Must Watch Japanese Dramas (1997-2015)

I only have up to 2013 on these because I’ve gotten really behind on watching Japanese dramas. Also, in 2014, most of the Japanese dramas were crime/law dramas which are not my favorite, so that’s made it difficult to watch some of them. I’m currently trying to watch some from 2014, but, as most of them don’t appeal to me, it has been very difficult to find one I can watch completely. So, here’s my list, and I’ll add 2014 and 2015 dramas if the ones I watch are any good.

1. Glass Mask/Glass no Kamen Seasons 1 and 2 (1997-1998)- TV Asahi

glass mask

Upon seeing the date this drama was first aired, I’m sure drama watchers will back away from this one, but I assure you that this is actually one of the best Japanese dramas out there. The lead girl of this drama was a great actress, which, you kind of have to be playing a role like this. This drama is based off the manga of the same name and it’s basically all about acting. If you like Skip Beat!, then chances are you will like this drama because it’s about the same thing: acting. There is also romance in it, which kind of feels creepy sometimes, but at other times puts butterflies in your stomach. Sure, being a drama from the late-90s means it’s going to look dated, but the drama and acting is so good that you will look past all of that. Plus, the music is really good. B’z did the themes for both seasons, and they have some really great songs. If you have never watched a Japanese drama and you’re not put off by the “oldness” of this drama, Glass Mask would be a good one to start you J-drama obsession. Otherwise, stay away from this one until you’ve watched a few of the newer ones.

2. Rich Man, Poor Woman (2012)- Fuji TV


I think this was the only J-drama that I watched in 2012, or at least the only J-drama that kept me watching past the first episode. It was really good. So good, in fact, that I think this definitely one of the best Japanese dramas ever created. Oguri Shun really impressed me in this role, since all I had ever seen him in was Hana Yori Dango and Hana Kimi, and he played the same sort of character in both those dramas. This drama, however, he changes it up and plays a tech genius who is rather eccentric. The romance in this drama is also very sweet. It’s nice to see how much the main man and the main woman come to rely on each other. The theme song (Hikari e by Miwa) is delightful. I love that there’s an English version as well as a Japanese version. There’s also an acoustic version and a pop-style version. This would be a great drama to start with if you are new to Japanese dramas. . .

3. Hanazakari no Kimitache e (2007)- Fuji TV

hana kimi

And…speaking of Hana Kimi…here it is on the list! Yes, of course this would be on the list. It is an essential drama for any fan of Japanese dramas. I watched half of the first episode of the newer version, I watched half of the first episode of the Korean version, and I fully watched the Taiwanese version, and I can say that this one is the best (even though I may not be the best judge of that since I haven’t watched the other ones fully). Between this and the Taiwanese version, even though they didn’t have Jiro Wang, this version is better by a long shot. Oguri Shun is great as Sano, Horikita Maki was very good as Mizuki, Ikuta Toma was an entertaining Nakatsu (though I do think Jiro Wang was the better one), and the three dorm leaders were absolutely perfect. They are probably the most entertaining thing about this drama. It is a typical gender-bender, high school drama, and one that would be good to start out with if you are new to J-dramas.

4. Hana Yori Dango Seasons 1 and 2 (2005-2007)- TBS


No “must-watch Japanese drama list” would be complete without Hana Yori Dango. It is one that every J-drama watcher must watch and one that all Asian drama lover should watch at least once. This was the second adaptation of the story based of the manga (Taiwanese being the first), and it is one of the best. It is by far the funniest version because it has the stupidest Tsukasa. You will laugh at so many things he says because they really make him an idiot, but an idiot whom we all grow to love. The first season is good, but the second season is even better, even funnier, and even sweeter. I’ve had a few friends who were never into any type of Asian drama watch this and get addicted to it, so it is definitely a good choice if you’re new to J-dramas. You won’t be disappointed.

5. Hotaru no Hikari Season 1 (2007)- NTVhotaru no hikari

This is the funniest Japanese drama ever! Seriously! I can’t remember ever laughing so much during a J-drama than I did with this one. Ayase Haruka is hilarious in her acting of Hotaru. Fujiki Naohito is also funny, though it’s mostly his lines to Hotaru that are funny and not his actions. Hotaru no Hikari also has a really sweet and funny romance. I really don’t know what else to say about it other than don’t bother with season 2 because it’s not as good. This is a great drama if you are a J-drama newbie or if you are trying to get someone else to like J-dramas.

