Ranked: Best/Worst TV Shows Based on Comic Books

  • Publish Date: June 18, 2015
  • Comments: ↓ 3 user comments

Super adaptations

Comic book shows have never been more popular. Next season, every major broadcast network will have at least one in their lineup, including newcomers like CBS's Supergirl and the CW's Legends of Tomorrow. And the roster of these shows on cable and streaming services continues to expand, with Syfy's Dark Matter debuting last week and AMC's Fear the Walking Dead and Netflix's Jessica Jones arriving later this year.

Below are the U.S. primetime live-action TV shows (since 1985) based on comic books and graphic novels, ranked by Metascore from best- to worst-reviewed. Note that Metascores are for the first season only.

The best
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#1

82 The Walking Dead AMC, 2010–
Writer Robert Kirkman joined series creator Frank Darabont in adapting his own Eisner Award-winning comic book series (albeit loosely at times) about a zombie apocalypse. Though the series has gone through numerous behind-the-camera changes (including the departure of Darabont early in the show's run), the ongoing Dead has become cable's highest-rated drama of all time, and a second series set in the same universe, Fear the Walking Dead, is expected to debut later this summer. Watch now
iTunes Amazon Netflix
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#1
(tie)

82 The Tick Fox, 2001–02
While a relatively well-received animated adaptation featuring Ben Edlund's spoof-y superhero characters managed to survive for three seasons on Fox in the mid-1990s, this live action version (starring Seinfeld's Patrick Warburton, produced by Larry Charles, and directed by Barry Sonnenfeld) lasted just eight episodes, thanks in part to Fox's decision to launch it in a highly competitive timeslot. Still, critics greatly admired the satirical show's sense of humor. Watch now
iTunes Amazon
The rest

#3

75 Marvel's Daredevil Netflix, 2015–
Recently renewed for a second season, this third small-screen series set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (starring Charlie Cox as the blind lawyer hero) is the first of five planned Marvel titles exclusive to Netflix. Watch now
Netflix
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#3
(tie)

75 Smallville WB/CW, 2001–11
This Superman origin story (or, more accurately, a Clark Kent origin story) from Alfred Gough and Miles Millar ran for 10 seasons on the CW and its predecessor network, the WB. The series itself spawned its own comic book spinoff which continued the story past the finale. Watch now
iTunes Amazon
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#5

74 Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. ABC, 2013–
The first attempt to bring the massive success of the recent Marvel feature films to TV has met with an unexpectedly bumpy road, though ratings and quality seem to have stabilized in the just-concluded second season. SHIELD returns on September 29th for a third year, though a second planned spinoff (following Agent Carter; see below) was killed by ABC last month. Watch now
iTunes Amazon Netflix

#5
(tie)

74 iZombie CW, 2015–
Many of the details have been changed from Chris Roberson's Vertigo comics (among other things, the series is more of a crime procedural, and its young zombie protagonist is a medical examiner rather than a gravedigger), but iZombie marks a successful return to TV for series creator Rob Thomas (Veronica Mars, Party Down), and it was recently renewed for a second season. Watch now
iTunes Amazon
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#7

73 Marvel's Agent Carter ABC, 2015–
Expected at one point to be a one-off miniseries, this Hayley Atwell-starring spinoff from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was just given a somewhat surprising second-season renewal. Watch now
iTunes Amazon
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#7
(tie)

73 Arrow CW, 2012–
No network has embraced the comic book genre more wholeheartedly than the CW. That has been especially true since the instantly successful 2012 launch of Greg Berlanti and Marc Guggenheim's adaptation of the DC Comics Green Arrow property. The Stephen Amell-starring Arrow heads into its 4th season this fall, where it will be joined by two spinoffs. Watch now
iTunes Amazon Netflix
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#7
(tie)

73 The Flash CW, 2014–
The first spinoff from Green Arrow has been a hit in its own right, though it isn't the first time that the character of Barry Allen/The Flash has been brought to the small screen. A previous Flash series aired on CBS during the 1990-91 season. Watch now
iTunes Amazon
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#7
(tie)

