Updated On: November 06, 2023 by   Aya Radwan   Aya Radwan  

Watching historical dramas is a great way to get a glimpse of a country’s turbulent history, but they are mostly exaggerated to give the audience inspiring characters with monologues that can have a lasting effect on them. While Europe has produced some of the best dramas to tell its long history, Asian dramas top the genre with adorned costumes, fascinating set designs, and passionate acting.

Japanese period dramas are in a league of their own. These historical dramas draw inspiration from real-life historical events and characters, and some even adapt Japanese comic books, aka manga.

The NHK, or the Japan Broadcasting Corporation, produces and airs Japanese period dramas called Taiga dramas. The network has aired more than 63 Taiga dramas to this date. If you’re interested in Japanese period dramas, here are 16 of the best period dramas from NHK and other Japanese networks.

Musashi

Musashi is a Japanese period drama adaptation of The Book of Five Rings, a 17th-century novel by Miyamoto Musashi, with reflections on politics, swordsmanship, loss, and victory. We follow young Takezo, who seeks solace in marital arts after he witnesses his family’s assassination. Takezo’s skills develop beyond his age, and he frequently finds himself amidst local fights. Despite his skills and wit, Takezo chooses to fight for the losing Toyotomi clan in the Sekigahara battle but soon escapes from the enemy. He then spends the rest of his life roaming the countryside. As he rises to fame for his swordsmanship, men seek to duel with him to prove their skills. 

  • Historical era: 17th century.
  • Length: 49 episodes.

Shinsengumi!

Japan lived in isolation for more than 300 years under the Tokugawa Shogunate’s isolation policy. The winds of change began in Japan gradually after the arrival of Commodore Perry’s Black Ships, introducing different tools, techniques, and life views. Political unrest began to radiate from different spots around the country, demanding an end to the shogunate ruling system. Shinsengumi! introduces us to a group of traditionalists who chose to resist the foreign winds of change and fight for the continuation of the shogunate in power.

  • Historical era: the Bakumatsu era.
  • Length: 49 episodes and one special.

Yoshitsune

Amidst the fierce fighting between the Genji and Heike clans, soldiers of the chief of the Minamoto clan, Minamoto no Yoshitomo, betray and slay him. His mistress, Tokiwa Gozen, escapes with their three children to save them and ends up captured by the victorious Taira no Kiyomori. Kiyomori banishes two of Tokiwa’s sons to temples and decides to raise the third and the youngest, Ushiwaka, as his son. Soon afterwards, when the political leaders fire criticism against Kiyomori, he sends Ushiwaka to the temple.

Ushiwaka escapes the temple, changes his name to Yoshitsune, and seeks the protection of Fujiwara no Hidehira. Yoshitsune searches for his older brother, Minamoto no Yoritomo, in exile so that they can fight side by side in Genji and Heike wars. We follow Yoshitsune’s journey until Yoritomo appears and proceeds to establish Japan’s first shogunate.

  • Historical era: the 1160s, the Heian period.
  • Length: 49 episodes.

Atsuhime

Atsuhime, or Princess Atsu, narrates the story of the powerful female protagonist, Tenshō-in. Atsu was born in Satsuma, where she spent her childhood before moving to Edo during the Tokugawa shogunate. The 13th shogunate, Tokugawa Iesada, asked for Atsuhime’s hand in marriage, but he died soon after their betrothal. Finding herself alone in the royal court, Atsuhime changed her name to Tenshoin and took the lead of the Tokugawa Clan. Atsu’s actions coincided with the echo of the Meiji Restoration as it started to resound from Satsuma.

  • Historical era: the 1850s, the Edo shogunate.
  • Length: 50 episodes.

