It’s not a big ask. We want our TV shows to reflect the wondrous, diverse world that we all live in. In order to celebrate and champion the pan-Asian diaspora onscreen, we need representation offscreen too — and that means getting behind writers, directors, and showrunners dedicated to representing Asian stories with authenticity and nuance.
In no particular order, here are some top notch TV shows available on Netflix, all made by Asian creators, and all exceptional shows you’ll want to binge-watch in a day. From Korean dramas to anime favourites, Indian rom-coms to Netflix’s big pandemic hit, there’s plenty to add immediately to your queue. And it must be said, the platform itself working to celebrate and champion Asian series and films, launching social media channel Netflix Golden in January.
So, add these all to your list, and get streaming.
Do we really have to recap? Netflix’s South Korean superhit Squid Game landed on the platform in Sept. 2021 and exploded like none other, shattering the record for the most-watched Netflix show of all time. (The record has since been beaten by Arcane).
Created by Hwang Dong-hyuk, the series’ dystopian premise, in which 456 indebted civilians (including protagonist Seong Gi-hun, played by Lee Jung-jae) compete with each other in death-match versions of schoolyard games for money, is as dark as it comes. But Squid Game‘s
dalgona candy-colored aesthetic makes the deadly proceedings substantially creepier. It’s a whipsmart satire that calls out the loss of individual humanity in late-stage capitalism, which for some weird reason resonated with millions of people all over the world during the pandemic.* — Alexis Nedd, Senior Entertainment Reporter
Credit: Isabella B. Vosmikova / Netflix
Lead Maitreyi Ramakrishnan will steal your heart as Devi Vishwakumar, an Indian-American high school sophomore reeling from the loss of her father the year before — but with big plans for a future as vibrant and fearless as she. Culturally important as it is authentic, Never Have I Ever serves not only as a critical step for representation but also as a dreamy teen rom-com you’ll adore.* – Alison Foreman, Entertainment Reporter
3. Crash Landing on You
Credit: Lim Hyo Seon
When a South Korean heiress goes paragliding, a freak storm sends her flying off course and she crash lands in the North Korean DMZ. For most people, this story would end in a swift execution. Luckily, Yoon Se-ri (Son Ye-jin) is found by understanding North Korean army captain Ri Jeong-hyeok (Hyun Bin) — and total dreamboat! As the two navigate their precarious situation and deep cultural divides, they somehow form a connection and, you guessed it, begin to fall in love.
11 of the best Korean dramas on Netflix
This smash hit drama series, written by Park Ji-eun and directed by Lee Jeong-hyo, has everything: action, social commentary, and a gut-wrenching forbidden romance. Crash Landing on You has become a global phenomenon, acclaimed in China, Japan, and the Philippines, and frequently topping K-drama lists in the U.S. A must-watch.
4. Little Things
Created by Dhruv Sehgal, Little Things is a deeply relatable Indian rom-com series about a couple that’s been living together for some time now. Speaking mostly in English, the couple (played by Mithila Palkar and Sehgal himself), tackle everyday issues like being worried your friends are having more fun than you or coming home from work in a bad mood. You know, the “little things”! Don’t wait on this smart, funny, and charming series.
5. The Stranded
Credit: Tossapon Somwong / Netflix
If you loved Lost or Yellowjackets and feel the need to be adrift in the mysterious wilderness again, watch Thai teen thriller The Stranded from director Sophon Sakdaphisit. When an enormous tsunami devastates an island in the Andaman Sea, 37 high school students are, yep, stranded. Papangkorn Lerkchaleampote leads the show as 18-year-old Kraam, who suffers a traumatic loss at the beginning of the disaster. But even though the students actually do a pretty good job of coming together and not freaking out at first, mysterious events start happening, and they start getting on each other’s nerves, and they realise they’re gonna have to get themselves off this damn island. — Shannon Connellan, UK Editor
6. Kim’s Convenience
Bright, energetic, and full of charm, Kim’s Convenience is a delightful family sitcom created by Ins Choi and Kevin White, and based on a play written by Choi. The Kims are a Korean couple (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee and Jean Yoon) who run a small convenience store in Toronto while trying, and failing, and trying again to understand the modern lives of their first generation kids, Janet and Jung (Andrea Bang and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings star Simu Liu). The show has its fair share of hijinks, tackling social issues with more humor than bite. It’s a warm, heartfelt, and fun watch.
It’s worth noting here that Liu publicly expressed frustration over how the show was ended in June 2021, and said his and his fellow cast members’ input was not taken into consideration by the show’s mostly white production and creative team. Liu said this “was doubly confusing because our producers were overwhelmingly white and we were a cast of Asian Canadians who had a plethora of lived experiences to draw from and offer to writers.”
“I remain fixated on the missed opportunities to show Asian characters with real depth and the ability to grow and evolve,” he added.
