If you have traveled past the US offerings on Netflix, you know that the streaming service offers many foreign-language shows that surpass their American counterparts. And they tend to have shorter seasons so you can go through a series in just a few days.
They’re also more popular than ever. At the Television Critics Association last year, Netflix celebrated shows(Opens in a new window) such as France’s Lupin and Spain’s Money Heist and revealed that 97% of its American audience had watched a non-English title in the past year. And that was before the great Squid Game craze.
There are dozens of series from around the globe on Netflix and even more reasons to recommend them. They offer different perspectives on cultures you might not have the chance to experience and help you brush up on languages you may have left behind in school. These shows and movies can also serve as travelogues.
Before you make your way through these shows, let me say that subtitles are not your enemy(Opens in a new window). If you don’t need visual assistance, I beg of you to watch foreign shows with subtitles and not dubbing. There’s so much to be conveyed in an actor’s voice, and you can lose the feeling of a scene, an episode, or an entire series if you turn on English dubbing. If you start watching and it’s in English, select the audio/subtitles icon and look for (Original) next to the audio language options. (Some of the trailers below are dubbed because those were the only ones available.)
1. The 7 Lives of Léa (France)
The title of The 7 Lives of Léa is literal since, over the course of a week, French teen Léa finds herself in seven different bodies after time-traveling back to the 90s. It seems she has to solve the mystery of how a boy her parents knew in their younger days died, plus the more common problems of her present-day life.
2. Abla Fahita: Drama Queen (Egypt)
Everybody loves puppets. Well, not this particular puppet perhaps. Abla Fahita started as a sharp-tongued way to criticize the Egyptian government in a literally softer package. Now she has a series where her concerns are more personal. Falsely accused of murder, Abla Fahita must clear her name and is ruthless as she does so. And, yes, Abla and her family are puppets existing in a human world but don’t tell them that.
3. An Astrological Guide for Broken Hearts (Italy)
Alice’s personal life is in ruins, but her professional one picks up when she creates an astrology-based dating show. (If this premise sounds familiar, that may be because Prime Video just introduced a dating show with that concept(Opens in a new window).) Both her worlds cosmically collide over the two seasons of this show, which is based on the book of the same name.
4. Borgen (Denmark)
You might think it’s hard to get wrapped up in a political drama that takes place in a country you’re not familiar with, but Borgen is a gripping fictional exploration of Danish politics. The first season starts with the election of the country’s first female prime minister.
5. Cable Girls (Spain)
Cable Girls puts the drama in period drama. The show is set in 1920s Madrid and follows the lives of four very different women who work as switchboard operators at a telecommunications company.
6. Call My Agent (France)
The first things you should know about Call My Agent are that this show about talent agents is so loved that there are two remakes of it (an Indian one and a British one). Although the series was going to end after season four, both a new season and a film(Opens in a new window) are in the works. There is camaraderie at the Paris film agency at the center of the show until the death of its fatherly head. The partners then struggle for control and to stay afloat, but their sibling-like squabbles are nothing compared to the tantrums of their famous clients. Juliette Binoche, Monica Bellucci, Isabelle Huppert, and many more famous European film stars play outrageous versions of themselves in each episode. When they’re not chewing the scenery, there is plenty of tumult in the lives of the agents to fill the screen.
7. Crash Landing on You (South Korea)
You might not expect to examine the North Korea/South Korea situation from so many angles in a K-drama, but Crash Landing on You soars above expectations. In it, a spoiled South Korean heiress accidentally hang glides into North Korea. She finds shelter in the home of an army captain and eventually the two fall in love, dramatically complicating both their lives. We won’t tell you if they stay together at the end, but the leads did get married in real life(Opens in a new window).
8. Dark (Germany)
Dark frequently gets compared with Stranger Things because both initially revolve around a child’s disappearance and the weird sci-fi things that follow it, most of which involve a power plant. Where they split is that Dark involves time travel and it’s a bit, well, darker.
9. Family Business (France)
In this French series, the family business of the title changes over from kosher butcher to weed café. The transition is not as smooth as any members of the Hazan family hoped, and soon some of them find themselves to be the French translation of Walter White.
10. Finding Ola (Egypt)
Ola’s life revolved around what she created with her husband. But when he leaves her, she has to rebuild everything, including her sense of self. She starts with making new friends and creating a business. So far there’s just one season but a second is on the way.
11. Generation 56K (Italy)
This Italian series is about a love story that stretches across two decades, which is why it’s told in two time periods: present-day and 1998. Matilda and Daniel first meet when the internet comes to a small Italian island and reunite in the app-fueled dating days of today. Generation 56K is perfect for anyone who loves romance and tech nostalgia.
12. Giri/Haji (Japan)
Giri/Haji translates to Duty/Shame and it’s those emotions that drive nearly everyone in this British/Japanese series. A very by-the-book detective from Japan goes to London to find his criminal brother before the Yakuza can kill him for murdering the nephew of a crime boss.
13. How to Sell Drugs Online (Fast) (Germany)
A high school nerd tries to win back his girlfriend by selling ecstasy to his classmates. Soon he is too successful and finds himself running a business called MyDrugs on the darknet that blows up into a full-time operation whose consequences get bigger and bigger. How to Sell Drugs Online (Fast) is based on a true story.