6. Maou (2008)- TBS


Finally, a dramatic drama on the list. It’s been a while since I watched this, but I still remember that it was really good. I knew about and was listening to Arashi before I saw this drama, so when I saw that Ohno was in it, I was really excited about watching it, and he didn’t disappoint. He did so well in this drama at playing a two-faced person. His “revenge” personality was most intriguing and really gets you hooked on the drama. Ikuta Toma also did really well as the detective, though Ohno really wasn’t letting anyone steal his show. There’s a slight amount of romance in this drama, so if you’re a strictly romance drama-watcher, then this could still appeal to you. For those new to Japanese dramas, this could be a good one to start out with, especially if you like drama over comedy.

7. Nodame Cantabile (2006)- Fuji TVnodame cantabile

If you love music, especially classical music, then you will love this drama. The reason began watching this drama was because I knew it was going to have classical music in it and orchestras, and it really didn’t disappoint. There is a perfect balance of comedy, romance, and music. There wasn’t too much of any and there wasn’t too little of any. If you are new to J-dramas, this would be a good one to start with especially if you like orchestral music.

8. Zettai Kareshi (Absolute Boyfriend) (2008)- Fuji TV

zettai kareshi

Zettai Kareshi is also a drama that will always be on a must-watch list. It is the ultimate romantic comedy, but it also has a really good, and realistic ending that will not leave you disappointed. Hayami Mokomichi is great at acting like a love robot, and he can be really funny sometimes. Mizushima Hiro is the other male lead that likes to tug on your heartstrings, and the Aibu Saki is good at acting her role. Absolute Boyfriend is also a good drama to watch if you have never before watched Japanese dramas.

9. Sunao ni Narenakute (2010)- Fuji TV


Ah, this drama. A drama that has Ueno Juri, Eita, and OMG Jaejoong in it is bound to be good. Ueno Juri and Eita were already seasoned actors, so I didn’t have any doubts that they would deliver great performances, which they did. Jaejoong, on the other hand, I was unfamiliar with him for the most part. I knew he could sing, but I wasn’t so sure he could act, and in a Japanese drama at that. Well, he surprised me. He did a very good job and became one of the most pitiful and precious second male leads in the history of second male leads. His Japanese was also really good, and his being Korean didn’t take away from the fact that he was in a Japanese drama, since he actually spoke all his lines. This drama is romantic but also very melancholy. It’s definitely not a completely sad drama, but there are some sad moments. If you like serious and emotional dramas, then this would be a good Japanese drama to start out with; otherwise, save this for later.

10. Soratobu Kouhoushitsu (2013)- TBS


I wasn’t expecting much from this drama. The only thing that appealed to me was the poster. The synopsis said something about pilots, and it seemed like it would be pretty boring. Well, I gave it a chance, and I was very glad I did. Although the description for this drama is romantic comedy, it is definitely more of a romantic drama. The romance is slow in coming, but we all know it’s there. The friendship between the two main leads, eventually leading to a romance, is what makes this drama so good. Aragaka Yui and Ayano Go had such good chemistry. A few parts in the story might get a little boring, but overall, this was a good, interesting drama. That being said, I wouldn’t suggest watching this if you’re completely new to Japanese dramas because it’s slower-than-most-dramas pace might turn you off to J-dramas, but once you’ve watched a few of the rom-coms, you will be refreshed when watching this one.

11. Kazoku Game (2013)- Fuji TV


I wanted to wait at least a few weeks after watching this drama before I added it to the list, since, even though I really liked it, I wasn’t sure if it was “Must-Watch” material. But, every time I think back to it, I remember how much of a treat it was to watch and how good the story and characters were, so here it is on the list! If you’re new to J-dramas, this would be a good one to start watching. Sure, it’s a bit weird and crazy at times, but it’s also well put together and well acted, so you won’t be disappointed. For my full review, click here:


So, there it is! My must-watch J-drama list. I’m not sure how many broadcasting networks Japan has, but it seems like Fuji TV has the highest probability of producing a good drama. Well, hopefully I’ll be able to add some more dramas to this list in the future.



9 thoughts on “Must Watch Japanese Dramas (1997-2015)

  1. You must not watch many dramas at all if these are the only ones you can come up with! Yes I agree Rich Man, Poor Woman was good but there are 9 that were equally as great that I could name that you didn’t list. In fact, I’d never HEARD of the other 9 you listed and I’ve watched probably 50 dramas in my short 10 years of discovering them. Here are 9 more you should have listed or for people who are looking for good dramas, some serious recommendations. I find that with all Japanese dramas that succeed the first season, they tend to be carbon copies of the first one. In other words, they are exactly the same as the first. Having said that, I put notes beside the ones that had more than one season to clarify the one I thought was best, it’s usually the 1st season of the drama.

