Netflix owes much of its success to the diverse inventory of foreign-language series and shows able to be streamed by American audiences. According to the site What’s on Netflix, some 45% of the shows appearing on the platform in 2020 were in foreign languages, with some 62 different tongues being represented (including Wolof, Quechua, Nepali, and Sanskrit).
To determine the best Netflix foreign-language shows, 24/7 Tempo reviewed audience ratings on IMDb, an online movie and TV database owned by Amazon, as of April 2023. Only shows with at least 5,000 IMDb user votes and a score of at least 8.2/10 were considered. Data on cast and country of origin is also from IMDb. Data on streaming availability is from JustWatch and was also current as of April 2023. (Foreign language and otherwise, these are the 50 best Netflix original series.)
While Israel, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, India, and China are all represented here, there’s no question that the vast majority of the best Netflix foreign-language shows come from just two countries – South Korea and Japan.
South Korea is represented by 16 shows, reflecting the expanding worldwide interest in South Korean culture that began in the 1990s. As the country’s censorship laws eased and the nation jettisoned the last traces of a repressive military regime, investments from major South Korean businesses such as Samsung, Daewoo, and Hyundai flowed into the country’s entertainment industry.
South Korean series and shows on this list embrace a variety of genres: Coming of age (“Twenty Five Twenty One”), surrealism (“Flower of Evil”), rom-com (“Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha”), crime (“Vincenzo”), fantasy (“Alchemy of Souls”), and more. (One of the most famous South Korean series, “Squid Game,” holds an IMDb score of only 8.0/10, so is missing from this list.)
Japanese programs appear 14 times, representing that nation’s storied skills in animation with such series as “Kuroko’s Basketball,” “The Promised Neverland,” and “Naruto.” Every Japanese entry here is animated, in fact – and all but two of them are based on manga comic books. (For longer foreign-language fare, here’s a list of the best foreign films of all time.)
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