Superhero shows have seen a lot of progress in terms of quality over the last two decades. We went from relatively low-budget (though much beloved) shows like The Incredible Hulk (1978-1982) and The Flash (1990-1991) to the action-packed series we have today such as Daredevil and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. Superhero fans have more shows to choose from now than ever before and with the shared universes of Marvel and DC based properties, these shows are bound to get a lot more interesting. So we here at CBR decided to rank them so you might have an easier time at picking the best to begin with.
We’ve ranked these shows based on the quality of their stories, their characters, the performances of their main cast and of course the special effects, which are way more impressive now than the effects of yester-decade. As much as we’d like to include the incredible yet under-appreciated shows like Constantine or Agent Carter, we’re only including shows that are still running at the time of this list’s writing. We’ll also be judging them in their entirety, not just their most recent season, no matter how good or bad they might have been. Without further ado, we give you 15 great superheroes shows, ranked.
The show delves into the Batman mythos from the perspective of James Gordon (played by Ben McKenzie) who, in the beginning, had just started out with the GCPD. Gordon was meant to be the focus of the show but over its three seasons, many familiar characters have been introduced such as Selina Kyle, Hugo Strange and even Bruce Wayne, each one developing more and more.
It has improved a great deal in regards to structure. All in all, it’s a decent series with suitable performances from most of its cast members. Unfortunately, it seems to be at a loss in regards to the direction it wants to go and therefore is never as great as it should be, considering the characters and world they’re trying to build from. Still, with all the power plays and births of villains, Gotham isn’t without its merits, and remains a popular mainstay for a reason.
14. STAN LEE’S LUCKY MAN
One of the few superhero shows out there based on an original idea. Stan Lee’s Lucky Man centers on Harry Clayton (played by James Nesbitt), a detective with a serious gambling addiction and the worst luck with it. That changes when he meets a mysterious woman with a mysterious ancient bracelet which gives its wearer the ability to control luck.
The premise is intriguing enough, it’s well written and the stars of this British production act it all out with a natural grace. That being said, it does have its flaws. The most bothersome of these is that it all plays out at quite a slow pace and as such, might not appeal much tot hose who love fast-paced action. For the most part, this is a procedural crime drama, only with luck well and truly on the detective’s side.
13. IRON FIST
The immortal Iron Fist was the greatly anticipated fourth addition to Marvel’s Netflix series leading up to the Defenders. It revolves around Danny Rand (played by Finn Jones), a billionaire who returns to New York after a 15 year disappearance, during which he trained in K’un-Lun and learned to focus his chi into a powerful punch.
Iron Fist remains reasonably faithful to the comic book source material and much like the shows that preceded it, its full of some well shot fight scenes. Unfortunately, unlike the other MCU-related shows, the story sluggishly unfolds and its characters are disappointingly written. That being said, it looks great and it helps connect the other series which will no doubt add to the upcoming Defenders series. Not ideal in regards to redeeming qualities, perhaps, but it’s not as bad as it could have been.
12. LUKE CAGE
Marvel’s Netflix series focus on street-level action, and no series brings that to light better than Luke Cage. In it, the titular character (played by Mike Colter) finds himself fighting against the misguided and monstrous gangsters who threaten to tear his home apart. It takes place after the events of Jessica Jones and doles out Cage’s origin story slowly.
It’s well acted and wonderfully shot with respect to the gritty, cultured Harlem depicted in the show. Cage uses his powers sparingly, which makes the fight scenes that much more enjoyable and memorable. For those who prefer a more action-focused storyline with more epic displays of power on Cage’s part, this show might seem a bit slow or lacking, at least in the beginning. Generally though, it’s a great adaptation of the character with some truly choice music!
There is a lot to be said about Arrow, which will soon begin its seventh season. The show centers on Oliver Queen (played by Stephen Amell), who became the Arrow when he returned to Starling City (now Star City) after five years stranded on the island of Lian Yu. With his friends and allies, he protects Star City from ever increasing evil forces.
Oliver Queen as a character has grown immensely since his first appearance. He’s turned from the borderline murderous renegade to the righteous hero and mayor of Star City we see today. That visible growth is noteworthy and makes this story that much more interesting, which helps to make up for the relatively unimpressive set pieces and costumes. It’s fast-paced and unbelievably cheesy at times but good fun, which is more like what a superhero television show should be.
10. THE FLASH
A spin-off of Arrow, the Flash stars Grant Gustin as Barry Allen — the fastest man alive. He protects Central City from other metahumans, some of whom he indirectly creates by messing up the timeline. The Flash isn’t the only speedster present in the show, though — in fact, his villains all tend to have some sort of super-speed. Much like the comics, there are also other heroes from all over the multiverse, who have to band together to stop villains like Savitar, the self-proclaimed speed god.
The fights are epic, the effects are pretty great (all things considered), and the performances are relatively believable. The really awesome thing about the Flash is that it has found a balance between dramatic, high-stakes plotlines and humor. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and generally maintains quite a lighthearted tone.
9. AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.
For those who aren’t familiar…Agent Coulson (played by Clark Gregg) lives!! The show is about him leading a small group of (former) S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and their story runs parallel to the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It begins after the events of The Avengers (directed by Joss Whedon) and has shifted in tone along with the films. The series has seen Coulson help defend the world against superhuman threats as well as the hidden forces of HYDRA.
AoS is more dynamic than any that has come before it, flowing with the films and adapting to those events, making this series almost unpredictable, especially with its darkening tone. While it did have a rough beginning, it has grown into something great with a plot that affects the rest of the MCU, unafraid to introduce things from the comic like Ghost Rider or the Inhumans, the latter of which will have their own show soon, too!
