In the past, this feature included both Korean and Japanese dramas. But in 2022, I realized I’m much more of a J-drama person. Their way of storytelling (and shorter, punchier running time) fits with my sensibilities and I completed over two dozen series this year.
So this year, I’m going to run down my favorite Japanese dramas, including some older ones I watched in 2022 and a couple that I’m still working through. If you find something that interests you, make sure to click on its title for plot and cast details, as well as information about where watch it.
I’m convinced Silent is the perfect drama – especially within its niche. Its story may be small in scope, but it’s an emotional epic. Each scene and character feels so deeply. I think I made it through maybe one of the its eleven episodes without crying. I’m not usually one for tearjearkers, but although there’s plenty of sadness laced throughout this story, many of those tears came in response to just how well the drama is executed. It’s beautifully written, acted and paced. Each character is fully rendered, and their stories resonate regardless of screen time. Kaho steals every scene she’s in as Momono Nana, but much of the attention has deservedly gone to Meguro Ren. He’s extraordinarily good in this.
(Goukon ni Ittara Onna ga Inakatta Hanashi)
No 2022 drama made me laugh harder. I adored all the characters, from the hapless college dorks to the handsome, dansō (crossdressing) women. Goukon adapts a hyper-realized, overexaggerated manga/anime style into live action — an approach I’ve always enjoyed. But, it takes the right actors to pull it off without the schtick becoming cloying. Goukon‘s cast is brilliant, establishing a world I wanted to enjoy for at least a dozen more episodes. It’s one of those rare, little-known gems that pop up every so often. It’s also insanely re-watchable.
OTHER 2022 HIGHLIGHTS
(Eien no Kinou)
As a show centered around grief, Eternal Yesterday is seeped in sadness. That’s not usually appealing to me, but the drama captures this mood — in all its intricacies — so well. Even so, it’s not perfect. Though its eight episodes are short, the drama occasionally spins its wheels and a side plot with the teachers doesn’t add much to the story. But, this is worth watching for episode three alone. It’s centered by a beautiful performance from the two leads. Also, if you end up watching Goukon, it’s interesting to see actor Inoue Sora in a completely different role.
(Kimi no Hana ni Naru)
Cheesy as it may be, I really enjoyed this one. Any drama set in the idol industry is of interest to me, and although I Will Be Your Bloom is as contrived as you’d expect, it delivers what you’d hope for from a show about a fictional idol group. The music is good, the characters are fun (I loved the quirky supporting cast!) and the drama has a ton of heart.
The “yankee” (think: goofy gangster/rascal) is a long-established J-drama trope, and Nanba MG5 has a ton of fun with it. The main character tries to hide his rambunctious, brawling side but gets sucked into all sorts of mayhem. I really enjoyed the relationships between the characters, and the titular family (especially their dog!) was a scene-stealing joy.
I love shows about good people doing their best. I find them immensely calming and satisfying. Nice Flight centers on the crew at an airport — a setting that’s always been of interest to me. The leads are fantastic, the romance is sweet and the behind-the-scenes glimpse at this profession is fascinating.
(Shinai naru Boku e Satsui wo Komete)
The over-the-top nature of this thriller felt like a manga ripped off the page. Practically every episode revealed some huge twist in the plot, making it difficult to predict. The gorier scenes and psychological drama won’t be for everyone (and there are a few old tropes I found especially problematic), but this was a really fun, “turn off your brain” nail-biter with some especially memorable highlights.
2022 was a year I was able to learn a lot more about LDH group Fantastics. This docu-drama played a big role. Part fiction, part non-fiction, the improvisational nature of The Usual Night gives you a fly-on-the-wall look at the group’s interactions. It’s not particularly fast-paced or plot-heavy, but the members’ individual quirks become increasingly charming as the series goes on.
(Me no Doku Sugiru Shokuba no Futari)
Each of these twenty-five episodes clocks in at around five minutes, making the drama feel more like a series of vignettes or comic strips. This works well with the overall concept: the main character delusionally “ships” two unknowing office co-workers. These delusions (and the reactions to them) are absolutely hilarious, but my favorite aspect of the drama was its funny inter-office banter and relationships.
(Koi ni Mudaguchi)
I’ll always have a soft spot for school comedies starring characters who could best be described as “lovable losers.” Admittedly, the episodes here can be hit-and-miss and random. But overall, I found this drama very charming and often quite funny.
DRAMAS IN PROGRESS
(Imawa no Kuni no Alice Season 2)
The first season of Alice In Borderland was one of my 2020 favorites. We’ve endured a long hiatus since then and I can’t say I’m as enraptured with this season so far. But, I’m only three episodes in and still enjoying this dark, dystopian universe.
(Oshi ga Budokan Ittekuretara Shinu)
This one’s still in the process of being subbed, but I’ve enjoyed what I’ve watched so far. I love how the drama both honors and pokes fun at what we’d call “stan culture.” The central trio of characters are endearing and surprisingly sweet and the girl group feels real (some of the actresses are active as performers outside the drama).
(Inori no Karute: Kenshui no Nazotoki Shinsatsu Kiroku)
I don’t like medical dramas, mostly because I don’t like hospitals. But, each episode of Inori no Karute has been stronger than I expected. Its mystery element is fun and there’s a lot of humor that plays well with the more emotional moments.
**Update: Really solid finale that could’ve been unbearably sad but was pulled off with a lot of grace. Tamamori was great in this drama.
OLDER DRAMAS I LOVED
This was one of the funniest, most outlandish dramas I’ve ever seen and really made me respect Yamada Ryosuke as an actor (and comedian!). It’s quirky and strange and the writing is so sharp. Definitely one of a kind, and you need to watch the spin-off movie to finish the story.
Our Sister’s Soulmate (2020)
(Neechan no Koibito)
For those looking for a sentimental romance with a strong family element, this drama is a stellar example of the form. It radiates goodness, but it’s tempered with a dark edge that makes for a perfect blend.