I'm a member of Japan-TV, a fansubbing group dedicated to subtitling Asian dramas. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept of fansubbing, it's basically taking tv shows (or movies) from other countries and adding English subtitles. The work itself is time consuming and somewhat difficult, but it is an entertaining hobby.
Anyone who has not seen a Japanese drama, or dorama, is really missing out. Doramas are structured very different from American television. Series are drafted and produced to run only a single season, typically with twelve forty-five minute episodes. The shows typically center around a primary plot and a number of associated secondary plots. Fans of anime will recognize this format, but it does represent something of an oddity to people new to the genre. Second seasons are very rare, and indeed, many shows end in such a way as to make continuation difficult. The death of one, several, or all of the main characters is not unusual. Remakes are far more common than continuations, but even then the remake often diverges from the original story, sometimes in quite dramatic fashion.
One of the most interesting aspects of foreign television is the opportunity for cultural observation. Television, it must be remembered, is a highly sophisticated communications medium. Fiction represents a culture, not necessarily how it is, but how it would have itself seen. Of course, it is always dangerous to read too much into any form of entertainment, nevertheless, the fiction a culture produces is a commentary on that society.
The term "dramas" actually covers works of all genres. Below are a few suggested titles for new viewers.
Gokusen: The granddaugher of a yakuza (Japanese mafia) boss becomes a highschool teacher and is assigned to teach the troubled class.
Wedding Planner: A groom left at the alter is promoted to head a wedding planner agency. His staff hates him, his colleagues mock him, and his life is going nowhere fast.
Refrain: Shuji and Eri were a couple in college, but they had a huge fight and broke up. Eri went to New York to study dance, but she is injured in a car accident and forced to give up her dreams of performing. The two reunite a few years later in Tokyo, but each is involved with someone else.
Beautiful Life: Kyoko is a handicapped librarian confined to a wheelchair by an illness that is fatal in thirteen of forty-three cases. Shuji is an up and coming hair stylist who initially exploits Kyoko's disability by using her in a photospread, but later comes to admire her perseverance.
You can find out more about doramas at:
Also, you can visit us on mIRC at #Japan-TV @ Aniverse. Doramas are widely available by bittorrent and off of mIRC fservs. For those of you in the San Francisco Bay Area, I'll be hosting the Dorama fan panel at the Fanime convention on Friday, May 28th, at 1:00 p.m.