5 Japanese dramas for studying Japanese

By Heidi Sarol

One of the best ways to increase your listening skills and cultural knowledge about Japan is to immerse yourself in the very colorful world of Japanese television dramas.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, we are spending more time at home and have fewer chances to practice Japanese in real-world situations. It might even be hard to stay motivated during the pandemic. Recently, I’ve reignited my passion for learning Japanese by watching episodes of "Nigeru wa hajidaga yakunitatsu" (The Full-Time Wife Escapist) after my study sessions.

Most dramas are only about an hour-long, so it’s an excellent opportunity for easy listening practice. Keep in mind you’ll either need to use a streaming service in Japan (like Paravi), check your local Japanese video store (like Tsutaya), or travel the high seas (if you know what I mean) to watch these dramas.

In this article, I’ll introduce five of my favorite J-dramas and tell you how you can use them to your advantage when studying Japanese.

1. Tokyo Tarareba Musume

Based on a manga by Akiko Higashimura, I can liken "Tokyo Tarareba Musume" (東とう京きょうタラレバ娘むすめ, Tokyo What If Girls in English) to "Sex and the City." The story is about three women in their late 20s to early 30s navigating life and love in Tokyo.

What I like about this show is the simplicity of its premise. It’s easy to understand even without subtitles. As someone confident around the N3 level of the JLPT, I didn’t encounter any difficulty with the character’s choice of vocabulary or grammar.

You’ll learn a lot of vocabulary that relates to relationships, particularly in friendship and in love. The protagonists are likable, and you’ll cheer for them until the last episode—definitely an easy watch.

  • Japanese level: Higher N4 to N3
  • Genre: Romance, comedy, slice of life
  • Starring: Yuriko Yoshitaka, Nana Eikura and Yuko Oshima
  • Where to watch: Hulu, Tsutaya (rental)

Click here to read more.

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Thanks for the list. I can definitely recommend dramas with Nagase Tomoya. His shows are usually very funny and he is a good actor. Ayase Haruka also has a couple of good shows.

However, most of the time I stay away from Japanese dramas. A lot of them are very cringey, have the same characters (eg. the stoic, intelligent ikemen) and it is just awkward seeing real life persons overacting like anime characters. There are even embarrassing rip offs from successful US-shows such as 24, Suits or Walking Dead.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

This was my plan to learn Nihongo - watch Japanese dramas. But after I learned I couldn’t stand Japanese acting, I started learning Korean instead unintentionally.

5 ( +9 / -4 )


Same here. I started off watching Japanese dramas to try to improve my Japanese when I first came here. But soon, I found them (and Japanese TV in general) completely boring and I stopped. For a while, I found myself watching Korean dramas instead, just by chance. The Koreans know how to do cliffhangers much better, and the characters are more expressive in comparison - there's a lot of bitching, back-stabbing, hitting, cussing, arguing which makes for better TV viewing.

At the end of the day, acting in East Asian drama is terrible, especially Japanese. Just had a quick look at the video above. Stopped halfway. Over-acting and immature characters.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Perhaps the problem lies with bad acting, but for me the characterisation is even worse. For me, Japanese dramas are so crammed with stock archetypes they resemble a deadpan, unfunny pantomime. Characters do not grow or develop, they respond to other characters and situations in unrealistic or contrived ways, and the foley and music composition resembles a half-baked sixth form film project.

Clearly, the Japanese take the same cookie cutter they use for their pop music to their dramas, too.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Ryoko Yonekura's Doctor X was not so bad, a long-running hospital drama. The usual overacting was reduced and the supporting actors were less than wooden; but there lots of medical vocabulary, some fun stories, an attempt at character development, and a very caustic view of the Japanese medical hierarchy and healthcare system.

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i learn japanese from the cartoons my kids watch... its great because we are learning together...

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I used to watch 日本人の知らない日本語 to learn Japanese but after 4 episodes, I just couldn't stand the acting and the way they showed the non Japanese characters. Bunch of Weebos fulfilling their yakuza and anime fantasies, along with their overacting was just ahhhh! Cringeworthy.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Now I'm using the comments section in Mercari to learn Japanese. People are always so polite there. Probably not the most ordinary way to learn a language but I don't know. Works for me. This week I bought some items from ジモティ and the Japanese I learned from Mercari helped me a lot when interacting with the sellers.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

There are good jdramas out there, just a much smaller percentage than kdrama. Check out 'Attention Please' (the 2006 jdrama that first inspired me to visit Japan, and to fly JAL), 'Akai Ito', 'Taisetsu na Koto wa Subete Kimi ga Oshiete Kureta', the underrated 'Mop Girl', and the crime series 'Absolute Zero'.

Japanese movies often rate higher than jdramas. Check out 'Hanamizuki', 'I Wish', the cult classic 'Linda, Linda, Linda' (which stars Doona Bae), 'One Litre of Tears' (2005 movie version, box of tissues required), 'Sky of Love', the enchanting 'Tennen Kokekko' ['A Gentle Breeze in the Village'] and the feel-good movie, 'Flying Colours'.

Plus, the usual slew of anime from Ghibli and others. The more realistically voiced it is, the better it is for your Japanese studies. You aren't going to get anywhere shouting at the top of your lungs, like so many anime characters.

In a sense, you might get more linguistic benefit if the drama is slow and less interesting, allowing you to concentrate on the speech. Japanese Vloggers may be a better source for accurate contemporary speech, turns of phrase and regional accents.

Kdrama is a major driver of interest in the Korean language, but it is anime that does that for the Japanese language. Jdrama tends to lack complexity and be quite didactic, whilst Japanese movies are often very serious affairs. There are gems, but you have to hunt them out. And of course, everyone likes different ones.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )


although a bit dated now, but good stuff

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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