I started watching jdoramas to shake things up a bit. I found that while they have many similarities to kdramas, they are a different creature and require a different mindset to enjoy them. They aren't really the same as kdramas, and they can best be described by being very Japanese. Which seems obvious, but it's really important to keep in mind while watching.
That being said, my biggest problem with the romantic jdoramas is that they often leave you to imagine/infer much of the ending. I understand the whole societal discomfort with most PDA, and judging from the dramas I've seen, it's a bigger issue in Japan than in Korea. But this isn't really the root of my problem. There are just too many jdoramas that seem to end without the OTP obviously being together—it's more implied than shown. Maybe. And I like my OTPs wrapped up in a nice, happily-ever-after package.
I would love recommendations of more doramas to enjoy, especially if they are good romances with heavy doses of comedy.
Noda Naoko is an office lady in her mid-thirties who meets the man of her dreams on the subway one day. He's handsome, has a good job, and excellent manners. She's in a rut at her job, though her coworkers really respect her. The newest employee is a young hotshot all the younger women fall for. However, he has his sights set on Noda Naoko. She faces the choice between a much younger man and a man who may have more going on in his life than we realize at first glance.
Recommendation: Worth trying if you like office and noona romances (Anego is a Japanese equivalent of noona, btw.) The characters have depth (even secondary characters) and the story—though it's a pretty typical noona romance/love triangle—is well-written. Also, the ending had pretty good resolution for our main characters.
Atashinchi no Danshi
A light-hearted, silly little story of a young woman saddled with debt who is offered a way out if she'll marry a strange older man and be a mother to his five eccentric adopted sons. When her husband (in name only, natch) dies soon after their marriage, she must find a way to bring the bickering boys together to secure her inheritance. However, the boys have long-standing rivalries and feuds, and things won't be easy or straightforward. The story also includes robots, crazy inventions, plotting underlings, and frequent sauna scenes.
Recommendation: Watch. I avoided this one for months, but finally broke down to watch it, and I was surprised by how much I liked it. It's crazy and quirky, and there's plenty of romantic rivalry between the brothers, and it's just a fun ride. My biggest complaint is that the final resolution is too understated for my tastes.
A young woman decides that she really wants to be a flight attendant after her band breaks up. However, she has a hard time fitting in because of her free-spirited ways and punk-rock personality. She really lacks the decorum and submissiveness desired in a Japanese flight attendant. She meets a young mechanic whose dream was to become a top pilot, but has settled for working on planes.
Recommendation: Try it out. This drama is really cute, and is more about Misaki Yoko's journey to live her new dream than anything else. It's definitely a fish out of water story, and isn't deep or groundbreaking, but it's nice. The romance in this is also very understated, and focuses more on the friendship of the leads.
Bara no Nai Hanaya
Eiji is a single father who owns a florist shop. His daughter starts covering her face in school, and he doesn't know how to deal with her sudden strange behavior. He also meets a young blind woman named Shirato Mio, who he begins to fall for. However, she may not be all she seems. . . .
Recommendation: Try it. This is a pretty decent drama with some mystery involved, and things don't always go as expected. The acting is good, and the plot really revolves around family, even if the members of the family aren't all tied by blood.
Hana Kimi (the original)
Girl stalks boy. Boy quits high-jumping. Girl decides to help him find his way. Girl cross-dresses and moves into boy's dorm. Boy gets drunk and kisses random people. Other boys in school are crazy/awesome. Tomfoolery abounds.
Recommendation: Watch it. The whole crazy cast makes this show hilarious to watch. There's a reason there are so many remakes of this show. Also, make sure to watch through the closing credits in the second-to-last episode, or you'll miss something important (like I did at first).
Hotaru no Hikari
Hotaru accidentally ends up living with her boss. While exceedingly professional at work, she completely lets herself go at home, a side of her Takano Seiichi has never seen (and never wanted to). Their relationship begins to change as they share a house. Also, Teshima Makoto develops feelings for Hotaru, and wants to date her.
Recommendation: Watch. Hotaru is adorable, with her earnestness, her crazy, her lazy, and most of all, her rolling around saying "Goro goro goro!" Honestly. Adorable. Plus, there are lots of fireflies, a gorgeous porch (where much of the story takes place), and a sweet (or possibly annoying) wind chime. (As a rule, I dislike wind chimes, but I want hers.)
Hotaru no Hikari 2
A continuation of Hotaru and Takano's story. Hotaru goes away for work and Takano is left alone until she comes back. They are forced to reconsider their relationship. Also, a new coworker tries to sweep her off her feet.
