The 25 Best Comic Book TV Shows of All Time (Live-Action)

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10. Tales from the Crypt

Creator: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Stars:: K.J. Apa, Cole Sprouse, Lili Reinhart, Camila Mendes, Madelaine Petsch, Marisol Nichols, Ashleigh Murray, Mädchen Amick, Luke Perry
Network:: The CW
Original Run: 1989-1996

2016 may be the last time that one can fondly look back at Tales From the Crypt with nostalgia, given that M. Night Shyamalan is planning on (presumably) doing unspeakable things to the show’s legacy with a 2017 reboot. So let’s enjoy this while we can. Based on the classic ‘50s-era EC Comics series of the same name (the same comics fondly parodied in Creepshow), Tales From the Crypt may be the best pure horror anthology series ever. Helmed by the perfectly sardonic/ghoulish narrator The Crypt Keeper as a sort of puppeteered homage to classic horror hosts, the stories on Tales were equal parts funny, lurid and spooky, depending on the show’s mood at any given time. Even when they replayed in syndication (and not on their native HBO), the show was notable for the sheer amount of violence and especially sexuality it was able to get away with, ably transposing the spirit of raunchy ‘80s horror films such as Return of the Living Dead or Night of the Demons into a televised format. But perhaps best of all is the seemingly unending number of famous faces who popped up as guest stars over the course of 93 episodes—everyone from Patricia Arquette to Daniel Craig, Tim Curry, John Lithgow and Martin Sheen. It was as if every actor in Hollywood felt it necessary to appear in at least one Tales From the Crypt. —Jim Vorel

9. Riverdale

Creator: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Stars:: K.J. Apa, Cole Sprouse, Lili Reinhart, Camila Mendes, Madelaine Petsch, Marisol Nichols, Ashleigh Murray, Mädchen Amick, Luke Perry
Network:: The CW
Original Run: 2017-present

This is the way I’ve been selling Riverdale to friends who have not yet wised up and started watching it: it’s Gossip Girl meets Twin Peaks, but with the characters from Archie Comics. That alone should be enough to suck them in, but if they need more convincing, I add that Luke Perry plays Archie’s dad, Molly Ringwald plays Archie’s mom, Skeet Ulrich plays Jughead’s creepy hot dad (who is also the head of the local gang, the Southside Serpents), and for the first third of the season, Archie is boning his music teacher, Ms. Grundy—who, unlike in the comics—where she’s an elderly white-haired lady—goes around wearing heart-eyed sunglasses and picking up teen boys. It’s ridiculous and campy in all the right ways (hey, this is a CW teen drama, after all), but there’s also a compelling murder mystery driving the plot (“Who killed Jason Blossom?” is Riverdale’s “Who killed Laura Palmer?”), with new twists and turns peppered in along the way. —Bonnie Stiernberg

8. The Flash

Creators: Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg, Geoff Johns
Stars: Grant Gustin, Candice Patton, Danielle Panabaker, Rick Cosnett, Carlos Valdes, Tom Cavenagh
Network: The CW
Original Run: 2014-present

Over the past five years, the CW, born from a merger of The WB and UPN in 2006, has taken full advantage of its close ties with Warner Bros. to hand over much of its primetime slate to DC superhero shows, and it’s one of the most fun line-ups on television, especially with Barry Allen zipping around National City in The Flash, taking out bad guys with a quip and a smile. The Flash has tackled everything from the classic Flashpoint storyline about alternate realities to the giant, super-intelligent Gorilla Grodd, and fans are eating it up. At heart, comic books were designed as a fantastical distraction from everyday life. That doesn’t mean they can’t tell meaningful stories that push us to reexamine our world, but it’s taken time for the balance we see on the page to make the leap to the screen. With big-screen superhero stories becoming so bruising, both mentally and physically, small-screen comic stories are now a light-hearted oasis for fans just looking to have a good time, with a little angst thrown in for good measure. —Trent Moore

7. Daredevil

Creator: Drew Goddard
Stars: Charlie Cox, Deborah Ann Woll, Elden Henson, Rosario Dawson, Vincent D’Onofrio
Network: Netflix 
Original Run: 2015-present

