From 'House of Cards' to ''Stranger Things,' these are the best Netflix series of all time
Written by Phil de Semlyen, Alim Kheraj, Andy Kryza & Matthew Singer
The streaming world is much more crowded than it was when Netflix broke the mould with House of Cards back in 2013. Make no mistake, though: whatever you think of the rest of the platform’s offerings, its run of original programming has consistently changed the game, whether it’s Stranger Things or BoJack Horseman or The Crown. Even when it seems like the Big N is being eclipsed by other services that came along later, something like Squid Game explodes out of nowhere and becomes a cultural phenomenon.
There’s a lot of competition for your attention these days, and even Netflix itself now has more series than anyone has time for. So we’ve put together a list of the 40 Netflix originals series you absolutely must binge. We’ve left out shows that originated elsewhere before the platform picked them up (sorry Black Mirror) and.we’re also sticking to scripted series (sorry not sorry, Tiger King).
🎥 The 35 best movies on Netflix right now🔎The best true crime documentaries on Netflix
👽 The best sci-fi shows streaming on Netflix
An email you’ll actually love
🙌 Awesome, you're subscribed!
Thanks for subscribing! Look out for your first newsletter in your inbox soon!
Best Netflix series of all time
A rollicking, endearing '80s pastiche that leans deep into its inspirations – a little John Carpenter here, some (ok, a lot of) Steven Spielberg there, a dollop of Stephen King with a dash of Red Dawn – Stranger Things took off thanks in no small part to its neo-Goonies cast of Dungeons & Dragons-obsessed kids highlighted by Millie Bobby Brown's telekinetic Eleven. With its creepy parallel-dimension threat, underbelly teeming with mad scientists and commies, genuinely chilling horror moments and penchant for cliffhangers, the show all but perfected the binge-watch model.
Part of the joy has been watching its young stars grow, but the adults evolve marvelously too, particularly Winona Ryder and David Harbour, who bring gravitas to the proceedings. Season 4 is currently in production after last season expanded the scope beyond the small town of Hawkins, Indiana. It can't arrive fast enough.
The story of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign has landed countless wins on the awards circuit since its first season aired in 2016 – and for good reason. The writing is excellent, the acting wonderful and the cinematography outstanding, all contributing to the creation of a show appreciated even by those usually loath to give historical dramas a chance.
A showbiz comedy about a self-destructive '90s sitcom star who happens to be a horse isn't exactly an easy sell. BoJack is, after all, a show about humanoid animals that's also a stark meditation on the nature of depression, greed, addiction, fame, obsession, abuse and generational trauma. Against all odds, it’s one of the funniest shows on television, rife with visual gags and acidic turns of phrase and unafraid to go to dark places and rebound with moments of tenderness.
Miraculously, the show stuck the landing, going out on a high note with the reflective, heartbreaking season 6. BoJack will make you cry. Whether it's due to laughter or its gut-punch narrative – again, about a talking horse – depends on what episode you're watching.
An outta-nowhere smash, this South Korean series exploded up the Netflix streaming ranks upon release in 2021 to become the most-watched show in the platform’s history. It’s a feat made all the more astounding given the subject matter. Effectively a more overtly class-conscious – and way more violent – take on The Hunger Games, the show centres around a contest in which financially desperate competitors are made to participate in a series of children’s games. The winner stands to earn a significant cash prize and the losers are killed off one by one. It’s hard to watch at times, due to both the gore and hyperventilating suspense, but once its hooks set in, it’s impossible to turn away from.
5.Orange is the New Black
Netflix’s most-watched original series changed the game from episode one. Though subsequent seasons had their flaws, from the beginning OITNB wooed us all with its smart writing and memorable characters. Ultimately it’s up to you whether you consider it a drama or a comedy – after all, it’s won an Emmy for both.
6.Master of None
Aziz Ansari's wry, ruminative, artistic tale of an Indian-American actor dating, eating and accessorising his way through New York City was a sensation upon its release in 2015, then it disappeared for five years following its Italian neorealism-inspired second season.
This year, it returned, with Ansari behind the camera instead of in front and focused on Lena Waithe's supporting character, Denise, as she hunkered down with her wife in the countryside. The narrative shift was jarring, but also a beautiful character study, proving that Ansari's gift for storytelling extends well beyond the semi-autobiographical.
