Best Japanese Dramas of 2023 | TheReviewGeek Recommends

There’s been such an abundance of watch-worthy Japanese dramas in 2023, that it’s difficult to cut from the list – so we’re giving you a sweet 15. The rub of J-drama is, of course, is waiting through the year for subtitles to arrive. Thankfully more and more are popping up on popular streaming services with English and other language subtitles from Netflix, Disney+ and Prime to Viki and Bilibili. Enjoy these fabulous dramas while you wait for 2024 series to appear.

With a host of genre from romance to action, pop-idol starrers and manga/anime live-action remakes, we hope you’ll find something to love. What J-drama may lack in production value, it makes up for in sincerity and imaginative storylines.

Click the red links for full season reviews and interviews. 



Trillion Game – Toririon Gēmu

Netflix’s Trillion Game is a perfect pairing of a scammer salesman and an IT genius – think Catch Me If You Can as a duo. It’s good old-fashioned snake oil and an unwavering gaze that brings these two the chance to play with the big boys of Japanese business. Led by double-idol power, Haru is the smooth-talking, terribly convincing mastermind played by the fabulous Ren Meguro (silent, My Happy Marriage, My Love Mix-Up!) of Snowman. The equally compelling Hayato Sano (Kaguya-sama: Love is War, Tokyo MER) of J-pop group M!lk is Gaku, the uber-talented if perpetually flustered techie. While Haru magics the opportunities, Gaku is a perfectly reliable set of hands to bring success home.


Yu Yu Hakusho

High schooler Yusuke Urameshi, played by Takumi Kitamura (On a Starry Night, Kazama Kimichika: Kyojo Zero) of Japanese rock band DISH// is a street-brawling delinquent. Yet despite his bad behaviour, he saves a little boy while losing his own life in the process. As he’s an unexpected arrival, Grim Reaper Botan, played by Kotone Furukawa (Pending Train, Revolver Lily) and Junior After Life King Koenma, played by Keita Machida (Super Rich, Cherry Magic) don’t know what to do with him. So, they offer a second chance as a Spirit Detective, keeping the world safe from demons. With only five 50-minute episodes it slashes by in a whoosh of colorful weapons and exploding monsters. If you love the epic magic, check out our interview with SFX artist, Masakazu Murakami.


Turn to Me Mukai-kun – Kocchi Muite yo Mukai-kun 

Eiji Akaso can do it all – from disaster in Pending Train to BL in the Cherry Magic movie and now in the perfectly smirk-worthy, Turn to Me Mukai-kun. Fun from the go, this 10-episode rom-com tells the tale of a guy who just can’t get it right in the romance department. Dumped 10 years ago and stuck in the past, he’s incessantly presuming what a girl must be thinking and coming up all wrong. It’s got the feel of What Women Want but without hearing it in stereo. Instead, he’s found a soothsayer who can decipher it all out for him. And she just happens to be single-ish too.


Cinderellas of Midsummer – Manatsu no Cinderella 

Sweet, sweet summer romance, it’s a classic poor but hardworking heroine and well-off but sincere hero. There’s a fun group of friends and several more budding romances, keeping the storyline moving as everyone enjoys the seaside. It hits all the right places via a warm and sunny story with a well-known cast including Nana Mori (Maiko-san Chi no Makanai-san), Shotaro Mamiya (Pending Train, #Remolove), Kamio Fuju (Black Cinderella, Mairunovich) and Riku Hagiwara (My Beautiful Man, Even if I Forget You). Catch our detailed episode-by-episode review linked above.


The Date of Marriage – Kekkon Yoteibi

Charming romance with captivating chemistry, it’s a comedy about the plight of women nearing their third decade and getting nervous about a personal marriage/pregnancy deadline. Yoshiko is 29 and ready to take the next step, but her boyfriend suddenly decides to end things. In addition to the shock of the split, Yoshiko faces a ‘what now?!’ for her life plan. As she walks home in tears, colleague Yuki spots her and kindly offers a shoulder. Upon hearing her story, he matter-of-factly offers to marry her in a year if she doesn’t find someone she likes before then. The eight 24-minute episodes star Sakurako Ohara (Tsumari Suki tte iitai n Dakedo) and Genta Matsuda (Dakara Korosenakatta, The Blue Skies at Your Feet) of J-pop group, Travis Japan.


