10 Best Foreign-language Miniseries of All Time

Updated January 19, 2023 • Staff

Miniseries are the best of both worlds. Think about it: they're cinematic and concise, like a slightly overlong film, but they're also episodic, filled with cliffhangers and special episodes, like a good old TV show. They're the best thing to put on if you want to binge something you can finish over the weekend (or evening, even!) and if you choose right, you can be sure it won't be time wasted. 

There are already many lists that compile the best mini-series of all time, so here we thought of narrowing the selection to just the foreign-language titles. If the success of shows like Squid Game and Money Heist prove anything, it's that there is a wealth of hidden gems in the non-English world of television. So below, we rounded up the very best you can find in a convenient four-to-eight-episode format, all of which are available to stream right now on various platforms.

 

10.

Clark

With the current deluge of biopics streaming, it’s easy to overlook Clark, Netflix’s fictionalized take on Clark Olofssonm, from whom the term “Stockholm Syndrome” was coined. Bill Skarsgård, Hollywood’s favorite onscreen creep, returns to his native Sweden and plays the titular criminal with such feverish passion that it’s impossible to take your eyes off the screen.

The delirious editing (bordering on excess or camp, depending on your taste) also makes it quite the standout among all the sober real-life adaptations. Clark will surely be hit-or-miss for most people, but its riskiness alone is enough reason to watch. 

Our staff rating: 7/10
Genre: Action, Comedy, Crime, Drama
Actor: Adam Lundgren, Bill Skarsgård, Hanna Björn, Isabelle Grill, Malin Levanon, Sandra Ilar, Sofie Hoflack, Vilhelm Blomgren
Rating: TV-MA
9.

Belascoarán, PI

Mexico City, 1970. Héctor Belascoarán leaves his stable office job and beautiful (but unhappy) marriage to pursue the adrenaline-filled life of a private detective. The police are useless, Héctor points out, not to mention corrupt and often in on the crime, so it's up to him to tackle the many unsolved cases that haunt the city he loves.

Because he thinks himself a hero, Héctor narrates each episode in that nostalgic noir way, but the catch is that he is, in fact, no slick savior. Hector is still a rookie, prone to blunders and miscalculations, but his perseverance saves the day. In this way Belascoarán, PI is both a tribute and a sendup of detective films of yore; it references the genre in style and substance, but it isn't above joking about it either. It's proof that you can challenge viewers without sacrificing the laughs, and vice versa. 

Our staff rating: 7.2/10
Genre: Crime, Drama
Actor: Andrés Parra, Irene Azuela, Luis Gerardo Méndez, Paulina Gaitan
Director: Ernesto Contreras, Hiromi Kamata
Rating: TV-MA
8.

Kleo

Revenge stories are always fun, especially if you have someone like Jella Haase (who plays the titular spy Kleo) to helm them. Haase switches from scorned to spritely with such ease, making the otherwise formulaic plot of the show a breeze to watch. The disguises, the getaways, the killings, and the chase are all expected but nonetheless enjoyable in this show. 

If you’re looking for the next Killing Eve, this just might be it. Aside from the leads’ cheerfully deadly ways, the two shows also share the similarity of having enemies obsessing with each other, resulting in a cat-and-mouse chase that’s hard to peel your eyes off from. 

Our staff rating: 7.5/10
Genre: Action & Adventure, Comedy, Drama, History, Mystery, War & Politics
Actor: Dimitrij Schaad, Jella Haase, Julius Feldmeier, Jürgen Heinrich, Steffi Kuhnert, Thandi Sebe, Vincent Redetzki, Vladimir Burlakov, Yun Huang
Rating: TV-MA
7.

Love & Anarchy

Love & Anarchy is a raunchy and poignant series that mainly follows Sofie (Ida Engvoll ), a middle-aged consultant whose steady, predictable life is forever changed when she befriends the office temp, Max (Björn Mosten). 

Sofie and Max take turns daring each other to do unconventional things in public, from walking backward at work to role paying at a function, and what begins as a thrill-seeking exploit soon evolves into a serious relationship that has them and their colleagues questioning their bigger ambitions and desires in life. 

With each only eight episodes per season, each of which runs at more or less 30 minutes, Love & Anarchy is a sure-fire easy and worthwhile binge. 

Our staff rating: 7.6/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Actor: Björn Kjellman, Björn Mosten, Carla Sehn, Gizem Erdogan, Ida Engvoll, Johannes Bah Kuhnke, Reine Brynolfsson
Rating: TV-MA
6.

The Kingdom: Exodus

In 1994, Danish auteur Lars von Trier came up with a TV series called The Kingdom, an absurd supernatural comedy that takes place in a rundown hospital in Copenhagen. The show was well-received enough to warrant a second season, but just as von Trier was polishing up the third and final installment, the deaths of more than one lead actor pressed pause on the project, till now.

More than 10 years in the making, The Kingdom part III, also called Exodus, is still very much centered on the weird patients and staff members that populate the Riget hospital, as well as the possible evil buried beneath it. The comedy/horror has a robot dishwasher and a giant head. Danes and Swedes are perennially at war with each other. Willem Dafoe and Alexander Skarsgard make odd cameos.

I’m not sure it’s possible to write a coherent synopsis without sounding like I’ve fallen off the rails, but know that it is a unique headscratcher of a show, more interesting as an experience than anything else. Von Trier was also openly inspired by Twin Peaks, in making it, so David Lynch fans in particular will truly enjoy diving into this world.

