Every Marvel TV show ranked, from Inhumans to WandaVision
Marvel may be best known for breaking the box office, but the superhero empire is carving out space on the small screen, too. Ever since Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. debuted on ABC in 2013, Marvel has slowly but steadily amassed an eclectic mix of shows - from the gritty New York Netflix series to the experimental offerings on Fox and FX.
With such a vast collection of comic content on our screens, we at EW have taken it upon ourselves to rank the best of Marvel television. First, some parameters: We decided to focus on live-action Marvel shows released in the last few years, starting with 2013's S.H.I.E.L.D. (Our apologies to the excellent '90s X-Men animated show - as well as the less-excellent 2006 Blade series.)
In compiling our list, we realized that Marvel television has shifted wildly, sprawling across platforms like ABC, FX, Netflix, Hulu, Freeform, and Disney+. The highs have been high (and the lows have been laughably low), but Marvel TV has grown into something just as strange and ambitious as its big-screen counterpart - ranging from noirish, action-packed mysteries to brain-bending sitcom pastiches. And the ever-expanding universe is showing no sign of slowing down, with almost a dozen new shows currently in production for Disney+.
Here, we rank the best, worst, and wildest of Marvel TV.
Inhumans never stood a chance. In 2017, the cast gathered at Comic-Con to reveal the first footage from the latest Marvel superhero show for ABC with Anson Mount's Black Bolt, Serinda Swan's Medusa, Iwan Rheon's Maximus, and more. The crowd was… well, let's just say not that enthused by what they saw. Instead of the roar of excitement from thousands of fans that usually fills the convention space, the Hall H crowd was more like a murmur. Marvel Television should've listened. When the show finally aired later that year, it fizzled fast. These comic book heroes with their complex and visually dynamic roster of powers were already done dirty in getting ABC-level special effects. (Lockjaw on an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. budget isn't it.) But then it's also one of the only homophobic superhero shows in recent memory. That may sound dramatic, but what other word is there for something that took the fierce octo-hair of gay comic book icon Medusa and turned it into a CG hot mess before severing most of it off in the end? Gay geek Twitter was not having it. -Nick Romano
15. Iron Fist
Let's set aside for a moment some of the obvious things that were strange about Iron Fist, like the fact that Danny Rand (Finn Jones) was single-handedly the most annoying superhero of Marvel TV thus far yet for some reason he was being made to be the predestined white savior of the world. Also setting aside for a moment the controversial choice to center a story that was very much inspired by Asian cultures around a white guy. Bottom line, if you're going to have a martial arts action show, you better make sure the martial arts part looks cool. From Danny to Colleen (Jessica Henwick) to Bakuto (Ramón Rodríguez), you can see the actors actively thinking about every punch and kick to the point it was very clearly choreography. The illusion of television-making was broken, and the second season didn't do much to improve that. The two-minute-long trailer for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was by far better than anything this show was able to pull off. Danny's only saving grace was the ability to pull off something so ridiculous and cool as "gun-fu" (i.e. channeling his mystical energy into his guns to make magic guns). -Nick Romano
We should've known something was amiss when Helstrom suddenly lost the ownership signifier "Marvel's" that every other show carried. An adaptation of the Son of Satan comics, the Hulu drama was Marvel's first major foray into horror and centered on siblings Daimon (Tom Austen) and Ana Helstrom (Sydney Lemmon), who were grappling with their family's dark legacy. See, their father was a murderous demon and their mother - marvelously portrayed by Elizabeth Marvel, truly the best and most chilling part of the show - was possessed by another demon. Unfortunately, the show's insistence on keeping things grounded and super dark and gloomy aesthetic made its story about familial drama rather bland. Furthermore, knowing about recent internal changes Disney - Marvel TV was folded into Marvel Studios - made it hard to invest in it because you knew this ultimately wasn't going anywhere. Thus, the Marvel TV era ended with a whimper. -Chancellor Agard
13. The Defenders