73 The Middleman ABC Family, 2008
Javier Grillo-Marxuach adapted his own humorous, pop-culture-referencing graphic novel series to television for this short-lived and somewhat campy ABC Family series (starring Matt Keeslar and Natalie Morales). The series is now considered to be a canceled-too-soon cult classic. Watch now
iTunes
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#11

72 Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman ABC, 1993-97
If any comic book hero has had the most success on the small screen, it is Superman. This version created by Deborah Joy LeVine and starring Teri Hatcher and Dean Cain as Lois Lane and Clark Kent, respectively, set the standard for comic book series in the 1990s, running for four seasons on ABC. Watch now
iTunes Amazon

#12

71 Gotham Fox, 2014–
While Fox's seemingly can't-miss Batman origin story proved to be better on paper than it was in execution, Gotham attracted enough of an audience to earn a second season. Of course, with comments like these, it'll need to get better in a hurry to survive any longer than that. Watch now
iTunes Amazon
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#13

70 Witchblade TNT, 2001–02
The Top Cow/Image Comics series about a NYPD detective given superpowers when she gains possession of the supernatural object of the title has been adapted for TV several times. This, the only live-action version, was canceled after two seasons despite relatively strong ratings, perhaps due to off-screen issues with the cast. Watch now
iTunes Amazon
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#14

69 Human Target Fox, 2010–11
The second and better of the two TV adaptations of the DC comics property created by Len Wein and Carmine Infantino stars Mark Valley as Christopher Chance, the former assassin who now works as a private bodyguard for individuals targeted by killers. The series bounced around Fox's schedule for two short seasons before ending after 25 episodes. Watch now
iTunes Amazon
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#15

67 The Flash CBS, 1990–91
TV's first primetime, live-action Flash series starred John Wesley Shipp as the titular hero. One of the few hourlong programs to ever air at 8:30p, this Flash took numerous liberties with the DC comics, perhaps alienating some fans along the way. The show was canceled at the end of its first and only season, though star Shipp was eventually rewarded with a recurring role in the CW's new version of The Flash. Watch now
iTunes Amazon
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#16

65 Sabrina, the Teenage Witch ABC/WB, 1996–2003
Melissa Joan Hart led the cast of this TV take on the classic Archie Comics series. (Hart's younger sister Emily voiced Sabrina in an animated spinoff that launched in 1999.) The series ran for four seasons on ABC before moving to the WB for its final three years. Watch now
Amazon Hulu+
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#17

58 Birds of Prey WB, 2002–03
When Smallville was in development at the WB, it was originally conceived as Bruce Wayne, a Batman (rather than Superman) origin story. After Smallville proved to be a success, the network went back to its original idea—in a way—with Birds of Prey, based very loosely on the DC comics and centering on Gotham City characters such as Batman's daughter, Helena Kyle/Huntress. Ratings tanked after a strong premiere, and the series was over after 13 episodes. Watch now
iTunes

#17
(tie)

58 Dark Matter Syfy, 2015–
Premiering last week to a somewhat tepid response, this adaptation of the Dark Horse graphic novel by former Stargate writers Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie follows the crew of a derelict spacecraft who have no memory of who they are or why they are on board. Watch now
iTunes Amazon

#19

53 Constantine NBC, 2014–15
It was one and done for NBC's attempt to match its competitors' comic book series this season. Constantine, with Matt Ryan starring as the snarky supernatural detective/magician/demon hunter made famous in the Alan Moore-created Hellblazer comics (previously adapted into a movie), was reportedly shopped to other networks following its cancellation by NBC last month, but no takers were found. Watch now
iTunes Amazon
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#19
(tie)

