Beginning in 2013, Netflix began creating its own content, including a variety of television shows. Over the past four years, the enterprise has become an empire including dramas, comedies, and documentaries.
Netflix’s comedy series have become increasingly popular. Similarly, its original dramas have also become major hits, and have given other television programers a run for their money.
This article will rank all of Netflix’s original dramas – although it’s important to note that we will not include any documentaries (such as Making a Murderer), continuations (including Black Mirror or Longmire), or collaborations (like Degrassi: Next Class). Additionally, only English language shows– or, in the case of Narcos, bilingual shows– appear on this list. However, “dramedies” (that is, shows that seem equally drama and comedy) will appear on this list.
Critical reviews and fan reactions have been taken into account, as well as Rotten Tomato scores, but no one measurement is weighed more heavily than the others. All seasons of a show are also taken into account with equal measure, which means that a rough sophomore season or slow-moving first season might lower the ranking of an excellent show.
Here is our list of Netflix Original Drama Series, Ranked Worst to Best.
18. Marco Polo
Marco Polo is the second most expensive show of all time, out-spent only by Game of Thrones. The first season costed around $90 million, and the second season was reported to be a $200 million loss for Netflix; after such an incredible investment of money, Netflix has chosen to not renew Marco Polo beyond its second season.
Critics have almost universally panned the show as being surprisingly boring, given how lavish the visual spectacle; generally, the acting and writing are considered sub-par, and the stories are under-developed.
Many people draw parallels between Marco Polo and Game of Thrones, which in addition to having a large budget, is a similar period piece filled with gratuitous violence and nudity. However, Marco Polo does not stand up to Game of Thrones, and is perceived as a lame knock-off.
17. Hemlock Grove
Hemlock Grove was released in the same year as House of Cards, but the shows have had very different trajectories. Hemlock Grove centers on a vampire, Roman Godfrey, and a werewolf, Peter Rumancek, who live in a small town in Pennsylvania (from which the show gets its name).
A horror show with over-the-top gore, Hemlock Grove struggled with what it wanted to be– and critics can’t decide if they preferred it when it is serious and dark, or when it is campy and ridiculous. The word that critics use repeatedly to describe Hemlock Grove is “mess.”
The over-the-top violence and incredibly dark plotlines don’t have the finesse of Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal, and the writing often falls flat. In one of the strangest and most ill-conceived plotlines of the show, Roman is hypnotized by his mother (played by Famke Janssen) to rape his cousin, Letha, who then believes that she was impregnated by an angel.
16. The OA
The OA is a mystery drama that embraces elements of science fiction and fantasy. The cryptic show focuses on Prairie Johnson (though she refers to herself as “The OA”) who reappears after a seven year disappearance to her foster parents. While she used to be blind, she has miraculously regained her sight in the time gone.
It didn’t help that many people drew parallels between The OA and Stranger Things because of their similar release times and central female characters, who were shrouded in mystery. However, while Stranger Things delivers an exciting story and a cast of lovable characters, The OA gets caught up in its own mysterious circumstances and falls flat.
The show is continuously confusing, and the last episode ends with a potentially offensive final face-off between Prairie and her gang of misfits and a school shooter, who they fight with mystical dance aerobics. The OA will return to Netflix with a second season.
15. Iron Fist
Iron Fist is the fourth Marvel show to debut on Netflix that will lead to the upcoming Defenders this summer. Iron Fist was also the first of the four shows to be generally disliked by critics. While Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and Daredevil have excellent critical reviews (scoring 96%, 92%, and 87% respectively on Rotten Tomatoes), Iron Fist has a 17% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Some fans thought that the show missed an opportunity in casting an Asian actor in the lead role of Danny Rand– the character was not originally Asian in the comics, but casting an Asian actor could have helped to push back against the so-called “white savior” trope, where a white man plays a messianic role in a narrative primarily about people of color or focusing on a non-white culture.
The first season of Bloodline was brooding, brutal, and practically Shakespearean. Chronicling a family feud between brothers that becomes deadly, Ben Mendelsohn’s incredible performance is the lynchpin of the first season.
The rest of the cast– Kyle Chandler (of Friday Night Lights), Sissy Spacek (Carrie), Linda Cardellini (Freaks and Geeks), and Norbert Leo Butz (a two-time Tony Award winner, although he doesn’t sing or dance here)– are a great group.
However, the second season of Bloodline suffers from Mendelsohn’s character’s death, which severely limits his role (although he does appear in some flashbacks and delusions). The third season fares even worse, with Mendelsohn barely appearing– the pace grinds to a full-stop and the agony of the primary characters is so repetitive that they recycle a lot of previous footage.
13. 13 Reasons Why
13 Reasons Why has received its fair share of commentary and criticism for its handling of sexual violence and suicide. The show deals with a number of serious and dark issues, but even its harshest critics could not deny that these are very real issues that teenagers face today. The question was rather whether or not the show dealt with these issues thoughtfully.
