What is an Asadora?
Asadoras (朝ドラ, literally meaning Morning Drama) are “Serial TV Novels” produced by Japan’s public broadcaster NHK twice a year. So what makes an Asadora a “novel” and not just another drama? And with consistent ratings around 20% over 60 years, why are they so popular?
Almost all Asadoras follow a similar formula:
1) Follows the life, usually from childhood to adulthood, of one heroine. It may be based on a true story of a real woman (Hanako to Anne, Massan, Gegege no Nobyo, etc.) or may be completely fictional. Viewers follow her as she faces many hardships and setbacks on the road to growing up and achieving her dreams.
2) Asadoras are family dramas first and foremost. Though each Asadora has its own unique plot, the main theme will always be the importance of family and community.
3) Like a true novel, Asadoras take their time. Each Asadora airs 6 days a week for 6 months, with a total average of 156 episodes.
JEJEJE! 156 episodes!?
156 episodes? That must be a typo, right?
No, it's not a typo, but there is a catch. Each episode is only 15 minutes long. To save you from having to do the mental math, that's about 39 hours in total. Long, but at least it's not 156 hours!
It's true, the length of Asadoras can be daunting even for the most experienced drama fan. So that begs the next question: why watch?
Why watch an Asadora?
1) Nothing is rushed
Now this could be positive or negative for some, but the most common complaint I hear about any drama from any country is “the relationship/ending etc. was too rushed!” This is not a problem that you will encounter in an Asadora. I think many drama fans will appreciate watching growth and feelings happen slowly and naturally. Fans of friends-to-lovers/enemies-to-lovers romances will also like how Asadoras spend a lot of time establishing initial relationships and then slowly shifting them into something more over time. This then leads to my second point:
2) Huge ensemble cast where everyone gets a storyline
Have you ever felt annoyed when an important side character is forgotten by the writers halfway through a drama? Ever wished you could watch the best friend of the protagonist have their own love story? What about wanting a redemption arc for an unlikable antagonist?
So many side plots would never fit in a regular drama, but in an Asadora, even with a huge cast, every character is fully developed and complex with their own unique story.
Another great Asadora bonus is the depth of experience of the cast. Since Asadoras are widely watched and highly respected in Japan, the cast is always a good mix of famous acting veterans and young up-and-coming talents. You can be sure that every character will really come to life on screen!
Believe it or not, all of these characters had their own unique stories!
3) Focus on rural/family life/history
This may seem like a given, but Asadoras tell incredibly interesting and unique stories. I’ve already mentioned that many are based on true stories, but even those that are 100% fictional highlight important periods, events, and phenomena both historical and modern. They also do great work to highlight the beauty and resilience of rural communities and boost tourism.
4) Totally Binge-worthy (or not! It's your choice!)
I'm convinced that Asadoras are the perfect drama to binge. With 15 minute episodes, it’s easy to watch 8 episodes or more in a single day. That being said, Asadoras are designed for the busy person who only has time to watch 15 minutes of television at a time. With their slow pace, it’s also easy to watch just one episode a day.
Now that you’re an Asadora expert, it’s time to start watching! Below are quick summaries of three that I have watched and enjoyed.
Quick Summary - Aki (Nounen Rena) is a reserved high school girl from Tokyo who falls in love with her mother's rural hometown in Iwate Prefecture during a summer break visit. Despite her mother's objections, Aki resolves to become a traditional female diver (called Ama) like her grandmother.
Good for fans of:
- The ocean/diving
- Japanese music and idol groups
- The 80s
Quick Summary - Due to her father's many failed get-rich-quick schemes, Mare (Tsuchiya Tao) and her family are forced to flee bankruptcy and move to Ishikawa Prefecture. This experience causes Mare to grow up wanting nothing more than financial stability. Even so, she has a secret dream that could ruin her perfectly practical ideas about life.
Good for fans of:
- Romance/Married Life (This drama has amazing romance!)
- Deep dramas that really make you think about what you want out of life!
Quick Summary - Mineko (Arimura Kasumi) is a cheerful high school student living in rural Ibaraki Prefecture in the 1960s. She plans to spend her whole life working on the family farm until one day, her father goes missing. With her family facing poverty, Mineko decides to become a worker in Tokyo. But the question remains: will she find her father?
Good for fans of:
- Japanese history/World War II history
- Female friendships