8. LEGENDS OF TOMORROW
Carefully established through the minor characters of Arrow and The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow brings the likes of The Atom, White Canary, Firestorm, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Captain Cold and Heatwave together in order to prevent the horrible future brought on by Vandal Savage.
The show is full of epic battles and fun little twists and turns, played out by a charismatic cast. While that sounds like it should be awesome, for many, the show can seem quite overwhelming in that it tries to put too much on screen and with sub-par special effects. There is a large cast and a lot of fan service across these 45-minute episodes and it still hasn’t quite found a balance yet. Still, there is a lot of potential and it cannot be said that the show is boring.
You might be disappointed if you go into this expecting a completely faithful adaptation of Chris Roberson and Michael Allred’s comic series. iZombie tells the story of Olivia Moore (played by Rose McIver), a medical resident who is turned into a zombie and must continue to eat brains in order to maintain her humanity. She finds that she briefly inherits the memories and personality traits from the brains she devours, allowing her to help detective Babineaux solve murder cases.
It’s a lot funnier than it all sounds and iZombie does an awesome job at maintaining that balance between comedy and drama, especially in its latest season. However, it’s aimed at young adults so some of the humor might seem a bit juvenile for older audiences. Regardless, it’s worth watching a few episodes, if only to help you decide whether you love it or hate it.
What would it be like if the devil walked among us? Lucifer, based on Neil Gaiman’s character from The Sandman, answers that question. Lucifer (played by Tom Ellis) is the devil, enjoying life among mortals in Los Angeles until he encounters detective Chloe Decker (played by Lauren German) and his world begins to change.
The show does extremely well in adapting from the source material. The most impressive thing about it is that it’s able to depict Lucifer as a relatable, complex, understandably enraged fallen angel, despite his supernatural divine powers and the epic scale of the schemes he finds himself entangled in. The show is quite conservative with using special effects, which adds to the air of realism it maintains despite the occasionally uneven performances from its supporting cast.
Jesse Custer (played by Dominic Cooper) is a preacher who is given the supernatural ability to command people to do things after a mysterious entity descends upon Earth and merges with him. He tests the limits of his newfound power, unveils his small town’s many secrets and lies, and begins a search for God with his friend, the vampire Cassidy and Tulip, Jesse’s girlfriend.
This show is… for lack of a better word… weird. Don’t get us wrong, this show is phenomenal. It’s got a great blend of comic book and horror elements and you’ll see a lot of supernatural action, epic stories, vampires, angels, demons and a lot of perfectly choreographed violence. If you prefer complex antiheroes to stoic city sentinels, you definitely want to get started on Preacher if you haven’t already.
Supergirl places a largely under-appreciated superhero in the spotlight. Kara Zor-El (played by Melissa Benoist) is the cousin of Superman, sent to Earth to watch over him. However, her ship was knocked off course and thrown into the Phantom Zone. By the time she reached Earth, Kal-El had already become the Man of Steel. Now it’s Kara’s turn to show the world what she can do by becoming National City’s protector.
The show has done extremely well at letting Supergirl become her own character. That is to say, despite the addition of several well-known DC characters like Martian Manhunter or even Superman himself, Supergirl never has to rely on them. The main titular character — like the show itself — still stands out and doesn’t lose any of her presence. Fans of the character will adore it!
The first of Marvel’s Netflix series premiered in 2015 with Daredevil, which depicts Matt Murdock’s (played by Charlie Cox) transformation into the devil of Hell’s Kitchen and his fight against forces like the Hand or the Kingpin, which would tear New York apart. It ties into the rest of the MCU, but unlike Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, it does so in a more subtle way, mostly to maintain a level of realism.
The show focuses more on crime in the streets perpetuated by thugs and mob bosses like Kingpin (played by Vincent D’Onofrio). Its heroes and villains are just humans and yet they’re arguably more complex and powerful in regards to a narrative, than the films’ many superhuman antagonists. That speaks volumes about the series’ many writers and the skill of its actors, which is why, despite a relatively underwhelming second season, it’s still one of the best superhero shows out there.
2. JESSICA JONES
Few characters in superhero shows today are more complex than Jessica Jones (played by Krysten Ritter), who, despite her superhuman strength, possesses some very human qualities. She doesn’t want to be a hero but she can’t just turn away when the nefarious, mind-controlling Purple Man re-enters her life.
There’s only been one season so far but Jessica Jones has already shown us the kind of powerful drama its main character is capable of. The show not only succeeds on the strength of its star, but on its antagonist as well. The Purple Man is equal parts horrifying and fascinating, and the show doesn’t shy away from showing us the horrors a supervillain is capable of. Shocking though that often is, its relatable vibe adds to the impact it has along with its dark atmosphere.
Legion is very different from any other superhero show you’ve seen. David Haller (played by Dan Stevens) is a mutant and an extremely powerful one at that. He’s capable of reshaping reality and controlling minds, among other things. The only problem is, he can’t control his power or his own mind, thanks to the parasitic mental being known as the Shadow King.
The interesting thing about Legion is that a lot of the time, it takes place in David’s head. We explore his character with him as he journeys through his own mind. The plot is rife with twists and turns since, like David, we’re never sure about what’s real and what isn’t. It’s colorful, beautiful and ugly when it wants to be, and possesses a talented and enthusiastic cast. After all the explosive, borderline formulaic superhero shows we get, we need something different; so far, Legion looks to be it.
Do you agree with our ranking? Have we missed a great superhero show? Let us know in the comments!
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