Top 30 J-pop Songs of 2022 (10 – 1)

So we’re going do it a little different this year. Instead of doing the standard K-pop countdown first, we’re going to swing over the ocean a little bit and count down my favourite J-pop songs of the year first instead. Now you might also notice that the number of tracks in the countdown has gone down this year. Much of that can be attributed to the fact that I just didn’t listen to that much j-pop this year. Not because I didn’t particularly enjoy the music (I did) but mostly because 2022 was a year where my music tastes drastically changed, causing my listening habits to follow suit. Similarly, the K-pop countdown will also be shorter this year as a result.But in many ways, these shorter countdowns will allow me to highlight the tracks that I really loved throughout the year and as such, stand as a shorter yet overall stronger collection of songs. 

In regards to J-pop, I think that 2022 was pretty decent. I don’t think there were any revolutionary, life altering singles in the vein of RunLaughter or even Stop for Nothing but all in all there were some real gems this year. My top 10 especially is incredibly strong, with equally potent highlights peppered all throughout the top 30.

30 – 11

10. The Rampage – Tsunage Kizuna

Though I’ve liked most of what The Rampage of released since 2020, I’ve long hoped for them to reignite the highs of their excellent 2019 efforts, Swag and Pride and Fullmetal Trigger. The former especially remains one of my favourite J-pop songs of all time. And while not as instantly iconic, with the excellent synth laden dance pop of Tsunage Kizuna, the boys finally managed to connect with me again in a big way. This is one of my absolute favourite soundscapes and Tsunage Kizuna remains one of the best examples of it, pulsing forward on a thrilling production that absolutely explodes during the tracks standout chorus. A moment that stands as one of the key reasons to why The Rampage remain one of my favourite EXILE units.

9. Sexy Zone – Forever Gold

A group that have basically had a vice grip on my countdowns for the past few years, Sexy Zone continue their imperial phase with the shiny retro goodness of Forever Gold. This is one of the years most unabashedly joyous songs and while its sheer jubilance may be topped by another song further down the list, it no doubt still remains one of 2022’s most reliable mood lifters, casting a crystal clear retro sheen over its bright and always hummable melodies to give us a song that pulled just as well from the old as it did new. From Kikuchi’s breathtaking opening verse to the shout along chorus, there isn’t a single moment where Forever Gold wavers from its laser focused goal. An incredible admirable quality that makes it yet another highlight in a discography that’s quickly shaping up to be near untouchable in nature.

8. Johnny’s West – Reimei

Before Reimei, I never really had much interest in Johnny’s West. They were always that one Johnny’s group that released solid music but failed to really connect with me. However, with January’s transcendent Reimei, that all changed. This is a near perfect ballad, heavily harbouring heavily on sentiment while never resorting to the potentially plodding production that could cause the entire package to come across as cumbersome or boring. It’s a track that knows exactly the right moments to crest and fall, building just the right amount of tension before laying it all bare with its utterly rousing centrepiece that’s only enhanced by one of the years strongest and most assured vocal performances. Sure it carries many of the same tropes as other Japanese mid-tempos in the same vein but it just pulls it off so damn well that it becomes nearly impossible to fault. Absolutely majestic.

7. Fantastics – Summer Bike

The reigning champions once again find themselves once again within the top 10 this year with the mesmerising, hazy synth laden magic of Summer Bike. While not as upbeat as 2020’s excellent High Fever or as instantly thrilling as last years crown jewel Stop for Nothing, Summer Bike succeeds based on its simplicity and expert handle on atmosphere. It’s one of the years most hypnotic pop songs, taking Fantastics now trademark retro sound in a more subtle direction whilst still maintaining the razor sharp hooks we expect. The airy delivery during the chorus is especially gorgeous, bringing out the best in the groups vocal line and giving us a centrepiece that though initially not potent, sneaks up on you in the best way. In many ways, it feels like High Fever‘s smoother, more atmospheric younger brother and the absolute perfect soundscape to those hazy summer nights.

6. Naniwa Danshi – The Answer (review)

After debuting with the bright pop fluff of Ubu Love, few expected Naniwa Danshi to return with a darker, more symphonic pop opus in the form of The Answer. And while many including myself initially doubted the transformation, all doubts were silenced up the tracks release, as The Answer quickly went onto become one of my most played songs of the year. This is a sound that’s right up my alley, rife with strings, electric guitars and most importantly, a sense of grandiosity that reaches its peak during the chorus. A chorus that stands as the songs crowning moment, layering the groups vocals into a thrilling blend that stretches towards the heavens. Even the expected high note at the climax feels just as thrilling. (full song is the dance version)

5. Ballistik Boyz – Last Dance Ni Bye Bye

A gorgeous synth laden mid-tempo dance track that went onto become my most played Japanese song of the year, Last Dance Ni Bye Bye is one of those songs that feel unassuming on first listen but sneaks up on you in the best way possible. From the synth accents that punctuate the intro and each subsequent post chorus to the gorgeous, wonderfully airy hook, the track perfectly skirts the line between engaging and light, coming across as the perfect vibe.