Every good superhero universe needs a team-up story, and in 2017, Netflix united three of its most charismatic heroes (and also Iron Fist) for a crossover miniseries. What should have been an explosive, Avengers-level event instead landed with a thud. At only eight episodes, this series is blessedly shorter than its Netflix counterparts, but it feels twice as long. It's hard not to look at the underwhelming Defenders and mourn what might have been: Charlie Cox, Krysten Ritter, and Mike Colter have a charming chemistry together (even Finn Jones comes off better here than in his own show), and tapping Sigourney Weaver as the series' icy adversary was a brilliant casting choice. But mostly, this disappointing slog just left us wishing we were watching another solo season of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, or Luke Cage. (Still better than Iron Fist, though.) -Devan Coggan
Marvel's first teen show had the potential to be a much bigger hit than it turned out to be. A Marvel teen TV series helmed by teen TV experts Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage? Runaways should have been a cultural reset, which makes it all the more shocking to see how it actually fell flat when all three seasons - based on Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona's comic series - debuted on Hulu. Part of that could be blamed on how the show tried to give equal focus to the adults when they were the villains of the story rather than sticking to what worked best: the six teenage titular runaway heroes who were trying to defeat their supervillain parents. It also didn't help that it took a full season for the teens to actually run away and yet another season for them to become the fully actualized characters fans knew and loved from the comics. And just when Runaways was getting good in season 3 - That Cloak & Dagger crossover! Magic! Elizabeth Hurley as Morgan le Fay! - it was canceled. Classic case of too little, too late. -Sydney Bucksbaum
11. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Disney+'s second Marvel TV show, had several great elements. Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan, who play the show's titular duo, have crackling chemistry, and it's easy to understand why the studio decided to build a show around them. Sam and his family's financial struggles in Louisiana is the type of relatable storytelling you don't often see in the MCU or superhero stories in general. And finally, Sam's learning of and then grappling with the heart-wrenching legacy of Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly), a Black American super-soldier who was rewarded for his service with imprisonment and torturous experimentation, as he pondered whether or not to pick up the mantle of Captain America. Unfortunately, all of these got lost in the show's frustrating "six-hour movie" approach, which created pacing issues; shallow world-building that failed to make the effects of the Blip feel immediate; and weird tonal choices, especially when it came to John Walker (Wyatt Russell) because it felt like the writers, director, and Russell had wildly different interpretations of how we should feel about him. But, hey, at least we got Julia Louis-Dreyfus in the MCU and Zemo dancing, right? -Chancellor Agard
10. The Punisher
It's not what you think. Now that the Punisher and his skull symbol have been co-opted by cops and soldiers across the United States, it's important to emphasize that the Netflix series starring Jon Bernthal as Frank Castle is not at all a celebration of fascist violence. In fact, "soldiers who think they can get away with anything" are the villains of this version of The Punisher. Here, Frank wreaks his unholy vengeance against U.S. generals and Blackwater-type mercenaries not just because of the damage they've done to him personally, but also because of all the innocent families in Afghanistan and Iraq whom he killed by their orders. Season 1 in particular cast a hard light on all the ways America discards and abandons its veterans, but season 2 stumbled a bit from its reluctance to muck up Ben Barnes' pretty face - even though that was presumably the whole point of casting him as Jigsaw. -Christian Holub
9. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
