TLF Recommends Teen-Based Shows You Should Watch

by Raizel Liebler

sungkyunkwan-scandalI didn’t especially like teen directed shows even when I was a teen. And now when high school seems so long ago, shows like Vampire Diaries don’t manage to hold my interest and one of the reasons why I generally gave up on anime is due to the usual teen tropes. There’s nothing wrong with liking these teen (or teen-ish) shows, so if you are looking for critical or snarky analysis of shows that are truly directed towards teens, especially of the CW variety, check out Forever Young Adult. They do hilariously excellent recaps of Pretty Little Liars and more. Or, with many of the former writers of Television Without Pity.

Below are shows we recommend focusing on teens from the United States, Korea, and Japan that are less mainstream and are entertaining regardless of age. Our recommendation shows are not generally ok for those younger than teens if you think they aren’t ready for seeing things with teh saxytimes.

Highly Recommended

Answer Me 1997

A show about being a teen in 1997 Korea — complete with lots of fandom moments. I’ve previously written about the show here in more detail.

Realism: Set mostly in 1997 with no magical/fantasy elements.
Humor: Mostly low-brow.
Drama: High, high level of drama, but not in a over-the-top way, instead based around the type of things real people deal with — broken hearts and conflicted feelings.
Cultural references: High level of references to Korean pop and to everything that was culturally relevant in 1997
Negatives: After the show completes its flashforward, much less interesting.
Available to watch on Dramafever

Dream High

A very well-written and plotted drama about the lives of high schoolers that want to join the entertainment industry. Like Fame, but within the unique world of the Korean entertainment industry. All of the young actors are members of musical groups, so in an odd way they are acting in a fictionalized version of their own lives. Has one of the most realistic subplots of the consequences of sexual harassment within the entertainment industry. Sequel Dream High II not recommended.

Realism: Set in the present with no magical/fantasy elements.
Humor: Minimal.
Drama: High level of drama, instead based around the type of things real people deal with — broken hearts and conflicted feelings.
Cultural references: High level of references to Korean pop.
Negatives: If you don’t like singing, skip this show.
Available to watch on Dramafever

Ouran High School Host Club

A mostly ridiculous show, but highly entertaining anime about a high school club run by teenage boys intended for teenage girls to swoon over. One of the boys is a girl, so there’s lots of “does anyone realize she’s a girl?” humor. Includes a canonical gay couple — and it isn’t the one you think it will be at first. As I mentioned, I’ve mostly given up on anime, so the fact that this is a teenage-based anime that I am recommending means I really like this one.

Realism: Minimal — this show is set in an European-style boarding school in Japan. Where there are no teachers and crazy anime girls appear on risers from the floor.
Humor: Mostly anime based humor.
Drama: As with any anime comedy, it exists.
Cultural references: High level of references to anime tropes, minimal to generalized Japanese culture.
Negatives: Much of the humor is lost if you haven’t watched other anime, especially shoujo anime.
Available to watch on Hulu

(ed. note: COSIGN. THIS SHOW IS AWESOME. One of the best anime endings I’ve seen, too. – keidra)


A teenage girl and her father move to the New York suburbs and deal with culture shock. A teenage show that has either real teens playing teens — or at least those that don’t look like they will be playing jaded 40-somethings in five years. And friendship and romantic relationships contain the type of fraught drama that only teens can do. Generally a very interesting tone, where even the main teen can be frequently wrong — very wrong.

Realism: As realistic as any comedy set in a NYC suburb can be. Lots of mentions of the club. Mostly about the rich, but those who do not see themselves as rich.
Humor: But most of the humor is satire — but considering this is an American comedy after all, not too dark.
Drama: As with any anime comedy, it exists
Cultural references: American. Suburban. Teenage. Life.
Negatives: This is an American comedy after all — where problems can be solved in a half-hour (including commercials).
Available to watch on Hulu

Switch Girl

A show about a high school girl with two distinct personalities — her “on” look, with highly polished clothes and makeup, enough to get in Teen Vogue — and her “off” look, complete with sweats and messiness. Very much goes against the anime-based stereotypes of what life as a Japanese teen is like. Complete with a great theme song.

Realism: High level of realism — kinda. It shows realistic high school students, but then also the imagined consequences of the actions of others.
Humor: Mostly low-brow — very low-brow, but not at the expense of others. The theme song includes a line about the heroine moving oil from her T-zone to her dry skin, if you need an example.
Drama: The highest level of teen drama — done with a comic tone — if the heroine is found out to be naturally not put together, her life will be OVER, COMPLETELY OVER.
Cultural references: Mentions of Japanese culture, including some mentions of fandom, including the most fannish based anime hero I’ve ever seen (and will not spoil).
Negatives: A surprising amount of non-consensual interaction.
Available to watch on Dramafever

Digging Deeper

Avatar: The Legend of Korra

A teenage girl is the one person in the entire world (based mostly on historical Asia of the 1920s) that can control all four magical elements in a world where others can either control one or none. Does she choose to learn to control her powers, focus on having teenage fun, or get swept up in political machinations?

Realism: There are lots of fantastical parts of this show, including the ability to control air, water, fire, and earth.
Humor: Minimal
Drama: A teenage girl is the reincarnated being who can control the four elements — the only one in the world. Yeah, there’s drama.
Cultural references: References to previous Avatar series, also to fictionalized versions of early 20th Century Asian cultures, especially Shanghai in the 1920s (ish)
Negatives: The show makes more sense if you’ve watched the previous Avatar series, but if you have, the pace of this show might seem a bit off. Some of the plotting isn’t as tightly done as the previous series.

Goong (Princess Hours)

Beautiful, but slow-moving show about an alternative universe where Korea has a young King and a commoner girl has been selected to be his wife. Especially swoony teenage girls will totes love this show.

Realism: Mostly a high level of realism, but this is a modern universe with Korean royalty
Humor: Minimal
Drama: Can the arranged marriage neither teen wants work? Enter drama.
Cultural references: References to Korean culture.
Negatives: Slow moving.
Available to watch on Dramafever

(ed. note – I have the attention span of a gnat and this show was paced perfectly for me – keidra)

Sungkyunkwan Scandal

The show is a historical “college” drama about four students and their friendships. One student is a girl pretending to be a boy, considering girls of the era were not allowed to take entrance exams and study. The friendships are intense and cross class and gender lines.

Dramabeans summarizes the show as:

Thank you for the memories, the tears, the laughs, the squeals, the giggles, the sighs, the cringes, the waff, the thump-thumps, the insomnia, the dreams, the fantasies, the discussions, the love, the shipping, the great times, the smiles, the late nights, the early mornings, the procrastination, the cheers, the oh-nos, the arguments, the factions, the alliances, the heartache, the heartbreak, the bliss, the grief, the tingles, the tangles, the conspiracies, the bromances, the flutters, the gasps, the nail-biting, the TGIM, the curses, the hallelujahs, the prayers and the fun times.

It was a helluva ride. You were worth every moment.

Realism: High for a historical drama, except for that whole girl-pretending-to-be-a-boy thing.
Humor: Minimal, but mostly surrounding the cross-dressing.
Drama: High, but also generally nicely plotted.
Cultural references: High level of references to historical Korea, but nothing that anyone who has ever watched a historical drama can’t handle.
Negatives: Oh so many tears.
Available to watch on Dramafever

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