Over the past several years, more and more television shows are adapted from comic books, whether they’re famous titles of well-known superheroes or lesser known supernatural stories. There are now so many of these shows that they’re no longer novel. As a growing part of the pop culture landscape, comic book shows now offer something for almost everyone. From the zombie apocalypse to inspiring superheroes, from fights against the supernatural to deadly vigilantes, there is now such a breadth of comic book shows that they could keep a viewer busy for months.
Many of these shows include fascinating characters, fantastic acting, and inspired storytelling. They take cues from their source material but aren’t slaves to it, enabling them to keep comic book fans on their toes while also drawing in viewers who have no familiarity with the shows’ inspirations. These are the comic book shows that resonate with audiences because they speak to real-life issues, challenges, and relationships, even as they offer some seriously heightened plot points. Then there are the comic book shows that have a harder time finding their footing. These shows are tolerable, they even include some great episodes, but they don’t consistently draw us in. Finally, there are those shows that seem to exist merely due to name-recognition or habit. Some of these have over-stayed their welcome while some never managed to find the parts of the source material that made the story great to begin with. Below, we explore comic book shows that fall into each of these categories.
20. TOLERATE: THE WALKING DEAD
The Walking Dead is starting its ninth season. Over the past eight years, we’ve witnessed every permutation of the horrible things that can happen during a zombie apocalypse. Not to mention, we’ve lost multiple shows’ worth of characters to both human and zombie attacks. In fact, the number of original cast members on the show can now be counted on less than five fingers.
Given all the mayhem and hardship of the past several seasons, it’s no wonder The Walking Dead is getting a little long for some fans. After all, the zombie apocalypse is exhausting. The Walking Dead still has its moments but at this point, it sometimes feels like we’re watching out of habit.
19. LOVE: THE FLASH
Like its namesake hero, The Flash has a zippy energy that keeps it feeling fresh and exciting. While there have certainly been some challenges for the show’s characters over the last couple seasons, Barry Allen’s basic goodness, positivity, and lightness keep the show feeling buoyant. The ongoing introduction of new iterations of Harrison Wells keeps the show interesting.
We’re excited to see where things go in the show’s fifth season, which is set to feature Barry and Iris’ daughter Nora. The impact of their child coming back from the future will surely shake up the show’s dynamic and lead to fun new stories.
18. CAN’T STAND: ARROW
When Arrow started seven years ago, fans were more than excited to see their favorite superhero come to life. The first two seasons of the series were inspired, absorbing television that kick-started the current glut of TV superhero shows. However, after becoming increasingly nonsensical over the years, Arrow has reached its expiration date.
No matter what, the legacy of Arrow is intact: The Arrowverse will always carry its name forward. However, at this point, periodic guest spots by the show’s various characters on the Arrowverse’s other shows would serve their ongoing stories better. In between, give these tired characters a rest!
17. TOLERATE: BLACK LIGHTNING
So far, there has only been a single season of Black Lightning. The show has all the elements of a great series: compelling characters, unique setting, and resonant storylines. Yet, the first season didn’t scale the heights we’re hoping this series can eventually reach. The first several episodes struggled to find a solid narrative through-line and a place for each of the characters.
By the end of the season, though, things started to come together and we got a glimpse of the show Black Lightning could become. We have high hopes that with season 2 this one becomes a show we truly love. Right now, however, we’re not quite there yet.
16. LOVE: PREACHER
Preacher is a singularly weird show that is not for the faint of heart. It features a criminal preacher, a substance-addled vampire, a religious organization that doesn’t like taking no for an answer, and a teenager who tried to off himself and then was accidentally sent to the Underworld. The show can be hilarious, tense, inspired, and bonkers all in the same episode.
Preacher gets better with each new season. A lot of the credit for that goes to Tulip, the girlfriend of the title character. Despite her role as the girlfriend, her storylines are far from secondary. Tulip gets more awesome and fun with each episode, making her one of the biggest reasons to watch the show.
15. CAN’T STAND: RIVERDALE
Riverdale is based on Archie Comics, but the experience of watching it is less John Hughes and more teen Twin Peaks. The show is dark and kooky in equal measures and often features the dissonance of teens solving a murder in one scene and other teens talking about how much they really, really want to sing a song at the talent show in another.
