The Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy TV Shows of 2019, Ranked
There's more happening on your television (or computer, or phone) screen now than there's ever been before. There is just too much TV for the average human brain to sift through at any given time! And with television budgets skyrocketing, genre TV looks and sounds better than ever -- especially in the realms of science fiction and fantasy. Still, some of these genre shows are better than others, so we've taken it upon ourselves to curate the best, weirdest, and most creative stories out there about aliens, magic, robots, dragons, and everything in between. If you're looking for something totally new to watch, or need one last incentive to go ahead and start that one show you've been curious about, allow us to suggest some of our favorites from this year. If you're in the market for the best sci-fi movies instead, we've got that too.
Like this kind of stuff? Good: Check out our picks for the Best Movies of 2019.
33. The Order (Netflix)Season 1. 10 episodes.
Magic schools have been in vogue since even before Harry Potter took the whole world by storm, and the fantasy subgenre isn't about to die out anytime soon. If you've already re-read and rewatched J.K. Rowling's series too many times to count and are looking for something new, you might want to give Netflix's The Order a shot. The show follows freshman college student Jack Morton while he navigates a world full of frightful creatures and hot-tempered bullies in his quest to join Belgrave University's secret society, unearthing dark powers and even darker family secrets along the way. Oh, and also werewolves. Lots of werewolves.
32. Deadly Class (Syfy)Season 1. 10 episodes.
If you're still hankering for more period-set weirdness, look no further than Syfy's Deadly Class, which is set in a heightened 1980s in which teen recruits join a prestigious crime school that houses and educates the offspring of some of the most lethal families in the world. After Marcus Lopez Arguello is accepted into the school, he has to choose between keeping his moral code intact and giving in to the darker instincts of his fellow classmates and their sinister teachers. Plus, Doctor Strange's Benedict Wong plays one of the professors, and Lana Condor of To All the Boys I've Loved Before gets to sink her teeth into a way more sinister role.
31. Carnival Row (Amazon Prime)Season 1. 8 episodes.
You gotta hand it to Carnival Row: it sure is a show about an alternate urban fantasy universe where the world of humans and the world of the fairies are constantly at war with each other, starring Cara Delevingne as a winged fey named "Vignette Stonemoss" and Orlando Bloom as human detective "Rycroft Philostrate," caught in a love/hate relationship in London's seediest backalley, stalked by a magical Jack the Ripper. There's really no telling WHO this show is for, but if it sounds like it's for you, you definitely want to give it a shot. I'm just impressed this thing was even made, let alone that it already got a second season!
30. The Umbrella Academy (Netflix)Season 1. 10 episodes.
A Netflix series based on an edgy comic written by My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way about a bunch of masked superheroes with weird powers who all grew up in a mansion and hate their dad sounds like a very elaborate, very specific joke. But we assure you, it's real, and it's actually pretty good once it finally hits its stride. You'll come for the explosions and time travel and chimpanzee butler, but you'll stay for the oddly affecting portrayal of how sibling relationships grow and powerfully shape each other, for better or for worse.
29. The Boys (Amazon Prime)Season 1. 10 episodes
Our cup runneth over with shows about superheroes behaving badly (more on that below), and The Boys, based on the darkly comedic comic by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson and developed for TV by Supernatural's Eric Kripke, is one of the better ones, introducing an eclectic cast of high-powered humans and swiftly revealing how awful they all are. The Boys creates a world where superheroes are commodified into action figures and heroic publicity stunts so that giant corporations can make buckets of money -- why does this sound so familiar? It's biting social commentary with an extra-mean streak, and it's a lot of bloody fun.
28. Black Mirror (Netflix)Season 5. 3 episodes.
The fifth season of Black Mirror is a weird one: with every installment, the show seems to be getting less imaginative, especially when stacked against standout episodes like Bandersnatch (yes, it's good!). Season 5 has an episode that is little more than a "don't text and drive" PSA (Simple Plan did it better), but its other two are actually not bad, and much more grounded than something like "San Junipero" or "USS Callister." One of them imagines a future in which VR gaming tech makes things a little awkward between a guy and his best friend, and the other traps a pop star's consciousness inside a little toy robot. It's not exactly the heavy stuff you'd get from Season 1, but if you're looking for more ways in which technology could ruin your life, you know where to turn.
