The Top 10 Best Japanese TV Shows Of Recent Times (2000~2007)

First off, let me share that I believe that everyone should, no MUST, follow their own personal preferences when it comes to selecting learning materials. In order for you to learn Japanese voluntarily, it has to be enjoyable, and for it to be enjoyable, you have to be able to watch, listen to and read whatever you want that is in Japanese — or, indeed, any language. So these aren’t the best Japanese shows, they’re just the ones I like best as of right now (late 2007). Having said that, if you’re just getting started with Japanese, and/or you don’t know many Japanese shows, and you don’t live in Japan, it helps to have someone who’s watched a lot of stuff give you some tips.

Take note: a lot of these shows don’t have subs, Japanese or otherwise. But that’s fine, believe me, you’ll work it out somehow — even being able to understand only small bits and pieces is fine and normal. Also, all these shows are either comedies, dramedies, or somehow funny. Now, a lot of people will go “in learning a new language comedy is the hardest thing to understand”. No. It. Isn’t. (Dewd, I don’t know who went around spreading the bad news and deciding what’s “the hardest” in the world of everything…whoever they are, they suck!). Comedy isn’t intrinsically “hard” to understand, no more than news or a children’s book is. What perhaps sets comedy apart is the necessity of prior knowledge in order for the comedy to be enjoyed. That prior knowledge may be the source of whatever reference or parody is being made (by the way, a lot of really good comedy often contains a lot of internal, self-contained references, so that abbreviates the prior knowledge requirement right there). Or it may be prior knowledge of whatever social norm/status quo is being inappropriately ignored or applied. So, if, as Stephen Colbert and others have suggested, comedy is about status change and betrayal, then you need to know what the original status is or was, in order to recognize the change and therefore (perhaps) find it funny.

Anyway, the comedy itself is not very hard. Like I said, a lot of the best comedy is actually very high in self-references. This may be because, as Jerry Seinfeld suggested in his comedy book, a comedian generally needs to be able to build some kind of semi-realistic logical baseline from which to launch her jokes. As such, a skilled comedian may build a very good baseline: so good that she re-uses it. Or not, I don’t really know. My point is that you can do it. You can enjoy comedy: a lot of it is physical, low-brow or self-referential (and therefore, more or less universal) anyway, so the bar is nowhere near as high as many people appear to contend. Furthermore, the comedy itself can serve as a place for you to learn what the social norms are, such that the next time you see a joke based on the same material, you’ll be informed, and therefore in a position to enjoy it as comedy.

Oh, and by the way, if there’s ever some comedy you don’t seem to get, it may just be the case that it simply isn’t funny. Like any country, Japan is subject to a variant of the Pareto principle, whereby maybe 90% of the consistent laughs (high LPM rate throughout the show) are produced by only maybe 10% of the comedy shows — the rest of the shows suck and aren’t funny. It’s not a bad thing and it’s not a rare thing — after all, Comedy Central is built almost entirely on Chappelle, Stewart and South Park.

Where was I? Yeah, comedy is good, and I watch a lot of it. So here is my list of the best Japanese TV shows (highly biased towards comedy), for informational purposes rather than for recommendation purposes. Do with it as you will. The list is in no particular order.

  • エンタの神様 (Enta no kami sama/The kami of entertainment).
    A cross between stand-up and sketch comedy, comedians (usually in duos, sometimes alone, rarely in larger groups) perform on stage in front of a live studio audience. The Enta no kami sama people seem to work really hard to make sure that the people on the show are funny, so…highly recommended. It also has subs for the punchlines.
  • トリック (Trick)
    [Season 1, vol. 1] [Season 1, vol. 2] [Season 1, vol. 3] [Season 1, vol. 4] [Season 1, vol. 5]
    トリック2 (Trick Season 2)
    トリック: troisieme partie (Trick Season 3)
    トリック:新作スペシャル (Trick: The New Special)
    トリック劇場版 (Trick: The Movie)
    トリック劇場版2 (Trick: The Movie 2)
    トリック 堤幸彥演出研究序説 (The Making of Trick, behind the scenes footage and discussion with director TSUTSUMI Yukihiko)