Netflix has since added viewer advisories at the beginning of each episode, including information about suicidal hotlines and trigger warnings at the beginning of the episodes that will be depicting sexual violence.
Despite its controversy (or perhaps because of its controversy), 13 Reasons Why attracted a large following who were enticed by its engaging and brooding story. The question becomes: is 13 Reasons Why an honest and unflinching look at violence, or is it inappropriate and gratuitous?
12. Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life
The mini-series Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life is considered on its own, rather than with the rest of the original show (which is not a Netflix original). While Netflix has a number of continuations of shows, A Year in the Life is different for a couple of reasons.
Unlike dramas Longmire or Black Mirror, a significant amount of time had passed between it and its original show and it was not picked up directly. Additionally, changes to the length of the episodes and the number of episodes in a season gave A Year in the Life a new feel.
However, A Year in the Life met with some mixed reviews. It is true that if you enjoyed the original Gilmore Girls, it’s likely you would have fun seeing all of the familiar faces and listening to the rapidfire dialogue. However, strangely, A Year in the Life picked up with the characters exactly where they left off, even though a decade had passed. This meant that the plotlines and the character development felt a little stunted.
11. The Get Down
The Get Down is Baz Luhrmann’s psychedelic musical drama that examines the birth of hip-hop in the late 1970s Bronx. The show was visually and musically lush and vibrant, but some critics felt that the show struggled to be cohesive, and that the story and characters were secondary to the stylistic choices.
That being said, fans of Baz Luhrmann will enjoy the visual feast of The Get Down and fans of hip-hop will enjoy the soundtrack (and the narration from Nas).
Unfortunately for people who enjoyed the first two season of The Get Down, Netflix announced that it was cancelling the show in May of 2017; while this may not be surprising since Baz Luhrmann had already announced that he was leaving the show in April, it also appears to be part of a larger shift for Netflix, who also cancelled another expensive drama, Sense8, within a week of cancelling The Get Down.
Spanning 16 cities in 13 different countries around the world, the show boasted a diverse and robust main cast. The visual sequences were colorful and stunning, and the concept was a fresh and exciting look at how science fiction could be used to explore human nature.
Sense8 did not always live up to its full potential; the first season spent most of its time establishing the characters, and some viewers found its gradual development to be feel aimless and meandering, rather than being a substantive slow-burn.
9. Luke Cage
Luke Cage is the third of the four Defenders series on Netflix. Like Jessica Jones and Daredevil before it, Luke Cage delivered a fresh take on the superhero origin story, offered insightful commentary about social issues in our world, and included an excellent villain.
Cottonmouth, played by the Oscar-winning Mahershala Ali, is a scene-stealing and captivating villain; however, after his death in the middle of the season, the show struggles to fill the void of his absence.
Shades and Mariah are both interesting characters, but neither one steps up in Cottonmouth’s absence, and Diamondback, the additional villain who is introduced in the second half of the season, never quite connects in the way that Cottonmouth did. The story becomes meandering in the second half, and could have been stronger if it had the focus of the first half.
Despite this, Luke Cage is an excellent show, and Mahershala Ali’s strong performance is complemented by Mike Colter as Luke Cage, Simone Missick as Misty Knight, and Rosario Dawson as the returning Claire Temple.
8. The Crown
The Crown was immensely popular with critics and has won numerous awards, including the Golden Globes for Best Series, Best Actress (Claire Foy), the SAG Awards for Best Actress (Claire Foy), and Best Actor (John Lithgow).
Foy and Lithgow play Elizabeth II and Winston Churchill respectively, as the first season of The Crown examines the beginning of Elizabeth II’s reign as queen and the end of Churchill’s rule as prime minister.
The acting across the board is top-notch, and the production values are stunning: the sets and costumes exude the power and charm of the British royal family. However, The Crown‘s narrative does not quite captivate in the same way that its visuals do. A common complaint is that the show’s pace is too slow.
7. A Series of Unfortunate Events
Jim Carrey’s A Series of Unfortunate Events film left many fans of the popular children’s novels disappointed: it was strange and sad in all the wrong ways, and generally felt sloppy. However, the Neil Patrick Harris-led A Series of Unfortunate Events show, which has the writer of the novels as an executive producer, matches the hilariously dark tone of the source material perfectly.
At eight episodes, the first season covers the first four (of thirteen) original books faithfully in content and in tone, which makes it an excellent model for well-done book adaptations. Additionally, the performances of the cast, including the teenage actors (Malina Weissman as Violet and Louis Hynes as Klaus), bring the wacky story to life.
While A Series of Unfortunate Events is funny, it is a macabre dramedy, and its events, if told by anyone other than Lemony Snicket, could only be viewed as a tragedy. It has already been renewed for a second and third season which are expected to cover the rest of the thirteen novels.
