The 25 Best Netflix Original Series

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The 25 Best Netflix Original Series

The fact that we can even make a list of the best Netflix original series is kind of amazing. Six years ago, the now-dominant streaming platform was best known as the company that put Blockbuster out of business. House of Cards not only changed all that—it also changed the way TV is consumed, introducing the now-popular binge model. History is made by forward-thinking companies, and Netflix, let’s be honest, is making history. Paste is here to help you navigate its increasingly complicated terrain.

The streaming platform is brimming—even overflowing—with content, and so far it’s had its fair share of success stories. To come up with the list of Netflix best original series, we left out shows that originated on another network, including those that received a second life on Netflix (sorry Arrested Development, and Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, though the latter’s probably for the best). We also had to make some tough choices. Now, let’s get to Paste’s answer to the question, “What should I watch on Netflix?”

Here are the 25 best Netflix original series:

25. Sense8

Sense8 was a sens8tion. Perhaps not for everyone, but for enough people that creative duo Lana and Lilly Wachowski’s two-season neon blitz of queerness and sci-fi created a fanbase more loyal than almost any Netflix original series. These fans loved their sensates, who were connected to the audience almost as strongly as they were to each other. That loved the characters so much, in fact, that they were able to push for an epic series finale when it was clear that Netflix wasn’t planning to sustain expensive niche sci-fi shows. With collaborator J. Michael Straczynski, The Matrix creators made a multinational, multiethnic, queer-as-all-hell show jam-packed with diversity on all levels and enough multi-layered plotting to keep the massive cast happy, sexy, and interesting. How many orgies does Blade Runner get into? —Jacob Oller

24. Alias Grace

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Adapted by Sarah Polley from Margaret Atwood’s historical novel, and directed by Mary Harron with forthright shudders of psychological horror, this sterling Canadian limited series is a tightly constructed marvel. In Canada in 1859, “celebrated murderess” Grace Marks (the brilliant Sarah Gadon) submits to an interview with Dr. Simon Jordan (Edward Holcroft), and their ongoing conversation unearths a pattern of violence and trauma, which Alias Grace spins into a scintillating mystery, an intricate biographical portrait, a lushly appointed period drama, and a ferocious treatment of the distance between what “the world at large” deigns to call harm and the countless ways men cause it. —Matt Brennan

23. Ugly Delicious

The Virginia-born child of Korean parents, David Chang is deeply interested in how foodways travel, intersect, and melt together. Chang is not a Bourdanian. His journey is different. He isn’t looking for mastery or a high-level view of Where the Good Stuff Is. He’s looking for non-judgment. And he’s having a hard time finding it, even—perhaps especially—within himself. The term “fusion” has a connotation of force, evoking atomic bombs or very painful things that get done to messed up bones. Chang inhabits, questions and celebrates the nature of fusion cuisine, the intersections of tradition and the endless search for novelty, and redefines “authenticity,” which for him isn’t always about going to the origin of something so much as understanding it as part of a huge mosaic. Ugly Delicious is wise, funny, unpretentious and fascinating.— Amy Glynn

22. Atypical

Netflix’s quiet, thoughtful comedy returned for a second season without the hype that surrounds many of the streaming platform’s other shows. And that’s okay. The story of Sam (Keir Gilchrist), an 18 year-old-with autism, and his family speaks for itself. In its second season, the comedy hilariously follows Sam as he searches for a new therapist (he swears one was actually a rabbit because she eats so many carrots) while also dealing with his family falling apart. The premiere picked up right after the end of last season’s finale with Sam’s dad Doug (Michael Rapaport) discovering that Sam’s mom Elsa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) was having an affair. Everyone tries to hide this fact from Sam, but, of course, things like this don’t stay secret for long. As Sam’s sister Casey, Brigette Lundy-Paine turns in one of TV’s most underrated performances. Yes, this family is unique but all families are and the show deftly captures both the comedic moments and the heartbreaking ones. Atypical remains a show more people show be watching.—Amy Amatangelo

21. Castlevania

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We at Paste have argued that Netflix’s Castlevania became “the best videogame adaptation ever made” in its second season, but even that is fainter praise than the show deserves. After all, videogames have hardly translated to film or television with any success, leaving utter mediocrity as Castlevania’s knee-high bar to clear. Let that not take away from how high it flies. Adapted from the Konami franchise of the same name by award-winning comic book writer Warren Ellis, directed by Sam Deats and animated by the aptly named Powerhouse Animation Studios, the anime-style series’ sophomore outing is a bloody delight, a Gothic orchestra that both honors and deepens Castlevania’s dark world. Its first five episodes patiently establish motivations and stakes, building slowly but surely to the gloriously explosive payoff that is its last three episodes. At the heart of it all is a tortured Dracula (Graham McTavish), the best kind of villain: one with a point. “Mark my words—with Season Three we’re going after that EMMY,” executive produce Adi Shankar tweeted upon Castlevania’s recent renewal. We wouldn’t dare bet against it. —Scott Russell

