It’s easy to forget that Netflix was once a platform that offered only movies and TV series that had first been available elsewhere, a streaming evolution of their original DVDs-by-mail business model. But when the exploding company started producing its own original fare, it changed to a home for exclusive movies and TV series that not only drew subscribers but contended at the Emmys and the Oscars. And it wasn’t long before Netflix also became one of the biggest sources for original international movies and shows that otherwise might not have appeared Stateside.
Since then, Netflix has released some of the best non-English-language series today, offering up international fare for American fans who normally would never have known the shows existed. Many of these series rank high critically as well, with their Rotten Tomatoes aggregate ratings earning several of them near-perfect scores.
10 Ghoul (2018) – 87%
Released in 2018, Ghoul is an Indian horror Netflix series presented in Hindi as the original language. It does have an American link as Jason Blum of Blumhouse helped produce it. A horror miniseries, it takes place in a dystopian future where fascism has become the main form of government.
One of Netflix’s scariest original series, Ghoul focuses on a secret government internment camp where one interrogation unleashes a series of supernatural and horrifying events when the prisoner exposes the interrogators’ most shameful secrets. Rotten Tomatoes critics called it “short, spooky, and surprisingly poignant.”
9 Tribes Of Europa (2021) – 92%
Tribes of Europa was a German-language Netflix original sci-fi television series that premiered in 2021. This series was set over 50 years into the future when a global catastrophe broke apart Europe into warring dystopian tribes, wanting dominance over the other states.
This leads to three siblings discovering the existence of a mysterious cube that could allow them to change the fate of Europe. The first season had only six episodes but it was renewed with another season coming. Critics on Rotten Tomatoes loved it, calling it a show “grounded by compelling characters” and an “earnest fantasy series that will satisfy fans of imaginative dystopias.”
8 Sky Rojo (2021) – 92%
Sky Rojo is a Spanish-language black comedy crime drama series that premiered on Netflix in 2021. The show features three prostitutes who go on the run from their pimp. The show might be a black comedy, but it is also a dark and disturbing look at prostitution.
The first two seasons had a total of 16 episodes and a third and final eight-episode season will arrive in the near future. Rotten Tomatoes says the show “blurs the lines of good taste, but magnetic performances and a propulsive pace give this pulpy series a serious kick.”
7 Squid Game (2021) – 95%
The surprise hit of 2021 was the South Korean survival drama Squid Game. The Netflix original series ended up as the most-watched original series of all time and was a lock for a second season, which will come soon. The first season of Squid Game had a man down on his luck join a competition where he played children’s games against others.
The winner of the games received enough money to live in comfort for the rest of his life. Everyone else in the contest would die. Not only was Squid Game a rating success for Netflix, but it was also a critical darling, with a 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
6 Dark (2017) – 95%
Dark was a mind-bending time travel series released by Netflix from 2017 to 2020. The German-language series was about characters in a German town who learn that time travel exists and set out to learn the truth about the town. What was most interesting was that the actors played characters in six different years, spanning from 1921 to 2053.
Dark lasted for three seasons and 26 episodes and received almost universal acclaim from critics and the audience on Rotten Tomatoes. Critics called it “tense and terrifying” and one of Netflix’s “strongest and strangest science fiction stories.”
5 Kingdom (2019) – 96%
While the zombie genre has grown tired in recent years, Netflix released an original South Korean series that delivered a very different take on the horror genre in 2019. The streaming series was Kingdom and it was set in the 16th Century when a Crown Prince looks into a mysterious illness only to find an epidemic turning his people into zombie-like creatures.
Kingdom was a successful Netflix series and ran for two seasons, even picking up a feature-length episode a year after the second season. Praise went to the cinematography and action scenes, along with its sense of dry humor and heart.
4 Call My Agent! (2015) – 96%
Call My Agent! is not a non-English language series that many people talk about. However, the French language series lasted for four seasons and 24 episodes and spawned a South Korean series of the same name, which is also available on Netflix.
Call My Agent! is set in a talent agency and focuses on the agents’ lives and relationships with their clients. What makes it fun is that real-life celebrities show up to play themselves on the show. Rotten Tomatoes critics call it a “satisfying skewering of the strange world of showbiz.”
3 Hellbound (2021) – 97%
Hellbound was another non-English language horror series acquired by Netflix in 2021. This series is a South Korean series about creatures called the Hellbound that suddenly appear on Earth and set out to kill specific people. A cult rises, claiming God sent these demons to kill evil, and gains the support of the government officials.
However, when an innocent baby is targeted, everything is turned on its head. The first season had six episodes and it ended up surpassing The Squid Game as the new favored international series. This was a rare series where critics loved it but the audience was only lukewarm, with a 69% approval rating.
2 Elite (2018) – 97%
Elite was a very different non-English language series on Netflix. This was a Spanish-language teen drama series. Elite took place in an elite secondary school that shows the relationship between the wealthy school members and three kids from working-class families who got in via scholarships. When a murder occurs, the kids begin to turn on each other.
The series was a monster success. There have already been five seasons and 40 episodes and a sixth season is coming as well. The reviews on Rotten Tomatoes called it “highly digestible, technically strong trash TV” with “charismatic characters” and gave it a high 97% rating.
1 Lupin (2021) – 97%
One of the highest-rated non-English language series in Netflix history was based on an old series. Lupin is a French-language series that stars Omar Sy as Assane Diop, a man inspired by the master thief Arsene Lupin, a character from pulp novels from the early 1900s. His goal in life is to get revenge on the person responsible for his father’s death.
The first season of Lupin consisted of 10 episodes, split up and released in January and June 2021. Netflix renewed it for another season that has yet to arrive. Critics on Rotten Tomatoes called Lupin “smart, sexy, and stylish.”
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