53 Harsh Realm Fox, 1999–2000
Chris Carter followed his hit Fox series The X-Files and the less successful Millennium with this short-lived virtual reality-themed dud, which lasted all of three episodes on Fox. (Six more later aired on FX.) The show was very loosely based on a comic by James D. Hudnall and Andrew Paquette, though the pair had to sue to get credit.
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#21

52 Tales From the Crypt HBO, 1989-96
Emerging during a time when original scripted programming on HBO meant Sniglets and O.J. Simpson sitcoms, this horror anthology based on various EC Comics properties (including the titular series) ultimately ran for over 90 episodes across seven seasons. The network was able to attract big names to star in and direct the episodes, including Robert Zemeckis, Tom Hanks, Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Frankenheimer, Brad Pitt, Richard Donner, and even a posthumous Humphrey Bogart (through early digital effects). Watch now
iTunes Amazon

#22

50 Powers PlayStation Network, 2015–
Originally in development (over many years) at FX, this small-screen take on the Icon/Image comic book series of the same name (about a special police homicide division that deals only with superheroes and supervillains) eventually turned up on game consoles as Sony's first major original series for PlayStation Network. Reviews were mediocre, but the series was picked up for a second season.
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#23

49 Blade: The Series Spike, 2006
None of the three Blade movies received good reviews, so it only makes sense that this TV version (also based on the Marvel Comics character, though with rapper Sticky Fingaz playing the title role instead of the films' Wesley Snipes) also fared poorly with critics. The series proved a poor fit with Spike TV, and was killed after 13 episodes. Watch now
iTunes
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#24

35 Flash Gordon Syfy, 2007-08
Lasting for all of one season (no, we don't remember it, either), this most recent attempt to turn the 1930s comic strip into a TV series followed several animated versions and a previous live-action adaptation back in 1954. The series managed the tricky feat of being overly campy without being any fun. Watch now
iTunes Amazon

#25

32 Human Target ABC, 1992
Before Fox's Human Target, there was this ABC version based on the same source material, starring rocker/soap opera veteran Rick Springfield as Christopher Chance. Apparently, he lacked the Human touch; the show was canceled after seven episodes.

#26

29 Timecop ABC, 1997–98
Another short-lived ABC entry, this sci-fi story about a time traveling cop (in case the title didn't make that explicitly clear) set mainly in the near future followed after the Jean-Claude Van Damme movie of the same name. Both were based on a story published by Dark Horse Comics, though neither one was all that good. Only nine of the 13 episodes ever aired on ABC, which won the rights to the (at the time) expensive series in a bidding war.
The worst
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#27

28 Painkiller Jane Sci-Fi, 2007
Kristanna Loken starred as the titular cop-turned-supernatural-vigilante in this TV adaptation of the Event Comics series by Jimmy Palmiotti and Joe Quesada. The series, which followed after a TV movie that also aired on Sci-Fi (though with a different cast), ran for just a single season, and was panned by critics for its terrible writing (among other things). Watch now
iTunes Amazon Hulu

A few more

The following shows do not have enough reviews available for us to calculate a Metascore:

What do you think?

How would you rank the comic book TV shows? Did we leave anything out? Let us know in the discussion section below.

Comments (3)

  • KaizerAlex  

    This article, however, shows a minor flaw of Metacritic: In every case, only the first season is rated. Additionally, most reviews are drawn from the very first episodes.

    The Walking Dead was very good, even the best comic book tv series, but the new seasons are not perfect anymore.

    The very first episodes of Daredevil were just okay, but the show became better in the middle of the season.

  • LamontRaymond  

    The Arrow and the (new) Flash are pretty darned good, especially surprising (to me) for the CW. I hope they don't stretch that universe too thin with the upcoming Legends of Tomorrow.

  • FleshWorld  

    iZombie is MUCH better than I thought it would be. for anyone who is missing that Veronica Mars feeling, this will do it for you. I also have to mention the Fox human target. that was a really fun show and I was really bummed when they decided to cancel it. never saw The Tick but if critics liked it this much I guess I'll have to try it out.

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