Let’s face it: Netflix may have started as a video/DVD movie rental house, but today it’s got the market cornered on the best television shows available anywhere, both in original programming and from other networks. Whether you’re a binge-watcher or love to take your time with your favorite TV shows, here’s a sampling of the best that Netflix has to offer in the sci-fi/fantasy genre. When you’re done reading our list below, you also might want to check out our list of the best sci-fi movies on Netflix.
This fantasy series is based on the book series by Lev Grossman. It takes a Hogwarts-like premise and adds sex, nerdy twenty-somethings, drinking, and magical hijinx. The result is an overall fun ride, although it goes to some very dark places. Quentin Coldwater (Jason Ralph) is the semi-cute graduate student addicted to a Narnia-type book series since childhood. When the series opens, Quentin is having such a hard time with life that he's checked himself into a mental institution. For escape from the drudgery of life, he spends a lot of time thinking about a book series he's loved since childhood: "Fillory and Further," about a group of siblings who find their way to a fairytale land. One day a mysterious woman slips him an envelope containing a never-before-seen sixth sequel to the book series. A flyaway page ultimately leads him to an entrance exam for Brakebills College, a school for magicians. He soon makes friends with Elliot (Hale Appleman), who takes him under his cocktail-making wing, and tries to teach Quentin to stop taking things so seriously. He also meets love interest, Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley) and his new roommate, Penny (Arjun Gupta). Meanwhile Quentin's best friend, Julia (Stella Maeve), falls in with a group of rogue witches, and Quentin dreams he's getting advice from Jane Chatwin, the eldest of the Fillory-visiting siblings. It turns out the world of the Fillory books is real, but a lot darker and more dangerous than anyone expects. Things really get interesting when "The Beast" makes an appearance, and the show suddenly becomes quite scary. I highly recommend this series for bingeing.
Each Johnson brother, on his 21st birthday, takes on the powers of a different Norse God in this Syfy series imported from New Zealand. It begins on the birthday of Axl (Emmett Skilton), who disbelievingly takes on the persona of Odin, and is instantly burdened with saving the world. The pilot episode starts out slow, but after a couple of episodes, you'll be hooked. Created by James Griffin and Rachel Lang, The Almighty Johnsons sparkles with hilarious dilemmas and witty dialogue.
After being struck blind as a child during a near-death experience, Prairie Johnson (Brit Marling) is raised by a Midwestern couple (Scott Wilson and Alice Krige)--until she mysteriously disappears for 7 years. When she returns she can see--but she can’t, or won’t, tell anyone how she got her sight back or where she’s been. She enlists a group from the neighborhood, consisting of a teacher and four high school students, to participate in an experiment that can't be described without serious spoilers. I will say that she wasn't just missing for seven years--she was abducted by Hap (Jason Isaacs), a doctor who was experimenting on people who had lived through near-death experiences. Her fellow captives are an interesting bunch, especially love interest Homer (Emory Cohen). The group Prairie gathers in the neighborhood is the most interesting, however, as each of them had a serious need filled by the group that helps them to grow as human beings. There's the high school bully (Patrick Gibson), the overachiever (Brandon Perea), the forlorn trans boy (Ian Alexander), and the teacher who needs the group (Phyllis Smith), who probably needs the most help. The OA, created by Brit Marling and Zal Btmanglij, is one of those shows I watched all in one weekend because I had to see what would happen. As the season unfolds, the crazy story reels you in with slow-moving suspense that mostly pays off.
Producer J. J. Abrams’ cult hit series won nine Emmys, including Outstanding Dramatic Series for 2005. The series took on the themes of science vs. faith through the two leaders of a group of strangers stranded after a plane crash on a mysterious deserted island. Jack Shepard (Matthew Fox), a surgeon, is tormented by his father’s death and leads the group from the perspective of "science," while John Locke (Terry O'Quinn) is the "faith" guy, who was crippled until the crash and somehow healed “by the island.” Then there's Sawyer (Josh Holloway), the conman who gets into a love triangle with Kate (Evangeline Lily) and Jack. Kate seems like the quintessential (if extraordinarily beautiful) girl-next-door, but like all the inhabitants of the island, has a surprising back story. Other notable members of the ensemble include Jorge Garcia as lotter-winner Hugo, Yunjin Kim as Sun, a Korean woman who secretly speaks English, and Naveen Andrews as Sayid, the former member of the Iraqi Republican Guard and a proficient torturer. The series is best known for its unanswered mysteries, like the "Smoke Monster," the "hatch," and the polar bear.