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Marvel and DC have both tried to leverage their movie dominance onto the small screen many times over, but for a while, the only beloved recent TV show based on a comic book came from indie publisher Image with The Walking Dead. That started to change with the first season of Daredevil. The Hell’s Kitchen of Matt Murdoch’s world is much grittier than that of his Marvel cohorts on ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.—no surprise since the show was created by Drew Goddard, director of Cabin in the Woods. Goddard, who’s written episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Alias and Lost is also no stranger to the comics world, having written a few issues of the Buffy comics. The fight scenes are riveting (and often bloody), and the hero and his companions are well-developed, but was Vincent D’Onofrio complicated turn as the crime boss Wilson Fisk that elevated the show into something special. Both Fisk and Murdoch want to clean up the city, and will go to great lengths to do it. The difference between hero and villain is just a matter of ends-justify-the-means degrees. Not since Rick Grimes tangled with the Governor or Walter White went up against Gus Fring has there been a protracted battle this gripping on television. Your move, DC. —Josh Jackson

6. Batman

Creator: William Dozier
Stars: Adam West, Burt Ward, Yvonne Craig, Burgess Meredith, Alan Napier
Network: ABC
Original Run: 1966-1968

This show is a literal rendering of the Silver Age Batman, Absolut Batman. Chemically pure, as direct a translation as is humanly possible. When Batman and Robin shake hands during the opening credits, it’s not to give the university folks a snicker; it’s because they’re best friends, they fight crime, they respect each other, and that’s what gentlemen do after busting heads. Those of us who watched it on Nickelodeon didn’t know we were supposed to take it lightly. Batman was always serious business for me. You can read Ward and West as a joke, but if you treat the whole experience as an eye-roll, you’re missing the point. Camp isn’t a real thing. It never was. Forget the way the booksellers sort their titles by genre. As the entire history of popular art will tell you, good creations float free of category. When we enter a reality onscreen, we accept the facts of that world; we accept that every man in Christopher Nolan’s world wears three-piece suits, and that Tarantino’s characters live in a universe of ’70s music. When Commissioner Gordon says “Our only hope is that tower of power for right and justice, the Caped Crusader!” he means it literally. Our universe has too much irony in it already. When Adam West intones, “What use is a dream if not a blueprint for courageous action?” you’re free to laugh. That doesn’t make it any less true. Criminals are still a superstitious and cowardly lot, and we should be glad to have Detective and Comics in the same title—or show. —Jason Rhode

5. Preacher

Creators: Sam Catlin, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg
Stars: Dominic Cooper, Ruth Negga, Joseph Gilgun
Network: AMC
Original Run: 2016-present

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Preacher seems to have designated itself The Walking Dead’s heir apparent, even though it’s a very different show in terms of its tonal and character perspectives. It arrived fully formed in the pilot, with a uniquely irreverent tone that it immediately embraced and made work for it. At any given moment, Preacher can be serious—although never so dour as the self-serious Walking Dead. At the same time, it can be uproariously funny, and much of the violence of Preacher artfully blends gross-out gore with comic slapstick, in the mold of a young Peter Jackson in Brain Dead. But then, when it wants to, Preacher can also chill the blood, as it does at almost any moment when The Saint of Killers is on-screen. The show primarily succeeds because it’s able to goad the viewer into accepting all three of those tones as equal portions of its DNA, and also because its supporting characters are immediately so memorable and warmly integrated into the plot. —Jim Vorel

4. The Walking Dead

Creator: Frank Darabont
Stars: Andrew Lincoln, Jon Bernthal, Sarah Wayne Callies, Laurie Holden
Network: AMC
Original Run: 2010-present

I remember excitedly watching the Frank Darabont-directed premiere of The Walking Dead on Halloween of 2010, thinking, “This is so cool, but it’ll never be popular.” An hour-long zombie drama? No one’s going to watch that but me! Well, obviously I couldn’t have been more wrong. Flying in the face of expectations, The Walking Dead somehow became cable’s highest-rated show over the course of the last six years, even besting Sunday Night Football on occasion. Stop for a moment and consider those implications: We live in a country that has become so geeky on average, that an hour-long zombie drama can sometimes get more viewership than Sunday Night Football. That’s America in 2016. In terms of quality, the quest of the Grimes Gang to survive has been up and down, but the production values have always been impeccable. Although the story has occasionally bogged down in places or been stretched too thin, the show always seems to rebound with a moment of incredible pathos, even for iconic villains such as David Morrissey’s Governor. As the show heads into Season Seven this October, our ever-thinning group of survivors comes face to face with Negan, the greatest villain that creator Robert Kirkman ever wrote for the comics series that inspired the show. Whether you like recent seasons with Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan or not, the show’s success to date has already been massive for the marketability of horror on the small screen. —Jim Vorel

