There was a time when superhero television shows were a pretty rare beast. Aside from the occasional animated series, the most comic book fans could hope for when turning on their TVs was a network's tragically misguided take on a beloved superhero property.
Things have certainly changed for the better. Now that Disney and Marvel have turned superhero adaptations into a multi-billion dollar empire, networks and streaming services have realized that getting in on the superhero entertainment action will require them to produce a series that does justice to some of comics' greatest justice bringers.
While there are more superhero shows on television than ever before, the quality of those shows tends to vary pretty wildly. Yes, we are blessed with series that arguably surpass the quality of even the biggest-budget big-screen adaptations, but our airwaves are also polluted with a few series that we wish were left within the pages of a comic.
The very good news is that even the worst modern superhero show tends to be better than the average live-action superhero show that we would have been treated to in the past. That makes ranking these series a pretty tall task. After all, even the "worst" superhero shows are usually worth a look.
This is Every Current Superhero Show, Ranked.
On paper, Inhumans is an adaptation of the Marvel property of the same name. It focuses on Black Bolt, a ruling class of Inhumans, and their royal way of life. However, the real story of Inhumans is the rough road the series has had to television.
Inhumans was supposed to be a movie but was dropped from Marvel’s Phase 3 schedule somewhere along the way. It was then converted into a TV show, though the first two episodes debuted on IMAX screens.
Ever since its IMAX debut, Inhumans has attracted criticism for being a poorly-written and ill-conceived melodrama that just so happens to feature Marvel characters. Ironically enough, it’s a lot like those really bad superhero adaptations that were fairly commonplace before Marvel helped save the entire format.
14 Iron Fist
Following the tremendous success of Daredevil, Luke Cage, and Jessica Jones (much more on those later), most Marvel fans felt pretty confident about the release of Netflix's Iron Fist. No, Iron Fist has never been Marvel’s most exciting property, but surely the showrunners would find a way to turn it into something special.
Even if you can put aside the whitewashing controversy that preceded Iron Fist’s release, the show itself ended up being an almost impossibly poorly written take on the character. There are times when it feels like Iron Fist is more of a parody of the entire kung-fu genre than a fully-fledged dramatic series.
At the end of the day, Iron Fist’s biggest problem is that it struggles to give viewers a reason to watch the next episode.
The first previews of Gotham left many people wondering why they should even bother with the show. While fascinating stories set in the Batman universe, but not directly involving Batman have been told in the past, none of the content used to tease Gotham suggested that it would be one of those stories.
Gotham has turned out to be a frustratingly inconsistent show. There are times when it is flat-out awful (unbelievably so) and there are times when it is a strangely brilliant show that has a rhythm all its own.
More often than not, though, you’ll find that Gotham has a tendency to take things over the top when it should be a bit more grounded. Regardless, it does exhibit flashes of greatness here and there.
12 Legends of Tomorrow
Legends of Tomorrow pretty much started off-the-rails and hasn’t really tried to get back on track since then. This series focuses on the time-traveling Rip Hunter who recruits a team to help avenge his slain family. The whole thing leads to a giant conspiracy that spans several eras of…
Look, the thing you really need to know about Legends of Tomorrow is that it’s a show that has little interest in whether or not you have time to really process everything that’s going on. Many times, this approach works against the flow of the series. Many episodes suffer from an excess of characters and ideas that don’t get the screen time they need.
However, the show does work quite well when it's firing on all cylinders. Fortunately, more recent episodes suggest that the series has embraced its absurdity and will serve as a counterpoint to more serious DC-CW fare going foreward.
As you might imagine, Supergirl is the story of Kara Zor-El and her struggles to become the hero that our world needs. It runs parallel to the classic Superman universe and features many of the same characters and scenarios.
Where Supergirl differs from many recent Superman adaptations is in its willingness to be a bit silly. There are many times when this attitude works against the show. Certain stories and characters are just too plucky for the overall good of the series. The seasons’ 20+ episode format also leads to quite a bit of filler.
However, there is a refreshing quality to Supergirls’ silliness that is made all the better by the show’s occasional forays into absolute brilliance. If you learn to accept Supergirl for what it is, it becomes much easier to love.
10 The Gifted
The Gifted has only been on-air for a few weeks now, meaning that its overall position in the superhero television hierarchy is somewhat up for debate. For those who haven’t seen it, the series follows two parents who learn that their children are mutants. They decide to flee to avoid a number of suddenly interested parties.
So far, The Gifted is proving to be an interesting take on the X-Men universe. It’s a show loaded with social commentary, which can be a tricky creative path to take if you aren’t careful to emphasize storytelling over commenting on the latest headlines.
The Gifted seems to be more than that, but its incredibly new status makes it difficult to state with certainty whether or not it will remain as intriguing as it is now.
Arrow debuted at a time when many audiences were still wary about the idea of a superhero show on the CW. Actually, many people were scared about the idea of a DC superhero show on any network due to previously week adaptations of DC stories.
Arrow’s first season took a little while to get rolling, but once it did, the show became a truly special piece of superhero entertainment. Arrow eventually exhibited a level of storytelling maturity was appreciated by longtime fans of the character and casual viewers.
The problem is that Arrow struggles to be that show that it was during its season one creative peak. It sometimes surpasses those heights - season five was an unbelievable return to form - but there’s no denying that the series has suffered through some rough years.