Recommendation: Watch if you really really loved the first season. The cuteness between Hotaru and Takano is still there, but there are unnecessary complications and angst. If you're looking for more resolution (or even some smooching) you won't really find it here. Things end pretty much the same way as the first season.
Ikemen desu ne
The Japanese remake of You're Beautiful. Miko pretends to be her twin brother in order to hold his place as the newest member of the massively popular A.N.JELL. She falls for the lead singer, who is grumpy and OCD, and has mommy issues. People find out she's a girl, and the rumor threatens to go public and ruin the band. The other members of the band fall for Miko.
Recommendation: I can go either way on this one. I enjoyed this one more than the original Korean version, which is unusual for me. The shorter run ensured better pacing and tighter plotting, so even when I got tired of this drama, I only had 2 episodes left, versus the 6 I still had left when I ran out of steam with the Korean series. Also, the ridiculous (or funny) situations seemed to work better here.
Kekkon Dekinai Otoko
The original of the Korean The Man Who Can't Get Married, it's the story of an architect who doesn't want to marry but is surrounded by 3 single women who challenge him in ways he's not really comfortable with but can't avoid. Also, there's a cute dog.
Recommendation: If you're going to watch both, I'd recommend watching the Japanese version first. Personally, I like the Korean version better, but Abe Hiroshi is very watchable, and the series is fun.
Lunch no Joou/ Lunch Queen
A bright and lively young woman gets tricked into conning a family who runs a restaurant that specializes in omurice. She moves in and changes the lives of the 3 brothers who actually live at home, and all of them develop feelings for her. However, her past comes back to haunt her and them, and she must decide how to go forward with her life. Surgeon General's warning: this show will make you desire omurice endlessly.
Recommendation: Give it a try. I really enjoyed watching this one, and I love that Natsumi is much more than she seems. However, the ending of this dorama falls solidly in the category of Incomplete Resolution. With very little tweaking, this show could have been a solid 9, IMHO.
Kazama Masamune suddenly finds out that he is the father of a 5-year old daughter and must suddenly deal with raising her, since her mother died. He's very young (he was in high school when Koharu was born) and irresponsible, with only a part-time job. But he must grow up overnight and deal with raising a child on his own. Also, Koharu learns to deal with her situation and does her best to help her daddy.
Recommendation: Try it if you like nice family dramas that deal with raising a child. This one is sweet and light, but manages nicely to tackle some big issues. There is a bit of romance, but nothing too grand—this is really the story of Masamune and Koharu, after all.
Nobuta wo Produce
Kotani Nobuko is the new girl in school, and she's weird. Kids bully her, so two somewhat popular students take it upon themselves to "produce" her—a.k.a. give her a makeover, both in looks and personality. However, in the process, they kinda realize that she's pretty cool the way she is, and genuinely become her friends.
Recommendation: Watch if you like Cinderella stories that don't have all the cliched elements (it still has plenty, but not all). This was my first jdorama, and I can say it's very Japanese. I loved Horikita Maki's take on Nobuko—she has such a strong manga vibe, but really makes it work. My very favorite part is when Akira tries to get her to say his name in a friendlier way, and all she can do is yell "A-ki-ra!" like she's answering a drill sergeant at boot camp. Hilarious!
Nodame is a genius pianist who is very laid-back in basically all aspects of her life. One day she meets and falls in love with her next-door neighbor, the uptight Chiaki, who is an aspiring conductor. He wants to be world-famous, but has a problem—he's stuck in Japan due to phobias he can't overcome and will never be able to train in Europe, where the best conductors work. A crazy conductor comes to their university and shakes things up for both of them, and they majorly impact each others' lives.
Recommendation: Watch it, unless you really don't like classical music/slapstick comedy. This is my favorite jdorama of all. Nodame is so quirky and crazy, and so is Chiaki, and they play off one another beautifully. The music is amazing, and you will likely learn things you never knew. It did take me a while to get used to the anime-type slapstick used in this drama, especially when it involved Nodame flying across the room (Gyabo-o-o!). But if you can accept it as a tribute to anime and not real violence, per se, you should be fine. Make sure you watch both special episodes and the movie special, which really complete the story.
The original of the Korean Operation Proposal: Iwase Ken has loved Yoshido Rei for years, but has never managed to make his feelings known for her. Now that she's getting married, he regrets many times that he could have done more to make her happy through the years. As photos from their lives are shown at the wedding, he makes a wish to go back and change things. A strange man comes and sends him back to make things right.
