There’s just something about superheroes that we guys love. Maybe it’s their ability to get stuff done regardless of the red tape society throws their way. Maybe it’s the fact that they get to wear capes without feeling silly. Whatever it is, we can’t get enough of it. So it’s no wonder that superhero TV shows have become a dime a dozen. We’ll watch them—we love them. But we also know that not all superhero TV shows are created equally. Some feel like they’re churned out in factories while others feel like the shell cordovan of the TV world. If you want to watch not just superhero TV shows, but good superhero TV shows, here are 10 of the best superhero TV shows to watch.
New to Netflix, with only one season available right now, Umbrella Academy is knock-your-socks-off good television. It sticks closely enough to the source material that fans of the comic will enjoy it while managing to tell a compelling long-form story for viewers who enjoy seeing characters unfold over time. The first season covers a mere 8 days, but with flashbacks and flash-forwards, you know years of the characters’ lives by the time you reach its conclusion.
Though a bit dated, Smallville stood out by giving us a Clark Kent who had not fully formed into Superman. It was a more vulnerable Clark Kent than we’d seen up until that point, complete with a sympathetic Lex Luthor. Even as you watched the show, knowing Luthor would turn out evil at some point, you found yourself rooting for things to change—rooting for the bit of good you saw inside him. It’s a great show that can make you feel as much for the supervillain as the superhero, and we loved it for that reason.
The original Green Arrow was a lighthearted cross between Batman and Robin Hood. Arrow gives us a darker, grittier version—less Robin Hood, more Dexter. Arrow is also interesting because it rarely, if ever, uses superpowers, instead giving supervillains more realistic versions of their powers and relying heavily on hand-to-hand combat. It makes it feel more like something that could really happen, and we find that captivating.
For a mind-bending, psychologically intense version of a superhero TV show, Legion is the show to watch. Its exploration of what is real and what is not through the use of a supremely unreliable narrator is fascinating and does something entirely new with television. While it is, at times, almost unclear what’s going on, that’s sort of the point, and we respect the direction the show has taken so far.
What would you do if you found out that your parents were supervillains? This is the question that was asked in the Runaways comics, and it’s further explored in the television show. Unlike the comics, the TV-version of Runaways has parents who are, at times, sympathetic, but who are also doing unambiguously evil things. It’s an interesting show to watch, made more so by the origin-story feel of the teens discovering their powers and the secrets about their parents.
Gritty, dark, and full of dark humor, Jessica Jones is a show about a former superhero who is trying to leave that life behind and start working as a detective instead. Even as she’s drawn back into the world she’s trying to leave behind, we see Jones suffering through real-life trials, including a dysfunctional family, addiction, and a haunting past. It’s a show that keeps you on the edge of your seat, not only because of the plot but because you want to see Jones feel better.
Batman, the Animated Series
Batman, the Animated Series has long been lauded one of the best superhero shows of all times, and it’s no wonder. It’s one of the few renditions of Batman where we get to see more of his villains than Catwoman and the Joker, but gives the viewer long-running storylines with other villains like Clayface and Man-Bat. The also didn’t pull their punches—rare for an animated series—and you actually see deaths in this show. While that might not make it a great show to throw on for your little ones, it makes it perfect for an adult audience.
In the same universe as Arrow comes Supergirl, an exploration of Clark Kent’s cousin, Kara, aka Supergirl. Lighter than Arrow, Supergirl is a superhero show with wit and heart at its core. Kara is naturally charming and interesting to watch, and her family relationships are sweet and compelling. In contrast to Arrow, Supergirl has tons of superpowers—and the special effects to go along with them. For an inspirational superhero show, full of diversity and warmth and love, Supergirl is the place to go.
Like Arrow, Gotham stands out by being a superhero show in which none of the heroes have special powers. They’re heroes simply because they have the heart and grit to stand up against the bad guys. It also has a great cast, including rare child actors who can stand up to the heavy nature of the show and really make it work. It also has no throwaway episodes. Every single episode of the show feels important to the plot, unlike in the villain-of-the-day shows of yore.
From House to Dexter, Hollywood has been playing with the concept of the antihero for a while now—and audiences are eating it up. The Punisher is the antihero of the superhero universe, and it rises beautifully to the challenge. It plays with the concept of morality, with nothing in the show being a straight black and white judgment calls. Meanwhile, it gives you an origin story for Jigsaw, which feels fresh and exciting.
Superhero TV shows have come a long way over the years. No longer episodic monster-of-the-day shows, today’s superhero TV shows have grit and heart. And while we still respect early shows, like Smallville, for getting us on this path, we also love some of the newest offerings in the genre.