Omar Sy’s master-thief Assane Diop may be the most effortlessly charismatic man on TV just now. The world has been slow to catch up on the stylish adventures of French literary hero Arsène Lupin – think Thomas Crown’s light fingers combined with Sherlock Holmes’s smarts – but Netflix’s smash-hit two-parter, in which Diop channels Lupin in the name of revenge, has brought the non-French-speaking world right up to speed. Even the subtitle-averse will get a major kick out of its super-sexy Parisian backdrops and hairpin plot twists.
8.Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Kimmy Schmidt will help fill that 30 Rock-sized hole in your DVR and leave you wishing you had Tina Fey as your therapist. Crafted by Fey and brought to life by the perfectly-cast Ellie Kemper, chipper Kimmy comments on modern society with the innocence of a child and the experiences of an adult (an adult locked in a bunker for most of her life, that is) to make you wonder just how we let some things in the world get so weird.
Sweet birthday baby! In this dramedy, creator-director Natasha Lyonne stars as a game developer stuck in a Groundhog’s Day-esque time-loop scenario, forced to live the same day over and over again, until she discovers her circumstance is not quite as unique as it seems. With its not-wholly-necessary second season, the show seems trapped in a time loop of its own, but the first season is excellent on its own. Plenty of movies and series have explored similar existential themes using the same conceit, but few of them are as smart and soulful.
Ozark has been relatively slow at capturing the attention and devotion of Netflix's audience, but it's now considered to be one of the best crime dramas of recent TV history. Jason Bateman is a financial advisor that moves his family from Chicago to Missouri after a money laundering scheme gone bad. The crime and the drama don't end after the move: expect the Mexican drug cartel and local criminals to make appearances in what often feels like a more dour Breaking Bad… which is really saying something.
11.When They See Us
This Ava DuVernay miniseries about the 1989 Central Park jogger case was much anticipated and very well received, earning Jharrel Jerome, one of the many cast members, an Emmy for his work. The series tells the true story of the five suspects falsely accused of assaulting and raping a woman in Central Park. The show was accompanied by a special, Oprah Winfrey Presents When They See Us Now, that also drew a lot of attention.
12.I Think You Should Leave
SNL and Detroiters alum Tim Robinson just dropped the second season of his cringey, bite-sized sketch show, cementing ITYSL as the wildest, most surreal comedy showcase on television. There will be screaming. There will be extremely painful moments of awkwardness. This shouldn't work. Yet after two seasons, the steering wheel has not flown off. It's not always perfect, but when it is – and it often is – it's classic.
It’s surprising it took so long to get an excellent television show about professional wrestling – a deeply weird industry that’s also greatly misunderstood as an artform – but Netflix’s semi-fictionalised dramedy about the ultra-campy ‘80s women’s league Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling was one of the best series the platform has put out to date. That is, until Netflix decided to cancel the show after COVID-19 delayed the production of its fourth and final season. So yes, the lack of a proper ending is frustrating, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t dive in if you haven’t already. Alison Brie (as Ruth ‘Zoya the Destroya’ Wilder) and Betty Gilpin (as Debbie ‘Liberty Belle’ Eagan) are the show’s anchors, but the entire ensemble cast – including Marc Maron as the cranky producer with a heart of…well, not gold exactly, but something close – shine in and out of the ring.
There’s no business like the blow business for the infamous Medellin drug cartel kingpin Pablo Escobar, and the DEA agent tasked with his takedown. Narcos looks into the gritty world of the drug trade and how one man stacked his pieces just to have it all torn down. The show is juicy and oddly historically relevant in equal measure.
15.Dear White People
Based on the eponymous 2014 film, the series centers on several African-American college students at Ivy League school Winchester. Each 30-minute episode zooms into a single character's story, poignantly touching upon race relations and issues. The fourth and final season of the show is set to premiere some time this year.
This British dramedy is gearing up for its third season, and has likely been Netflix's most surprising win. Focusing on a socially awkward teenager and his sex therapist mother (a stellar Gillian Anderson), the series has been praised for its subtle sense of humor and extreme sex positivity both commercially and critically. Not often does British humor so effortlessly translate to American laughs, but Sex Education has managed to cross-over thanks to its warm heart, John Hughes-inspired high-school antics and anything-goes approach to the awkwardness of teen sexuality.
The Politician is considered by many to be a niche watch, just like almost all other shows created by Ryan Murphy. This is the prolific showrunner's first of many series under the Netflix banner, part of a historical deal that shook up the industry when announced back in 2018.
The show stars the wonderful Ben Platt as Payton Hobart, a high-achieving student at the fictional Saint Sebastian High School in Santa Barbara, California. The second season takes the character to New York, where he runs for a seat in the New York State Senate. Expect anything but high school drama from the show, which boasts the dramatic comedy that Murphy is renowned for and a stellar cast of characters.
