The Bias List is a k-pop site first and foremost, but I’m always on the lookout for new j-pop as well. And though I can count myself as somewhat of an authority on Korean entertainment and idol groups, my knowledge of their Japanese counterparts is much more limited. Add to that the fact that j-pop is a much more diverse genre, with many acts that just don’t appeal to my taste, and this is a pretty darn biased list. So rather than considering it the best of the best, look at it as a collection of recommendations from a k-pop fan who likes to dip his feet into the Japanese market from time to time.
This list will also include Japanese releases by Korean artists.
20. AOA – Give Me The Love (ft. T.M. Revolution)
19. E-Girls – Strawberry Sadistic
The massive j-pop girl group moved toward punkier territory with the rock influenced, badass power pop of Strawberry Sadistic. (full review)
18. Junho – DSMN
17. AOA – Wow War Tonight
For their latest j-pop single, AOA took on a classic, synth-driven sound and melded it to a surging, anthemic chorus. (full review)
16. Arashi – Power Of The Paradise
Arashi released several singles this year, but the bombastic Power Of The Paradise (their 50th!) was the best. It feels like a breathless victory lap for the veteran superstars. (full review)
15. Apink – Brand New Days
Apink‘s best single in 2016 wasn’t a Korean release, but this cotton-candy j-pop confection. Yes, they’re a more mature group than Brand New Days paints them as, but you can’t argue with that ridiculously catchy hook. (full review)
14. Cherrsee – Siroi Shirts
Brave Brothers‘ first j-pop group struggled to find an audience this year, but not for a lack of quality music. Shiroi Shirts gives us the sound we’re used to from the producer, but perfects it for the Japanese market.
13. Lead – Zoom Up
The veteran j-pop boy group returned with a dubstep-heavy single that sounded more like modern k-pop than anything we’re accustomed to from Japan. Its aggressive electro assault never lets up.
12. Taemin – Sayonara Hitori
K-Pop’s most arresting performer debuted in Japan with this dramatic hybrid of balladry and electro dubstep. Only Taemin could get away with making a song like this sound so good. (full review)
11. Bullet Train – Seventh Heaven
The colorful j-pop group returned this October with their most off-kilter release yet. Its bizarro production choices won’t be for everyone (they weren’t even for me the first time I heard it), but the song’s anything-goes mentality is hard to resist. (full review)
10. E-Girls – Dance With Me Now
E-Girls released a handful of singles this year, but none was as perfectly realized as Dance With Me Now. It’s pure dance-pop at its finest, offering a mainstream chorus that’s deceptively catchy.
9. Kis-My-Ft2 – Yes! I Scream
Fusing the group’s trademark pop sound with robust orchestration, I Scream is as grandiose and anthemic as it is silly. Just try not singing along.
8. VIXX – Depend On Me
7. Kis-My-Ft2 – Gravity
The boy group’s second entry on the countdown, Gravity clobbers with its propulsive hook and high energy, synth-driven beat. It’s a massive-sounding slab of dance-pop.
6. News – Touch
5. Da-iCE – Watch Out
Boy group Da-iCE channels Dream Girl-era Shinee with the upbeat, retro dance pop of Watch Out. The song is home to mainstream j-pop’s funkiest beat of 2016.
4. Shinee – Because Of You
Speaking of Shinee, the group returned with their best j-pop single in years. Because Of You bounces on a bright, brassy beat that gives the song’s enormous chorus added heft. The bittersweet music video injects added emotion. (full review)
3. Infinite – DNA
Infinite‘s j-pop career hasn’t been quite as consistent as their Korean releases, but DNA moved them in the right direction with its aggressive dance beat and dramatic vocal arrangement. (full review)
2. Boyfriend – Jackpot
K-pop group Boyfriend returned in 2016 with what might just be their best Japanese release yet. Jackpot‘s mix of symphonics and dancefloor beats gives it a grand, densely packed appeal that perfectly compliments its sledgehammer chorus. (full review)
1. Bullet Train – Yell
Sitting on the top of this year’s list, Yell added a welcome punch of emotion to Bullet Train’s unpredictable sound. It’s one of the group’s most melodic moments, with an ever-building chorus that snowballs into a dramatic climax. It may not hit you over the head on first listen, but grows more and more effective the longer the song lingers. (full review)