The Big 10 Japanese Dramas on MDL


After my previous article on The Big 10 Chinese Dramas on MDL, on this occasion, I will try to cover the top 10 and 10 most popular Japanese dramas on MDL. I will further call J-dramas dorama from its original word ドラマ. I used the word “try” since I have less knowledge of dorama in contrast to C-dramas, so I apologize to dorama fans if I made any mistake in this article. Although I don’t watch a lot of them, I like the short episode counts – I can binge-watch them in 2 days. I also don’t mind with over-the-top acting that is the unique characteristic of dorama adapted from mangas, although I’ve never read one.

Besides an overall list, I’ll also add extra info on 5 historical, 5 taiga, and 5 asadora dramas. I will explain about these two special drama types Japan produces further down the article.

The drama rank jumps several numbers because of the overall ranking system that includes dramas from other countries, in which K-dramas are predominant. The top-ranked and the top-rated dramas are the same in modern dorama, but not with the historical ones. Here is how MDL ranks the dramas as stated below in its FAQ:

For a disclaimer, all dramas listed below are taken from a search result on November 1, 2021. When you read this article, you will see a slightly different drama, rank, or numbers on the lists, because of the time span from article editing to publishing date. The difference may specifically apply to the top-ranked/rated dramas, and I will explain the reason below.


Overall Top 10 Ranked/Rated Dramas

1 Litre no Namida (2005)  –  Ranked: #26  |  Ratings: 9.0
Imawa no Kuni no Alice (2020)  –  Ranked: #69  |  Ratings: 8.8
Nen A Gumi: Ima kara Mina-san wa, Hitojichi Desu (2019)  –  Ranked: #141  |  Ratings: 8.6
Hanzawa Naoki (2013)  –  Ranked: #174  |  Ratings: 8.6
Kieta Hatsukoi (2021) – Ranked: #175  |  Ratings: 8.6
Unnatural (2018)  –  Ranked: #192  |  Ratings: 8.6
Mother (2010)  –  Ranked: #197  |  Ratings: 8.6
Kazoku Game (2013)  –  Ranked: #202  |  Ratings: 8.6
Boku no Ita Jikan (2014)  –  Ranked: #264  |  Ratings: 8.5
Tenno no Ryoriban (2015)  –  Ranked: #275  |  Ratings: 8.5

Unlike top-ranked/rated Cdramas dominated by historical dramas, this top dorama list is dominated by modern dramas. Out of 10, 9 of them are modern, and only 1 (Tenno no Ryoriban) is historical. Let me guess; this one historical drama is on the top list because the popular Japanese actor Sato Takeru is in it. Besides, it’s expensive to produce historical dramas in Japan. They don’t have a lavish outdoor filming studio as China has. I will not break down the top-ranked into modern and historical here. There are two interesting facts about historical dramas that I will cover later in the article. And, if you are curious about the number #10 top-ranked modern dorama, it is Koi wa Tsuzuku yo Doko Made mo (2020) at number 291, also with ratings of 8.5.

That’s for the list of top 10 ranked/rated dorama. Now, let’s check out the 10 most popular ones. There are also significant differences between these two lists! 


Overall 10 Most Popular Dramas

Hana Yori Dango (2005)  –  Popularity: #112  |  Watchers: 41,206+
Itazura na Kiss: Love in Tokyo (2013)  –  Popularity: #145  |  Watchers: 35,244+
Hanazakari no Kimitachi e (2007)  –   Popularity: #154  |  Watchers: 34,118+
Imawa no Kuni no Alice (2020)  –   Popularity: #155  |  Watchers: 34,010+
Good Morning Call (2016)  –   Popularity: #171  |   Watchers: 32,308+
1 Litre no Namida (2005)  –   Popularity: #178  |  Watchers: 31,783+
Hana Yori Dango 2 (2007)  –   Popularity: #203  |  Watchers: 28,904+
30-sai made Dotei Da to Mahotsukai ni Nareru rashii (2020)  –  Popularity: #259  |  Watchers: 23,994+
Rich Man, Poor Woman (2012)  –  Popularity: #262  |  Watchers: 23,797+
Itazura na Kiss: Love In Tokyo 2 (2014)  –  Popularity: #291  |  Watchers: 22,442+

