With the current success both Marvel and DC Comics have found on the silver screen, it comes as no surprise that the two comics giants would look to do the same on television. As time has gone by since Marvel got into the studio movie business in a big way, our superhero obsession has shown no signs of slowing down- it remains incredibly popular and enduring among all demographics.
Watching masked characters in live-action on the small screen on a weekly basis is definitely a thrill for both grown-ups and kids alike. Fans no longer have to wait months (and sometimes years) to witness their favorite superheroes come to life with a blockbuster flick. Rather, in the comfort of their own home, fans can enjoy a Prime time thrill.
Currently, the CW is home for the majority of the superhero series on air. After the success of Smallville, the network set its sights on expanding the DC universe and now carries a total of four interlocking series on its popular fall schedule. Much like the CW, ABC has found success with their Marvel adaptations, but Netflix is the platform now taking our superhero golden era by storm.
Superheroes have been featured on the small screen since the early beginnings of the comic book medium and still continue to receive phrase today. Whether old, new, or animated, superheroes are continuing to find success while evolving with modern times. So grab your cape and some popcorn as you read of the top past and present superhero television series.
15. Agent Carter- ABC
Hayley Atwell’s portrayal of Peggy Carter in the Captain America film franchise, was positively received in the current comic book era. As a spinoff to the Agents of SHIELD series, the show illustrated the headstrong woman paving her way as an agent in the Strategic Science Reserve following World War II. While the show had enough of an audience to air a second season, it continued to lack a spark. Peggy’s can-do attitude and approach to building the Marvel Comics Universe within the show just wasn’t enough to tune in viewers and it was canceled following its second season.
14. X-Men- FOX
Debuting on Fox Network’s Saturday morning lineup for kids, the Marvel animated series was a second attempt at an animated X-Men television series. The show featured X-Men characters on the show throughout its five seasons, including the Cyclops’s Blue Team. What really sets this series apart from other comic book animations, was the realistic social issues it addressed; divorce, religion, etc. Most of the show’s storylines were original concepts, but the series still did include plots from the comic books that were put into the show. In 2000, when the live action film X-Men was released, Fox began airing reruns during the afternoons for fans to indulge even more in the franchise.
13. The Tick- FOX
Let’s be honest here. Just one look at Patrick Warburton in the terribly constructed blue Tick costume had us cringing, but surprisingly, despite the horrendous outfit, The Tick had a lot of promise as a superhero show. Only running for nine episodes in 2001, the show was based upon the comic book created by Ben Edlund, who has written and produced for Gotham during its first season. The short-lived live-action series had strong potential, but the lack of sincere promotion by the FOX network failed to draw in a large enough audience. Thirteen years following the cancellation, Amazon Studios announced a revival with Peter Serafinowicz cast as the Tick. Our fingers are crossed for a more serious looking costume!
12. Agents of SHIELD- ABC
With the world-wide success that the Captain America and The Avengers franchises have found on the big screen, the agents behind the superheroes were finally given recognition on network television. The show reprised Clark Gregg’s fan-favorite character Agent Phil Coulson as he leads a young team in finding justice against different villains each week. Audiences weren’t initially taken with the series despite the anticipation for the Marvel live-action adaptation. After switching to more of a story arc plot, the show tackled the forces of Hydra while slowing down on introducing the developing Agent Carter series. Even with the mixed reviews, the show offers an interesting look at a more behind the scenes role of the Marvel Universe and continues to draw in viewers.
11. The Adventures of Lois & Clark- ABC
This 1990s live-action series starring Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher showcased one of DC’s favorite duos as they navigated through a romantic relationship while simultaneously solving crime in the city. Loosely following the Superman origin story, the show begins when Clark moves to Metropolis to work for the Daily Planet and is ultimately paired with their star reporter Lois Lane. The series registered well among young adults due in part to the romantic storyline that outweighed the crime fighting subplot. For four seasons the show found decent success and eventually produced a book series that tied into the show.
10. Supergirl- The CW
After its inaugural season aired on CBS, the show revolving around Superman’s younger cousin, Kara Danvers, was thankfully picked up by the CW. The move from network television will only better the show that had a struggling start. The crossover episode with The Flash helped put the show on the map and illustrated the potential the series can create by joining forces with other live-action DC shows. Melissa Benoist’s performance as Kara is the glue that held the show together during its run on CBS. Future crossovers and an established CW audience will greatly benefit the series as it follows Supergirl’s journey fighting for justice. As the show moves into its second season on a new network, it has already cast Teen Wolf alum, Tyler Hoechlin, as the Man of Steel himself as the series explore storylines of the crime-fighting cousins.
9. Legends of Tomorrow- The CW
Existing in the same fictional universe as Arrow and The Flash, this spin-off series illustrates a team comprised of heroes and villains, recruited by time traveler Rip Hunter, attempting to prevent Savage from demolishing both the world and time. Fans of the network’s DC universe adaptations were pleased to see some of their favorite characters from Star City and Central City reprise their roles to fight the evils of time. The network’s third addition to the comic book era is currently the only team-up comic book series on television. Following less popular heroes allows the series to express more creative freedom, which has worked well with the unique time travel theme. While it may not be the best show on the network, it is still clearly captivating to fans of Arrow and The Flash, due in part to the multiple cross-over episodes that are filmed uniting several faces of the DC universe.
