The 12 Very Best Foreign Shows on Netflix

Updated June 14, 2022 • Staff

Netflix understood a long time ago that to succeed internationally, it has to win the hearts of local audiences by producing local shows. The result is a wide array of excellent series that we count down in this concise list.

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12.

Rise of Empires: Ottoman

This historical show with immaculate production value is about the fall of Constantinople in 1453. It's fully in English, despite being a Turkish production, featuring a mix of entertaining interviews and dramatic reenactment. The way it's narrated is reminiscent of History Channel documentaries (with frequent recaps), which is unfortunate. Still, the story and the production compensate well enough. The young 21-year-old Ottoman Sultan Mehmet risks everything in pursuit of Constantinople, a city twelve armies, including his father's, have failed to take. This moment is pivotal for so many reasons: it marked the end of the Roman empire, it turned the Ottomans from local power to a global one, and the use of advanced military techniques (such as a new generation of cannons) changed warfare forever. But knowing that Mehmet will enter Constantinople (now Istanbul) changes nothing to the appeal of this show. The question is not will he win, but at what cost, and how.

Our staff rating: 7.2/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: İlayda Akdoğan, Birkan Sokullu, Cem Yiğit Üzümoğlu, Cem Yigit Uzümoglu, Charles Dance, Damla Sönmez, Damla Sonmez, Ilayda Akdogan, Osman Sonant, Selim Bayraktar, Tolga Tekin, Tommaso Basili, Tuba Büyüküstün, Tuba Büyüküstün, Ushan Çakır, Ushan Cakir
11.

Elite

Three kids from a poor neighborhood win scholarships to the best high-school in Spain and later find themselves at the center of a murder. There is a lot that comes to the surface from the working-class kids clashing with the wealthy. Themes of money, power, religion, and even sexuality make this show so compelling that I never felt like I needed a murder to keep watching.

Our staff rating: 7.4/10
Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery
Actor: Álvaro Rico, Aron Piper, Claudia Salas, Danna Paola, Ester Exposito, Georgina Amorós, Georgina Amorós, Itzan Escamilla, Jaime Lorente, Jorge López, Maria Pedraza, Miguel Bernardeau, Miguel Herran, Mina El Hammani, Omar Ayuso
Rating: TV-MA
10.

Vis a Vis

TV nerds know that Orange is the New Black, as much as it’s hailed in the U.S. for being 'crazy’, doesn’t deserve that title. It’s only a mellow take on the women prison genre that was perfected outside the States. The Australian show Wentworth is one example and Vis a Vis (or Locked Up) is another. The show starts with an inmate being boiled alive.

Macarena Ferreiro is set up by her boss/lover and ends up in prison for tax crimes. First naive and used to luxury, she has to adapt to harsh prison conditions, and harsher inmates. On the outside, her parents try to secure a large sum to pay her bail.

Our staff rating: 7.6/10
Genre: Thriller
Actor: Abril Zamora, Adriana Paz, Alba Flores, Alberto Velasco, Alma Itzel, Almagro San Miguel, Ana María Picchio, Ana Marzoa, Berta Vazquez, Carlos Hipolito, Claudia Riera, Cristina Marcos, Cristina Plazas, Daniel Ortiz, David Ostrosky, Harlys Becerra, Huichi Chiu, Inma Cuesta, Inma Cuevas, Isabel Naveira, Itziar Castro, Javier Lara, Jesus Castejon, Laura Baena, Laura Baena Torres, Lisi Linder, Lucas Ferraro, Luis Callejo, Maggie Civantos, María Isabel Díaz Lago, Maria Isabel Diaz, Maria Salgueiro, Marta Aledo, Najwa Nimri, Ramiro Blas, Roberto Enríquez, Ruth Díaz, Verónika Moral
Rating: TV-MA
9.

How to Sell Drugs Online (Fast)

This is Breaking Bad meets The Social Network. Based on a true story that took place in Leipzig, Germany in 2015, this show is about Moritz, a high-schooler who starts Europe’s biggest drug market online. He initially does this to impress his ex-girlfriend, who had just come back from the States with new drug experiences.

The transformation of a nerd into a drug kingpin is fascinating. But because it is based on a true story, there is an important nuance to that transformation. Moritz is rarely portrayed as a hero, and his creepy side is always present. This makes for an interesting and exciting plot-heavy show.  

Our staff rating: 7.9/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Bjarne Madel, Damian Hardung, Danilo Kamber, Danilo Kamperidis, Lena Klenke, Leonie Wesselow, Luna Schaller, Maximilian Mundt, Roland Riebeling
Rating: N/A
8.

3%

From the Oscar-nominated cinematographer of City of God, this is a Brazilian Netflix TV show that I can only describe as a smarter Hunger Games. In a dystopian society, the majority of the planet’s population lives in extreme poverty while a select 3% (hence the title) live in a heaven-like world called “The Offshore”. Every year, the 20-year-olds of the planet get a chance to join the 3% in a selection process that for the first time might harbor moles. With an intriguing first episode that shares just enough to keep you informed but engaged, it’s easy to want to binge-watch the whole first season of 3% in one sitting.

