The global market of shows in languages other than English is in the middle of a boom for obvious reasons, such as the rise of streaming services, the rush of international imports and the audience taking advantage of a variety of options like transcribers and translators. Netflix recently started including the viewing total for the top 10 shows in English and non-English categories. From Danish political dramas to French comedy-drama to South Korean thrillers, many of the best foreign-language shows on Netflix are often overlooked simply because they’re not in English.
But are you looking to expand your horizon, to start with some of the best foreign-language shows? With a huge wealth of international options available to Netflix users, narrowing it down to the best shows can be a bit difficult. We have picked the introductory collection of the best recent TV shows on Netflix from around the world.
Language: German, Russian
Babylon Berlin is a German thriller-noir series that deeply explores human life during the ’20s in Germany. The series revolves around a mysterious detective from Cologne, as well as a poor, ambitious flapper who wishes to work in Berlin’s homicide division. The neo-noir show focuses on many social and political forces during the period of the Weimar Republic. Babylon Berlin is described as cerebral and emotional but doesn’t fall in the dark series category. The show is heartbreaking at some points, but is also luminous and joyous. The series builds an intricate interplay of narrative threads that astonishes you as they start to pay off.
The Danish series Borgen is one of the best political drama shows; it helped redefine the global TV landscape in the early 2010s. Borgen follows Birgitte Nyborg, a minor centrist politician who finds herself as Denmark’s first woman Prime Minister through a series of convenient circumstances. The overarching narrative of the series progresses ultimately through political intrigue. The investigation of how Birgitte approaches her career and her home life is what makes Borgen an interesting watch. The show deals with the double standards that women face in dealing with issues that men in the same position do not have.
Call My Agent!
Created by Fanny Herrero, Call My Agent! is a fast-paced French comedy-drama that revolves around a Parisian talent agency and the lovably infuriating folks who staff it. The series excellently integrates and balances its character work and storyline where real French celebrities play heightened versions of themselves. The series shows light into the behind-the-scenes of French movie-making, by focusing on various personal dramas at an agency at war first and its unbalanced work-life system. The storytelling in relatable characters and the unending whirlabout of their triumphs and woes is what makes the series truly great.
Language: Japanese, English
The international crime thriller drama series Giri/Haji is set in both Tokyo and London and revolves around a Tokyo detective, Kenzo Mori who is assigned by a prominent Yakuza crime family to covertly go to London in search of his brother Yuto, who he thought to have died a year ago. The show is dark and violent at times with unexpected twists both in its narrative and form but is also funny and heart-filling. This frankly stunning yet crucially funny series has the tale of two brothers as its centrepiece but is also about unveiling the truth about one’s self. Even though Giri/Haji was discontinued after only one season, it still deserves a spot in the best foreign-language shows on Netflix.
The South Korean political horror drama series transports to South Korea’s Joseon period with a more interesting zombie narrative on how existing structures cope with the threat to equip for the inevitable return to the normal. The Korean zombies rampage in a society that eventually stays and exposes the evils. The infected undead translates a gratifying hero’s journey in the midst of erroneous magistrates, panicking isolationism and class combat.
The French mystery thriller show, Lupin revolves around Assane, a boy who becomes a thief. Assane faces some identity crisis as he seems to literally believe that he is a gentleman thief named Arsene Lupin from a series of stories by the writer Maurice Leblanc. The show takes through some family issues between Assane and his father who were Senegalese immigrants. When Assane was a child, his father was accused of stealing a valuable necklace which led to the unfurling of his entire life. Lupin is similar to Sherlock in terms of the frenetic worship of cleverness but is more outlandish.
Netflix Originals’ Spanish-language teen drama show, Élite features a sprawling ensemble cast of attractive Spanish twentysomethings. The series is set in Las Encinas, a fictional elite and extremely expensive private school and revolves around a trio of working-class students including a hijabi from an immigrant Palestinian family who are enrolled at the school on a scholarship sponsored by some of the rich parents. Élite explores concepts and themes associated with teen dramas but also features more progressive issues, diverse sexual themes and other sides to its clichés with a more explosive mystery – a brutal murder of a central member of the ensemble in Season 1 and the disappearance of another in Season 2 and the even bloodier death of a third in Season 3.
The Norwegian show Norsemen is a saga of bloodthirsty and loot-hungry pillagers packed with comedy. The long story said in short, Norseman takes a funny twist when the chieftain forces his warriors to give up the metal from their weapons so a slave with artistic aspirations can build a sculpture. This leads to the clan getting captured by their enemies while the chieftain is in a dress. The very modern human sensibilities attached to these raiders make the show so funny. The best character in Norseman is the enslaved actor, Rufus, who despite constant threats of death and people who largely hate him, refuses to accept that he is a slave and manages to carve out a small sphere of influence for himself.
Casa de Papel (Money Heist)
The Spanish blockbuster ensemble heist drama with a broad demographic appeal, Casa de Papel, also known as Money Heist is the most popular international show that hit Netflix’s Top 10 in a whopping 92 countries. The show that follows a group of criminals who set out on a mad plan to rob the Spanish mint is a kind of serialized Ocean’s Eleven. Similar to Ocean’s Eleven, most of the slackers involved in the heist are not known to one another before being tapped by El Professor. With a love for mystery-box storytelling and an ensemble cast that gets bigger, this serialized drama explores interpersonal relationships and thrills you with its own cleverness throughout the four seasons.
The South Korean thriller, Squid Game, sounds like a child’s fantasy come to life with games involving honeyed snacks, candy-coloured walls, and a larger-than-life doll, but inside of the game world, 456 individuals on the brink of a financial run and desperate for a way out, compete to the death in the playground for $45.6 billion Korean won. The competitors aren’t initially aware of the life-or-death consequences they’ve signed up for and are pitted against each other until there’s one victor left standing for the entertainment of the rich and powerful.
These are our picks of 10 tremendous foreign-language shows on Netflix that are worth binging right now. Is your favourite foreign-language show covered in this list? Let us know in the comments below.
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