A Fan’s Guide to the Top Science Fiction TV Series

From one fan to another: the best sci-fi shows of all time.
Odin Odin (54)
0

Science fiction is where I live, it’s my happy place. It’s also what I do professionally as a science fiction and fantasy author. Ever since I watched Star Trek as a kid (the first, and for a long time the only, television series my parents allowed me to watch), I’ve been enamored with the genre and all the brilliant places it allows our minds to go.

The heyday of science fiction on television was probably the 90s, when a whole slew of excellent, bizarre, and unforgettable shows were forging a path toward mainstream acceptance of the genre. Since then, things have quieted down a bit for science fiction, though some new series are trying to take up the mantle of the old giants and old classics like Star Trek are being handed off to new minds.

This list is probably not exhaustive—and, boy, would I love to hear from you if you’ve got a series you think I would enjoy. You’ll notice that this list includes a little “hot-take” commentary section on each show with my personal thoughts about it, so you’ll probably pick up my style quickly enough.

Our journey, however, does not begin in the modern era. In fact… we’ll begin our exploration of this frontier of space back before television was even a thing!

Note: If you’re looking for super-hero series… you’re not going to find them here! Though the line between sci-fi and superhero can sometimes be very blurry, they are distinct genres. Look for my article on the best superhero series soon!

Flash Gordon (1935)
Flash Gordon (1935)

Watch the video:

This incredible serialization starring (most memorably) Buster Crabbe as the titular Flash Gordon captured the hearts and minds of audiences the world over. With an atomic-age aesthetic and an action-packed premise, this serialization would go on to influence decades of sci-fi.

Hot take

This is a classic of classics, a serialized film experience that everyone needs to see as much for raw historical value as for the fun content of the show.

The Twilight Zone (1959-1964)
The Twilight Zone (1959-1964)

Watch the video:

A show unlike any other, The Twilight Zone was Rod Sterling’s brainchild and one of the anthology series that would go on to inspire generations of sci-fi and horror writers with its vast array of macabre, sci-fi, and darkly humorous tales.

Hot take

A classic show that paved the way for a lot of the transgressive sci-fi we love today, it mixed everything from pure cheese to deeply thoughtful work inside one package. Modern viewers will need to be patient with some episodes.

Doctor Who' (1963-Present)
Doctor Who' (1963-Present)

Watch the video:

The longest-running science fiction series (actually, the longest-running series at all), Doctor Who is the tale of the eponymous hero and his (or her) companions as they travel the convoluted byways of time. With each “regeneration” the Doctor gains a new face and so the series continues, time out of time.

Hot take

One of the most marvelous and magnificent series in existence, Doctor Who presents a hero who (in most cases and especially in the later series) tries to find the pacifist route to victory. It’s thrilling, funny, cheesy, deep, and heartbreaking. But don’t just watch one season, or one Doctor—this is a show that is at its best if you stick with it for a long time.

Star Trek (1966-1969)
Star Trek (1966-1969)

Watch the video:

The classic to end all classics, Star Trek helped change the world. The crew of the USS Enterprise embark on a mission to explore the limits of space (and sometimes time), and every episode ends with a bit of a laugh (often at the vulcan’s expense).

Hot take

A show beloved by everyone from Martin Luther King Jr., to King Abdullah of Jordan, to Ronald Reagan, to Professor Stephen Hawking… Star Trek is probably the greatest science fiction story of all time because it tries to imagine a future where the acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives, where self-betterment, and the betterment of all people, is our primary goal. That’s the sort of message I can take to the stars.

The Prisoner (1967-1968)
The Prisoner (1967-1968)

Watch the video:

A renowned spy wakes up one day to find himself a prisoner on an unknown island, in a strange community of nameless individuals—people known only by the numbers they’ve been assigned.

Hot take

“I am not a number!” might as well be the rallying cry of a whole generation. This brilliant little series touches on so many important issues of mass surveillance and human dignity.

Mork & Mindy (1978-1982)
Mork & Mindy (1978-1982)

Watch the video:

The adventures of Mork, an alien from the planet Ork, and his roommate Mindy. Driven by Robin Williams’ effortless and brilliant comedic talents, this is the series that helped launch him to stardom.

