For far too long, I held off watching reality television dating shows, deeming them drama-ridden and problematic and even secretly judging those who enjoyed them.
And, yes, I’ll be the first to admit that drama is 100% a requirement for reality TV, and there will probably be an unlikeable contestant you can’t seem to stand while watching, but now I realize how much I was missing out!
If you, like I once was, are reluctant to start watching reality dating shows but are a massive romance fan, I implore you to give them a chance and start with these Japanese and Korean dating shows. The shows on this list have creative premises and heart-pounding, romantic tension that portray tear-jerking, authentic human connection: the awkwardness of meeting someone new, the distress after rejection and the unguarded optimism of burgeoning love.
Add these 10 amazing Japanese and Korean reality dating shows to your Netflix watch-list! I promise you’ll be falling in love with these shows right alongside the new couples.
Falling in Love Like a Romantic Drama (2018)
As the very first Japanese reality dating show I ever saw, I must warn you that this show may cause you to become a dedicated connoisseur of reality television after watching! Hosted by comedian and actress Naomi Watanabe, with three other commentators, this show asks the question: “If actors and actresses who want to fall in love act in a love drama, will real love blossom?”
Eight up-and-coming actors and actresses compete to covet leading roles in various short romantic dramas—that feature a shared kiss every episode—while alternating between scene partners. During the process, as each competitor begins to get to know each other, they must determine whether they are forming authentic romantic feelings for their co-stars. At the end of the show, they will be asked to confess their feelings to see if their fondness is reciprocated.
The show offers us a chance to see the actors’ process of preparing for different roles as they each work to memorize their lines, practice their mannerisms and strengthen their chemistry with their scene partners. In between perfecting their performance, they are prompted to go on dates to deepen their bond. It doesn’t take long until viewers become invested in the competitors and root for certain pairs to work together repeatedly.
As feelings begin to develop, sometimes unfortunately one-sided feelings, audiences will empathize with the unrequited lovers as much as they swoon over the electric chemistry of some of the couples. While certain actors are vocal about who they have a crush on, others keep their feelings close to their hearts, making the final episode, when they reveal their true emotions, all the more shocking. The first three seasons of this highly binge-able show are available now!
Love Like a K-Drama (2023)
Brought to you by the same producers of Falling in Love Like a Romantic Drama, this new show shares a very similar premise, with a few key differences. This time, four flourishing Japanese actresses are paired up with four South Korean actors to compete for lead roles in K-Dramas. The actresses, some of whom are just beginning to learn Korean, must adapt to memorizing scripts that are written completely in Korean, communicating with a Korean production team and forming a connection with their scene partners despite the language barrier.
Despite all of these challenges, the Japanese actresses’ expertise shines in the short 10-minute K-Drama films they star in. If you’re wondering if it’s possible to form a deep connection with someone who doesn’t share the same language as you, the answer is a resounding…yes! It’s incredibly heartwarming to see how most of the couples, who either don’t know much Japanese or Korean, must communicate with each other through text messages on a translation app. Despite this difficulty, incredibly sweet and romantic moments are exchanged.
But of course, it wouldn’t be reality TV without some drama thrown in the mix. Partners switch, hearts break and people’s affections constantly change. Oh, and all of this becomes amplified because they live in the same house together! You’ll see who will leave as friends and lovers and who among them will leave as they arrived—single. This is the perfect watch for those who might have ever daydreamed about their favorite actors actually falling in love!
Single’s Inferno (2021)
With two full seasons available and a third whose brand-new episodes are currently being released on Netflix, Single’s Inferno is a South Korean reality TV show that mixes the appeal of survival shows with dating shows by putting 12 hopeful singles on an island nicknamed “Inferno,” where they must cook their own food and collect their own water, while getting to know the other contestants without discussing their age or occupation. The contestants compete in various challenges, which include races and one particularly intense contest between the male contestants, where they are forced to wrestle one another out of a pit filled with water to be crowned the last man standing.