8. Wonder Woman- ABC
The adventures of one of the greatest female superheroes graced the small screen from 1975 to 1979. The live-action series starred the beautiful Lynda Carter as Princess Diana/Diana Prince as DC’s infamous superheroine. After a few attempts to deliver a well-received Wonder Woman pilot, ABC was finally able to air a series that found some success. While the pilot followed the storyline of the comic book fairly well, some aspects were dropped from the plot. Additionally, the stories relating ancient myths and legends were not told in the series. Despite these eliminations, the show was able to produce three seasons before its ultimate cancellation. Recently, the network filmed a modern day approach to the Wonder Woman franchise, but ABC canceled the show before it could even secure a spot on its Prime time schedule. Even so, years later, the Wonder Woman series continues to hold a spot as one of the best live-action superhero television adaptations.
7. Gotham- FOX
Based on the DC Batman franchise, this live-action American crime television series follows the early years of both James Gordon and Bruce Wayne. As a new recruit with the Gotham City Police Department, Gordon is brought face to face with a young Bruce Wayne after the murder of Wayne’s parents. The first season had a rocky start due to uneven pacing and a plot that, although Batman-centric, didn’t feature the crime fighting Batman fans are used to. The spin on the storyline offers a beginning look at the origins of Batman and the city of Gotham which he protects. Despite some negative responses that the show received early on, the series improved its appeal with the introduction of the city’s villains. Heading into its third season, the series offers a DC universe concept that isn’t thoroughly explored in the comics.
6. Batman: The Animated Series- FOX
From 1992 to 1995, this series invited viewers along for an animated ride with the beloved DC superhero Batman as he battled crime in Gotham City. During the second season, the show adopted a new onscreen title, The Adventures of Batman & Robin, due in part to the occasional help Batman received from both Robin and Batgirl. The animated series was highly praised for the modernized spin and artistic authenticity it expressed throughout its 85-episode arc. Despite the fact that the series was a cartoon, it proved that whether they were five or fifty, comic book fans could enjoy a non-live action superhero series that highlighted the foundation of success the Batman franchise showed since the beginning.
5. Smallville- The CW
For a decade this CW series illustrated the journey of Clark Kent’s transformation from small town farm boy to Man of Steel. Putting its own spin on the Superman franchise, Smallville focused on Clark’s high school years as he began realizing his abilities and discovering the reason for his existence. The series included infamous characters and storylines from the comic books that made it into the show, but it still had a sense of cliche drama that made this a typical appeal to young adults of the CW audience. Season five introduced a more adult tone by focusing on Clark’s career at the Daily Planet and his budding relationship with Lois Lane. The new mature plot brought about more DC villains and heroes, which allowed the show to take on more of the comic book storyline- this in turn resonated well with viewers. As seasons progressed, the partnership of Clark, Lois, and the Justice League, showed the series to be one of the best modern superhero television series adaptations ever.
4. Arrow- The CW
With the eventual end of the CW’s ten-year-long run with Smallville, the network developed a new series depicting Oliver Queen’s evolution as the Green Arrow to fill the superhero void in the fall Prime time schedule. Despite a shaky first season run, the show illustrated solid potential in developing the comic’s storylines. Stephen Amell, who portrays Oliver, delivers a believable quest of the once rich playboy’s journey to becoming a vigilante in order to protect his city. This show is stocked with action packed fight scenes against Star City villains such as Deathstroke and Count Vertigo. Arrow additionally offers a romantic storyline that is woven within the Green Arrow’s fight for justice. Oliver’s relationship with Felicity Smoak may not be canon in the comic books, but fans still get a thrill out of watching the couple save their city on a weekly basis. Entering its fifth season, the show will explore Oliver’s Bratva ties while facing off against a new villain who has yet to be revealed.
3. The Flash- The CW
There is no holding back when it comes to this superhero series. The Flash accurately depicts the adventure of Barry Allen by bringing the comic book franchise to life. Heading into its third season, the show isn’t afraid of venturing into the plotlines seen in the comics and tends to stray away from darker themes. What sets this show apart from Arrow and other superhero shows is the amount of depth and personality it possesses. It’s obvious that this particular show is set to provide an hour of fun for its viewers. I mean what’s more fun than watching Barry fight the villainous Gorilla Grodd? When Barry isn’t at S.T.A.R Labs, or saving the day, our favorite speedster can be found traveling across dimensions between Earth-One and Earth-Two. The multiverse storyline pays tribute to the authenticity of The Flash that fans and critics alike can appreciate.
2. Jessica Jones- Netflix
Netflix may already have its dose of headstrong women with Orange Is the New Black, but last year they introduced a new woman who puts them all to shame. Following on the heels of Daredevil’s triumphs, Netflix grew their Marvel universe with the addition of Jessica Jones to their ever growing list of original series. While being one of the only female superheroes to carry her own show may have seemed difficult, Jessica Jones had rave reviews for its mature and realistic approach to the story of the once superhero turned detective. With her superhuman strength, Jessica works cases with people who possess extraordinary abilities. Krysten Ritter delivers a refreshing performance despite the fact that the show covers topics such as PTSD and assault. The noir tone of the series allows Netflix to set the bar high for all superhero series to follow.
1. Daredevil- Netflix
With the recent success Netflix has found with the Marvel universe, it comes as no surprise that the Matt Murdock’s live-action series would lead the pack of the superhero series. Set in the old neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen, the tragically blind attorney fights injustice in and out of the office. By day he is a respectable lawyer, but as night falls he becomes a masked vigilante by using his extraordinary senses. What makes Daredevil stand out from the Ben Affleck movie flop is the authentic chilling performances delivered by the actors. Rather than shaking your head in annoyance to the action packed show, fans are at the edge of their seats believing every move and line that the show has to offer. The success of the show was the catalyst for the expansion of more Netflix original MCU series.