Top 8 Japanese TV shows to watch on Netflix

As I’ve covered in a previous post, Netflix can be a really great place for Japanese listening practice, with new shows and films being added all the time. Unfortunately, sorting through the Netflix site to find Japanese shows can be a bit tricky. Here’s my list of some of the best shows to watch in terms of Japanese study, in no particular order:

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僕だけがいない街 Erased (Drama)

No. of Episodes: 12

Subtitles: Japanese and English available

Satoru Fujinuma is a worker at a pizza shop who is also pursuing a career as a manga artist. Satoru also happens to have the strange ability to go back in time, known as ‘revival’. After finding his mother dead in their apartment, he ends up travelling 18 years in the past, just before the time of an attempted kidnap case which involved some of his classmates. Can he use this ability to change the past for the better, saving his mother and his classmates in the process?

This adaptation of a manga immediately draws you in and there are plenty of suspenseful moments to keep you hooked. Together with some cool special effects and strong acting performances particularly from the child actors, there is plenty to enjoy here. Having lived in Hokkaido, part of me loves this drama for partially being set there and portraying a part of Japan that isn’t often shown on screen.

Language difficulty: This is probably the easiest drama to understand on this list. The sentences tend to be short and mostly everyday language. The main characters are from Hokkaido, and some of the dialogue reflects this: examples include the ~べ(さ) ending, and the use of 「なした?」instead of 「どうした?」but aside from this is not too difficult to follow.

 

ファイナルファンタジーXIV: 光のお父さん/ Final Fantasy XIV: Dad of Light

No. of Episodes: 8

Subtitles: Japanese and English available

Just seeing the title of this drama on Netflix may not instantly appeal to some, but I wouldn’t let the strong gaming theme put you off.

The main character Akio Inaba has always struggled to communicate with his father, who has always put his career first. When his father suddenly resigns from his job, Akio takes the opportunity to buy his dad a Playstation 4 and a copy of the online game Final Fantasy 14. Akio hopes that he can use his character in the game called ‘Maidy’ to not only help his father with the game, but also to get to know his father better.

Even though Akio and his father are hardly in the same scene together (as most of their interactions are via the game), you really get the sense that they do care about each other despite never properly putting it into words.

There are strong performances between the main characters, particularly Osugi Ren as Mr Inaba. Whilst a bit dysfunctional, their familial relationship comes across as very realistic and natural. As a result, the use of Final Fantasy 14 as a key part of the story doesn’t feel too forced and means you don’t have to be a fan of the game to enjoy this drama. The supporting characters are also entertaining and help to lighten the mood of the drama.

Language difficulty: Most of the language used is every day with the exception of some gaming/ fantasy terms. Some of the scenes in the drama take place in an office, so there is also an opportunity to hear polite language which contrasts with the more casual language used in the game. Having Japanese subtitles helps to make the drama more accessible to Japanese learners which is always a plus!

 

南くんの恋人 My Little Lover (Drama, 2015 version)

No. of Episodes: 10

Subtitles: Japanese and English available

Note: This drama is also available to watch on Viki for free!

This drama is based on a manga by Shungicu Uchida.Chiyomi Horikiri is a high school student living in a small town in rural Japan. After going out in a storm one night, Chiyomi ends up being shrunk to only a few inches tall. She is discovered by her neighbour and childhood friend, Shunichi Minami, who has been unusually distant with her recently. Can she get their friendship back on track, and find a way to grow back to her normal size before her family and friends find out?

I wasn’t expecting to like this drama, but I was pleasantly surprised by how the relationship between the two main characters develops. The premise of the show is linked to the story of 一寸法師 (Issunboushi, the inch high samurai), a traditional Japanese children’s story. Part fantasy, part school drama, the show manages to have a strange sense of realism despite its unusual premise. Whilst the performances by the two leads is strong, I really like the cast of supporting characters. In my opinion, they really help to balance the dramatic parts of the show with well-timed humour.

Language difficulty: Being a drama with mostly young people, this is another good drama to hear how young people talk to each other. Despite the rural setting, there aren’t any unusual dialects to deal with here. The drama mostly uses everyday language, so this is very accessible for students of Japanese.

