From major streamers like Netflix, Disney+, Apple TV+ and Amazon Prime, to specialised platforms such as GMMTV, meWATCH, AstroGo and Cruncyroll, it’s never been easier to watch TV shows from all around Asia.
In an era where Asian series have matched – or arguably exceeded– the quality of their more famous Western counterparts, now is the perfect time to uncover the continent’s hidden small screen gems. And while 2022’s year-end list may be dominated by outstanding Japanese anime and K-dramas, we’re most eager to spotlight the great, unheralded shows coming out of India and Southeast Asia.
10. Mani (Singapore)
One of the most riveting whodunnits of 2022 hails from Singaporean Tamil-language network Vasantham. Part police procedural and part legal drama, Mani kicks off with the killing of a 16-year-old girl named Sesha Gomez. The shocking murder pits eccentric detective Vidya against his close friend Mani, a disgraced criminal defence attorney who doesn’t believe that the cops’ prime suspect committed the act.
As both parties search for the truth in their own unique ways, Mani delivers all you could want from a crime mystery – shocking twists, family secrets, and troubled investigators grappling with their own dark pasts.
Biggest fan: Anyone who’s ever wanted a Singaporean version of broody murder mysteries like The Sinner or Sharp Objects.
9. Tomorrow (South Korea)
Based on the fantasy webtoon series of the same name, this live-action adaptation follows a “Risk Management Team” of grim reapers who don’t just guide the dead but actively help save people contemplating suicide. Our lead is a new employee on the job, a comatose man whose spirit is coerced into working with these angels of death.
The series does a great job of balancing its tear-jerking case-of-the-week stories, which tackle serious themes of mental health, with its larger overarching plot. The concept of the afterlife as a workplace is nothing new, but few feel as fresh, funny or well-executed as Tomorrow.
- READ MORE: ‘Tomorrow’ review: supernatural spirits form a suicide prevention squad in sensitive drama
Biggest fan: Those still bemoaning the cancellations of Reaper, Dead Like Me and The Good Place.
8. One Cent Thief (Malaysia)
Inspired by the true story of an infamous banker who stole a penny from all of his customers back in the 1990s, this gripping crime thriller will instantly hook you. One Cent Thief follows a young, entry-level bank executive who is unable to afford a heart operation for his ailing father. Desperate, he begins hacking the finance system to steal a single cent from every account in the bank.
Buoyed by smart writing and stellar performances, this intense and propulsive Malaysian drama by Alfie Palermo draws favourable comparisons to Emmy-winning shows such as Ozark and Mr. Robot.
Biggest fan: Millennials who grew reading up about this daring cyber heist on the news.
7. Not Me (Thailand)
Not Me reunites Gun Atthaphan Phunsawat and Off Jumpol Adulkittiporn, or OffGun, for a politically charged BL drama with more on its mind than frothy passion. Gun does double-duty as twins, White and Black. Upon discovering that Black has been brutally beaten in a gang-related attack, White assumes his identity to investigate.
Much to his shock, Black’s gang are actually radicalised activists determined to help exploited local communities. A sizzling romance begins when White falls for one of the vigilantes, Off’s Sean. By balancing its core love story alongside its excavation of knotty political issues in Thai society, Not Me successfully stirs both hearts and minds.
Biggest fan: Boys Love obsessives looking for a show that transcends the typical tropes.
6. Spy x Family (Japan)
This espionage-themed comedy has taken the anime world by storm. We follow Loid Forger, an undercover agent who is forced to form a fake family for an operation. He ends up adopting Anya, an orphan who is secretly a telepath, and marrying Yor, a clerk who is secretly an assassin in the criminal underworld.
Neither Loid nor Yor know of each other’s true identities, but thanks to her powers, the adorable Anya is thrilled to learn that her parents have such exciting jobs. Cute, goofy, heartwarming and frequently laugh-out-loud funny, Spy x Family has become so popular and it’s easy to see why.
Biggest fan: Those who thought The Americans should have been a comedy.
5. Extraordinary Attorney Woo (South Korea)
Extraordinary Attorney Woo follows Woo Young-woo, a genius rookie lawyer with Asperger’s Syndrome. While she faces prejudicial treatment at work and in her daily life due to her awkward communication methods, she effortlessly cracks cases by focusing on details and loopholes that nobody else notices.
Besides its refreshing representation of someone on the autism spectrum, the series’ weekly cases smartly explore a variety of legal and moral issues facing the firm’s attorneys and their clients. This journey through the trials and tribulations of Woo’s personal and professional life is the most heartwarming K-drama of 2022.
Biggest fan: Viewers who’ve just binged Monk or The Good Doctor.
4. Suzhal: The Vortex (India)
This series begins in the small town of Sambaloor, whose residents are preparing to celebrate a week-long religious festival. In the midst of this, tensions rise when a teenage girl goes missing and an old factory is burnt down. As the police investigate both cases, troubling secrets the close-knit rural community would rather stay buried are exposed.
Much like Mare of Easttown, the beauty of Suzhal lies in the vivid specificity of the town and its people, adding depth and dimension to its layered mystery. Cleverly written and brimming with complex characters, this brilliant investigative drama keeps you guessing all the way to its gut-wrenching climax.
Biggest fan: Crime mystery junkies who love discussing their pet theories online.
3. Chainsaw Man (Japan)
Chainsaw Man is the only freshman anime to surpass Spy x Family’s hype this year. The show follows Denji, an impoverished teenager living in a world where hellish creatures known as devils roam. When Denji is murdered, his adorable chainsaw-headed devil dog Pochita saves his life by merging with him – giving him the ability to transform any part of his body into a chainsaw.
- READ MORE: ‘Chainsaw Man’ review: the season’s wildest new anime reels you in with balletic brutality
Recruited by a devil hunting government agency, Denji now uses his supernatural powers to slay devils, earn a comfortable living, and just maybe hook up with his hot colleagues. This bloody, brutal, hilarious and horny show is an absolute riot.
Biggest fan: Horny teenage boys or anyone who wants to laugh at horny teenage boy fantasies.
2. Pachinko (South Korea)
The sumptuous and stirring television adaptation of Min Jin Lee’s historical-fiction novel about a Korean woman named Sunja, during and after the Japanese occupation of her home country. Pachinko deftly straddles multiple eras and generations – primarily with Minha Kim as the young-adult Sunja in the throes of the brutal occupation, and Youn Yuh-jung as the elderly Sunja now living in Japan in the late 1980s.
Bouncing between time and cultures, Pachinko’s non-linear narrative gives emotional, deeply personal weight to the tragic intertwining of these two nations during the 20th century by focusing on the struggles of a single family across the turbulent decades.
Biggest fan: Book readers who usually turn up their nose to the boob tube.
1. Mob Psycho 100 (Japan)
They may come from the same creator, but Mob Psycho 100 is a funnier, smarter show than One Punch Man. The series follows Shigeo “Mob” Kageyama, a kind but clueless middle-schooler who happens to have godlike psychic abilities. The directionless prepubescent is taken under the wing of a con-man running a local exorcism business, Reigen Arataka. Though Reigen uses Mob’s powers for profit, he also genuinely cares for the boy.
This paranormal comedy follows Mob’s exploits at school and at work – from the relatable mundanity of finding an extracurricular club to join and crushing on a cute girl, to the unrelatable absurdity of battling evil spirits and other powerful espers to save the world. The show’s hilarious subversion of shonen tropes, poignant insight into a boy’s social anxiety and kaleidoscopic action sequences all combine to make Mob Psycho 100 a blast well into its third season.
Biggest fan: Otakus who can finally laugh at parodies of their favourite childhood shonen.