Riverdale had a brilliant first season that made it the perfect guilty-pleasure viewing. The second season had great moments but was more uneven. We’re hoping Archie and his pals will get their mojo back for season 3.
14. LOVE: THE PUNISHER
Netflix-Marvel’s The Punisher is a spin-off of Daredevil. The introduction of Frank Castle on that show demonstrated how fascinating the character could be, so it was a welcome development when Castle got his own series.
The Punisher gave audiences an opportunity to delve into Frank Castle’s psyche. He may not exactly be a good guy, but he’s not exactly a bad guy either. Given the circumstances that led to him becoming the Punisher, it’s hard not to be sympathetic to Castle, even if sometimes he takes things a bit too far. Regardless, the character’s story makes for exhilarating, action-packed TV.
13. CAN’T STAND: GOTHAM
While there are many superhero shows on TV now, especially adaptations based on DC characters, Gotham feels like a bit of an outlier. Originally intended as a Batman show without Batman, the show focuses on Jim Gordon’s younger years on the Gotham police force, as well as the development and rise of many of Batman’s best-known villains.
While the concept is undeniably intriguing, the series has demonstrated why this piece of the Batman mythology previously received minimal screen time. The show often descends into melodrama, scenery-chewing monologuing, and over-the-top shenanigans. While the cast is first-rate, the storytelling makes it hard to get on board with this series.
12. TOLERATE: LEGENDS OF TOMORROW
Legends of Tomorrow has slowly and steadily grown on us over the past three seasons. While it started out as a lackluster story about an unstoppable time-traveling villain, it has grown into an amiable ensemble piece. While some episodes come off as filler, the episodes where the show really works are delightfully silly. On what other show do characters come together to form a giant talking fuzzy toy to take on the bad guy?
The show still has its issues: the big bads of each season are often less than interesting and some of the storylines are more engaging than others. However, the show continues to improve each year. As it enters its fourth season we’re looking forward to seeing it get even better.
11. LOVE: SUPERGIRL
It’s hard to deny the power of Supergirl. With its optimistic storytelling, talented cast, and its mix of sincerity and humor, the show is a lot of fun to watch. In the past, Supergirl has also been particularly skilled at tackling real-world issues both metaphorically and in very realistic ways. Kara’s sister Alex’s coming-out story was delicately handled and beautifully told, and the show’s continued allegorical examination of the issue of immigration remains important.
The show suffered in the second half of its third season from too many on-the-nose issues of the week and some nonsensical storylines. However, our hopes are high that the show can get back on track for its fourth season.
10. TOLERATE: THE DEFENDERS
The Defenders has the distinction of being the only Netflix-Marvel series that audiences complained was too short. The show was the Netflix equivalent of the MCU’s Avengers movies — a team-up of all the heroes we’d met before. Since we knew these characters from their own series, we were inevitably going to watch this.
However, the show’s eight episodes were so brief, we got few character moments or satisfying interactions between the group of heroes. Given how often these characters cross-over into each other’s shows, we’ve had more rewarding experiences with each of these heroes, both as individuals and in relation to each other, in their four separate series.
9. LOVE: DAREDEVIL
The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen has certainly been through it on his namesake show. Matt Murdock is coming back for a third season after seeming to perish in The Defenders, but his story has already been harrowing. Watching his evolution into Daredevil, and the way his interactions with the various people in his life have pulled him in different directions, has been both entertaining and absorbing.
In addition, Daredevil features one of the best villains on TV: Wilson Fisk, who’s suave and sadistic in equal measures. Daredevil turned traditional narrative structure on its head by giving Fisk the grand love story of the first season. It was an inspired choice. We’re hoping for more of them in season 3.
8. CAN’T STAND: IRON FIST
Iron Fist’s first season was an undeniable drag. It had poor pacing, confused plotting, and wacky character motivations that just dragged down the show. Worst of all, Danny Rand came off less like a fish out of water and more like a spoiled child who couldn’t understand why everyone in New York didn’t recognize how great his glowy fist was.
The second season was a big improvement. There were fewer episodes, a more focused storytelling, and clearer character moments, all of which made Iron Fist much more watchable. Best of all, Danny Rand matured substantially. The series isn’t out of our doghouse yet, but at least it’s headed in the right direction.
