It’s only fair to start this off with this disclaimer: I’m the newcomer mentioned in the title of this post.
Though I’ve long been surrounded by family and friends who love all things anime and were ferocious in their attempts to win me over to the side of K-dramas and other popular Asian TV shows, I resisted with all my strength. Ouran High School Host Club? I’ll go read a book instead. Coffee Prince? Ummm… that’s weird. No thanks.
I mean, I really liked Digimon and Dragon Ball Z when I was younger, but I never registered those as anime. I mean, they were on Cartoon Network and Fox Kids for eff’s sake. Plus, they were in English and, now an adult, I rarely watch cartoons, so what’s the point in watching cartoons if I have to read subtitles?
And then, a few years ago, my husband discovered a new anime he really liked and he refused to shut up about it. I just had to watch one episode with him, he said, and if I didn’t like it, he’d never bring it up again.
That show was Attack on Titan. That episode ended with a main character losing a leg and then having his arm bitten off as he was swallowed whole by a massive monster, spraying his friends with his blood. That day was the day that I decided that maybe anime wasn’t so lame after all.
But it wasn’t until 2017 that I expanded my horizons beyond Attack on Titan marathons and the occasional rewatch of Digimon: The Movie. And it was all thanks to a barista who wouldn’t shut up about how the best zombie movie he’d ever seen was in Korean.
And so I present to you a rundown of the animes and Asian dramas I’ve watched this year:
Attack on Titan: This popular anime series follows a trio of misfit kids in a world in which massive, human-eating monsters called Titans are held at bay only by thick walls around an overpopulated city. The twist: It begins when one of these walls is shattered.
I honestly don’t have one bad thing to say about this series. The art is beautiful. It has a massive cast of characters you can’t help but fall for. The story is completely unpredictable, with nonstop twists and turns. The series is unapologetically gory, emotional, political, and intense. And it follows a popular manga series nearly word-for-word, giving you the chance to catch up and get ahead of the show if you just can’t wait to see what happens next!
10/10 Would recommend
Ouran High School Host Club: This well-loved anime series is also based on a manga and follows a scholarship student who is blackmailed into joining his new school’s host club after breaking a priceless vase. The twist: He is a she.
This series starts off wonderfully and is great for a laugh. It focuses on a set of main characters who you quickly fall in love with and follows their ludicrous high jinks over the course of the school year.
However, as the series progresses, it seems to lose focus on what initially made it so fun and begins to introduce plots and characters who detracted from my enjoyment. Ultimately, I did not complete this series.
5/10 Popular, but not for me.
Train to Busan: The first non-anime to make this list, this feature-length film follows a neglectful father and his daughter as they attempt to escape a zombie apocalypse via train. The twist: Not everyone made it onto the train without being infected.
I absolutely adored this movie and it started me on a Netflix marathon of every zombie film I could get my hands on. We are introduced to a wide cast of characters, though we do primarily focus on the man and his daughter. The film is filled with horror, gore, violence, and edge of your seat action.
10/10 Would recommend
Good Morning Call: This Japanese drama centers around two high school students, top-of-his-class hottie Uehara and cute-but-dumb Nao, who find themselves the victims of a real estate scam that forces them to become roommates. The twist: They genuinely dislike each other, but have to keep their situation a secret from everyone for fear of expulsion from school.
While this series does contain the typical cruel male protagonist stereotype that I’ve since come to learn is fairly typical of Asian dramas, Nao is feisty and more than willing to stand up for herself. Not only was the show genuinely amusing, but it was occasionally heartbreaking and followed a cast of characters you couldn’t help but fall in love with. And those female friendships gave me life!
9/10 Loved it, but won’t be happy without a flawless second season.
Mischievous Kiss: A Japanese remake of this popular story line, this series follows a girl at the bottom of her class as she tries to alternately woo and get over the smartest boy in her school after a humiliating public rejection. It doesn’t help when further drama is added to her life when her new home is destroyed and she and her father are forced to move in with the family of her father’s childhood best friend. The twist: The jerk who humiliated her just so happens to be in the room next to hers.
While this series started and ended fairly well, I did find myself cringing more often than I laughed at Kotoko’s outrageous antics. Naoki took awhile to grow on me as well and I was rooting for Kotoko’s obsessed guy friend at first. I also found myself enjoying the story a lot less as the character’s lives progressed from high school to college and onward, especially when romantic rivals were introduced to the story.
7/10 Enjoyable, but frustrating at times.
Mischievous Kiss 2: Season two kicks off almost immediately where the first season ends as the new couple ventures away for their honeymoon and begins to pursue the lives they want for themselves. Despite their new nuptials, however, Naoki’s continued coldness does little to alleviate Kotoko’s insecurities.
I wasn’t able to finish this series. As someone who was in an abusive relationship at Kotoko’s age, I found Naoki’s behavior too triggering for me to deal with. Though I’ve heard some of the things I found so problematic do start to alleviate as the series progresses, I’m not sure if I’ll ever end up giving it another chance. His behavior towards her was extremely cruel and I don’t like crying during scenes that aren’t supposed to be that emotional.
2/10 This turned me off of Japanese dramas for the time being.
Boys Over Flowers: The best-known K-drama in existence, this series follows a girl named Jan-Di who receives a scholarship to an extremely prestigious prep school due to her involvement in a PR nightmare for the Shinhwa Group who runs it. Quickly catching the interest of the school’s ruling students, F4, Jan-Di finds herself going head-to-head with the group’s leader, Gu Jun-Pyo. For his part, Jun-Pyo finds himself enjoying his battles with the headstrong commoner more than he expected. The twist: Jan-Di has feelings for someone else.
I adored this show. Not only did it feature strong friendships and complicated relationships, but it was so genuinely well acted that I couldn’t help but cry with the characters more than once. Though I did struggle with the transition as the characters moved on from high school to college as well as some drama tropes that certainly aren’t my favorite, I ultimately couldn’t help but love every one of our main characters and especially loved the loyalty F4 showed to Jan-Di and her childhood best friend, Ga-Eul, no matter what was thrown their way.
9/10 Definitely worth the investment of time, emotions, and boxes of tissues.
My exploration of these genres are not over! I am currently watching the Korean and Taiwanese versions of Mischievous Kiss – Playful Kiss and Miss In Kiss – as well as others, such as Dream Knight, To Be Continued, K-Pop Extreme Survival, My Little Lover, Hello My Twenties, Reply 1997, My Love from Another Star, and, hopefully soon, Yuri!!! on Ice!