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Netflix is best known for three things: awesome Netflix Originals, fascinating Netflix documentaries, and hilarious Netflix comedies. But most of this stuff is available in English, and if you limit yourself to just your native language you’re missing out on lots of amazing shows.
We have previously highlighted a number of noteworthy foreign-language films on Netflix, but to be honest, the selection of foreign TV is way better. Here are the best shows from around the world that you need to watch on Netflix ASAP.
1. Narcos (2015)
If you’re a Netflix subscriber who hasn’t heard of Narcos yet, do yourself a favor and move it straight to the top of your watchlist. This fictionalized retelling of the story of Pablo Escobar and his legendary Colombian cocaine operation in the 1970s is one of the most gripping tales ever told on Netflix.
It’s intense but never loses sight of its characters, and complexly plotted but never impossible to follow or understand. Interspersed with archival footage of the real Pablo Escobar, Narcos achieves a level of depth that few shows ever have. This Golden Globe-nominated sensation is a can’t-miss must-watch.
2. Money Heist (2017)
Don’t be turned off by Money Heist’s generic title (originally called “The House of Paper” but renamed for Netflix). There’s absolutely nothing generic about this show that follows a team of eight professional thieves who break into the Royal Mint of Spain, led by a mastermind known only as The Professor.
Take everything you know about heist movies and throw it out the window. Money Heist is smartly written with deeply developed characters throughout, and a cat-and-mouse chess game in the truest sense. Not only will you find yourself sympathizing with all three parties (the cops, the robbers, and the hostages), but the thrills and plot twists never stop coming—plot twists that actually make sense and deepen the story.
3. Dark (2017)
With all the time travel films and TV shows that have come and gone, you might think there are no new or interesting angles left to explore in time travel as a plot device. Well, you’d be wrong. Dark, the first Netflix Original in German, is living proof that time travel can still be surprising and mind-warping.
In the small German town of Winden, children begin disappearing in ways that are reminiscent of past disappearances from 33 years prior. As a police chief investigates the unfolding mystery, the entire town is forced to confront tragedy as secrets are uncovered and the fabric of trust unravels.
4. Babylon Berlin (2017)
Babylon Berlin, the most expensive non-English TV drama ever produced, is one of the richest and most engaging period pieces of all time—even more so than well-known favorites like Downton Abbey and Boardwalk Empire. It’s gorgeous and pays a lot of attention to historical details, proving that TV can absolutely be artistic.
Babylon Berlin has a bit of everything: romance, sex, drugs, crime, police work, politics, and more, all taking place in the 15-year period leading up to the rise of the Third Reich. It successfully transports you to 1920s Berlin and keeps you entranced in all its beauty and ugliness. To call it “ambitious” would be an understatement.
5. Samurai Gourmet (2017)
No drama. No intensity. No intricate plots or confusing character relationships. Samurai Gourmet is a simple and joyful food show that’s so soft you’ll wonder why you’re watching it, and yet be unable to look away.
Samurai Gourmet follows an older man who just entered into retirement and begins to explore food—not just the taste of it, but how one’s enjoyment of food can change based on setting, emotions, companions, and even nostalgia. If you need to be uplifted, Samurai Gourmet is the perfect show for it.
6. Fauda (2015)
Israeli-made Fauda starts off a bit slow, but quickly snowballs into a high-intensity political thriller that’s reminiscent of shows like 24 and Strike Back. It follows an elite member of the Israeli Defense Force who’s pulled out of retirement when his last target, who he had supposedly killed, resurfaces.
I highly recommend watching Fauda, if only because it brings a fresh new kind of TV-making that’s unlike most “foreign TV,” which is usually European or Asian in origin. Not that Fauda’s story or characters aren’t top-quality in and of themselves—they truly are—but the underlying Israeli perspective elevates it to new heights.
7. Tabula Rasa (2017)
What if I told you that one of the best psychological thrillers on TV is… Belgian? Well, it’s true, and it’s called Tabula Rasa. The name is overused and borderline cliched, I’ll give you that, but it fits well: an amnesiac woman is a key witness in a child disappearance case, but unlocking her memory may unleash more than anyone expected.
If you like slow-burning, high-suspense, twist-filled stories that take their time and earn their climactic moments, then you need to watch Tabula Rasa.
8. A Very Secret Service (2015)
As the only comedy on this list, A Very Secret Service stands out in a way that no other show does. In this French-produced single-season series, a French Secret Service newbie is trained and mentored in post-WW2 France as it changes and evolves under the influence of global politics.
That sounds a lot more serious than it is. A Very Secret Service is a spoof on the espionage genre, taking a serious subject and turning it humorous through silly situations and characters. Often described as “James Bond meets The Office,” A Very Secret Service is a breath of fresh air for anyone who’s tired of the same old comedy cliches.
9. 3% (2016)
3% is a science-fiction thriller that takes you forward to a post-dystopian Brazil that’s been split into two unequal societies: the Offshore that overflows with affluence and abundance, and the Inland where poverty and desperation have taken over. Every year, 20-year-olds are given the chance to cross over, but only three percent make it.
If you’re drawn to movies like The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner, then you’ll find a lot to like in 3%. It feels very much like a young adult tale, but adeptly tackles deeper issues and themes that would be fumbled in the hands of lesser YA stories.
10. Glitch (2015)
Glitch is one of the best mini-series to come from Down Under. In a tiny town in backwoods Australia, seven people mysteriously rise from their graves—still intact as if they’d never died, but without their memories. What’s more, the seven grave-risers apparently have nothing in common, spanning many decades between their deaths.
Yes, Glitch is yet another zombie show but it avoids any of the usual trappings of a zombie show, focusing more on mystery and relationships than horrors and cheap thrills. And as you learn more about the characters, it only gets more interesting.
More Awesome Shows to Watch on Netflix
If you’re tired of the same old shows that cater to the same old audiences, then take heart: Netflix is arguably the most experimental “TV network” of all, and you can find a lot more unusual-but-brilliant shows if you dig deep enough.
I highly recommend starting with these BBC shows available on Netflix, then trying out some of these Nordic drama series. And if you want to try something unlike anything you’ve seen before, consider checking out the “slow TV” genre.