We know about groups like the Peaky Blinders in the United Kingdom because of shows like, well, Netflix’s Peaky Blinders. But how much do we know about criminal organizations in Asia?
In case you’re curious, we’ve put together a list of TV shows about the Yakuza – an organized crime syndicate originating in Japan, and probably one of the most well-known organizations in Asia.
You’ll get a wide range of shows on this list from English to Japanese, live-action to anime, and drama to crime thrillers – so let’s get started!
Tokyo Vice, HBO Max/Wowow/Lionsgate+ (2022 – present)
Jake Adelstein’s 2009 memoir Tokyo Vice was adapted into the crime drama series of the same name, which is currently awaiting the premiere of its second season!
Tokyo Vice stars Ansel Elgort as Adelstein, who relocates to Tokyo to continue his career as a journalist for a big newspaper.
Though he starts at the bottom of the ladder, he begins to work closely with the local police department, particularly under the watchful supervision of Detective Hiroto Katagiri, and finds himself delving deeper and deeper into the seedy underworld of Japanese crime.
Giri/Haji, BBC Two/Netflix (2019)
The title of this British crime drama translates to Duty/Shame. It is set in both Tokyo and London, and features dialogues in both languages as well.
Giri/Haji follows Kenzo Mori, a detective from Tokyo, as he embarks on a search for his missing (and presumed dead) brother, Yuto, in London.
He believes Yuto fled after being accused of murdering the nephew of a prominent member of the Yakuza, which sets off the possibility of a gang war.
As he navigates London to get to the truth, Kenzo crosses paths with local law enforcement and the city’s criminal world.
Ikebukuro West Gate Park, Tokyo Broadcasting System (2000)/AT-X (2020)
Ikebukuro West Gate Park was originally a series of novels that was first released in 1998 and currently has 15 volumes to date!
Since then, it has been adapted for TV twice: first in 2000 into a live-action series which became so popular that a manga comic series was launched the year after!
20 years after the original series, an anime came out.
Ikebukuro West Gate Park revolves around Makoto Majima, a 20-year-old who often finds himself in dangerous situations when people in need often approach him for help, much to the chagrin of the cops.
Midnight Diner, MBS/Netflix (2009 – 2019)
Anthology series Midnight Diner is based on Yarō Abe’s manga of the same name and centers on the eponymous midnight diner and its chef, who is only known as “Master”.
The diner is open only late at night and doesn’t have a set menu, offering instead any dish the customer wants as long as Master has the ingredients on hand!
He has a wide range of customers from sex workers to businessmen – and one regular customer is even a member of the yakuza, who always asks for dishes that remind him of his childhood.
The Naked Director, Netflix (2019 – 2021)
Interestingly, the first semi-autobiographical on our list comes from Japan and centers on a key figure from an industry that’s slowly making its way out of the “taboo”: the adult entertainment business.
The Naked Director tells the story of Toru Muranishi, an adult video director, based on Nobuhiro Motohashi’s non-fiction novel Zenra Kantoku Muranishi Tōru Den.
The two-season series narrates the life of Muranishi as he attempts to enact change in Japan’s porn industry, but finds himself and his work embroiled with the yakuza along the way.
Yakuza Lover, MBS TV (2022)
Yakuza Lover is a nine-episode romance live-action series based on the 12-volume manga of the same name, though it is also recognized under various other titles: Love and Bullets, and Dangerous Lover.
In the series, the beautiful college student Yuri is attacked by drug dealers at a party and saved by Toshiomi Oya.
The attraction between them is instantaneous, though he ends up being the young boss of a yakuza syndicate.
When they cross paths a second time, Yuri is drawn to him even further and a dangerous love affair begins.
The Yakuza Girl, TBS (2006)
The Yakuza Girl is another Japanese series based on a novel of the same name, written by Jiro Akagawa and published way back in 1978.
With just seven episodes, the series was a big hit and was also known by the movie that was also adapted from the novel: Sailor Suit and Machine Gun.
An appropriate title, given that the protagonist named Izumi Hoshi wears a sailor suit and is recognized by the machine gun she wields!
Izumi began as an ordinary, girl-next-door high school student but circumstances not only thrust her into the yakuza world but made her a boss!
Smoking, Netflix (2018)
If you’re seeking an underrated show, Netflix’s Japanese drama series Smoking might just be the one you need – and it’s got a pretty high rating, too!
The show centers on a group of homeless Japanese men who act as vigilantes as they carry out contracted assassinations.
