12 Best Japanese Series on Netflix (with English Subtitles)
Best Japanese Series on Netflix from funny series to thrillers, LGTB friendly and more!
Since the appearance of the internet, our lives have changed in many ways. Internet has helped to make the world more communicated and we can get to know more and better other countries that were previously distant for us. Netflix started as a DVD rental company but knew how to have a vision of the future long before the others and already around 2007 it introduced its viewing service via live broadcasting. Today it’s the most famous streaming company in the world, offering its services in more than 190 countries for only around 10 dollars (1,000 yen) per month and even producing its own series and movies.
With the introduction of subtitles in different languages, Netflix made it easier for its viewers to watch not only series shot in their country of origin but in many other countries. It’s not as if this was not possible before, since television networks bought the rights to foreign series and dubbed them (hence for example part of the success of anime around the world) but now it’s easier and there is much more variety . When I was a teenager and a fan of Japanese dramas, the idea of being able to watch Japanese dramas from your home was unthinkable. If it wasn’t something that was going to interest a lot of people (like Lost or Games of Thrones), the television networks wouldn’t buy it. But now everyone can watch Japanese, Korean or many other countries series from almost anywhere in the world with Netflix.
Unlike anime, which has many followers around the world, Japanese series are little known and perhaps initially do not arouse much the interest of the general public. But I can assure you that there are very good Japanese series. One of the things I like the most about Japanese series is that they tend to have few chapters (around 8-10) and they are perfect for when you want to see something but don’t want to get hooked on an endless series with a thousand seasons and chapters. In addition the chapters are also usually short sometimes (around half an hour).
Here I bring you my compilation of the 10 best Japanese series to watch on Netflix, with English subtitles available. There are them for all tastes, from funny series to thrillers, LGTB friendly and even some that will make you cry on more than one occasion. I hope you like it!
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1. Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories
If we are going to talk about Japanese series on Netflix, Midgnight Diner: Tokyo Stories must be at the top of the list. The series is based on the Japanese Shinya shokudō (深夜食堂) manga by Yaro Abe and has become quite popular outside of Japan as well.
The series takes place in a small izakaya or Japanese bar in the central Shinjuku district. For those unfamiliar with Japan, Shinjuku is one of the busiest neighborhoods in Tokyo, with the highest concentration of offices, businesses and shops. So there are a lot of bars in the area, but this one has a peculiarity: it only opens at night, from 0:00 to 7:00 in the morning. Plus, the place only has a few seats around the bar and the menu consists of dishes the owner wants to cook.
In each chapter we are told the story of one of the customers, who receives words of encouragement or advice from the owner of the bar, whom they call Master. The plot may seem simple, but I think the success of the series is that the stories that are told are very human, with which people can empathize. And you can know different types of people and circumstances. In addition, each chapter is self-concluding, the story begins and ends in that chapter, so it’s a series that is easy to see since you don’t need to follow a story line.
2. THE DAYS
Recently premiered on June 1, 2023, THE DAYS has quickly become one of the most popular series of the moment.
March 11, 2022 is a date that has been marked in the minds of many people, especially the Japanese people, since it’s when one of the greatest tragedies of the country occurred. The 9.1 magnitude earthquake with epicenter in ther sea that caused 3 other earthquakes and several tsunamis. One of the strongest tsunamis happened in front of the new famous Fukushima area, where one of Japan’s main nuclear power plants was located.
THE DAYS tells the story of different people involved in this incident, and how they lived it. There are 8 chapter that will make you chill to the bone, since it’s not a fictional story but real facts (in fact, real images are used in some parts), but also that serve to better understand what happened that day and its consequences.
Many people with an interest in the Fukushima situation are visiting the site, and there are numerous tours led by professional guides. In particular, this Fukushima Exclusion Zone Day Tour from Tokyo by Japan Wonder Travel, which can be done as a day trip from Tokyo, is highly recommended. Consider participating when you visit Japan.
3. First Love
In cold Hokkaido, Northern Japan, Yae Noguchi and Harumichi Namiki lived a life dream love story when they were teenagers. Madly in love, they were each other’s first love and thought they would be together forever, making plans for the future. But life took them separate ways. Years later, Yae is a single mother working as a taxi driver in Sapporo while Harumichi has a job as a private security.
First Love, called Hatsukoi(初恋) in Japanese, is inspired by the song of the famous Japanese singer Utada Hikaru with the same name. The song is the main theme song of the serie, which features the popular and talented actor Sato Takeru as the main protagonist playing adult Harumichi Namiki.
