Best Japanese Drama series
Japanese drama series (also known as “Doramas”) have been around longer than their more popular Korean cousins, but they have their own unique qualities which make them stand alone amongst the sea of Asian television.
The Japanese drama as we know it today began evolving sometime in the early to mid-nineties. Romances like long vacation (and anything with Kimura Takuya in it really) catapulted the industry forward. While others, like Great Teacher Onizuka and Trick, diversified it, making it varied, complex and interesting.
Japanese dramas can’t be pinned down to a tiny set of templates like Korean dramas, but they still do exhibit some particular tendencies and patterns. Amongst romances, a common theme is for the female lead to be vulnerable somehow. In Summer Snow, she is very ill. In Orange Days, she’s deaf. In Beautiful Life, she’s bound to a wheelchair. It’s up to the handsome male protagonist to heal her with his love. Many Japanese Doramas can be funny, but just as many can be sad and almost tragic.
Some JDrama StarsClick thumbnail to view full-size
One thing that Japanese dramas have that the Koreans generally do not, is a large population of great actor superstars. Many Korean actors are interchangeable, or if they do reach stardom, vastly slow down their television output and instead focus on being themselves, stars.
But in Japan, a success of the show can depend upon its cast. Yukie Nakama, Kimura Takuya, Matsumoto Jun and Abe Hiroshi can all command large audiences all on their own. Shows vie for them. Of course, you have to understand that the acting industry has been around a lot longer in Japan than Korea, and that has something to do with it as well.
My Top Ten
My personal favourite. Yukie Nakama stars as Yankumi, the mob-boss daughter turned high school teacher. Trying to keep her family history private, she is unfortunately set in charge of the school’s problem class, a group of unrepentant criminals and slackers. Yankumi’s life growing up as a mob-daughter makes her uniquely suited for this position. It’s her struggle to reform the students of class, 3-D. It’s a moving tale about dedication and the power of someone who cares.
2) Long Vacation
The story about a music student, Senna and the sudden entering in his life of Minami: an older woman, ex-model and the jilted bride of his ex-roomate. When Minami’s fiancé runs away and she’s left with nowhere to stay, she forces herself in with Senna. The show is about how they cope with this situation. Quiet, reserved senna, and boisterous, older Minami. It’s a fantastic juxtaposition.
3) Hana Yori Dango
Another manga (comics) adaptation. HYD is about a young girl in a rich private school she can barely afford and her dealings with the people there. She eventually falls in with the four richest and most popular boys and the drama revolves around her turbulent attraction to one of them. Great cast and great story.
4) Densha Otoko
One of the most interesting real life stories I’ve heard in a while. Densha otoko (translation: train man) is the true story about a young nerd who, seeing a beautiful woman beset by a drunk on the train, goes to her rescue when nobody else will. Afterwards, he goes on the internet and asks their advice on how he should go about wooing her and whether or not she was sending romantic signals his way. A modern love story.
5) Orange Days
Sae is a deaf, violin student. Kai is the man thrust by fate into her path. Kai is mostly normal, Sae is closed off and troubled by bitterness and isolation. It’s about falling in love and dealing with the grief when one loses the most important thing in their lives.
6) Kimi Wa Petto
A smart, successful woman who is beset by jealousy and adversity at work comes home to her apartment to find a young man (Matsumoto Jun) living in a box on her doorstep. Feeling sorry, she takes him inside, but after seeing a superficial resemblance to a dog she once had, she decides to adopt the boy and call him momo and keeps him as a pet. It’s a show about a woman taking the term, sugar mamma, to new heights. Romance ensues. Very entertaining.
An all-star cast in a drama about a juvenile delinquent turned state prosecutor. Kimura Takuya stars in a drama about a street-smart misfit who will do whatever is necessary to solve his cases and find justice.
A strange little show about a professor and a failed magician who go around investigating paranormal cases and debunking them. The chemistry between the two leads is undeniable. This series is just weirdly funny and surreal. Like a dream. Some of the "tricks," are almost unbelievable.
9) Great Teacher Onidzuka (GTO)
This drama should, by rights, have a higher placing on the list. It’s a spectacular and rightly popular show. I just personally had read both the original comic it was based upon and seen its anime version before getting to the drama, and I’d found them more enjoyable. Onidzuka is the male Gokusen. It's the story about a teacher and a group of misfits and the struggle to turn children into adults.
10) The Taiga Drama
A yearly period piece put on by the television station, NHK. The Taiga drama deserves a place on this list for a number of reasons. How it works is that, NHK, every year since 1963 runs a new show about some aspect of Japanese history (usually fuedal era). What's more, they are top quality material, some of the best jidaigeki you will ever see. Great acting, large budget, historical accuracy. if you like samurai movies, I suggest attempting to get your hands on a Taiga drama. (Komyou ga tsuji even has Yukie Nakama in it).