From hit anime to acclaimed live-action shows and everything in between.
While titles like Squid Game and All Of Us Are Dead have cemented Korea’s place in the streaming era in what some are calling The Korea Wave, South Korea is not the only East-Asian country producing innovative, vital TV. Japan has been quietly producing live-action content made for the streaming era that, we feel, have largely gone unnoticed. Japan has been considered a cinematic powerhouse for the better half of the last hundred years, as well as producing countless unforgettable anime series, series made for the streaming platforms are, we feel, due for a renaissance. If you’re looking to dive into the world of Japanese TV here are our picks for the best Japanese TV shows on Netflix, including the classics as well as the new titles you can’t afford to miss!
Editor’s note: This article was updated August 2023 to include Burn the House Down.
Alice in Borderland (2020-present)
Cast: Kento Yamazaki and Tao Tsuchiya
This gritty and dark dystopian sci-fi thriller packed with thrilling action sequences, great visuals and an enthralling concept makes for unforgettable viewing. Alice in Borderland follows Ryohei, an unemployed young man who is obsessed with video games stumbles across a portal to an alternate reality where he and his friends have to fight for their survival. A kind of mash-up of the Hunger Games meets The Matrix ensues, making for genuinely riveting viewing.
Burn the House Down (2023-present)
Creator: Moyashi Fujisawa
Cast: Mei Nagano, Asuka Kudô, Taishi Nakagawa
Burn the House Down is a thrilling series based on the hit Josei manga series by Moyashi Fujisawa. This fiery drama follows Anzu Murata (Mei Nagano), who infiltrates a wealthy family’s home as a housekeeper to uncover the mystery surrounding a disastrous fire that destroyed her home as a child. The series is ripe with great performances, and every episode draws you in as Anzu gets closer to the hidden truth that she is fighting to dig up while trying to maintain her cover. The push and pull of whether she’ll get caught or if she can take this wealthy family down is so engaging that the eight-episode series is an easy binge. – Tauri Miller
Make My Day (2023)
Cast: Masaomi Yamahashi, Ayahi Takagaki, Kazuhiro Yamaji
Make My Day is an exciting animated series voiced by the talented Masaomi Yamahashi, Ayahi Takagaki, and Kazuhiro Yamaji. Created by famed manga author Yasuo Ohtagaki, Make My Day is a new original story taking place on the snowy planet of Coldfoot, a faux utopia secretly built atop prisoners forced into labor mining a precious energy-rich element. Featuring CG animation from Studio 5, Make My Day is an epic science-fiction action series with a stellar soundtrack that enhances the heart-pumping battle between humanity and a mysterious creature living just beneath the surface. – Yael Tygiel
The Many Faces of Ito (2017)
Cast: Fumino Kimura, Nozomi Sasaki, Kaho, Tomoya Nakamura
Based on Japanese author Asako Yuzuki’s book, The Many Faces of Ito stars Fumino Kimura as Rio Yazaki, a once-successful screenwriter in her thirties. When Rio faces a creative block, the jaded writer discovers an untapped resource in four love-sick women seeking dating advice. Through The Many Faces of Ito’s singular season, Rio discovers that her four muses are falling in love with the same man, providing drama and twists for the soapy series. With stakes set over Rio’s career and these women’s hearts, The Many Faces of Ito is an enticing spectacle. – Yael Tygiel
Japan Sinks: People of Hope (2021)
Created by: Sakyo Komatsu
Cast: Jun Kunimura, Shun Oguri, Ken’ichi Matsuyama, Teruyuki Kagawa
Based on the book by Sakyo Komatsu, Japan Sinks: People of Hope follows the people of Japan as they protest the government’s method of liquefying pollutants after journalist Yusuke Tadokoro (Teruyuki Kagawa) attempts to warn them that this practice will lead to catastrophe. Although technically, Japan Sinks is built on a science-fiction concept, the foundation of the premise is terrifyingly relevant to the current climate of modern civilization. Allowing realism to influence the plot of the story, which is set in the not-at-all-distant future, Japan Sinks advocates for smarter practices while providing entertainment and adventure. – Yael Tygiel
Fishbowl Wives (2022)
Director: Michiko Namiki, Hiroaki Matsuyama, Aya Narakino
Cast: Ryôko Shinohara, Masanobu Andô, Takanori Iwata, Anne Yatco
