Marvel’s foray into television is somewhat mixed. Its Netlix series were all hits, save for Iron Fist, but shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and Inhumans have had their fair share of struggles. At the same time, Marvel’s animated series never seem to clique as well as DC’s cartoons. DC on the other hand has had massive success on television! Its CW shows are wildly popular, with Arrow heading into its sixth season, and the company has almost always had success with animation. However, Arrow’s critical reception is mixed at best. All things considered, the world might be getting tired of DC and Marvel television.
But, fret not, there are other superhero shows out there. Some are straight-up superhero series with original characters, unique ideas and an interesting take on the genre. Others are what we like to call “superhero adjacent,” meaning they take some of the tropes and elements of superheroes or comic book storytelling and themes, and present them in a different way. TV shows from the “big two” publishers can sometimes grow a little stale, so if you’re looking for something new or exciting series to check out, then pay attention. Here are 15 “superhero” shows you should be watching instead of DC or Marvel!
16. STRANGER THINGS
Though there are no capes or tights, Netflix’s hit Sci-Fi series, Stranger Things has plenty of comic book elements thrown into the mix. Stranger Things follows a group of kids as they search for their missing friend, getting involved with alternate dimensions, secret government experiments and straight-up monsters along the way. A little bit of horror, a little bit of Sci-Fi and even a bit of superhero. Still don’t see it? Let us break it down for you.
The most obvious superhero element in Stranger Things is Eleven, the telekinetic little girl who’s the result of secret experiments. Eleven has superpowers and wants to help others, making this series basically her origin story — though whether it is villainous or heroic remains to be seen. Of course, the way she rescues Will from the Upside-down is like rescuing a hostage from the villain’s lair, so we’ll err on the side of hero… for now.
15. VOLTRON: LEGENDARY DEFENDER
Voltron: Legendary Defender is a wildly popular American reboot of the original Voltron, both shows having a lot of superhero elements to them. Legendary Defender follows the paladins of Voltron, a giant robot made up of five smaller Lion-themed ships. The paladins are also capable fighters outside their lions, chosen by the ships to defend the universe from evil. It doesn’t take too much digging to see the superhero elements in this series, and the stellar animation and writing keep things exciting and action-packed.
Though Voltron doesn’t have a lot of American superhero elements in it, it takes a lot of cues from Japanese superheroes — the matching uniforms, the emphasis on teamwork and of course, the giant robots. The Paladins not only fight against an evil empire, they also do what they can to help planets in need, acting like true superheroes.
14. STAR TREK: DISCOVERY
CBS’ latest installment in the Stark Trek franchise, Discovery, takes place before the events of the original series, logging the adventures of the USS Discovery during the Federation-Klingon war. Starring Sonequa Martin-Green as First Officer Michael Burnham, the series has received mostly positive reviews, and it features some cool superhero elements. Though it’s strictly a Sci-Fi series — it is Star Trek after all — there are a few bits of superhero elements hidden within the series.
For one thing, Michael is a sort of reluctant, or tragic superhero, finding herself working for the Federation aboard the Discovery after accidentally sparking the War with the Klingons. Furthermore, the central cast acts sort of like a superhero team, featuring a diverse group of characters, each with their own special skills, including Saru, who can sense death. Both Star Trek and superhero fans can enjoy this show.
13. DRAGON BALL SUPER
Continuing the adventures of Goku, and removing the dreaded Dragon Ball GT from the canon, Dragon Ball Super is a whole lot of fun. Despite the animation being somewhat poor quality at times, Dragon Ball Super is definitely worth the watch, especially for superhero fans. For those who have watched all of the Dragon Ball franchise, then Super is for you.
Goku and friends are basically superheroes without costumes and gimmicks (or maybe just presented in a different way to the ones we know in our funny books). Along with the return of Frieza, Goku finds himself fighting Gods, warriors from parallel universes and even alternate timeline versions of himself. As insane as it all sounds, that’s what makes Super so much fun, and a must-see for superhero lovers (though you should check out all of Dragon Ball while you’re at it).