Once they’ve located and killed their targets, they deliver the targets’ tattooed skin as proof that they held up their end of the bargain.
Their targets include a former yakuza member hiding out in the mountains, a man who stole from the crime syndicate, and even a former yakuza client.
Ouroboros, TBS (2015)
For those unfamiliar with mythology, Ouroboros is a symbol of a snake eating its own tail and is symbolic of the cycle of life, death, and renewal.
The Japanese series Ouroboros encapsulates this symbolism in the protagonists’ quest for the truth about a death in the past that brings about a new life for them both.
The ten-episode crime drama is based on Kanzaki Yuuya’s manga of the same name and followed Ikuo Ryuuzaki, a detective, and Tatsuya Danno, a yakuza head, as they sought the truth about the murder of a shared person from their past at the orphanage they grew up in.
Tiger & Dragon, TBS (2005)
Contrary to the serious crime and drama shows that have come before it on this list, Tiger & Dragon is a welcome palate cleanser thanks to the healthy doses of comedy sprinkled throughout.
The series follows Toraji, a stereotypical tough guy from the yakuza, but all he wants is to become a rakugo storyteller (a type of comedic storytelling).
Each episode of the series highlights a different story of Toraji and the eccentric people he comes across, and is based on a classic rakugo storyline.
Care Worker Gang, KTV/Fuji TV (2009)
Care Worker Gang is also known as Ninkyo Helper, and puts the yakuza under a slightly different light than we’ve seen so far.
The drama-comedy series follows Hikoichi Tsubasa, a mid-level yakuza boss who is known to use any means necessary to reclaim the money he makes from his loan shark business.
When his boss dies, however, Hikoichi is primed to take on a higher-level role by the new boss.
The method? To have him work at an elderly care facility to learn the skills of caring for others as well.
Ryuji the Yakuza (2008)
Ryuji the Yakuza is a Japanese miniseries with just a few episodes totaling in just over two hours of viewing time, so it’s a great series for a binge-watch session!
The yakuza is more known by the public to be mysterious, brutal, and unforgiving, but that’s not the end-all and be-all of the organization.
Ryuji Ogami, for example, is known to be fair and just when delivering justice, even when that means balancing fairness and brutality against one of his own.
Kei x Yaku: Dangerous Partners (2022)
Based on the manga by Kaoruhara Yoshie entitled Kei x Yaku: Abunai Aibou, the 10-episode series Kei x Yaku: Dangerous Partners dives into the complicated relationship between a police investigator and a yakuza boss.
Kinoshita Ichiro from the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department is assigned to get close to Hanabusa Shiro, the young head of a yakuza gang.
In the process, Kinoshita uncovers a damning secret that leads to a fake lover’s contract that may also be linked to a cold case of a disappearance from three years ago.
Yakuza: Black Panther (Kurohyō: Ryū ga Gotoku Shinshō), TBS (2010)
Here we have the first TV series on the list that’s adapted from a video game; the series adaptation titled Yakuza: Black Panther premiered just a few months after the game in late 2010!
Where the game features one-on-one battles different from its parent franchise, the series is similar: Tatsuya Ukyo, the protagonist, finds himself at odds with the yakuza when he is believed to have killed one of their heads.
As retribution, he is forced to fight in a martial arts gambling ring.
Nihon Yakuza Kososhi (2014)
Nihon Yakuza Kososhi may also be known by its longer subtitle, Kyodai Soshiki Bunretsu.
The crime drama is a short, three-episode Japanese miniseries that aired in 2014, and totals just around 80 minutes of view time!
Fans of the yakuza genre may recognize legendary yakuza actors Hakuryu and Hitoshi Ozawa as they star in Nihon Yakuza Kososhi, which centers on the “money, power, and brutality” that infiltrates the turf wars in the world of organized crime.
The Yakuza’s Guide to Babysitting, Tokyo MX (2022)
Once again adapted from a manga is The Yakuza’s Guide to Babysitting, which is an anime series that ran over 12 episodes.
The Sakuragi family is known in the yakuza world, and this notoriety extended to the ‘Sakuragi’s Demon”: a cold-blooded contract killer named Kirishima Tooru.
Concerned by Kirishima’s “lack of restraint”, the head of the family instead appoints him as the caretaker of his 7-year-old daughter, the honest but cold Yaeka, and the two slowly warm up to each other.
Hinamatsuri, AT-X/Tokyo MX (2018)
In Hinamatsuri, the life of a young and intelligent yakuza member is turned on its head when a mysterious girl with psychokinetic powers inexplicably turns up at his apartment and worms her way into his everyday life.