 

深夜食堂 Midnight Diner (Drama)

No. of Episodes: 10

Subtitles: Japanese and English available

This is another show adapted from the best selling manga. The main character, the runs a small diner in the back streets of Tokyo. This place is unusual in that it only operates between midnight and 7am, hence the title. Each episode is named after a dish available at the diner, and focuses on different patrons to the diner and their stories, with a special focus on the relationships around them. There can be a lot of drama but the stories always end on a positive note, with tips on how to make the recipe from the title of the episode.

There is a really interesting mix of stories and characters in this series. Some examples include a man who is suddenly left to his son, a university professor who falls in love with a Korean woman, a girl who always knits a jumper for the person she has a crush on, and many more. The proprietor is mostly quiet but always lends a sympathetic ear and often offers quiet encouragement.You get the feeling that the diner provides a much-needed respite from the pressures of their lives in Tokyo.

Language difficulty: You will hear everyday language in the drama, which is made a bit easier by the availability of Japanese subtitles. Due to the nature of the show there is a variety of characters from different walks of life and so speak in various ways, so it is a useful series to watch for that reason.

 

名探偵コナン Case Closed (Anime)

No. of Episodes: 52 (episodes 748-799)

Subtitles: English available

Note: These episodes are available to watch on Crunchyroll for free!

Shinichi Kudo is a high school student who often works with the police to solve cases. After ingesting a poison which transforms him into a child, he begins working under the name Conan Edogawa and moves to live with his childhood friend, Ran Mouri. Ran’s father is a detective and so Conan often accompanies him on investigations, sometimes using tranquilizers and a voice changer to solve the case in Mr. Mouri’s place. The Netflix selection of episodes come from much later in the anime adaptation of the long-running manga.

Although each episode follows a similar format, there is quite a variety in the types of cases. Conan will sometimes be with Ran, or his school friends when he gets caught up in a mystery – the supporting cast help to balance Conan’s serious attitude in getting the cases solved. Some cases are resolved within one episode, although there are some which take two or three episodes, which helps keep the format fresh. There are often a few red herrings during the course of the case, but it all wraps up nicely by the end and is explained well.

Language difficulty: Despite being a mystery drama, the majority of the vocabulary is common everyday language. The background of each case is always explained in some detail, but in an easy to understand way.

 

和風総本化 Japanese Style Originator (TV show)

No. of Episodes: 54

Subtitles: Japanese and English available

This TV show is all about Japanese culture, with a special emphasis on the cultures and traditions unique to Japan. Each episode is based on a certain theme, with a series of videos focusing on topics related to that theme. There is a panel of guests who watch and comment on the videos (if you’ve seen a Japanese panel-style show then you’ll know the drill here). Every so often there will be questions on the topics covered which the guests will have a go at answering.

Whether it be new vocabulary or the history behind things you see in Japan every day, you are bound to learn something new from every episode. With 54 episodes which are usually at least an hour long, there is plenty to keep you watching. This is highly recommended for Japanese learners!

Language difficulty: Due to the nature of the show, there is a fair bit of uncommon vocabulary relating to Japanese culture but are explained by the narrator in a way that is easy to understand. In typical style for a Japanese TV show, there is often text on screen which will help you follow what is going on if you are only using Japanese subtitles/ no subtitles at all. The discussions between the guests on the show is fairly straightforward to follow too.

 

テラスハウス Terrace House (TV show)

No. of Episodes: 46

Subtitles: Japanese and English available

NB: There are actually two seasons of this on Netflix: ‘Terrace House: Boys & Girls in the City’ and ‘Terrace House: Aloha State’, which is set in Hawaii.

Terrace House is a reality TV shows where a group of young strangers live together in a share house in Tokyo. The show observes their interactions and how relationships develop when put in such a situation. Each character has a different background and over the course of the show, we get to see where they work and play outside of the share house, which gives a better insight into their personality.

Clips from developments within the shared house are watched by a group of guests (a mixture of presenters and comedians). They share their opinions on the clips at various points through each episode, which normally sparks a lively discussion.

This is definitely a guilty pleasure for me: as with any reality TV show, the longer you watch the more you become invested in what happens to them. I find it fascinating to observe how the dynamics change when new people join the show. I also find it interesting to see how the guests who comment on the show differ in their opinions on the developments in each episode.