Created by the Wachowskis, Sense8 is perhaps the most ambitious superhero show of all time. Though it was cancelled after two seasons, a follow up film was announced to air in 2018 due to an upswell in its fandom. That kind of fan support should tell you just how good the show is, especially since it does a lot of cool things with the superhero genre.
The show is about eight strangers who are psychically linked to each other, thinking and feeling each other’s thoughts and emotions. These eight strangers learn to use their connection to help each other and to avoid being hunted down by those who wish to study and experiment on their abilities. It’s like if a superhero team had a hive-mind… and it’s awesome.
11. STEVEN UNIVERSE
An alien-hybrid kid with a magical destiny? Sounds a lot like Sailor Moon, but we’re actually talking about Steven Universe, the Cartoon Network original series created by Rebecca Sugar. Steven Universe follows the titular character as he learns about his Gem heritage and powers while preparing for a coming war with the Gem homeworld. Along the way, Steven is guided by his friends/guardians, the Crystal Gems: Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl.
As we mentioned, Steven Universe has a lot in common with Sailor Moon, a quintessential superhero anime, and it’s got a lot of other superhero elements to it, too. A lot of strange things happen in Steven’s town of Beach City, and it’s up to him and the Crystal Gems to protect the citizens from danger. Though it’s mainly a coming-of-age tale, Steven Universe is a great cartoon for superhero lovers.
Supernatural is The CW’s longest running show at 13 seasons, gaining a huge fanbase in that time, some of which might be superhero fans. The show is essentially a buddy comedy meets Hellboy, focusing on the Winchester brothers as they take care of supernatural happenings, hunting down demons, monsters and even gods. The Hellboy-like aspects add some superhero flair to the show, as do the foes the brothers face.
As hunters, Sam and Dean Winchester are costume-less superheroes, fighting “crime” in the form of supernatural beings and urban myths. To take things further, a popular book series “based” on the brothers exists within the world of the show, something reminiscent of superhero comics. If you’re looking for a low-key, but exciting superhero-adjacent show, then strap in for all 13 seasons of Supernatural.
9. MY HERO ACADEMIA
Anime might not be for everyone, but even superhero fans might find something to love about My Hero Academia. In a world where the majority of the population has superpowers (known as Quirks), young Izuku Midoriya is left quirkless. To make things worse, all Izuku ever wanted was to be a great superhero like his idol, All Might. Fortunately, Izuku is given the chance to go to U.A. High School, an academy for young superheroes, when he is given superpowers by All Might himself.
The premise of My Hero Academia is sort of like a reverse X-Men, exploring some deep themes and showing what it truly means to be a hero, how you have to earn the title. Though some non-anime watchers might be confused about certain Japanese culture aspects of the show, My Hero Academia is fun, exciting and easy to get hooked on.
8. INTO THE BADLANDS
Post-apocalyptic stories usually have a bit of superhero storytelling. In that vein, superheroes take a lot of cues from pulp and western heroes, so post-apocalyptic and superhero stories share an ancestor of sorts. Into the Badlands is an excellent example of this, featuring aspects of westerns and superheroes, especially in the main characters, Sunny and M.K. The series takes place in a world where barons control the last remaining resources in the world, and they do so with iron fists.
Into the Badlands’ biggest superhero element is the fight scenes, taking cues from martial arts movies and throwing in some superhuman feats that make for incredibly exciting choreography. Add to that Sunny’s character development and M.K.’s mysterious powers, and Into The Badlands is one of the best superhero-adjacent shows out there.
RWBY (pronounced “ruby”) is an anime-style series created by Rooster Teeth that follows Ruby Rose, a young huntress in a world of monsters and evil as she attends Beacon Academy to hone her hunting skills. Armed with a scythe-gun and joined by her friends, Ruby faces a coming threat the likes of which the world of Remnant has never seen.
Though geared as a fantasy / Sci-Fi adventure series, there’s plenty to love for superhero fans in RWBY. Each character has a semblance — a power unique to them — and a unique weapon, that is usually two weapons in one. The fight sequences are thus suitably insane. Created by the late Monty Oum, who also choreographed the early seasons, RWBY is a non-stop adventure with loads of action.