The 2012 fall season debut of Arrow, (based on the DC comic character, Green Arrow) brought the highest ratings the CW had seen in three years. The series begins as Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell), Arrow, is rescued from a desert island after five years. He reunites with his family and friends while forming the group that will be the core of the series as Oliver starts his career as a masked crime-fighter. His sidekick, Digg (David Ramsey), and his sometimes love interest, Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) make up the muscle and computer expert, respectively, on his team. Willa Holland is great as his troubled little sister, Thea Queen, while Katie Cassidy is unconvincing as Laurel Lance, attorney and Oliver's former fiance.
One of BBC America’s highest-rated series, Being Human was created by Toby Whithouse. Annie the ghost (Lenora Crichlow), George the werewolf (Russell Tovey), and Mitchell the vampire (Aidan Turner) all crave a normal, human life. By living together, they help each other avoid the temptations and tribulations of their respective situations. The show combines comedy, horror and drama to investigate the lives and loves of the three main characters, as each attempts to get away from the bad influences of their peers and live as close to a human life as possible. The story is told with compassion and seriousness, interspersed with humor.
The American version of the sexy British show was the first Syfy series watched by more women than men. The American adaptation, created by Jeremy Carver, began with the same premise, but changed the character names--Josh is the werewolf (Sam Huntington), Aidan is the vampire (Sam Witmer from Battlestar Gallactica), and Sally is the ghost (Meaghan Rath)--and moved them all to Boston. Aidan was a soldier in the Revolutionary War when he became a vampire, and now works as a nurse in a local hospital to maintain a steady blood supply. Josh was on his way to a successful medical career when he was bitten by a werewolf six months ago, and meets Aidan while working as an orderly in the same hospital. The two become friends and decide to try living as humans, away from other monsters. They move into a townhouse, only to discover that it's haunted by Sally, the pretty young woman who was murdered there. Although it lacks a little bit of the heart of the original, this show has great chemistry between the actors, terrific performances, and pretty good writing.
Masterful writing, incredible acting, and impressive source material are only the beginning of what makes Penny Dreadful a great television series. Written by John Logan and starring Eva Green, Josh Hartnett, Timothy Dalto,n and other heavyweights, the show takes place in London in the 1890s. Mythological monsters abound, with Frankenstein and his Creature, Dorian Gray, Dracula, Wolfman, witches, and vampire-hunters among the main characters. At the center of the action is the gifted-in-so-many-ways Eva Green as Vanessa Ives, a woman locked in a life-long struggle against the forces of darkness that threaten to consume her. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
The global hit zombie show is based on the comic book series of the same name. Detective Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) awakes from a coma to find himself alone in the hospital. It doesn’t take long, however, before he learns the country is overrun by zombies. Stars include Sarah Wayne Callies, Jon Bernthal and Norman Reedus. The show alternates between tense moral choices and all-out action, and though it can be uneven the best episodes are truly amazing. Frank Darabont's 2012 season premiere became the most-watched basic cable television episode ever.
Eight strangers from cities around the globe begin having experiences that defy explanation, as they are suddenly linked to each other's minds. The original premise from the Wachowskis (The Matrix) delivers on its promise, as this sometimes silly but always highly enjoyable series travels all over the world. We are introduced to each character’s life as the eight refreshingly diverse central characters learn to use each others’ strengths to overcome their personal troubles and adjust to a life with seven people psychically connected to them. There's Sun Bak (Doona Bae), who is reminiscent of an anime character when she's using her incredible martial arts skills to fight the enemy, either for herself or the others. Riley Blue (Tuppence Middleton) plays a lovable Icelandic DJ in London who gets in trouble when a drug deal goes awry. Tina Desai plays Kala, the sweet, smart Mumbai career girl. Wolfgang (Max Reimelt) is the German safecracker with a heart of gold. Miguel Angel Silvestre plays Lito, the closeted gay Mexican movie star, and Brian J. Smith plays Chicago cop Will Gorski. Then there's Jamie Clayton as Nomi Marks, a San Francisco trans woman and hacktivist. Just to make things interesting, the eight are being hunted by Whispers (Terrance Mann), a bad guy who, once you've looked into his eyes, can see what you see and can only be hidden from with heavy drug use. The show's not for kids, as stand-out sequences include orgy scenes and other adult content.
