With the recent release of Netflix's Spanish melodrama Elite and Germany's Deutschland 86, the pulpy follow-up to 2015's Deutschland 83, television is making a very strong case for the use of subtitles lately. Yes, that's right, we're advocating for reading your television shows. (Unless, of course, you speak Spanish, German, Italian or any of the other languages spoken in the shows found below, in which case, you can just relax and enjoy!)
Between Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and super cool networks like SundanceTV, it's never been easier to find quality international programming. So when you're sitting around wondering what to watch this weekend, why not choose one of these non-English imports that prove there's always something better to watch than another rerun of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. (No disrespect to Guy Fieri, mayor of Flavortown.)
Country of Origin: Germany/U.S. | Where to Watch: Hulu
Before you dive into the excellent Deutschland 86, you really must watch its predecessor, the German-American co-production Deutschland 83. A thrilling series set in 1983 (obviously), Deutschland 83 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, but 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, which is currently airing on SundanceTV.
Country of Origin: Finland | Where to Watch: Netflix
No list of must-see international series would be complete without an entry from Scandinavia. If you like moody crime dramas, you should check out Bordertown — known as Sorjonen in Finland. The series follows Kari Sorjonen (Ville Virtanen), a skilled detective with a photographic memory and a frightening understanding of the killers he chases. After his wife survives brain cancer, he leaves his job at the National Bureau of Investigation to relocate with his family to an idyllic town near the Russian border for a more peaceful life. Since this is a police drama that falls squarely within the popular Nordic noir genre, it should go without saying that Sorjonen doesn't find a quiet life leading the town's Serious Crime Unit.
Country of Origin: Germany | Where to Watch: Netflix
Set in Germany in 1929, Babylon Berlin is a stunning, cinematic series, and since it's said to be the most expensive series produced in Germany, it damn well better be! The intoxicating crime drama is set during the Weimar Republic and its main narrative follows a police detective (Volker Bruch) and war veteran suffering from PTSD and survivor's guilt who slowly uncovers the sinister secrets of Berlin's seedy underworld alongside an intuitive flapper (Liv Lisa Fries) who longs to be the first female homicide detective. All the while, the series highlights how fragile democracy was in the years prior to the rise of the Nazis. If you think period dramas aren't your style, Babylon Berlin and its complex narrative and impressive visuals will change your mind.
Country of Origin: Spain | Where to Watch: Netflix
Set at an elite prep school in Spain that definitely looks like a sterile office complex, Elite follows several teens designed just to annoy viewers. Running through the series is an investigation into the murder of one of the girls at the center of the show (please stop making shows about dead teen girls!), but the young adult series largely takes place in the past and attempts to depict the struggles between those who have money and those who do not after three students from a public school that collapsed are awarded scholarships to the fancy, expensive prep school. Nearly every single character is frustrating in their own unique way, and that should probably turn us off, but for some reason, we can't look away from this hormone-fueled insanity.
Country of Origin: Germany | Where to Watch: Netflix
If you love sci-fi, you should immerse yourself in the world of Dark, Netflix's first German-language original. The series is an engrossing science-fiction 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. Often confusing but never impossible to follow, 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. It's great.
Country of Origin: Italy | Where to Watch: Netflix
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 made, 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.
Country of Origin: Japan | Where to Watch: Netflix
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.
Country of Origin: Brazil | Where to Watch: Netflix
The first Portuguese-language Netflix Original, 3% is a Hunger Games-like dystopian sci-fi series that we recommend not because it's groundbreaking television, but because it's a fun series with enough twists and turns that you can easily binge it over the weekend and not feel guilty about your decision come Monday morning. Set in the near future where most of the population lives in squalor, the series follows 20-year-old individuals who are given the opportunity to participate in a series of challenges — of which only 3 percent will pass, hence the title of the show — for a chance to enjoy life on the Offshore, a place where there are enough resources for Earth's best and brightest.
Country of Origin: Iceland | Where to Watch: Amazon
If you still haven't gotten your fill of crime dramas from Scandinavia or the complicated cops who lead them, you have to check out Trapped, an Icelandic drama following a local cop (Olafur Darri Olafsson) whose work naturally takes its toll on his family. The series opens with the discovery of a headless corpse in the local port, which seems like standard cop drama fare, but what sets the show apart is how it then skillfully uses an avalanche — yes, a freaking avalanche! — to up the dramatic stakes and leave the remote town at the center of the series isolated and vulnerable. You might want to dig out the big blankets for this one.
Country of Origin: Japan | Where to Watch: Netflix
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, but the Netflix series premiered earlier this year and 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.
Country of Origin: India | Where to Watch: Netflix
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.
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.
Country of Origin: France | Where to Watch: Netflix
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 on Sundance in the U.S. 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 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.