Japanese mystery dramas

Japanese dramas are generally shorter than their Korean counterparts, so it doesn’t take long to binge-watch a few series in one go. But don’t worry, as there are many genres of Japanese dramas for you to choose from – including Japanese mystery dramas.

We’ve compiled a list of 10 must-watch Japanese mystery dramas that will keep you in suspense, guessing what’s going to happen next.

1. My Life After Her Death 彼女が死んじゃった (2004)

Japanese mystery dramas - My Life After Her Death
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Main cast:

  • Tomoya Nagase as Hajime Ansai
  • Kyoko Fukada as Reiko Ishii
  • Teruyuki Kagawa as Toshio Yoshikawa
  • Yoshino Kimura as Yukari Ishii

My Life After Her Death is centred on the mysterious death of Yukari Ishii. The story follows her sister, Reiko Ishii, and her fiance, Toshio Yoshikawa, on their journey to find out how and why Yukari committed suicide. 

Through Yukari’s mobile phone history, the pair are led to the playboy-entertainer Hajime Ansai, who was the last person Yukari contacted. Hajime, Reiko, and Toshio then agree to work together and search Yukari’s mobile phone history for more clues. 

They speak with many people who were in contact with Yukari, from a fisherman at the local fishing port to a middle-aged man who works at a bar that Yukari used to frequent. The more people they speak with, the more they find out about the secret life that she hid from even the people closest to her.

Genre: Mystery, Romance

2. Guilty, Akuma to Keiyakushita Onna ギルティ 悪魔と契約した女 (2010)

Japanese mystery dramas - Guilty, Akuma to Keiyakushita Onna
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Main cast:

  • Miho Kanno as Meiko Nogami
  • Hiroshi Tamaki as Mashima Takuro
  • Michiko Kichise as Mari Enomoto
  • Kensei Mikami as Masato Tsurumi

Meiko Nogami works as a pet groomer at a dog salon in Shirogane. She does her work well and gets many celebrity dog-lovers as her customers. On the surface, it seems like she’s living her best life. However, she has a dark past. 

When she was 19, Meiko was unfairly accused of killing her brother-in-law and nephew with a poisoned chocolate cake, and was sentenced to prison. Her sister committed suicide thereafter and her mother disowned Meiko. After she came out of prison, Meiko pledged to find out who was behind the murders in order to take avenge herself and her loved ones. 

Japanese mystery dramas - Guilty, Akuma to Keiyakushita Onna screencap
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As she hunts down those involved in her brother-in-law and nephew’s deaths, she meets Mashima Takuro, a police detective who blames himself for causing the death of his junior and is still trying to nab the culprit involved. Meiko and Mashima become friends and fall in love, but Meiko distances herself because she doesn’t want to involve Mashima in her wrongdoings.

Genre: Mystery, Crime

3. A Corpse is Buried Under Sakurako’s Feet 櫻子さんの足下には死体が埋まっている (2017)

Japanese mystery dramas - A Corpse is Buried under Sakurako's Feet
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Main cast:

  • Arisa Mizuki as Sakurako Kujo
  • Taisuke Fujigaya as Shotaro Tatewaki

A Corpse is Buried under Sakurako’s Feet is a live-action drama adaptation of the novel of the same name. 

Sakurako Kujo is a girl in her 20s and she has a peculiar interest in bones, both animal and human. She becomes an osteologist, assembling and studying animal bones in her home studio when commissioned by museums and research institutions. Her desire is to work with more human bones, but opportunities are rare as she isn’t interested in working with the police.

Japanese mystery dramas - A Corpse is Buried under Sakurako's Feet screencap
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Despite that, the police often come to her as she’s able to deduce crucial information such as time of death, age, and gender, just by looking at the bones of the corpse. Shotaro Tatewaki, an assistant at a museum, meets Sakurako when he is tasked to collect a set of bones from her mansion. 

After that encounter, they start investigating unsolved cases together and uncover more decomposing human corpses. 

Genre: Mystery, Suspense, Crime

4. Houkago wa Mystery Totomo ni 放課後はミステリーとともに (2012)

Japanese mystery dramas - Houkago wa Mystery Totomo ni
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Main cast:

  • Haruna Kawaguchi as Ryo Kirigamine
  • Mokomichi Hayami as Hiromi Ishizaki
  • Alice Hirose as Naoko Takabaya

Houkago wa Mystery Totomo ni is based on the novel of the same name written by Tokuya Higashigawa, who won the 2011 Japan Booksellers’ Award. In the series, Ryo Kirigamine is the vice-president of the detective club in Koigakubo Academy and she claims to be excellent at solving mysteries. However, there are often loopholes in her deductions.

Ryo’s weird biology teacher Hiromi Ishizaki, who believes in aliens and inhales ground antihistamines pills rather than swallowing them whole, is forced by Ryo to be the advisor of the detective club. Although initially unwilling, Hiromi joins Ryo and the rest of the detective club in solving mysteries.

Genre: Mystery, Comedy

5. Alibi Breaker アリバイ崩し承ります (2020)

Japanese mystery dramas - Alibi Breaker
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Main cast:

  • Minami Hamabe as Tokino Mitani
  • Ken Yasuda as Yoshiyuki Saji 
  • Ryo Narita as Yuma Tokai

Tokino Mitani is the 20-year-old owner of a watch shop in Nano Prefecture. She inherited the watch shop from her grandfather, as well as his ability to undermine alibis – even water-tight ones. She does this as a side job and charges people ¥5,000 per case when she successfully breaks the alibi.

Yoshiyuki Saji is a talented police officer who got demoted after his failed attempt at exposing corruption in the police force. He is transferred to the Nano Prefectural Police Headquarters and happens to live in the house behind Tokino’s watch shop. 

