Back in 2018, we published our top recommendations for Netflix shows that are both fun to binge-watch and can also help you practice your Japanese. But that was back in the days when Netflix was mostly a weekend or after-work pastime—not the necessity it is today as we live at times defined by a seemingly endless self-isolation. If you’ve exhausted our Part I list already, or you’re simply looking for more Japanese shows to watch as you #stayhome, here’s another round of our favorite shows that can help you survive the quarantine—and emerge from it with improved nihongo skills.
1. Let Me Call You Father-in-Law
Kenichi Endo plays Tamotsu Daidoji, an amiable 51-year-old man who spent his life so focused on work that he forgot to look for love. He finds it by chance in Miran Hanazawa (played by Misako Renbutsu), a strong-minded woman who is 23 years old. Oof. All you redditors who follow AITA and /r/relationships — I know what you’re thinking, but fear not: Daidoji is not the problem in this scenario. It’s Hanazawa’s father, the elite executive Kiichiro Hanazawa, who happens to be the same age as his daughter’s love interest. The age gap, as well as Daidoji’s comparatively mediocre career and bad style, is too much for Papa Hanazawa, who does everything he can to stop the couple’s engagement. It’s a fun and silly show that works, thanks to Endo’s hapless but kind character whose only wish is to be a part of his fiancée’s family.
Japanese title: お父さんと呼ばせて / Otosan to Yobasete
Japanese Difficulty level: Intermediate
Similar shows: Kekkon Dekinai Otoko, GTO: Great Teacher Onizuka, Stay At Home Dad
2. This Guy in the Biggest Mistake in My Life
Japanese celebrity (who is also known for his exceptional cooking skills) Mokomichi Hayami plays wealthy genius CEO and medical researcher Kyoichi Amagi in his first TV drama starring role in almost a decade. The man appears to be flawless — that is, until Yui Sato appears on the scene. She not only trips him so he falls, she berates him for an insensitive remark he makes. While Sato is embarrassed by her hasty action, she is sure she won’t ever run into him again. No such luck: in classic J-drama fashion, it turns out he is the CEO of the company she works for. Alas, losing her job would be better than the fate that awaits her — it turns out Amagi has a thing for being treated like dirt. Expect over-the-top acting and absurd scenes that, if the show weren’t based on a manga, would be uncomfortable and possibly unforgivable. Also, where else would you learn useful words like 薬害 (yakugai/harmful side effects from medication), 鵜呑み (unomi/swallow without chewing, accept without questioning) and 奴隷 (dorei/slave)?
Japanese title: この男は人生最大の過ちです/Kono otoko wa jinsei saidai no ayamachi desu
Japanese difficulty level: Intermediate
Similar shows: My Relentless Wife, Wise and Foolish, Let Me Call You Father-in-Law
3. Fruits Delivery Service
Based on Yoshio Suzuki’s manga of the same name, this human drama shows a slightly seedier side to Japan — albeit a more PG version than Ushijima the Loan Shark. Shinichi Sakita (Gaku Hamada) is down on his luck and returns to his hometown after losing his job at a bank in Tokyo. He gets roped into working at a delivery health (call girl) service, where the employees are named after various fruits. Overlooking the fact that most of the story is focused on Sakita’s point of view — his attempts at white knighting go so-so — it’s a surprisingly non-judgmental insight into Japan’s sex industry. While there are no graphic sexual scenes, there are allusions to sexual assault.
Japanese title: フルーツ宅配便 / Fruits Takuhaibin
Japanese difficulty level: Low- to high intermediate
Similar shows: Ushijima the Loan Shark, Holiday Love, My Dangerous Wife
4. My Dangerous Wife
For mind-bending twists and desperate measures by the bucket load, look no further than My Dangerous Wife. The premise seems simple: Koichi Mochizuki is having an affair with an employee and, together with his lover, plots to kill his wife. However, on the day he plans to do the deed, he returns home to find bloodstains on the floor — she has been kidnapped. Is it kismet or is something darker afoot? The circumstances are almost too convenient. What follows is a psychological thriller with layers of revealed secrets that will keep you guessing with every episode.
