Culture

Netflix Japan: 10 Series to Binge in 2019

Turn on the AC, buy some ice cream, and check out these recommended titles on Japanese Netflix.

By 10 min read

While Amazon Prime is still the most popular choice for streaming here, Netflix Japan actually has the largest library of all the regions. With a mind-boggling range of both exclusive and internationally popular titles, there is quite literally something to watch for everyone—and 2019 is seeing an impressive list of titles released.

The following ten anime, reality programs, and series are must-sees for anyone interested in immersing themselves in the pop, anime and social culture of their adopted home. Since titles on Netflix can be added or removed at any time, make sure you give these a try while they’re available!

All titles on this list are available with English subtitles, English audio or both.

1. 7 Seeds

What’s it about?

Four strangers wake up on a mysterious ship caught in a deadly storm. They escape on a life raft, not knowing where they are or how they got there. Finally, the castaways find a deserted island, but there’s one problem: the island is filled with man-eating plants, monstrous giant insects, and large feral rodents. Why are they there and who put them there? More importantly, will they all survive long enough to find out?

Why watch?

Exclusive to Netflix, 7 Seeds is a unique post-apocalyptic anime based on the award-winning manga of the same name. While people weren’t exactly loving the trailer, there’s no denying that the original story itself is compelling enough to give this adaptation a decent go. Plus with the length and epic scale of the manga series, there’s potential for the Netflix version to get better as it goes along.

2. Ainori: Love Wagon

What’s it about?

Ainori: Love Wagon is a reality show where young men and women travel the world together on a shoestring budget via a pink bus called “the love wagon.” Yes, really. The first two seasons on Netflix saw them travel around Asia, while the upcoming season will be based in Africa.

Unlike Terrace House, where house members are free to do whatever they want, Ainori is very much a producer-led series in which participants attempt to find a significant other while experiencing the highs and lows of traveling in a foreign country. The goal is to find a potential S.O. and perform “kokuhaku” or a love confession. When a participant has decided to confess their feelings to someone, the recipient can either accept their confession with a kiss or reject them. If the confession is accepted, both members would leave the show and return to Japan together as a couple. If not, the confessor has to go home alone having been rejected in front of the nation.

Why watch?

The show has been running since 1999 and has traveled to 30 countries, amassing a large TV audience in Japan before it was picked up by the streaming service. Thanks to the maneuvering of the production crew, there’s enough drama to keep your attention (the Asia series included food poisoning, drunken fights, and even people getting stuck on cliff faces) which is balanced by educational content about the different countries the participants are in. The comedic intervention from the female-led panel, headed by celebrity personality Becky, is a nice addition in the Netflix version, too.

3. Aggretsuko

What’s it about?

A portmanteau of “aggressive” and “Retsuko” (the main character of the show), Aggretsuko is a slice-of-life anime about an office lady in Tokyo who hates her job. All of the characters in the anime are anthropomorphized caricatures of common office tropes: the gossip, the crazy boss, the suck-up. Retsuko may look like a cute red panda on the outside, but on the inside, she is a death metal lover who screams her stress away in the bathroom stalls of her office. It’s intense viewing, at once cathartic and rage-inducing at the same time.

Why watch?

While the anime is a comedy and a satire on common aspects of daily Tokyo and office life, a lot of the content is painfully relatable. From the annoying retail sales clerk who keeps asking if you need help to the struggles of single life in your mid-twenties when all your friends are getting married—Aggretsuko is an anime targeted at the so-called “lost” generation. While the series offers insight into Japanese work culture, as well as social and gender norms in Japan, it’s also an accurate portrayal of the universal anxiety and frustration that many millennial adults are facing.

4. Castlevania

What’s it about?

Loosely based on one of the most iconic video game series of all time, Castlevania is an American adult animated series released exclusively on Netflix. After Dracula’s human wife is suspected of being a witch and burnt at the stake, he vows to bring hell’s fury and death upon the land. The series follows vampire hunter and nobleman Trevor Belmont and his quest to stop Dracula from exterminating the human race.

Why watch?

Castlevania is one of the most beloved and longest-running Japanese video game series from the 1980s. While Dracula was the main villain in the Castlevania video games, he is humanized in this series and the cause of his rage and wrath is noble: the loss of a loved one.

Filled with demons, gore, and brutal scenes of violence, Castlevania is also a horror lover’s dream. The show is action-packed, fast-paced, and boasts a great soundtrack with superb voice acting. Plus it’s short and sweet enough to get through in one binge session. So far just two seasons have been released for a total of 12 episodes.

5. Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories

What’s it about?

“When people finish their day and hurry home, my day begins.”

Midnight Diner is about a late-night Japanese diner hidden in the alleys of Tokyo’s busiest ward, Shinjuku. If you spend any amount of time walking around Tokyo, you’ll notice that the city is filled with tiny restaurants and bars that can sit as few as five customers at a time. The diner in this show is just this kind of small, hidden gem run by a kind-hearted man who will serve anything his customers ask for, so long as he has the ingredients.

Why watch?

