The Best Action TV Shows on Netflix
Get in on the action.
They say "lights! camera! action!" for a reason, and while that has nothing to do with the genre of a television show, well, it's fun to watch people shoot guns, play with swords, and get into fistfights without anyone actually getting hurt (usually). After all, "acting" is just "action" with a "g" instead of an "o," in a slightly different place.
So let's give the people what they want: the best action television shows on Netflix.
Altered Carbon (2018–2020)Adapted from the 2002 Richard K. Morgan novel of the same name, Altered Carbon is a flashy, jargon-y, and, at times, dizzying descent into sci-fi decadence. The show follows a 22nd-century mercenary (Joel Kinnaman in Season 1, Anthony Mackie in Season 2) who's hired to solve the murder of a highly influential aristocrat. The catch? Said aristocrat is still alive, because in this version of the future, the wealthy can't really die—instead, their consciousness is essentially uploaded to the cloud and downloaded into new bodies. In a world without death, the ensuing caper boasts the same jaw-dropping visuals and world-building as Blade Runner and the same thought-provoking intrigue as HBO's Westworld. In other words, there's A LOT to digest in here, but that means there's A LOT to appreciate if you're patient.
Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005–2008)This Nickelodeon show has been hailed as one of the best animated series of all time, for good reason. Maybe you were part of the generation that was obsessed with it during its initial run, or maybe you've yet to immerse yourself into this world of elemental nations, but there's never a bad time to watch or rewatch this stunning, Western-meets-anime-style series. Avatar: The Last Airbender is an adventure tale that follows the quest of waterbender Katara, her brother Sokka, and a boy they find frozen in an iceberg named Aang, who ends up being the avatar, a reincarnated being who can control all four elements whose job it is to keep harmonic balance between the Four Nations. As they journey through the nations so Aang can master all of the elements and eventually face the totalitarian leader of the Fire Nation, the devastating scope of the world in Aang's absence becomes more and more clear. Don't be mistaken: There's a lot more to this kid's show than you might expect, but Avatar: The Last Airbender makes it look as easy as walking on air.
Cobra Kai (2018– )
Whatever happened to martial arts prodigies Daniel Larusso and Johnny Lawrence after The Karate Kid movies? That's what the show Cobra Kai is out to find out. The series, which first aired on YouTube when the platform was producing originals before Netflix picked it up, is set in present day and sees Ralph Macchio and William Zabka stepping back onto the mat, but flips the script on their characters' roles. Now, former underdog Daniel is rolling in dough and still milking his child stardom for what it's worth and Johnny has reached rock bottom. The answer to Johnny's midlife crisis? Reopen the dojo, obviously. Inevitably, a new class of karate kids are inducted into the world of martial arts and old rivalries are rehashed—making for a seriously butt-kicking take on a nostalgia property you didn't know you needed.
Daredevil (2015–2018)Marvel's inaugural Netflix series delivers R-rated superhero fans exactly what they seem to want: brutality, scenes ripped from comic book splash pages, and minimal thoughtfulness. Charlie Cox stars as a blind Hell's Kitchen lawyer who takes a crime insurgence into own hands under the guise of a sleek red devil. Season 1 pits "The Man Without Fear" against Vincent D'Onofrio's Wilson Fisk, a classic villain with emotional tics, while the subsequent two seasons add more characters (The Punisher! Electra!) with shallower motivations (kicking ass! more kicking ass!). Like the rest of Netflix's Marvel offerings, Daredevil was canceled, but it still has merit thanks to Cox's charisma and chemistry with Rosario Dawson's Claire Temple.
Daybreak (2019)High school, with its cliques, popularity contests, and bullies, is tough. But if those years were set in a post-apocalyptic world with zombies running amok, we'd probably rather embrace the petty stuff instead. In Netflix's Daybreak, zombies are the reality, making for a joyfully ridiculous premise for a series. An adaptation of the Brian Ralph comic, Daybreak follows a boy named Josh who's looking for his girlfriend with a crew of other weird, lost teenage souls in the fallout of a zombie apocalypse. It's all very pompous, imagining how the cheer squad, football team, and others might rally and respond to flesh-eating creatures, but that's part of the fun, upping the ante of a typical, crude high school setting.
Fauda (2015– )Fauda, an action thriller about an elite team of undercover Israeli commandos working in Palestine, is perhaps the best of Netflix's foreign-language shows, a frantically paced and politically charged melodrama filled with sequences of white-knuckle suspense straight out of Homeland or 24. But unlike those spy dramas, Fauda spends nearly as much time on the private lives of Palestinians as it does on its gun-toting heroes. It's got a moral complexity that its more simplistic American counterparts often lack.
The Flash (2014– )While The CW's Arrow teeters on the edge of self-parodying grimdark nonsense most of the time, the show's DC Comics companion, The Flash, is a lightning-speed breeze. Glee alum Grant Gustin stars as the breaker of sound barriers, who finds himself battling everyone from freeze-gun-wielding mad men to sentient gorillas in an effort to uncover his mother's equally speedy killer, and in later seasons, unpack the multi-dimensional logic enabled by other "speedsters." For all its teen-friendly drama, The Flash never shies away from the comic book nonsense (he said lovingly) or the splash-page action. Finally, our campy superhero TV shows can look and feel like the movies.
