Tokyo Love Story
First is the unequivocally amazing Tokyo Love Story (1991), based on a popular manga by Saimon Fumi. Rika, the sassy protagonist, sets the stage for all other so-called “trendy” dramas to come with her independence and spunk. Quick-paced and surprising, this drama stands the test of time so much so that Fuji Television just remade it, and modernized it with smartphones and other technology. Check out the trailer for the 2020 remake, and be sure to watch the original, featuring a catchy theme song, Love Story Ha Totsuzen Ni by Oda Kazumasa (小田和正).
Saimon Fumi’s manga is up front and center again in the next show, Asunaro Hakusho, which was turned into a drama in 1993. Asunaro Hakusho is a classic coming of age story set in a university. It is also notable for catapulting SMAP’s Kimura Takuya (木村拓哉) to super-stardom, despite his secondary role in the drama. The show also tackles unexpected social issues, with nods to LGBT issues as well as pregnancy. The theme song, True Love, by Fujii Fumiya (藤井フミヤ ) is also a nostalgic favorite!
If Asunaro Hakusho set up Kimura Takuya for stardom, Long Vacation (1996) is the role that guaranteed his dominance. Kimura shines as pianist Sena, who ends up sharing an apartment with Minami (Yamaguchi Tomoko, 山口智子), an older model with a mind of her own, after his roommate leaves her at the altar. With all characters mostly out of work as well, Long Vacation is said to capture the restless vibe of the recessionary 90s in Japan. Kubota Toshinobu’s (久保田利伸) La La La Love Song from this drama has become a classic.
101st Marriage Proposal
Closing out this list is 101st Marriage Proposal (1991), another early hit and the origin of one of the most famous lines from 1990s TV. Starring Takeda Tetsuya (武田鉄矢), loved by TV audiences but not by the women who populate his world, this hit follows his quest to find a wife. Our unlikely hero fails almost one hundred times before finally meeting a beautiful cellist played by Asano Atsuko (浅野温子). However, still mourning the loss of her fiancé, she too comes with her own baggage. As with the other dramas featured here, 101st has a memorable and hugely popular song, Chage & Aska’s (チャゲ&飛鳥) Say Yes.