Roads Less Traveled: Dramas with Less Than 1000 Viewers

On roads less traveled in dramaland, sparkling hidden gems await.

Robert Frost, an American poet, famously said that he took the road less traveled (poem: “Road Not Taken”). Robert Zimmerman, an American singer-songwriter, famously sang “how many roads must a man walk down?” (song: “Blowin’ in the Wind”). This article will be a brief walk down eight drama roads less traveled. Eight is an auspicious number for many Asian cultures, and I found all eight of these dramas auspicious in their own way. At the time of writing this article, all of them have fewer than 1000 viewers listed on their MDL pages. I’ve included episode counts and my MDL scores just for reference. Let’s start our journey with the drama, which has the highest number of viewers, and work down.

Country: Japan |  Episodes: 12 | My rating: 8/10

This was a cute, calming drama. The “neko” (cat) Tamanojoh was definitely the lead, well supported by his samurai sidekick Madarame Kyutaro (Kitamura Kazuki). If you like cats and low-key, relaxing humour, I strongly recommend checking out this drama. There are a couple of movies and at least one additional series, but for me, the concept was strongest in this first drama series.

Country: South Korea |  Episodes: 54 | My rating: 10.5/10

This drama features on my 10+ list, it is that good. I could rave for hours about this drama, and back when I had my own blog, I did. I’m not going to do that here, but if you want to see slice-of-life done right, it’s hard to go past this drama. It aired at the same time as Five Children, a drama that had many more viewers at the time and a lot more viewers here on MDL. I watched Yeah, That’s How It Is live, and the excellence of the acting and the absence of histrionic drama tropes made it a permanent favourite. One storyline in Five Children involves marital infidelity, a very common plot device. The equivalent storyline in Yeah, That’s How It Is involves marital deceit of a type I’d never seen before or since and was possibly the most emotionally powerful arc in the drama, with Yoon So Yi delivering a stellar performance. If this appeals, and if you want to see Seo Ji Hye in a wonderfully nuanced role pre-CLOY fame, do check it out.

Country: Japan |  Episodes: 7 | My rating: 8/10

This was a really fun, interesting Japanese mystery series. One of the things I find really icky about Japanese dramas is the tendency to focus on age-inappropriate, often barely legal, romantic pairings. So I was delighted when the very young female lead, Mitani Tokino (Hamabe Minami), and the decades older male lead, Saji Yoshiyuki (Yasuda Ken), in this drama had a relationship that did not involve any hint of romance. Nevertheless, the stories are interesting, the resolutions well thought out, and the character interactions made this a short, sweet treat.

Country: Japan |  Episodes: 4 | My rating: 8/10

Many dramas feature the theme of rediscovering one’s first love. What makes this very short drama different is that the first love in question is the titular lead Yoriko Shindō (Yokoyama Yui)’s hometown and birthplace. This is a love story about Kyoto and about the lead character’s reconnection with her home. It’s very languidly paced, and while it hints at the possibility of a growing emotional connection between the male and female lead, the focus remains on Kyoto – its history, heritage, and even language. I enjoyed it so much that one of the reasons it’s the lowest scoring of these dramas for me is that I wished it had been a couple of episodes longer.

Country: Japan |  Episodes: 9 | My rating: 9.5/10

This is the kind of low-key, slow-burn grown-up story, including love which I have come to believe only Japan does properly. Tatsuki Hayako (Matsushita Nao), a woman in her mid-30s, developing a romantic relationship with a man a decade or so older. What makes this drama special is how organic and natural the relationship is. This is not a love story, it’s a story about life that happens to include love as an essential element. A refreshing change from over-the-top drama romance clichés, and one you might enjoy if you’re in the mood to take it slow.

Country: Japan |  Episodes: 10 | My rating: 8/10

This was effectively an office drama, with a focus on the female lead Takemura Ririko (Yoshitaka Yuriko)’s growth. In this case, primarily her professional growth, her development as an increasingly competent and committed prosecutor. Romance is present only as almost subliminal hints of future possibilities that are never developed. If, like me, you find the current trend in dramas of painting female characters as intrinsically incompetent and needing rescue either emotionally or professionally (or both) by the superior male lead to be toxic and offensive, then this sweet story of a rookie finding her feet might be just the palate cleanser you need.

Country: Japan |  Episodes: 8 | My rating: 8/10

Another female-centric law enforcement office drama from Japan. One of the great things about this drama is that it doesn’t shy away from the sexism and misogyny ingrained in Japanese work culture. J dramas may well feature competent, independent, and powerful female leads more often than is common in C dramas or K dramas, but Japan is a society where only relatively recently have women been able to vigorously protest being forced to wear high heels and contact lenses as a condition of employment. This drama tackles that mindset. The lead ends Yashiro Tomo (Haru) up in her role quite specifically as punishment from male bosses for her refusal to fit in with their sexist stereotypes. The drama is not all about gender politics, but it is an important part of the drama and adds a sense of reality and depth to the interaction of the “office” crew as they learn to work with each other. I’m really looking forward to checking out season two.

Country: Taiwan |  Episodes: 26 | My rating: 8.5/10

This is easily the best Taiwanese drama I’ve seen in years. It was only released in 2021, so its low viewer numbers are understandable. However, all the characters are so nuanced, there is an almost complete absence of the usual 2D drama cliché characters, and it is really an ensemble drama. I started this drama primarily on the strength of it featuring (Ivy) Chen Yi Han and (Roy) Qiu Ze, both of whom I have liked in several dramas in the past. The big surprise for me, and the reason I stuck it out when it wobbled a bit for 6 to 8 episodes, was the performance of Jian Man Shu. Her delivery of a really fascinating character was the highlight of the drama for me. When her character was introduced, I rolled my eyes and thought, “oh no, here we go”, but the character turned out to have much more depth, and Ms Jian’s performance did that depth justice. After several years of extremely mediocre TW dramas, this restored my faith. It may do the same for you.

And now we have reached the end of this brief journey down eight less travelled drama roads. Perhaps one or more of these dramas will resonate with you as they did with me. Or perhaps not. Dramas are entertainment, and what entertains us comes down to personal taste and personal choice, so it’s quite possible that none of these sounds appealing to you.

However, I do hope that you will investigate them to find out for yourself. I also hope that the fact that these 8 dramas averaged 8.5/10 for me can serve as a reminder that wandering down the roads less travelled can turn up hidden treasures. Taking a chance on dramas that fewer people have seen may give you that distinctive drama fan feeling of “why haven’t more people watched this?” Let your entertainment choices be YOUR entertainment choices, whether similar choices are made by millions or (as above) by only hundreds. Wherever your journeys down the lanes and alleys far from the drama megahit freeways take you, may the experience be both pleasant and enriching.

Once again, profound thanks to Cho Na for priceless assistance in polishing and presenting this article.

Acknowledgement and creditsThank you to the editors who edited this article. We do not own any of the images; credits go to their respective owners: Harold Davis (feature image); zmeel/Getty Images/iStockphoto (first image); other images are from official drama posters and stills. Visual design by Cho Na.

Edited by: devitto (1st editor), YW (2nd editor)

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