Japanese title: 僕のヤバイ妻/Boku no yabai tsuma
Japanese difficulty level: Low-intermediate to high intermediate
Similar shows: Kagi no Nai Yume wo Miru, Holiday Love, Giri to Haji
Mika Ninagawa (Helter Skelter, Sakuran) makes her series directorial debut with a dazzling tribute to Tokyo and the women who live there. Ninagawa’s signature aesthetic is ever-present in the vivid colors and sumptuous fashion, creating a vibrant cityscape where even the most hardboiled cynic will believe dreams can come true. Famed photographer Limi Nara gifts struggling actress Natsume Hyakuta with a tag on her Instagram account, leading to a slew of new followers (and opportunities) for Hyakuta to contend with — for better or worse. Cameos by stars like MIYAVI, Erika Sawajiri and other big names add some extra spice to the show.
Japanese title: フォロワーズ/ Followers
Japanese difficulty level: Intermediate
Subtitles: English, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Portuguese
Similar shows: The Many Faces of Ito, Underwear, First Class
5. Black Leather Notebook
Photo credit: Netflix
Based on the award-winning novel by Seicho Matsumoto, Black Leather Notebook follows temp worker Motoko Haraguchi (played by Ryoko Yonekura) as she pulls off the most amazing bank heist ever. She embezzles a total of ¥180 million from illegal bank accounts — making her untouchable — before getting laid off. She uses the money to start her own hostess club, flaunting her new wealth to the increasingly furious crooked bank managers she stole from. They’re not her only enemies though — Haraguchi villains from every side with the help of her sharp wits and, of course, her black leather notebook.
Japanese title: 松本清張 黒革の手帖/ Kurokawa no Techo
Japanese difficulty level: Low-to high intermediate
Similar shows: My Dangerous Wife, Switched
7. What Did You Eat Yesterday?
Straight-laced lawyer Shiro Kakei (Hidetoshi Nishijima) and his hairdresser partner Kenji Yabuki (Seiyo Uchino) muddle through daily life and find time to connect during their meals together. While Yabuki doesn’t hide his sexuality, Kakei finds it harder to be open — causing minor conflicts between the two. The show is based on a manga by Fumi Yoshinaga and is a delightfully normal take on an LGBTQ couple living in Tokyo, with the added bonus of gratuitous cooking scenes. Kakei’s escapades in the kitchen are coupled with meticulous descriptions of ingredients and procedure, making each episode a mouth-wateringly delicious inspiration. The recipes from the show are gathered in a handy cookbook for those who are keen to try them out at home.
Japanese Title: きのう何食べた？ / Kino nani tabeta?
Genre: Feel-good drama
Japanese difficulty level: Low-intermediate to high-intermediate
Similar shows: Wakako Zake, Ossan’s Love
8. Time Taxi
Part science fiction, part slice-of-life drama, this charming show is a fun, easy watch. Handsome (and slightly nosy) taxi driver Edawakare (Yutaka Takenouchi) transports his passengers to their destinations — and beyond — courtesy of his time-traveling taxi. His mission is to help people return to places and times where they made mistakes, giving them a chance to make things right. Not all passengers manage to solve things perfectly, but the opportunity gives them closer. A great feel-good show to binge watch when you’re feeling bad. Now if only this cab were real…
Japanese title: 素敵な選Taxi / Sutekina sen-taxi
Genre: Feel-good drama
Japanese difficulty level: Beginner to Intermediate
Similar shows: Odd Family 11, My Relentless Wife, Wise and Foolish
9. Terrace House Tokyo 2019-2020
You didn’t think we’d forget Japan’s biggest reality TV show, did you? After a season of showing Karuizawa, Terrace House has returned to the capital. True to form, this season has offered an amazing variety in “incidents” already. As with previous seasons, the show offers great insights into casual conversations and how young people address each other. It’s also a great place to pick up some new vocabulary — especially as many words and phrases go viral after the show airs. (And we haven’t even gotten to the memes yet.) Whether you love it or loathe it, Terrace House offers a ton of colorful expressions. Some of our favorites include: ビンスイ (瓶吸い/ bin sui — to slurp from a bottle), 潔癖 (けっぺき/ keppeki — clean freak) and 蛞蝓に塩 (なめくじにしお/ namekuji ni shio — crestfallen, dejected, shriveled (literally “like a slug sprinkled with salt”). Note: Terrace House‘s production was temporarily paused due to the coronavirus outbreak. Season 1 is expected to premier in Japan on May 14.