Hot take

Is is really science fiction? That might be up for debate, but it’s definitely great sci-fi-comedy and it holds a really special place in the history of the genre. It’s also hilarious and you’ll love it.

V: The Miniseries (1983)
V: The Miniseries (1983)

Watch the video:

Alien visitors have come to Earth to offer us a marvelous trade: our resources for their aid in becoming a better, healthier, more advanced civilization. What’s not to love?

Hot take

A superb little series that felt poignant and gripping. The miniseries is far better than the full-run series that followed. Do not even try to bother with the modern remake, yikes.

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-1981)
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-1981)

Watch the video:

A 1980s astronaut is accidentally knocked into a 500-year return orbit and frozen by a freak gas concoction that allows his rescuers, 500 years after his disappearance, to resurrect him! He then basically goes on being fabulous at 25th century technology and helps defend Earth from the evil Draconian Empire.

Hot take

This is pure American cheese in a can but it’s a classic fun sci-fi binge.

Max Headroom (1987-1988)
Max Headroom (1987-1988)

Watch the video:

A satirical series featuring “the first virtual show host” (actually, an actor in stylized make-up depicted in front of a digital screen). Max Headroom drove at the heart of a possible cyber-distopia that looks increasingly realistic for all that it was comprised of absurdism. Max became a culture icon for a couple of decades and still has a cult following today.

Hot take

My confession is that I didn’t discover Max Headroom until quite a bit later in life. As with all satire, this series is sometimes hit and miss, and many cultural references are dated back to the 80s. That said, it’s brilliant in so many ways.

Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994)
Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994)

Watch the video:

The Next Generation follows the Enterprise D and her crew as they explore the limits of space, solve crimes, serve as diplomats, and confront dangers facing the United Federation of Planets. It is at once quintessentially 80s and subversively forward-thinking even for today.

Hot take

Possibly the truest of all the Star Trek series to Gene Roddenberry’s vision, The Next Generation opened a gateway to a future where humanity had come together for the betterment of all—but worked harder to probe what this meant, how it came to be, and why it mattered, than the show preceding it. I’d skip episode 4 of season 1 altogether, yikes.

Red Dwarf (1988-Present)
Red Dwarf (1988-Present)

Watch the video:

A disaster aboard the deep space mining vessel Red Dwarf leaves Dave Lister in the “curry”ous position of being the last human being left alive… in the universe. With nothing better to do, and billions of light-years from home, he sets course back toward the long-lost Earth with only the ship’s AI, a hologram of a dead friend, and a mysterious creature evolved from cat DNA for company.

Hot take

One of the great science fiction comedy series that not enough people know about. It’s funnier than most modern shows, heartfelt at times, bizarre, and brilliant. It’s its own thing, unashamedly, and it deserves a forever spot in the sci-fi hall of fame.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993-1999)
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993-1999)

Watch the video:

The distant world of Bajor suddenly becomes of vital importance to the Federation when a wormhole to a distant aprt of the galaxy is discovered on its doorstep. After centuries of brutal oppression, the Bajorans aren’t find of the idea of letting Starfleet come in and gain control, but a Starfleet commander who just might be the bajoran people’s unwilling spiritual leader could be the thing that changes their mind.

Hot take

It’s great, probably the best of the Star Trek series in terms of mixing weightiness with elements of Trek’s core philosophy, all wrapped around a truly wonderful cast of actors. Yes, the premise was ripped off from Babylon 5, but it’s still one of the best things around.

The X-Files (1993-2016)
The X-Files (1993-2016)

Watch the video:

X-Files explores the mysteries case files of the same name buried deep in the heart of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Fox Mulder, haunted by events in his past, is on a mission to explore all the “spooky” things the X-Files have in store. But Fox might be treading on powerful toes and native skeptic Dana Scully is assigned to be his partner and report on him. What follows is pure golden TV history.

Hot take

If you want to experience the best, just get the “Mythology Collection” and the first X-Files film. Those are the core episodes that make it such a great show (and they skip all the religious episodes the showrunner threw in later on).

