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Best Japanese Dramas of 2022

Written by YumCha! Editorial Team Tell a Friend

Our editors' picks for the best Japanese dramas of 2022!

Don't Call It Mystery
Don't Call It Mystery
Don't call it a mystery. Call it a long soul-searching talk with Suda Masaki. Based on Tamura Yumi's award-winning manga, Fuji TV's hit series revolves around Kuno Totono, a loner university student with very curly hair, an affinity for curry and a knack for inductive reasoning. After becoming a suspect in a murder case, Totono dispels the police's suspicions by solving the case for them. Though he's quick to insist that he's just a student, more strange mysteries keep coming his way thanks to his exceptional observation skills – and his uncanny ability to be in the wrong place at the right time. Totono uses critical thinking to unlock puzzles, but perhaps more important is his strong sense of empathy that unlocks hearts and reveals painful truths. Don't Call It Mystery entertains with quirky humor and twisty mystery, but at its core is a human drama about loss, fear, loneliness and the longing for a connection.

Elpis: Hope or Disaster
Nagasawa Masami acts up a storm as a steely yet vulnerable TV anchor who has been relegated to a corner segment on a mediocre variety program due to a relationship "scandal." She's resigned to being a shell of herself until the program's listless young director (Maeda Gordon), for desperate reasons of his own, enlists her to investigate the case of a death row prisoner wrongfully convicted of serial murder. Taking the risk to report the truth sends them on a rollercoaster of changes, both personal and professional, in a broken world. With director One Hitoshi at the helm, this hard-to-pin-down suspense series is underlined by an off-kilter, hardboiled vibe that simultaneously propels the protagonists towards the hope of vindication and the threat of disaster. As can be expected of an One Hitoshi production, the drama's brass-laced music by Yoshihide Otomo is wonderful and greatly contributes to the pulpy mood of the series.

Hey Handsome
Hey Handsome!!
When you're feeling troubled, buy some mollusks and spend a day with them. At the end of the work day, take a moment to appreciate their little lives – and then eat them. This strangely profound advice, belted across the street by a worried dad, is just one of the many hilarious and touching moments in the Fuji TV/Tokai TV family comedy-drama Hey Handsome!! The handsome guy in question is Yoshida Kotaro in ossan mode as the father of three daughters: oldest daughter Yuka (Kinami Haruka) is seeing a married man, middle daughter Rika (Sakuma Yui) is married to a patronizing jerk, and youngest daughter Mika (Takeda Rena) is living with a loser boyfriend. All three know it's time for a change, and their father is at the ready to be both nosy and understanding. This gem of a series just gets you right in the heart and the funny bone with its detailed observations, bickering conversations and preposterous yet believable situations.

 Ishiko and Haneo: You're Suing Me?
Ishiko and Haneo: You're Suing Me?
You can sue for just about anything these days! TBS's amusing comedy-drama Ishiko and Haneo revolves around a scrappy legal firm headed by Arimura Kasumi as paralegal Ishida Shoko, who graduated from a top university but has failed the bar exam four times, and Nakamura Tomoya as attorney Haneoka Yoshio, who puts up an eccentric genius front but freezes when put on the spot. The squabbly duo provide legal counsel to clients ranging from a mother seeking to void in-game transactions made by her son, to an owner who wants a positive review of his restaurant removed from a site. Whether they're making sense of neighbor disputes or copyright violations, Shoko and Yoshio go beyond the small cases to uncover meaningful stories. As typical of Japanese dramas, each legal lesson reveals life lessons that in turn help the protagonists navigate their own troubles. Bonus: Cherry Magic! breakout Akaso Eiji is extra fluffy as Shoko's earnest suitor.

The Journalist
The Journalist
Fujii Michihito's 2019 film The Journalist took the top prize at the 43rd Japan Academy Prize. His same-titled 2022 series returns to the gray world of media and politics but with a different storyline and characters. The Netflix series actually gathers a stronger cast than the film, with Yonekura Ryoko as an intrepid journalist investigating a government scandal that mirrors the real-life Moritomo Gakuen scandal broken by Asahi Shimbun in 2017. Ayano Go, Yoshioka Hidetaka, Terajima Shinobu, Yokohama Ryusei and Yusuke Santamaria are among the players, pawns and victims in a case of upper-echelon financial transgression that snowballs into a far-reaching government cover-up. The Journalist grips not only as an investigative thriller exposing high-level wrongdoing, but also as an account of the political and administrative mechanisms that roll into motion to control and fabricate a narrative. Ayano Go and Yoshioka Hidetaka stand out in tortured portrayals of guilt-ridden bureaucrats who bear the moral burden of carrying out the administration's lies.