Frontier (2016–2018)A showcase for the charismatic brutality only Jason Momoa can muster, Frontier is a rollicking Netflix and Discovery Channel Canada co-production about the (literally) cutthroat 18th-century North American fur trade. The adventure series has more in common with breezy syndicated fare like Hercules: The Legendary Journeys than it does with Momoa's star-making Game of Thrones, but if you squint hard enough at the right moment you'll swear that it's Khal Drogo himself cutting off that poor sap's ear.
Into the Badlands (2015–2019)Taking full advantage of The Walking Dead's rule-breaking violence, this kung-fu series stars Daniel Wu (The Man with the Iron Fists) as the "clipper," henchman trained in the art of backflips and swordplay, for a gun-hoarding "baron" who rules over a dystopian, American future. Slathered with fantastical mythology and artful violence, Into the Badlands is the jump-kicking, comic book-influenced answer to The Hunger Games you never knew you needed.
Jessica Jones (2015–2019)Like Veronica Mars and many standout British crime series, Jessica Jones follows a private investigator searching for the answer to her own mystery. Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) possess superhuman strength... and crippling PTSD from a run-in with Kilgrave (David Tennant), a troubled man with mind-control powers who forces the heroine to commit heinous acts against her will. The frightful conceit, all-too-real social parallels, and Ritter's roaring performance make this the bar for Marvel's Netflix projects.
Kingdom (2019– )A zombie period drama set in Joseon Korea, Kingdom intertwines biological terror with political intrigue. Adapted from the webcomic series The Kingdom of the Gods by Kim Eun-hee and Yang Kyung-il, Kingdom follows Crown Prince Yi Chang (Ju Ji-hoon), who must investigate the undead plague affecting both his father, the current emperor, and the southern provinces. While attempting to curtail its spread and prevent it from reaching the capital, he must also prevent a coup led by those intending to take advantage of the crisis. Netflix’s first original Korean series, Kingdom is a refreshing period genre take on the well-tread zombie thriller.
The Last Kingdom (2015– )If you like Game of Thrones, but wish it had zero magic, The Last Kingdom is for you. Set in medieval England, it pits Danish invaders (aka VIKINGS) against the divided kingdoms on the British Isles. At the center of it all is Uhtred, an English noble captured and raised by the Vikings, but who subsequently fights for the English in battles that help "medieval" live up to its reputation as a time when the brutality of humans was perpetually on display in bloody hand-to-hand combat.
The Legend of Korra (2012–2014)Despite being critically acclaimed, this sequel series to Avatar: The Last Airbender, set around the 1920s, hasn't received as much outpouring love from fans. While the successor did have high expectations to live up to, those who tuned in and do ride for Korra as much they do for Aang know that the series from the same creators is just as breathtaking, and its ability to touch on a variety of sociopolitical issues in fewer episodes than Avatar had is even more impressive. It's the perfect binge for once you finish Avatar, taking place after Aang's reign to follow the latest master of all elements, Korra, as she faces unrest in Republic City where the gears of a revolution are just starting to turn.
Luke Cage (2016–2018)As an ex-con turned hero for hire, the TV version of Luke Cage will punch the crime right out of New York. (Seriously, he makes Jason Bourne look like '60s Captain Kirk.) When an experiment goes wrong, he becomes equipped with insane strength, strong-as-steel skin, and badass catchphrases like, "You want some?" Once he’s back and literally stronger than ever, as he attempts to rebuild his life and community in Harlem, he’s forced to take on more than a handful of risky situations in order to wrestle with his criminal history.
Lupin (2021– )
Each episode of Netflix's Lupin, a nimble caper series starring Omar Sy (The Intouchables) as gentleman thief Assane Diop, builds to the type of rug-pulling flashback that you might find at the end of an Ocean's movie. Disguises are ripped off; diamonds get pocketed; the dashing hero slips away, again. It's a classic heist-movie device that could get repetitive or predictable, but, through the mercifully fast-paced episodes, Lupin and its endlessly charming leading man execute each reveal with a high degree of finesse. With a show like this, getting fooled is half the fun.
Money Heist (2017– )
This Spanish import isn't just one of the most popular non-English series on Netflix, it's a worldwide phenomenon. About a group of robbers who plan an elaborate heist, the show has inspired fans to dress in the cast's signature ensemble to carry out various pranks, and even try to emulate their plans in real life. Few shows have that kind of pull. Money Heist is one of the best heist thrillers running today, though, documenting in real-time a plan to take hostages in the Royal Mint of Spain in order to print and steal money. Every moment is exhilarating as the heist unfolds, and the characters behind their masks, each with their own emotional turmoil, make the series as intelligent as it is heart-pounding. Let the Money Heist obsession inspire you to maybe not rob a bank, but take over.
