I’m an anime nut. I’ve been an anime nut since college when fan-sub VHS tapes were being passed around the dorms—if you were lucky enough to know a guy, who knew a guy, who knew someone who’d taped something off TV in Japan. Anime served as my gateway to live-action Asian daytime TV—known as J-Dramas or K-Dramas (Japanese or Korean Dramas) —after I stumbled across an adaption of the manwha Full House made for South Korean TV, and Mukodono for Japanese TV. Live action shows aren’t quite as hard to get your hands on these days as anime was back in the 90’s, though sometimes it can feel like it, especially if you have a particular actor you really want to follow.
There are several places to watch dramas online legally in the U.S. The most well-known of them, at least to anime geeks, is probably http://www.crunchyroll.com. There’s also http://www.kocowa.com and http://www.viki.com which are competing international-drama streaming services.
So, if J-dramas, K-dramas, Taiwanese- or Chinese-dramas are often adaptions of Asian comics (manga, manhwa, or manhua) or animation and harder to find, why do I like them? Sometimes having a live person on the screen gives a story a new dimension that makes it stand apart. It’s not better per-se. It’s just different. Especially if it’s a martial arts or sword-fighting story, I really appreciate the added intensity from being able to watch real actors on screen.
I’ll give you a few examples. Nodame Cantabile is one of my all-time, top favorite J-dramas. It was originally a manga series written by Tomoko Ninomiya, and the manga series is really fun. It should be— it’s been adapted into multiple languages and has a word-wide dedicated fan base. The major plot points between the manga, the anime adaptation, and the J-drama adaptation are all the same, with only minor tweaks. But the live-action is my favorite. Watching the characters play the instruments, hearing them sing, and really seeing them become invested in the music they’re creating together adds something to the story for me. And when a real person gets slapped and goes flying across the screen in classic anime exaggeration, it’s even funnier and more preposterous. In fact, this particular series became notorious in our household because I cackled maniacally at my computer for hours—and then forced everyone in the house to watch it.
Another great live-action is Gu Family Book. This is an epic Korean fantasy that spans two generations and centers on a boy descended from a human and a gumiho (nine-tailed fox). It’s part kung fu movie, part historical drama, and full-on awesome. It has martial arts, sword fights, magic, romance, and comedy all rolled into one show. It’ll make you laugh, cry, and definitely give you all the feels.
The last one I’ll recommend is a straight-forward gender-bending rom-com from Korea that can sound awful but actually has a lot of heart. It’s known as Coffee Prince and centers on a young woman who’s trying to get by in modern Korea. She works five-zillion part time jobs and gets mistaken for a young man by our lead actor, who is trying to get out of the blind dates his bossy, stereotypical Asian mother keeps setting up for him. He offers to pay our intrepid heroine a ridiculous amount of money if she will show up at these blind dates and break them up by acting like his jealous boyfriend. The goal being that all these girls will stop thinking of our lead guy as a marriage prospect and finally leave him alone. The twist, of course, that the “bro” he is paying off is really a girl, who can never tell him who she really is— that is, if she wants to hang onto their friendship and the much-needed income he’s providing her, etc., etc. She ends up agreeing to work at a bishonen (pretty boy) café, and things devolve into typical gender-bender hijinks from there.
I’ve recommended three wildly different shows here. The point being, if you like anime, or kung fu movies, or over-the-top romantic comedies, chances are multiple live-action dramas exist out there with your name on them. These dramas truly span the gamut of genres, and are great for escapism, fantasy, and exploring different viewpoints and cultures.
J-dramas and K-dramas are awesome, and I wish more people would watch them. No doubt I’ll be posting more recommendations in the future. Plus, I haven’t even touched the concept of Asian game-shows or chase-shows yet. We’ll leave that for a different day. Go forth and find a drama!