Language difficulty: If you are looking for a show where young people speak Japanese as you would hear it on an everyday basis, this is the show for you. Everyone speaks in a casual way and mostly use everyday language. The availability of Japanese subtitles makes a bit easier to adjust to the casual language if you have trouble catching what is said.

 

おくりびと Departures (Film)

Film length: 125 mins

Subtitles: English available

The main character, Daigo finds himself having to move back to his hometown in Yamagata Prefecture when he loses his job as a cellist in Tokyo. He finds a highly paid role, which happens to be preparing the deceased for funerals. He keeps this new job a secret from those around him, including his wife Mika, due to the stigma surrounding his new line of work. Whilst he struggles at first, he soon finds himself getting used to the intricate processes of the 納棺 (のうかん/ encoffining ritual).

We very much learn about the 納棺 process as Daigo does, having taken the job without knowing anything about it. You can tell that there was a lot of effort spent on portraying this ritual in a respectful way and it does not surprise me that the film led to a revival of this increasingly rare ritual. One thing I didn’t expect before watching おくりびと is that despite the theme of the film, there are some funny moments too. I think the main actor does a great job of conveying the mix of emotions he experiences having moved back to his hometown.

Language difficulty: With the exception of some funeral related terms and the Yamagata dialect, it is mostly everyday language used in the film. The funeral related terms are explained as these terms are mostly new to the main character.

 

This ended up being a much longer post than I was expecting, but I hope you find something interesting to watch if you are a Japanese learner with a Netflix subscription. Are there any shows that you would include on your own list? Please let me know in the comments!

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Learn Japanese with Netflix?

I’ve recently joined Netflix and it is turning out to be a pretty good resource for practicing Japanese, even though I am in the UK. It turns out that there are a few Japanese dramas available on Netflix UK, in addition to quite a few anime series and a handful of films.

The Japanese content on Netflix is a good way of working on your Japanese comprehension, as you can choose whether to have the English language subtitles on or off. The best ones to watch in terms of Japanese study are the Netflix originals (known as Netflixオリジナル作品) as you more often than not have the option to choose Japanese subtitles or Japanese closed caption (CC).

Here are a couple of ideas on how you can incorporate watching Netflix into your study routine (depending on your language level of course!):

  • You could watch a series that you already have watched in English and then rewatch with the Japanese subtitles to focus on how much of the language you can understand without looking anything up. The main advantage of using Japanese subtitles is that it will be much easier to pause and then look them up in the dictionary when you encounter new words or phrases.
  • Watch using Japanese subtitles only, or try watching without any subtitles to really test your listening comprehension skills. Whilst this seems the most difficult and scary to do, the nature of TV will help fill in a lot of the important context of what is happening. It is also the best way to get used to the language being spoken at a natural speed (rather than at a slow speed as it tends to be in most language study materials).

Whilst I don’t always watch things more than once, I find that rewatching a series allows you to more accurately identify what aspects of the language you need to focus on (ie. is it vocabulary that is hindering your comprehension or is it grammar?) as you do not need to pay attention to the storyline as much. If it is not vocabulary or grammar, then it is often your listening comprehension letting you down.

What I find most useful about Netflix is that some videos can now be downloaded for offline viewing on the app which now makes it much easier to study on the go. The main downside with Netflix at the moment, however, is that there is not much in the way of variety: rom-com and food lovers, in particular, are likely to find something to enjoy here, but others may struggle.

I hope that more Japanese language content is to be added in the future, and this certainly seems to be the case – Netflix will notify you when content that relates to your interests is added. Another thing I’ve noticed which I hope will get fixed is that the subtitles are in white, which can be a bit tricky to see depending on the scene.

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I’ve compiled a list of Japanese language content that I’ve found on Netflix UK below (those that have options for Japanese/English or no language subtitles are given in brackets).

NB: this does not include content that has been dubbed into English (eg. Pokemon X & Y, Yugi-oh!) or Manzai.

