The 12 Very Best Foreign Shows on Netflix

The 12 Very Best Foreign Shows on Netflix

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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.

12. Elite

7.4

Country

Spain

Actors

Álvaro de Juana, Álvaro Rico, André Lamoglia, Aron Piper

Moods

Binge-Worthy

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.

11. Vis a Vis

7.6

Country

Spain

Actors

Abril Zamora, Adriana Paz, Alba Flores, Alberto Velasco

Moods

Binge-Worthy

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.

10. How to Sell Drugs Online (Fast)

7.9

Country

Germany

Actors

Bjarne Madel, Damian Hardung, Danilo Kamber, Danilo Kamperidis

Moods

Binge-Worthy, True-story-based

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.  

9. 3%

8.0

Country

Brazil

Actors

Bianca Comparato, Celso Frateschi, Cynthia Senek, João Miguel

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.

8. Rita

8.1

Country

Denmark

Actors

Alexandre Willaume, Carsten Bjørnlund, Carsten Bjornlund, Carsten Norgaard

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.

7. Dix pour cent

8.1

Country

France

Actors

Anne Marivin, Assaad Bouab, Camille Cottin, Fanny Sidney

Moods

Funny, No-brainer

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.

6. Rilakkuma and Kaoru

8.2

Country

Japan, United States of America

Actors

Abby Trott, Ayano Kinashi, Barbara Goodson, Hitoshi Honma

Moods

Easy, Slice-of-Life

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!

5. The Staircase

8.2

Country

France

Actors

Jean-Xavier de Lestrade

Moods

Gripping, Mini-series, True-crime

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.”

4. Kingdom

best

8.5

Country

Japan, South Korea

Actors

Bae Doona, Heo Joon-ho, Heo Jun-ho, Jeon Seok-ho

Moods

Binge-Worthy, Dark, Intense

16th century Korea—the small kingdom is governed by a royal family, but the sudden death of the king causes a power struggle among the elite, which in turn opens the window for either genuine change or further corrupt rule. At the heart of this is Crown Prince Lee Chang (Ju Ji-hoon), who conspires with the rebel scholars to bring his corrupt rivals down.

This all sounds familiar, if not a bit trite, but before you can start to pin it down, Kingdom quickly morphs into something more than just a period drama. The introduction of fantasy, terror, and neverending gore elevates Kingdom into a multi-genre feat—an impressive blend of political intrigue and pure zombie horror that never fails to keep you at the edge of your seat. 

3. 1994

best

9.0

Country

Mexico, N/A

Actors

Carlos Salinas de Gortari, Rafael Sebastián Guillén Vicente

Moods

Docu-series, Instructive, Mini-series

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.

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