Ranking ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Seasons, From Worst to Best

Grey's Anatomy - Season 2 - Meredith and Cristina - Ellen Pompeo and Sandra Oh
Peter Stone/ABC/Courtesy: Everett Collection

For every year of the past decade or so, we’ve braced ourselves for the possibility that the current Grey’s Anatomy season will be the series’ final. And this year, that possibility could be more probable than ever, considering Ellen Pompeo seems halfway out the door.

We can’t blame the actress, of course: Even diehard fans have to admit that Grey’s isn’t at the top of its narrative game. We’ll always tune in to ABC on Thursday nights for more Grey Sloan Memorial drama, but also wax nostalgic for the show’s Seattle Grace Hospital era. With this current 19th season potentially being Grey’s Anatomy’s final season, here’s how we’d rank the other 18, from worst to best.

Grey’s Anatomy, Winter Premiere, Thursday, February 23, 9/8c, ABC

Grey's Anatomy - Season 16 - Justin Chambers as Alex Karev
Kelsey McNeal/ABC

18. Season 16

As Mer faces the end of her career over (well-intentioned) medical fraud, Alex saves the day, bringing past patients of hers to give testimonials. But then as Justin Chambers makes another in Grey’s Anatomy’s long line of abrupt cast exits, Alex sends a “Dear Jo” letter letting his wife (Camilla Luddington) know that she’s fired as wife, effective immediately, since he reconnected with Izzie (played very obviously by a body double). Cue the fan revolt.

Grey's Anatomy - Season 13 - Jerrika Hinton as Stephanie Edwards
Richard Cartwright/ABC

17. Season 13

The arrival of a new residency director — who happens to be Arizona’s (Jessica Capshaw) girlfriend — kicks off an exhausting “civil war” between Richard’s (James Pickens Jr.) supporters and critics. And in other frustrating plot points, Alex is arrested for beating up DeLuca (Giacomo Gianniotti) over a misunderstanding. But at least Stephanie (Jerrika Hinton) gets a good storyline, going out in a literal blaze of glory after making a rapist go up in flames.

Grey's Anatomy Season 15
Mitch Haaseth/ABC

16. Season 15

Grey’s surpasses ER to become American television’s longest-running primetime medical drama… and the show’s disaster storylines get a little sketchy. (A windstorm! A foggy day!) But we give all the applause to “Silent All These Years,” an episode in which Jo confronts her traumatic past while the women of Grey Sloan shelter and support a rape survivor.

Grey's Anatomy - Season Season 18 - Scott Speedman as Nick Marsh
Liliane Lathan/ABC

15. Season 18

After a long series of non-Derek love interests, Mer reconnects with Nick (Scott Speedman), a transplant surgeon who may just be the love of her life — but the question is, is he worth not being married to her job? Meanwhile, April (Sarah Drew) reconnects with Jackson (Jesse Williams), getting back with him for a second time after breaking up with paramedic Matthew (Justin Bruening) a second time. That reveal plus the long-awaited return of Addison (Kate Walsh) gives this season major brownie points.

Grey's Anatomy Season 9
Eric McCandless/ABC/Courtesy: Everett Collection

14. Season 9

In one of the bleakest seasons to date, Mark (Eric Dane) succumbs to his plane-crash injuries, Richard’s ex Adele (Loretta Devine) dies on Bailey’s (Chandra Wilson) wedding day, Arizona cheats on Callie (Sara Ramirez), Mer nearly dies during childbirth, and Richard gets electrocuted in a rainstorm. But at least Alex fares well this season, finding new romance with intern Jo.

Grey's Anatomy - Season 12 - Samantha Sloyan as Penny Blake

13. Season 12

Season 12 sunk notable ships, with Callie and Arizona bitterly fighting over their daughter (before Callie moves to New York City) and Jackson and April divorcing. Callie’s new girlfriend, Penny (Samantha Sloyan), turns out to be one of the doctors whose incompetence led to Derek’s (Patrick Dempsey) death, but then again, Meredith is getting closer to new doc Nathan (Martin Henderson), whom Owen (Kevin McKidd) blames for his sister’s disappearance. All in all, not very romantic, by Grey’s standards!

Grey's Anatomy - Season 17 - Patrick Dempsey as Derek Shepherd

12. Season 17

Grey’s Anatomy headed straight into the COVID-19 storm in Season 17, covering the cast in PPO and depicting the pandemic’s micro and macro effects. Meredith comes down with a bad case of the virus and spends most of the season on her so-called death beach, a beautiful between-life-and-death limbo where she reconnects with deceased docs George (T.R. Knight), Lexie (Chyler Leigh), Mark, and, of course, Derek. We never thought we’d see those characters on Grey’s again, but the show still continues to surprise.

Grey's Anatomy - Season 14 - Matthew and April - Justin Bruening and Sarah Drew
Eric McCandless/ABC

11. Season 14

Though we had to say goodbye to Arizona and April this season, they at least exit on romantic notes: April rekindles her relationship with Matthew, the paramedic she left at the altar, and Arizona moves to New York City, presumably to reunite with Callie. And in other upbeat news, Season 14 has Jo and Alex tie the knot and Mer win what’s now called the Catherine Fox Award.