Dramas & TV

Atelier (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Blazing Transfer Students (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Erased (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Final Fantasy XIV: Dad of Light (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Good Morning Call [Seasons 1 & 2] (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Hibana: Spark (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Japanese Style Originator (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

My Little Lover (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Million Yen Women (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Samurai Gourmet (Japanese/ Japanese audio description/ English/ no subs)

Playful Kiss Season 1 (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Playful Kiss Season 2 (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Saboriman Kantarou (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Terrace House: Boys and Girls in the City (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Terrace House: Aloha State (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

The Many Faces of Ito (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

 

Anime

009 RE: Cyborg (English/ no subs)

Ajin: Demi Human (English/ no subs)

Aldnoah Zero (English/ no subs)

Attack on Titan (English/ no subs)

Black Lagoon (English/ no subs)

Black Lagoon: Roberta’s Blood Trail (English/ no subs)

Bleach [Seasons 1-3] (English/ no subs)

Blood Lad (English/ no subs)

Blue Exorcist (English/ no subs)

Case Closed (English/ no subs)

Code Geass : Lelouch of the Rebellion (English/ no subs)

Cowboy Bebop (English/ no subs)

Cyborg 009: Call of Justice (Japanese audio description/ English/ no subs)

Cyborg 009 vs Devil Man (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Death Note (English/ no subs)

Devilman Crybaby [Season 1] (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Durarara!! (English/ no subs)

Elfen Lied (English/ no subs)

Eureka Seven [Seasons 1 & 2] (English/ no subs)

Fate/ Apocrypha (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Fate/ Stay Night unlimited Blade Works (English/ no subs)

Fullmetal Alchemist (English/ no subs)

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (English/ no subs)

Gunslinger Girl (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Gunslinger Girl –Il teatrino- (English/ no subs)

Gurren Lagann (English/ no subs)

Hunter X Hunter (English/ no subs)

ID-0 (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Kill la Kill (English/no subs)

Knights of Sidonia (English/ no subs)

Kuromukuro (Japanese/English/ no subs)

Little Witch Academia (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Magi Adventure of Sinbad (Japanese/English/ no subs)

Mushi-shi (English/ no subs)

Rurouni Kenshin (English/no subs)

Samurai Champloo (English/ no subs)

Samurai Flamenco (English/ no subs)

Space Dandy [Seasons 1 & 2] (English/ no subs)

Sword Art Online (English/ no subs)

Terror in Resonance (English/ no subs)

The Seven Deadly Sins (English/ no subs)

Tokyo Ghoul (English/ no subs)

Trigun (English/ no subs)

Vampire Knight (2 seasons – English/ no subs)

Violet Evergarden (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Your Lie in April (English/ no subs)

Yuki Yuna is a Hero (English/ no subs)

 

Films

Battle Royale (English/ no subs)

BLAME! (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Blue Exorcist: The Movie (English/ no subs)

Departures (English/ no subs)

Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods (English/ no subs)

Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection F (English/ no subs)

Fairy Tail: Dragon Cry (English/ no subs)

Fairy Tail: Phoenix Priestess (English/ no subs)

Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos (English/ no subs)

Gantz: 0 (Japanese/English/ no subs)

Ghost Pain (English/ no subs)

Halo Legends (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Harlock Space Pirate (English/ no subs)

Little Witch Academia: The Enchanted Parade (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Magi: The Labrinth of Magic (English/ no subs)

Persona 3 the Movie: #2 Midsummer Knights Dream (English/ no subs)

Steamboy (English/ no subs)

The Birth of Sake (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

The Eternal Zero (English/ no subs)

 

At this stage, there is not quite enough content for me to recommend subscribing purely for learning Japanese (there appears to be a good selection of Korean and Taiwanese dramas compared to Japanese stuff), but if you already have a subscription I definitely recommend checking the Japanese language stuff out. Of the content I’ve watched, some of my favourites from the above list are Midnight Diner, My Little Lover and Rurouni Kenshin. However, my favourite, especially in terms of learning about Japanese language and culture is ‘Japanese Style Orignator’ as each episode focuses on different aspects of traditional Japanese culture. There are 54 episodes, some of which are up to 2 hours long so there is plenty to get your teeth stuck into!

What would be your recommendation for something to watch on Netflix? Have I missed anything from the above list? Let me know in the comments!