Meet the promising new generation of rising stars in Japan, who have been slowly gaining popularity and recognition through their respective roles this past year.
Every actor's journey begins somewhere. Even the most famous well-loved Japanese actors today we’ll remember once used to be a supporting role in a popular drama or started out, as a lot of actors do, as the lead role in the highly popular and beloved Tokusatsu series Kamen Rider.
As time goes on, young new actors join the industry, and slowly gain popularity after starring alongside other highly-regarded actors before branching off to take on a spotlight of their own. In particular, some of the most sought-after actors in Japan today are under the age of 30, and most of those listed here are either new to the industry or have recently caught the eye of fans all over the world as the lead or supporting role in a popular live-action movie or manga adaptation.
With 2018 drawing to a close, I wanted to reflect on some of the talented young actors who are certainly climbing the ladder of success by stealing the spotlight in many of Japan’s most popular series and movies from the previous year or two.
If you watch a lot of J-Drama, like yours truly, then some of these names will likely won’t come as a surprise to you.
n.b: To keep this article from getting too lengthy, I've decided to post this in two halves; the second part will focus on actresses.
At the fresh, young age of only 19, this guy clearly has something special as he was recently cast in his debut role as the lead in drama Chugakusei Nikki. Though there was a lot of controversy around this drama, it’s come away with quite positive reactions, however, it’s very true that Okada Kenshi doesn’t pass for a middle schooler in the slightest. I feel like maybe this was a blessing in disguise though, because it definitely makes it easier to digest. As for Okada Kenshi, he seems to have already gained quite a following, and I’m sure we’ll see the Fukuoka-born actor in a new project in the near future.
Of course, there are many people who are no stranger to this guy, seeing as he’s best known for being one of the members of the J-pop group, Sexy Zone. But, he’s certainly started gaining attention as an actor thanks to his roles in the hilarious but silly live-action adaptation Kurosaki-kun no Iinari ni Nante Naranai, and his lead role in upcoming popular manga adaptation Nisekoi. If I could liken him to any actor I’d say he’s following in the footsteps of his senpai, Yamada Ryosuke, another idol-turned-actor who has gained huge popularity in the last few years.
Series/movies of note: Black Devil & White Prince, Teen Bride and Dorokei
Look out for: his performance as Raku Ichigo in Nisekoi.
I have a confession to make. When I first started watching HanaHare, I had no idea who this guy was, nor did I care as I thought he wasn’t the most talented of actors (couple that with some rather harsh SLS!) Since then though I’ve done a serious 180 as I’ve completely fallen for this soft, wonderful, and charming human, who is none other than one of the members of the popular J-pop group, King & Prince. His group debuted around the same time as the HanaHare series. Their song "Cinderella Girl" became a huge hit as the opening song for the series. Even though he was met initially with a slightly critical reception of his acting, he managed to gain a huuuuuge following after the success of the series and his group have become increasingly popular over the last 8 months. When you really get to know Hirano Sho, you’ll realize that he’s probably the cutest, sweetest, and most endearing airhead you’ll ever come across.
If you watched Good Morning Call 2 and didn’t fall for this guy’s wonderful charms and dashing looks, you’d certainly be lying to yourself :p I debated whether to add Yosuke Sugino into this list as I feel like he’s quite popular in the acting world already, but since he’s still young, not as well known and still got a ways to go, I figured I’d help give him some recognition. He first caught my eye after binging Good Morning Call 2, and since then he’s been in a fair number of highly popular series and movies, his most recent being a supporting character in melodrama series Dai Renai. He’s also landed a lead role in the upcoming remake of L-DK, which lands in theaters in 2019.
One actor who is certainly riding the waves of success lately is Kitamura Takumi, who most will recognize from the hugely popular award-winning movie I Want To Eat Your Pancreas. I’ve actually been a fan of Takumi’s for some time, as I’m an avid listener of his band DISH//, but I also can’t help but notice how much popularity this guy has gained since I first saw him act in Yutori Desu Ga Nani Ka. He’s definitely one of the actors I see most destined for great things, and to top it all, he’s still only 21 and continues to land great roles in movies and drama series alike.
Series/movies of note: I Want To Eat Your Pancreas, Aogeba Toutoshi, Tonari no Kazoku wa Aoku Mieru
Look out for: Waiting for Spring, The Good Wife, You Shine in the Moonlit Night.
