What are the best drama series of all time? The scope for such a wide-reaching genre of TV series is incredibly vast, with practically anything that doesn’t have the intention of providing comedy, technically fitting the bill of a drama series. Especially with the rise of streaming services such as Netflix, who can throw millions of dollars around on original content, the competition to make this list was fierce.
For the sake of arguments, we have decided to rule out anything that could be classed as a sci-fi series, too, and tried to focus our attention on the more grounded television shows out there. What struck us most when compiling this list, is the incredible rise in quality of drama series in the last decade, with television truly beginning to rival the big screen cinematic experience. Indeed, we have seen high-concept stories, top tier creators, and A-list actors becoming more and more common on the small screen.
There will inevitably be a few shows that didn’t make our list of the best drama series that many people hold in very high regard, but the omission of popular drama series like The Wire and The Sopranos only proves just how high the bar has been set by more recent TV shows.
The best drama series are:
- True Detective
- Breaking Bad
- Game of Thrones
- Sharp Objects
- Normal People
- I May Destroy You
- Sons of Anarchy
When True Detective first hit our screens in 2014, the stakes were well and truly raised when it came to detective dramas. This show is arguably one of the pioneers of the great cinematic TV era we are enjoying right now, with huge movie stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson leading the first season.
That first season of True Detective is right up there as one of the best seasons of television ever made, with No Time to Die helmer Cary Fukunaga directing the hell out of all eight episodes. A veritable feast of shocking twists and turns, grizzly murders, and Matthew McConaughey at the peak of his McConaissance.
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The only issue with True Detective, is its divisive second season, which jumped to an entirely different set of characters and a new storyline. It wasn’t a terrible season in all fairness, but it’s one which certainly suffered by being recognised under the same tag as the original, perfect season.
What can be said about Breaking Bad that hasn’t been said before? This crime drama series has long been considered one of, if not the best television series ever, and will probably continue to be in that conversation until the end of time.
For all the hype and praise Breaking Bad receives, it has to be said, it truly does deserve its place among the pantheons of great drama series. The blistering journey of Walter White and his sidekick Jesse Pinkman delivers tension, explosive drama, comedy, and its fair share of emotional moments, too.
Bryan Cranston is in the form of his life as the science teacher turned drug lord, and is definitely one of the greatest TV characters ever created. You can still watch the entirety of the Netflix series on the streaming platform, along with the spin-off thriller movie El Camino.
Euphoria is the hottest TV show in the world right now, with audiences still buzzing after the frenetic season 2 finale. The series, led by Spider-Man: No Way Home star Zendaya, follows the trials and tribulations of quite possibly the most troublesome, dramatic group of teens we’ve ever seen.
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As Rue, Jules, and the gang navigate love, drug addiction, and the general stresses of high school, we see bonds develop and rifts emerge between the various characters, and it’s enthralling to watch. The show not only has mesmerising storylines, but also boasts some of the best music in television, gorgeous cinematography, and iconic costume work.
There is so much still to be untangled from the mess of season 2, and Euphoria season 3 has already been confirmed, but we just wish it would hurry up and hit our screens soon! Euphoria is available to stream on NOW (with Entertainment Membership).
Jason Bateman may be better known for his work in comedy movies like Horrible Bosses, but when he’s put on a dramatic stage, the actor proves he is way more than just a funny man in a shirt and chinos. In Ozark, Bateman plays Marty Byrde, a modest financial advisor forced into a life of crime and money laundering.
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While the Netflix series draws inevitable comparisons to Breaking Bad, for its depiction of a normal man thrust into exceptional circumstances, Ozark gives us much more than a Walter White knock-off. The supporting cast here do incredible work too, with Julia Garner and Laura Linney in particular absolutely shining alongside Bateman.
Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones is another show which needs no introduction, and usually finds its way on to most lists for the greatest TV series of all time. While the final season took a bit of a battering from critics and audiences for how it rushed through the conclusion of the epic story, the first seven seasons are undeniably brilliant.
