Top 5 Saddest and Most Emotional Japanese Dramas of All Time

Updated on June 24, 2020
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Anny spends most of her time on a quest of self-improvement. She writes about her experiences that she hopes can be helpful to others.

Top 5 Most Emotional J-Dramas:

  • Oshin
  • 1 Liter of Tears
  • Beautiful Life
  • Dosokai
  • The Hours of My Life


I have no words for this story other than beautiful. The series is simply beautiful.

Aired from 1983 to 1984, Oshin is a worldwide success that is Japan’s most watched serial of all time. The simple summary of ‘poor girl becomes successful’ does not do the drama any justice.

Based on a true story, Oshin is a girl born into a poor family residing in a rural area. The hardships that she faces as a little girl starts out when she is sent to another family to work as a servant due to her family’s financial status. Through a series of unfortunate events, at one point even finding herself in a brothel, she patiently endures and eventually makes her way up to becoming a successful owner of a supermarket chain.

The series explores the dark side of socioeconomic repercussions after World War II, the obvious financial gap between the rich and the poor, and the hardships that the older generations had to face to pave way for the current generation’s lifestyle. Common themes like depression, emotional detachment and the frailty of a human mind are the perfect undertones to this heartwarming but dark story.

The drama is not emotional because it is sad, but rather because of how touching it is to finally see Oshin succeed in life. Through all the pain and sufferings she had to put up with, and through all her ceaseless patience and sacrifices that she was willing to make for a better life, Oshin is a masterpiece that stands its test against time.

1 Liter of Tears (Ichi Ritoru no Namida)

It goes without saying that 1 Liter of Tears will always be held as one of the most emotional and heartbreaking series from all around the world. There is no one in the Japanese drama community who hasn’t heard of this reputed tear-jerking classic.

1 Liter of Tears is a tragic story following Kito Aya (Oonishi Asae), a middle school student who had discovered that she was suffering from a rare spinocerebellar degeneration. Spinocerebellar ataxia, or otherwise known as ataxia, is an infamous incurable disease that makes a patient gradually lose control over their own body over the course of time, which eventually leads to the death. At her first visit to a hospital, the doctor diagnosed her with spinocerebellar degeneration, but since he was unable to treat her, he had simply suggested her to write a diary to keep track of her symptoms and emotions as a coping mechanism.

Rather than a romantic sentimental story, 1 Liter of Tears is a poignant drama that follows an individual’s struggles in coming to terms with an inevitable death, her persistent will to live to the fullest until the very end, and her family’s ceaseless distress and grieving that guarantees an emotional roller coaster that spirals out of control at the end.

What makes this series even more heartbreaking is the fact that it is adapted from a true story, following the diary entries of a real girl named Kito Aya who unfortunately passed away in 1988 because of the same disease.

Beautiful Life

Following the same trope of a character with a disability, Beautiful Life is a romantic series that delves deeper into the realistic decision making between a couple and the reverberations that follow that are sure to leave stacks of empty tissue boxes beside your couch.

Okishima Shoji (Kimura Takuya), a talented hair stylist, and Machida Kyoko (Tokiwa Takako) first met on the road when Shoji strongly criticized Kyoko’s driving. They later meet again at the library where Shoji finds out that Kyoko was a disabled person in a wheelchair—but that didn’t make him think any less of her.

What makes this story so heart-rendering is the realness of each and every single character, even the side ones. Shoji is not a romantic hero that swerves in to rescue the damsel in distress, but on the contrary, he is a conceited and flawed man with lingering feelings for his ex-girlfriend, like most normal people do. Kyoko is a damsel in distress. Not because of her disability, but because she uses the wheelchair to define who she is and to shield her from confrontation. Together, they meet and face various journeys and decisions of self-betterment until the very end.


This mature series is iconic amongst the Japanese LGBTQ+ community. Aired as early as 1993, this story is considered a huge success with its positive portrayal of gay men in Japan.

Fuma (Masahiko Nishimura) is a closeted homosexual married to his wife, Natsuki. One event leads to another which Natsuki eventually finds out about her husband sleeping with another man. She runs away and seeks comfort in a one-night stand with another guy by the name of Arashi (Tatsuya Yamaguchi), who turns out to be the bisexual man that her husband had slept with earlier. To make matters worse, she ends up pregnant with Arashi’s child.

The story is one of the earlier series that excellently tackles subjects of sexual orientations and confusions, coming out, the inevitable complications of a bad decision, and roller coaster of emotional intensity that starts out with betrayal. An absolute must watch.

The Hours of My Life

This series follows the common tragedy of a main character with a disability, but Japan never fails to add originality to the overused trope.

Sawada Takuto (Miura Himura) once had a heavy burden on his shoulders when his parents wanted him to become a doctor, but is faced with ultimate disappointment when their attention shifts to his young brother instead. The fourth-year university student leads a life with no purpose, wandering aimlessly in parties. Once he finds out that he is suffering from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and that he has little time to live, he embarks on a journey to change his life for the better.

This story is a heartwarming story that follows the theme of self-improvement and acceptance. The plot realistically rummages through the complexity of a human mind, its ability to form deep emotional connections and its eventual decline when faced with an autoimmune disease. This is a feel-good series reminds the audience that they can positively change their mindset and life while there still is time.

Beautifully written and exceptionally realistic, the series deserves all the accolades it’s been given.

That's it!

These are the top 5 saddest Japanese dramas of all time, guaranteed to take you on the most intense emotional ride of your lifetime.

What is the most emotional Japanese drama in your opinion?

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© 2020 Anny Taylor


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