20. Narcos

One popular line of criticism has it that Narcos romanticizes the violence and degradation associated with the Colombian drug wars—and drug culture in general—and I would agree that the excellent Wagner Moura plays kingpin Pablo Escobar so engagingly that he becomes a sort of Walt White-esque antihero. And the rhythms of the documentary-style narration are fast-paced in a way that’s reminiscent of Guy Ritchie, whipping us along at an almost breakneck speed. Nevertheless, this valid criticism misses the important point that we are watching a work of fiction based on historical figures—not a real documentary. And when viewed that way, Narcos is one of the most successful shows on TV, in how it managed to flesh out some very dark characters and tell a complicated story with such urgency and clarity. This is not the hyper-realist drug fiction of Traffic or 2015’s wonderful Sicario, but as conflict entertainment goes, it succeeds wonderfully.—Shane Ryan

19. Lady Dynamite

Generally speaking, we like our comedies and our comedians to be funny. Maria Bamford—actress, voice actress, stand-up—is funny in the strictest sense possible, but her Netflix series, Lady Dynamite, blends her humor with melancholy and hurt. Don’t worry: You’ll laugh. You will laugh! Lady Dynamite is hysterical, and it’s hysterical on a wide array of axes, incorporating everything from slapstick, to absurdism, to cringe humor into one hyperactive rush of comic goodness. But it’s also deeply human and deeply sad, the kind of comedy series where the laughs tend to catch in one’s gullet, or squeeze through gritted teeth. Sometimes you laugh so as not to wince, or just to keep yourself from shedding tears in front of your friends (or in front of your own damn self). Sad comedies are a dime a dozen, especially for Netflix junkies, but the manic qualities of Lady Dynamite’s humor, its frank approach to its themes of mental illness, and its cavalcade of comedian guest stars—whether they’re mainstream comedians, alt comedians, or mainstream-alt comedians—give the show a brio and soul all its own. —Andy Crump

18. House of Cards

Despite an occasional performance or character arc worth writing home about—see, most recently, Patricia Clarkson’s enigmatic, strangely intimate powerbroker, Jane Davis, and Jayne Atkinson’s stalwart Secretary of State, Catherine Durant—creator Beau Willimon’s American spin on the fourth wall-breaking BBC miniseries has been on the decline since Kate Mara “fell” in front of that train. It followed up its dreadful fifth season by killing off its protagonist, Frank Underwood, after former star Kevin Spacey’s alleged sexual misconduct against 15 accusers, and replacing him with his wife, Claire (Robin Wright), which leads to one of the most misconceived denouements one could imagine for a series of its profile. So why is House of Cards on this list? Because that dark, twisty, sneering first season’s appeal to audiences and critics remains a turning point in the history of television: Once Netflix saw its original series gambit succeed, with House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black, nothing would be the same again. —Matt Brennan

17. Mindhunter

The name and the description may have you assuming that this is a typical network procedural: FBI agents interview psychopaths in order to catch murderers. But Mindhunter is as much Mad Men as it is Law & Order. Produced by David Fincher and Charlize Theron, the story follows two real-life agents, Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff, the original King George III in Hamilton on Broadway) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany), along with consulting psychologist Dr. Wendy Carr (Anna Torv) in the FBI’s nascent Behavioral Science Unit. Joe Penhall’s series is based on a similarly titled true crime book. Interviewing and cataloguing convicted serial killers (a phrase the trio invents) leads to them helping on active cases, but it also affects each of their personal lives in different ways. Cameron Britton is particularly unforgettable as notorious murderer and necrophiliac Edmund Kemper. —Josh Jackson

16. Jessica Jones

In its sophomore effort, Jessica Jones dug deeper into the issues that made Season One interesting—in particular, power, control, and female anger. Season Two doubles down on that in a way that feels extremely of the moment (and showrunner Melissa Rosenberg saw to it that, among other things, all the episodes were directed by women). As a treatise on the complexities of female road-rage in all its varied facets, it’s excellent. It also makes the wise choice to deepen Jessica (Krysten Ritter, still killing it) and Trish’s (Rachael Taylor) complicated relationship, delving into their shared past. That was definitely the least fleshed-out aspect of the first season, and it’s a much-needed asset here. —Amy Glynn

