Superheroes have never been more popular, with a whole slew of Marvel and DC TV series airing throughout the year. But how do these shows actually compare to one another? It's difficult to do a like-for-like comparison, simply because viewing figures aren't available for streaming series like the Marvel Netflix shows, or DC Universe's Titans. Besides, viewing figures in themselves aren't enough anyway; Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is known to have lower viewing figures, but a strong DVR performance and a committed fanbase.
To get a true sense of popularity, you need to look at more than just viewer numbers. Parrot Analytics, a data science company who measure audience demand for TV content by assessing how viewers interact with a brand online, measure audience demand, engagement, and viewership, assessed through everything from global file-sharing and peer-to-peer traffic to social media activity. They've spoken exclusively to Screen Rant, identifying the US' top 20 superhero shows of 2018 in terms of sheer demand.
There are certainly some surprises on this list of the most popular superhero shows of 2018 - a couple of series appear that haven't been airing for years, while Marvel's Iron Fist is conspicuously absent in spite of a much-improved second season. But what's most striking is the sheer range and diversity of the superhero genre, with everything from comedy animations to dark, cerebral dramas.
Surprisingly, the 20th slot goes to a show that hasn't aired since 2011 - but is still evidently very popular indeed. Smallville was developed by writer-producers Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, and was an origin story for Superman that focused on the young Clark Kent's life in high school. The show operated under a strict "no tights, no flights" rule, reducing Superman to the bare essentials and exploring just how the Boy of Steel learned to use his powers. It starred Tom Welling as Clark Kent, Kristin Kreuk as Lana Lang, Michael Rosenbaum as Lex Luthor, and the now-controversial Alison Mack as Clark's friend Chloe Sullivan. In many ways, Smallville was the precursor of the modern DCTV era, introducing characters like Green Arrow and setting up the "before they were heroes" approach used by both Gotham and Krypton. According to Parrot Analytics, Smallville remains one of the most in-demand superhero TV shows in the United States, which perhaps explains why the recent Arrowverse "Elseworlds" crossover referenced the series.
The latest Superman prequel series is Syfy's Krypton, which explores the Kryptonian heritage of the Man of Steel. The first season premiered in March 2018, consisting of ten episodes, and came to a dramatic close when Superman's ancestor Seg-El sacrificed himself to trap Brainiac in the Phantom Zone. Seg-El's act meant General Zod could finish what he came through time to do; make Krypton kneel before Zod. To the delight of comic book fans, Krypton season 2 is set to introduce Emmett J. Scanlan as Lobo, the ruthless bounty hunter who's a match for any Kryptonian. In spite of the high-profile addition of Lobo, Krypton still ranks fairly low on this list, suggesting it hasn't got the traction of other "origin story" shows like Gotham.
Every teenager goes through a period when they imagine their parents are evil - but the stars of Marvel's Runaways discovered their parents really are supervillains. The Marvel/Hulu TV series is aimed at a very specific young-adult demographic, which perhaps explains why it's so low down on this list. It's based on Brian K. Vaughan's iconic comic book series, with the first season running from November 2017 through to January 2018; Hulu took a different approach with Runaways season 2, dropping the whole series at once in December. Season 2 ended on a dramatic cliffhanger, a sure sign that Marvel believes Hulu will renew Runaways for a third season.
17. The Punisher
At first glance, it's something of a surprise to see The Punisher ranked as low as 17th place on this list; Jon Bernthal is widely viewed as the best incarnation of Frank Castle to date, and both the first and second seasons have met with popular and critical acclaim. But it's important to remember that, unlike most of the shows that rank higher in Parrot Analytics' data, no episodes of The Punisher were actually released in 2018. In fact, the promotional campaign for season 2 was only in its early days in December, and excitement was sadly blunted by the fact the relationship between Marvel and Netflix seems to be breaking down; even the cast don't believe there'll be a season 3.
16. Luke Cage
Marvel will be disappointed to see Luke Cage so low in terms of audience demand. Starring Mike Colter as the "bulletproof black guy," the first season of Luke Cage dropped on Netflix in 2016, and met to a largely favorable response from fans and critics alike. Luke Cage season 2 was released in June 2018, ending on a cliffhanger in which Harlem's Hero actually became a crime boss in a wrong-headed attempt to protect his neighborhood. Unfortunately that cliffhanger will probably never be resolved; Luke Cage was canceled by Netflix due to declining viewing figures and creative differences between the streaming giant and Marvel Television. The latest reports suggest Marvel can't use any of their canceled Netflix projects elsewhere for the next two years, by which time demand for Luke Cage will have dropped further.
15. The Gifted
Matt Nix's The Gifted is loosely inspired by the X-Men's "Days of Future Past" timeline, and it's produced by 20th Century Fox Television in association with Marvel Television. In this series, mutant-human conflict is coming to a boil, and the X-Men have long since disappeared. The Gifted focuses on second- and third-tier X-Men like Polaris (Emma Dumont), Thunderbird (Blair Redford), and Blink (Jamie Chung). Sadly, The Gifted's appeal seems to be relatively limited, possibly because it lacks A-list X-Men like Cyclops and Wolverine. Season 1 launched in October 2017 and came to an explosive finale in January 2018; the second season launched in September, with the Mutant Underground torn apart and turning against one another.