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A show which introduced us to a whole host of amazing Game of Thrones characters, and then proceeded to kill most of them off in typically bloody, brutal fashion, this historical fantasy series truly had it all. From dragons and ice demons, to sinister monarchs and brave warriors, Game of Thrones brought the books of George R. R. Martin to life in spectacular fashion.
Although we only got one season of Sharp Objects, the limited series is another brilliant example of the current period of cinematic television, with A-list star Amy Adams moving to the small screen for one of her best ever roles. Based on the book by Gillian Flynn, who also wrote Gone Girl, this shocking story made for absolutely gripping television.
Adams plays crime reporter Camille Preaker, an alcoholic who has recently been discharged from a psychiatric hospital, who returns to her hometown to investigate the murder of two young girls. Camille’s troubles only deepen as she begins to lose control once again, and is forced to face her own personal demons while trying to figure out the mysterious murders.
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This is a drama with a bit of a mystery-thriller edge, and Sharp Objects certainly packs a psychological punch, so if you like your dramas dark and gritty, this one is definitely for you!
We may as well end this list here, because no TV series, regardless of genre, can compete with Succession. From the meticulously perfect writing, to the impeccable acting from the whole cast, and the heart-stopping tension of every single episode, there is nothing else quite like Succession on television today.
What is so remarkable about Succession is that as each season, and indeed each episode ticks by, you constantly think to yourself, “surely this can’t keep getting better,” but it absolutely does. With the jaw-dropping drama escalating rapidly as the story of the Roy family unfolds and alliances are formed and broken, you will realise every single character is a despicable, selfish person; but we love each of them all the more because of this.
From the endearing bond between Tom Wambsgans and Cousin Greg, to Brian Cox’s ruthless titan of business Logan Roy, and all the Roy siblings in between, the ever-shifting dynamic of the many characters in this show is a delight to watch. We can’t wait to see what chaos lies ahead in Succession season 4.
It’s time to give the BBC some attention. As the undeniable home of British drama, the studio has given us some wonderful TV series over the years. In just the last few years, the BBC has really been spoiling us, with the limited series Normal People a prime example of the quality content being delivered by the ‘Beeb’.
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The meandering romantic story of two young lovers, Connell and Marianne, Normal People catapulted its stars Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones to fame, with their delicate portrayals receiving high praise across the board. Indeed, Edgar-Jones is currently starring alongside Sebastian Stan in the new dark thriller movie, Fresh.
If you like cheesy love stories, be warned, this is not necessarily a happy love story. But, Normal People is scrupulously realistic and poignant, and although it will break your heart, it’s well worth the pain.
I May Destroy You
When people talk about hard-hitting drama, I May Destroy You is pretty much the definition. The incredible one-woman creation comes from the mind of up-and-coming British comedy writer Michaela Coel, who also stars as the young writer, Arabella, in the limited series.
When Arabella wakes up from a night out with marks on her body, a banging headache, and no memory of the events that occurred, she begins to piece together a most terrifying trauma. Eventually, it comes to light that Arabella was drugged and raped, and the series culminates in her confronting this very painful ordeal in the most creative of ways.
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Although it sounds heavy, there are moments of levity in the show, too, with Coel providing an exceptional balance between important issues and an injection of her trademark comedy.
Sons of Anarchy
One of the longest-running shows on this list, Sons of Anarchy is an action-packed, violent series about an outlaw motorcyle club in California, which centres on brotherhood, betrayal, and most importantly, crime.
Over the course of seven seasons, Sons of Anarchy allows us to develop great attachment to the Redwood biker brutes, led by Charlie Hunnam. But, just as with Game of Thrones, your favourite character is never safe, with many shocking deaths throughout the series.
Sons of Anarchy certainly has its ups and downs, with some seasons and storylines not quite hitting the mark. However, when its at its best, Sons of Anarchy can compete with any TV show for its tension, twists, and high-stakes drama.
If all this drama is a bit too much to handle, why not kick back and relax with some amazing animated series instead. Or, if you’d rather take it up a notch, check out the best action movies of all time.