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Binge Worthy: 5 Japanese Dramas for Studying Japanese

Improve your Japanese listening skills with Japanese dramas!

By 5 min read

One of the best ways to increase your listening skills and cultural knowledge about Japan is to immerse yourself in the very colorful world of Japanese television dramas.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, we are spending more time at home and have fewer chances to practice Japanese in real-world situations. It might even be hard to stay motivated during the pandemic. Recently, I’ve reignited my passion for learning Japanese by watching episodes of Nigeru wa hajidaga yakunitatsu (The Full-Time Wife Escapist) after my study sessions.

You’ll learn a lot of vocabulary that relates to relationships, particularly in friendship and in love.

Most dramas are only about an hour-long, so it’s an excellent opportunity for easy listening practice. Keep in mind you’ll either need to use a streaming service in Japan (like Paravi), check your local Japanese video store (like Tsutaya), or travel the high seas (if you know what I mean) to watch these dramas.

In this article, I’ll introduce five of my favorite J-dramas and tell you how you can use them to your advantage when studying Japanese.

1. Tokyo Tarareba Musume

Based on a manga by Akiko Higashimura, I can liken Tokyo Tarareba Musume (とうきょうタラレバむすめ, Tokyo ‘What If’ Girls in English) to Sex and the City. The story is about three women in their late 20s to early 30s navigating life and love in Tokyo.

What I like about this show is the simplicity of its premise. It’s easy to understand even without subtitles. As someone confident around the N3 level of the JLPT, I didn’t encounter any difficulty with the character’s choice of vocabulary or grammar.

You’ll learn a lot of vocabulary that relates to relationships, particularly in friendship and in love. The protagonists are likable, and you’ll cheer for them until the last episode—definitely an easy watch.

  • Japanese level: Higher N4 to N3
  • Genre: Romance, comedy, slice of life
  • Starring: Yuriko Yoshitaka, Nana Eikura and Yuko Oshima
  • Where to watch: Hulu, Tsutaya (rental)

2. Nigeru wa hajidaga yakunitatsu

The Full-Time Wife Escapist (げるははじだがやくつ) or its shortened title Nigehaji, is a popular slice-of-life romantic comedy. Also based on a comic, the drama follows protagonist Mikuri Moriyama as she tries to come into her own after unsuccessful attempts at job hunting despite having graduated with a master’s degree.

The story is light-hearted and unsurprisingly relatable, so it was a big hit when it aired a few years ago. On top of that, it recently received a one-off 2021 special.

The topics are simple enough to understand for those studying towards N3 or who have already passed N3. The dialogue focuses on daily conversation topics and relationships. Try learning the dance at the end of the drama made by the multi-talented actor/singer Hoshino Gen.

  • Japanese level: Higher N4 to N3
  • Genre: Romance, comedy, slice of life
  • Starring:  Hoshino Gen, Aragaki Yui
  • Where to watch: Amazon Prime, Hulu, d-TV, Tsutaya TV, U-Next, Paravi

3. Tengoku to Jigoku: Psychona Futari

For a bit of a challenge, Tengoku to Jigoku: Psychona Futari (てんごくごく ~サイコな2人ふたり~) or Heaven and Hell: 2 Psycho People, Heaven and Hell: Soul Exchange is a drama that will keep you tense up until the last episode.

Watch as detective Ayako Mochizuki throws herself into the most challenging investigation of her career as things take an unexpected twist. Will she ever find the culprit? Watch until the end to find out.

While the topics were challenging, it was a good opportunity to learn more about formal speech patterns and crime and police-related vocabulary. I may have struggled to understand everything in its entirety, but I think anyone who has studied up to N2 or N1 won’t have too many problems.

  • Japanese level: Higher N3 to N1
  • Genre: Thriller, sci-fi, crime
  • Starring:  Ayase Haruka, Issei Takahashi
  • Where to watch: Paravi

4. Ore no Kazoku no Hanashi

Unexpectedly, Ore no Kazoku no Hanashi, (おれぞくはなし) also directly translated to Story of My Family, is a 2021 family comedy-drama that takes on a modern twist to more traditional Japanese cultural practices as it features Noh performances.

Something is charming about the eccentricity of each family member and how they all come together in times of grief to comfort one another as the head of the household undergoes worsening health problems.

The protagonist, Juichi Miyama, is as likable as he is relatable. As much as I wanted to understand this drama without using English subtitles, I think it may be a better choice for those near the N2-N1 level due to the nature of specific Noh vocabulary and formal grammar patterns.

  • Japanese level: Higher N3 to N1
  • Genre: Family, drama, comedy
  • Starring: Tomoya Nagase, Noriko Eguchi, Kento Nagayama, Toshiyuki Nishida and Erika Toda
  • Where to watch: Paravi, Tsutaya (rental)

5. Hanzawa Naoki

Arguably one of the most iconic J-dramas in recent years, Hanzawa Naoki (はんざわなお) follows the banker of the same name. The drama chronicles his ups and downs as he does his best to reach the top of one of the biggest banks in the country.

While the drama may exaggerate how it’s like working in a very hierarchical company in Japan, the show is a treasure trove of learning formal speech patterns in Japanese. I may not know when I can use the lines said during the drama, but I now have a deeper appreciation of those who can speak formal Japanese.

As someone who only passed the N3 level and didn’t have too much knowledge about Japanese banking or finance terms in general, I struggled a lot with understanding what was going on sometimes.

  • Japanese level: N2 to N1
  • Genre: Drama
  • Starring: Masato Sakai, Aya Ueto, Mitsuhiro Oikawa, Kenichi Takito and Ainosuke Kataoka
  • Where to watch: Tsutaya (rental), Paravi

This list is by no means an exhaustive list of Japanese television shows to watch and increase your listening skills. It’s merely based on my opinion, but I think these dramas helped me expand my Japanese vocabulary and grammar

Do you have any J-drama favorites? Have they helped you learn Japanese? Let us know in the comments!

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