A Guide to Japanese Detective Dramas + Top

If you're a Jdrama fan, I'm sure you've watched at least one Japanese detective drama regardless of what your genre preferences are. For every drama season since what seems to be the beginning of time, there has been at least one Japanese detective drama on air. When TV networks run out of new ideas, they pop out a detective drama. When they get hit with low ratings, they pop out a detective drama. It's the typical fall back genre since the general Japanese public enjoys detective dramas.

My first detective drama was Galileo. I'm sure every Jdrama fan has heard of it since it's one of the most successful detective dramas in history. A lot of dramas are based on either mangas or novels, and Galileo was no different in that it was based on the famous novel series by writer Keigo Higashino. After watching Galileo and falling in love with it, I went on to watch a whole slew of detective dramas. After about 5 of them, I started to see a trend and you'll soon see that the basis for J-detective dramas are all pretty much the same. 

The Main Character 

If you're the main character of a detective drama, you probably aren't a detective but rather someone with unique knowledge who helps in solving crimes. There might be some cases where you actually are a detective, but those situations are usually very special. You can solve crimes no matter what your career is. You could be a mathematician, or a physicist, or a weather girl, or a magician, or a even a gigolo after a freak accident. There really is no limit to what you can be in order to solve crimes. 

Even though you could be in any profession, you must must must have a character quirk! Most of the time, you'll probably just be socially awkward or extremely in your own world. But above all that, you absolutely cannot be normal in any way! And you have to have a signature move that you perform when you've solved the mystery. One that defines your very character. 

How the Mystery is Solved

Crime cases tend to get boring if they're solved the same way over and over again. Everyone knows how a normal detective solves a normal case. Questioning, finding evidence, and then the final deduction. We need something new: a fresh new way of solving cases!

And whadya know, Japanese detective dramas give us just that! Crimes can be solved by using mathematical formulas, scientific theories, and using your sixth sense (aka seeing lovely ghosts of the victims). These fresh new angles in approaching a case makes an entertaining drama. You just have to find the write method for yourself but keep an open mind at the same time. 

General Format

Just like the majority of Japanese dramas, the detective ones mostly consist of an episodic format with a central mystery that remains on the back burner until later episodes. This might seem a little bit repetitive for some, but it does a good job in keeping viewers on boat in releasing little bits of information each episode. This is a personal opinion, but I always like knowing that I'll get to know the criminal of each episode's case by the end of the showing. 

My Top Detective Dramas

Here are 8 of my favourite detective dramas. I actually have a lot more but I wanted to create a list with more diversity in terms of types of cases and such! These are some that you should definitely check out if you're just beginning to watch Jdramas ^^

1. Galileo

Pretty much the cream of the crop of Japanese detective dramas. While its not my personal favourite, you can't really go wrong with Galileo. Personally, I think season 1 was better than season 2 in terms of how interesting the cases were, but both were equally great otherwise. I know a lot of people was against the main actress change but I like both Shibasaki Kou and Yoshitaka Yuriko's performances. There are also a bunch of SPs and movies that you should definitely check out as well.

2. Border

If you want something a little more dark, this one is definitely the way to go. There are no backstories or quirks with this drama except that the main character can see dead people. The acting in Border is just superb. The story wastes no time with extra side characters but instead improves the important few. Personally, I think this is one of if not the best performance from Oguri Shun as an actor.

3. Hard Nut

Hard Nut is probably my favourite drama out of this bunch simply because of its quirks, actors, and great music. The main character, played by Hashimoto Ai, is a math major and her quirk is using math to solve cases. Kengo Kora is the detective in question and the object of the main lead's affection. The cases are solid but made better by the dry and funny nature of the leading character's interactions. If you're looking for a nice solid drama while not being adverse to learning some math, this one is the way to go! It's also pretty funny to boot.

4. Tokyo Dogs

With three great leads and a very intriguing central mystery, this makes for a great detective drama that's not always about murders. The characters are all funny in their own way and their friendship that develops throughout the time span of this drama is the highlight of the show.

5. Zettai Reido

Zettai Reido deals with cold cases which are quite hard to solve since evidence can expire after a long time. The main cop, played by Ueto Aya, is the rookie of the team and has no special quirk other than the one that comes with the actress itself. Both seasons of the drama and SP are very interesting. The second season deals with cases where all the detectives have to be undercover and its equally as great as the first season. This central mystery has a big baddie who has been contributing to all the cases of the drama so it makes for a great finale. Check it out!

6. Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo

This drama is based on the famous manga series. There are an abundance of SPs and seasons for Kindaichi which is great because it can cater to a variety of different people. Check out the older seasons for some old school detective solving and the newer seasons if you would prefer higher video quality.

7. Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de

Kitagawa Keiko and Sakurai Sho star as master and butler. Kitagawa plays a daughter from a well off family who is a fledgling detective and Sakurai plays the loyal butler who is not afraid to run his mouth and has a talent for solving cases. The humour in this drama is great and it's surely a fresh take on detective dramas. The cases are okay but what really shines are the leads, who have loads of chemistry and do a magnificent job at playing their roles.

8. Kagi no Kakatta Heya

Lastly, we have the closed room mysteries! Closed room cases have always been popular because there is always a trick involved. If you love em, check this out because every episode features a closed room. Satoshi Ohno plays the monotonous, straight-faced, lock expert who is not exactly your typical hero. Throughout the drama there is always some sort of mystery on whether the lead is actually good or bad. If you're into closed room cases and a possible anti-hero, then check this one out!


  1. I'm sad to see that you don't do any more post on anticipated dramas, or any more drama reviews or drama guide. I watched Subete Ga F Ni Naru because of your impression post on it and I loved the series, although i wish there was more romance in it >.< Hope to see you blog more in the future

    1. Awww thank you so much! I've been meaning to start blogging again but school is just so hectic and I don't want to start and then stop for a long time again. But I'm definitely not going to stop forever. Thank you so much for the comment, it made me very happy! :D

  2. Thank you for making this post! ^^ As a person who's both a fan of mystery dramas and a newbie to j dramas, this post is quite helpful ^^ I think I'll start with the closed room one first 😆

    1. I'm glad it was helpful! Thanks for your comment :)

  3. I've just started watching Japanese crime dramas after watching some Korean (Signal, Special Affairs Team Ten,Squad 38, Hello Monster) and Chinese ones (Love Me if You Dare and When a Snail Falls in Love). Thank you for this list! Someone in kissasian recommended Galileo to me but for some reason, i stopped watching it. I finished Border and Hard Nut in no time though! And now I want some more! Especially after those hanging endings! I guess I'll go back to watching Galileo first.

    1. I loved Galileo because the first seasons mysteries were all amazing. I also recommend a short 5 episode one focused on one case called Ishi No Mayu. I watched it on Kissasian by chance and it was absolutely amazing! I would put it up there in the ranks with Signal, which I thought was close to if not perfect! And if you enjoy that one theres a second season of that airing which is good too so far :)

    2. Wow i watched the exact same dramas you mentioned Rosie Mae even the chinese drama! You can also watch Bad Guys, Gap Dong, Voice, Defendant. They will also be showing whisper and tunnel which are of the same genre late this March.

      Dramarama thanks for the list! I watched half of it - my favorite is the one on closed room murders hehe. Now I know what others to watch out for. You can maybe try Keizoku series and detective conan live action - they're pretty cool too.


  5. I came across your blog looking for new shows, thanks! I watched a few Japanese detective dramas, Galileo and Bitter Blood being my favs. but I've watched some that were recommended on other sites that are not that great. Your list has a nice variety and I look forward to watching some of them :)