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The best sci-fi shows streaming on Netflix

From 'Stranger Things' to even stranger things, these are the best sci-fi series to explore on Netflix

Written by
Matthew Singer
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Sci-fi has long been among one of the strengths of Netflix’s original programming. Shows like Stranger Things and Black Mirror (picked up from British TV) have become genuine pop-culture phenomenons, while series like The OA and Sense8 have earned dedicated cult followings. And there’s a lot more where that came from. Whether you’re looking for a series that’s intergalactic, post-apocalyptic or simply uncanny, there are whole visionary worlds to get lost in. So what is the best sci-fi thriller on Netflix? Set your phasers to streaming and check out our list of the finest on the platform. 

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The best sci-fi shows streaming on Netflix

Stranger Things
Photo: Netflix

Stranger Things

The initial knock on Stranger Things accused the 1980s-set mega-hit of being nothing more than a pastiche of nostalgic nods toward the Two Ste(ph)vens, Spielberg and King. But over three seasons – the penultimate fourth series arrives in May 2022 – the show has carved its own place in the pop culture pantheon. What’s it about? You must be new here –as in, new to Planet Earth – but let’s just say there are kids and bikes and young female heroines with strange powers and evil government agencies and demons from another dimension and Eggos and Winona Ryder and, yes, quite a few references designed to give ’70s and ’80s babies the warm fuzzies, all wrapped up in a gloriously thrilling ball of entertainment. 

Black Mirror
Image: Channel 4

Black Mirror

Over the years, it’s become incredibly easy to spoof the technophobic anthology series (‘What if, like, everyone forgot how to talk and all language was replaced by TikTok dances? That’d be crazy right?!’) but every few months, there’s a news story that makes you go: ‘This sounds like a Black Mirror episode’. After five seasons and a movie, its hit-to-miss ratio remains above par, and its range of stories and themes is broader than the jokes would indicate – see the Emmy-winning ‘San Junipero’, a modern classic about love persevering in the neon-lit afterlife. 

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Sense8
Murray Close/Netflix

Sense8

The Wachowski sisters’ exploration of identity and human connection was perhaps too bold to last – Netflix axed the series after two seasons. Admittedly, the premise is not the easiest sell: eight strangers from different parts of the world suddenly find their consciousnesses intertwined with one another, and their attempt to discover just what the heck is happening puts them at odds with a shadowy agency intent on destroying them. Although the show ended prematurely, fan outrage pressed the platform into commissioning a proper finale, so feel free to commit to the full run – it’s worth it.

Dark
Netflix

Dark

It was promoted as ‘the German Stranger Things’, but that’s an oversimplification of what’s really a far more complex, disturbing, and, frankly, strange time-travelling noir. After the children in the fictional town of Winden begin disappearing, the village’s dark past is exposed, uncovering a conspiracy that threatens to send the world hurtling toward doom.

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The OA
Olivia Bee / Netflix

The OA

Fair warning that this cult favourite was cancelled after two seasons, leaving its storyline unresolved. Still, the series is worth a watch, mainly for Brit Marling’s eerie lead performance as a blind woman who suddenly returns to her hometown after vanishing seven years earlier, now able to see but unwilling to reveal where the hell she’s been. And who knows? Given the vociferousness of its following – one fan went on a hunger strike outside Netflix headquarters in an attempt to bring it back – an eventual revival does not seem like a complete impossibility. 

Altered Carbon
Diyah Pera/Netflix

Altered Carbon

Set in a distant future where the rich never die – instead, their consciousness simply gets downloaded into a fresh body – a mercenary is hired by a ‘murdered’ aristocrat to figure out who ‘killed’ him. Although it was cancelled after two seasons, the show was full of big ideas and even bigger world-building: the fictional Bay City is rendered with eye-popping detail to rival Blade Runner’s vision of futuristic Los Angeles.

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Lost In Space
Netflix

Lost In Space

A reboot of the campy ’60s series, the newer Lost in Space keeps the same basic premise of an earthling family trying to survive on an alien planet, updated with 21st century production values and prestige TV seriousness. It has plenty of action and big-budget set pieces to satisfy sci-fi zealots, but at heart, it’s really an interstellar family drama, with standout performances from Maxwell Jenkins as robot-loving youngster Will Robinson and Parker Posey as an alleged doctor with a shady past. 