27. The Dragon Prince (Netflix)Season 2. 9 episodes.
Amongst Netflix's huge stable of children's programming are a few shows that are surprisingly, genuinely great. The Dragon Prince is one of those, done in an anime-like computer animation style that might take some getting used to, but the story, created by Aaron Ehasz (the head writer for Nickelodeon's masterwork Avatar: The Last Airbender), is a fascinating dive into and rejection of the most familiar of fantasy tropes. A young elf warrior and two human boys are tasked with returning a dragon egg to its rightful parent in order to avoid all-out war between dark magic-wielding humans and the rest of the creatures on the magical continent of Xadia. The show is for kids, but it's also infused with a very Ehasz-influenced empathy for both sides of a conflict: Few of the show's antagonists are truly evil, while even the notion of "goodness" is realistically complicated.
26. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Netflix)Season 2. 10 episodes.
Netflix's grungy Sabrina reboot took the bones of the original show and comics and turned it into a delightfully rich series about witches, magic, temptation, love, and terrifying creatures. Now that Sabrina's written her name in the Devil's little red book, she has to navigate the world of witches and the world of mortals at the same time, still unable to choose between them. In the second season, friendships grow between some and sour between others, while Satan's nefarious plan for Sabrina's soul starts its gears turning.
25. Stranger Things (Netflix)Season 3. 8 episodes.
The newest season of Netflix's Stranger Things takes our favorite '80s kids to a place they've never gone before: the mall! The show is even more vibrant and technicolor in its third season, introducing a few new characters, and at least one new monster into the mix. The demodogs are gone, but the Mind Flayer is far from beaten, sending a hew horror into the town of Hawkins, Indiana -- something to do with rats, creepy fog, and body-snatching. Without spoiling too much, this season makes you actually root for Billy, the scary brother with the cool car from Season 2 -- or, at least, root for him to not, you know, get eaten by something.
24. The Twilight Zone (CBS All Access)Season 1. 10 episodes.
CBS All Access' reboot of the classic science fiction TV show The Twilight Zone has a lot going for it: an amazing cast that includes actors like Kumail Nanjiani, John Cho, and Zazie Beetz, plots that both reference and invert memorable storylines like "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" (the terrifying plane creature one), and a vaguely sinister Jordan Peele taking over the role of host from Rod Serling. It's a delightful mix of old and new, with stories about a comedian who can make people disappear and a time-traveling camcorder that keeps close to the original thesis of the show: there's a lot out there, and a lot of it is scary, but all of it is fantastic.
23. The Magicians (Syfy)Season 4. 13 episodes.
The Magicians is one of those shows you don't know you're missing until you just say, "screw it," and dive in. If you're not familiar with the series, which is based on Lev Grossman's bestselling novel, it begins with our hero Quentin Coldwater joining Brakebills University to be trained as a magic man, discovering along the way that the fairytale world of his childhood is in fact very real -- and increasingly dangerous to the world of humanity. And that's only the starting point. In its fourth season, the show is more intricate and bizarre (and sexy) than ever, with magic finally restored to our heroes -- albeit in small bits at a time -- not to mention monster possessions, people dying and resurrecting themselves over and over, and split personalities for everybody! Also, Santa Claus is a major character.
22. Good Omens (Amazon Prime)Miniseries. 6 episodes.
It's always a bit of a tense thing when a really, really good book is adapted into a film or a TV show. Most of the time, adaptations take too many liberties or switch up too many characters or generally just don't get what it was that made the source material great in the first place, so when one really works, it feels like a miracle. The Good Omens miniseries, adapted from Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett's cult classic 1990 apocalyptic farce, is one of the good ones, its best moments, naturally, centering around its two leads: slimy-cool demon Crowley, played by David Tennant, and his friend/frenemy/partner-in-crime the angel Aziraphale, played by Michael Sheen.
21. The Society (Netflix)Season 1. 10 episodes.
Netflix's newest summer sensation blends the anxious social politics into the modern day, introducing us to a group of high school students who suddenly and inexplicably find themselves without parents, siblings, or anyone else at all populating their small town. When a bus full of kids is whisked off to a woodsy retreat only to be brought back home a few hours later due to bad weather, the bus's cargo soon find out that no one's coming to pick them up. Everyone except them seems to have been erased from the world, and their town has been neatly cut off from outside society. It's up to a bunch of high school students to form a pseudo-government, make sure no one starts killing anyone else, and, hopefully, figure out what the hell is going on.