    I don’t know if you can tell yet, but…I love this show. The plot is basically UEDA Jirou (an arrogant, cowardly, well-endowed physics professor) and YAMADA Naoko (a modestly-chested magician who’s useless on stage and chronically strapped for cash but also something of a genius in term of investigation), go around busting a string of shady psychics, cult leaders and other pretenders to paranormal abilities. Ueda pretends to use physics to bust them while Naoko does all the real work. Hilarity ensues. So, I guess it’s a mystery-dramedy, with LOTS of laughs, and great supporting characters, and all kinds of random regional dialects. Most Japanese shows don’t run more than one season. Trick ran for not one but three seasons and had not one, but two movies released in real theaters. A show has to either (a) be backed by the Illuminati, or, (b) be really good, to get this far. The answer is (b).
  • ハンドク (Handoc/half-doctors)
    NAGASE Tomoya was one of my surrogate parents for Japanese (he doesn’t know this, but…). Anyway, so this show’s about new doctors (who only have half the skill of experience doctors, therefore half-doctors), working in a top-flight whiz-bang super-elite hospital run by a chief surgeon who is as unethical as he is skilled. But it’s not like your typical American medical drama. This one is genuinely funny, has actual direction, and doesn’t try to use blood-spewing emergency room patients to push up its ratings…oh, did I say that out loud?
  • ごくせん (Gokusen/Yakuza homeroom teacher)
    [Season 1, vol. 1] [Season 1, vol. 2] [Season 1, vol. 3] [Season 1, vol. 4] [Season 1 Special]
    ごくせん2 (Gokusen, Season 2)

    Usually, when a show has a formulaic plot, it’s a bad thing. But Gokusen uses that to its advantage and just takes things to a whole ‘nother level. NAKAMA Yukie plays a homeroom teacher who’s secretly a yakuza. She’ll roundhouse kick her wayward students (all boys) for going out of line, but also beat up anyone who tries to harm them. And try to keep her yakuzaness a secret from the school board. By the way, my spoken Japanese became really vulgar as a result of watching this show (テメエ、▲▲▲じゃねえぞぉ!). That’s not meant as a warning, but actually as recommendation — this show is fun. Just be sure to pretty-up your Japanese later. Gokusen has two seasons. [Edit: the name ごくせん is a portmanteau (?) of 極道 (ごくどう -- the road of crime, gambling, drugs) and 先生 (せんせい -- teacher), so, yakuza teacher: for some reason, I missed the part where this was made clear on the show, if there was such a part, so this is for everyone who's wondering].
  • タイガー&ドラゴン (Tiger & Dragon)
    + Tiger & Dragon special prequel double-length episode
    This show is in terms of structure, content and characters, one of the best shows I have ever had the pleasure of seeing. I don’t mean to talk it up, but it’s an AMAZING show, and super-rewatchable. Go judge for yourself. P.S. — it has exact subs!
  • ココリコミラクルタイプ (Kokoriko Miracle Type)
    Viewers send in real-life stories which become sketches which make you laugh.
  • ワンナイR&R(Wannai/One Night Rock & Roll)
    Along with Kokoriko Miracle Type, part of a Wednesday night line-up called 水10 (すいじゅう/suijuu). The two shows are separate, they just run/ran back-to-back. Both are really funny. Wannai is a sketch comedy show, more fictional, but like In Living Color, having a lot of recurring characters like 轟 (Todoroki), ゴリエ (Gorie) and チョコボーイ山口 (Choco-boy Yamaguchi). The names alone will get you giggling.
  • アイチテル! (Aichiteru/I rabu you)
    A roomful of foreign women from around the world (Africa, East Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and cetera) who speak fluent Japanese, and two of the guys from Wannai combine for fast-paced, talk-based and often pretty biting humor. Really funny.
  • はねるのトびら (Haneru no tobira/you knock on a jumping door)
    About 6 comedy duos (most comedians in Japan run as duos and do or can do 漫才/manzai) combined to make this youth-oriented sketch comedy show. A big hit with the twentysomething crowd, and with good reason…I don’t think that’s proper English. Anyway, funny stuff. カワイイ!
  • サラリーマンNEO (Salaryman Neo)
    First, this show will have you on the floor laughing. Then…you’ll break your jaw when it hits the ground when you realize that NHK, the GOVERNMENT station, made one of the funniest and most sardonic TV shows to ever hit Japanese TV screens. Who says the gubmit can never get it right!? Semi-prerequisite: have worked in a Japanese company or know what it’s like to do so.
  • 池袋ウェストゲートパーク(Ikebukuro West Gate Park/IWGP)
    If you only buy one Japanese TV series, buy Tiger & Dragon. If you only by two, buy Ikebukuro West Gate Park. IWGP is one of the best TV shows ever to be produced in any language…ever. It’s no surprise that it was written by the same guy who wrote Tiger & Dragon, one 宮藤官九郎 (くどう かんくろう/KUDOU Kankurou). It also stars the same guy as T&D, namely Nagase Tomoya, in the role of Makoto. IWGP has lots of laughs, lots of action [a little violent at times, actually], great characters and a bumping soundtrack. It also serves as a great window on contemporary Japanese youth and street culture; Kudou has a real ear for dialogue and a sense of situational realism. I’m not going to tell you any more, you have to watch it for yourself. It’ll have you saying “面倒臭ええナァ!”…I can’t believe I almost didn’t add IWGP to this list. It brings the total to eleven, but whatever. Definitely an example of “last but not least”.By the way, if you only buy three shows, buy Trick