The 2019 miniseries is based on the 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning article An Unbelievable Story of Rape, written by T Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong and conjunctively published by ProPublica and The Marshall Project. The cast is phenomenal both in name and performance — Toni Collette, Merritt Wever and Kaitlyn Dever in particular — but it is the poignancy of the adaptation that helped the series earn superb reviews.
19.Grace and Frankie
Given constant Hollywood chatter about the difficulty that older actresses face when looking for suitable roles, Grace and Frankie is a truly refreshing show that makes full use of Jane Fonda's and Lily Tomlin's comedic chops. Add to that Sam Waterston and Martin Sheen as supporting actors and you've got yourself a sure success. Back in 2019, a seventh final season was announced, making this the longest-running Netflix original series in history. That would be 94 episodes in total.
20.13 Reasons Why
13 Reasons Why was marred in controversy, and we understand why. The show was extremely graphic, at times even seemingly glorifying teen depression and suicide. The second season even includes a warning video at the beginning of each episode. That said, there was just something about the show that truly hit home, especially during the first season, which was intended as a limited series. The show eventually capped off at four seasons. Beware: this is a very sad story.
Sam Gardner (Keir Gilchrist) is an 18-year-old with autism spectrum disorder living in Connecticut. Atypical is his show. Although criticized in season one for its lack of autistic actors, the second and third seasons were well received by critics, an opinion matched by the show's rising popularity.
Mindhunter started off great: the storyline, based on the book Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit, was gripping, the critics loved it, it was executive produced by the likes of David Fincher and Charlize Theron, and it gave us an out-of-the-ordinary performance by Jonathan Groff. Although the second season still focused on the way serial killers see the world, it fell a bit flat when compared to the debut episodes. In January of 2020, Netflix announced the show would be on an "indefinite hold."
The OA is one of those rare shows that lands on the scene without notice, is anchored by relatively unknown actors, yet unexpectedly makes a mark on television history and society in general. Unfortunately, after an absolutely incredible first season — probably one of the best that Netflix has ever aired — the second one turned out to be the exact opposite. The negative reviews are likely what prompted the network to cancel the show after season two, after originally announcing The OA would wrap up after five.
Nick Kroll and John Mulaney's star-studded puberty comedy shares a lot of themes — and cast members — with Hulu's Pen15, primary among them a fearlessness in addressing gross teenage sexuality and a massive amount of heart. What at first seemed like a hackneyed, rat-a-tat joke factory a la Family Guy has, over four seasons, evolved into a beacon of good-natured discourse and emotional revelations… all while maintaining its roster of hormone monsters (Maya Rudolph, we adore you) and talking poop. No small feat, that.
25.The Umbrella Academy
The antithesis of Amazon's gore-soaked superhero bro-down The Boys, Umbrella Academy is part X-Men, part Harry Potter and part Hellboy, yet somehow weirder than that recipe would have you believe. Elliot Page anchors a cast that also includes psychics, time travelers and one very smart monkey butler. It's wildly unpredictable, wholly original and further evidence that audiences are more than ready for superhero stories to get extra weird.
26.House of Cards
Netflix’s very first series came out swinging, with David Fincher enlisting Seven villain Kevin Spacey and the great Robin Wright for an eerily ahead-of-its-time look at cutthroat politicians. There hasn’t been anything like it since maybe The West Wing aired, and Frank Underwood’s methods to manipulate become darker and his ethical code more invisible with each new season.
Things, alas, started to go sideways as the series ran on, transitioning from brilliant to ridiculous and overwrought long before revelations about Spacey led to his character getting the axe. The show's legacy will forever be tainted by Spacey's off-camera behavior, but the fact is that it was already in trouble before allegations came to light, steadily declining after the brilliant season 4.
Way before Marvel was all-in on time travel, this bleak German import spun a wild, self-contained tapestry about a small German community leaping back and forth in time to prevent an apocalyptic event. Season 1 is near perfect, 2 is deliciously weird and 3 flies off the rails, but that's kind of the fun: Perfectly cast, hilariously humorless, wildly overwrought in its melodrama and cold as a German winter, this is a feast for binge-watchers who relish in theorising what could come next.
Although failing when attempting to honestly depict modern love, Easy should still be considered part of Netflix's golden canon. A total of three seasons and 25 half-hour episodes, the anthology series boasts some pretty swanky cast members, including Orlando Bloom, Malin Akerman, Aubrey Plaza and Dave Franco. Given its format, you don't necessarily need to watch the episodes in order — although we suggest you do.