What a good fighter this show was. Though Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. started as the MCU's first attempt to branch out into TV, that promise of interconnectivity didn't feel very impactful after the first couple seasons (if we're being honest, it was basically made irrelevant as soon as the end of season 1, when Captain America: The Winter Soldier ended S.H.I.E.L.D. as we knew it). Nevertheless, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. soldiered on for a staggering seven seasons due to its lovable cast - almost none of whom were based on pre-existing Marvel comics characters, though some have since made the jump over alongside Clark Gregg's Phil Coulson - and willingness to play in all corners of the Marvel Universe. One season found the team fermenting revolution on a far-future space station, while another saw them dealing simultaneously with a supersmart android and the cursed spellbook called the Darkhold (whose recent appearance in WandaVision felt like the final confirmation that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. means little to MCU continuity). The movie tie-ins may have faded over time, but watching secret agents maneuver through a superhero world never got old. -Christian Holub
8. Luke Cage
After first popping up in Jessica Jones, the Hero of Harlem took the spotlight with his own Netflix series beginning in 2016. Some of the show's story arcs worked better than others, but looking back on this two-season saga, what sets it apart are the nuanced, memorable performances - including Mahershala Ali as Cottonmouth, Simone Missick as Misty Knight, and of course, Mike Colter as the titular strongman. There's a rich, lived-in feeling to the show's vision of Harlem - and an undeniable power in how the show approaches a story about a bulletproof Black man. Colter plays Cage with a warm, weary strength, and the result is a show that didn't always know what kind of story it wanted to tell - but always left an impression. -Devan Coggan
7. Cloak and Dagger
Where Hulu's Runaways stumbled, Freeform's Cloak and Dagger soared. The second Marvel teen series was a master class in balancing young adult drama, comic book weirdness, and tragic real-world trauma all into one gorgeous, heartbreaking, and reliably compelling show. Olivia Holt and Aubrey Joseph starred for two seasons as Tandy and Tyrone, two halves of one powerful superhero duo, in what serves as their origin story in New Orleans as they come to terms with their haunting pasts and promising futures. The Freeform series was as dark as a Marvel show can get, deftly weaving in raw, important, and authentic stories about police shooting unarmed Black men, human trafficking, drug addiction, and much more. There was so much to love about the two short seasons of Cloak and Dagger (canceled too soon!) but the sweet, blossoming relationship and winning partnership between Tandy and Tyrone was the real prize. -Sydney Bucksbaum
6. The Gifted
Much like Superman, the X-Men are big-name superheroes who actually work a lot better as a TV show than they do as singular movies. The saga of Marvel's mutants, where pitched battles occur against an ongoing narrative backdrop of ever-increasing oppression and survival, was basically built for long-form storytelling. Plus, the ensemble cast allows for spotlights on a wider range of characters than a movie - and in the world of the X-Men, every single character has something interesting to say or a cool power to show off. The Gifted managed to be loyal to the spirit of the comic-book X-Men (the three Stepford Cuckoos, all played by Skyler Samuels, served up enough telepathic sass to make up for the two failed movie attempts at adapting Emma Frost) while also rooting itself in the realities of the Trump era. Here, the mutant-hunting Sentinels weren't depicted as giant robots but rather as terrifyingly human ICE agents. We may never know what became of Eclipse (Sean Teale), John Proudstar (Blair Redford), and the rest of the Mutant Underground after they went into that portal at the end of season 2 ... but here's hoping they eventually found their way to Krakoa. -Christian Holub
A direct contrast to Iron Fist, questioning how these two entities could exist in the same universe, under the same Marvel TV umbrella, Daredevil did not shatter the fantasy of hard-hitting, blood-smearing action. From the hallway tracking shot that made everyone want to do tracking shots (we see you, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) to the gnarly office space battle against Bullseye (Wilson Bethel), the Charlie Cox-fronted series didn't pull its punches. It took the concept of a blind hero who sees through sound and utilized it creatively. Daredevil did suffer from Marvel's classic problem from that era, something that was passed on in a lesser dose to The Falcon and the Winter Soldier - it draaaaaagged - but the series offered some of the more compelling pieces of storytelling of the Defenders bunch and one of the most interesting, complex heroes. And with a complex hero came a complex villain. (Vincent D'Onofrio has come to define the role of Wilson Fisk with his imposing, ever-evolving performance. The character is his now. We don't make the rules.) If it weren't for the season 2 doldrums, it likely would've been even higher on this list. -Nick Romano