Babylon 5 (1994-1998)
Babylon 5 (1994-1998)

Watch the video:

Earth barely survived the Minbari assault and then only because the Minbari mysteriously surrendered. In order to avoid any such future conflict, a series of space stations were constructed to play host to diplomatic efforts between the species’ of the stars. In this epic sprawling tale war, romance, mystery, soul-searching, and heartbreak all converge within an etheric sense of the profound.

Hot take

It’s the best space-opera ever made. It’s also the first series to use full CGI for its space scenes, paving the way for later favorites. Since its entire premise was stolen to create DS9 when Straczynski originally started pitching it to studios, it’s also responsible for much of what makes that series so good, too.

Sliders (1995-2000)
Sliders (1995-2000)

Watch the video:

A genius and his friends get trapped in a “slide” through parallel realities and there’s no telling where they will end up next! With a whole host of alternate possible histories and social outcomes to explore, the series offered an anthology-like experience witnessed through the eyes of a cohesive group of characters.

Hot take

I don’t like anthology series a ton so the way Sliders handled this worked great for me. We got one group of characters and a ton of different situations: ace! Seasons one and two are superb, season three saw FOX Network executives poke their long noses in where they don’t belong (the show’s creator resigned because of how terrible the company was being), but season’s five and six picked back up where season two ended. Watch it, it’s fun!

Star Trek: Voyager (1995-2001)
Star Trek: Voyager (1995-2001)

Watch the video:

Thrown into a distant part of the galaxy by a super-powerful dying alien, the starship Voyager must now try to make its way home… a journey that could take most of a century unless some shortcut can be found. With Captain Katheryn Janeway calling the shots, the only detours will be scientific and coffee-related.

Hot take

It’s a blast. It leans into the cheesier more soapy side of Trek pretty heavily, but it also has some superb heavy-hitting episodes where the writing shines. Noted for having a woman in the commander chair for the first time, but also for being just generally quite solid, it’s a good one to start with if you’re new to Trek.

Lexx (1996-2002)
Lexx (1996-2002)

Watch the video:

A wacky, weird, wild, and kinda raunchy science fiction series about people who travel around inside of a giant intergalactic bug known as The Lexx — the most powerful force in the Universe.

Hot take

This show is crazy weird, man, but also pretty groundbreaking. I liked the original miseries far more than the following series, but the whole thing has a charm tha cannot be denied.

Stargate SG-1 (1997-2007)
Stargate SG-1 (1997-2007)

Watch the video:

A mysterious ancient gate is discovered that connects Earth to a vast interstellar wormhole network… and places it in the crosshairs of a parasitic alien race who see human beings as nothing more than hosts and slaves. Luckily, an international team headed up by the U.S. Airforce is deployed to make allies and search for technologies that can be used for defense.

Hot take

U.S. Imperialism to the rescue! It’s an interesting one because it weaves back and forth between god and bad, campy and serious, propagandistic and intriguingly subversive. It’s better than you might expect (but it’ll take at least three seasons for that to become clear). Binge it, baby!

Farscape (1999-2003)
Farscape (1999-2003)

Watch the video:

John Crichton, an astronaut testing a new type of space vehicle maneuver, gets caught in a wormhole and flung across the universe. What follows is one of the most splendidly original, deep, engaging, and epic voyages ever conceived for television.

Hot take

Yeah, it’s one of the best science-fiction shows of all time, forever ranked on my top-five list. But, it’s also just one of the best darn shows of all time. Highly recommended.

Futurama (1999-2013)
Futurama (1999-2013)

Watch the video:

When pizza delivery guy Fry is frozen for a thousand years he integrates with the madcap ridiculousness of the future surprisingly well and takes on the role of “delivery boy” for an organization called Planet Express. Animated, satirical, ridiculous, and thoughtful in a way that not enough of these animated comedy series actually are.

Hot take

Not all cartoons are for kids. This is definitely a cartoon for adults, so don’t sit little Timmy down in front of it, please. It’s definitely an old favorite of mine, though, and I love how clever it could be.