20. His Dark Materials (HBO)Season 1. 8 episodes.
Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials book series is a slippery beast: miles more complex than it looks to be at the start, with a whole lot of weird and wonderful worldbuilding going on so subtly you almost don't notice it happening. HBO and the BBC's co-production brings, so far, the first book to life onscreen, and fans can rest easy because it's already much better than the ill-fated film adaptation from a decade ago. Young Lyra Belacqua (Logan's Dafne Keen) and her shapeshifting daemon Pantalaimon are whisked away from their home in Oxford following the trail of a mysterious scientist on the cusp of a discovery about the nature of reality that might change their world forever. If you're a fan of the books, the series does a great job of adapting them to TV, and while the first few episodes do a little bit too much heavy lifting with the setting, the show quickly hits its stride as soon as it gets to the giant polar bear wearing a suit of armor.
19. Kingdom (Netflix)Season 1. 6 episodes.
Netflix's first Korean-language show is set in South Korea's feudal Joseon period, a few years after the nation was invaded by Japan in the 1500s. After a hideous monster encounter and threats of a mysterious plague that turns its victims into zombies, crown prince Lee Chang and his comrades embark on a quest to find out the truth about the strange illness, save his ailing father's life, and keep his family from being deposed. The show is thrilling and fun, and also beautiful to look at; the care taken with everyone's intricate costumes and set design give the whole thing the look of an elaborate opera.
18. The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (Netflix)Season 1. 10 episodes.
Jim Henson's improbable puppet epic fantasy The Dark Crystal seemed like a one-and-done thing when it came out in the 1980s, but Netflix saw our cult classic and raised us an entire 10-hour prequel series about the Gelflings, the Skeksis, and how the power of the Dark Crystal shaped the world of Thra in the first place. It's great fun for anyone who loves the movie, and it's also heartening to see such care and creativity taken to update a bizarre, groundbreaking foundation of pop culture for a modern audience. It also has a giant flying manta ray in it, so there's that.
17. The Witcher (Netflix)Season 1. 10 episodes.
Based on the Polish series of fantasy books that in turn inspired a wildly popular series of video games, The Witcher is Netflix's attempt at doing their own Game of Thrones, complete with overly complex lore and weirdly intertwined timelines. Henry Cavill plays Geralt of Rivia, a mercenary monster hunter known as a Witcher, who kills a lot of beasts and takes a lot of baths. The show is impressively confusing and convoluted, but it's also surprisingly funny as Geralt and the show's badass, magical witches and sorceresses are drawn inexorably together.
16. The Mandalorian (Disney+)Season 1. 8 episodes.
The big reason to sign up for Disney+, aside from the frankly overwhelming array of Disney and Disney-owned content available to stream for a crazy low price, is the service's new Star Wars show, The Mandalorian. The show stars Pedro Pascal in the armor of a Mandalorian bounty hunter (think Boba Fett, and you're pretty much set), hopping around the galaxy collecting heads and running into trouble, with a very cute Baby Yoda in tow.
15. For All Mankind (Apple TV+)Season 1. 10 episodes.
For All Mankind, one of Apple TV+'s flagship shows, starts off in the summer of 1969, with every nuclear family in America gathered around their TV sets to see the first human being set foot on the moon -- except, instead of Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong, it's a Soviet cosmonaut who hops out of the spacecraft, hoisting a hammer and sickle flag into the lunar soil. What For All Mankind does that is so remarkable, not to mention insanely fun to watch, is imagine what would have happened if such a grand failure had driven us to achieve much more than we did. Creator Ronald D. Moore, who also brought us a little show called Battlestar Galactica, fashions a creatively designed alternate timeline for the space program and American politics, creating a space freak's playground chock full of historical "what if"s.
14. What We Do in the Shadows (FX)Season 1. 10 episodes.
If you've been following director Taika Waititi's career from its beginning, you've probably come across the horror-comedy What We Do in the Shadows, Waititi's hysterical send-up of vampire films and kooky apartment sitcoms. The movie got such a rabid cult following that FX turned it into a show, recasting the vampiric flatmate trio and changing the setting from New Zealand to Staten Island, but it's no less hilarious, inventing new and strange ways for centuries-old wraiths to attempt to seamlessly coexist with the mortal world. Also, one of the vampires can transform into a swarm of rats.