Now, you find something interesting in this list. 4 of the 10 dramas are from pre-2010! Are we seeing all-time popular dorama here? This is phenomenal, considering none of Chinese 10 most popular dramas is from pre-2010, and only 1 Korean drama pre-2010 is on their most popular list (which is the 2009 Boys Over Flowers). It’s not that Japan stopped producing dramas. I wonder why almost half of the popular ones are the oldies; probably, dorama lovers can tell me the reason. 


Top 5 Ranked Historical Dramas

Tenno no Ryoriban (2015)  –  Ranked: #276  |  Ratings: 8.5
Nobunaga Concerto (2014)  –  Ranked: #519  |  Ratings: 8.3
JIN 2 (2011)  –  Ranked: #573  |  Ratings: 8.3
JIN (2009)  –  Ranked: #634  |  Ratings: 8.3
In This Corner of the World (2018)  –  Ranked: #872    |  Ratings: 8.2

In this section, I found out that the top-ranked and top-rated lists are not the same. If the search is implemented for top-rated historical drama, we have Asa ga Kita (2015) coming in number 2 with ratings of 8.4 but ranked #6887. It takes off In This Corner of the World from the list. So why is that second-rated drama ranks so low? Because it’s an asadora, which I will discuss later. 

5 Most Popular Historical Dramas

Nobunaga Concerto (2014)  –   Popularity: #977  |  Watchers: 8,181+
JIN (2009)  –   Popularity: #1789  |  Watchers: 4,334+
Tenno no Ryoriban (2015)  –  Popularity: #1807  |  Watchers: 4,292+
Ashi Girl (2017)  –  Popularity: #2253  |   Watchers: 3,309 +
JIN 2 (2011)  –   Popularity: ##3009  |  Watchers: 2,300+

Most interesting is that in these 5 most popular historical dorama, 4 out of 5 are time travel dramas in which the main characters are traveling back into certain historical periods. Didn’t I tell you earlier that producing a historical drama in Japan is expensive? That is possibly the reason Japan rather make fantasy historical dramas that are not real historical, with time travel or parallel world setting. That makes the cost of production lower with partly implementing a modern setting. Fantasy dorama like this is also more popular with international audiences on MDL.

But if you want to know the real historical dorama, probably you should look into taiga dorama (大河ドラマ). Its name is given by Japanese government-owned public broadcaster NHK that airs them annually. In each series, 45-minute episodes are broadcast every Sunday night for a year, featuring a historical person. The program costs a huge amount to produce. Though taiga dramas have been regarded by Japanese viewers as the most prestigious amongst dramas in Japan, viewership ratings have considerably declined in recent years (source: Wikipedia). 

To know more about taiga dorama, see The Ultimate Guide and Discussion Board for TAIGA (Japanese Historical Dramas).

Top 5 Ranked/Rated Taiga Dorama

Dokuganryu Masamune (1987) – Ranked: #7179  |  Ratings: 8.3
Gunshi Kanbei (2014) – Ranked: #7340   |  Ratings: 8.3
Takeda Shingen (1988) – Ranked: #7399   |  Ratings: 8.3
RYOMADEN (2010) – Ranked: #7748   |  Ratings: 8.3
Sanada Taiheiki (1985) – Ranked: #7786   |  Ratings: 8.2

5 Most Popular Taiga Dorama

Yae no Sakura (2013) – Popularity: #3454   |  Watchers: 1,875+
RYOMADEN (2010) – Popularity: #4190   |  Watchers: 1,396+
Atsu Hime (2008) – Popularity: #5002    |  Watchers: 1,081+
Gou – Himetachi no Sengoku (2011) –  Popularity: #5306   |  Watchers: 981+
Onna Joushu Naotora (2017) – Popularity: #5671   |  Watchers: 881+

You see that the most popular taiga on MDL has an audience of only below 2000 viewers. Also, the top-rated ones are not the new ones, but as late as 2014. The low interest in taiga dorama on MDL may reflect the fact that there is a decline in viewership in its home country, as reported by The Mainichi. Dorama viewers impatiently wait for a 10-episode modern drama to watch, let alone 40+ episodes of taiga dorama air once a week.