A group of operatives from far in the future is sent back to the 21st Century to fix some of society’s problems and avoid systemic collapse. They have arrived from a bleak and hopeless future to save us all from our greatest enemy: ourselves. In order to do this, each “traveler” is placed into the body of a person seconds before their death. Once here, they work in teams to complete missions sent to them by the mysterious "Director."
This CGI-animated series fleshes out the Star Wars story between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, and arguably does more with the characters of Anakin, Obi-Wan, and the other major players in the Star Wars universe than all the prequel movies could put together. It follows the adventures of the Jedi order, the Senate, and other factions across many worlds as the Galactic Republic comes apart.
In Hawkins, Indiana, a boy disappears, and a telekinetic girl turns up at the same time. The series pays homage to 1980s culture and the films of Steven Speilberg, John Carpenter, Stephen King, Robert Zemeckis, and George Lucas, among others. A word of warning: leave time to binge, because once you start watching, it’s very hard to stop. This show gets better as the season unfolds. The cast of kids is remarkably talented, especially Millie Bobby Brown as the mysterious Eleven, and Finn Wolfhard as Mike Wheeler. The adults who round out the cast include Winona Ryder as the missing boy's mother, who she portrays with compassionate craziness and convincing hysteria. David Harbour plays Jim Hopper, the sheriff, and Matthew Modine is quietly terrifying as Dr. Martin Brenner. In the vein of E.T. and Poltergeist, it may at first seem like a series for kids at first, but trust me--it's way too scary for little ones, and is definitely a story for those 14 and up.
Jessica Jones is a “super” private eye hired to find a pretty NYU student who’s vanished. It quickly turns out to be more than a simple missing persons case. Kristen Ritter is fabulous in the title role, and David Tenant is terrifying as Kilgrave, a mind-controlling sociopath obsessed with Jessica. Through most of the first season, Jessica's love interest is Luke Cage (Mike Colter, in this precursor to his own series, Luke Cage), the super-strong bartender with unbreakable skin. This show, inspired by the Marvel comics character, is surprisingly dark and scary, and very hard to turn off.
This sci-fi, horror, fantasy series focuses on demon hunters Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles) as, unbeknownst to society, they keep normal people safe and ignorant of the forces of evil. Currently in season twelve, this long-running series is beloved by its following. Supernatural abounds with mythology that generates buzz on fan fiction and social media sites. Sam and Dean travel the country in a muscle car searching for supernatural crimes and fighting demons, while listening to 80s rock and living off stolen credit cards. They pose as FBI agents taking the names of rock gods, which hardly anyone ever notices. As in, "I'm Agent Plant, this is Agent Daltry." Pick a season, any season, suspend your disbelief, and get ready for a fun ride.
Sort of like Lost, but with spaceships and teens, The 100 was created by Jason Rothenberg. A century after Earth was devastated by a nuclear apocalypse, 100 space station residents are sent to determine whether Earth is habitable. Interestingly enough, those 100 all happen to be gorgeous young people who were in jail on the space station and have been sent to Earth as penance for their crimes, before the space station runs out of oxygen and everyone aboard dies. As everyone knows, CW hires the most delicious eye candy to be found anywhere, acting be damned. These teens make up for lack of talent by getting really dirty and bloody.
This acclaimed show presents a vicious satire of modern society and our relationship with technology. Each episode is a separate, self-contained story about a new social or technological development leading to some kind of nightmare scenario. It's been compared a lot to The Twilight Zone. Now that Black Mirror has been going on for a few years, people have started noticing parallels between earlier episodes and some of the more disturbing developments of real life. Does that make Black Mirror prescient? You be the judge.
Orphaned twins who must suck the life force out of people to stay alive try to explore their dark family history. Sofie (Julie Zangenberg) and Sebastian (Sebastian Jessen) enroll in Ottmannsgaard, a Danish boarding school once attended by their late mother, hoping to uncover why they have been cursed. This show is a surprisingly dark and sexy teen drama, bringing in aspects of horror, supernatural, and the occult to make a highly watchable and entertaining show.