4. Agent Carter
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has never been more fun - or more stylish. Set after World War II (and Captain America's untimely icing), this bubbly ABC adventure centers on Hayley Atwell's Peggy Carter as she tries to navigate post-war tensions, Russian sleeper agents, and sexist colleagues. The entire show crackles with energy, from the slick 1940s fashion to the eclectic supporting characters. (James D'Arcy's stoic Jarvis and Dominic Cooper's philandering Howard Stark are particular highlights.) But the spotlight belongs to Atwell, who imbues Peggy with a resourcefulness and steely determination - a warm but battle-proven soldier in red lipstick. -Devan Coggan
3. Jessica Jones
Jessica Jones was by far the most consistent of the Marvel-Netflix shows. Yes, it encountered the same pacing problems as the other titles, but even in those rough patches you also trusted the stars and creative team never lost sight of the season's thematic North star - whether it was season 1's exploration of trauma, sexual assault, and misogyny; season 2's deep dive into anger; or season 3's look at the responsibility and limits of power. A huge part of the show's success lies with Krysten Ritter, who was perfectly cast as the sarcastic, guarded, and super-powered private investigator who didn't even know if she was or wanted to be a hero. Of course, you can't talk about Jessica Jones without bringing David Tennant's unsettling yet phenomenal performance as Kilgrave, who remains one of Marvel's best on-screen villains ever. Of all the series in the Jeph Loeb era of Marvel TV, this is the one that shouldn't be forgotten and definitely deserves some sort of place in the main MCU. -Chancellor Agard
If The Gifted represents one approach towards an X-Men TV show (with its wide, diverse cast of mutants fighting for causes bigger than themselves) then Legion, starring Dan Stevens, represents the other: Hyper-focusing on a singular character with an incredibly powerful mutation that transforms their life in unique ways. Telepathy is a notoriously difficult power to depict visually - anyone who's seen Dark Phoenix can probably recall the torturously long scenes of Michael Fassbender and Sophie Turner staring at each other, squinting and grunting, as they just think really hard. But by dedicating its whole aesthetic to the exploration of mental powers, Legion came up with riotously entertaining scenes. Telepathic battles were here depicted as dance-offs or cartoonish wrestling; rapid switches between genres and timeframes channeled what it would feel like to be constantly overwhelmed by the thoughts of others. Though we can't say that every single creative decision necessarily paid off, Legion's ambitious unpredictability set it apart from other Marvel TV. Showrunner Noah Hawley's auteurist approach to superhero storytelling, unburdened by any other continuity, is something we may not see again in this new age of Disney+ shows that replace showrunners with head writers and directors all working under the corporate aegis of the MCU. -Christian Holub
The beginning of the Disney+ era of Marvel TV marked a new beginning for all of Marvel TV, because WandaVision broke the mold of what a comic book show could - and should - be. Highly-stylized, high-concept episodes taking fans through all the decades of iconic sitcoms with a shocking level of attention to detail, combined with an overall plot that had more to do with a superhero coming to terms with her own grief rather than battling yet another world-ending event, with the added bonus of one of the most gut wrenching, tragic romantic storylines we've seen yet in all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe? That's already a recipe for success. But wait, there's more! WandaVision was also downright hilarious, took more risks than ever before, dared to get weird, and didn't hold back when it came to finally tying Marvel shows into the MCU and vice versa (which is how it always should have been). Elizabeth Olsen's devastating, at-times chilling performance took all the mismatched, continuity head-scratching parts of Wanda Maximoff from the MCU films and created one of the most human superheroes ever seen onscreen, big or small. Paul Bettany destroyed us with Vision's every line (and don't get us started on that final one). Plus, WandaVision gave us "Agatha All Along" which, honestly, is reason enough to earn this No. 1 spot. Bless you, Kathryn Hahn. -Sydney Bucksbaum