 

  42 comments for “The Top 10 Best Japanese TV Shows Of Recent Times (2000~2007)

  1. shiisa
    December 13, 2007 at 13:22

    Khatz, if you liked Trick, you should give ケイゾク (Keizoku) a shot. Especially in the earlier half of the show, before it starts to develop is own mythology/backstory, it’s *very* similar to Trick in terms of themes, comedy, etc.

  2. December 13, 2007 at 14:43

    Thanks for the list. I was looking for a guide to good Japanese TV shows. Would be even better if we had times and channels as well. *Bats eyelids*

  3. James
    December 13, 2007 at 16:15

    Since you are learning Chinese now, you must know some good Chinese ones as well. Any suggestions?

    • Ty
      October 2, 2013 at 07:46

      I know this is really late but if you haven’t seen it yet, watch Emergency Unit.

  4. December 13, 2007 at 17:08

    Search for “Stand Up”. Zero results.
    GUWAAAAAAAAAAAH?

    If you haven’t watched it, please do. It’s like the best drama ever. :D
    Especially since this list is about comedy mostly! It hurts me so!

  5. quendidil
    December 13, 2007 at 17:13

    Khatz, I noticed the two ‘英語は絶対、勉強するな’‘books there. What are they about?

  6. ruisu
    December 14, 2007 at 04:37

    What Eric said! Stand up is definitely laugh out loud funny.

  7. suffah
    December 14, 2007 at 09:08

    It kills me how expensive the box sets are.

  8. Tony
    December 14, 2007 at 11:30

    Do you know what the name of the guy on エンタの神様 who wears a school girl outfit is? He usually has some kind of pictures or something and has the audience say a word (phrase?) and they laugh.

  9. khatzumoto
    December 14, 2007 at 11:35

    @Tony
    Yeah, that’s 桜塚やっくん/さくらづかやっくん. Here’s his official blog
    ameblo.jp/sakurazuka/
    His cross-dressing character is called スケバン恐子/すけばんきょうこ

  10. khatzumoto
    December 14, 2007 at 11:36

    @suffah
    I know, they really are a bit pricey, esp. compared to US box sets (I gave someone Prison Break Season 1 as a gift for $20). For me to justify it, I have to think of it as an educational expense rather than just entertainment: when you think what a Japanese college textbook costs, or even a course, it starts to become more acceptable.