Our staff rating: 7.8/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Horror, Mystery, Thriller, TV Movie
Actor: Benny Hansen, Birgitte Raaberg, Birte Tove, Danica Curcic, Dick Kaysø, Else Petersen, Erik Wedersøe, Finn Nielsen, Ghita Nørby, Helle Virkner, Holger Perfort, Kurt Ravn, Lars von Trier, Laura Christensen, Ole Dupont, Paul Hüttel, Peter Mygind, Solbjørg Højfeldt, Solveig Sundborg, Søren Pilmark, Thomas Bo Larsen, Udo Kier, Vic Carmen Sonne, Willem Dafoe
Director: Lars von Trier, Morten Arnfred
Rating: TV-MA
5.

The Staircase

The latest addition to the murder mini-series genre is the incredible thriller “The Staircase.” It originally aired in 2004, but the producers took the same director and allowed him to add new episodes in 2018 to complete the story. 

The plot: A famous American novelist’s wife is found dead, and he is accused of killing her. His life comes under scrutiny as everyone asks whether she died in an accident or was murdered. If you liked their other hit, “Making a Murderer,” you will love this. You should also definitely check out “The Keepers” or Netflix’s binge-worthy crime documentary, “Evil Genius.”

Our staff rating: 8.2/10
Genre: Mystery
Actor: Jean-Xavier de Lestrade
Director: Jean-Xavier de Lestrade
Rating: TV-MA

Free Watching Options:

Watch The Staircase on Fubo for free
4.

The Playlist

In the early 2000s, amid the rapid rise of online piracy and the consequent fall of paid music, tech genius Daniel Ek would find Spotify, a revolutionary streaming platform that served as a middle ground between user accessibility and artist rights. But even now, at its peak, Spotify’s success seems mystifying. How did they get away with providing free music to all? 

Enter The Playlist—an impressive attempt at answering that very question. In this fictionalized account, key players in Spotify’s success are given their own episode-long arc, starting with the visionary himself, Ek (played by Edvin Endre), followed by the artist, the coder, and the industry insider, to name a few. By employing multiple perspectives, each with its own cinematic style (a particular favorite is that of the lawyer's, the most experimental out of all the episodes), The Playlist manages to spin the technical and complicated story of Spotify’s origins into something fresh, dynamic, and addictive. Despite utilizing the Rashomon effect—risky but rewarding in this case—The Playlist rarely strays from its main point and, the result is a lean, well-rounded story that’s just as credible as it is heightened. 

Our staff rating: 8.6/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Agnes Kittelsen, Christian Hillborg, Edvin Endre, Ella Rappich, Gizem Erdogan, Hanna Ardéhn, Joel Lützow, Severija Janušauskaitė, Sofia Karemyr, Ulf Stenberg, Valter Skarsgård
Rating: TV-MA
3.

The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House

On the surface, The Makanai is a simple, slice-of-life show about food and friendship. While it is that, to be sure, it's also a substantial drama that tackles questions about art vs. love, and love vs. companionship, and career vs. purpose. Under the gentle guidance of showrunner Hirokazu Kore-eda (Still Walking, Shoplifters, Broker), who generously allows up-and-coming directors to take the helm on certain episodes, The Makanai feels at once light and hefty, comforting and challenging. We're seeing mundane events unfold before us as if we were bystanders, but we also understand that there is so much more happening than what meets the eye. A prolonged gaze, a lovingly prepped meal, an especially sharp wing-eye, all of these have much to say about the state of mind of these girls. 

It’s a supremely gentle and culturally rich show with a tender heart; a truly great watch on all accounts.

Our staff rating: 8.9/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Actor: Ai Hashimoto, Aju Makita, Arata Iura, Jyo Kairi, Kanji Furutachi, Keiko Matsuzaka, Keiko Toda, Lily Franky, Mayu Matsuoka, Momoko Fukuchi, Nana Mori, Natsuki Deguchi, Takako Tokiwa, Toshinori Omi, Yukiya Kitamura
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda, Hiroshi Okuyama, Megumi Tsuno, Takuma Sato
Rating: TV-14
2.

1994

Have you finished Wild Wild Country and are up for another binge-worthy documentary? If so, 1994 might be a compelling option for you to consider. Released on Netflix for the 25th anniversary of the events in 2019, most of the story would be hard to believe if it wasn't… you know… based on facts and backed up by archival footage and interviews. As it often goes with documentaries, truth is stranger than fiction.

In 1994, the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, also known as the EZLN or the Zapatistas, declared war on the Mexican government. This happened after the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, was signed into law. Incumbent Mexican president Salinas (pictured above) selected prominent reformist presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio to become his heir. Just three months later, Colosio was shot in Tijuana on live television.

1994 is a rich, informative, and fascinating account of this violent and tumultuous year in Mexican history, featuring in-depth interviews with many of those pulling the strings at the time, including former president Salinas. As the people being interviewed point out, understanding the relevance of 1994 in Mexican politics will help you understand the country's political and economic landscape today.

Our staff rating: 9/10
Genre: Documentary
Actor: Carlos Salinas de Gortari, Rafael Sebastián Guillén Vicente
Director: Diego Enrique Osorno
Rating: N/A

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