14. Lupin (France)
Assane Diop is a charismatic thief who has modeled himself on the fictional Arsène Lupin. His criminality has a purpose: To avenge the murder of his father and the crime he was framed for. The first two seasons of the show were incredibly popular and a third is in the works(Opens in a new window).
15. Masaba Masaba (India)
Fashion designer Masaba Gupta and her mother, the actress Neena Gupta, have turned their real lives into a fictionalized show. Masaba Masaba is wildly entertaining and filled with fantastic fashion.
16. Midnight at the Pera Palace (Turkey)
The Pera Palace Hotel has 130 years of history, so it’s bound to also have some secrets. One of those is that one of its rooms acts as a time portal. A journalist who is sent to cover the hotel’s anniversary wanders into it only to find herself at a pivotal moment in Turkey’s history that somehow hinges on her.
17. Money Heist (Spain)
Money Heist started off as a slept-on Spanish show and quickly became a worldwide phenomenon. It grabs your attention immediately when eight people who use city names and Salvador Dalí masks to hide their identities pull off a robbery of The Royal Mint of Spain. There’s no room here to describe the twists that it takes over three seasons and you wouldn’t want them revealed anyway.
18. The Returned (France)
“Zombies but French” is the fastest way to sum up The Returned, but that’s an oversimplification. The Returned has the stillness and charged atmosphere of Twin Peaks mixed with the existential mystery of The Leftovers. One by one, the dead resume their lives in an isolated alpine town and they’re just as confused as everyone else as to why. The drama is packed into two tightly written and tense seasons.
19. Rita (Denmark)
This Danish comedy is about a devoted high school teacher and mother who doesn’t exactly practice what she preaches. It’s a heartwarming switch from the darker Danish shows that are popular around the world.
20. The Hookup Plan (France)
French is supposed to be the language of love, but Parisienne Elsa gets tongue-tied when she’s around men. After a failed love affair, Elsa’s friend sets her up with an escort, though she believes he’s just a nice guy who returned her lost phone for a (much too perfect) meet-cute. The lives of her friends aren’t any more free from rom-com complications. The Hookup Plan follows them all through three seasons. If you’re going to commit to all of them, search for and watch The Lockdown Plan(Opens in a new window) between seasons two and three. It’s a 49-minute episode of how the friends cope during COVID-19 quarantine.
21. The House of Flowers (Mexico)
The House of Flowers is a heady bouquet of telenovela-level drama and artful humor. The titular House of Flowers is both the family flower-shop business and the drag cabaret that the patriarch has been secretly running with his mistress. The show has three soapy seasons, one special (called The House of Flowers Presents: The Funeral, to be watched between seasons two and three), and a movie (The House of Flowers: The Movie(Opens in a new window) which follows the last season).
Recommended by Our Editors
22. The Neighbor (Spain)
The Neighbor isn’t your usual superhero show. A very ordinary guy receives superpowers after an alien visit. He’s as hapless as ever and devotes much of his energy to winning back his ex-girlfriend. The only thing he really gets the hang of is acquiring a comic sidekick.
23. Nobody’s Looking (Brazil)
A newly created angel is given some strict rules for his job but soon realizes he can break all of them with impunity. So he goes about trying to save several humans from themselves.
24. Sacred Games (India)
Based on the Vikram Chandra novel of the same name, this series is a neo-noir thriller about a corrupt police department in Mumbai. An officer receives a call from a gang boss who’s been missing for well over a decade that directs him to save the city in 25 days.
25. Servant of the People (Ukraine)
There is no getting over the weirdness of watching Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy play a history teacher who somehow becomes president of Ukraine in Servant of the People. But before he was leading, he was acting in this series that stands on its own without the attention it has drawn lately.
26. Shtisel (Israel)
Shtisel takes place within the very close Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community in Jerusalem. Even closer are the four generations of the Shtisel family. The show lets you into all of their lives, which are filled with both drama and joy.
27. Snabba Cash (Sweden)
Leya is having trouble getting venture capital to fund her AI company and so she accepts cash from her drug-dealing brother-in-law. The source of her funds becomes even more problematic when he joins her company. Snabba Cash’s tension builds through all six episodes.
28. Squid Game (South Korea)
If you haven’t yet been swept up in Squid Game, it may be because you’re trying to avoid the soul-crushingness of its plot. Desperate people assemble to play children’s games with fatal consequences for the promise of a large jackpot.
29. Takki (Saudi Arabia)
Takki started as a popular web series in Saudi Arabia and because of its popularity, Netflix bought it and has produced three seasons. The show is about a filmmaker who tries to find a way to exist with his art in a country without a film industry. Netflix did not release an English subtitled trailer on YouTube but there is one on its site.
30. Unorthodox (Germany)
A Hasidic woman living in Brooklyn is stifled by the life she’s forced to live, so she finds a way to flee to Berlin. While she finds a freer life and pursues her love of music, the people she left behind set out to bring her back.
31. Valeria (Spain)
Valeria can’t make her writing or her marriage work, but at least she has the support of her friends. The show is based on a book series by Elísabet Benavent, who also wrote the books that served as the basis for the Netflix film Sounds Like Love(Opens in a new window).
32. A Very Secret Service (France)
This series takes place in 1960, with André Merlaux joining the institution of the title. Despite being set during the Cold War, the show is far more comedy than drama.
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