Based on the manga by Kurosawa R, Fishbowl Wives is an anthology series that follows various women living in the same luxury apartment building as they turn to infidelity to cope with their crumbling marriages. Despite their lives looking glamorous and perfect on the outside, the women deal with everything from abusive spouses to disagreements about children, showing the audience that appearances can be deceiving. Fans of shows like Desperate Housewives and Big Little Lies are sure to enjoy it. – Taylor Gates
Good Morning Call (2016-2017)
Created by: Yo Kawahara, Takashi Fujio
Cast: Haruka Fukuhara, Shun’ya Shiraishi, Moe Arai, Shûgo Nagashima, Kentaro Ito, Kôya Nagasawa
Based on the manga series, Good Morning Call follows a teenage girl named Nao who moves into her dream apartment in the city. There’s just one problem: Her popular classmate Hisashi is moving in, too. When they realized they’ve been scammed into renting the same place, they reluctantly become roommates in order to pay for the spot. Things get even more complicated when Nao starts developing romantic feelings to Hisashi. Good Morning Call is a delightful rom-com that proves opposites attract. – Taylor Gates
Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995-1996)
Cast: Megumi Ogata, Megumi Hayashibara, Yūko Miyamura, Tomokazu Seki, Akira Ishida, Fumihiko Tachiki, Motomu Kiyokawa, Kotono Mitsuishi
Another cult classic anime series which has been re-released on Netflix over the last few years, Neon Genesis Evangelion is one of the most celebrated anime series of all time and has inspired nearly endless fanfare since its 1996 release. Set in 2015 when Earth is being attacked by advanced alien technologies known as The Angels, it is up to 14-year-old Shinji Ikari to save the planet, as he is the only one capable of piloting the only technology capable of stopping them. While the series is bloody, violent and thrilling to watch, the action sequences are a backdrop for its deeply philosophical themes sprinkled throughout the show’s 26-episode run time.
The Naked Director (2019-present)
Cast: Takayuki Yamada, Shinnosuke Mitsushima, Tetsuji Tamayama
For those us who aren’t so keen on death, destruction and mind-bending philosophical questions; or those who need some respite after the likes of the last few entries on this list, The Naked Director makes for a funny, and often fascinating look into a largely unexplored subculture. The Naked Director is a semi-autobiographical look at the life, and adventures of infamous Japanese pornographer Toru Muranishi. If you’re looking for a fun, binge-able Japanese TV show, then look no further than The Naked Director.
Death Note (2006-2007)
Cast: Mamoru Miyano, Ryô Naitô, Keiji Fujiwara, Kappei Yamaguchi, Aya Hirano, Shidô Nakamura
An unforgettable anime classic, Death Note is an iconic Japanese TV series, and for excellent reason. The series follows Light Yagami, a teenager who stumbles across a magical notebook that he can use to kill anyone he chooses by simply writing their name in the book. A deep exploration of morality, and right and wrong, Death Note entertains as much as it makes us think, which is a major part of its long-term appeal.
Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories (2016-2019)
If you love Japanese food, a good story, and you’re fascinated by the alchemy between the two, the Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories is the show for you. Each episode stands alone, and focuses on one customer at the Midnight Diner as they recount their stories, which always, in some way, leads back to food. This show is satisfying on many levels, the vicarious enjoyment of the delicious-looking food, as well as the often touching, and deeply human stories being told.
Cast: Reo Uchikawa, Yuki Furukawa, Rinka Kakihara, Mio Yūki, Tomoka Kurotani
Erased is one of many remakes of a hugely popular manga of the same name, though it is widely considered to be the most faithful remake of the original material, as well as one of the best. This fantasy/thriller follows 18-year-old Satoru who discovers he has the ability to time travel after finding his mother dead. What follows is sometimes harrowing, often touching drama that will hook you from Episode 1.
Cast: Miki Nakatani, Elaiza Ikeda, Mari Natsuki, Yuka Itaya, KOM_I, Mika Nakashima, Tadanobu Asano, Shuhei Uesugi, Nobuaki Kaneko, Hidekazu Mashima, Sho Kasamatsu, Yutaro
Followers is an exploration of the effects social media can have on contemporary Japanese society. The series follows two women, Limi, a fashion photographer, the other Natsume, an aspiring actress who, as fate would have it, cross paths when Limi takes posts a picture of Natsume and posts it on Instagram. What follows is a deep dive into the often narcissistic world of social media influencer culture. If you’re interested in delving into the social media landscape in Japan, then this series makes for fascinating viewing.