7. TOLERATE: THE GIFTED
The Gifted is an X-Men show with no X-Men. It does have people with all kinds of mutant abilities, however, and sometimes those abilities are pretty groovy. The show centers on two parents who take their super-powered kids on the run after their abilities are discovered. They eventually connect with the Mutant Underground and are introduced to the many issues people with abilities face for just being who they are.
The series has its compelling moments but so far it hasn’t found a strong plot or instilled its characters with many nuances. The bad humans are mostly just bad. And the conflict between mutants over how to fight for their rights never quite gains narrative momentum. We’ll see where things head in season 2.
6. LOVE: JESSICA JONES
It’s hard not to love Jessica Jones. The tough-talking, mysteriously powered, seriously damaged PI is the heart of this Netflix-Marvel series. The show — its first season, in particular — delves deep into Jessica’s trauma and how she deals with it. And the series as a whole explores the way life can get the better of us in ways that reverberate far into the future.
Jessica Jones sagged a bit in the middle of each of its first two seasons, but overall it’s rewarding to watch Jessica attempt to avoid and confront her demons. Plus, the first season’s villain, Kilgrave, was a compulsively watchable nightmare. Jessica doesn’t always make the right decisions, but she’s always worth spending time with.
5. TOLERATE: AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. arrived on a wave of hype. It was the first TV series of the MCU era and it was built around Agent Phil Coulson, a popular character that appeared to have bought the big one in The Avengers. On top of that, Avengers director Joss Whedon was one of the show’s creators. It appeared as though fans were in good hands with this show.
Unfortunately, convoluted storytelling and a focus on some of the S.H.I.E.L.D. team’s less interesting characters led to an underwhelming show. The show’s fifth season was a vast improvement in the storytelling department, however, and the show’s surprise season 6 renewal has us hoping S.H.I.E.L.D. will keep getting better.
4. LOVE: WYNONNA EARP
Wynonna Earp, focuses on the trash-talking, frequently inebriated great-great-granddaughter of famed Old West lawman Wyatt Earp and her quest to break a family curse. In the process, she must fight the revenants of the Old West baddies that Wyatt took out over 100 years ago.
While Wynonna is an awesome character in her own right, the family and friends that rally around her in her quest and the power of their relationships give the show even more resonance. Wynonna Earp is a perfect combination of supernatural and western vibes. Doc Holliday is a regular character, and he was cursed by a witch with immortality. The show is funny and tragic and heartfelt and ridiculous — a strangely intoxicating combination.
3. CAN’T STAND: INHUMANS
Inhumans got a splashy debut. Before its first episode premiered on TV, it unspooled in IMAX theaters — and fans immediately wondered why. Inhumans was a disappointment from start to finish with its eight episodes. While the cast featured many talented actors, the show got bogged down in sub-par plotting and characters that made no sense.
While the series tried to tell a story about tyranny and free will, its story got so muddled, it made the giant, teleporting CGI dog seem like one of the show’s high points. Inhumans has many compelling characters and stories to tell, but this show didn’t manage to capitalize on that promise. Inhumans deserved better.
2. TOLERATE: LUKE CAGE
Luke Cage is an awesome character. He’s strong but conflicted, principled but imperfect. His nuanced character was the perfect driving force for a TV show. Yet, the first season of Luke Cage sidelined the title character and suffered from a plethora of scenery-chewing villains, some of whom came so far out of left field it was hard to understand what was happening.
Things got better during the show’s second season, which explored Luke’s anger, the burden he bears as a hero, and whether his power will ultimately corrupt him. Sometimes the storytelling suffers from too much repetition and a lack of focus, but Luke Cage keeps improving. We’re excited to see what happens in season 3.
1. LOVE: IZOMBIE
iZombie is a show that probably shouldn’t work. After being turned into a zombie, Liv Moore learns how to cope by working at the morgue (free brains!). After learning that her morgue buffet gives her unique insight into the minds of crime victims, she teams up with a detective to solve their murders. Liv is like an undead Veronica Mars, driven to help people because the combination of brains and good work helps her retain her humanity.
The premise causes Liv to embody a variety of wacky personalities, often to hilarious effect. Along the way, the show has also incorporated a zombie uprising told from both the zombies’ and humans’ points of view. iZombie is a compelling TV show that shouldn’t be missed.
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