Andromeda (2000-2005)
Andromeda (2000-2005)

Watch the video:

The Commonwealth has fallen but one man, its most loyal servant, has survived. Clinging to life as his spaceship orbits the event horizon of a black hole, Captain Dylan Hunt is retrieved centuries out from his own time and he embarks on an epic quest to bring order back to a dark galaxy.

Hot take

Kevin Sorbo isn’t exactly a fan-favorite, but his portrayal of Hunt is grand, and, as a whole, this series is wallopingly good space-opera.

Firefly (2002-2003)
Firefly (2002-2003)

Watch the video:

Like a leaf on the wind, the starship Serenity and her crew float from place to place as the gusts of fortune decides. Always low on cash, always on the edge of the law, things get heated when a stowaway is found, a stowaway who is wanted by the powerful Capitalistic government that rules the solar system known as The ‘Verse: The Alliance.

Hot take

TOO SOON. It’s one of the best darn television series to be made, period and the fact that it got canceled is a crime. The follow-up film Serenity is actually pretty good and will help wrap the story up, even if it’s nothing compared to all the goodies Joss had in store.

Stargate: Atlantis (2004-2009)
Stargate: Atlantis (2004-2009)

Watch the video:

The people who created the wormhole gates, the Stargates, also created the fabled city of Atlantis, which isn’t on Earth at all, but is hidden on a distant world in another galaxy. A team from Earth goes to investigate and set up a base on Atlantis in the hopes of discovering new technology to defend Earth and perhaps learn why the gate-builders vanished in the first place.

Hot take

It’s fun. The enemy of the series is incredibly uninspired and it’s often much flatter in terms of quality than it could have been, but it’s also better than the original in a few respects as well. (Let us not ever speak of the atrocity that was SG:U).

Life on Mars (2006-2007)
Life on Mars (2006-2007)

Watch the video:

Is he delusional or did he really travel through time? In 2006, Detective Chief Inspector Sam Tyler is struck by a car and wakes up to find himself in the year 1973 with a life apparently intact and waiting for him. The mystery is deep.

Hot take

Gosh, I loved this show! The clever ambiguity was superb and the cast really made it work. Don’t watch the god-awful American remake (I can’t imagine the Korean one is any better, either). Stick with the original.

Torchwood (2006-2011)
Torchwood (2006-2011)

Watch the video:

Spinning off from its roots in the Doctor Who series (or Whoniverse), Torchwood follows a special investigative team assigned to protect the Earth from threats and technology likely to pose a threat to the species.

Hot take

A bit campy, a whole lot of fun, and featuring LQBTQ characters? All of this combined with the great tie-ins to Doctor Who make this an absolute winner.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008-2009)
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008-2009)

Watch the video:

Sarah Connor knows that the machines are coming. One day, SkyNet, or something similar, will rise. And she’ll be there to face it. Following her journey after the events of the first two Terminator films, this one-season series concentrates of Sarah and her son’s efforts to save the world from rogue A.I.

Hot take

Cancelled way too soon, this series is actually really solid. It’s only a season long, but if you stick it in with a binge of the movie’s it will fit nicely.

Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009)
Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009)

Watch the video:

In the far future humanity has left and lost Earth, colonizing a number of colony planets in deep space. Following the invention of a super-advanced machine race called the Cylons who rebel against the humans who created them, everything changes. The Cylons were defeated once but when they return decades later for round two, everything has changed.

Hot take

One of the many shows caught up in the Post-9/11 world, BSG is filled with explorations of gritty morality, political strife, ethical chaos, and terrorism. It’s… a frustrating show. It probes without probing deep enough and it lives on the fuel of the sort of bad writing that operates from the perspective of “stories are conflict and conflict means everything is gritty and people are stupid!”. Not my favorite but undoubtedly a landmark series. Later seasons got really, really weird… and weirdly religious.

Eureaka (2006-2012)
Eureaka (2006-2012)

Watch the video:

There’s a little northwestern town populated entirely by scientific geniuses whose work constant puts them in positions of great peril. Sometimes, when danger threatens, it’s actually the simplest approach that solves the day… or the simplest man. Enter Jack Carter, the town’s new sheriff and the most average-IQ man in town.

