For those who aren't familiar with Asian entertainment, the word "drama" is used a little differently over here than it is in most Western countries. Drama isn't so much a genre as it is just any TV show with a storyline, usually fictional but sometimes based on a true story. It includes a variety of genres, such as comedy, romance, family and "drama".
Asian story-telling is quite different than Western, so watching drama can be a bit of a culture shock at first. But it is a great way to practice your listening skills and learn about Asian culture, history, etc. (But please remember to take everything with a grain of salt!!) Before coming to Japan, I tried my hardest to immerse myself in Japanese, and one of the more fun ways of doing that was watching a lot of drama.
Here are my top 5 dramas! Clicking on the link will take you to a site where you can watch it online with English subtitles.
Based on the novel of the same name, this drama is about a group of otaku (anime/game nerds) who band together to solve problems in Akihabara. It's pretty funny whether you're familiar with otaku culture or not, but if you are it's a must-see. It pokes fun at a lot of stereotypes and has some of the most memorable scenes of any drama I've ever watched. (It's pretty hard to forget zombie cosplayers or maids having an epic smack-down in the street.)
4. Boys Over Flowers
The epic romantic comedy about a girl from a poor family who ends up at a rich private school, where she meets the infamous F4, a group of rich, powerful boys. Also called Hana Yori Dango in Japan and Ggot Boda Namja in Korea. If you love drama, the Japanese version is also worth watching, but if you only see one take on this story, watch the Korean BOF. I'm just gonna warn you now: it's really, really silly. That said, it's a fun show with a strong female lead (in the Korean version, anyway).
3. Nodame Cantabile
A very successful drama based on the shojo manga of the same name. It's about a group of university students studying orchestra music, the ridiculous things they get up to and the love between Nodame, a crazy, disorganized pianist and the straight-laced conductor Chiaki. Ueno Juri, an actress I like, plays Nodame and I think she is probably one of the most memorable characters I've encountered in drama. Nodame Cantabile is really funny, a bit romantic and played against a background of great music.
2. Tiger & Dragon
One of my favorite dramas, Tiger and Dragon mixes together modern and very old forms of Japanese story-telling. It's about Rakugo, a kind of traditional Japanese "stand-up" comedy (although it's actually performed sitting down). Tiger and Dragon follows the lives of a Yakuza who decides he wants out in order to become a Rakugo performer, and a former Rakugo prodigy who wants to be a fashion designer. In each episode, a traditional Rakugo story is told, half through real Rakugo story-telling and half mirrored in the events happening around the protagonists. Definitely some of the best and most original writing I've ever seen in an Asian drama, and hands down one of the funniest dramas that I've ever seen.
1. Coffee Prince
I love Coffee Prince. I love the characters and the story and its perfect mix of comedy and drama. Admittedly Coffee Prince falls into a lot of the cliches of other Asian dramas, but I think the strength of the acting and the writing makes it really memorable and worth watching. It's about a girl who is the sole bread-winner for her family and who is very androgynous- she's a tomboy who breaks a lot of gender roles and is often mistaken for a boy. She ends up working for the rich owner of a cafe who's just learning how to grow up and take responsibility for himself. The twist is that he thinks she's a boy. All of the supporting characters have background stories that are interesting and make them feel very human and real. Coffee Prince is the one drama that I keep coming back to, because in the world of Asian drama it's a really fresh, beautiful look at gender and love.