The Mikaelsons move to New Orleans and form an alliance with local witches in an effort to rule the city once again in Julie Plec's The Vampire Diaries spinoff. Klaus Mikaelson (Joseph Morgan) is the original vampire-werewolf hybrid who, along with his brother and sister, Elijah (Daniel Gillies) and Rebekah (Claire Holt), returns to his home city of New Orleans after being exiled for a century. Also appearing in the French Quarter is pregnant werewolf Hayley (Phoebe Tonkin), searching for clues to her family history. Klaus' rival and protege is Marcel (Charles Michael Davis), the vampire who has taken over as leader in Klaus' absence.
When animal species all over the world begin attacking humans, controversial zoologist Jackson Oz (James Wolk) tries to discover the cause of the sudden change. Zoo was created by Josh Appelbaum and is based on the novel by James Patterson. Jackson Oz and Abraham Kenyatta are African Safari guides who begin to notice animals are acting strangely. In Los Angeles, halfway around the world, animal attacks are also on the rise. In addition, house cats are disappearing. A reporter, Jamie Campbell (Kristen Connolly) believes a corporation called Reisden Global is to blame. She teams up with a veterinary pathologist, Mitch Morgan (Billy Burke) to figure out what's happening. This is a fast-moving show with a global scale, with the characters always in peril. To make the animal attacks convincing, CGI takes a backseat to the use of real animals. Zoo is definitely worth watching.
Liv, medical student-turned-zombie (Rose McIver), gets a job in a morgue, where the dead bodies are aplenty. As she tries to retain her humanity, finds she has an uncanny new gift for solving crimes. Many of the bodies at the morgue are murder victims, and Liv gets clues to what happened as she eats their brains. She puts the insight to good use and helps the police department solve crimes. iZombie makes for relatively lighthearted, refreshing zombie fun.
Adapted from Susanna Clarke’s best-selling fantasy novel, this seven-part BBC miniseries features BAFTA-winning visual effects. Set in England in the early 19th Century, during the Napoleonic Wars. In this alternate history, everyone knows magic exists, but for the last three-hundred years hardly anyone has practiced it. Mr. Norrell (Eddie Marsan), a brilliant but arrogant practicing magician, comes to London to change that. Once there, he meets another practicing magician, Dr. Strange (Bertie Carvel). So begins a dangerous battle between two great minds.
Based on the 2011 film of the same name starring Bradley Cooper, who makes a cameo appearance in the pilot, Limitless is the stylishly-filmed story of a failed musician, Jake McDormand (Brian Finch), who unleashes his brain’s full powers with a new drug called NZT-48. Jake is hired to solve the FBI’s hardest cases alongside Agent Rebecca Harris (Dexter's Jennifer Carpenter). No one knows that behind the scenes, Senator Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) has given McDormand an injection that counteracts the terrible, ultimately fatal effects of continued use of the drug. The catch is that if McDormand tells anyone about the injections, he won't receive them anymore. The show was unfortunately cancelled after one season.
This hit series is still running on the CW, where it's in its eighth season. The Vampire Diaries stars Ian Somerhalder (Lost), and was created by Kevin Williamson (Dawson’s Creek). A pair of vampire brothers, Damon (Somerhalder) and Stefan Salvadore, are both in love with the same human girl in Mystic Falls, Virginia. Her name is Elena Gilbert (Nina Dobrev), and she's a dead ringer for Katherine (also Nina Dobrev), the 500-year-old vampire who turned the brothers 150 years ago. Like moths to a flame, the brothers return to Mystic Falls to be near her, in spite of having been estranged--for good reason, it turns out. The good brother, Stefan, refrains from drinking human blood, preferring to live on squirrels and rabbits and maybe the occasional deer; Damon, the bad one, drinks human blood with gusto and wreaks havoc wherever he goes. Of course, the innocent Elena falls head over heels for Stefan. Damon, in the meantime, starts an affair with Elena's peppy friend Caroline (Candice King), who doesn't know she's being compelled. Then there's Bonnie, the witch (Kat Graham) who's ancestors escaped the Salem witch trials and settled in Mystic Falls.
This is the show that took Star Trek from the adventures of Captain Kirk and company to an enduring, multi-ship and multi-crew franchise. It also introduced audiences to the stalwart Captain Picard (Patrick Steward) who, let's face it, is much better at being an actual captain than Kirk was. Next Generation follows a new starship Enterprise on adventures throughout the galaxy with various aliens and exotic planets. It takes a few seasons to get going--you may want to skip the first season entirely--but the series is littered with classic episodes as it develops.