My Beautiful Man S2

The second installment of the BL drama, now Hira and Kiyoi have graduated high school and separated. But like magnets, find each other again, unable to resist refreshing their connection. Led by Yusei Yagi (Hyena, 18/40: Unbreakable Bond of Dreams) of J-pop group FANTASTICS and Riku Hagiwara (Cinderellas of Midsummer, Even if I Forget You), it’s a sweet story of opposites attract with a very manga feel, filled with extreme reactions and outlandish characters. But navigate below the surface and you’ll gaze into the heart of a beautifully character-driven exposition pinpointing the desire to be understood. While Hira leads the tale it’s his counterpart and focus Kiyoi who brings us to each stage of growth, sprinkling his feelings like breadcrumbs along the way.


On a Starry Night – Hoshi Furu Yoru ni

Yu Yu Hakusho’s Takumi Kitamura (also Tokyo Revengers) leads this romance drama about a deaf young man and a doctor 10 years his senior. They meet on a starry night only to end in embarrassment. But when they bump into each other again, Issei can’t stay away from her. And Suzu, played by Yuriko Yoshitaka (Saiai, Watashi: Teiji de Kaerimasu) learns sign language so she can communicate with him, finally finding something that brings happiness. Despite their age difference and Issei’s hearing loss plus a wild possessive streak, Suzu finds herself drawn to his undeniable radiance.


18/40: Unbreakable Bond of Dreams – 18/40: Futari Nara Yume mo Koi mo 

Such an unexpected story and well done to boot. 18/40 is about two women at different places in their lives who band together in reliance and friendship. A pregnant 18-year-old and a 40-year-old who’s losing the ability to have children, both trying to figure out what comes next and supporting each other. Led by Haruka Fukuhara and Fukado Kyoko with support from the ever-spot-on Ouji Suzuka (From Me to You, silent, Horimiya) and Shuhei Uesugi it’s a story that keeps you guessing through 10 hour-long episodes.


Pending Train

A disaster/fantasy drama about a train that goes off the rails, landing somewhere in the future. With few supplies and no preparation, the passengers must figure out how to survive. Beyond that, could there be a way back to their former lives? As they dig for information, the recent past is looking bleak, showing signs of a major disaster and they, potentially, the sole survivors. Led by Yuki Yamada (Godzilla Minus One, Kingdom) as Kayashima, Eiji Akaso (Super Rich, Turn to Me) as Shirahama and Moka Kamishiraishi (Pokemon the Movie, Mirai) as Hatano, the story grows with a healthy amount of cliff hanger at the end of each of ten 45-minute episodes. Catch our interview with comic relief of the train, Joichiro Fujiwara as Yonezawa.


If It’s with You – Kimi to Nara Koi wo Shite Mite mo

If high schooler Kazuma was among your favorites in Pending Train, you’ll love Hyuga Wataru as Ryuji, the leading man in gay romance drama If It’s with You. The object of affection and all-around nice guy plays to Takato Okura’s Amane, a high school student grappling with his sexuality as he moves to a new town to live with his grandmother. Ryuji is his first friend and only the second person to whom he confesses his preference, the first conversation with another friend not going well at all. But the sensitive Ryuji doesn’t judge and they continue to hang out together. Five 20–25-minute episodes deliver what feels like a more realistic story than the average BL.


