The 20 best Netflix original series, ranked
Since Netflix debuted its first original series 10 years ago, the streaming service has distributed hundreds of original shows, adding every genre imaginable to its ever-expanding library of entertainment. The platform's binge model has allowed unprecedented creative control for showrunners, and has provided opportunities for extensive experimentation in structure, pacing, and style.
Netflix has commissioned prestige dramas, mind-bending sci-fi, groundbreaking animated projects, absurd sketch-comedy shows, gorgeous documentaries, heartwarming coming-of-age stories, and everything in between. Without further ado, here are Netflix's top original series.
20. The Upshaws (2021-present)
This comedy from creators Regina Y. Hicks and Wanda Sykes takes an old-school approach to the modern family sitcom. Mike Epps stars as Bennie, a father of four trying to juggle work, romance with his wife Regina (Kim Fields), parenting, and a hostile relationship with his sister-in-law (Sykes). Though Epps and Sykes give the flashiest comedic performances, Fields is the show's secret weapon. As Kristen Baldwin wrote in EW's review, "Fields is a master of the 'because I said so' death glare, and she and Epps have a sweet comic chemistry. But she shines in the dramatic moments, too, bringing authenticity to Regina's emotional intricacies. In most family comedies, Regina would be there to roll her eyes at Bennie's antics. On The Upshaws, Bennie's antics make us root for his wife all the more."
19. Kingdom (2019-2020)
Netflix's first Korean-language series sets itself apart from other zombie media by placing the outbreak in the 16th century. Over the course of 12 episodes and a sequel special, we see the decimation of a kingdom at the hand of a flesh-eating virus, and survivors can only fend off the undead with armor, swords, bows, and arrows. The series fuses zombie horror with historical drama and political thriller, as rival factions compete to seize the throne. It's a riveting series that breathes much-needed life into the subgenre, especially if you're burnt out on the modern-day antics of The Walking Dead universe.
18. Arcane (2021-present)
You don't have to be a League of Legends superfan to see the value in Arcane. The animated video game spin-off explores the lore of its source material with a story that pits two sisters (Hailee Steinfeld and Yellowjackets' Ella Purnell) on opposite ends of a battle between a thriving but insidious society and its underserved revolutionary underbelly. The series refuses to reduce its warring factions to ideological simplicity, instead embracing the moral complexity of each side and painting its characters in shades of gray. Most importantly, the visual aesthetic is top-notch, using unusually dynamic movement, vivid color, and distinct character designs to fill its sci-fi/fantasy world with exhilarating action and exquisite detail.
17. Squid Game (2021-present)
The Korean drama enjoyed Netflix's most successful series launch at the time of its release, captivating global audiences with its alluring premise, impassioned performances, and immaculate production design. Squid Game pits indebted everyman Seong Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae) against hundreds of competitors to win cash playing schoolyard games — red light, green light, tug-of-war, marbles, and so on — with a deadly twist.
The show's success speaks to audiences' appetite for class-conscious entertainment that recognizes the struggle of late-stage capitalism. As Lee told EW, "There are many characters in the show who each have their own dilemmas and who also each have a reason why they so desperately have to win the game, and I think this desperateness was very vividly depicted in the show… I think the global audience really resonated with that aspect."
16. Never Have I Ever (2020-present)
Mindy Kaling's high school comedy relishes the awkwardness of adolescence. Never Have I Ever is both a hilarious yet affecting series that revolves around Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) — a teenager who must come to terms with her father's untimely death, and then decides to elevate her social status at school by pretending to have sex. The show allows its young characters to make massive, messy mistakes, and it delights in ultra-dark humor and overdramatic twists. Though there's a lot to love about all three seasons, the Never Have I Ever peaks in season 2, when the writing really hits its stride.
15. Hilda (2018-present)
Netflix has produced a preposterous amount of children's entertainment that dramatically varies in quality, and one of its best is this inventive animated show. Based on Luke Pearson's graphic novels, Hilda follows a young girl's adventures through a fantasy world that combines the gonzo creativity of Adventure Time with the gentle, dreamlike atmosphere of Studio Ghibli's strongest works. The show faithfully translates the source material's simple, colorful aesthetic from the page to screen, resulting in a gorgeous, fluid visual style that looks like a comic book in motion.
14. Dead to Me (2019-2022)
Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini star in the pitch-black dramedy Dead to Me, which charts the blossoming friendship of two troubled women — Jen (a hot-headed widow trying to move on with her life after her husband is killed by a hit-and-run driver) and Judy (a free spirit dealing with her own loss) — who harbor dark secrets. The series gracefully toes the line between disparate genres — it's funnier than most comedies and tenser than most dramas. James Marsden nearly steals the show in an unusually multifaceted role, and there's a wildly funny cast of supporting players as well. The characters repeatedly dig themselves into inescapable holes, and it's simultaneously hilarious and thrilling to watch them attempt to extricate themselves from impossible scenarios.
