by KatiaSchwarz, July 24, 2021

Recently, with my third year of university ending, I’ve been craving some good dramas to lose myself in and de-stress with. Usually, I go with fluffy romantic Kdramas or Cdramas, and while I did start about five, I have yet to finish one. It’s not that they’re bad—it's simply that at a certain point, usually around halfway through, my mood changes, and I move to a different one. It’s a curse, I’m working through it.

At the same time, I also ended up watching—and finishing—several doramas that I thought were great for different reasons. These dramas are special because they are case-of-the-week based series, with an overarching narrative about their main cast's past, character development, and growth.

If you’re a fan of this type of series like I am, you need to check out these criminally underrated series! For each series, I'm going to give a short description of my making (click on the title to go to the official drama page & synopsis), my personal highlights, and then what I would consider the advantages and possible disadvantages for each series.

Now, without further ado... let's begin!

Let’s start with one of the lighter series of the bunch. It took me a little while to get into this series, but once I did, I was fully in and in love with these characters:

Okitegami Kyoko no Biboroku (2015)

Genre: Mystery, Comedy, Romance
Occupation: Private Detective
What it's about: The story is mostly narrated by Kakushidate Yakusuke, a man who has terrible luck. This luck often lands him in hot water, and the private detective who often helps him swim to shore is the titular Okitegami Kyoko. There is only one problem with Okitegami Kyoko – her memory resets each day. This quirky premise is the setting for similarly quirky cases, from stolen SD cards to stabbed frame makers, and the background for a unique love story.

Best Part: The real charm of Biboroku is in the characters of Okitegami Kyoko and Kakushidate Yakusuke. The two are somewhat of the antithesis of each other – Yakusuke keeps growing with each new interaction with Kyoko, whereas Kyoko is forever forced in the same place. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t change, and this unorthodox love story could be considered one for the ages.

Pros: Perfect for people who are looking for a fun series that will make you laugh, and are all about that Character Development™. You will get attached to these people and root for their relationships and successes.

Cons: If you're looking for really complicated and compelling cases, pick another series in this list. The cases in Biboroku are fun and it's satisfying to see Kyoko solve them, but they are not very intricate (IMO). In addition, if you're all about those tight conclusions where all the questions are answered... well, to be honest, J-dramas may not be a good fit for you, as that's very rarely the case. The end of Biboroku leaves a lot unanswered, and while I would love a second season, it also feels perfectly in line with the story. So, not necessarily a bad point, but definitely something you might want to consider in advance.

The next drama will make you cry. Bring a box of tissues:

Good Doctor (2018)

Genre: Medical, Disability, Friendship
Occupation: Pediatric Surgeon
[Original Korean version]

What it's about: The show tells the story of Minato Shindo, an autistic man with savant syndrome (aka ridiculously good memory) who chooses to become a pediatric surgeon. The story narrates the difficulties and successes Minato experiences in the pediatric department.

Best Part: This drama made me cry and it made me rage and it made me feel things. While Minato is the main character, you can say he is also a catalyst for the growth of everyone around him. The simple way he views the world highlights how unnecessarily complicated we sometimes make it and enables everyone to change their outlook.  

Pros: It's so, so easy to connect to the realistic and humane stories the show depicts. I also consider the fact it features an autistic protagonist, and not the "easily digestible" kind, as an advantage. As the older sister of an autistic boy (albeit to a much lower degree than Minato), I am here for serious representation. Bonus points for a "found family" type of story.  

Cons: The series can be a bit triggering overall; from the tough cases (we're talking about small children being very, very sick), to the way people treat autism like an infectious disease, to the greedy assholes sacrificing literal children for money... Personally, I was definitely triggered. It didn't hinder my overall enjoyment, but since it can be difficult to watch, I thought I'd mention it. On a side note, this version has no romance. I thought that was perfectly in line with the story, but if you're a fan of the original romance, know it does not repeat. 

After crying our eyes out, let's continue with a lighter recommendation - this multiple-season series has all the dad jokes and puns your heart could possibly desire:

99.9: Keiji Senmon Bengoshi Season 1 (2016)  & Season 2 (2018)

Genre: Mystery, Comedy, Law
Occupation: Criminal Lawyer
What it's about: 99.9 tells the story of a ragtag team of criminal lawyers in Japan proving the innocence of their clients in a system where being indicted is about the same as being found guilty. Leading the team are Miyama Hiroto, an eccentric and detail-oriented lawyer who only cares about finding the truth, and Sada Atsuhiro, a seasoned corporate lawyer who is only interested in doing what has the highest chance of success.

Best Part: It's a joy to watch the dynamics between Miyama and Sada as they interact and clash. The two are hilarious and their personalities feed off each other wonderfully, to the point where they feel like a bickering family at the end. Aside from them, the satisfaction of watching our team beat the oftentimes evil prosecutors and judges is phenomenal - watching them flounder as the gang unveils crucial evidence that proves they're speaking out of their asses will make your day. 

Pros: The cases in this one are definitely a highlight - they are interesting, intriguing, and you'll have fun trying to solve them alongside Miyama and the gang. In many cases, they're also emotional and humane, and it's fascinating to learn about the Japanese judicial system through them. 

