The Best International Shows That Make Reading Subtitles Worth It

We’ve been advocating for you to read your television shows since long before Parasite‘s Bong Joon Ho made a convincing case for taking an interest in international film. And with the recent release of the third seasons of both Babylon Berlin and Elite on Netflix, there’s no reason to put it off any longer.

In fact, between Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, it’s never been easier to find quality international programming when you want it. So when you’re sitting around wondering what to watch while you’re practicing social distancing as a result of COVID-19, why not choose one of the following non-English imports that prove there’s always something better to watch than another rerun of Fixer Upper.

Editor’s Note: If you’re looking for lesser known foreign titles on Netflix, we have a list for that too!

Babylon Berlin

Country of Origin: Germany | Where to Watch: Netflix

<p><em>Babylon Berlin</em> </p>

Babylon Berlin

Set in 1929, during the Golden Years of the Weimar Republic, Babylon Berlin is a hypnotizing, multi-layered series that mixes crime, sex, drugs, politics, and entertainment into an intoxicating cocktail that calls to mind the hard-boiled noir of Raymond Chandler. The series, based on the novels of Volker Kutscher, follows Gereon Rath (Volker Bruch), a young detective and veteran suffering from both PTSD and a big helping of survivor’s guilt. Initially part of Berlin’s vice squad, he slowly uncovers the sinister secrets of Berlin’s seedy underworld with the help of an unlikely partner, Charlotte Ritter (Liv Lisa Fries), a clever and resourceful flapper from the slums who dreams of becoming the first female homicide detective. Across three exhilarating seasons, Babylon Berlin highlights how fragile democracy was on the eve of the Nazis’ rise to power as it weaves a captivating story about a world populated by dangerous gangsters, corrupt policemen, powerful businessmen, and numerous fighting political factions. If you think period dramas aren’t your style, think again. [Check out our recommendations for more crime dramas and historical dramas]


Country of Origin: South Korea | Watch it on: Netflix

<p>Park Byeong-eun, Ju Ji-hoon, <em>Kingdom</em> </p>

Park Byeong-eun, Ju Ji-hoon, Kingdom

We don’t really need any new zombie shows, but if we’re going to watch them, they’d better have some sort of twist. Netflix’s Kingdom, the first South Korean original Netflix series, was one of 2019’s brightest surprises for exactly that reason. Kingdom features the undead relentlessly tearing people apart, sure, but it sets all the action during Korea’s Joseon period in the late 16th Century. That means no headshots from shotguns, but who needs that when you have sharp blades slicing heads clean off? A fine mix of historical fiction and supernatural horror, Kingdom has brought the zombie drama back from the dead. And there’s absolutely zero talk about doing what it takes to survive while also retaining humanity like a certain other zombie show out there. – Tim Surette [Check out our recommendations for horror shows on Netflix]


Country of Origin: Spain | Where to Watch: Netflix

<p><em>Elite</em> </p>


Set at an elite prep school that looks like a sterile office complex, this soapy teen drama from Spain follows the lives of multiple students, both the wealthy and working class who attend on scholarship, and effectively utilizes flash-forwards to reveal how the teens’ ambitions, desires, and jealousies first lead to a murder of one of their own and later the disappearance of another classmate. Outside of the show’s central mysteries, Elite also explores the familiar issues found in most teen dramas, like struggling with being gay in a conservative household, how far one might go to fit in, and the pitfalls of social media. The teens are sometimes frustrating, but it is impossible to look away from the hormone-fueled insanity. [Check out our recommendations for more teen shows on Netflix]


Country of Origin: Germany | Where to Watch: Netflix

<p><em>Dark</em> </p>


Dark is, without a doubt, the best sci-fi show you’re not watching. The German Netflix Original, which has already released two of its three seasons, is an engrossing thriller about time travel that plays out through a narrative that loops in on itself to tell interconnected stories about four families in a small German town hiding a pretty major secret. Confusing but not impossible to follow (especially because you can check out our helpful timeline and family tree once you’ve watched!), Dark begins when a young boy goes missing, but the drama series is about so much more than that, and if you stick around, you’ll find a series that is full of suspense and intrigue and offers viewers a darker time-travel tale than you’re probably used to. [Check out our recommendations for more great sci-fi shows]