Let’s see how the future of taiga will be. Currently, airing taiga is Seiten wo Tsuke, starring the young and popular actor Yoshizawa Ryo. Although it has been subbed slowly and has a good rating for a Japanese drama (8.0), it gets little interest on MDL with only 877+ watchers. Next year, taiga will be airing Kamakura dono no 13 nin, starring Oguri Shun, and the plan for 2023 is Dou Suru Ieyasu, starring Matsumoto Jun. It seems like NHK cast these two veteran actors to increase viewership. We’ll see if these actors who became popular from Hana Yori Dango franchise can make the local and international audience interested again.


Asadora (朝ドラ or English translation “morning drama”) is a Japanese television drama program series broadcast on weekday mornings, for 15 minutes per episode, by the Japanese public broadcaster NHK. The asadora has become one of the most popular types of shows on Japanese television. Most storylines center on a heroine who faces challenges while working to achieve her dreams  (source: Wikipedia)

To know more about asadora, see The Ultimate Guide and Discussion Board for Asadora (Japanese Morning Dramas) 

Top 5 Rated Asadora

Asa ga Kita (2015) – Ranked: #6887    |  Ratings: 8.4
Natsuzora (2019) – Ranked: #7324    |  Ratings: 8.3
Hanako to Anne (2014) – Ranked: #7537  |  Ratings: 8.3
Okaeri Mone (2021) – Ranked: #7541   |  Ratings: 8.3
Oshin (1983) – Ranked: #52237   |  Ratings: 8.3

5 Most Popular Asadora

Amachan (2013) – Popularity: #2735  |  Watchers: 2,592+
Mare (2015) – Popularity: #3606  |  Watchers: 1,753+
Hanbun, Aoi (2018) – Popularity: #3955  |  Watchers: 1,518+
Asa ga Kita (2015) – Popularity: #4348  |  Watchers: 1,327+
Ohisama (2011) – Popularity: #4936  |  Watchers: 1,102+

One Asadora that just finished airing is Okaeri Mone, starring Kiyohara Kaya. It’s in the top 5 rated but not too popular with less than 1000 watchers. They cut down the episode number to 120, in contrast with 156 episodes in the past. The new asadora that has just started Come Come Everybody has 3 heroines instead of one, starring Kamishiraishi Mone, Fukatsu Eri, and Kawaei Rina. The depiction of each female protagonist may be very short, with only 100 episodes total.


Japanese dramas offer many varieties, from short (6 to 100 episodes) to long asadora (100+ episodes), from over-the-top fantastic manga adaptations to real-life portrayals. That’s all, guys, my humble attempt to understand more about dorama and present them to you all. Thank you, Ceki, for the permission to use The Ultimate Guide and the Forum Discussion Board info for taiga and dorama. As for now, this is my last attempt to list top-ranked and most popular dramas from a certain country. Finally, if you have any questions or interests in Jdramas in general or a certain dorama in particular, MDL has a Japanese Dorama Club (JDC) where you can discuss the dramas. Thank you for reading, and happy watching!


The featured image depicts the luscious green tea plantation with the backdrop of the famous Mt. Fuji, the tallest volcano in Japan and cultural icon of the country. Mt. Fuji is partially in Shizuoka Prefecture, which boasts fertile land and superb water quality. No wonder it’s famous for green tea plantations. The prefecture amounts to 40 per cent of all tea plantations in Japan, with over 20 tea production farms.

Acknowledgement and creditsThank you to the editors who edited this article. I do not own any of the images; credits go to their respective owners. The drama images are from MDL posters. Shizuoka images are taken from the Internet search.

Edited by: Cookie (1st editor), YW (2nd editor)

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