* = indicates an animated series
Kicking things off on the list is the Spider-Man animated series from the 90’s. Did a fantastic job weaving together both classic and modern elements of the Wall Crawler and his vast array of supporting characters. Was, along with Batman: The Animated Series, largely responsible for the resurgence of comic book properties in the mainstream and the corresponding boom in merchandise.
19. Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman
After the flop that was Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, the Man of Steel laid virtually dormant as a media property outside of comics. This is the show that really brought him back to the public eye. Dean Cain played a serviceable, if not spectacular Superman, but his chemistry between he and the beautiful Teri Hatcher was the driving force of the series.
18. Sabrina the Teenage Witch
Fun and easily accessible. A good portion of the fanbase for this teen supernatural comedy have no idea that it was actually a modernized take on an Archie Comics series. While Melissa Joan Hart was great in the titular role, the real star of the show was the animatronic cat, Salem.
Yes, it’s campy. Yes, it strips away all of the darkness and edge from the Caped Crusader. Yes, it is just downright silly at times. And yes, it is ridiculously entertaining in its own right.
16. Legends of Tomorrow
The first of 3 of CW’s series of inter-connected DC properties known as the “Arrowverse.” A ragtag team of former villains and fallen/disgraced heroes all in search of redemption as they travel through time battling threats to humanity. Not as consistent as Arrow, but at its best, I actually think it’s better.
15. Agent Carter
Simultaneously a spin-off of both Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Captain America film franchise, Agent Carter followed the life of Cap’s old love interest Peggy Carter and her struggles to prove herself as not only a capable agent, but actually the best agent in a male-dominated world. Really bridges the gap between the MCU movies and television series.
The show that launched CW’s “Arrowverse.” Much darker in tone than the other series in the shared universe, without being too dark. While Stephen Amell looks the part of Oliver Queen pretty well, and I appreciate his commitment to the parkour and training regimen for the role, his acting always seems to fall a bit flat, especially in comparison to some of his co-stars like Emily Bett Rickards (Felicity Smoak) and David Ramsey (Spartan). Known for strangely consistently using Batman villains instead of digging deep into Green Arrow’s rogues gallery.
13. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles*
Considered by many to be the definitive take on Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s iconic crime fighting reptiles. Much more lighthearted and funny, and less faithful to and focused on the samurai culture than the original comic, but responsible for creating many of the personality traits and characteristics that have become widely-accepted parts of these beloved characters, including the turtles wearing different colored masks and making April O’Neil a reporter instead of a computer programmer and lab assistant.
12. Luke Cage
While the series’ first season feels a bit uneven, with a fantastic, engaging first half followed by a slow, sometimes to the point of boring, second half, when it’s good, it’s very good. A huge part of that imbalance comes from the lack of Cottonmouth (played brilliantly by Mahershala Ali) in the back half, and the antagonist focus shifting to the poorly developed, far less interesting, Diamondback. Here’s hoping the second season can reach a little more consistency.
Loosely based on Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s seminal comic series of the same name, about a Texas preacher who becomes imbued with supernatural powers on his journey to literally find God. The first season serves almost as a prequel, with small pieces of the early issues woven in. While there are several great performances on the show, the true stand out is Joseph Gilgun as the hard-drinking Irish vampire, Cassidy.
10. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
The first television entrant in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Started off a bit slow, but by the end of the first season, it really found its legs, thanks in large part to direct connections to the plot of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Focuses on a team of specialized agents on clandestine missions for the government lead by Phil Coulson (resurrected after the events of The Avengers), and features one of the most diverse ensembles on television.
Piggybacking off of Jim Lee’s excellent, highly successful run on the X-Men comics, the animated series was largely faithful to the source material and served as the entry point into the X-Men universe for a lot of kids in the mid- to late-90’s. And how much sadder would the Internet be without the overdubbed parody clip “I’m the Juggernaut, bitch!”?
8. The Tick*
Off-beat, quirky, and incredibly funny, The Tick may have only lasted for a mere 36 episodes, but it quickly developed a large cult following. Detailing the exploits of the extremely strong, but equally as dim-witted superhero, The Tick, the show did a tremendous job lampooning superhero archetypes and cliches.
7. Tales From the Crypt
HBO’s horror anthology series is famous for the amazing guest starring roles it seemed to pull in every episode and the iconic pun-spewing host, the Crypt-Keeper. Borrowing several stories directly from the 1950’s EC Comics series, and paying homage to the classic horror style in the stories that weren’t, one of the best series in the genre.
6. Jessica Jones
Heavy and gritty, the Netflix series delves deep into the scarred psyche of the super-powered titular hero (Krysten Ritter) and the effects of the PTSD she suffers after being raped and forced to kill by the mind-controlling sociopath Kilgrave (played to surprisingly icky perfection by David Tenant). Might have been even higher if not for a somewhat disappointing second season.
5. The Flash
Proof that you don’t have to be dark to make a great comic TV show. Centered around the Barry Allen version of the Scarlet Speedster, The Flash is compelling, smart, and just downright entertaining. Grant Gustin is wonderful in the lead role and is surrounded by a great cast of supporting characters, with Wentworth Miller’s take on Captain Cold being a personal favorite. The only real issue with the series has been its over-reliance on speedsters as the primary villain, finally breaking that mold in the 4th season.
4. The Punisher
Spinning off of Daredevil, Netflix’s The Punisher is as violent and brooding as you’ll find in a comic book based TV series. Jon Bernthal finally brings us the live action version of Frank Castle we’ve been waiting for. Even as violent as it is, the mayhem and blood never seem forced or over the top, but instead feel like a necessary part of the story of brutal justice for a man who had his family taken from him.
3. Batman: The Animated Series*
Definitely the top animated series in the world of comics, and in the discussion for best cartoons period. Darker and more well-written than the average animated fare. For many people, myself included, this is THE definitive portrayal of both Batman and the Joker, played to perfection by Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, respectively. Also responsible for creating the beloved Harley Quinn and the now-canonical tragic backstory for Mr. Freeze.
Netflix’s dark, gritty take on Marvel’s Man Without Fear, is the greatest superhero show ever produced. Compelling storytelling and some of the best fight choreography you’ll ever see are highlighted by incredible performances from Charlie Cox as the titular hero and Vincent D’Onofrio as his nemesis Wilson Fisk, aka the Kingpin.
1. The Walking Dead
Easily the greatest television adaptation of a comic book, and arguably one of the greatest series in general. While the show has definitely taken a step down in quality as of late, it is still a fantastic journey into the human condition. When all of society crumbles after a zombie outbreak, you get to see who people really are. Watching the character progressions of Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs) are especially captivating.