again, Nanase studied hard to become a nurse. Now a registered nurse, she meets Dr. Tendo again, who happens to be a man opposite the one that filled her fantasies. 

The female lead gets too silly sometimes, but it’s okay, we have all been hopeless romantics at one point in our lives, haven’t we? The series ticks all the hallmarks of a classic tsundere rom-com, where the cold, harsh male lead gradually lets his defenses down as he falls in love.

Watch for the ever-dashing Takeru Satoh and if you need a breezy rom-com.

9. House of Ninjas (2024)

The newest entry on this list, the series dropped only last Feb. 15 and has occupied the number one spot on Netflix’s Top 10 Series since. Though I have yet to finish all eight episodes, I’m completely hooked!

The story follows the Tawaras, a legendary ninja family considered to be the last. Due to a mission that took place six years ago, the family decided to abandon their ninja ways and live a normal life among regular people.

The series so far is a perfect mix of action, drama, mystery, humor, even a tinge of romance, and I have to keep myself from binge-watching it (Because work! Deadlines!). Acting, choreography, and cinematography are top-tier as well. 

Watch if you’re looking for something new to binge-watch. 

10. Old Enough!

This long-running series has been airing in Japan since 1991 and follows toddlers going on an errand on their own—buying groceries, going to the orchard, delivering packages. Most of the children are between 3 to 6 years old, but there have been instances wherein those as young as 1 or 2 years old have also participated. 

Japanese dramas Netflix: Old Enough
This long-running series first aired in Japan in 1991 and follows toddlers going on errands. Photo from Nippon TV.

It goes without saying that the series is sweet and adorable but it can also be heart-pumping—Will the little one be okay? Will she be able to buy the groceries? Will he find his way back home?

More than being a showcase of how clean and safe Japan is, the series is a reminder that we mustn’t lose touch with our inner child—that we should still find wonder even in the simplest things. 

Old Enough! has been distributed internationally on Netflix since March 31, 2022, but episodes had been trimmed down to ten-minute segments.

Watch for kawaii overload!

Associate Editor

The new lifestyle.