Cons: I will warn you, some of the characters in this one are extreme caricatures. It can be somewhat jarring, especially when juxtaposed against realistic and tasteful cases. I also occasionally found the timing of the jokes to be off and to really detract from certain moments. In addition, if you're looking for the clean-cut Korean type of justice where all the bad guys are eventually punished in one way or another... once again, J-dramas are not really about that life and so you might get frustrated by certain outcomes. 

Now that we've cleaned our palette with a good laugh, let's break your hearts again! You might want to take out the box of tissues again and also prepare to karaoke as the OST in this one slaps. This is the drama that started this kick of episodic J-dramas, and, to me, it was perfect from start to finish:

Unnatural (2018)

Genre: Mystery, Medical, Suspense
Occupation: Coroner, Anatomist, Lab Technician, Medical Recorder,...
What it's about: The show tells the story of the men and women working in the Unnatural Death Institue (UDI). Their job is to investigate suspicious deaths and determine what really happened, in order to bring closure to the family and--sometimes--punish the guilty parties. 

Best Part: The two biggest draws were probably the characters and the cases. On the first, we've got complex and entirely human characters - none of them felt like caricatures or over exaggerations, just normal people (with sometimes less than normal backstories) who are easy to relate to and emphasize with.  They also grow throughout the story and their ability to remain hopeful in the face of death is beautiful. On a side note, I am entirely too in love with Misumi Mikoto (played by the beautiful Ishihara Satomi), it's a little concerning. 

The cases themselves were also incredible - I cried as much in the episodic standalone stories as I did in the episodes covering the big traumas of the main cast. If you need an excuse for a good cry, this one would be perfect for you!

Pros: Aside for the characters and the cases, which as previously stated were phenomenal, this show itself is fascinating. Japanese coroners apparently have a really hard time investigating suspicious deaths and watching them going "analog" in order to solve cases, when advanced tests were unavailable to them, was truly impressive. In addition, be prepared to be bewitched by the OST, especially 
Lemon by Kenshi Yonezu. That song is a staple in my playlists ever since I heard it here and I still tear up when listening to this banger.

Cons: I can't really think of any except that it will really break your heart? o(╥﹏╥)o

So, now that we've cried some more, let's go for a drama that's mostly around the touching realm with the occasional teardrop:

Radiation House (2019)

Genre: Medical, Mystery, Life
Occupation: Radiographer, Radiologist 
What it's about: The show centers around a talented radiographerIgarashi Iori, and the department of radiology he works in. Iori sees more than others in the captured images he and his team take and never gives up on making sure the patients get the right diagnostic, changing the views of the doctors and other radiographers in the process. 

Best Part: For me, the most compelling elements of the show were the standalone cases and the radiographers who worked alongside Iori. The cases themselves were both fascinating and teach a lot about Japan and medical conditions, but also very touching and realistic. As for the crew, I thought everyone was three-dimensional and interesting as characters, and their personal stories really resonate. 

Pros: A fun and educational medical series with good cases and a quirky cast (but not too quirky). It even has a hint of romance (potentially to be developed further in season 2) and it truly flies by as you watch it!

Cons: There are a few downsides to this. First, while I loved Iori as a character, his background and motivation felt really dumb (imo). While I can understand it to a certain degree, I also felt it could've been deeper (but, this is a manga adaptation, so...). His main love interest, Doctor Amakasu, is also a tough pill to swallow - the girl is not exactly endearing, and it takes quite a while to warm up to her.

And finally, let's finish this round-up with one of the more hard-hitting ones. This one just might get you depressed, but it's the good kind of depressed, you know?

dele (2018)

Genre: Mystery, Crime, Friendship 
Occupation: Programmer/Hacker
What it's about: Dele.LIFE is a company established by Sakagami Keiji, a paralyzed programmer. If you hire this company, they will ensure the data you've chosen gets erased from all your devices after your death. Seems straightforward enough, until Mashiba Yutaro becomes Kei's assistant. Now, for one reason or another, the duo finds themselves investigating their clients and their deaths before making the final decision. 

Best Part: It's honestly been a while since I've met such charming characters. Both of them have been hardened by life, but they're still compassionate and empathetic - even if Kei hides it underneath a layer of grumpiness and practicality. Watching these two bond and go through these shared experiences--for better or worse--is definitely the best part of this drama, and I, for one, would love a second season. 

Pros: The cases are incredibly compelling (albeit sad and occasionally frustrating), the characters are phenomenal and three-dimensional, and the relationship that develops between them feels so earned. 

Cons: As I already warned, prepare to be depressed. Dele's theme seems to be that there is no such thing as a complete victory, no light without shadow, no hope without despair. Everything is varied shades of grey. While I think this is one of the series strong points and really packs a punch, I also acknowledge that it is less digestible than some of the more idealistic Kdramas and Cdramas where everything is bright and easily defined. If you're the type that needs to see evil punished and justice prevail... this show is going to be hard for you.

And that's it, folks, we've reached the end! I hope you've enjoyed this list and found some new titles to add to your Plan to Watch list! I'd love to hear what you think of these shows and whether you have some more recommendations of this type! (≧▽≦)

Edited by: devitto (1st editor)

dorama jdrama good doctor recommendations unnatural dele radiation house okitegami kyoko no biboroku 99.9: keiji senmon bengoshi