4. Snow Man – Orange Kiss (review)

A song that perfectly encapsulates the idea of being sunshine in a bottle, Orange Kiss is Snow Man at their brightest and most poppy, harnessing a bright, unabashedly optimistic energy and sound to create one of their best ever singles. The boys have gone down this route before but have usually put quirk ahead of melody. A strategy that has bore fruit but one that I believe has been trumped by putting melody in the forefront as we have here. Sure it might be a little too sweet for some but for someone who absolutely loves this kind of wistful, soaring, melodically rich soundscape, I honestly can never get enough. The chorus alone is just such a fizzy head rush that it gets me reaching for the replay button the moment it’s over. You won’t get music like this anywhere else folks. (full song in dance practice video)

3. King & Prince – Tsukiyomi

With the sudden unexpected news of King & Prince being relegated from a quintet to a duo from mid 2023 still reeling upon the release of the track, Tsukiyomi‘s arrival was shrouded with a sense of bittersweetness. But while many were still reeling from the news, it seemed as though King & Prince were as potent as ever because Tsukiyomi stands as not only their strongest single of 2022 by far but easily their strongest effort since 2020’s thrilling Mazy Night. This is thrilling track, bringing together so many interesting sonic elements to craft a song thats as inventive as it is streamlined. A fine balance that I manages to strike oh so well.

The instrumentation is just majestic, bringing in accordians(?!!), latin guitar and dynamic percussion to create a rousing soundscape that builds to some thrilling peaks especially during Tsukiyomi‘s outstanding pre-chorus, which just keeps building and building and building, courtesy of an equally rousing vocal performance that elevates an already stunning package into something truly special. Add to that a number of sonic shifts that actually work and you’ve got one of the most interesting tracks of the year.

2. One Love One Heart – Now or Never

A song that was love at first listen for me, Now or Never stands as a prime example of the thrilling potential highs of Co-ed groups. I’d never heard of One Love One Heart before this track but after a few spins of this absolute stunner, I’ll be following their music very closely. Now or Never expertly manages to balance both its quieter verses with its transcendent hook, one that swells with a sense of pure majesty thats furthered by a chorused vocal blend that really creates a sense of grandiosity that I just happen to adore.

But the real star of the show is the tracks pitch perfect production. The post chorus breakdown is one of the years absolute best, wringing out so much emotion from a simple squealing synth line that it’s honestly insane. It’s a disarmingly arrangement on first listen but quickly snowballs into something quite massive, a characteristic that’s brought out even more on further listens. A hallmark of a truly great track. And when all the stars align for the tracks pitch perfect bridge and knockout climax, I’m in absolute heaven. An absolute masterclass in all departments and one of the most perfectly calibrated releases of the year. And dare I say, almost equally as deserving of the first place spot as the eventual winner.

1. Superfly – Voice

You know how I said in the preface of the post that there weren’t any real “moments” this year? Well now I’m telling you that, that was a big fat fucking lie because Voice is the definition of MOMENT. Emphasis on the all caps. Duo Superfly have been a big name in Japan for more than a decade now but after splitting from a duo to a one woman show, Voice see’s Shiho Ochi absolutely let loose with her gospel inspired dance masterpiece.

In many ways, Voice captures the same overwhelming feeling of my last two toppers, Sexy Zone’s Run and Fantastics Stop For Nothing. This particular sense of catharsis that can be wrought from songs like this is one of my absolute favourite musical emotions and one that I’m bound to fall head over heels for. From its dynamic opening moments to its stirring climax, Voice carries its bombast and grandiosity on its sleeve but never forgets the importance of a stirring performance and equally potent melody. It perfectly spaces out its production and performance, giving each element enough time to breathe and as such allowing for the tracks knockout moments to really hit.

An impact that can be felt in full force when Voice transitions from its thrilling second chorus into its utterly transcendent bridge, which not only continues the momentum of the centrepiece but elevates the track into a new plane of existence through the introduction of a goosebump inducing feature from a backing choir who also lend their hand to the extended climax. It’s an absolutely majestic performance and a musical moment deserving of 2022’s top accolades.


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