What are the best ’90s TV shows? Back in the ‘90s, when dial-up was still a thing, the Space Jam website remained untouched, and everyone had Tamagotchis, we had no idea just how influential our TV shows would become.
In fact, it’s fair to say that some of the best TV series ever made came from this era. Many of the best comedy series soared to new heights – or lows, depending on your taste for poop jokes – and some of the best cartoon characters were born. Here, we celebrate the ’90s with some of the best TV had to offer.
16. Twin Peaks (1990-1991)
Before David Lynch was giving us weather reports on social media, he was creating one of the most twisted short-lived TV shows ever. Annoyingly for fans everywhere, Twin Peaks was canceled after just two seasons (only to return for a one-off third season in 2017), but that didn’t stop it from becoming the cult series it’s now known to be. Starring Kyle MacLachlan, Twin Peaks is a warped detective story that all kicks off after the questionable death of a young woman.
Creepy, campy, and entirely odd, there’s something so special about Twin Peaks that’s never quite been recreated since. Yes, in the decades that followed we’ve had Black Mirror and American Horror Story, but none of them managed to reach the same surrealist and mysterious heights that Twin Peaks did.
15. Spider-Man: The Animated Series (1994 – 1998)
It’s a Spider-Man show, so you know the basic story by now, right? Peter Parker has to balance his life as a slightly dorky high school kid with his other pursuit as the web-slinging hero of the title. Christopher Daniel Barnes led a voice cast that also included the likes of Mark Hamill, Jim Cummings, and Hank Azaria.
The show ran for five memorable seasons in the ’90s and is still fondly remembered by fans as one of the best TV adaptations of the Spidey character. Fingers crossed, then, that the Spider-Man Freshman Year release date brings those people a whole new gift.
14. Neon Geneis Evangelion (1995 – 1996)
In the pantheon of the best anime, there’s no denying Neon Genesis Evangelion’s status as one of the true giants of the medium. The story follows a teenage boy recruited to pilot an enormous mecha in the ongoing fight against the Angels. But as well as all of the gargantuan action, there are themes around religion, psychology, and identity. There’s a lot going on.
The continuity has become a bit bizarre in the years since, with the 1997 movie The End of Evangelion providing an alternate ending and the recent Rebuild of Evangelion running over everything again. But the original series still stands tall as an anime classic.
13. Recess (1997-2001)
There might not have ever been a show made for kids that was as slyly cine-literate as Paul Germain and Joe Ansolabehere’s masterful Recess. Nominally a simple school-based comedy, it gave us a full-on 2001 parody, an Apocalypse Now riff, and a film noir episode. Essentially, Recess managed to perfectly capture that eternally high-stakes feeling of hanging around in the schoolyard with friends during lunch.
But more simply than that, Recess was just really funny and gave us some lovable characters. And, astonishingly, the movie that would come out years later established itself as a great big-screen TV adaptation, so you know it’s worth the time to invest. You can’t ask for much more than that from a cartoon.
12. The Simpsons (1989-present)
Name your favorite episode of The Simpsons. Done it? We bet you a Krusty Burger that it was made in the ’90s. That’s when the best animated series of all time hit its stride and became a pop culture juggernaut. Not to labor the point, but let’s just name some classics. ‘Homer’s Enemy’. ‘A Streetcar Named Marge’. ‘Last Exit to Springfield’. ‘Homer the Heretic’. ‘Homer at the Bat’. ‘Marge vs. The Monorail’, for goodness sake.
Of course, The Simpsons is still going strong, making it a decade-defying series that’ll probably still be going when we’re all in the ground. But in essence, everybody thinks of it as a ’90s show thanks to its perfect pop culture references of the time, and for the fact we all grew up watching it in the early evenings as kids.
11. Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990-1996)
Will Smith entered as a prince but ruled the ‘90s as a king thanks in part to the beloved sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. After pulling up to a house ‘about seven or eight’, he became part of a family that quickly became as beloved as The Simpsons or that other Royle family.
Sure, Will may have been the star, but he’d be nowhere without Jazzy Jeff being thrown from the doorstep, Carlton dancing to Tom Jones, or sharing an emotional moment with Uncle Phil that still stands as one of Smith’s best performances to date. Long live the prince!
10. Friends (1994-2004)
Incredibly, a sitcom littered with monkeys, poultry, and beloved felines with poor hygiene is a show that’s still fought over by networks and streaming services 17 years after its finale. The story of a group of 20-somethings leaning on each other in their busy New York lives made Friends one of the most beloved sitcoms of our time.
After Rachel got off the plane, the effort to reignite this lighting in a coffee cup was replicated by so many other shows, with only a few coming close. The biggest reason for this is the charismatic Friends cast who perfectly played off each other. With the recent tragic passing of Matthew Perry (everyone’s beloved Chandler Bing), our endless re-watches will no doubt hit a little harder from now on. In the end, Friends still stands as the comedy classic some will always “pivot” to.