The Rain
Per Arnesen/Netflix

The Rain

Cross The Walking Dead with Station 11 and stir in a bit of The Road, and you have this Danish downer about the survivors of a precipitation-based apocalypse. Six years after a virus carried in rain droplets wipes out much of the Earth’s population, two Scandinavian teenagers emerge from a bunker and head off in search of their father, a scientist they have reason to believe holds the key to rebuilding civilisation.  

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The Silent Sea
Han Sejun/Netflix

The Silent Sea

Squid Game’s Gong Yoo stars in this South Korean production, captaining an emergency mission to the moon to retrieve a sample that might hold the key to solving the severe water shortage back on Earth. At least, that’s what they’ve been told. It’s a bit of a slow burn, but when it gets rolling, it holds you in its grip. 

Into the Night
Netflix

Into the Night

The sun has finally revolted against its masters! In this Belgian thriller, the daylight has suddenly turned deadly, eradicating all life on earth, and the passengers of a hijacked airliner must stay in darkness and outrun the dawn if they hope to make it to an underground bunker. It’s no doubt preposterous, but seems to know it, and given the highfalutin nature of a lot of the shows on this list, a little dumb fun carries a lot of value. 

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Maniac
Michele K. Short / Netflix

Maniac

Like a Charlie Kaufman fever dream, Maniac is a knotty psychological romance about two damaged people forging a connection at a clinical trial for a drug purported to ‘cure’ mental illness. Generating a ton of buzz upon release, the miniseries had great performances from Jonah Hill and Emma Stone and a colour palette straight out of an old-school Nintendo game. And while the tone is moody, it’s far from humourless. Half a decade after the initial hype, it remains transfixing.

Travelers
Netflix

Travelers

A dystopian drama with serious Quantum Leap vibes, this Canadian production concerns a group of post-apocalyptic ‘travelers’ with the ability to send their consciousnesses back in time to inhabit the bodies of strangers in an attempt to save humanity from a disastrous future. But living in a relatively safe and prosperous 21st century presents its own set of problems.

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Love, Death & Robots
Netflix

Love, Death & Robots

Instead of rebooting the cartoon cult classic ’80s film Heavy Metal as they’d long planned, David Fincher and Tim Pool created this animation anthology series, keeping the subversive, sometimes juvenile tone of the source material but updating the themes for the 21st century. Highlights include an episode imagining several alternate timelines related to the death of Hitler, one about an underground fighting ring pitting bioengineered animals against each other, and another involving the life and times of a sentient glob of yoghourt.

The 100
Diyah Pera/The CW

The 100

Adapted from a series of young adult novels, this dystopian teen drama, which ran for seven seasons on The CW, follows a group of 100 juvenile prisoners who have spent their lives orbiting Earth in a space station post-nuclear apocalypse as they return to the planet a century later to test its livability. Turns out, not everyone down there got wiped out when the bombs went off. Cue the intertribal warfare, unlikely romances and inevitable heartbreak. Don’t get turned off by phrases like ‘young adult’, ‘teen drama’ and ‘The CW’ – it’s much smarter and darker than it seems. 

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The Umbrella Academy
Photograph: Netflix

The Umbrella Academy

Call them the Misfit Mutants. The Umbrella Academy focuses on a group of superheroes investigating the suspicious death of their adopted billionaire father – named Sir Reginald Hargreeves, hilariously – and coming to terms with their own strained relationships. Featuring a strong lead performance from Elliot Page, it’s like an emo-punk version of the X-Men, which makes sense, given that My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way wrote the comic series it’s based on. 

Raising Dion
Netflix

Raising Dion

A superhero show that’s more about parenting, coming of age and family dynamics than cities getting blown up real good, Raising Dion concerns a widowed mother (Alisha Wainwright) who discovers that her young son (Ja'Siah Young) is developing strange powers. And you thought puberty was tough. Michael B Jordan also appears as the deceased father, who may have passed down more than his good looks.

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Alice In Borderland
Haro Aso, Shogakukan, ROBOT

Alice In Borderland

Set in an abandoned Tokyo, where the remaining citizens are forced to compete in a series of odd games in order to earn visas to leave the city, Alice in Borderland sounds like an ideal way to fill the void between seasons of Squid Game. But the show, based on a popular manga series of the same name, has a look and feel all its own.

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