  11. khatzumoto
    December 14, 2007 at 11:59

    @James
    I don’t yet know that many Chinese shows right now; I’m at the “I’ll pretty much watch anything as long as it’s in Chinese” stage, and I mainly watch American movies dubbed and subbed in Chinese. I do have a few homegrown preferences though:

    惡作劇之吻/It Started With a Kiss (TW)
    High school dramedy about a girl who likes a smart, cold boy (and even gets rejected by him), then has to move in with his family after an earthquake…The girl is awkward and prone to embarrassing herself in funny ways. The soundtrack is really cool (a TW rapper called Jason).

    花様少年少女(TW)
    Another high school dramedy in which a girl dresses up as a boy and infiltrates an all-boys school to get a guy she likes. The actress is actually a girl, but I couldn’t quite tell until I saw her on another show. Originally a Japanese manga, adapted into a live-action dramedy in Taiwan, and this year was reverse-imported into Japan as a dramedy. There’s a hilarious subplot about one of the boys in the school who has a crush on the new “boy” and gets very confused and is trying to deal with it because he doesn’t want to be gay.

    鏘鏘三人行(HK)
    Mandarin talk show. Cool issues, cool discussion. Learn how to explain yourself in Mandarin.

    仙劍(CN)
    Action fantasy, lots of SFX. Nice costumes and sets.

    老爹(CN)
    Multi-generational drama. Perhaps like Coronation Street in that it features regular folk, but not nearly as gaudy and with much more filial piety. Awww…

    Like, I said…I watch Chinese more or less unconditionally, so…take these as you will. Definitely the best shows are the first three.

    • Ty
      October 2, 2013 at 07:48

      Watch Emergency Unit!

  12. khatzumoto
    December 14, 2007 at 12:12

    @Alec
    Most of these shows are no longer on air except for odd reruns. I checked the schedule and these shows might interest you:

    Fridays
    2103 – 2254
    日本テレビ(4 ch) 金曜ロードショー (Friday night [foreign] movie) — usually a dubbed Hollywood film.

    Saturdays
    2200 – 2254
    日本テレビ(4 ch) エンタの神様(Enta no kami sama)

    Check tv.yahoo.co.jp/ for more. Choose your region (prefecture) and TV type — analog/terrestrial/digital/satellite, etc.

    You can even select by genre. Um…my advice would be just to watch as much TV as possible indiscriminately, at least at first. Let your tastes develop with your Japanese level. Sheer quantity of time with that TV can really help you.

  13. khatzumoto
    December 14, 2007 at 12:25

    @Eric
    @ruisu
    @shiisa
    Thanks for those recommendations! My local video store will be hearing from me!

  14. khatzumoto
    December 14, 2007 at 12:28

    @quend
    You’ll just have to wait until the next post to find out! Only 71 hours and 30 minutes remaining.

  15. Yousef
    December 14, 2007 at 15:26

    Total and absolute “Word!” for Tiger&Dragon and IGWP. Kudo Kankuro is one of the most talented writers the world has right now.

    I’m really curious about Aichiteru, since there is a Korean equivalent to it (unsubtly called “the chat of beautiful women”….er…yeah..). Is there any way I can see this show, bearing in mind I’m currently not in Japan?

  16. beneficii
    December 14, 2007 at 16:56

    One question: I know you warn against attempting to translate, but what about cases where you just sort of translate a phrase automatically, like if you’re in conversation with someone? Like, I’ve figured out a certain Japanese phrase (though I didn’t have to look at an English translation already written) and I get a certain feeling, then if it comes up in English conversation or thought, I can figure a translation that captures the basic meaning?

    Question: Should I try to suppress my brain doing this, or just let it go?