All of these trials are completed in the hope of winning the chance to escape the island to “Paradise,” where couples will enjoy luxurious dates at a resort with stunning rooms, expensive food and fun activities where they will have the opportunity to ask their chosen guest, any questions they want. While some competitors never leave “Inferno,” others go to “Paradise” multiple times with different partners, making their previous partners’ stay on the deserted island even more hellish. You’ll want to watch this one if you’re in the mood for some entertaining drama that is somewhat infuriating but promises to keep you coming back for more!
Love Is Blind: Japan (2022)
Based on the highly popular American reality TV show of the same name, Love Is Blind: Japan takes the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” to a whole other level! People looking for love date in pods that allow them to get to know multiple potential partners without ever getting to see what they physically look like. The idea is that those with judgmental, preconceived notions and rigid physical types will open their hearts to the possibility of a romantic connection with someone they might have otherwise disregarded.
To leave the pods, couples must get engaged, and only then can they finally see who they have fallen in love with. At the end of the experiment, after six weeks of dating, they must either affirm their relationship during a wedding ceremony in front of all their friends and family or leave their partners at the altar.
It’s a show that is both awfully uncomfortable and incredibly beautiful at times, as some couples slowly drift apart from too many differences, others quickly lose interest from a lack of attraction and others become more dedicated life partners. And if you think that it could never be possible to form an authentic, genuine connection in this very strange, accelerated way, you’d be surprisingly wrong. Spoiler alert: Not just one, but two couples have stayed together and have since had a child. Getting to see strangers slowly breaking down their walls and giving each other a chance will have you crying the happiest of tears.
Change Days (2022)
Change Days is a Korean reality show with a bit of a cutthroat premise—four couples on the brink of breaking up travel to Jeju Island to exchange partners and decide after two weeks of dating whether they want to leave their current relationship and pursue a new potential partner or if they want to recommit to their first partner. On decision day, they will either both put on promise rings to signify their dedication to the relationship from that moment forward or leave without wearing them, confirming their breakup.
It’s time to test whether the “grass is greener on the other side” or if the excitement of a new fling is short-lived and pale in comparison to their long-term connections. Bittersweet and filled with raw emotion, this one authentically shows how real couples learn how to work through hardship and past pain. But you’ll have to watch Season 2 on Netflix for yourself to find out if any of the couples also learned that their hearts were better suited in the hands of another.
Love Village (2023)
The gripe I often have with reality dating shows, despite immensely loving them, is that they often feature young, model-esque singles who are hard to relate to. In contrast, in Love Village, hopeful singles are on the older side, with the eldest being 60 years old, allowing contestants to have a chance at finding “later-in-life” love.
The premise is that strangers move into a house in the country, where they will live and complete light renovation projects while trying to find a romantic companion. If they feel inclined, a villager must ring “the bell of love” to publicly announce their feelings and wait to be either rejected and kicked out of the house or accepted and leave happily with their chosen partner.
The constant influx of new singles makes for an interesting and entertaining viewing experience as we see how strangers struggle to learn to live under the same roof, leading some individuals to lose hope of finding new romance and others to form new crushes midway through. Add this to your watchlist to enjoy love triangles, twists you could have never seen coming and adorable new couples.
Ainori Love Wagon: Asian Journey (2017)
Okay, out of all of the shows on this list, I have to admit that Ainori Love Wagon: Asian Journey is the series with the most eccentric contestants and wild premise, but let me tell you that this is one slightly unhinged ride you won’t want to get off!
Seven young men and women explore countries in Asia, from Vietnam to Myanmar to Thailand, while cramped in a pink bus. They are led by their bus driver/tour guide to various tourist attractions and lesser-known local hangouts where they are free to experience and learn about various cultures. But, their main quest is to find love among their traveling companions and return to Japan with their new partners.