Ryomaden

Sakamoto Ryoma was a low-ranking samurai who believed the shogunate system must come to an end. Ryoma worked persistently on his marital skills and war victories, intending to become a higher-ranking samurai and remove the ruling shogunate at the time, the Tokugawa Shogunate, from power. He used his transcending military status to ignite the fire of the Meiji Restoration and rally the people against the shogunate. Ryoma derived new techniques and tools from foreign forces and used them to develop the Japanese navy forces, which assisted him in enforcing the restoration.

Ryomaden takes us on the journey of the persistent samurai, focusing on his achievements, hardships, and trials that led to him being one of the most influential figures in Japanese history.

  • Historical era: 19th century Japan, the Bakumatsu period.
  • Length: 48 episodes.

Taira no Kiyomori

This Japanese period drama details the life of Taira no Kiyomori, who tried to ascend from his rank as a military general to the Daijo Daijin, head of the State’s Great Council. Kiyomori was the firstborn of the Taira Clan’s chief, which entailed that his clan expected only greatness from him.

In fulfilment of his clan’s expectations, Kiyomori’s unmatched samurai skills helped clear the Seto area of pirates. This victory boosted his confidence, and thus he aimed for the power of government to establish a samurai-dominant government. Kiyomori’s techniques in disintegrating the nobility system earned him the emperor’s trust, which brought him closer to becoming the Daijo Daijin. All of this and more is brilliantly shown in this historical piece.

  • Historical era: 12th century Japan, the Heian period.
  • Length: 50 episodes.

Yae no Sakura

This Emmy-nominated Japanese period drama brings the story of one of the leading female warriors in Japanese history. Niijima Yae, or Yamamoto Yaeko, was born in Aizu and showed impeccable mastery of marital arts and gunnery as a young girl. During the Boshin War, she had accumulated enough skill to help defend her region, earning her the nickname “Bakumatsu Joan of Arc.” In the drama, we see Niijima Yae continuing to fight for equal rights for women. While doing so, she meets the love of her life, Jo Nijima, who supports her endeavours against societal prejudices.

  • Historical era: the late Edo period.
  • Length: 50 episodes.

Sanada Maru

“Sanada Maru” refers to a majestic castle with an influential role during the Siege of Osaka. This Japanese period drama takes us back to the life of Sanada Yukimura, a middle-class boy born in Shinsu who expressed his wit and unmatched martial skills at a young age. Sanada Yukimura intensified his training as he grew up to prepare himself for the tumultuous time Japan experienced as civil war ravaged the country. He built Sanada Maru Castle to aid Osaka Castle in repelling Tokugawa Ieyasu’s savage warriors. Sanada Maru focuses on the history of the Sanada clan, with particular emphasis on Sanada Yukimura, one of the legendary commanders of the Sengoku period.

  • Historical era: the Sengoku period.
  • Length: 50 episodes.

Nobunaga Concerto

Nobunaga Concerto introduces us to Saburo, a mildly successful high school student who’s excellent in sports. An unfortunate event takes Saburo and throws him back in time to the tumultuous Sengoku era, where a civil war raged between Japan’s clans. As he was still comprehending what happened to him, Saburo ran into his doppelganger, Oda Nobunaga, who happened to be the heir of the Oda Family.

Oda Nobunaga suggests he and Saburo swap places, so Saburo would experience the extravagant life of a lord, while Oda Nobunaga can secretly plot to unify his country. One of Oda Nobunaga’s guards’ spots Saburo and mistakes him for his lord, so he escorts him back to the castle. As Saburo immerses himself in his new life, he learns the ropes of political scheming and weighing responsibilities. This period drama engulfs serious political and social feuds in a comedic plotline.

  • Historical era: present day and the Sengoku period.
  • Length: 54 minutes.

Naotora: The Lady Warlord

As war claimed the lives of all male adults in Totomi, the pressing need for a successor for the Li family became more urgent. Naotora Ii, the only daughter of one of the lords in Totomi, steps forward and volunteers for lordship. Despite the unconventional and outrageous notion of a female lord, no one is left to object, and Naotora Ii begins training as a new lord. As Naotora Ii faces unexpected trials, she draws strength and solace from her supportive fiancé.