  17. Wan Zafran
    December 14, 2007 at 23:39

    That part you mentioned about Nagase Tomoya being a surrogate parent… I think I’d have to agree. The characters he has played, in shows such as Tiger & Dragon and My Boss, My Hero, portrays him as a very masculine Japanese character, which is great for those of us who need to work on the ‘male parts of speech’ of Japanese.

  18. JDog
    December 15, 2007 at 13:58

    Hey everyone,

    I found a useful program, although it may not be *cough* L3G4L. It is very simple and it is NOT spyware nor does it have it included. It’s called YouTubeToMP3Converter. Pretty self explanatory name. It may come up and ask you to buy other software from the company, but it does not have pop-ups or anything very intrusive at all. I have found that lots of people will post entire episodes of JDramas in like 5 parts on YouTube. Unfortunately, many of those episodes have English subs with them, which is of course a bummer for the AJATT learner. If you use this program, which is not the best program in the world, but it does its duty, it will convert your YouTube video to MP3, given the URL, eliminating the English subs and making a great thing to listen to on your iPod or mp3 player. You can even string the episodes together in a playlist of “JDramas” or whatever so that they are like full episodes.

    I got it from this site: www.dvdvideosoft.com/free-dvd-video-software.htm

    Lastly, the program can be switched to Japanese mode! I know the site looks iffy as far as spyware and spoofs go, but I have downloaded other programs to watch DVDs and what not and have had no problems at all.

    Enjoy!!

  19. Rachel
    December 16, 2007 at 06:48

    Since you are learning Mandarin, I’ll recommend a drama to you. It’s called 換換愛 (Why Why Love). Here’s some information: wiki.d-addicts.com/Why_Why_Love . This is my favorite taiwanese drama. Every episode is so intense. I’ve finished watching the entire drama, I miss it. Everytime I hear a song from the soundtrack I get so excited. Now I’m watching 惡魔在身邊 (Devil Beside You), which has a few of the same main actors and actresses from Why Why Love. Technically, I shouldn’t be watching any Taiwanese dramas, since I am learning Japanese. But when I heard of these two series I couldn’t resist. They’re just so good! Don’t worry though, everything else I watch is in Japanese. Did you know there’s a Gokusen 3 being planned? They’re doing the casting soon.

    Khatzumoto! There are so many Taiwanese and Chinese dramas out there! Your knowledge is so limited (-_-). I’m suprised.

  20. Max
    December 16, 2007 at 07:07

    I can vouch for the YouTubeToMP3Converter. It’s a pretty useful way to get audio.

  21. James
    December 16, 2007 at 13:00

    Thanks guys.. I’ve actually already seen those ones. But let me say that most Korean, Japanese, HK dramas (if you buy them in the right places) all have Mandarin audio. I’ve watched Full House, Kim Sam Soon, and more this way… and the audio is all really clear

  22. Charles A.
    December 17, 2007 at 11:48

    Wow, now this is what I was looking for. Plus, I don’t even have to buy any of these. I just get a friend to rent a season from the video store, and rip that instead. In addition, it makes ripping audio better as instead of manually doing it in 5 minute blocks, I just have each chapter be its own segment.

    I’ll look into the YouTubeToMP3Converter. That combined with JPopAsia.Com should help with my musical needs.

    PS: The video store is BIG, but it won’t let guys like me (no address, no resident card, no hard line phone) rent there. Fortunately I work with alot of guys married to Japanese citizens so no problems there.

  23. mark
    December 23, 2007 at 10:21

    “Gokusen has two seasons”

    I have just read that Gokusen is back for a third season in April 2008:

    wiki.d-addicts.com/Gokusen#Season_3

    So, something to look forward to there…

    Mark

    P.S. Khatz, any chance of a ’10 Best Japanese Books/Manga to carry around with you all day” or similar? Obviously it’s all subjective, but some guidance would be much appreciated…Cheers.