Stalk him on: IG
This guy recently caught my eye after coming across him due to his minor supporting role in the Japanese remake of Suits, but he’s actually had a couple of other popular roles in dramas such as highschool live-action comedy Kyou Kara Ore WA and popular teen romance movie Anonymous Noise. Although he debuted in 2015, it wasn’t until recently he’s really started to really gain a following, and despite his older age of 26, I believe he’s destined for great things in the near future.
Though Mahiro Takasugi found quite a lot of success thanks to live-action adaptation Kakegurui, he’s actually been in a good number of series and movies since his debut in 2010. I’d say it’s only really recently where the world has woken up to notice him, and that may be because of his lead roles in movies such as ReLIFE and Tori Girl, among others. He’s definitely got something special and continues to impress with his potential for diverse roles such as the upcoming crime movie Gangoose.
Although his acting resume may seem slightly small, Shirahama Aran’s star quality has certainly more than enough made up for it. He is the leader of the male dance music group, Generations from Exile Tribe. He was popular even as he started on his acting career. Though he’s been linked to a number of scandals across the years, he’s definitely an interesting person to watch, and he definitely has a certain screen presence when it comes to his roles.
Series/movies of note: Sugarless, High & Low, Daytime Shooting Star
Look out for: 10 Manbun no 1
Stalk him on: IG / Twitter
Although he’s been active in the industry since 2003, it wasn’t until recently that Koseki Yuta started to land roles where he really got his chance to shine. Though I first came across him in Bitter Blood, it wasn’t until his lead role in Missions of Love where I really started to notice his potential. Partly to blame is the fact that a large portion of his projects hasn’t been subbed so he’s really not had as much exposure as other young actors his age, but what I’ve seen of him has impressed me so far.
Series/movies of note: Bitter Blood, Missions of Love, Zero Ikkaku Senkin Game
Look out for: Waiting for Spring
I didn’t pay much attention to Yokohama Ryusei when I first saw him as the wonderful Takeru Hibiya in Wolf Girl & Black Prince (despite the character being my favourite from the manga series lmao), but after his appearance in Honey as the soft-hearted Misaki, I realized just how many movies this guy has been in that are still on my radar in the near future. Not only is he also a lead role in the new L-DK movie (my god that cast is a sight to behold), but I’m also kind of curious about the forthcoming movie Cheer Boys. His drama credentials aren’t very extensive right now, so hopefully, we’ll see him in a successful drama at some point in the future.
An actor whose career is really taking off right now, I actually covered a lot of Kentaro’s best roles in my Stalker’s Guide, but since then he’s actually been in a number of super popular movies and series that you should definitely be paying attention to. Along with his breakthrough in Good Morning Call as the adorable Itchan, Kentaro has continuously managed to impress with his versatile acting in various roles. Of recent note is live-action comedy series Kyou Kara Ore Wa, where he starred as one half of a Yankee-wannabe duo alongside Kaku Kento. I’ve also started recently watching him in Room Laundering, and his character is adorable.
Though he’s not recently announced any upcoming roles as of yet, I wanted to draw people’s attention to this actor as I feel like he’s probably one of the most diverse actors I’ve seen outside of Masaki Suda. The little I’ve seen him in has left a big impact on me, so much so that his role was one that I consistently think of when I think of that series. Recently, he blew me away in Sachiiro no One Room (his one and only lead role), but his performance in River’s Edge made my skin crawl a little. He’s definitely one I’m keeping my eye out for, though I do wish he would be offered more lead roles in the near future.
There are of course many other fantastic young actors who deserve recognition that I didn't have the chance of listing due to keeping this to a reasonable length (haha); Sano Hayato, Katayose Ryota, Shono Hayama, Yuki Yamada, Renn Kiriyama, Jun Shison, Taiga, Sakurada Dori, Murakami Nijiro and many more.
I didn't list the usual suspects such as Takeuchi Ryoma, Mackenyu, Yamada Ryosuke, et al, as I wanted to focus on actors who I feel are less recognized and haven't yet reached the heights of success as those such as Yamazaki Kento, Fukushi Sota, etc.
I hope you enjoyed this article! Please keep a look out for part two of this article, where I feature the top rookie actresses who are taking Japan by storm!
Which talented young actors have caught your attention recently? Are you looking forward to any of the upcoming aforementioned series and movies?