Hot take

Societal problems and grand meta issues aside… this show is just plain fun. At it’s core it’s a soapy dram-com with a tried and true episodic structure and loose running storylines. It’s not world-shaking but it’s a good binge.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008-2020)
Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008-2020)

Watch the video:

Telling the tale of the clone wars that took place between Star Wars Episode II and Episode III, this animated series tangles with tough issues of morality, the hardships of war, the struggles of ethics, and the importance of emotional connection as opposed to apathy.

Hot take

Super great series, actually. Within reason, acceptable for kids aged at least 12, if they’re mature and you’re also capable enough to talk with them about some of the heady philosophic things going on in the writing. Mostly good writing, overall, and less glorification of violence than might be expected (certainly a bajillion times better than Rebels which you really shouldn’t let your kids watch, at least in part because of how that series turns things like death-during-battle into a source of amusement. Yikes).

Dollhouse (2009-2010)
Dollhouse (2009-2010)

Watch the video:

A mysterious corporation operates a business known as The Dollhouse where people who don’t think they had another option agree to rent out their bodies to be used as platforms for advanced computer-created consciousnesses. For a set period of years, these people undertake everything from high-price escorting to high-risk assassination, their minds and abilities programmed to be perfect for any task at hand.

Hot take

Joss’s first big series after Firefly, it’s not as good as any of his previous work, though it clearly incorporates ideas from both Firefly and Buffy. It’s raised lots of interesting discussions due to its portrayal of… well, everything so it succeeded as a discussion platform even if it was only reasonably successful as a series.

Black Mirror (2011-Present)
Black Mirror (2011-Present)

Watch the video:

An anthology series in the vein of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits but… Gritty and realistic and daaaark. It mostly dissects issues of technology interacting with society, and does so in terribly prescient ways at times.

Hot take

It’s really depressing. Often well-written and clever, and helped to bring dark sides of real tech issues to the public. But… meh.

Almost Human (2013-2014)
Almost Human (2013-2014)

Watch the video:

An outcast cop and a human-like android team up to solve crimes, but the relationships at the core of the show are what makes this series shine.

Hot take

It got canceled really darn fast which just proves that FOX never knows what they’re doing (seriously, all FOX execs should just be fired, forever). It’s a really solid series and offered a lot of superb moments, including a superb bit of interplay between the main actors. If you like this one, you should try out my favorite video game that covers similar themes: Detroit: Become Human.

The 100 (2014-Present)
The 100 (2014-Present)

Watch the video:

A group of 100 young people crash land on Earth… an Earth long believed to be totally uninhabitable due to a long-past war. Only, there are inhabitants, and not all of them take kindly to the newcomers. As group lines form, the teens must fight to survive the struggles within and without, and discover the truth that history wanted them to forget.

Hot take

It’s okay. Not great, just okay. It really needed to do some things differently from the get-go and it relies far too much upon cheap “drama hook” writing where the tension is ramped up, often pointlessly, instead of actually… y’know, trying to write something complex.

Orphan Black (2013-2017)
Orphan Black (2013-2017)

Watch the video:

Sarah Manning witnesses the death of a woman who looks just like her. By impersonating her dead doppelgänger, Sarah encounters a mystery of stunning proportions that will unsettle every aspect of her life and pit her against international powers.

Hot take

This one is superb, largely because Tatiana Maslany is an incredible actress. Check it out!

Helix  (2014-2015)
Helix (2014-2015)

Watch the video:

Something lurks beneath the arctic ice, an ancient disease that cannot be understood… or contained.

Hot take

This was a masterful little series… at least as far as season one went. Don’t bother with season two, there was a reason the show got canceled. But season one really stood out from the crowd. Fans of The Thing will love this.

Dark Matter (2015-2017)
Dark Matter (2015-2017)

Watch the video:

When six amnesiacs awaken on a spaceship with no idea how they got there who who they are, stuck between warring corporations, bounty-hunters, and secrets from their unknown pasts, you know things are going to be interesting.

Hot take

Great premise and it’s a pity it got canceled so soon. The show-runners made some bad choices with the direction of the plot, and the heyday of this sort of science fiction might be too far in the past to do well for a modern audience. That said: it’s one of the closest shows to what I consider good sci-fi to come out during this time period. Produced by the same people who made Stargate!