Our staff rating: 8/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Bianca Comparato, Celso Frateschi, Cynthia Senek, João Miguel, Mel Fronckowiak, Michel Gomes, Rafael Lozano, Rodolfo Valente, Sergio Mamberti, Vaneza Oliveira, Viviane Porto, Zeze Motta
Rating: TV-MA
7.

Dix pour cent

Think of Dix pour cent, or Call My Agent!, as it was so horribly translated, as a smart French version of Mark Wahlberg's Entourage or, as the director once quipped, Desperate Housewives with actors and their agents. Ten percent (dix pour cent) is the fee that said French agents receive as compensation from the actor's fee. It chronicles the life of an aspiring talent agent at a French casting agency. New to Paris, she lands her dream job, but now has to deal with a variety of very stressed-out, capricious characters on both sides of the bargain. It is one of those shows that finds hilarity in the fact that nobody actually talks to each other over sometimes simple issues. On the actor's side, many of the appearing A-listers star as themselves. The countless cameos include the likes of Jean Reno, Monica Belucci, and Charlotte Gainsbourg. It's basically a soap opera but so well-written and complex, you might refrain from binging it too hard just to make it last longer.

Our staff rating: 8.1/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Actor: Anne Marivin, Assaad Bouab, Camille Cottin, Fanny Sidney, Grégory Montel, Laure Calamy, Liliane Rovere, Nicolas Maury, Ophélia Kolb, Ophélia Kolb, Stefi Celma, Thibault de Montalembert
Rating: N/A, Not Rated
6.

Rita

You might not have heard of it, but this show was huge in Denmark. I mean, one million people watching in a 5-million-people country huge. Far from being the tasteful Nordic Noir international audiences are used to, Rita revolves around a mid-40s, single mum of three older kids, leather jacket-clad private high school teacher with a big mouth and a heart to go with it. Mille Dinesen plays the titular female lead, who smokes in the school bathrooms and, well, bangs the school principal. But in addition to the rule-bending rebel facing off overprotective parents, know-it-all students, and her growing kids, Rita also deals with serious topics like balancing work and family, being a role model, and abortion, albeit in a hilarious and, well, delightfully Danish way.

Our staff rating: 8.1/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Actor: Alexandre Willaume, Carsten Bjørnlund, Carsten Bjornlund, Carsten Norgaard, Charlotte Munck, Elena Arndt-Jensen, Ellen Hillingsø, Ellen Hillingso, Ferdinand Glad Bach, Lise Baastrup, Lotte Andersen, Lykke Sand Michelsen, Mille Dinesen, Morten Vang Simonsen, Nikolaj Groth, Sara Hjort Ditlevsen, Sofie Juul Nielsen, Tessa Hoder, Tommy Kenter
Rating: N/A
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
4.

Rilakkuma and Kaoru

Meet Rilakkuma, a relaxed teddy bear (which is indeed what his name translates to in Japanese), and Kaoru, a Japanese office worker in her mid-thirties, who lives with said bear as well as a smaller white bear named Korilakkuma and a yellow chick by the name of Kiiroitori. As whimsical as all this may sound, the show offers up endearing and humane life lessons to go with all the heart-warming cuteness as Kaoru navigates being single, her apartment building being demolished, and her job stressing her out. It combines charming stop-motion characters with great writing, adorable animation, and a beautifully quiet tone. You might be surprised at the profundity of a show that, at the surface, is about a Japanese girl with cuddly toy roommates. It's hard to compare it to anything else!

Our staff rating: 8.2/10
Genre: Animation, Comedy, Drama, Kids
Actor: Abby Trott, Ayano Kinashi, Barbara Goodson, Hitoshi Honma, Issei Takubo, Kana Odaira, Kanako Nishiyama, Mai Kanazawa, Masako Matsuno, Mikako Tabe, Shigeru Sugimoto, Soki Matsumoto, Takayuki Yamada, Veronica Taylor, Yuzuha Kobayashi
Director: Masahito Kobayashi
Rating: TV-PG
3.

Dark

If you liked Netflix’ Stranger Things gloomy suspense, sit tight because there is a lot more of where that came from in Dark. Here is what they have in common: the aesthetic, great music, and they’re both about the disappearance of a child. Other than that, it is very difficult to compare Dark to anything else I’ve seen before.

This German show is about a town with a long and dark history, which is brought to the forefront of the collective conscious when a child goes missing. The plot twists and turns through decades of history – and that’s as much as I will share without ruining the show for you. 

Dark uses beautiful aesthetic, both visually and musically, to be compelling and painfully tension-ridden. 

Season two has more bouncing between timelines and more dark and inexplicable events, as now six people are missing. 

Our staff rating: 9/10
Genre: Mystery
Actor: Anatole Taubman, Andreas Pietschmann, Angela Winkler, Anne Ratte-Polle, Jördis Triebel, Karoline Eichhorn, Lisa Vicari, Louis Hofmann, Maja Schone, Mark Waschke, Michael Mendl, Oliver Masucci, Sebastian Rudolph, Stephan Kampwirth
Rating: Not Rated, TV-MA

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