Long, long ago, before I ever knew anything about J-dramas, I did a simple Google search to find the “top J-drama.” It brought up the website JDorama.com, which ranks J-dramas through user voting. Leading the top of the list was the popular J-drama Great Teacher Onizuka (GTO). Manga to anime to J-Drama to movie to J-drama reboot. It’s been through a lot. But GTO was number 1 in 2005 when I started learning Japanese, and probably many years before that from its release in 1998. 11 years later, it is still as the top of their list.
Is it really the top J-drama of all time?
First, the Jdorama site is a relic of Japanese J-drama discussion at a time when no one on the internet was talking about J-dramas. The site has been around since 2004 (possibly earlier), and it has not changed at all since then. You might have thought this site was dead when you see its layout, but it is what Google highlights at the very top of a search for top J-drama.
This top 100 list has a lot of gems from the past 2 decades, and I agree with many of these rankings. Ikebukuro West Gate Park is a little too low for my liking (#55), and I don’t think Gokusen deserves the #2 spot. But is GTO number one worthy?
For those unfamiliar with it, GTO is a high school drama, and led a change from the typical sappy high school dramas of the 80s and 90s, and transformed the genre into a bad-ass version of them. At least that’s my take on it.
Do I think GTO is deserving of the top spot?
This is a hard question for me because of my relation with it.
When I watched GTO in the mid-2000s I loved it. It was easy to understand and had a fun cast of characters. The music was cool, the stories were enjoyable to follow, and it introduced all new aspects of modern Japanese life to me. At the time, every person in Japan knew GTO. It was a phenomenon, though I was already slightly late to it by the time I got around to it.
I could sing the theme song for you (or at least hum it and occasionally say “poison!”).
The most memorable scenes still bring a tear to my eyes.
Watching it brings back deep nostalgic memories. Memories of starting to learn Japanese. Memories of living in Japan. Memories of learning about Japanese culture, famous actors, and why I should teach in Japan.
Because of all this, to me personally, it is the top J-drama.
However, for anyone who saw this drama many years ago and watches it again today, or is watching it for the first time now, you will notice a few things:
● The picture quality is bad (it’s old so this is to be expected)
● A lot of the acting was bad (especially from the student roles)
● It’s ridiculously cheesy
● The culture, way of talking, and interactions are all terribly outdated
But then again, every TV show looks and feels like this when viewed in respective from 20 years later. So it may not be fair to compare it with TV shows today.
Yes. Top drama. While there are other dramas that I probably enjoy more now, I think GTO has stood the test of time.
What do you think? Have you ever seen GTO? If you haven’t, go watch the entire series right now. Do you think it deserves the ranking as top J-drama?
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.