What are the best drama series of all time? The scope for such a wide-reaching genre of TV is incredibly vast. Especially with the rise of platforms such as Netflix, which can throw millions of dollars around on original content. This list’s competition is fierce.
We ruled out anything that could be classed as a sci-fi series, and tried to focus our attention on the more grounded best TV series out there. What struck us most when compiling this list is the incredible rise in the quality of dramatic shows in the last decade, with television truly beginning to rival the big-screen experience.
There will inevitably be a few shows that didn’t make our list of the best drama series that many people hold in high regard. But the omission of popular thriller series like The Wire and The Sopranos only proves how high the bar has been set by recent TV shows.
The best drama series list:
- True Detective
- Breaking Bad
- Game of Thrones
- Sharp Objects
- Normal People
- I May Destroy You
- Sons of Anarchy
1. True Detective (2014 – present)
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 McConaughey at the peak of his McConaissance.
Crime scene: The best detective movies
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. Why not check out our guide to the True Detective season 4 release date while you’re here?
2. Breaking Bad (2008 – 2013)
What can be said about Breaking Bad that hasn’t been said before? This crime drama has long been considered one of, if not the best TV 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.
3. Euphoria (2019 – present)
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.
Whose your favourite? Euphoria characters ranked
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 release date has already been confirmed to be on the way, but we just wish it would hurry up and hit our screens soon! Euphoria is available to stream on NOW (with Entertainment Membership) in the UK, or HBO Max in the US.
4. Ozark (2017 – 2022)
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.
Fancy a life of crime? Best detective movies
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 does incredible work too, with Julia Garner and Laura Linney in particular absolutely shining alongside Bateman.
5. Game of Thrones (2011 – 2019)
Game of Thrones is another show which needs no introduction and usually finds its way onto 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.
Mother of dragons: Best monster movies
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 a 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. For more from this world, check out our guide to the House of the Dragon season 2 release date.
6. Sharp Objects (2018)
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 and 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.
A real page-turner: The best movies based on books
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!
7. Succession (2018 – 2023)
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 Succession 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 Succession characters is a delight to watch.
8. Normal People (2020)
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’.
Say that you love me: The best romance movies
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. Edgar-Jones landed a starring role alongside Sebastian Stan in the dark thriller movie, Fresh, afterwards, and Mescal was nominated for an Oscar for 2022’s Aftersun.
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. While you’re thinking about Mescal, here’s how to watch Aftersun.
9. I May Destroy You (2020)
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.
Hard-hitting drama: The best drama movies
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.
10. Sons of Anarchy (2008 – 2014)
One of the longest-running shows on this list, Sons of Anarchy is an action-packed, violent series about an outlaw motorcycle 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 a 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 it’s at its best, Sons of Anarchy can compete with any TV show for its tension, twists, and high-stakes drama.
11. Yellowstone (2018 – present)
No list of the best drama series would be complete without a mention of Taylor Sheridan’s neo-Western TV series Yellowstone. Already one of the best TV series of all time, the show has captured the imagination of audiences across the world with its gritty depiction of modern ranchers through the eyes of the Dutton family.
The Yellowstone timeline is sprawling and expansive, and each of the spin-offs so far (1883 and 1923, soon to be followed up with more) have been just as good. So if you love Yellowstone, there’s plenty more to dive into.
As well as in-universe drama, there’s also lots of real-life drama with the recent news that Kevin Costner will leave the show behind to pave the way for Matthew McConaughey. It all feels like Yellowstone is still just getting started, and there’s much more to come.
That’s the end of our picks. Take a look at our choices for the best movies of all time for more. Then, kick back and relax with some amazing animated series or, if you’d rather take it up a notch, check out the best action movies of all time. Alternatively, look ahead to new shows and new movies on the way, with our guide to the Virgin River season 5 release date.