2013 Year in a Review: Japanese Dramas Picks

After selecting some Korean dramas, it’s time to choose my favorite Japanese dramas of the year. For the record, I watched about 22 Japanese dramas of 2013 and choosing only 10 dramas has been really difficult and harder compared to picking 10 Korean dramas that’s because I enjoyed many Jdramas this year. Anyhow, here are my picks in order:


Another remake of the hit unfinished story that never gets old

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Another remake? Yay! Not because I was eager to watch the story once again, but because the first adaptation by Japan was a serious disaster, so it felt good that they’re making up for it. 
Now that I think about it, I don’t believe the remake idea was so good. I mean it’s a given that no version can outclass the Taiwanese adaptation so why bother? I feel like Japanese producers wanted to make a fresh look that’s completely different from the 1996 version and I believe that the concept worked. But then comes another problem, the lead actress (Miki Honoka) is only 16 year-old so I was extremely anxious about her portrayal of certain parts and my worries came to light; the part I was waiting for was never portrayed. Other than that, the young actress did well in this; some people may think she overreacted but believe me, some Korean actresses should get acting lessons from this girl.
Love in Tokyo lived up to the expectations; it would’ve been more enjoyable if they cut out some filler episodes; I think this drama would’ve been much better if they finished it off in 12-13 episodes. A second season has been given the green light, let’s wait and see what Japan will do with my favorite part of the story.

Why top 10? This drama is a nice adaptation of a good story. I fairly enjoyed it even if I was mad at many parts of it. I will be waiting for the second season with high hopes.

Favorite character: Irie Yuki

 He's not even nice but he's adorable!

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The Galileo Yukawa sensei is back with a hit second season in Japan

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Galileo 2 is another second season that came a bit late. I was extremely worried about the change of partners; those worries faded away by the end of the second episode but now that I look back, I still prefer Shibasaki Kou’s character over Yoshitaka Yuriko’s even if I like both actresses.
Galileo 2 got some great recognition in Japan both in the ratings and the awards. I am not saying it’s not well-earned but in my opinion, the first season was better than this. It’s not about changing some cast members but because the first season’s cases were more fun to follow.  This season had some cool cases too but others were just disappointing especially the closure case; that was a complete bore and a failure according to me.

Why top 10? Because this drama is one of the best Detective dramas produced in Japan this year. It may not have been as awesome as the first season but it’s still very enjoyable.
Favorite character: Yukawa sensei

 He's clever, weird and awesome!

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Cool calm mystery can be so thought-provoking

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This drama is a surprise for me; it’s true that I watched this because I like mystery plots made in Japan but I was surprised with the type of mysteries used in this drama.

Namonaki Doku deals with two different mysteries and each of them are related to family.  The male lead who contributes in solving these mysteries is a normal shy man; he’s neither a detective nor an investigator but he manages to get involved in other people’s problems with the will to solve them or find the truth behind them. He’s not a sacred hero; he’s only a normal everyday man. 

What I liked about this drama’s mysteries is the great built up even with some dragging moments. The concept of the “nameless poison” theme was such a great idea for this drama. I really liked the way writers insisted on it. On the other hand, the drama had some pacing problems with obvious slow moments but that didn’t ruin the great mystery for me. I also like to mention the instrumental music used in this drama; it’s the best music I ever heard in any mystery drama before *thumps up*

Why top 10? It’s an underrated mystery Jdrama like many others. The mysteries in this drama are slow sailing and intriguing.

Favorite character: Saburo Sugimura

Shy, normal family man is more capable than you think!

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Komikadosensei everlasting sassy character is still as entertaining as ever

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I fell completely in love with the first season of the sassy lawyer drama.  It marked my first Asian law drama ever. I was really excited about the second season and the long wait finally came to an end.

The second season was hilarious and entertaining but at the same time a little unbalanced. Although I like Okada Masaki, his Hanyu was such an unbearable cheesy character and the same goes for his “Love and Peace” gang that I can’t seem to ingest. Other than that, the writers were trying to turn the wheel for the emotional side at some point but I am really glad that Komikado’s character was left intact and the general feel of the drama didn’t change.

So overall, did I like this? Of course I did, and I need more of it! Make Specials, movies and a third season too!

Why top 10?This drama’s theme is really rare in Dramaland and what makes it even better is that Komikado Kennuske is such a funny, entertaining and one of the kind character. 