15. Orange Is the New Black

In the aftermath of Season Five’s ambitious misfire, set entirely within the 72 hours or so of the Litchfield prison riot, Orange Is the New Black strains, with intermittent success, to center itself in Season Six. The action shifts to “max,” introducing a host of new inmates and guards as well as placing familiar faces in novel combinations, yet another admirable experiment from a series getting long in the tooth. It’s spread too thin for its own good, but the sheer range of stories on Orange Is the New Black still makes it one of the most fascinating shows on television. —Amy Amatangelo

14. On My Block

Unlike the various teen-oriented networks on linear television, with their established brands and storytelling voices, Netflix had no real standards for new teen shows to live up to or to subvert; from Netflix’s “throw spaghetti at the wall” perspective, On My Block could be, well, anything—which is exactly what it ended up being. In one moment, On My Block is a Freaks and Geeks-style growing pains comedy; in the next, it’s a gang drama; in the next, a Goonies-style treasure hunt. Sometimes, like when they’re arguing about how to flirt or joking about farts, the core crew of friends feels endearingly young; other times, when they’re scheming how to extricate one of their number from the gang initiation murder plot he’s caught up in, or they’re caught in that same plot’s literal cross hairs, they seem older than they deserve to be. On My Block isn’t anything you expect—what it is, rather, is something completely fun and fresh, starring the types of kids living the type of life that rarely gets to be fun or fresh, and judging from the passionate response the teens in my life have had to it, that’s worth all the Netflix-spaghetti in the world. What a gift. —Alexis Gunderson

13. American Vandal

The first season of Dan Perrault and Tony Yacenda’s American Vandal applied murder-level seriousness to a harmless crime, taking that imbalance to narrative and comic heights by never stretching beyond its small scope. By drilling down into all the avenues of relatable weirdness that teens navigate regularly in the high school social scene, the series plumbed investigative depths that didn’t need to be gritty to be engaging. Much of that still applies as Peter (Tyler Alvarez) and Sam (Griffin Gluck) return—as the show’s most consistent comic element—to battle wits with basketball stars, overly religious students, and the mystery of the Turd Burglar. A new season, a new school, a new prankster: American Vandal is like the true crime mysteries it parodies in almost every way. In Season Two, St. Bernadine’s, a Catholic high school, has been attacked by weaponized diarrhea in a lemonade-poisoning incident more heinous and humiliating than dick drawings could ever be. And that’s just the tip of the turtlehead in the gross-out follow-up to one of last year’s best new shows. The stakes are higher and the relationships more tangled this season, even if it’s not as wildly funny as its novel debut. —Jacob Oller

12. Stranger Things

Stranger Things Season Two is full of the same kinds of joyful moments of television that made its breakout first season so fun. If ‘80s nostalgia, plucky kids, pre-teen awkwardness, scary-but-not-terrifying monsters, goofy minor characters and emotional reunions aren’t your thing, I get it, go ahead and skip this one. But if you loved the first season, loved Goonies and E.T. and the John Hughes canon, you may find yourself binging all nine episodes in a weekend. The world gets a little bigger than Hawkins, Indiana, and the stakes get a little higher, but at its heart, six kids must face up to their monsters, metaphorical and real, to a perfect ‘80s soundtrack. —Josh Jackson

11. A Series of Unfortunate Events

Don’t quote me yet, but I think Netflix maybe has the notoriously slippery kids book-to-screen adaptation formula solved. I mean: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Dumplin’, and, for some good but mostly ill, 13 Reasons Why. Then, and more impressively: A Series of Unfortunate Events. In the vast and increasingly stormy ocean of original Netflix content, A Series of Unfortunate Events, based on the sharply unrelenting book series by Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler), has been from the very first title card an unsinkable dinghy of exquisitely executed vision—a phrase which here means, to quote the youth, iconic. Honestly, between the killer casting, the grotesquely perfect costuming and set design, the ever-changing, always ominous titles sung by Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris), and the truly astonishing, straight-from-the-source body count, this kids’ series is such fun television it’s almost offensive. And now, with its newly released third season—planned from the start, in an act of network wisdom I hope will be become an industry trend, to be its last—A Series of Unfortunate Events is also a model of satisfyingly complete storytelling. It’s so satisfying, and so sweet, and no spoilers here, but reader: I cried. —Alexis Gunderson