  24. khatzumoto
    December 23, 2007 at 11:59

    @Mark
    了解(ラジャー)

  25. jessui
    December 23, 2007 at 14:02

    Hi there-
    I came across your blog the other day and I have to say I’m really impressed with it! I am also a student of Japanese who believes that when learning a language, it’s extremely important to get lots of input, and that it’s also important to make your language-learning fun by watching and listening to things that interest you ^^
    Anyways when I opened this list, I was very pleasantly surprised to see エンタの神様 at the top. I think that watching (and trying to understand!) Japanese comedy is one of the best things you can do to sharpen your listening skills, and I watch this show every weekend and love it. I’m even trying to get my Japanese-studying co-worker into it because I think it’s a great show.
    Anyways, keep up the great work :D

  26. Mark
    December 27, 2007 at 04:48

    Don’t know if anyone has been watching ‘Galileo’, but it’s pretty good ( www.d-addicts.com/forum/torrents.php?search=galileo&type=&sub=View+all&sort= }. Scripts are available here: www.dramanote.com/?cid=25879 .

    Mark

  27. vgambit
    December 20, 2008 at 19:15

    I just started watching Tiger and Dragon… I don’t really understand anything (yet), but the main Yakuza dude’s dad (I’m guessing) looks like the Japanese version of John Witherspoon.

  28. Distefam
    January 19, 2009 at 07:58

    Does anyone know where one can download subs in Japanese for dramas on d-addicts?

  29. Mark G
    April 6, 2009 at 07:58

    花ざかりの君たちへ:イケメンパラダイス (Hanazakari no Kimitachi he : Ikemen Paradaisu)
    Usually found under the shortened Hana Kimi.

    Is the name of the Show Khatz mentioned that was made in Taiwan from a Japanese Manga and then remade in Japan.

    Highly recomend the Japanese version also. Staring the ever lovely Maki Horikita. Can be found on Veoh and the like if you don’t want to fork out for the DVD.. altho it probably will come with the subs hardwired. But Just watch it a few times to get the story and then use it as background sound and pick from there.

  30. beerninja
    August 5, 2009 at 05:47

    Does anyone know the name of that show where some girl paints giant eyebrows on herself then travels around the world to exotic locations and does crazy stuff? I love that show and there are giant colorful subs that appear on the screen.

    Is any of that show on DVD or is it just a weekly TV event or something?

  31. Scuba
    August 5, 2009 at 13:24

    oh yeah, I saw that show for the first time about a month ago, I’d also like to know the name.

    Found a video rental place nearby that has a whole bunch of TV series for rent for 100¥ a day! (including Lost dubbed in Japanese!!!)

  32. beerninja
    August 10, 2009 at 12:39

    I found it. It’s called something-something イッテQ but I only see like one episode on DVD. It’s had like 3 seasons so far I think. I hope they plan on releasing them all on DVD because it’s some of the most entertaining documentary/comedy television I’ve ever watched.

  33. Joe
    August 31, 2009 at 13:09

    Just downloaded and watched the first 2 episodes of IWGP, so good!!!! Thanks for the suggestion!

  34. WeebleWobble
    October 17, 2010 at 07:55

    Long Vacation (available on Mysoju and Vimeo) is the best Japanese show I’ve seen.

  35. Traci
    November 30, 2010 at 13:16

    Another show I liked was My Boss my Hero which also starred Nagase Tomoya. Just sayin.

  36. August 8, 2011 at 08:35

    Oh my god, something must be wrong with me, I gave the first four a try and find them to be total crap. Everything seems to be cheap with sh##y lighting and awful acting. Japanese music is worse enough, how can I ever procrastinate in Japanese when the only thing of quality is Dr. Slump and there’s so much good American music, shows and movies out there?

  37. That one guy
    December 27, 2011 at 15:40

    Thanks for this list

    and at the guy above me.. that is part of the glory of Japanese TV…  Japanese tv shows work differently, They are created differently, and despite the budgets they are given to shoot with they make it work! and rarely they are given another season to extend their story…

    I highly recommend “My boss my hero” if noone has seen it, but im sure if you have iwgp on the list you have… It was great.
     

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