3. Legion

Creator: Noah Hawley
Stars: Dan Stevens, Rachel Keller, Aubrey Plaza, Bill Irwin, Jean Smart, Jeremie Harris, Amber Midthunder, Katie Aselton
Network: FX
Original Run: 2017-present

We were introduced to Noah Hawley’s dark humor with Fargo, but Legion allows the writer/creator to play in a more fantastical sandbox—and thus to truly revel in a batshit crazy world. If ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. gave us the light-hearted comic-book action and Netflix’s quartet of interwoven series showcased the grittier side of superheroes, FX’s first partnership with Marvel embraces the insanity of a lesser-known X-Men character, making you forget it has any shared DNA with those blockbuster men in super-suits. The story is as much about Dan Stevens’ character’s grasp on reality as his struggle for survival. David Heller suffers from schizophrenia, but what’s real and what’s the product of malevolent forces is often unclear, with his friend, Lenny Busker (Aubrey Plaza), playing the imaginary devil on his shoulder. The production design, full of ‘60s/’70s psychedelia and striking color palettes, the cast, which includes Hawley’s Fargo collaborators Rachel Keller and Jean Smart, and the sharp writing make this another win for FX. —Josh Jackson

2. Agent Carter

Creators: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Stars: Hayley Atwell, James D’Arcy, Chad Michael Murray, Enver Gjokaj, Shea Whigham
Network: ABC
Original Run: 2015-2016

Agent Carter, Marvel’s post-S.H.I.E.L.D. series, knew exactly what it was and what it wanted to be from day one: A pulpy, women-centric series of deeply retro sensibilities, built around one of Marvel’s best-liked supporting characters, Peggy Carter, the great love of Steve “Captain America” Rogers and a member of S.H.I.E.L.D. in its fledgling stages. Everything about Agent Carter rings with confidence: The tone and the setting, the style and the characterization, the humor and the action. It’s true that S.H.I.E.L.D. has vastly improved in its subsequent seasons, but Agent Carter didn’t need time to figure itself out (mostly because it didn’t have time to do so). The show doesn’t miss a beat, from its debut all the way up to its finale, rarely winking and nudging along the way with appearances by characters who only matter tangentially in the long run of Marvel’s universe. Most of all, it had Hayley Atwell, whose good looks belie her indomitable toughness, and lead both her audience, her allies, and her enemies alike to underestimate her. She’s the heart of Agent Carter, a story whose female concerns and casting act as a blueprint of sorts for today’s lauded Netflix series Jessica Jones. Captain America might be the first Avenger, but Peggy Carter is the first lady of Marvel ass-kicking. —Andy Crump

1. Jessica Jones

Creator: Melissa Rosenberg
Stars: Krysten Ritter, David Tennant, Rachael Taylor, Mike Colter, Carrie-Anne Moss, Eka Darville, Erin Moriarty, Wil Traval, Susie Abromeit
Network: Netflix 
Original Run: 2015-present

Marvel’s first team-up with Netflix, 2015’s excellent Daredevil, took the shiny Marvel Cinematic Universe and rubbed much needed dirt on it. Jessica Jones furthers the trend with a psychological thriller that is, somehow, more brutal and dark than its Hell’s Kitchen contemporary. Unlike Daredevil, Jones not only redrew the lines for a Marvel production, but redefined what a comic book show could be. The emphasis is not on the physical, but instead the mental destruction caused by Kilgrave (the phenomenal David Tennant), a sociopath with mind-control powers. Netflix’s binge model is used to its full-effect, each episode’s conclusion begging the viewer to let the train roll on. And, like a victim of Kilgrave, its impossible not to abide. Jessica Jones keeps the viewer guessing, leaving them in a state of fear and anxiety for 13 perilous, wonderful hours. —Eric Walters

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