13. Lupin (2021-present)
This breezy French crime thriller is one of Netflix's most-watched non-English language series. Inspired by Maurice Leblanc's iconic literary character Arsène Lupin, Omar Sy plays Assane Diop, a charismatic gentleman thief who seeks revenge against a wealthy family that betrayed his father. The series maintains a light touch and a brisk pace while managing to touch on class disparity and cultural prejudice without ever feeling preachy or forced. Watching Assane pull off daring heists and clever escapes never gets old. As EW wrote in our breakdown of the first season, "It's all [sleight] of hand, misdirection, making an escape by bicycle. It's almost as if viewers could pull off these schemes themselves."
12. Stranger Things (2016-present)
It's tough to describe Netflix's biggest show without discussing the influences it wears so proudly on its sleeve — it owes a good chunk of its identity to John Carpenter, Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, and Twin Peaks. The series is at its best, though, when it's basically as if Freaks and Geeks descended into hell, following a crew of children and teens who become entwined with a sinister alternate dimension in their small town.
The quality that makes Stranger Things such a crowd-pleasing series isn't just its '80s aesthetics, or the inescapable soundtrack, or the intrigue of its perplexing sci-fi world — it's the pleasure of watching the charming cast of characters continually evolve and reconfigure their relationships. When the show unites middle schoolers, law enforcement, conspiracy theorists, and older teens with each other, every foil forms a unique, electrifying dynamic that leads to unlikely alliances and organic humor.
11. Mindhunter (2017-2019)
Netflix is a major player in popularizing true crime entertainment, releasing everything from Dahmer to Tiger King to Making a Murderer. In its wide roster, the strongest crime show is Mindhunter, directed by David Fincher and loosely based on FBI agent John E. Douglas's biography Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit. Jonathan Groff plays Holden Ford, a sensitive young FBI agent akin to Douglas, who teams up with Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) to transform law enforcement's understanding of modern criminal psychology. Holden's obsession with his work leads him to develop fascinating — and somewhat disturbing — relationships with the serial killers he studies and pursues, and it's thrilling to watch him talk with, listen to, and think about his subjects as his perspective evolves.
10. The Crown (2016-present)
Peter Morgan's smash-hit series converts the tumultuous life of Queen Elizabeth II into a prestige historical melodrama. One of the show's creative masterstrokes is its continual recasting — Claire Foy, Olivia Colman, and Imelda Staunton have all played the queen in various chapters of her life, while Matt Smith, Tobias Menzies, and Jonathan Pryce have stepped into the role of Prince Philip, and Vanessa Kirby, Helena Bonham Carter, and Lesley Manville have portrayed Princess Margaret. As Leah Greenblatt wrote in EW's review of The Crown, "Peter Morgan's creation works so well as a whole because it's consistently well written and lushly filmed — so lush it almost shames a small screen — but its greatest strength once again is in the casting. As much as every silent footman and aristocratic party guest seems hand-chosen, it's the stars who don't just carry the script but all the spaces in between, too."
9. American Vandal (2017-2018)
This brilliant true crime parody takes all the tropes and proceedings we're used to seeing in deadly serious documentaries and applies them to laughably low-stakes cases. The first season of American Vandal painstakingly investigates graphic but immature vandalism in a high school parking lot, while the second attempts to identify the "Turd Burglar" who laced cafeteria lunches with laxatives. The mockumentary is packed with amazing deadpan performances by young actors whose comic timing and naturalism make for consistently hilarious television. It's a near-perfect takedown of both true crime trappings and Gen Z high school culture that finds poetry in crassness.
8. Russian Doll (2019-present)
Nadia Vulvokov (Natasha Lyonne) finds herself stuck in a Groundhog Day–esque time loop that only resets when she dies — and as the series progresses, she realizes she's not alone, and that her reality is slowly collapsing in on itself. Russian Doll — which Lyonne also created, produced, wrote, and occasionally directed — finds a perfect blend of sci-fi existentialism and sharp comedy thanks to her no-nonsense performance. She makes Nadia into a nuanced protagonist who's equally tragic and comedic, maintaining an aggressive sense of humor as she's caught in a tailspin of self-destruction. Everything grows even more complex when the show's second season shakes up the formula by exploring Nadia's family history via complex time travel mechanics. Thankfully, a potential third season is on the distant horizon.
7. Midnight Mass (2021)
This thrilling miniseries from horror maestro Mike Flanagan confronts Catholic guilt, addiction, and existential anxiety through a slow-burning supernatural horror lens. The show observes a chilly island community that experiences inexplicable miracles upon the arrival of their mysterious yet charismatic new priest (Hamish Linklater). The island's handful of skeptics — played by Kate Siegel, Zach Gilford, and Rahul Kohli — feel increasingly isolated as they search for answers and grapple with their faith.