To be honest it’s a typical love story, without many surprises, but the story is beautiful and very well narrated!
Atelier, called Underwear in Japanese (アンダーウェア) is a series about the world of fashion, specifically about women’s lingerie. The series bears a certain resemblance to the famous and well-known movie “The Devil Wears Prada.”
Mayuko is a recent fashion design graduate who moves to the big city (Tokyo) to achieve her dream of working in the fashion industry. Mayuko gets a job as an intern at a Ginza boutique called Emotion. The owner of the Mayumi Nanjo company is the most renowned lingerie designer in the world. You can imagine the rest, right? Exactly, Mayuko and Mayumi will have a complicated, love-hate relationship. Mayuko discovers a world of glamour unknown for her until now, but at the same time she doesn’t disagree with some of Mayumi’s ideas or her concept of feminine beauty. And despite the disagreements and the fact that she causes problems for the company on several occasions, Mayumi seems to like Mayuko and see potential in her.
Whether you like fashion or not, Atelier is a good series, with just 13 chapters that can be easily viewed in a short time.
Erased is the live-action of the anime Boku dake ga Inai Machi (僕だけがいない街), a manga adaptation by Kei Sanbe.
The protagonist of the story is Satoru Fujinuma, a 28-year-old who dreams of being a mangaka (author of manga works) but while working as a pizza delivery man. So far Satoru might look like a normal young Japanese man, but he actually has a strange power. When a tragedy happens, Satoru is transported to the past in order to prevent that tragedy from happening. However, Satoru doesn’t decide when to return to the past, nor in principle does he know what tragedy is going to happen so he has to use his instincts to try to find out. But Satoru’s life changes completely when he finds his mother murdered in his apartment, he being the main suspect. To avoid the death of his mother, Satoru is sent to the year 1988. That year a classmate of his mother, named Kayo Hinazuki, mysteriously disappears. It seems that Kayo is the first victim of a series of disappearances and murders, and to save his mother, Satoru has to discover who is behind these events.
4. Samurai Gourmet
Another Japanese series that has been quite successful abroad is Samurai Gourmet, an easy series to watch since it has only 12 chapters of 20 minutes each and is based on the manga Nobushi no Gourmet (野武士のグルメ) by Masayuki Kasumi.
Samurai Gourmet begins with a kind of common situation in Japan: Takeshi Kasumi is a Japanese salary man who has dedicated his entire life to work and who now in his 60s has just retired and doesn’t know what to do with so much free time. But then he begins to discover new restaurants in his neighborhood that he didn’t know and begins to enjoy the pleasure of eating. And through food he also remembers moments from his youth.
Perhaps many of you will be wondering. All right, but where is the samurai? The samurai is actually an alter ego of Kasumi, existing in her imagination. Kasumi is an insecure and shy person, so when there is a conflict or moment of tension, her samurai alter ego appears. This samurai is a ronin, a samurai without a lord and is the opposite of Kasumi: boastful and cheeky. Somehow, this samurai helps Kasumi to be more courageous and determined.
5. Ossan’s Love
Soichi Haruta is a 33-year-old man that works for a real state agency and still lives with his mother. Although he is looking for the love of his life to get married, he has no success with women due to his clumsy, numb personality. One day his mother, fed up of the situation at home, leaves him and kicks him out of the familiar house, and Haruta has to look for a new apartment to live in.
Luckily Ryota Maki, his co-worker, accepts him as his new flatmate and his life changes drastically, as Maki is all the opposite to Haruta: clean, tidy and a good cooker. Meanwhile Musashi Kurosawa, Harutas´s senior in the real state agency, declares being gay and in love with Haruta, which turns the situation among the three men upside down.
Followers (フォロワーズ) is a series that talks about a very trendy topic lately: followers on social networks.
Natsume is a young aspiring actress trapped in part time jobs and as a model with a tyrannic agent that can’t get the role that impulse her career. Limi is a famous and successful fashion photographer that wants to become a mother. They both live in Tokyo and meet in a shooting, where Limi takes a photo of Natsume in a rage moment and uploads it in her social media. That moment will change their lives forever.
7. Kantaro: The Sweet Tooth Salaryman
As you can see, series about food or related to food are a trend in Japan. Japanese love food and cooking there are always many programs about it on TV. Kantaro: The Sweet Tooth Salaryman is a series based on the Saboriman Ametani Kantarou (さぼリー マン飴谷甘太郎) manga by Tensei Hagiwara and Abidi Inoue.