Grey's Anatomy - Season 4 - Chyler Leigh as Lexie Grey
Scott Garfield/ABC/Courtesy: Everett Collection

10. Season 4

In a season curtailed by a writers strike, Lexie arrives, Callie moves on from Mark with Erica (Brooke Smith), and an ambulance crash outside the ER puts EMTs in peril. Those are all high points. The low points, of course, are Derek’s relationship with nurse Rose (Lauren Stamile) and the George-Izzie relationship known as “Gizzie.”

Grey's Anatomy - Season 11 - Patrick Dempsey as Derek Shepherd
Kelsey McNeal/ABC/Courtesy: Everett Collection

9. Season 11

Season 11 will go down in infamy as the season that killed Derek, who seemed on track for more time with Meredith after spending significant time in D.C. Meanwhile, his sister Amelia (Caterina Scorsone) makes a name for herself at Grey Sloan by pulling off a near-impossible operation on the brain of Arizona’s mentor, Dr. Nicole Herman (played by Geena Davis, a casting coup for the series). And speaking of sisters, Mer eventually forges a bond with her newfound sib Maggie (Kelly McCreary).

Grey's Anatomy Season 8
Karen Neal/ABC/Courtesy: Everett Collection

8. Season 8

Cristina (Sandra Oh) and Owen’s relationship is put through the wringer when she exercises her right to an abortion without telling him — and again when he has her operate on Teddy’s (Kim Raver) husband, Henry (Scott Foley), without telling her. But the real gut-punch of the season is the finale, in which several Seattle Grace surgeons go down in a plane crash that Lexie doesn’t survive.

Grey's Anatomy - Season 7 - Arizona and Callie - Jessica Capshaw and Sara Ramirez
Richard Cartwright/ABC/Courtesy: Everett Collection

7. Season 7

Remember when Grey’s Anatomy had a musical episode? Of course you do — it was one of the most maligned episodes of the show! But at least “Song Beneath the Song” showed off Sara Ramirez’s incredible vocal talent. And Season 7 might as well have been a season-long Emmy campaign for the actor, as Callie ricochets from a revenge affair with Mark to a near-fatal car accident to a childbirth to a wedding with Arizona. Meanwhile, Mer and Der’s Alzheimer’s clinical trial drives a wedge between then when she tampers with the trial to help Adele.

Grey's Anatomy - Season 10 - Cristina and Meredith - Sandra Oh and Ellen Pompeo
Kelsey McNeal/ABC/Courtesy: Everett Collection

6. Season 10

As the Grey’s season tally hits the double digits, Meredith encounters trouble in her two closest relationships: She and Cristina have a falling-out over work-family balance but reconcile (and dance it out one last time) by the time Cristina leaves for a new job in Switzerland. Meanwhile, Mer puts her foot down when Derek again prioritizes his career over hers and suggests moving their family to D.C.

Grey's Anatomy Season 5 Denny Izzie
Scott Garfield/ABC/Courtesy: Everett Collection

5. Season 5

Yes, there’s the ghost sex between Izzie (Katherine Heigl) and her hallucination of Denny (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) in Season 5. Yes, that storyline is cringe-worthy. But don’t forget that her hallucination is the result of a brain tumor that expedites Izzie and Alex’s wedding and nearly kills the bride in the finale — the same finale in which Mer realizes her dying John Doe is George. Meanwhile, this season introduces both Owen and Arizona.

Grey's Anatomy Season 6
Scott Garfield/ABC/Courtesy: Everett Collection

4. Season 6

No Grey’s Anatomy episode has been more edge-of-your-seat than Season 6’s two-part finale, in which widower Gary Clark (Michael O’Neill) comes to the hospital with bullets meant for the surgeon he blames for his wife’s demise, and several docs get caught in the crossfire. In unrelated developments, we abruptly lose Izzie in Season 6, but at least we gain Teddy, Jackson, and April.

Grey's Anatomy - Season 1 - Ellen Pompeo as Meredith Grey
Ron Tom/ABC/Courtesy: Everett Collection

3. Season 1

The first Grey’s season was M.A.G.I.C. — there will never be an intern class better than Meredith, Alex, George, Izzie, and Cristina. And Meredith has the most drama of them all, considering she’s sleeping with an attending this season — and dealing with her legacy as the daughter of a legendary surgeon who’s now living with Alzheimer’s.

Grey's Anatomy Season 3
Vivian Zink/ABC/Courtesy: Everett Collection

2. Season 3

We long for the days when Grey’s Anatomy was still doing big-budget, multi-episode events, like Season 3’s ferry boat crash. Aside from that crisis, though, Season 3 broke our hearts with the death of George’s dad and Meredith’s mom — who passes shortly after becoming lucid eviscerating Mer’s life choices — and Cristina’s realization she needs freedom from her relationship to Burke (Isaiah Washington).

Grey's Anatomy - Season 2 - Sandra Oh and Isaiah Washington
Richard Cartwright/ABC/Courtesy: Everett Collection

1. Season 2

Between the train crash, the bomb blast, Denny’s LVAD wire, and Burke’s potentially career-ending gunshot wound, Season 2 had Grey’s Anatomy’s best medical crises. And it also had the best cast additions, with Addison, Callie, and Mark joining the cast roster. To quote Mer, pick this season! Choose this season! Love this season!