Each episode is named after a Japanese dish, but the food is only the starting point for each of the heartwarming human stories of the Midnight Diner’s unique patrons. From tales of love to sibling rivalries, the difficulties of parenting, and honoring one’s ancestors, the stories are relatable, intriguing and always moving. Like a televised version of Humans of New York, it has the same quietly compelling impact—one that will stick with you long after the credits roll.

6. Neon Genesis Evangelion

What’s it about?

Launched in the 1990s, Neon Genesis Evangelion is often regarded as one of the best anime of all time. Set in Tokyo in an alternate future, numerous cities of Japan lie in ruins after a global cataclysm where gigantic monstrous beings known as angels terrorize the world. The anime follows Shinji, a timid fourteen-year-old boy whose father is one of humanity’s leaders in national security and defense against the angels. Fifteen years after the cataclysm, the angels appear again and Shinji’s estranged father pressures him into piloting one of their own biomechanical machines known as “Evas.”

Why watch?

Despite the cult classic anime series coming under fire for reportedly flimsy subtitling and bad voice acting in EnglishNeon Genesis Evangelion is staking its claim as one of the most epic Japanese anime series of all time. Not even the worst dub could do damage to what is an incredible feat of storytelling, so it’s worth giving its Netflix version a chance.

7. Rilakkuma and Kaoru

What’s it about?

Along with the hugely popular Sumikko Gurashi and Gudetama, one of the most popular characters in Japan is Rilakkuma. A portmanteau of the words rirakkusu (relax) and kuma (bear), Rilakkuma is a lazy, often sleepy and hungry, and very cute bear. Before Netflix, Rilakkuma was mostly seen on stationery, key chains, bags, and other merch but now he’s been brought to life in this beautifully made stop-motion animation. The series follows salary woman Kaoru, Rilakkuma, and their cast of goofy friends.

Why watch?

Rilakkuma and Kaoru is the television equivalent of a light summer read; you may not be at the edge of your seat, but it’s a whimsical and relaxing show to partake in when your brain is fried from work or school. The series goes through the four seasons in Japan and highlights the staple Japanese traditions and foods offering a nice cultural learning opportunity as well.

8. Terrace House

What’s it about?

Terrace House is a reality show where three attractive young women and three equally attractive young men share one luxury house. There is no script (supposedly), and everyone comes to Terrace House with different motivations: finding love, gaining confidence, learning a new skill, or networking to start their own business. With a frequent clashing of personalities, love triangles, and differences of opinion, Terrace House is entertaining week after week. The series has been based in different places—there was even a season in Hawaii—but now it’s back in the capital for Terrace House: Tokyo 2019–2020. 

Why watch?

Who doesn’t want to watch beautiful people slouch between a gorgeous house and whatever hipster cafe they’ve decided to go on a date to with one of their housemates? Aside from being a fascinating window into the early lives of Japan’s wannabe celebrities, in all seriousness Terrace House is an authentic portrayal of youth culture and their attitudes towards different social and cultural topics. Their views often differ from the mainstream narrative spouted by Japanese media. It’s a great way to study up-to-date Japanese, too.

9. Toradora!

What’s it about?

If you’re a sucker for love triangles and repressed feelings in romance stories, then Toradora! is the anime for you. The series follows Ryuuji, a nice-mannered boy who everyone mistakes as a delinquent because of his scary eyes. His gangster-looking face was passed down to him by his deceased yakuza father.

One day, a tiny, klutzy, yet fierce girl named Taiga puts a love letter into Ryuuji’s bag by accident. As the love letter was meant for Ryuuji’s best friend, he promises to keep her secret and help in the pursuit of her crush. As fate would have it, Ryuuji has had a longtime crush on Taiga’s best friend as well. The two make a pact to support each other in winning the hearts of their love interests. However, in the process, the two get to know each other better than they know themselves.

Why watch?

Blind love at its finest, Toradora! is a romance anime that’ll take your guard down with its humor and wacky characters, while at the same time tugging on your heartstrings with its subtle human moments.

10. Queer Eye: We’re in Japan

What’s it about?

Recently rebooted by Netflix in 2018, the success of the new Queer Eye has spawned a rush of new season releases faster than you can say “Yaaassss.” If you’ve managed not to see it, Queer Eye is essentially a makeover program for people who one way or another need help to get their lives together. In each episode, the Fab Five (five gay men each specializing in a certain skill like cooking or interior decoration) show up at the participant’s doorstep and give them a full hair, fashion, and lifestyle makeover. The show recently filmed in Japan where the crew were joined by local celebrities including Naomi Watanabe and Kiko Mizuhara.

Why watch?

Are you crying yet? Queer Eye has charmed the world with its feel-good positivity and messages of inclusivity. Every episode is a celebration of what it is to be human in today’s messy and complicated world, and even after four seasons, the series is still somehow completely devoid of cynicism. It’ll be interesting to see how the Fab Five’s philosophy of being true to yourself will play out in homogenous Japan, where LGBTQ+ rights are making slow progress. The release date is expected to be sometime in fall 2019. Stay tuned for this one!

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