Kamen Rider Black Sun
Kamen Rider Black Sun
After a generation of younger and brighter Kamen Rider shows, the tokusatsu franchise returns to darker origins with an older and anguished motorcycle-riding hero. Part of the franchise's 50th anniversary projects, Kamen Rider Black Sun isn't your usual kid-friendly Kamen Rider for network television. Streamed on Amazon Prime, this reboot of 1987's Kamen Rider Black touts big names with Nishijima Hidetoshi and Nakamura Tomoya as Minami Kotari (Kamen Rider Black Sun) and Akizuki Nobuhiko (Shadow Moon), respectively, and Shiraishi Kazuya directing with violent gusto. Unfolding parallel threads, the series alternates between the present day when a girl fighting for kaijin rights meets the weathered Minami, and the 1970s when the young Minami and Akizuki are drawn into the kaijin protest movement. Black Sun earns its 18+ rating with grotesque action – prepare for body-ripping, blood-spurting, organ-spilling fights nearly every episode – and a harrowing depiction of the origin, oppression and radicalization of kaijin people. Black Sun updates Kamen Rider with better production values and a broody superhero, but it clearly revels in the old school in many other aspects – the retro visualization of 70s Japan, the improved but still campy costumes and effects, the requisite "henshin" poses and that awesome homage to Kamen Rider Black's title sequence in the final episode.

My Family
My Family
Ninomiya Kazunari is mobile game app CEO Narusawa Haruto whose company and relationship with his wife (Tabe Mikako) are both on the verge of failing. Then one day, his daughter gets kidnapped. Though he initially calls the police, he soon realizes that doing so has put his family at risk. Calling in old friends (Hamada Gaku as an ex-cop, Kaku Kento as a lawyer) for help, he engages in a battle of wits to lose the police and pay the ransom for his daughter's safe return. Little does he realize, his valiant effort to save his daughter will pull him into a nightmarish cycle as more victims are taken. Written by the reliable Kuroiwa Tsutomu, My Family goes in unexpected directions with its serial kidnapping mystery, starting with the protagonist's decision to go against the police to cooperate with the culprit. The thrilling yet heartwarming series throws out various twists and many doubts while placing the desire to protect family above all.

She Loves to Cook, and She Loves to Eat
She Loves to Cook, and She Loves to Eat
Nomoto (Higa Manami) loves to cook but she can't eat that much. Kasuga (newcomer Nishino Emi) loves to eat, and she can eat a lot. These two neighbors who live alone become meal mates and then something more after Nomoto impulsively invites Kasuga to dinner one night. Based on Yuzaki Sakaomi's manga Tsukuritai Onna to Tabetai Onna, the slice-of-life series takes a simple premise and makes it magical. NHK's adaptation is wonderfully warm and appropriately minimal with 15-minute episodes in the late-night slot. Through the daily lives, interactions and romantic awakening of Nomoto and Kasuga, the story gently explores the realistic conditions, emotions and yearnings of unmarried women in the city, touching on family and social pressure, urban alienation and the stereotypical expectations placed on women. The antidote to all this: the joy of making and eating good food with good company. Nothing heals and sparks the heart like a heaping plate of gyoza!

Stirring, wistful and winsome, Fuji TV's silent has the warm and melancholic aura of a throwback Japanese romantic tearjerker but headlined with new-generation actors. Kawaguchi Haruna and Snow Man's Meguro Ren are high school sweethearts Tsumugi and Sou, who parted ways after the latter broke things off to hide his hearing loss. When they bump into each other eight years later, Tsumugi learns the truth and determinedly reconnects with Sou, who now communicates by sign language. Within the trappings of a trendy melodrama, silent sincerely explores the emotional turmoil and communication difficulties faced by the deaf and their loved ones. With many of the drama's lines delivered in sign language, silent touches with the pure-hearted depiction of love, friendship and family in Sou's journey of coming to terms with himself and his relationship with the world. Shinohara Ryoko, Kaho and Kazama Shunsuke are outstanding in supporting roles, and the frequent references to Spitz's music reinforce the warm, nostalgic feels.

Solitary Gourmet 10
Solitary Gourmet Season 10
Another year, another excellent season of Solitary Gourmet! Salesman Goro (Matsushige Yutaka) has more humorously awkward meetings with customers and mouth-wateringly delicious meals with himself in Season 10 of the sublime slice-of-life foodie series. This time around, the salaryman indulges in all kinds of Japanese comfort food like gyudon, omurice with ox tongue stew, liver and chives stir-fry, chicken skin gyoza and yakisoba. He discovers new flavors (and words) at an Okinawan restaurant with tomato curry tsukesoba and fu chanpuru, a Chinese restaurant with Hong Kong-style wonton noodles and congee, and a Korean restaurant with tangsuyuk, jajangmyeon and jjampong. Most amusingly, he's introduced to the wonders of rendang and mie ayam at an Indonesian restaurant by quirky server Katagiri Hairi, and gets some energizing vibes through a fish-based meal prepared by a sassy Maya Miki. Goro may not know how to handle the requests of female clients, but he knows how to have lunch!

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Published December 21, 2022

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