Brother Trap

Told from both points of view, a university-aged woman who hasn’t dated since her failed relationship with her high school boyfriend, becomes attracted to a sweet younger guy. He too is interested and they start an innocent romance only to discover that her ex is his older brother. Once the brother discovers the relationship, he can’t help but meddle – after all, he knows both of them well. Rinka Kumada plays the timid Akari while Jyutaro Yamanaka plays younger brother and boyfriend Izumi. While Akihisa Shiono plays older brother and former boyfriend Yamato. Catch nine 30-minute episodes of this manga-turned-live-action complicated family romance.



From Me to You – Kimi ni Todoke

Also a 2010 movie adapted from an anime, this 12-episode drama is about a socially awkward high schooler (Sara Minami) named Sawako but called ‘Sadako’ by her classmates, likening her to a character from horror flick, The Ring. Friendless, she keeps to herself until an outgoing classmate tries to draw her out. As Shota Kazehaya, Ouji Suzuka plays the lead male in yet another drama. After 2022’s silent and alongside this year’s 18/40: Unbreakable Bond of Dreams, everything he touches seems to be heartfelt. It’s a weirdly awkward script somehow polished by smooth acting. The cast, especially the trio of friends, taking strange lines and scenarios and making them watchable.


My Home Hero

Is about a man who kills his daughter’s yakuza boyfriend when he overhears him plot against her. An impulsive move, Tetsuo must then figure out how to dispose of the body before the gangster flunkies start to scrutinize. Helpfully, his hobby is crime fiction. Or it could be his absolute undoing – as in, enough knowledge to get himself into even more trouble. Tetsuo, played by Sasaki Kuranosuke, is almost instantly faced with Kyoichi, a gang-member given a deadline and one who finds Tetsuo fairly suspicious. Played by Kyohei Takahashi of Naniwa Danshi, Kyoichi swiftly sees through the story built by the fiction enthusiast, only he can’t quite lock concrete evidence. If you’re hooked, see our interview with J-pop star Kyohei Takahashi.


I Became a Lead in a BL Drama – BL Drama no Shuen ni Narimashita: Crank Up Hen

Completely over the top, it’s off-putting at first. But there’s something sincere about the insecurities and chronic bursts of depression swirling around that makes it worth a watch. A pair of young actors snag lead roles in a live-action BL drama that follows a light novel. One actor, played by Abe Alan, is at the top of his game. While the other is a now-grown child actor, played by Nichika Akutsu, who seems to be losing fans and worrying incessantly about, well, everything – including connecting with his costar. Meanwhile, the popular guy with the cool persona is secretly in love with the child-star but doesn’t know how to interact without giving himself away. Of course, it’s a BL drama so the producers suggest the awkward couple live together to build on-screen chemistry. Three 45-minute episodes zip right on by.


Unexpected – Love Story in Maison Ginseiso – Hamaru Otoko ni Keritai Onna

A 10-episode rom-com, it stars Taisuke Fujigaya of Kis-My-Ft2 and Nagisa Sekimizu. An old-school, hate-to-love story, it’s centered on a rather obnoxious guy who loses everything in order to find himself. After dramatically resigning his job and receiving divorce papers in the same day, he takes on managing a boarding house earning no salary but having room, board and plenty to do. One of the house-mates happens to be someone he’d insulted in his former career and she’s delighted to have the opportunity to take her revenge, criticizing his every output. Here sets the stage for a classic rom-com, complete with a host of misunderstandings. Based on manga Hamaru Otoko ni Keritai Onna, it’s got the predictable accoutrement of ridiculous falls, shrieking and plenty of tropes, but somewhere in the mix things begin to get interesting. For the inside scoop, check out our interview with J-pop star Taisuke Fujigaya.


Did we miss your favorite? Shout it out in the comments below – we’d love to hear your recommendations! For more Japanese dramas and movies, click here. 

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2 thoughts on “Best Japanese Dramas of 2023 | TheReviewGeek Recommends”

  1. Val M, Thank you! Hope you find something you love to watch. And please do click back in if you’ve got recommendations for us.

    Thanks for reading and for commenting!

  2. Love how detailed this list is and enjoyed reading the article. I’ll surely be checking out some of the these titles. Great work Kristen! 🙂

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