Samurai Gourmet (2017)
Directors: Michihito Fujii, Mamoru Hoshi
Cast: Naoto Takenaka, Tetsuji Tamayama, Honami Suzuki
This quirky but loveable series boasts a unique plotline, and makes for an amusing exploration of what it means to retire. The series follows the adventures of a recent retiree who, after living the grueling life of a Japanese salary-man, takes a new lease on life by exploring his local cuisine with the aid of an imaginary friend, a Samurai. What follows is a truly delightful, albeit strange series that is endlessly enjoyable, feel-good fun.
Cast: Takehiro Hira, Kelly Macdonald, Yōsuke Kubozuka, Will Sharpe, Masahiro Motoki, Justin Long, Anna Sawai, and Charlie Creed-Miles
While this is technically speaking a British TV show, its extensive distribution in Japan and largely Japanese cast earns this brilliant crime thriller a spot on this list. The series follows a Tokyo detective in search of his nephew, Yuto, who is believed to have killed a family member of a high-ranking Yakuza member. If you like great detective fiction, you’ll love the unique spin this sure-to-be classic places on the genre.
Director: Hiroaki Matsuyama
Cast: Miu Tomita, Kaya Kiyohara, Daiki Shigeoka and Tomohiro Kamiyama
This sci-fi drama largely aimed at young adults may be reminiscent of Freaky Friday, only much darker, and without any of the light-heartedness. This series follows two schoolgirls from polar opposite ends of the social hierarchy who switch bodies with each other, and while this trope usually entails a lighthearted affair, Switched adopts it to deal with themes such as body image, societal pressures placed on school-aged girls, and suicide. This makes for an interesting take on a sub-genre of film and TV that makes for highly binge-able viewing.
Ju-On Origins (2020)
Cast: Yoshiyoshi Arakawa, Yuina Kuroshima, Ririka, Koki Osamura, Seiko Iwaido, Kai Inowaki, Ryushin Tei, Yuya Matsuura, Kaho Tsuchimura, Tokio Emoto, Nobuko Sendo, Kana Kurashina
A spooky horror/mystery that is sure to impress die-hard fans of the genre. Following a paranormal investigator who divines a connection between several horrific accidents which happened over four decades, all linking back to one house. The series spans over 40 years and dives into each incident and its supernatural origins. The show is part of the Ju-On / The Grudge franchise. If you love a good supernatural mystery, then don’t miss this gem!
Directors: Ryūta Ogata and Hiroki Hayama
Cast: Mirei Kiritani, Mao Daichi, Mayuko Kawakita, Wakana Sakai, Ken Kaito, Maiko, Masako Chiba, Dori Sakurada, Nicole Ishida, Toshi Takeuchi, Hisahiro Ogura, Megumi Sato
Atelier is a sometimes-funny, often heartwarming view into Japanese work culture. Following a young Japanese woman, Mayuko, who has recently been hired by a high-end lingerie manufacturer as she navigates the inspiring, but often difficult space she finds herself in. The visually stylish production is a perfect complement to the glitzy world of high-fashion, which makes for an enchanting watch.
Terrace House (2012-present)
Cast: Kaori Watanabe, Shohei Matsuzaki, Haruka Okuyama, Kenji Yoshihara, Risako Tanabe, Ruka Nishinoiri, Emika Mizukoshi, Giuseppe Durato, Ryo Tawatari, Hana Kimura, Violetta Razdumina, Kai Kobayashi, John Kimverlu Tupas, Toshiyuki Niino, Yume Hayashi
A reality TV-Show, largely similar to Big Brother, but with a twist. The show follows six men and women who are all living in one house over. The participants can leave whenever they like, and unlike most western reality TV shows, they have no real aim or goal, like prize money or to find love. The characters are simply there for the experience, which makes for much more genuine, relatable viewing.
Million Yen Women (2017)
Directors: Michihito Fujii, Hiroto Hara, Kenji Kuwajima, Hirotoshi Hara
Cast: Yôjirô Noda, Rila Fukushima, Rena Matsui, Miwako Wagatsuma, Rena Takeda, Yûko Araki
A comedy, mystery, and drama all wrapped in one, this adaptation of a classic manga series is in a league of its own. The story follows a down-on-his-luck writer who suddenly receives five mysterious female house guests who each pay him 1 million yen in rent. Who sent these women? Why are they there? It’s a funny, outlandish, quirky but ultimately riveting series that will keep you guessing.
https://collider.com/best-japanese-shows-on-netflix/ The Best Japanese Shows on Netflix Right Now (August 2023)