    1. Saigo Kara Nibanme no Koi
    2. Kaseifu no Mita
    3. Kekkon Dekinai Otoko
    4. Gokusen (1st Season)
    5. Last Cinderella
    6. Saikou no Rikon
    7. Great Teacher Onizuka (Original 1998)
    8. Utsukushii Rinjin
    9. Code Blue (1st Season)

    If you enjoy these dramas let me know!

  2. Thanks for taking the time to comment and giving a list of dramas! First things first, yes, you are correct, I do not watch as many dramas as many Asian drama watchers. Along with work, school, family, writing, playing video games, watching movies, watching American and British TV shows as well as Asian ones, and doing various other things, I don’t have the time nor the patience to watch one drama after another, especially if I don’t like it. Also, I’m glad you haven’t watched nine of the dramas I listed. This list was made for people either looking for what to start out watching or looking for something else to watch, so I do hope you watch some of these. As for the dramas you listed, I watched a few episodes of Gokusen, but never got into it, GTO I have yet to watch, but I’ve heard it’s good, and Kekkon Dekinai Otoko, I’ve only watched a few episodes. So, even if these are must-watch dramas, since I haven’t watched them, I can’t very well put them on the list. The others you’ve mentioned, I have heard about, but haven’t gotten around to watching them. But I am glad that now I have a list to go to the next time I’m looking for a Japanese drama to watch!

  3. Hi, randomly came across this post. I’ve watched 6 out of the 11 and 4 out of the 9 from the above lists. I recognize all but one of the dramas on silentshimmer’s list. I don’t recognize a few on Nick’s list. Personally, I think the dramas on silentshimmer’s list are better. Sunao Ni Narenakute in particular, but that is just personal opinion. Rather than Last Cinderella, I preferred Anego, which is a similar drama Shinohara Ryoko starred in with Akanishi Jin.

    I noticed most of these dramas appear to be newer dramas (I have not watched much in the last few years). If you don’t mind a little bit older dramas, I would suggest trying some of the ones listed here –> I have seen more than half of the 100 dramas listed and they have all been pretty good. I watched these many years ago so I don’t remember them that well, but I recall liking in particular the following (many of these are from 04-05): Orange Days; Proposal Daisakusen; Last Christmas; Ichi Rittoru no Namida; Anego; Long Vacation; Pride. Not on there, but Liar Game was also one of my favorites.

    • Oh! I used to go to that site all the time when I first started watching Japanese dramas! I still go there occasionally, but I’ve watched quite a few of the older dramas, and I’m more interested in the newer ones now. I’ve watched Proposal Daisakusen, and I thought it was only okay. It got a bit boring and Yamapi is not the best actor, although he has definitely improved over the years. I started Liar Game a few years ago but neglected to finish it. It was interesting what I watched of it, though, so hopefully I can finish it sometime. Thanks for all the suggestions. I will check them out!

  4. Thanks alot, there are a couple of dramas I haven’t seen on this list. There are a lot of other must watch ones that you left out like:
    1. Gokusen (1,2,3)
    2. Liar Game (original)
    3. Yamato Nadeshiko Shinichi H. (aka the wallflower)
    4.The Perfect Son
    5. Last Cinderella
    6. Love Shuffle (should be number one must watch)
    7. Nobuta wo Produce

    • Hey! Thanks for commenting, and I’m glad you liked the list! As for the dramas you listed, I haven’t seen all of them, so, naturally I can’t add them to my list unless I’ve seen them. I remember watching Liar Game and enjoying it, but I didn’t finish it, so once I do perhaps it will be a “Must-Watch.” As for Yamato Nadeshiko Shinichi and Nobuta wo Produce, while I understand these are popular dramas, I thought they were very boring and not very well acted. Also, I will take your suggestion to watch Love Shuffle into account and hopefully I’ll be able to watch it soon.

  5. Came across this post as I’m looking for a new drama to watch! (I’ve been on a J-drama marathon this past week XD.) I’m actually really surprised 1 Litre of Tears is not on the list! It’s actually one of the first J-dramas I’ve ever watched along with Hana Yori Dango and both are in the top for me.

    These past few years I haven’t been watching that many dramas in general but from memory, I really liked Last Friends, which is similar to Sunao ni Narenakute in terms of genre.

    Last Cinderella, Rich Man Poor Woman and Hotaru no Hikari – 100% agree with you!

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