13. Osmosis (Netflix)Season 1. 8 episodes.
If the English language is the only one you speak, it can be a little intimidating to try to wade into Netflix's stable of foreign language TV. There are a lot of really good ones, though, and earlier this year, the streaming service added Osmosis, a twisty, high-concept sci-fi that's like if a Black Mirror episode was expanded into an entire season of television. Paul and Esther Vanhove run a tech company that claims to have invented a technology that can find everyone's definitive one soulmate. The problem is, of course, that that might be true. In the midst of beta testing the "implant," things start to go wrong, relationships dissolve, and an artificially intelligent computer becomes dangerously sentient.
12. Love, Death + Robots (Netflix)Season 1. 18 episodes.
There's a certain artistry to making entertaining, effective, and imaginative short films, and Netflix's new animated series Love, Death + Robots blends all three of those strengths with some really crazy sci-fi stories. The title pretty much says it all: Every episode will have elements of love (read: sex -- the show is very rated R), death, and/or robots, and sometimes a combination of all three. From a tourist party of androids traipsing through a post-apocalyptic Earth, to a monster-fighting ring where the creatures are powered by human minds, to an ancient civilization thriving in a couple's refrigerator, to a beautiful fable about an artist in the future who only paints using one shade of blue, Love Death + Robots is a multifaceted collection of some of the most exhilarating and inventive storytelling out there.
11. Los Espookys (HBO)Season 1. 6 episodes.
A surreal phantasmagoria of horror, comedy, and horror-comedy, Los Espookys is HBO's dark, plucky Spanish-language genre show set in a strange, unnamed Latin American city that centers around a group of friends who provide authentic spooks and scares for the people who employ them. Led by self-described goths Renaldo and Úrsula, the group, which also includes Julio Torres' tortured chocolate fortune heir Andrés and expert car parker Uncle Tico (SNL's Fred Armisen), create exorcisms, hunt monsters from the sea, and bring chilling nightmares to life.
10. Dark (Netflix)Season 2. 10 episodes.
A German-language TV show about the complexities of time travel might sound like an exhausting way to spend a Tuesday night, but I promise you, Dark is well worth the mindmelt of trying to understand the intricacies of dimension-hopping while words like Zeitreise and Umwelt are washing over your brain. The show follows Jonas Kahnwald, a boy living in the fictional town of Winden, who finds his family and his hometown wrapped up in a mystery that spans three generations, involving multiple disappearances and a spooky cave containing a wormhole that, depending on how you go through it, can transport you to the past or to the future.
9. Swamp Thing (DC Universe)Season 1. 10 episodes.
DC Universe's Swamp Thing is their buzziest and most expensive project yet, with a beloved comic book hero as its protagonist and a production credit from none other than Aquaman's James Wan -- and, somehow, the most doomed. Not even a week after its first episode appeared on the streaming service, the show was canceled, some say due to operator error when it came down to a few zeroes on a Warner Bros. paycheck. What's most unfair is that the show is really good: if you can get past all the guh-ross slimy plant stuff, there's a crazy -- and plenty terrifying -- superhero origin story wrapped up in a fascinating Outbreak-style disaster tale with a dimly lit, Deep South aesthetic.
8. Game of Thrones (HBO)Season 8. 6 episodes.
Game of Thrones! HBO's wildest, most expensive undertaking returned for one last round earlier this year, and... let's just say reactions were mixed. After nine years, a gajillion character deaths, and lots of intrigue, betrayal, and trauma, we finally found out how it all ended, and got to feel a little smug about all those weirdos who named their kids Khaleesi. Wrapping up eight seasons' worth of great houses, wars, armies, dragons, spells, old gods, new gods, true gods, poisons, lies, belated truths, incest, loot trains, and lots and lots of ravens was no easy task, but, however you feel about it, you can't deny that the show went out with a real bang.
7. The Expanse (Amazon Prime)Season 4. 10 episodes.
Amazon's rescue of The Expanse in 2018 after Syfy was forced to cancel it was a thrilling, bright moment in an otherwise bleak year, and its fourth season proves it was a great idea to let the show stick around for another installment. Half of this season, which follows the fourth book in James S. A. Corey's series, Cibola Burn, takes place on an Earth-like planet in a faraway solar system which two opposing parties, Earth and the Belt, are attempting to colonize, while the planet itself seems to have other plans.