Japanese mystery dramas - Alibi Breaker screencap
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TV Asahi

One day, Yoshiyuki is frustrated by a case that he’s working on and approaches Tokino for help as he’d heard about her skills. Yoshiyuki partners with Tokino to solve cases in order to prove himself, but he keeps it a secret from the rest of the detectives at the station.

Genre: Mystery, Crime, Detective, Comedy

6. And Then There Were None そして誰もいなくなった (2017)

Japanese mystery dramas - And Then There Were None
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Main cast:

  • Yukie Nakama as Ryo Shiramine
  • Osamu Mukai as Taku Gomyo
  • Ikki Sawamura as Ryuya Shokokuji

And Then There Were None is based on the popular novel by Agatha Christie and the BBC television series of the same name. The Japanese adaptation follows the storyline of the novel closely but the set and some of the crimes were contemporized to make it more appealing to the Japanese audience. 

Japanese mystery dramas - And Then There Were None screencap
Image credit: TV Asahi

10 men and women are invited to Hotel Shizen no Shima, located on Soldier’s Island, by the hotel’s owner. When they arrive, they are told that the owner of the hotel isn’t around. Although they are puzzled and unsure of why they were invited onto the island, they tuck into the dinner that was prepared for them. 

During the dinner, an unknown voice reveals their past crimes and one of them dies from food poisoning. The rest of the characters mysteriously get murdered one after another. A few days later, the police arrive on the island and find 10 bodies but no murderer in sight.

Genre: Suspense, Crime, Detective

7. Student Detective Haruya 青春探偵ハルヤ (2015)

Japanese mystery dramas - Student Detective Haruya
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Main cast:

  • Yuta Tamamori as Haruya Asagi
  • Sho Takada as Kazuomi Kubotera
  • Yua Shinkawa as Miu Noumi
  • Yasushi Ami as Toshiyoshi Shinohara

Student Detective Haruya is about Haruya Asagi, a poor 2nd-year university student who works hard to make ends meet with his part-time demolition job. 

One day, his friend, Kazuomi Kubotera, introduces him to a part-time job to protect the campus belle, Miu Noumi, from a male stalker. Although this is a high-risk job as they don’t know who they’re dealing with, Haruya is attracted by the attractive remuneration and starts investigating with a 3rd friend, Toshiyoshi Shinohara.

Slowly, Haruya finds himself solving more and more difficult cases with the help of his friends. Student Detective Haruya is a live-action drama adaptation of the novel Endo Kurejitto ni Saiteki na Natsu, by Eiichi Fukuda.

Genre: Crime, Youth, Detective

8. Lessons for a Perfect Detective Story 名探偵の掟 (2009)

Japanese mystery dramas - Lessons for a Perfect Detective Story
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Main cast:

  • Shota Matsuda as Daigoro Tenkaichi
  • Yu Kashii as Mana Fujii
  • Yuichi Kimura as Banjo Ohkawara

Lessons for a Perfect Detective Story is based on a collection of short stories written by Keigo Higashino, a best-selling author known for mystery novels. 

The series revolves around 3 main characters – Daigoro Tenkaichi, Banjo Ohkawara, and Mana Fujii – and highlights common tropes in detective stories, such as finding a murder weapon or a suspect having an alibi.

Banjo Ohkawara is a police officer who is known for solving many difficult cases, but in reality, the person who solves them behind the scenes is a private detective named Daigoro Tenkaichi. Mana Fujii plays the role of a rookie detective who helps Banjo and Daigoro. Each episode covers a different murder case and discusses different tropes.

Genre: Detective, Comedy

9. Unnatural アンナチュラル (2018)

Japanese mystery dramas - Unnatural
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Main cast:

  • Satomi Ishihara as Mikoto Misumi
  • Arata Iura as Kai Nakado
  • Masataka Kubota as Rokuro Kube

Unnatural is a series that revolves around the Unnatural Death Investigation (UDI) laboratory. Mikoto Misumi, who works at the UDI, is someone who can’t turn a blind eye to unnatural deaths. Together with her team, which includes a medical examiner, a clinical laboratory technician, and a recorder, they uncover the real reasons behind the deaths.

Japanese mystery dramas - Unnatural screencap
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Each episode features a new case of unnatural death, but there are references to earlier episodes, so the series has an overarching storyline. At the 96th Television Drama Academy Awards held quarterly by The Television, a popular magazine, Unnatural won the “Best Drama” award. A number of the cast and production members also won awards.

Genre: Suspense, Investigation, Medical

10. Re:Mind (2017)

Japanese mystery dramas - Re:mind screencap
Image credit: IMDb

Main cast:

  • Members of Sakurazaka46

Re:Mind is a thrilling, suspense-filled mystery drama that was produced in partnership with Netflix and TV Tokyo. It stars 12 members of the Japanese idol group Sakurazaka46, formerly known as Keyakizaka 46.

Japanese mystery dramas - Re:Mind
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The 12 members play high school girls who have been abducted. They find themselves shackled to a dining room table with silk bags over their heads, and none of them have any idea why they’re there or how they got there. 

Soon enough, they figure that it may be related to their classmate, Miho, who disappeared a few months ago. As the story unfolds and they try to find ways to escape, some of the girls disappear from the table, one by one.

Genre: Thriller, Suspense, School

Japanese mystery dramas to keep you on tenterhooks

These Japanese mystery dramas have thrilling plots and detective elements that will get you thinking as you watch. Add some of these titles to your drama watchlist for some extra excitement in your life! 

Check out these articles for more Japanese dramas:

Cover image adapted from (from left to right): AsianWiki, MyDramaList, and MyDramaList

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