Beyond the magnificent performances, Midnight Mass is full of eloquent, thoughtfully crafted monologues that feel more like theater than television, courtesy of Flanagan. "I don't know how long I could have gone without writing it," the writer-director told EW in an interview. "There's a very natural thing that happens where, if you're writing anything that tiptoes into a personal place, you find yourself vomiting up all sorts of things into it... It's by far the most personal thing I've ever been lucky enough to work on."
6. Chef's Table (2015-present)
The new gold standard for cooking television maximizes the aesthetic pleasure of food documentaries, presenting gorgeous dishes and ingredients with sumptuous cinematography that makes every culinary creation look like a beautiful work of art. Each episode follows a different chef in a new location, highlighting their passion, skill, and creativity as they tell their stories on their own terms. Chef's Table has since launched a number of spin-offs, including miniseries that focus on barbecue, pizza, and French cuisine. Yum!
5. Sex Education (2019-present)
This British coming-of-age dramedy is one of Netflix's most wholesome, uplifting series. Asa Butterfield stars as Otis, a sweet but romantically inexperienced wallflower who teams up with the brilliant Maeve (Emma Mackey) to provide relationship counseling to his classmates, using the knowledge he's absorbed from his sex therapist mother (Gillian Anderson). The series also follows the escapades of Otis' best friend Eric (Ncuti Gatwa), swimmer and head boy Jackson (Kedar Williams-Stirling), and Otis' love interest Ola (Patricia Allison), as well as a large supporting cast of classmates.
Though Sex Education finds constant humor in uncomfortable teen experiences and relational messiness, it also cares deeply for each of its characters, recognizing their strengths, weaknesses, triumphs, and pain without judgment or condescension. As Kristen Baldwin wrote in EW's A review of the show, "While there's plenty of sexploitation humor — prepare for close-ups of human nether regions and a remarkable number of phalluses — the show is focused on how its teen characters learn to respect each other and themselves."
4. When They See Us (2019)
Ava DuVernay's troubling, empathetic miniseries explores the fallout from the 1989 Central Park Jogger case that resulted in the wrongful imprisonment of five young Black and Latino teenagers. It's chilling to witness recreations of the initial arrests and subsequent courtroom battles that sealed the characters' unjustified fates, but the series grows even more powerful when it examines their struggle to readjust to civilian life once they've finished their sentences. DuVernay presents the inhumanity of the situation without lecturing the audience or patronizing the subjects, instead providing an honest portrait of the fear, hope, and lost time that the Central Park Five experienced as the result of a profoundly broken justice system.
3. Master of None (2015-2021)
This comedy series from Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang is difficult to categorize — it's primarily a romance show about dating in the smartphone era, but it's also concerned with intergenerational conflicts, East and South Asian experiences in the United States, workplace awkwardness, and millennial anxieties. Master of None shows equal strength in its overarching plot, which charts the complex relationships between Dev (Ansari) and his love interests (Noël Wells, Alessandra Mastronardi), along with one-off episodes that are largely detached from the broader narrative. Highlights include "Parents," a thoughtful retelling of immigrant stories from the main characters' mothers and fathers; "The Thief," a black-and-white tribute to mid-century Italian cinema; and "New York, I Love You," a striking glimpse into multiple intersecting love stories between characters that don't appear in any other episodes.
2. I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson (2019-present)
Tim Robinson's absurdist sketch comedy series is the funniest Netflix show to date, as practically every segment is packed with hilarious jokes and ridiculous line deliveries (check out some of our favorites from season 1). Most of the sketches depict a central figure who violates a social taboo and doubles down on their unusual behavior, alienating their peers while mounting an impassioned self-defense.
Guest stars like Bob Odenkirk, Andy Samberg, Sam Richardson, and Patti Harrison bring magnificent energy to their segments, but the show's success primarily hinges on Robinson's unique sensibilities as a performer. He frequently contorts his face and body into bizarre positions as he repeats anarchic jokes in strained voices, but can also serve as a reliable straight man when other performers bring their own unique chaos to the table.
1. The Haunting of Hill House (2018)
Mike Flanagan's magnum opus follows five siblings (Michiel Huisman, Elizabeth Reaser, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Kate Siegel, and Victoria Pedretti) as they navigate the intersections of past traumas and present terrors. Loosely based on Shirley Jackson's 1959 novel of the same name — and translated to our modern age — each character is burdened with mortifying childhood memories that manifest as literal ghosts. "We use the horror genre to explore some of the darkest, saddest, most uncomfortable things about being human, but we get to do it in the safe space that the genre provides," Flanagan told EW. "A ghost can be a lot of things: memories, guilt, regrets, trauma, loss."
Each episode of The Haunting of Hill House is filled with moving monologues, eerie atmosphere, layered performances, and impeccable visuals — and if you look closely, more ghosts lurk in the shadows than you'll notice at first glance.