6. Primal (Adult Swim)Event Series. 5 episodes.
Real heads know legendary animator Genndy Tartakovsky from Cartoon Network classics like Dexter's Laboratory, Samurai Jack, and Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and after a period of hiatus from TV, he's back this year with Primal, a five-night adult animation event series about a caveman who befriends a Tyrannosaurus rex on the cusp of a new era of evolution. The series is bloody, frightening, and violent, opting not to skimp on everything that would have made living amongst ancient terror beasts more or less hell on Earth. The episodes are short, and there are only five of them, but each manages to cram as much story and setting and gorgeous animation into just a few minutes, giving what would be a nicely made curiosity in lesser hands remarkable emotional heft.
5. Undone (Amazon Prime)Season 1. 8 episodes.
It's better to go into Undone knowing nothing, but for the sake of piquing interest, I'll give a brief summary: After suffering a terrible car crash, young Alma (Rosa Salazar) discovers a new way of experiencing time, and uses it to figure out a huge mystery about her family. The series -- Amazon Prime's very first original animated show, created by Kate Purdy and BoJack Horseman showrunner Raphael Bob-Waksberg -- is entirely rotoscoped, converting live-action into something that looks like a cartoon (if you've seen A Scanner Darkly, you'll know what I'm talking about), which allows it to bend reality even further, playing around with gravity and placing characters into hospital rooms one second and sunny forests the next. If all that wasn't enough it also folds in metaphysical meditations on the nature of time, the human condition, and what we owe to our ancestors.
4. The OA (Netflix)Season 2. 8 episodes.
The OA was Netflix's first puzzle-box show, with a maddening flair for the bizarre and a poorly-timed finale episode that left a lot of viewers cold. Season 2 proves that The OA is still worth a shot -- more than that, it's close to a masterpiece. O.A. is back, tossed into another dimension where she must find out the secrets of her alternate self, moving ever closer to revealing the truth about her nature. Co-creator and star Brit Marling's ideas are allowed to blossom to their full extent, revealing a master plan more intricate and more thrilling than the first eight episodes of the show even cared to dream of, and the second season's finale is so bold it'll leave you questioning the nature of your own reality.
3. Star Trek: Discovery (CBS All Access)Season 2. 14 episodes.
The first season of Star Trek: Discovery was a thrilling, fiery new addition to the Star Trek family, and pretty much reason number one for adding CBS All Access to your bevy of streaming service subscriptions. (Number two is The Good Fight.) Season 2 is even better, focusing lots of its energy on a plot arc involving Spock himself, as well as a time-traveling angel dressed in a mechanical suit, and adding a new character, the particularly dashing Captain Pike (a character whom long-time fans are sure to recognize from the very first Star Trek episode). There's still plenty of room, though, for some classic Trek-style one-off episodes, including a particularly touching story early on that throws into sharp relief the strange hypocrisy of Starfleet's Prime Directive.
2. Watchmen (HBO)Season 1. 9 episodes.
Watchmen changes the game when it comes to comic book adaptations: not content to just slap the pages of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' fabulous superhero series onto a TV screen, creator Damon Lindelof has expanded on the alternate universe of the Watchmen we know, creating an envelope-pushing (and I really mean pushing) version of our reality as if it was dominated by the existence of costumed heroes. Every episode introduces some new, wonderful, horrifying concept into the show while staying true to its roots, updating the material we know and love while also playing around with characters and plots and ideas about the very meaning of superheroes that are entirely new.
1. Russian Doll (Netflix)Season 1. 8 episodes.
With Natasha Lyonne's Russian Doll, Netflix might have actually invented the perfect show. It's eight episodes, each shorter than 30 minutes, and it's incredibly good. When Nadia keeps dying in horrifying ways and waking back up in the bathroom the night of her birthday party to the same Harry Nilsson song, she realizes that it's up to her to figure out why it's happening, why it's happening to her, and how she can stop it. What starts off as a weird, dingy Groundhog Day-inspired horror-comedy becomes an unexpectedly moving meditation on self-acceptance and our responsibility towards others in a world in which everyone only cares about themselves. As soon as you finish, you'll want to go back in time and rewatch it immediately.
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