Recommendation: Watch the Korean version. I had a hard time with this one, and I was really hoping to like it. Things seemed to move too slowly for me, and I guess I never really grasped the bigger picture. After about 4 episodes I finally gave up.
Renai Neet Updated 12/7/12
Rin is a 32-year old woman who has given up on romance for the sake of raising her 2 younger siblings. But her boss has decided it's time to remind her what love is about and challenges 3 men to pursue her in order to make that happen. Matsumoto is a successful dentist, Tada, a successful scientist, and 24-year old Shunpei, who is successful as a freeter. And a freeloader, mostly. While Tada drops out after one date (due to his conscience bothering him), Matsumoto and Shunpei take the challenge on, but find themselves falling for Rin, who falls for them as well. Her two close friends also become entangled with Tada and Matsumoto.
Recommendation: Watch if you enjoy dramas involving some kind of relationship shuffle. I didn't take this drama too seriously, but I rather enjoyed it. The characters have so many issued—trust, communication, walling themselves off emotionally, etc.—and most of those issues aren't really resolved, with the most notable exception being Shunpei's major trust issues. There are 2 running gags in this show that I just love. One is the lights at the bar going off, but always for a different reason. The other is how the 3 teenagers (Rin's brother, sister, and sister's boyfriend) pop up out of nowhere to impart sound advice or make a critical observation. Overall, it's a decently cute romance.
Rich Man, Poor Woman Updated 12/7/12
This is a precious drama about the titular rich man, Hyuga, who is a technological genius but socially handicapped, and the poor woman Makoto who just wants a job helping him. Basically, she wants a job, but she ends up finding a true purpose in guiding him. She becomes a voice of the common person and common sense in helping him in his quest to develop a new technology that could change the world. There's also Hyuga's best friend and business partner Asahina and his sister Yoko who create most of the drama.
Recommendation: Definitely watch. Unless you hate adorableness. The acting is stellar, the plot is good, and the pacing suffers a bit but is overall solid. The romance takes way to long to develop, but you can't help but love this quirky couple as they gradually grow closer. And while the romance is the true driving force here, the office politics and product development story lines are almost always compelling and interesting. Can you tell I love this drama?
Tokujo Kabachi!! Updated 12/7/12
Tamura is a young man with a strong sense of justice and a huge bleeding heart. He works as an assistant scrivener as he studies to earn his license. Sumiyoshi is the ruthless shark prodigy of the scriveners' world and will manipulate the law to get what she wants—but always using technically legal means. They end up working together in the same office (from what I understand, their job is similar to a paralegal, but they can operate independently of lawyers). Each episode deals with a specific case they are trying to resolve.
Recommendation: I'd say you have to be really into slapstick to truly enjoy this drama. There are so many crazy effects and odd characters, it's definitely a genre piece, and very Japanese. It also falls into the category of dramas that try to teach the public, as each episode deals with people who are seeking legal help in defending their rights. I have to say that I didn't particularly like the acting (even Horikita Maki's, and I generally really like her), but I can also see how it fits with the nature of the show. I was also a bit disappointed that this was billed as a romance, since the romantic angle was minimal.
Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge
A goth young woman moves into a house full of young college boys, who must help her become a lady if they want to stay in their house. Many hijinks ensue.
Recommendation: Try it. I realized pretty early on that this drama wasn't really my thing. Too much crazy, and too much of an anime/manga sensibility for me. There are some pretty hilarious parts, but I just couldn't stick it out. There are reasons it's so popular, and I did get the feeling that the drama would end with Sunako being accepted for who she is, and not what others wanted from her, but I didn't finish. She is definitely the character I liked most—when she was herself and not under some spell.
A recent graduate of law school, Wakaba has had her entire life planned out since she was an adorable child—become a lawyer, marry a rich and successful lawyer, own a private jet and a penthouse apartment, and become the "hawk of New York". When she lands her dream job, however, she finds out it's really as a nanny with the option to work as a lawyer further down the line. She meets Sota, a single father who has given up his dreams to take care of his son, and his presence in her life causes her to question her life's trajectory.
Recommendation: Watch it. This drama is very cute, but does struggle in the last few episodes, which is why it doesn't get a higher rating. I found that many of the characters were very different from how I expected them to be. Nishikido Ryo is great in a leading role as Shota, and the children Hinata and Emitaro are especially cute—I loved how Hinata seemed like she would be a total spoiled brat, but doesn't fall into that stereotype at all. I mean, she can be a little bratty, but it always has a spin that makes her likable. Also, the little Wakaba is so incredibly adorable with her can-do spirit and total nerdiness. I love her! She seriously needs her own drama.