6. Orange is the New Black
Orange is the New Black is a dramedy set in a minimum security women’s prison. The show’s fifth season was recently released (and was not taken into consideration for this ranking), and it has already been renewed for seasons six and seven.
Originally, Orange is the New Black was nominated for the Emmy’s Outstanding Comedy Series and subsequent acting awards; however, starting in 2015, it was nominated for Outstanding Drama Series, making it the first television show ever to be nominated for both Outstanding Comedy and Outstanding Drama.
Orange is the New Black‘s seasons have been uneven over the years, but it is also innovative in its storytelling and its diverse characterization. While its protagonist, Piper Chapman, is incredibly unlikable, this increasingly seems to be on purpose, as it is the incredible supporting cast of characters who have kept viewers watching. The cast includes standout performances by Laverne Cox, Samira Wiley, and Danielle Brooks.
Daredevil was the first Marvel-Netflix collaboration, and its success (both critically and in generating a fanbase) helped to cement the other Defenders television shows. The previous film adaptation of Daredevil, which starred Ben Affleck as Matthew Murdock, completely missed the mark. Many fans of the Daredevil comics believe the television series to be a much better adaptation of the source material.
With dramatic visuals, an excellent performance by Charlie Cox in the title role, and incredible fight choreography, the first season of Daredevil is a powerhouse. The second season of Daredevil, which introduced the characters of the Punisher and Elektra, is more uneven.
The plot gets weighed down by flashbacks and brooding, and much of the story that surrounds Elektra and the Hand is more silly than satisfying. While the fight scenes generally remain at their impeccable standard, the second season simply does not match the first.
Narcos is a spell-binding bilingual drama that tells the larger-than-life true story of billionaire drug lord Pablo Escobar. As the leader of a fearsome drug cartel, Escobar wrecked havoc on the Colombian government and anyone who tried to oppose him.
The first two seasons of Narcos follow Escobar’s journey from a poor boy in Colombia through his rise as the king of cocaine all the way to his death. The narrative weaves together multiple stories, and uses an American DEA agent working in Colombia to narrate the events as they unfold.
While many other shows suffer from a “sophomore slump,” where the first season is not able to live up to the quality of the original content, Narcos season two has an even higher score on Rotten Tomatoes– as tensions rise and Escobar is on the run, the stakes escalate in the second season.
3. Jessica Jones
Jessica Jones was the second Marvel-Netflix superhero show. Its first season follows its titular character, who has to face her past and former captor, Kilgrave (played by David Tennant), in a battle of wills.
Jessica Jones subverts the typical superhero story because of Kilgrave’s ability to control minds; anyone will do anything that Kilgrave asks them to do, even if it means killing themselves. The central question of the first season becomes: how can you fight a villain you can’t attack directly?
The story of Jessica Jones also creatively explores sexual violence and the resilience of survivors of abuse. Both Jessica and her best friend Trish are survivors of abuse, and both deal with their experiences in vastly different ways.
The upcoming second season of Jessica Jones, however, will have to navigate what the show is now that Kilgrave has been killed. Of course, this doesn’t mean that Jessica will be free of her past, but David Tennant’s absence will definitely to be felt.
2. House of Cards
House of Cards is not only the first Netflix original drama, it’s the first Netflix original television show, and its creation helped to put Netflix on the map for original content. Starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright as a Washington power couple with a murderous streak, House of Cards just released its fifth season this month.
Without a doubt, House of Cards has had its ups and downs; some of the story arches have been more compelling than others, and at times, the show has just felt silly. However, Spacey’s and Wright’s performances are award-winning and award-worthy, and, regardless of the show’s many twists and turns, their acting has remained solid over the years.
House of Cards deserves its spot on this list for Spacey’s monologues alone, which he delivers directly to the audience with a Shakespearean gravitas. As both the longest running Netflix television show, House of Cards set a high bar, and few shows can compare to its long and impressive track record.
1. Stranger Things
Stranger Things blended together a number of 1980s movie genres into an engaging and addictive horror-mystery series. The gang of kids at the center of the show became instant fan favorites, and were so easy to root for.
Thanks to its excellent writing, acting, and special effects, the show has something for everyone: laugh-out-loud jokes, heartfelt moments, quirky ’80s references, and suspenseful sequences that have kept viewers on the edge of their seats.
While Stranger Things has only had one season (in comparison to some of Netflix’s longer running shows, like House of Cards or Orange is the New Black), it was universally acclaimed, and boasts an impressive wide appeal. Season two is set to be released on Halloween this year, and, if it’s anything like the first season, the show will continue to be a popular culture phenomenon.
Without a doubt, Stranger Things is the crowning jewel of Netflix’s drama series.
What Netflix drama do you think deserves the number one spot? Start a conversation in the comments!