Sense 8 (2015-2018)
Sense 8 (2015-2018)

Watch the video:

A group of people, psychically linked, know the ins and outs of one another’s minds in a way nobody else could imagine… and it’s only through that power that they’ll be able to stay alive.

Hot take

Look, it’s created by J. Michael Straczynski (who also created Babylon 5), and the Wachowski’s (who created The Matrix). It’s one of the best modern science-fiction shows (as well as easily the sexiest show in existence). You might be uncomfortable watching it because of how much sexytime there is, but give it a chance. Seasons one and two come together to provide a powerful and unforgettable story.

Man in the High Castle (2015-2019)
Man in the High Castle (2015-2019)

Watch the video:

Nazi Germany and Japan won World War Two and now, with the United States divided between them, another war brews on the horizon. Meanwhile, the resistance has discovered something… impossible. A hint that this might not be the future that should have been at all.

Hot take

From the bizarre and brilliant mind of Philip K. Dick and rendered well to modern TV format, this show surprised me by actually being quite clever. I’d definitely give it a watch.

Killjoys (2015-2019)
Killjoys (2015-2019)

Watch the video:

A trio of bounty hunters working for an organization called the Reclamation Apprehension Coalition try to do their job while subverting the power of a tyrannical super-corporation that controls the entire planetary system.

Hot take

This show as really hot and I wish it had been allowed to thrive a little longer. Still, the time it did have was good, and it’s one of my few modern favorites.

The Expanse (2015-Present)
The Expanse (2015-Present)

Watch the video:

Hundreds of years in the future, the Solar System’s asteroid belts have been colonized and a cold war state exists between Earth and Mars. Into this, a mysterious plot is injected to set the powers against one another, and if that war is sparked an alien artifact of unbelievable power might prove to be the end of humanity altogether.

Hot take

Probably the best modern hard sci-fi space opera, The Expanse is based off a great book series of the same name. The books are better in most respects but that’s almost always the case. The series is still superb in many ways and tries to stick to the books as close as it can, even if later seasons do go downhill a bit in terms of the quality of the “we need to make this super gritty for the dumb TV-audience” writing style.

Stranger Things (2016-Present)
Stranger Things (2016-Present)

Watch the video:

A mysterious government agency doing things it shouldn’t? A group of D&D-loving kids searching for a lost friend? A mother who refuses to believe her child is dead? A creature from a dimension other than our own? An awesome 80s aesthetic?

Hot take

Watch it. This series is a blast. Season one might be the best, but the later seasons are still great.

Altered Carbon (2018-2020)
Altered Carbon (2018-2020)

Watch the video:

In the future consciousness can be transferred between bodies, a technology mostly used by the ultra-wealthy to attain effective immortality while the poor rot. Into this world, a prisoner, ex-terrorist, and one-time agent of the law, is pulled from a cryogenic freeze in order to solve a murder.

Hot take

One of the best science fiction series in modern history, Altered Carbon had me totally hooked. Sadly, Netflix canceled this brilliant series before it could really get going.

The Mandalorian (2019-Present)
The Mandalorian (2019-Present)

Watch the video:

A Star Wars series focused on a Mandalorian bounty hunter who comes into custody of a force-sensitive child wanted by the Imperial Remnant.

Hot take

Action-packed homage to spaghetti westerns and, frankly, not that good. Season one lacked coherence and even dire hard classic cinephiles like myself didn’t think that the old cinema references were enough to pull it back from the brink. Much better in season two but, then, almost generalized to the point of “meh.” It’s important because it’s paving the way for a whole new realm of Star Wars offshoots.

Odin's profile pictureOdin
Joined in 2021 54 guides
Odin Hartshorn Halvorson is a writer, geek, and hopeful futurist. A graduate from Stonecoast MFA, his work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He is the founder of Round Table Writers, an organization dedicated to "writers helping writers." Odin's love of Roddenberrian and Straczynskian ideals leads him to contemplate technology's role in our evolving philosophic landscape, a line of inquiry threaded through both his fiction and non-fiction writing. Learn more at OdinHalvorson.com
Discuss this guide!