Black Spot

Country of Origin: France | Where to Watch: Netflix

<p><em>Black Spot</em> </p>

Black Spot

Known in France as Zone Blanche, which refers to the fact the isolated small town at the center of the series is a cellular dead zone, the suspenseful and atmospheric thriller Black Spot mixes elements of the mythological with the tension of the best crime dramas to create an eerie but highly bingeable series. The show kicks off when a prosecutor arrives to investigate why the town has such a high murder rate. The forest that surrounds said town is full of dark secrets, and as the series progresses and the head of the local police digs into her own past and area’s past, a clear-ish picture begins to take shape, and what is revealed is likely crazier than anything you could possibly dream up yourself. [Check out our recommendations of more crime dramas]

Deutschland 83

Country of Origin: Germany/U.S. | Where to Watch: Hulu

<p>Jonas Nay, <em>Deutschland 83</em> </p>

Jonas Nay, Deutschland 83

A German-American co-production, Deutschland 83 is a thrilling series set in 1983 that follows Martin (Jonas Nay), a border guard for East Germany who is recruited by his aunt (Maria Schrader) and sent to West Germany to be a spy for the East German foreign intelligence agency. It’s not The Americans, but this Cold War-era drama offers a different kind of spy series, one that is still full of heart-pumping thrills that will leave you breathless. Once you’ve seen it, settle in for the sequel, Deutschland 86. [Check out our recommendations for more historical or period dramas]


Country of Origin: Netherlands | Watch it on: Netflix

<p><em>Ares</em> </p>


Brace yourself before starting Ares because this Dutch series doesn’t waste any time before getting into the gore. The story of a biracial college student, Rosa (Jade Olieberg), who joins a clandestine (and mostly white) student society with seriously twisted secrets, Ares is suspenseful, intriguing, and at times outright grotesque. As the series unfolds and Rosa becomes more ingrained in the titular secret organization, the society is plagued by a series of suicides tied to the mysterious creature that lives beneath Ares’ headquarters. While any show that hinges so much on answering a complex web of mysteries risks underwhelming the viewer, the reveals are well worth waiting for in the spine-chilling season finale — especially when you consider Ares is only eight, 30-minute episodes. – Sadie Gennis [Check out our recommendations for more horror shows on Netflix]


Country of Origin: Italy | Where to Watch: Netflix

<p>Marco D'Amore, <em>Gommorah</em> </p>

Marco D’Amore, Gommorah

Premiering overseas in 2014 and making its U.S. debut in 2016, Italy’s brutal crime drama Gomorrah has been compared to American shows like The Wire or The Sopranos. It’s easy to see why such comparisons have been given, but Gomorrah is an exceptionally well-made series — its cinematography is some of the best you’ll see — that is too good to live in the shadows of its American brethren. Based on journalist Roberto Saviano’s nonfiction book of the same name, Gomorrah carefully depicts the far-reaching corruption of a new — but fictional — Neapolitan crime syndicate as told through its leader’s right-hand man. It’s heavy and bleak, but oh so worth it. [Check out our recommendations for more crime dramas]

Terrace House

Country of Origin: Japan | Where to Watch: Netflix

<p><em>Terrace House: Opening New Doors</em> </p>

Terrace House: Opening New Doors

American reality shows are all about screaming matches and watching tragic people fail miserably at everything they attempt. While this can be fun, it’s also the opposite of calming. Japan’s Terrace House, on the other hand, is basically the reality TV equivalent of curling up in a cozy chair under your favorite blanket and sipping a warm cup of chamomile tea while listening to the lapping waves of the ocean. Although the premise sounds a lot like Real World — three women and three men move in together while cameras follow their every move — Terrace House is not about scandalous blow-ups or salacious blow jobs. It’s about a group of very polite people learning how to live together, sometimes falling for each other, and generally getting along while doing everyday things. The closest the show gets to the harsh edge of American reality shows is when it cuts to the panel of commentators who comment on the latest events, kindly roasting the contestants and rooting for their favorites. [Check out our recommendations for reality competition shows on Netflix]