10. Big Mouth

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A cartoon comedy about puberty in which puberty is a literal monster—like, a big, hairy, yellow, horned and horny thing that keeps egging you and your hormones on to do super impulsive things. Surprisingly enough, it works, thanks in no small part to the ever-hilarious union of Nick Kroll (one of a group of creators, including Kroll’s childhood best friend and former Family Guy writer Andrew Goldberg) and John Mulaney, who lead a tremendous cast that includes Jessi Klein, Jason Mantzoukas, Jenny Slate, Fred Armisen, Maya Rudolph, and Jordan Peele as, for some reason, the ghost of Duke Ellington. But Big Mouth’s biggest coup is its refusal to shy away from issues surrounding the way we discuss gender and sexuality in our culture. Its finest moment in that endeavor? This season featured an entire variety show-style episode about Planned Parenthood and all the services it provides outside of abortion. It was informative. It was lewd. It was hilarious. Now that’s entertainment. —John Maher

9. The Haunting of Hill House

Adapting one of the most treasured horror novels ever written is a task so controversial that it divided this very site down the middle, but what’s harder to debate is the quality of the show that Mike Flanagan and Meredith Averill spun from Shirley Jackson’s yarn. The Haunting of Hill House is a dramatic gut-punch, a riveting tale of familial trauma and betrayal, and a scary-as-hell ghost story. The sheer craft going into every unsettling episode makes it one of the best Netflix originals, and the zeitgeist’s love of trendy horror was augmented by the show’s clever connection between ghosts and grief. —Jacob Oller

8. Master of None

The second season of Aziz Ansari’s masterful Master of None begins with an homage to Bicycle Thieves and ends with a nod to The Graduate. In between are beautifully nuanced episodes as Ansari’s Dev Shah tries to navigate his love life and his career. Even when the show goes the traditional sitcom route—the will-they-or-won’t-they romance of Dev and the engaged Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi)—the dialogue and interactions are decidedly not traditional. They talk like real people not ones created in a writer’s room. “New York, I Love You,” which stepped away from the main characters to showcase the vibrant diversity of the city and “Thanksgiving,” which chronicled Dev’s childhood friend Denise (Lena Waithe) coming out to her family, are easily the season highlights. The show is fun to watch, emotionally satisfying and thought provoking. Unlike anything else on television, Master of None is not only one of the best shows of Netflix, but one of the most important in a long, long time.—Eric Walters and Amy Amatangelo

7. Dear White People

In its second season, Justin Simien’s campus comedy continues to impress. The density of its political allusions (“Please tell me you’re about to drag this Kirkland Signature Ann Coulter!”) is exceeded only by its cultural ones (an Empire parody that snatches the soap’s proverbial wig); the ambition of its unorthodox structure, with each episode given over to a single character, is surpassed only by the ambition of its dizzying array of hot-button issues, from the history of racism at elite universities to abortion rights to the effects of social media. That it submits exactly none of these to the after-school special treatment is a tribute to Simien, his writers’ room, and his talented, young cast, dancing from subject to subject so deftly that it never feels like homework. Dear white people—no, dear all people—watch this show. —Matt Brennan

6. Queer Eye

It’s a miracle the new Queer Eye works. It’s easy to imagine, in these hyper-divided and reboot-obsessed times, how its central concept—five gay men driving around the South in the Trump years, improving the lives of people from diverse backgrounds—could have not worked. It could have stereotyped or trivialized its subjects, or its format, first deployed in the early 2000s, could have felt stale. But it didn’t! Within days of release, it became a comfort TV must-watch for a country exhausted by news—inspiring legions of fans to argue instead over which member of the Fab Five is the best. (The correct answer is a tie between Tan and Bobby.) Queer Eye is clearly well-intentioned and well-made, and underneath its produced sheen, the interactions between the cast and their clients feel incredibly powerful and emotional. If only all reality TV felt this way. —Eric Vilas-Boas

5. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Kimmy’s greatest asset has always been its ability to cram an innumerable amount of jokes and pop culture references into a neon-hued 30-odd minute show that is really about a grown woman (played by Ellie Kemper) who is stunted with an unimaginable level of PTSD. After all, her childhood was spent in a bunker, as a victim of kidnapping and serial rape. Those gags were certainly on point for the first half of Season Four. I’m still laughing about Tituss Burgess’ character, Titus Andromedon, saying, “OK, you know how Al Gore invented the Internet? Well, he also invented a rhythm for it. It’s called the al-gore-ithm. It learns about you and picks things it knows you like,” when he teaches Kimmy how to binge watch. Or Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski) quipping, “Tourists are too savvy now. I blame NBC’s Smash” when she can’t sell tickets to a school play in Times Square.