Kantaro Ametani looks like an ordinary man, but he actually has a hidden passion: he loves sweets. He is so obsessed with sweets that one day he decides to quit his job as a systems engineer and start working in the sales and marketing section of the Kiccho publishing house. In his work as a systems engineer he could only go to eat sweets on weekends, but with his new job he has to visit various bookstores in different neighborhoods of Tokyo and if he manages to finish the visits in less time than planned, with the free time he can stop at a famous cafe or pastry shop in the area.
Tokyo has hundreds of famous patisseries, but Kantaro has an incredible memory and knows exactly what patisseries are in each neighborhood. In order to finish your bookstore visits in less time, you have also memorized all the bookstores you need to go to. In addition to going to coffee shops and patisseries, in his spare time Kantaro is anonymously the creator of Amablo, a popular review blog specializing in sweet and dessert shops.
Close-Knit or in Japanese Karera ga Honki by Amu Toki wa (彼らが本気で編むときは) is quite an innovative series as it addresses the issue of transgender people in Japan.
Tomo Ogawa is an 11-year-old girl who lives with her mother, a single and irresponsible woman who abandons her daughter to go with her new boyfriend. It is not the first time that this has happened and when it happens, Tomo leaves with her uncle Makio. However, her uncle is currently living with her girlfriend Rinkio, a transgender woman.
Although at first it is an unusual situation, the three begin to live as a family and Tomo knows the kindness and love of a mother from Rinkio. Throughout the series we see the art of weaving present, something that may seem unimportant or frivolous but is actually a bonding metaphor. The series also addresses issues such as unconventional families or the acceptance of Rinkio by Makio’s family.
Actually, this series is produced in the United Kingdom but I know you were all wanting a series where the famous Japanese mafia, the yakuza, appeared. But don’t worry because part of the series is shot in Tokyo and there are many scenes where they speak Japanese. Giri/Haji (義理/恥) means Duty/Shame in Japanese.
The series begins with detective Kenzo Mori traveling from Tokyo to London to search for his brother Yuto who had mysteriously disappeared and assumed to be dead. Before his disappearance, Yuto was a member of the yakuza and was accused of the murder of the nephew of a yakuza boss’s. In search of his brother Kenzo, he came into contact with the dangerous criminal world of London.
If you like police series, with crime, violence and katanas, this is without a doubt your series.
10. JU-ON: Origins
JU-ON (呪怨) is one of the most popular Japanese horror movie sagas among fans of the genre. The saga revolves around an abandoned house where a horrible murder took place, and since then everyone who comes into contact with the house is cursed and ends up dying.
This year Netflix Japan has made an original series based on this saga of films and despite the Netflix series is a bit far from the original films has had a good acceptance, quickly becoming one of the most watched series in recent months. The creators say that the series is based on the true original events that inspired the films, and that is why it is different. The series shows us different stories with different protagonists sometimes at different times (the story is not linear) that have the haunted house as a common link and how that changes their lives.
By the way, you don’t have to have seen the movies to see the Netflix series, although if you like the horror genre, I recommend you watch them.
Extra: Kino nani tabeta?
I put this series as an extra since at the moment it doesn’t have English subtitles available (or in any other language as far as I know) but it’s a series that I really liked and I recommend it to all those who can understand Japanese or are studying Japanese. Kino nani tabeta? (きのう何食べた?) it’s based on the manga by Fumi Yoshinaga and the name would be translated into English as “What did you eat yesterday?” and although food is an important part of the series, it’s not the main focus.
The protagonists of the story are Shiro Kakei, a lawyer and Kenji Yabuki, a hairdresser. Kakei and Yabuki are a gay couple who live together in Tokyo. The series shows his day to day, with his good and bad moments. For example, Kakei doesn’t like to show his sexuality in public, while Yabuki doesn’t hide it. This means that when they are together Kakei doesn’t want others to perceive that they are a couple.
Kakei is good at cooking, and each chapter dedicates a part to seeing how Kakei cooks (sometimes in the company of his mother). But it’s not just about seeing Kakei cooked, but they explain the recipe step by step so that people can also make it at home. Thus, between recipe and recipe the serie talks about being LGTB in Japan and about life as a couple. The series has moments of humor, but also scenes that will make you shed a tear, when the characters talk about their feelings and experiences.
And finish! This is my list of recommendations for Japanese series on Netflix. Have you seen any? Which of the list is the one that most catches your attention? If you have any recommendations, please don’t hesitate to write us in the comments! 🙂
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