Favorite character: Komikado Kennuske

Weird, controversial and Hilarious!

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Two handy men accomplish various missions

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I've stated that this drama is underrated and I am still persisting on my opinion. The drama has a simple episodic plot that manages to become interesting and even give some life lessons. Here are some reasons why you would like this:

*The plot deals with some daring subjects in a funny way.
*It’s entertaining; you will burst out laughing at some scenes (if you appreciate the Japanese sense of humor).
*The acting by Eita and Matsuda Ryohei was top-notch and the characterization was pretty well-done.
*It’s very short (about 26 minute per episode).

Why top 10? This drama is certainly one of the hidden gems that didn’t get the appropriate attention this year unlike many other dramas that didn’t make sense but still managed to be on top of many lists.


Favorite character: Gyôten

Gyôten you freaking awesome hilarious thing!

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And here are the top five; the dramas that excelled at many points and deserve to be listed as my favorite Jdramas of the year:


Ferris wheel is the metaphor to solve a family mystery

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Another super underrated drama; I can’t get over the lack of recognition for this one.

Here are some of my thoughts about it:
*It’s a family mystery drama but the murder is only a way to get in depth of families’ emotions.
*The family situations’  are realistic and not exaggerated, such as domestic violence, school pressure, social classes and so on.
*It’s a heartwarming touching story about how two families get affected with a certain murder and the way they outcome that situation.
*The acting department was extremely good in a way that would make you immersed in their performances especially the younger actors who delivered so well considering their age.

Why top 5? This drama excels at showing emotional struggles inside the family without adding the fake atmosphere. What also made it appealing is the mystery elements that always kept us wondering about the identity of the culprit.

Favorite character: Takahashi Yoshiyuki

He’s balanced, thoughtful and a great family man

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An anti-hero detective obsessed with the 300 million Yen robbery case

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This is quite different from any other Detective drama ever produced.

Kurokouchi is based on real events; the 300 million Yen case took place in Japan back in the 60’s and it remains unsolved until today. The writer takes the robbery case as a background and builds his own hypothesis on it in an attempt to solve it. There’s crime, thriller and many twists and turns involved in order to crack down the 45 year-old case.

What also catches the eye about this drama is the near absence of the episodic pattern that’s so frequent in detective dramas. Kurokouchi is a somewhat anti-hero character with the most unpredictable character ever. You never know what he will do next. There’s also Sawatari who’s a secretive manipulative evil character but that didn’t stop me from liking him. 

This drama delivered great characterization if we exclude the useless female lead. She was such a waste of space in this drama. If it wasn’t for her, I would’ve appreciated this in a better way.

Why top 5? This is one of the best Detective dramas produced this year. What makes it special is the absence of the episodic pattern and the use of thriller events to keep the pacing interesting. It also has remarkable main characters (except for the female lead).

Favorite character: Kurokouchi

He’s super unpredictable and fun to follow. Favorite line: See~kai

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Twisted psycho sensei and a distant family

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This seems to be the most famous drama of the year amongst international fans. Some may like it while others think it’s ridiculous and overrated. I am from the team who really liked this.

What drew me into this drama is the atypical family drama feel; it was quite different from any other production of the same genre. It dealt with bullying and a certain family’s dysfunctional way of building relationships within its members. At some point, I compared Yakou Kanransha with this; the latter centers on Mystery while Kazoku Game deals with Psychology instead. They may be different to compare but they both share the family theme mixed up with another genre.

I grew fond of this drama’s characters and the weird sensei who has a dark background. My thoughts about him progressed like this: “He’s so extreme, how can he do that to the kid on the first meeting?” then “Oh, maybe he has some kind of plan” after that “The sensei wants to destroy the family! Or maybe he’s trying to fix it?” and at the end I was just rooting for him no matter what he does. Strange, abnormal characters usually leave a great impression within me and Koya sensei is definitely one of them.

On an acting note, I believe everyone did great in here. Some may think that Sakurai Sho overreacted but in my opinion, the role demands such acting and he did quite well with it.

Why top 5? This drama is pretty different from any other family drama I saw. It drew great characterization to make you feel the main leads and their suffering. It’s absolutely one of the best dramas produced this year in my opinion.