6. THE OA
Though it didn’t have quite the same impact as Stranger Things, The OA is another Sci-Fi Netflix series featuring alternate dimensions and rescuing people from them. The series follows Prairie Johnson, a blind girl who went missing for seven years, only to return with her sight intact, calling herself The OA. After explaining that she wasn’t the only one who went missing, and that she needs to open a portal to save the others, The OA gathers five people to start a rescue mission.
The OA has “mysterious superhero origin” vibes going for it, featuring a lot of elements from tragic superhero tales. The team The OA assembles is similar to a superhero team in their mission to rescue the other victims, and Prairie herself exhibits skills that make her a superhero of sorts. If you’re looking for mystery and intrigue with a super-powered twisst, check out The OA.
5. STAR VS. THE FORCES OF EVIL
It’s gonna get a little weird, since Star Butterfly, princess of alternate dimension Mewni, is transferring to an Earth high school. Star Vs. The Forces of Evil is a Disney XD original series created by Daron Nefcy, and it’s an awesome American take on the magical girl genre. Star is sent to Earth as punishment and must learn to responsibly use her magic wand so she can someday take over the throne.
Star is joined by new friend/housemate Marco Diaz as they are pursued by the evil Ludo, who is after the Butterfly family wand. Star Vs. FOE is a lot of fun, combining Sailor Moon with high school dramadies, getting surprisingly deep at times. The show is funny, action-packed and a must-see for superhero and cartoon fans alike.
4. THE TICK
It’s not easy to pull off good drama and depiction of mental illness in a superhero parody show, but Amazon’s The Tick does it pretty dang well. Based on the Ben Edlund comic/character, The Tick focuses on Arthur, a timid individual whose life is turned upside down when a big blue superhero by the name of The Tick shows up to kickstart his “destiny” to be a hero.
The Tick succeeds at both parodying the superhero genre and paying tribute to it, presenting some well-done drama at the same time. Darker superhero elements that are popular in film and TV are incorporated into the series, but aren’t overdone; in fact, they are even poked fun at throughout each episode. With a fun cast of characters and well-done action, The Tick deserves your attention.
3. OK K.O.! LET’S BE HEROES
To be a great hero, you must have skills, power and an unbridled determination to help others. Achieving these things can be done by… working at the local convenience store? That’s the premise of Cartoon Network’s latest original series, OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes, created by Ian Jones-Quartey. Based on things like Japanese video games and Dragon Ball, OK K.O.! follows the titular K.O. as he aspires to be a great hero, hoping to do so by working at Gar’s Bodega, a hero supply store.
K.O. is an ever-optimistic kid who quickly makes friends with coworkers Rad and Enid, helping them fight off the evil robots of across-the-street villain, Lord Boxman. With tons of nerdy easter-eggs and influences, OK K.O.! is perfect for any video game and anime fan looking for some superheroic adventures.
2. WYNONA EARP
Based on a comic book series by Beau Smith, Wynona Earp follows the great great granddaughter of Wyatt Earp. Wynona hunts and kills demons that inhabit her home town of Ghost River Triangle. With the help of her ancestor’s magic revolver, Wynona must bring justice to the supernatural monsters who threaten her home.
It’s not hard to see the superhero elements in Wynona Earp, not least because it’s an actual comic book! She’s the only one with the power to stop an evil from destroying her city, that’s straight comic book stuff right there! Despite many people having never heard of the show, Wynona Earp has a dedicated fan base and recently earned itself a third season. Maybe it’s time to join that fanbase, since Wynona Earp is worth the watch.
Last but not least, we have NBC’s Blindspot, a series that’s like Memento, if it was a crime procedural. The show follows a mysterious woman who is found naked and without her memory, only to learn she has a wide variety of combat and language skills, as well as tattoos revealing clues to unsolved crimes. Though it functions more like a police procedural show, Blindspot is definitely a superhero-adjacent story.
With extensive combat training and her mysterious tattoos, the amnesiac woman, designated as a “Jane Doe,” helps solve crimes for the FBI, acting as a superhero of sorts to the government agency. The whole mysterious past thing feels reminiscent of superheroes like Wolverine, and the show manages to twist some old tropes into an exciting, action-packed ride.
Can you think of any other superhero-adjacent shows that you would recommend to comics fans? Let us know in the comments!
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