Duh. When we think of shows in the fantasy genre, Thrones is among the first — if not the first — which comes to mind. No matter your thoughts on the final six episodes and the whole “Bran the Broken” thing, there’s no denying the way this show shaped genre television and even television itself. It’s one of the few examples of non-“realistic” television that earned love from television academy voters and the general audience alike. Winter has come and gone and the Iron Throne is a melted metal puddle, but the impact of this behemoth will be felt for years to come.
Amazon Prime Video
The Expanse (2015 – present, Amazon Prime)
There’s a good reason “Save the Expanse” banners were soaring over Amazon’s headquarters after SyFy pulled the plug on it in 2018 (bad move, SyFy). This show, based on the book series by James S.A. Corey, incorporates political and social strife into a world both similar to and very different from our own; a world where humans have colonized Mars. The storytelling nuance on this program hasn’t been seen since the rebooted Battlestar Galactica, and the cast of characters it includes are rich and diverse.
Stranger Things (2016 – present, Netflix)
The perfect blend of 80’s nostalgia and gripping sci-fi, Stranger Things was practically made for binge-watching. It’s impossible not to fall in love with the eclectic cast of main characters ranging from a superpowered kid to a certain “dad-bod”-bearing chief of police, and the actors playing them are incredibly talented, too. After all, this is the show that made household names out of David Harbour and Millie Bobby Brown, and resurrected Winona Ryder’s career.
The Walking Dead (2010 – present, AMC)
Has The Walking Dead been consistently good for the past nine seasons? Ask any fan and they’re sure to list a number of well-reasoned gripes (the All Out War storyline, a certain baffling character death that never happened in the comics, Beth’s time at Grady Memorial, etc.) or even say they stopped watching. But even with its growing pains and storytelling stumbles, there’s no denying the effect this show has had on the horror/sci-fi genre — after all, it was the most popular program on TV for several years. Given that AMC has said it won’t end the series where the source material concludes, it’s possible Daryl and co. will be battling walkers for decades to come.
Westworld (2016 – present, HBO)
Who knew the phrase “doesn’t look like anything to me” could mean so much, and a show about robots could make us question the nature of our reality? Despite Season 2’s lukewarm reception, Westworld still tells of the most unique, thought-provoking and moving science fiction stories on TV…just try to get through “Kiksuya” without shedding a tear. A drama about mechanical theme park “hosts” slowly gaining sentience could’ve been hokey, and while Westworld doesn’t shy away from violence or nudity, it’s typically not done gratuitously (that one orgy scene aside. You know the one) — unlike certain other HBO genre programs. Its first season is, at least in this writer’s opinion, one of the best introductory seasons of a sci-fi show, period.
Sergei Bachlakov/The CW
The 100 (2014 – present, The CW)
For its first few episodes, The 100 is a stereotypical teen drama chock-full of pretty people, love triangle drama and subpar dialogue. A few more episodes into Season 1, it becomes far grittier, more suspenseful and deeply meaningful. The 100 has grown from a show about teen delinquents surviving on Earth’s irradiated surface to one about the nature of survival and paying the price of saving loved ones with one’s humanity. It certainly helps that it’s stocked with memorable characters who’ve undergone powerful arcs. That’s not to say the show has never stumbled, but the good in this one outweighs some head-scratcher plot points and a few badly handled character deaths. Given that it’s a CW show that strays as far as possible from what might be considered the “CW stereotype,” it’s worth recognition as it heads into its final season.
Black Mirror (2011 – present, Netflix)
In today’s technology driven society, perhaps it’s a good thing that we have a show like Black Mirror. This sci-fi draws attention to the dark side of high-tech existence in various futuristic societies, including an episode where people can rate each other based on interactions they have, an episode where people are matched in relationships that come with an end date and, of course, the iconic “San Junipero.”
The Umbrella Academy (2019 – present, Netflix)
This Netflix hit is about superheroes, sure. But more importantly, it’s about trauma and the effects a stunted childhood can have on a group of adults. When six super-powered siblings return home for their estranged father’s funeral they realize they only have a few days to save the world, and they have to set aside their squabbles to use their powers and save everyone. Granted, it isn’t a show for everyone — as with any comic book adaptation, it gets weird — but for those who don’t mind things getting a little “out there,” it’s a heartwarming, heartbreaking and fun ride with an incredible soundtrack.
The Haunting of Hill House (2018 – present, Netflix)
Speaking of shows about trauma and family relationships, The Haunting of Hill House takes those themes and builds a beautifully horrific ghost story around them. There’s some shared DNA between this one and Umbrella Academy in that it reunites estranged siblings after the death of a family member, but that’s where the comparisons stop. Hill House instead forces members of the Crain family to confront the darkness in their shared past stemming from a tragedy that drove them apart… a tragedy that had something to do with a certain house, and the supernatural forces residing in it. The show is beautifully filmed and directed — one episode is filmed to appear as though it was done in a series of long takes — and comes with plenty of jaw-dropping plot twists to chill and thrill.
The Handmaid’s Tale (2017 – present, Hulu)
If you’re ever feeling too happy and need a show to take your mood down a few notches, The Handmaid’s Tale has you covered. While it’s not even remotely close to being a feel-good show, there’s a good reason The Handmaid’s Tale seems to get love every time awards season rolls around. It’s filled with excellent performances from well-known stars like Elizabeth Moss, and its parallels to present-day America on subjects like women’s rights are chilling.
Watchmen (2019 – present)
There’s a good reason Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen is on almost every critic’s “Best of 2019” list. The show effortlessly blends politics and issues that have been at home in modern day headlines — namely, white supremacy — with its often “out there” superhero source material, making for a program that is engrossing, insightful and controversial. Its striking visuals and powerhouse cast including Regina King, Jean Smart and Jeremy Irons make it a true treat to watch.
The 2010s were a good decade for television in general, but it might have been best for fans of TV that explores the outer reaches of the galaxy, questions the nature of humanity via robots and raises the dead as flesh-chomping zombies.
With streaming services like Netflix and Hulu getting into original programming and being unafraid to take risks as they did so, the number of genre shows rose. That said, there were some notable additions in the sphere of premium and even network channels, too… including a few that will shape the genre for years to come.
With the decade drawing to a close, let’s take a look back at some of our favorite sci-fi, fantasy, and horror shows from the past 10 years.