Marvel is bigger than ever nowadays due to their films in the MCU, but the comic book company has had a pretty good run on the small screen as well with their many TV shows. From animated to live-action, a great deal of people’s favorite characters have popped off the page and onto your TV screens over the past few decades.
That said, some shows are definitely better than others. For every Daredevil, there’s an Iron Fist or an Inhumans. For every Spider-Man: The Animated Series, there’s a Silver Surfer or The Fantastic Four. But the top ten series listed below are the cream of the Marvel crop. That is, until we start getting the Marvel TV shows on Disney+ like The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Moon Knight. Then, well, let’s just remember these 10 while we still can, okay?
This article contains some spoilers for the shows mentioned throughout.
10. X-Men (1992-1997)
Running for five seasons, X-Men: The Animated Series, or just X-Men, was actually the second attempt to get the mutants on the small screen. The first attempt was the failed pilot, X-Men: Pryde of the X-Men. But the second try was the charm since Wolverine, Gambit, Cyclops, Jubilee, Rogue, and many others became mainstays on the Saturday morning cartoon block back in the 90s.
What made the show so special was what made the comic book special, too. It tackled heavy topics such as bigotry and isolation in a digestible format that even children could understand. And it also covered a lot of the most famous story arcs from the comics, namely the Phoenix saga and The Age of Apocalypse. Oh, and it also featured Wolverine covered in scorpions. Yep, the only thing keeping X-Men lower on this list is the fact that it hasn’t aged nearly as well as you would imagine. Still, it's a worthy watch and one of Marvel’s better TV shows. You can watch the entire series on Disney+.
9. Runaways (2017-2019)
Though it had a slow start (Like, the entire first season slow), this Young Adult show got interesting in its next two seasons. Oh, and it had a Cloak and Dagger crossover to boot. Based on the popular comic written by Y. The Last Man’s Brian K. Vaughn, Runaways is about a bunch of teens running away (get it?), and ultimately coming together to go against their supervillain parents, The Pride.
What made Runaways interesting was the diverse cast, which acted almost as a Breakfast Club of superheroes. Alex the geek, who also happens to be an alien, Gertrude, the activist with her pet dinosaur, Nico, the Goth girl who also happens to be a witch. It’s a pretty cool scenario that was only hampered by its slightly uneven seasons. Unfortunately, there won’t be a fourth season, but it ended on a pretty good note. You can find the first two seasons on Disney+, and the entire series on Hulu.
8. Luke Cage (2016-2018)
Poor Luke Cage, cancelled before its prime. Luke Cage, also known as Power Man in the comics, was a socially conscious show that also kind of slid into blaxploitation territory at times. But like most of the Netflix Marvel shows, it was grossly uneven, with some parts of Season 1 feeling completely unnecessary. Even so, its cast was amazing, most notably the lead, Mike Colter, and Mahershala Ali as Cottonmouth (R.I.P. Cottonmouth).
The story centered around Luke Cage, a man with super tough skin, who starts off with people thinking he's bad, then people think he’s good, and then he becomes a little of both. Even though it fits snugly in the Netflix Marvel universe, it was fine as a standalone, and it was unique in its setting and themes. You can stream both seasons on Netflix.
7. The Punisher (2017-2019)
I’m calling it: Jon Bernthal, who is the fourth live-action version of The Punisher, is the best out of the bunch (Sorry, Ray Stevenson). Debuting in Season 2 of Daredevil, this take on The Punisher character also has much more of a P.T.S.D vibe to it than any other previous iterations on screen. Like Luke Cage, the seasons are uneven (Some call it the “Netflix bloat”) but the show's salvaged by how badass the better episodes are.
Centered on Frank Castle, a man exacting revenge for the murder of his family, The Punisher is definitely the most violent of the Netflix Marvel shows, even delving into torture territory. This is fitting for the anti-hero, though, who has always been one of the darker Marvel characters. The second season isn’t as good as the first, but the series is distinctly different from the other Netflix Marvel shows, and even a little meditative, which was surprising. The can stream both seasons on Netflix.
6. Legion (2017-2019)
Legion is the kind of show that you can’t just tune in for one episode, because you will leave wondering what the hell you just watched. It’s surreal, it’s trippy, and it’s one of the better Marvel shows just because it is so absurdly unique. It’s also probably the hardest Marvel show to get into because of the weirdness, but if you can get past all that, most people will tell you that you’re vastly rewarded.
