Including both Marvel and DC, what are the best superhero TV series of all time? Most critics take the view that the superhero TV genre really began in 1949, when Clayton Moore starred in The Lone Ranger. They’ve been a mainstay of television ever since, with Marvel and DC comics serving as the inspiration for countless small-screen adaptations. But superheroes have never been bigger than they are right now, with both Marvel and DC producing a wide range of comic book shows, while lesser-known brands like The Umbrella Academy are likewise inspiring popular shows.
The modern superhero genre is surprisingly diverse, embracing everything from science-fiction to supernatural fantasy, from dark and gritty violence to cheesy fun and humor. All of the best are character-driven, exploring what it is that makes their heroes tick, and setting them up against challenges that make even the greatest quail. Many have a strong social conscience, aware that their heroes are supposed to stand against injustice and thus using the superheroic adventures to explore real-world issues.
Given this is such a packed field, it’s a challenge to choose the best superhero TV shows. Here, we’ve deliberately chosen shows that have stood the test of time; either series that have been running for several years, or shows that are still fondly remembered years or even decades after they aired.
10. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. launched in 2013 with star Clark Gregg reprising his big-screen role as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson and has since become Marvel Television’s most popular show; season 6 is due to air in May this year, while ABC has already signed off on season 7. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. boasts an excellent cast, all of whom have grown into their roles over the last five seasons; Chloe Bennet’s Quake, in particular, has evolved into a deep and complex character. But S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s greatest strength is its seemingly limitless ability to reinvent itself; it can pivot from supernatural near-horror to dystopian science-fiction with effortless ease. While the first two seasons leaned strongly on their MCU connections, nowadays Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has built up a mythology all of its own, one it delights in building on.
Loosely inspired by a third-tier X-Men character, Noah Hawley’s Legion demonstrates the sheer diversity of the superhero genre. It stars Dan Stevens as David Haller, a man who believes he’s suffering from a version of schizophrenia but who is really a powerful mutant. The series explores its world through David’s eyes, meaning viewers have to constantly question the nature of reality; while Legion does deploy traditional superhero tropes, it usually gives them an intelligent and unexpected twist, meaning they land with fresh force. Legion has been renewed for a third (and final) series, which will introduce Harry Lloyd as Professor Charles Xavier, David’s father.
8. Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman
Starring Dean Cain and Terri Hatcher as Clark Kent and Lois Lane, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman was a fascinating reinvention of the Man of Steel inspired by John Byrne’s comics. This series is as much a superhero romance as anything else, focused primarily on the relationship between Lois and Clark, and exploring just what drives Clark Kent to be a hero. The show is unique in its portrayal of Clark Kent, who is more assertive than usual; notice that the typical hairstyles are inverted, with Superman featuring slicked-back hair and Clark having the more natural fringe. Lois & Clark ran from 1993 through to 1997, with a will-they-won’t-they romance that was drawn out just a little too long; it says everything that the eventual wedding was in a season 4 episode entitled “Swear To God, This Time We’re Not Kidding.” The same week, DC Comics married the couple in the comics as well.
7. Teen Titans
Teen Titans is generally viewed as one of the best animated shows in the last 20 years, superhero or otherwise. Incredibly, according to third-party analytics provided to Screen Rant, it’s still one of the most in-demand TV shows today, almost 13 years after it came to an end. Created by Glen Murakami, it’s based on Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s iconic Teen Titans run from the comics. It premiered in 2003, with Cartoon Network originally planning four seasons but commissioning a fifth due to its popularity; there was even a spin-off movie, Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo, that essentially served as a series finale. Teen Titans became one of Cartoon Network’s most beloved and critically acclaimed series, earning a strong reputation for consistent character development and surprisingly mature themes.
When Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, and Andrew Kreisberg launched Arrow in 2012, they had no idea how big it would become. The series stars Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen, a billionaire playboy who has been missing for five years and returns to his city with a secret mission to serve as a vigilante. Arrow is still ongoing, and The CW has built an entire shared universe of superhero TV shows upon its foundation. Amell’s performance is really what holds Arrow together, while the twisted tales are strong enough to make the series compelling viewing. It’s rightly come under fire for lifting more Batman plots from the comics than Green Arrow stories, but in general that’s worked well.
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