But the season’s pièce de résistance is clearly the third episode, “Party Monster: Scratching the Surface.” A parody of the true-crime drama trend for which Netflix only has itself to blame, the episode gives voice to Kimmy’s now imprisoned captor, Wayne Gary Wayne (Jon Hamm)—a little too much voice, actually. The fake reverend leads a naïve documentarian right into his clutches and turns an innocent never-meet-your-idols moment into a petition for his release through fabricated evidence and MRA tactics. It’s topical, scary and (somehow) funny. Luckily, none of this will completely falter our heroine, who spends the remaining part of the season accepting that she can use her experience to stop young boys from growing up to be perverts and assholes. Hopefully she carries that lesson into the series’ finale six episodes, which debut January 25. —Whitney Friedlander

4. The Crown

In its second season creator Peter Morgan’s lavish treatment of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II retains much of what made the first such a notable achievement: Claire Foy’s utterly captivating performance as the flinty monarch; the impeccable period detail; a sense of historical scope that outstrips its forebears, Morgan’s 2006 film The Queen and 2013 play The Audience. But to call The Crown’s sophomore effort merely “lavish” seems unfair. Rather, as time marches on—Season Two is set between the Suez Crisis, in 1956, and the Profumo affair, in 1963—the series elaborates a thoughtful style and episodic structure that fleshes out the supporting characters, including Elizabeth’s husband, Philip (Matt Smith), and sister, Margaret (the standout Vanessa Kirby), by turning the focus away from the queen herself. It’s a surprisingly full-throated examination of Britain’s public life, and its public figures’ private ones, capped by a mesmerizing midseason coup, “Beryl,” that suggests The Crown is still discovering the true extent of its powers. Good news, that: Olivia Colman will play Elizabeth in Seasons Three and Four. —Matt Brennan

3. One Day at a Time

We’ll admit, we were nervous about the second season of One Day at a Time. The show was such a surprise sleeper hit in its first season. How would it do now that it had buzz? The answer is: Even better. The warm-hearted, full-throated update of Norman Lear’s classic sitcom, which follows a Cuban American family in Los Angeles, grew more confident, more nuanced, more thought-provoking, more sexy. Its combination of the topical and the timeless, the silly and the sincere, has become the leading engine of the form’s revival. The comedy has the unique ability to make filming with four cameras in front of a live audience seem simultaneously a throwback to the TV of yesteryear and a fresh new way of bringing stories to life. Covering everything from LGBTQ rights and immigration to dating and depression, the series is anchored by the two extraordinary women at its center: Rita Moreno and Justina Machado, whose chemistry as mother and daughter find fullest in expression in two wrenching late-season entries. These women are so vibrant and authentic that while watching them you have to remind yourself that they are just characters on TV. And good news! We’ve had a sneak peak at the third season, which begins February 8, and it’s fantastic. —Amy Amatangelo and Matt Brennan


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The second season of any TV show is when a series really proves itself. The characters and relationships have been established. Now, where you do take them? GLOW co-creators Carly Mensch and Liz Flahive and their talented writers ventured into deeper waters this year, taking aim at the contradictions at play in the show’s backdrop: a women’s pro wrestling league. It’s a concept both empowering and misogynistic, as well as trucking in some outlandish stereotypes. The still-fragile friendship of Ruth (Alison Brie) and Debbie (Betty Gilpin), as well as consistently harried producer Sam (Marc Maron) provided the entertainment, but the heart of the show came out in moments like Tamme (Kia Stevens) struggling with her “Welfare Queen” character and what that represents, and the very Harvey Weinstein-like scene when a powerful producer of the show within a show tries to force himself on one of the wrestlers. Amid the teased up hair and Frank Stallone music cues, GLOW became one of this year’s most subversive shows. —Robert Ham

1. BoJack Horseman

Every few years, a new adult cartoon is declared proof of a “golden age of animation” and is crowned king by TV critics: Rick and Morty succeeded Archer, which succeeded Bob’s Burgers, and so on. The narrative is nonsense—animation has been great since the early 1990s, and has stayed great—but BoJack Horseman merits the hype. Somehow, an animated tragicomedy about a selfish, egotistical actor battling addiction and mental illness who also happens to be an anthropomorphic horse has become a uniquely compelling meditation on fame, pain, relationships, and our cultural moment. It’s also proven itself one of television’s most ambitious shows in terms of narrative complexity, with this most recent season experimenting with, among other things, an entire episode told via a single monologue. Oh, and the animal gags are to die for. —John Maher

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