Favorite character: Kyoya sensei

Iii~nee

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Three brothers, an evil father and a murder

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The best psychology suspense of the year, hands down.

Karamazov no Kyoudai is another adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s last novel. This time around, it’s made in Japan and what’s better than the Japanese touch with making dark twisted dramas? No country in Asia can outshine it with those themes.

Here are some reasons why this drama is highly interesting:

*The shocking murder and the guessing game are just too involving in a way that would make you haunt down every possible hint to find out who did it (unless you previously know the story of course).
*The high-class mesmerizing cinematography that fits so well for the drama’s theme is such a masterstroke. Hats off to the director, he perfectly chose his angles and knew exactly where to place his cameras.
*Bunzo is the most evil character I ever came across; someone you would hate from the bottom of your heart. I swear if he wasn’t killed, I would’ve done the job for free. Loud applause to Yoshida Kotaro, he portrayed the character in the most epic way ever. I can never imagine another actor as his substitute.
*The three brothers had involving characters that would make you sympathize and feel their pain and struggling. The actors delivered great emotions but I would most certainly pick Ishihara Hayato as the best out of them, he was just fascinating as Kurosawa Isao.
*The music for this drama was so well-chosen especially “Paint it Black” by the Rolling Stones.
*This drama’s execution and length are serious strength points that count in its favor.

Why top 5? This drama is compelling, dark and mysterious. A perfect combination to make a twisty ride that will dazzle you throughout. It’s absolutely one of the best dramas produced this year.

Favorite character: Kurosawa Isao

He gathers sorrow and sympathy, brutality and kindness.

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If you screw him, he will screw you back, double payback

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Another masterpiece made in Japan. It’s the best drama of the year, period. 

Hanzawa Naoki was such a smash hit in Japan, breaking its own records every episode. However, it was almost nonexistent on the international level. Why? That’s because these dramas don’t appeal to a large slice of viewers. At least, I am glad this gets the top spot in MDL.

Let’s leave that aside and talk about this drama. Hanzawa Naoki is a business related drama that takes banking and bankers as its background. It’s divided into two parts (or two arcs) where the male lead (Hanzawa) has to accomplish a “mission impossible” to retrieve money and save the bank he’s working in. Along the way, he has to encounter many enemies who want to bring him down and make him fail but our hero isn’t the type to break that easily.

Hanzawa Naoki is a fierce character that one shouldn’t mess with; he will wipe out anyone who stands in his path, but he’s also a sweet loving character who cares about his family and friends. This year is Sakai Masato’s year for me; he’s flawless as Hanzawa and perfect as Komikado sensei.

What's also interesting about this drama is the variety of events and the endless flips and turns that make you enjoy every second of it. I am still hoping that we get a special for this soon.

Why the first place? This drama is that flawless. It’s the only drama that got the perfect score from me this year and the third drama that ever got a 10 from me. It’s very involving and captivating to follow.
Favorite character: Of course it’s Hanzawa Naoki

Careful Hanzawa's coming!

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(Note: All gif sets are taken from tumblr)



Here is a small follow-up list of Jdramas that deserve to be mentioned:

Biblia Koshodou no Jiken Techou: This drama deserved a spot in my top 10, for real! But since I will mention it in my upcoming “underrated dramas” review, I thought I should leave its spot for something else. Anyhow, this is a different type of investigation drama that solves mysteries by using old books.

Soratobu Kouhoushitsu: A different heartwarming drama that deals with the relationships inside the public affairs office in the ministry of defense, when a stubborn female journalist does a report on them.

Last Cinderella: Apparently the romantic comedy of the year in Japan; it’s a cute drama with a different type of female lead and another Cinderella story where Miura Haruma and Fujiki Naohito have to fight for the girl.

Otenki Onee-San: An atypical detective drama where the female lead uses the weather to solve crimes. It’s a fresh concept of the investigation genre and pretty easy to watch.

Ando Lloyd~ A.I Knows Love? It’s a sci-fi about future androids battles and a slice romance. Kimura Takuya did so well as a machine.

Doubles ~Futari no Keiji: It’s another Japanese detective drama. It relies on the bromance between the two male leads to deliver an interesting enjoyable ride throughout.

Take Five ~Oretachi wa Ai wo Nusumeru ka: It’s about a group of thieves who steal to help people or catch the corrupted. You can consider it modern times Robin Hood made in Japan.