Narcos (2015–2017)This thriller unpacks the horrifying, drug-laden history of Colombia during the reign of legendary kingpin Pablo Escobar. As Escobar, Wagner Moura is both terrifying and captivating, and his opposition, two DEA agents fighting their way through a convoluted mystery, give a scarily real sense of the American efforts to end the war on drugs. Narcos' mix of archival footage and contemporary fictionalization keeps you engaged, and reminds you that a literal genocide had to happen just so yuppies could blow coke in the Hamptons during the '80s (only kind of kidding).
Narcos: Mexico (2018– )If you like Narcos, may Netflix interest you in the similar—but different!—Narcos: Mexico. As the name suggests, the action centers around Mexican cartels, as opposed to the Colombians in the original, and features more star power in Diego Luna and Michael Peña. Tracking the rise of the Guadalajara Cartel, Narcos: Mexico is in most ways the same show as its predecessor, but Luna's cartel boss and Peña's DEA agent deftly play an unnerving game of cat-and-mouse that will leave you on the edge of your seat.
The 100 (2014–2020)How many post-apocalyptic shows starring attractive young people do we really need? Apparently, one more! The 100, which was adapted from a YA series by writer Kass Morgan, is about a team of teens sent down to bombed-out Earth from a colony floating in space. Inevitably, things go wrong: Warring factions emerge, hearts get broken, and, as is required by TV law, beloved characters are killed. Don't let the show's soapy veneer fool you; this is dark, thoughtful material in a slick, teen-friendly package.
Outer Banks (2020– )Centuries of colonization, wars, and storms means there are tons of shipwrecks in the waters off the East Coast just waiting for enterprising SCUBA divers to stumble across them. It's one of these ships, laden with gold, that's at the center of this teen drama series, which follows a group of high-school kids hunting for sunken treasure, while also trying to solve a mystery about one of the friends' missing father. Mostly due to the constantly evolving plot, Outer Banks' 10 episodes move at a rapid clip, including a very fun fight onboard a fishing boat in a later episode where people are shooting harpoons and flailing at each other with enormous hooks, until the exciting final act. The subtext of it all—in finding the treasure and making themselves rich, aren't the central characters becoming the thing they disdain the most?—is itself a worthwhile pursuit, but, for now, it's more focused on turning a summery archipelago into a den of thieves. Fine by us!
Outlander (2014– )If you're looking for an action-adventure series that's also hot and heavy, Outlander is the perfect answer to your yearning. The long-running, acclaimed drama adapted from Diana Bagaldon's book series follows the affair of a WWII nurse named Claire who's miraculously transported in time to Scotland in 1743 and a meets dashing Highland rebel named Jamie. The time-travel show is produced by Ronald D. Moore (Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica), it's been praised for its strong grasp of the female gaze that carries through to its many intimate scenes, as well as its complex rendering of history. It's pure escapism as Clair and Jamie's relationship gets swept up into the time-space continuum, but Outlander manages to make it much more human than just an indulgent romance novel made for TV.
Queen of the South (2016– )Queen of the South is the English-language adaptation of La Reina del Sur, the popular telenovela starring El Chapo favorite Kate del Castillo. Alice Braga plays Teresa Mendoza, a poor woman from Sinaloa, Mexico who rises to the top of an international drug cartel. As you might expect, doing so requires ruthlessness and dealing with the kind of unsavory characters you probably wouldn't want in your actual life, but who make Queen of the South such a fun ride.
Shooter (2016–2018)The main character of Shooter is named "Bob Lee Swagger," which pretty much tells you all you need to know. If the idea of watching a dude named Bob Lee Swagger kill bad guys with expert precision puts a goofy smile on your face, this is the show for you. If not, stay out of its sniper scope. Like the 2007 action movie of the same name, the series is based on a series of novels by writer Stephen Hunter, and it has a vaguely anti-authority conspiracy vibe that connects it to classics like First Blood and Three Days of the Condor. Only with way more guns and Ryan Phillippe instead of Mark Wahlberg. Like I said: Bob Lee Swagger. You're either on board or you're not.
Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987–1994)After a string of The Original Series-inspired movies and miscalculations on how to revive the sci-fi franchise for television, Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek boldly went where no concept had gone before with The Next Generation, a shinier, headier, all-around better (yeah, we said it) saga in the United Federation of Planets' history. Led by Patrick Stewart and helped by an iconic supporting cast, The Next Generation followed the TOS mission to speculate about and empathize with social issues of the day, filtered through a lens of A-grade sci-fi writing that stands the test of time.
Stargate SG-1 (1997–2007)
Stargate SG-1 is the first of several series spun off from Roland Emmerich's 1994 Kurt Russel-starring movie—which was a surprise when it premiered, given how mixed critics were on the film. The show quickly defied expectations, and has gone down as one of the best sci-fi shows ever. Taking place a year after the events of the movie, it follows a special team of American forces who travel into outer-space through "stargates" to explore the galaxy. You'll come for the vibrant alien worlds built upon mythology, and stay for the characters and their campy sense of humor. Discovering what's out there is something that's intrigued sci-fi fans forever, and Stargate SG-1 manages to keep that concept as fascinating as ever throughout its long run.