When a participant falls for another and wants to confess their feelings, they must ask their bus driver for a ticket, present that ticket to their crush and wait for their response the next day. The person who was confessed to must either accept their ticket and seal their commitment with a kiss before traveling back to Japan with them or refuse their ticket and continue their journey, hoping to find love with a new member who will replace the previous one.
There are fights, tears, laughs, wacky conversations (one of the travelers doesn’t know how to distinguish a cow from a horse), strong friendships and love matches formed during this long, fascinating journey. Lucky for you, this season has a whopping 22 episodes, while the next installment, Ainori Love Wagon: African Journey, has another 22 to binge-watch if you, like me, can’t get enough of this unique, over-the-top show.
Is She the Wolf? (2023)
Five women and five men try to find love. Seems like a pretty straightforward premise for a Japanese reality show, except for one vital detail: one woman isn’t actually there for love. Instead she’s a wolf, barred from returning any romantic feelings. Although the entire cast knows this going in, it won't keep feelings from being toyed with and hearts from getting broken.
Every episode promises different opportunities for the show’s participants to become closer by having them go on dates and by giving the group a mission to complete by the end of the show. Throughout their time together, each woman must choose who she wants to bring along with them to a popular romantic place in Japan to take a photo, usually giving insight into who they are most interested in getting to know further.
In between the main mission, the group is assigned mini-tasks along the way. For instance, in the first episode, the men must gift a woman a bottle of perfume to express their interest, and the women must wear the perfume the next day if they return those same feelings. Clever additions to the show such as this make for amusing scenes; in this case, the men try to nonchalantly sniff the women, hoping to confirm their crush's mutual feelings before they are told directly.
Another important aspect of the show is the use of text threads called the “Sun LINE” and “Moon LINE,” which garner curiosity and stir up jealousy. The contestants can either ask a contestant on a date using the “Sun LINE,” a public thread that allows the entire group to know about an upcoming date that they can tag along on if they are also interested in one of the date's participants, or the “Moon LINE,” a private thread where someone can ask another on a date discreetly without anyone knowing.
While heartfelt connections are being made, it's easy to forget that someone is lying and has sworn to keep their identity as a wolf a secret from the other contestants. Will they be able to uncover the wolf, or will someone fall unluckily in love?
Nineteen to Twenty (2023)
The overwhelming excitement and fear one feels as a teenager entering their 20s is captured authentically in the Korean show Nineteen to Twenty. It follows eight 19-year-olds who begin attending “19 School,” where they will take classes that are meant to help them learn the necessary skills for adulthood. There’s only one rule they need to follow: They aren’t allowed to date.
As they grow closer, this may prove to be increasingly difficult, but fortunately for them, once the week is up on New Year’s Day, they will ring in the new year, officially become 20-year-olds and move into the “20 House,” where the “no dating rule” no longer applies. As friendships transform into something more and these young adults explore the world of adult dating for the first time, audiences are reminded of the joy and anguish that come with young love.
The Future Diary (2021)
When you sit down to watch a reality show, you know from the “get-go” that there will most definitely be plentiful amounts of scandalous drama for your viewing pleasure. That’s where The Future Diary is unique in its wholesomeness. In this touching Japanese show, two strangers must follow the “script” laid out by an already-written diary handed to them throughout every episode—each person has their own separate diary whose content must remain a secret to the other. However, they do both know from the beginning that this will be a love story destined to end, and they must be willing to say goodbye forever.
Despite the many challenges that the diary throws their way—including a date gone wrong scenario in which the couple’s mode of transportation is compromised in season 1 and then again in season 2 when the diary introduces viewers to a harsh love triangle plot with new participants—the cast succeeds in forming deep bonds. But can this fictional, contrived story lead to a real-life, lasting romance?
You’ll have to see for yourself, but what I can promise you is that you will have the rare opportunity to witness some of the most moving moments you’ll ever see in reality TV history in both seasons. Honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever stop thinking about the connections that were cultivated on this immensely sweet show.