American Vandal deserves a spot on this list for many reasons. Chiefly, its sheer originality. The mockumentary is basically a parody of the true crime documentaries that still seem to capture the world's attention — we're talking Serial, Abducted in Plain Sight and especially Netflix's Making a Murderer more. Keep national trends in mind while watching, and remember: Anyone and everyone can be the Turd Burglar
30.A Series of Unfortunate Events
The always wonderful Neil Patrick Harris takes us inside the eponymous children's novel series written by Lemony Snicket (yes, that's a pen name). All 13 books are adapted across the three seasons in which Harris' sinister count — played by Jim Carrey in a film adaptation — chases a group of orphans through some seriously Edward Gorey-esque landscapes. For older kids with a morbid streak, and adults with nostalgia for their gothier days, it's a visual and comedic feast.
This Henry Cavill-starring video-game adaptation answers a question nobody thought to ask: What if Game of Thrones didn't take itself so seriously? It's a bit campy, but the production design is great, and Cavill fully commits to everything, particularly taking baths and swinging a broadsword, both of which he does with reckless abandon.
Unorthodox is both hard and easy to watch. Heavy material depicted in digestible bits (4 episodes, each just under an hour), the story takes you inside the Hasidic community that calls Williamsburg, Brooklyn home. Loosely based on Deborah Feldman's 2012 autobiography (Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots), this is the first Netflix series almost exclusively shot in Yiddish.
As can be expected with TV dramas, this serial thriller lets you know right away that, obviously, nothing is as it seems. But this particular family and the particular secrets they protect are gripping and layered and will draw viewers in as they tear relationships and familial trust apart.
As any original fan of the series will likely agree, although season one was above-average good, the second and final one unfortunately fell short. Ben Mendelsohn's performance as the black sheep of the family still resonates, though.
The Marvel show about an unassuming vigilante (Mike Colter) makes some serious statements about racism, and it was so buzzy it crashed Netflix for more than two hours with its debut. It can be slow-moving, but those impressive fight scenes will sneak up on you as Cage nonchalantly saunters into battle on the streets of Harlem (which actually look like real Harlem), with only a car door as a weapon.
35.The Haunting of Hill House/The Haunting of Bly Manor
Mike Flanagan's gothic horror anthology – based first on the works of Shirley Jackson, then Henry James – has its lulls, often stumbling deep into melodrama. But when it's operating in horror mode, the series is a top-tier funhouse, one in which every shot becomes a game of Where's Waldo to spot the ghouls lurking by the dozens in the shadows as the family drama plays out.
36.Dead to Me
On the surface, this very dark comedy reads like another series in which sympathetic characters wind up connected to a dead body and make a series of horrible mistakes attempting to cover it up. But Dead to Me is elevated by fantastic performances from Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini as two women whose complicated but often moving relationship is linked by shared grief.
Look, dating is hard these days, and Love doesn’t let it off easy. Mickey and Gus are friends and also not so much friends, and also maybe more than friends? The two deal with their past relationships, hang-ups about love and feelings about it all with dry humor and the will to just make it out alive. Yep, we’ve been there.
38.The Baby-Sitters Club
Based on the beloved eponymous children's novel series by Ann M. Martin, the adorable show focuses on five middle-school girls who live in Connecticut and—duh—start a babysitting business. The delightful show is sure to tug at your heartstrings.
The dark drama let Netflix redeem Daredevil from the uneven 2003 Ben Affleck film. Charlie Cox steps into the role of the blind crime fighter who takes on the legal system by day and the criminals who hide in the shadows by night.Cox is rumored to be resurrected in the Marvel Cinematic Universe at some point, and one look at Daredevil's iconic bruiser of a hallway fight should show you why they want more.
40.She's Gotta Have It
Spike Lee takes his 1986 eponymous film and turns it into a show for Netflix, directing the production himself. The great DeWanda Rise plays Nola Darling, whose life in Brooklyn takes center stage throughout each episode. Dissecting the experiences of a young Black woman in New York, the series —which was cancelled after two seasons — was certainly undersung.
Want to watch an Adam Sandler movie?
In these Adam Sandler movies, the native New Yorker gives dozens of worthy performances, from slapstick to dramatic
An email you’ll actually love
🙌 Awesome, you're subscribed!
Thanks for subscribing! Look out for your first newsletter in your inbox soon!
More on Netflix
You may also like