8 Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D did not debut as a great show. It rode that post-Avengers wave of hype and generated quite a bit of buzz, but ultimately proved to be an average-at-best drama that struggled to find its identity. At times, it was a loose, Whedon-lite piece of entertainment. More often than not, it was a show that tried - and failed - to recapture the cinematic glory of Marvel films.
Those problems still plague Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, but the series’ later seasons have seen it finally find some kind of footing. Ever since the release of Captain America: Winter Soldier and the tie-ins that release resulted in, Agents has constantly strived to reinvent itself by diving into multiple storylines within the Marvel universe.
While there are times we wish Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D stuck with what works more often, it’s become a pretty great show.
7 The Defenders
Sure, Iron Fist was a complete bust, but fans of Netflix’s Marvel series were still looking forward to seeing the streaming service’s most famous heroes band together. Hey, it worked for The Avengers!
The Defenders biggest problem is that it tries to piece together a larger storyline that wasn’t that great to begin with. The entire plotline involving The Hand’s bid for global domination has really taken away from the intimate storylines that made Netflix’s Marvel shows so compelling.
Thankfully, there are moments in The Defenders which invoke those more personal storylines and elevate the narrative to the status of something special. These moments aren’t as common as fans may like, but they do appear often enough to make The Defenders rise above its shaky start. Plus the novelty of seeing these heroes on screen together doesn't quite wear thin over 8 episodes.
6 The Tick
The Tick is the simple story of a man in a blue tick costume who uses his incredible abilities to fight crime in a city known simply as The City. Those familiar with the old Tick animated and live-action series know that the show’s seemingly generic premise is really just the table setting for an often dry, though sometimes zany, parody of the entire superhero concept.
Amazon’s revival of The Tick has been nothing short of a comedic godsend. Yes, the show gets a lot of mileage out of superhero jokes, but its humor only works so well because The Tick also features a fundamental respect for the superhero genre.
Indeed, there are times when The Tick is a more effective superhero drama than some "down-to-Earth", serious shows.
5 Luke Cage
Luke Cage is a tale of two shows. The first show consists of Luke Cage’s initial episodes. That show is a downright compelling take on the Luke Cage character that is sometimes best described as what may happen if a superhero was dropped into the world of The Wire. It’s highlighted by brillaint performances from Mike Coulter, Alfre Woodard, and Mahershala Ali.
The second half of Luke Cage is a much different story. This is when the series becomes a downright wacky comic book show that wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn't preceded by what was a compelling drama.
In the end, you can’t separate Luke Cage’s worst elements from its best qualities, but there’s no denying that the series achieves some special things at its best.
Daredevil is similar to Luke Cage in that the series varies wildly in quality. The difference is that we got an entire season of Daredevil at its very best and another season of Daredevil that at its (presumptive) worst.
Still, that first season of the show stands as one of Netflix’s greatest contributions to original streaming entertainment. It’s a refined take on the mature superhero concept that never forgets that it’s a superhero series. Daredevil season 1 boasts some nuanced moments and downright incredible action sequences. It also happens to feature Vincent D'Onofrio’s scene-stealing performance as The Kingpin.
As for Daredevil’s second season...well, it’s certainly not as good as the first. However, even at its worst, Daredevil offers an array of compelling characters and enjoyable storylines.
3 The Flash
Despite the success of Arrow, many had concerns leading up to the premiere of The Flash. That’s especially true of those who were not familiar with some of The Flash’s best storylines and thought of him only as a guy in a red suit who just runs really fast.
It wasn’t long, however, before The Flash established itself as an indispensable piece of superhero entertainment. It’s a fairly light show compared to series like Daredevil, but The Flash separates itself with its clever usage of multi-dimensional storylines that come together to form a fascinating mythology.
The Flash has only gotten more intriguing as it's evolved. That’s a rare quality in superhero shows or any other television series for that matter. We look forward to seeing where it goes next.
2 Jessica Jones
It’s safe to say that Jessica Jones caught many people off-guard. Casual comic fans - and casual Netflix viewers - were not necessarily familiar with the Jessica Jones property, and thus were not anticipating it like they were a gritty reboot of Daredevil.
What everyone soon discovered, though, is that the world of Jessica Jones is a downright cruel one. Jessica herself is a truly great character whose trauma prevents her from embracing being a superhero. She is tremendously burdened by the responsibilities that come along with her powers. A strong lead performance by Krysten Ritter is bolstered by David Tennant’s haunting portrayal of Kilgrave. He’s truly one of the best villains in recent years.
We don’t know what Jessica Jones’ future holds, but the show’s first season was an almost perfect piece of superhero entertainment.
Imagine if you could go back in time to a less-enlightened era of superhero entertainment and show comic book fans a few episodes of Legion. It would almost be like showing a caveman a computer. You wonder if they would even be able to process it.
To be fair, Legion is a hard show to process even for modern audiences. Noah Hawley’s unique look at a previously forgettable X-Men character is filled with the kind of sequences that will leave you questioning reality itself. That's what happens when you dive into the mind of a slightly schizophrenic superhero.
Through it all, though, Legion remains an impossibly intelligent and visually stunning piece of television. This is one of the smartest shows on the air, regardless of genre. If the series’ first season is any indication, Legion may one day prove to be the best thing on TV.
What's your favorite superhero TV show? Which ones do you avoid? Let us know in the comments!