Country of Origin: Iceland | Where to Watch: Amazon Prime

<p><em>Trapped</em> </p>


If you’re looking for a Nordic crime drama, check out Iceland’s Trapped, which follows Andri (Olafur Darri Olafsson), a local cop whose job has taken its toll on his family. During the show’s first season, Andri investigates a case involving a headless corpse that has turned up in the local port, while Season 2 tackles a far-right nationalist group, a power plant’s expansion, and a family with so many secrets the twists and turns never seem to stop coming. But what sets the show apart from the rest of the crime dramas out of Iceland and Scandinavia, is how it skillfully uses its location to its advantage. In Season 1, an avalanche ups the dramatic stakes and leaves the remote town and its citizens vulnerable while Andri and his coworkers attempt to find a murderer, while the second season, which is slightly less claustrophobic thanks to a change in seasons, brings earthquakes into the mix. In both cases, the drama never stops and no one is safe. There are a lot of excellent dramas to come out of the region, but Trapped is definitely one of the best. [Check out our recommendations for more murder mysteries and crime dramas]


Country of Origin: Japan | Where to Watch: Netflix

<p><em>Aggretsuko</em> </p>


If you’ve never ventured too far beyond your basic Netflix recommendations, you probably don’t know the streaming giant has a lot of off-the-wall stuff, including Aggretsuko, a Japanese anime featuring a red panda named Retsuko who works in accounting at a trading company by day and screams death metal at karaoke at night. The character was first created in 2016 and appeared in a series of animated shorts that aired between 2016 and March 2018, and the Netflix series, which debuted in 2018, quickly won over a number of fans. Plus, episodes run approximately 15 minutes in length, and that is basically music to our tired, tired ears. [Check out our recommendations for adult animated comedies on Netflix]


Country of Origin: India | Where to Watch: Netflix

<p>Mahesh Balraj, Manav Kaul; <em>Ghoul</em> </p>

Mahesh Balraj, Manav Kaul; Ghoul

Just three episodes long, and with each episode less than 50 minutes in length, the Netflix miniseries Ghoul is what the future of TV should strive to be: brief, not bloated, but still completely intoxicating. Ghoul is set in a dystopian future where people are oppressed under a militant government. When a resistance leader is brought into a detention center, spooky things start happening. It isn’t really a spoiler to say the dude is a ghoul — it’s right there in the title! — but we’ve gone and done it and we hope you’ll watch it anyway. [Check out out recommendations for horror shows on Netflix]


Country of Origin: Sweden | Where to Watch: Hulu (Seasons 1, 3), Amazon Prime (Season 2)

<p><em>Wallander</em> </p>


Based on the bestselling crime novels by Henning Mankell, Wallander — the Swedish version, not the inferior British version starring Kenneth Branagh — has real staying power. The series, which premiered in 2005 and stars Krister Henriksson as the titular detective, remains a compelling watch and one of the best examples of international crime drama to date. So if by some weird chance you haven’t watched the show’s three seasons, which each consist of feature-length episodes, now would be a good time to rectify that mistake. [Check out our recommendations for more murder mysteries and crime dramas]

The Returned

Country of Origin: France | Where to Watch: Netflix

<p>Clotilde Hesme, Brune Martin, and Pierre Perrier, <em>The Returned</em> </p>

Clotilde Hesme, Brune Martin, and Pierre Perrier, The Returned

Based on a 2004 film, The Returned — or Les Revenants, as it is known in its native France — first debuted all the way back in 2012, but it’s still worth watching if you haven’t seen it yet, and worth re-watching if you have. A haunting and beautiful existential drama that’s centered on the dead returning to Earth without explanation in a remote lake town, the series first premiered in the U.S. on Sundance in 2013. The series was so good that the U.S. tried to remake it — you know you’ve made it when Americans try to adapt your show and ruin it — and a second season of the original was eventually ordered in France. Even though the sophomore outing never lived up to the powerful first season, it didn’t take anything away from it either. [Check out out recommendations for horror shows on Netflix]

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