  • Historical era: the Sengoku period.
  • Length: 50 episodes.

Tenchijin

Tenchijin is a Japanese period drama that centres around Naoe Kanetsugu, a powerful and righteous samurai who learnt the way of the sword when he was a child. Uesugi Kenshin trains Naoe from a tender age till the former’s death. Naoe pledges allegiance to Kenshin’s son, Kagekatsu, in fulfilment of his loyalty to his master’s family. As part of his duty as a samurai, Naoe works on protecting the people of his province.

  • Historical era: the Sengoku period.
  • Length: 47 episodes.

Segodon

Segodon is a Japanese period drama that retells the story of Saigō Takamori, Japan’s last true samurai. Saigō’s ancestors were low-ranking samurai, resulting in his modest upbringing. However, he worked tirelessly to hone his martial skills and become an influential samurai. Saigō led a troublesome life; due to political clashes, the authorities exiled him twice, and his personal life was just as unfortunate, as he married and divorced three times. Despite Saigō’s role in advocating for the Meiji Restoration, he had later reservations about the reforms adopted at the time. The drama follows his journey and his hard work to become one of the central figures of the Meiji Restoration.

  • Historical era: late Edo era and Meiji era.
  • Length: 47 episodes.

Fūrin Kazan

Yamamoto Kansuke was a skilful strategist who lived during the turbulent Sengoku period in Japan and fought on various and contradicting fronts to achieve his vision of the country. While Kansuke was often portrayed as Takeda Shingen’s faithful advisor, he covertly worked with another warlord, Kai, who wanted a unified Japan. The third side Kansuke fought on was that of Yu, Takeda Shingen’s concubine, who ends up falling for the fearsome warlord. The contradicting interests in this Japanese period drama seem to clash as events progress; however, Kansuke successfully aids in achieving them all.

  • Historical era: the Sengoku period.
  • Length: 50 episodes.

Tempest

This Japanese period drama highlights the difficulties Mazuru goes through to achieve her academic interests. Mazuru’s main obstacle was her gender; during the Tokugawa shogunate, she was forbidden to take government tests. However, when Mazuru’s brother disappears, she seizes the opportunity, disguises herself as a man called Son Neion, and proceeds to take the government examination. To Mazuru’s surprise, she doesn’t only pass the government examination but is also chosen to fill the position of a high-ranking official. Trapped in her disguise, Mazuru takes office and continues her male disguise.

  • Historical era: the Edo period.
  • Length: 10 episodes.

Nobunaga no Chef

This Japanese period drama takes delicate French cuisine back to war-stricken Japan. We follow Ken, a French chef with exceptional culinary skills, who time-travels to the Sengoku period in Japan. However, a time warp costs Ken his memory, and he loses recognition of who he was and where he came from. The only matter the time warp didn’t rob Ken of is his culinary mastery. Unfortunately for him, he lands in the territory of Nobunaga Oda, a fierce local lord who asks him to be his personal chef.

  • Historical era: present time and the Sengoku period.
  • Length: 9 episodes.

Onna Nobunaga

This re-imagination of Japanese history entertains the idea that Oda Nobuhide had a daughter instead of a son. Oda Nobuhide was a feudal lord and the father of Japan’s unifier, Oda Nobunaga. Oda Nobuhide’s daughter is Onna Nobunaga, and he raises her as his successor to end the feudal wars and unify Japan. The show introduces us to the novel challenges Onna Nobunaga faces as a woman training in martial arts amongst ridicule from her higher goal; Japan’s unification.

  • Historical era: the Warring States period.
  • Length: 2 episodes.

Japanese writers weave actual political, social, and personal events in the lives of the protagonists as a reflection of the country’s culture, history, and traditions. We sincerely hope our selections of Japanese period dramas were able to mirror the pride the Japanese hold in their culture.

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