Yamada kun to 7 nin no Majo: It’s a silly quick supernatural Japanese drama that deals with witches and kissing. It’s also really hilarious for those who are used to the Japanese silly sense of humor.

Sennyuu Tantei Tokage: This is the perfect example of usual episodic detective dramas made in Japan. It’s enjoyable but not special by any means. I nearly forgot that I watched this drama.

xxxHolic:This is another interesting supernatural drama that shows many spooky ghosts, supernatural creatures, entertaining storyline and awesome bromance.



Which are you favorite Japanese dramas of the year?

Comments (92)

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  • Reply
    tamara miki 5 days ago

    I just wanted to thank you for your list. I am new to watching Japanese dramas, but I watched many by now and find what I want to watch or what I think sounds interesting by going onto the internet to read what people are saying. I found your list really helpful, and downloaded Legal High, Karamazov no Kyoudei, Hanzawa Naoki, Kazoku Game, and Mahoro Ekimae Bangaichi based upon your recommendations and I am enjoying them all ! Thank you so much !

  • Reply
    anastassia Oct 9, 2014

    Thanks but why WOMAN aren't in the list if I may ask?

  • Reply
    anastassia Oct 9, 2014

    What a great lists!

  • Reply
    PickyMcpickleton Mar 29, 2014

    I don't watch a lot of J-drama. Someone recommended Last Cinderella and I could not do it. I dropped it half way. However, I finished Hanzawa Naoki recently and my gosh, is there a second season? It was awesome!!! I loved it a lot. The acting though in dramatic J-drama fashion was absolutely superb. It would however still get an 8 or 9 on my list because while very well written, some things irked me.

  • Reply
    Ccinlidy Mar 2, 2014

    Is the Love in Tokyo second season confirmed?????? I really want them to have their baby in live action because the second season for the taiwanese version ended leaving me hanging...so I watched the anime. Its still leaving me an incomplete feeling for all the versions

  • Reply
    Moniisek Feb 5, 2014

    If anyone has Facebook in Japanese, "Ii nee" the catch phrase from kazoku game, is "Like". A good deal of sarcasm, indeed!

  • Reply
    Aphrodity Jan 5, 2014

    What an awesome list CS! While I don't agree with many dramas in your top 10 but most of them are quite good. My top 5 would be: Karamazov no kyodai, Woman, Saiko no Rikon, Tonbi and Hanzawa Naoki. I also liked Kurokouchi and Lagal High 2. I quite agree on your worries about the female lead in ItaKiss though.
    It's great to give attention to Jdramas every once in a while. Let's all hope that 2014 will be even more successful.

  • Reply
    DreamyLife Dec 31, 2013

    Hanzawa all the way. Hands down!

  • Reply
    MysteryMel Dec 31, 2013

    Nicely done @cheerfulsoul! Impressed w jdrama more and more lately, only pblm for me-need eng subs thus harder to source. Good listing an a few I have not seen, now on my P2W list.

  • Reply
    Totalt Dec 30, 2013

    Definitely Last Cinderella and Yamada-kun to 7 nin no Majo. I was really sceptical to Last Cinderella before I watched it and it changed my mind really fast! ^^

  • Reply
    Princess_Saber Dec 30, 2013

    definetely itazura na kiss and galileo 2! I am really a fan of detective dramas. But thanks to the recommendations, I find your drama picks interesting! now Im gonna add Namonaki Doku, Legal High 2, Karamazov no Kyoudai, and Hanzawa Naoki to my list! :)

  • Reply
    Wendox Dec 29, 2013

    I also like Summer Nude :D and Pin to Kona :D

  • Reply
    Elin Dec 29, 2013

    I loved Last Cinderella and Itazura na Kiss. Yamada Kun was fun and short. i also liked it :)

  • Reply
    Lune Dec 29, 2013

    You have a great list here and a well-done article!
    I loved Karamazov no Kyodai. The characters, the music and the cinematography were just amazing as you described. That gif of Isao's gun scene is just pure awesomeness.
    I am watching Kurokouchi and Yakou Kanransha. So far, they're absolutely great. Well worthy of top 5. I will also place Hanzawa Naoki as my top priority. Thanks for this informative article :)

  • Reply
    mascot Dec 29, 2013

    Hanzawa Naoki and Yakou Kanransha of the best I have seen so far indeed!

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