The series is adapted from the manga of the same name, which currently has 19 volumes!
Yoshifumi Nitta is the yakuza member in question, and Hina literally drops in on his head through a portal in his home.
Though reluctant at first, their relationship grows and they come to regard each other as family.
Back Street Girls: Gokudols, BS11/Tokyo MX (2018)
The original manga Back Street Girls was adapted into a 10-episode anime series in 2018 and then into a live-action film in 2019, which really speaks to its popularity!
After a major failure that deeply angered yakuza boss Inugane, yakuza members Kentaro, Ryo, and Kazuhiko are given an option: commit seppuku or undergo sex reassignment surgery and debut as an idol girl group.
It’s a tough journey with ups and downs, but the three men – now women – keep their yakuza roots strong.
A Foreign Love Affair, Prime Time (2007 – 2008)
Having been published in 2004 and aired in 2007, one might argue that A Foreign Love Affair was a little ahead of the times in terms of content and what would be considered taboo in local society!
It tells the story of Ranmaru Omi, the son of a yakuza mob boss, who has been forced to enter into an arranged marriage with the daughter of another yakuza member.
While on the honeymoon, an argument leads to Ranmaru drowning his sorrows at a bar.
There, he meets a mysterious Italian man with whom he enters into a sexual and romantic relationship.
Stop!! Hibari-kun!, Fuji TV (1983 – 1984)
The four volumes of the original Stop!! Hibari-kun! manga was adapted into a 35-episode anime back in the early 80s.
The series follows Kosaku Sakamoto, a teenage high-schooler who is sent to live with yakuza boss Ibari Ozora and his four children after the death of his mother.
Immediately, Kosaku develops an attraction for Hibari, who looks and acts like a girl but Kosaku soon discovers is actually assigned male at birth, and he joins in on the family’s efforts to keep their secret.
The Way of the Househusband, Nippon TV (2020)/Netflix (2021 – present)
The manga series The Way of the Househusband by Kousuke Oono was recently adapted into both a live-action action series, which aired for a season and an anime series that currently has 15 episodes.
The title very much speaks for itself, as it tells the story of former yakuza boss Tatsu, who spent his criminal days known as “The Immortal Dragon” after he retires from the business to become a househusband and support his careerwoman wife.
The mundane aspects of housework often conflict with his intimidating personality, which often comes out at home and when running into former yakuza associates.
Meiji Gekken: 1874 (2020)
Also known as Meiji Gekken: Sword & Gun, the anime series Meiji Gekken: 1874 takes viewers back to that eponymous year, during the country’s Meiji-era.
There, we meet a ragtag group of individuals who are seeking to fit in and escape their past.
It’s an interesting combination of characters, that’s for sure!
Black Lagoon, Tokyo MX (2006)
The last of the manga-based anime series on the list is Black Lagoon, a 12-episode show adapted from Rei Hiroe’s manga series of the same name.
The protagonist, ‘Rock’ Okajima is your typical white-collar, loyal corporate employee until one day, he is kidnapped by a group of pirate mercenaries.
He ends up joining their crew as they smuggle goods around Southeast Asia, serving as their negotiator because of his sunny and professional attitude.
Their business brings them into contact with criminal organizations around the region, including the yakuza.
The Man in the High Castle, Amazon Prime Video (2015 – 2019)
Loosely based on the novel of the same name, The Man in the High Castle introduces a dystopian alternative history where the Axis Powers of World War II (primarily Germany and Japan) came out victorious and now rule the rest of the world.
Set in a divided United States ruled by Nazi officials on one hand and the yakuza on the other, the main characters’ lives intertwine when they discover film reels of the history we know, with the Axis Powers losing.
Deadly Class, Syfy (2019)
In the action-adventure series Deadly Class, viewers are thrown into an alternate world that could, well, actually very much be a reality.
Enter Marcus Lopez Arguello, a homeless kid who finds himself at the private school as a pledge of a yakuza member, and fights to keep his moral code intact.
Hawaii Five-0, CBS (2010 – 2020)
Hawaii Five-0 is a police procedural series that aired over 10 seasons in this recent reboot, with the original 1968 series airing 12 seasons as well!
The series follows a specialized task force from the Hawaii Department of Public Safety, where the team is headed by a Navy SEAL lieutenant commander and consists of the best law enforcement officials.
They are tasked with handling all major crimes in Hawaii by any and all means necessary, and this often puts them in contact with dealings of the local yakuza gang.