Japanese title: TERRACE HOUSE TOKYO 2019-2020
Genre: Reality Show
Japanese difficulty level: Intermediate. Great for daily conversation topics and daily use vocabulary.
Subtitles: Japanese, English
Similar shows: REA(L)OVE, Ai Nori Love Wagon
10. How Do You Like Wednesday?
Originally aired on Hokkaido’s HTB and other regional channels, this long-running series has almost 240 episodes and aired consecutively for eight years, with some special limited shows on occasion after that. The premise? Actor and director Takayuki Suzui and singer/actor Yo Oizumi head out on adventures across Japan and the world, ending up in sticky situations and meeting quirky characters along the way. One season has them visiting every single municipality in Hokkaido (that’s 212 in total at that time), while a cooking show has them making everything from scratch — including the tableware — creating a months-long epic, and another sends them on the Shikoku pilgrimage where they have to visit 88 temples in just 4-5 days.
Japanese title: 水曜どうでしょう/ Suiyo dou desho
Genre: Reality Show
Japanese difficulty level: Intermediate to Advanced. Great to learn how to catch quickfire conversation and casual lingo.
Similar shows: Aiseki Shokudo, Hitoshi Matsumoto’s Suberanai Hanashi
There’s no shame in watching kids’ shows — in fact, they can be extremely useful as learning tools, especially for beginners.
11. Chibi Maruko Chan II
The original manga series started out as a collection of semi-autobiographical stories from author Momoko Sakura’s life. Later editions were based more on fiction than fact, but Chibi Maruko Chan was already a hit and the serialized comic ran for a laudable 10 years. The anime series is a fun, slice-of-life story about Maruko, an average kid who grows up in suburban 1970s Japan and isn’t really into school. It’s a little cheekier and less saccharine than Sazae-san, and each character has a distinct personality, making clashes both frequent and hilarious. The best part? There are over 200 episodes on Netflix, so they’ll keep you busy for a while.
Japanese title: ちびまる子ちゃん / Chibi Maruko Chan
Japanese difficulty level: Beginner to intermediate. Lots of puns and wordplay.
Similar shows: My 3 Daughters, Tama and Friends, New Atashin’chi
12. Butt Detective
It’s all in the title, really: a police detective whose most distinguishing feature is his literal butt face. This bum-headed super sleuth battles bad guys with the utmost politeness (except for passing gas from his face) and skill. While adults may get caught up in the complicated gastrointestinal tract involved in having two behinds (How does he go to the toilet? How does he eat? How is he even alive?), this book and TV series has been a mega hit with kids both in Japan and abroad. It’s well worth a watch if you can get past the queasiness of someone tooting out of their face.
Japanese title: おしりたんてい/ Oshiri Tantei
Difficulty level: Beginner to intermediate
Similar shows: Detective Conan, Doraemon, Incredible Zorori
13. Okaasan to Issho New Song Books
Don’t underestimate the power of this show. NHK’s musical powerhouse for kids has been on air since 1959 and has been the source of several Japanese chart-toppers, including “Dango San Kyodai” and 2019’s ubiquitous hit “Paprika.” These two seasons gather the biggest modern hits from the series to sing and dance along to. Even if you don’t have kids, some of the show’s biggest hits are guaranteed to get everyone singing along at karaoke.
Japanese title: NHK おかあさんといっしょ 最新ソングブック
Japanese difficulty level: Beginner. Catchy tunes with easy-to-understand lyrics.
Similar shows: Peek-a-Boo!, With Mother: Special Stage, With Mother: Family Concert
14. Encyclopedia of Pitiful Animals
If you’re a fan of fun facts, this is the show for you. Here, among many other things, you’ll learn that raccoons don’t wash their hands because they have a penchant for cleanliness (you’d think their nickname of trash pandas would have been a sufficient hint) — it’s because they’re killing time. Each episode features several animals, shifting between cute songs, manzai-style conversations and little skits to fully convey the tragedy and humor of their situations or human misinterpretations. Both educational and fun, this charming show is also available as a book series with the same name.
Japanese title: ざんねんないきもの事典 / Zannen-na ikimono jiten
Japanese difficulty level: Beginner to intermediate. Great topics and vocabulary for icebreakers.
Similar shows: Tama and Friends, Butt Detective, Panda! Go Panda!
Did we miss any binge-worthy shows that also serve as Japanese vocabulary builders? Let us know in the comments below!