The story is about a man named David Haller, played by Dan Stevens, who everybody thinks is schizophrenic, but actually happens to be a mutant (and Professor X’s son, no less). The strange thing about Legion though was that it actually became less interesting the more you knew what was going on. Sure, The Shadow King was cool and creepy, but the show was really at its best when you were kind of just watching it and tripping out at the same time. You can stream the first two seasons on Hulu.
5. Spider-Man: The Animated Series (1994-1998)
Between X-Men and Spider-Man, the latter was the better of the animated TV shows of the 90s. Fight me. What made Spider-Man the better series was the rogues' gallery. Spider-Man arguably has the second best rogues' gallery in all of comics (Batman, of course, has the first), and pretty much all of the best villains made it onto the animated series. Doc Oc, Morbius, Venom. Hell, even Dr. Strange and The Punisher made appearances. So when it comes to pure Marvel fan service, Spider-Man: The Animated Series is hard to beat.
That said, while X-Men: The Animated Series hasn’t aged well, the Spider-Man animated series REALLY hasn’t aged well, as it has even worse voice acting and animation than the X-Men cartoon. Still, out of all of Spider-Man’s appearances on the small screen, this one is the best, so that’s at least saying something. The entire series can be streamed on Disney+.
4. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013-2020)
Unlike Legion, which arguably got less interesting the longer the show went on, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D is the complete opposite—a show that started off decidedly boring, only to get extremely weird and much more interesting in its later seasons. Too bad most of its potential audience left long ago before they started getting into time travel and Ghost Rider appearances.
Existing within the MCU, for the most part, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D brings back Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), who was “killed” in The Avengers, only to be killed again on the show, and then…brought back again? But not really? Like I said earlier, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. graduated from being humdrum in the first season to Marvel's equivalent of a soap opera over the next five seasons. The seventh season will be its last. As of this writing, all six seasons can currently be streamed on Netflix, but expect it to find a home on Disney+ once the contract expires.
3. Agent Carter (2015-2016)
All the cool kids love Agent Carter. It was a period piece that felt right at home alongside Captain America: The First Avenger. And like Captain America: The First Avenger, Agent Carter is much better than you originally thought it was. Starring Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter, Agent Carter follows her adventures as an administrative assistant who also happens to be secretly working with Iron Man’s father, Howard Stark.
What made Agent Carter stand above most of the other Marvel-related TV shows was how clever and enjoyable the writing was. Peggy Carter, who was seen more as an inspiration to Captain America in the movies than anything else, is fully fleshed out in Agent Carter and is cool enough that you wish she had her own standalone movie. Alas, the show only had two seasons, but they were two wonderful seasons. You can stream the entire series on Disney+.
2. Daredevil (2015-2018)
Most people will argue that Daredevil, Netflix’s first breakout Marvel hit, is Marvel’s best television series ever, and I don’t blame them. Starring Charlie Cox as the Man with no Fear, Daredevil did a great job of introducing the blind lawyer to the world. The action sequences, most notably the hallway fight in the first season, are second to none. And of course no discussion of Daredevil can forget to mention Kingpin, played deftly by Vincent D’Onofrio.
So what’s Daredevil’s problem? Well, the lawyer stuff actually. This was the one sticking point (this and Foggy) that just bogged down the series completely. It wasn’t a major issue, but it felt like it could have been much better handled. Still, everything around all that was phenomenal, and Daredevil is justly most people’s favorite Marvel shows. You can watch the whole series on Netflix.
1. Jessica Jones (2015-2019)
Remember what I said earlier about the Netflix bloat? Yeah, well, Jessica Jones is probably the biggest offender of all the shows mentioned on this list of that. And still, AND STILL, Jessica Jones is the best show on this list. And it’s all because of Season 1's Kilgrave/Jessica Jones tense moments. Seriously, between Kingpin and The Purple Man, it’s hard to pick which one is the better villain.
Jessica Jones, played by Krysten Ritter, is a private detective who’s tough as nails and has a quick tongue. But she finds her match with The Purple Man, played by David Tennant, a bad guy who you hate but also find totally engrossing. Granted, Season 1 is bloated, Season 2 is less interesting than Season 1, and Season 3 is the worst of all three seasons, but the best moments of Season 1 are still better than any of the other Marvel shows. And for that reason, it’s the best Marvel show ever. All three seasons are available on Netflix.
Granted, this list will likely feel dated once stuff like WandaVision and Loki start popping up on Disney+, but for the time being, these are the best shows Marvel has to offer, and--flaws and all--they’re all damn good shows. Every last one of them.
Lover of Avatar (The Last Airbender, not the blue people), video games, and anything 90s, he will talk your ear off about Godzilla, so don't get him started.
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