Combine zombie outbreak with teen drama and you’ve got All of Us Are Dead. Based on the webtoon by Joo Dong-geun, the South Korean series was written by Chun Sung-Il, directed by Lee Jae-kyoo and Kim Nam-su, with superb cinematography from Park Se-seung. The series takes place during a pretty damn intense zombie apocalypse that emerges from Hyosan High School, wherein students balance fighting off their former classmates with…their crushes. — S.C.
8. Taj Mahal 1989
In 1989, at Lucknow University in Uttar Pradesh, an intersecting group of professors, students, friends, and lovers try to find love in a pre-online dating age. Written and directed by Pushpendra Nath Misra, Taj Mahal 1989 is a poetic and satisfying romantic drama series. The presentation is simple, yet the stories and the characters are complex. This is a lovely, understated Netflix India original that deserves a global audience.
9. Alice in Borderland
Trying to fill that battle royale-shaped void in your heart while you wait for Squid Game Season 2? Directed by Shinsuke Sato, Alice in Borderland is here for you. Based on by Haro Aso’s manga of the same name, the Japanese sci-fi thriller series is tense, surprising, and deeply entertaining.
After hiding from the police in a public restroom under Shibuya Crossing, Arisu (Kento Yamazaki), a video game expert, and his friends Karube (Keita Machida) and Chōta (Yūki Morinaga) are shocked to find Tokyo completely abandoned. They follow the only signs of life to a mysterious game arena, where they are forced to compete…or die. The structure is familiar, but the characters are new, making this a worthy entry for all fans of the “last person standing” genre.
10. Twenty-Five Twenty-One
If you like your long-burn romance extremely long you should watch Twenty-Five Twenty-One. Written by Kwon Do-Eun and directed by Jung Ji-hyun, the series spans the years 1998 to 2021, initially set against the economically turbulent times of the 1997 IMF crisis. Within these tough times, you’ll meet the outstandingly likeable and OTT Na Hee-do (Kim Tae-ri), a talented fencer with big dreams, a rival in Ko Yu-rim (Bona), and a love for the manhwa series Full House. She meets Baek Yi-jin (Nam Joo-hyuk), whose family has been torn apart by the economic crisis. If you think you know where this complex, fun, and heart-wrenching series is going to go, well, you might be pleasantly surprised. — S.C.
For something a little different, look no further than Aggretsuko. Written and directed by Rarecho, Aggretsuko follows a small red panda, Retsuko, who is completely worn down by her 9-to-5 accounting job. Her only solace is her nightly trip to the karaoke bar to wail death metal – a truly shocking music choice for such a cute little critter.
Somehow, Aggretsuko comes to us from Sanrio, the same Japanese company that makes the obsessively cheery Hello Kitty characters. With that in mind, we can imagine little Retsuko as the older, rebellious cousin at the Sanrio get-togethers, continually annoyed with the chipper crowd around her — something we can all relate to.
It would have been so easy for Netflix’s League of Legends TV show Arcane, created by Alex Yee and Christian Linke and delivered by Riot Games and French animation studio Fortiche, to be just “OK.” Video game adaptations are hit and miss, and coasting on the worldwide appeal of League of Legends was always going to be an option for the show’s creators. This is all to say that Arcane didn’t have to go anywhere near as hard as it does, but it does. The results are spectacular.
Arcane takes the lore of LoL and makes it the backdrop of a wholly engrossing tale of family, betrayal, inequality, and the generational cycle of violence. Fortiche’s animation is beyond top-tier, with a one-of-a-kind combination of 3D and 2D that is as impressive during action sequences as it is simply setting the scene for the show’s quieter moments. So thanks for slapping so dang hard, Arcane. Season 2 is going to be a blast. — * A.N.
Credit: Jung Jaegu
From Train to Busan director Sang-ho Yeon comes this truly intense horror series based on his webtoon of the same name. It’s the end of the world as we know it, but we didn’t think it would happen quite like this. When otherworldly beasts start publicly dragging people to hell after a prophesized amount of time delivered by rather terrifying “angels,” there’s an extreme religious uprising. Meanwhile, online trolls spout their theories to their unfortunately large audiences, violent gangs grow, and journalists and detectives scramble to uncover the truth. Starring Yoo Ah-in, Kim Hyun-joo, and Park Jeong-min, Hellbound is a terrifying what if that points to the sadly probable tendencies of humans when faced with their own doom. — S.C.
14. Neon Genesis Evangelion
One of the greatest and most influential Japanese anime series of all time, Neon Genesis Evangelion is wildly ambitious, emotionally complex, and beautifully animated. In the future, the city of Tokyo-3 is under attack from monstrous Angels. Humanity’s last defense is a fleet of giant mechas known as Evangelions, or Evas. When 14-year-old Shinji Ikari’s estranged father recruits him to be an Eva pilot, he finds himself at the forefront of the battle to save mankind. What follows is a series of incredible fights between Angels and Evas, as well as an in-depth exploration of trauma from director Hideaki Anno, with production by Gainax and animation by Tatsunoko. — * Belen Edwards, Entertainment Reporter