9. Ren and Stimpy (1991-1995)
Ren and Stimpy walked into danger so Patrick and SpongeBob could run by, breaking the mold of cartoon characters with snot, brains, and eye-watering animation. The chaotic chihuahua and his loveable but oafish cat pal spent every week tearing each other to pieces for children’s amusement everywhere, setting a bar for kids’ TV that others dared not venture to.
While it may seem out of touch now, there are plenty of glimmers in modern-day animation that have both Ren and Stimpy to thank, “you idiots!”
8. Eerie Indiana (1991-1992)
Before Omri Katz got into a bunch of Hocus Pocus, he moved to the weird capital of the world in Eerie, Indiana. Part Stephen King’s book and part Amblin movie, the show ran for just a single season but had a lasting effect with its fever-dream-like episodes.
Marshall Teller was our guide, venturing to unimaginable corners of his new home, where dental wear picked up canine plans of world domination, and a Tupperware saleswoman kept her sons fresh all year round. It’s essential viewing for fans of the supernatural or Elvis (“Thank you, little paperboy”). Trust me on this.
7. Sex and the City (1998-2004)
And just like that, HBO released a show that earned a multitude of awards and didn’t need gangsters or gritty detective stories to get them. Wherever you stand on the behind-the-scenes issues, there’s no question that Carrie, Miranda, Samantha, and Charlotte left their mark on television for the stories they shared and their open perspective on sex, life, and friendship.
Spawning two films, a prequel series, and now a revival with And Just Like That, the world has always been drawn to Carrie Bradshaw’s world of stupidly expensive wardrobes and tumultuous relationships that always led her back to Big.
6. Dawson’s Creek (1998-2001)
If it wasn’t Rachel and Ross, it was Dawson and Joey. The Beek and his Creek mates going through teenage troubles dominated the world at one point, regardless of their snarky conversations and overly critical film analysis they had.
Touching on topics that other teen shows skimmed around at the time, the likes of The OC and One Tree Hill have the OG-angst-riddled show and its killer theme to thank for their success. Team Pacey for life!
5. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2004)
For every generation, a slayer was born… and wasn’t ours the greatest? Sarah Michelle Gellar was the vampire-killing hero who lived and died by breaking the rules and balancing a teenager’s life with saving the world a lot.
One of the best fantasy series ever, it saw the Scoobies battle against the forces of darkness and had top-tier episodes that stand alone as major moments in television, boasting some terrifying creatures of the week (we’re looking at you, ‘Hush’).
4. Rugrats (1991-2004)
One of the few on this list to have dominated the entire decade, Nickelodeon’s baby-based animated series saw Tommy, Chuckie, and Co wander off on imaginative adventures was the backbone of Saturday mornings. The series tackled essential issues like potty training, sleeping with a night light off, and sociopathic brat Angelica.
Yeah, for some, it might just be a show about babies. But for many, it was a fun exploration of how large the world seemed when we were small, and was also accompanied by some pretty emotional movies to boot. Plus, it’s the piano riff we’ve all tried to replicate. All hail, Reptar.
3. South Park (1997-present)
It’s crazy to think that after giving Eric Cartman an anal probe, South Park would go on to become one of the most ground-breaking animated series that didn’t have a spiky-haired kid in it.
Cutting to the bone of current events with reckless abandon and loading enough swear jars to fill a Swiss bank account, Stan, Kyle, Kenny, and Cartman’s offensively brilliant adventures have them in the public eye for years. It stands to reason, then, that a recent $900 million deal ensures they’re not going anywhere soon.
2. Sabrina The Teenage Witch (1996-2003)
Netflix may have done a great job at adapting the comic book character recently but, still, the chances are that if you mention Sabrina The Teenage Witch to someone, they’re going to picture Melissa Joan Hart bickering with an animatronic cat.
Casting spells and learning valuable life lessons were part and parcel for another of Nickelodeon’s finest who just wanted to get her witches license and a date with Harvey. Another lovely bubble of ’90s greatness that has never lost its magic.
1. The X-Files (1993-2018)
We can pretty much blame The X-Files for kicking off our deep obsession with weird phenomenon and supernatural happenings. This, at times, genuinely terrifying contender for the title of best sci-fi series was such a success that it stretched well into the noughties and resulted in two mega movies as well.
The characters of Mulder and Scully became culturally significant in their own right and have been referenced in other shows and movies across the years. Basically, these guys are the reason casually flipping out an FBI badge looks so cool. The truth is out there: The X-Files is out of this world.
If that’s not enough nostalgia, learn why Friends nearly cast another comedy legend as Phoebe and find out why Dallas ran so Yellowstone could fly. For more great TV on the way, check out our guides to the Andor season 2 release date; the Stranger Things season 5 release date, or the House of the Dragon season 2 release date.
To get your hands on some of these brilliant shows, be sure and check out the best streaming services! Or swap for a bigger screen with our guides to the best movies ever, and new movies you should watch out for.