Especially since we've been spending more time at home, the best original Netflix series have morphed into something larger than mere entertainment. The various shows—spanning genres and timelines—have become our companions and historical artifacts, visual signs of the rapidly changing TV industry and the world around it.
Just as Stranger Things represents the power of nostalgia when marketing a production, GLOW reminds us that nuanced comedy still resonates in the 2000s. Russian Doll, on the other hand, is a great manifestation of the power that Netflix yields, effectively creating entirely new genres of entertainment (this one, a comedy-drama hybrid) and giving voice to perspectives and plotlines that regular television never really had room for. In a way, the streaming giant's original series showcase a changing demographic as we, the viewers, interact with the medium in novel ways.
To simplify things, on our list, we only considered fictional shows (we've got a list of the best documentaries on Netflix right here) that have premiered and always lived on Netflix (so no Black Mirror, The Bodyguard or You in here). We also stayed away from revivals and non-fiction series (we must mention our love for that One Day at a Time revival, though).
Another note: we vowed to include only the very best. Which means that the likes of Maniac and Santa Clarita Diet just didn't make the cut. Other surprises? The OA gets some love, and so does Easy, an opinion not shared by all.
Flashback to 1983 and a time when the bizarre and unreal were suddenly more ingrained in reality than you once thought. Winona Ryder stars as the mother to Will, a young boy whose sudden disappearance and subsequent investigation unearths the twisted secrets and truths lurking beneath a small town’s peaceful facade.
Now gearing up for season 4 (no official release date has been announced yet), the show has been critically acclaimed since first landing on the streaming network, provoking bouts of nostalgia all around.
Photograph: Alex Bailey/Netflix
2. The Crown
The story of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II has landed countless wins on awards show since its first season aired in 2016—and for good reason. The writing is excellent, the acting wonderful and the cinematography outstanding, all contributing to the creation of a show appreciated even by those usually loath to give historical dramas a chance.
Photograph: Courtesy Orange is the New Black
3. Orange is the New Black
The first truly bingeable Netflix series changed the game from episode one. Though subsequent seasons had their flaws, from the beginning, OITNB wooed us all with its smart writing and memorable characters. It’s Netflix’s most-watched original series, and whether you consider it a drama or a comedy, it’s won an Emmy for that.
4. The Politician
The Politician is considered by many to be a niche watch, just like almost all other shows created by Ryan Murphy. This is the prolific showrunner's first series under the Netflix banner, part of a historical deal that shook up the industry when announced back in 2018.
The show stars the wonderful Ben Platt as Payton Hobart, a high-achieving student at the fictional Saint Sebastian High School in Santa Barbara, California. Second season takes the character to New York, where he runs for a seat in the New York State Senate. Expect anything but high school drama from the show, which boasts the dramatic comedy that Murphy is renowned for and a stellar cast of characters.
Photograph: Courtest Melinda Sue Gordon
5. House of Cards
The now-disgraced Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright are almost eerily suited to their conniving, power-hungry characters in the political drama that’s enthralled viewers. There hasn’t been anything like it since maybe The West Wing aired, and Frank Underwood’s methods to manipulate become darker and his ethical code more invisible with each new season.
Of course, things have shifted in later seasons, which peg Wright at the center of the drama. Regardless of Spacey's off-camera alleged behavior, the series has undoubtedly helped give rise to the concept of binge watching.
Photograph: Michael Yarish/Netflix
6. The Kominsky Method
Some people love The Kominsky Method (including the Golden Globes and Emmy academies) and others just don't get it. We're part of the former clan. The comedy follows the life and travails of Michael Douglas as Sandy Kominsky, a former actor and current Hollywood acting coach. The great Alan Arkin plays Norman Newlander, Kominsky's friend and agent.
Photograph: Courtesy Eric Liebowitz/Netflix
7. The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Kimmy Schmidt will help fill that 30 Rock–size hole in your DVR and leave you wishing you had Tina Fey as your therapist. Crafted by Fey and brought to life by the perfectly-cast Ellie Kemper, Kimmy comments on modern society with the innocence of a child and the experiences of an adult (an adult locked in a bunker for most of her life, that is) to make you wonder just how we let some things in the world get so weird.
Photograph: Courtest Netflix
8. BoJack Horseman
BoJack is a washed-up, has-been humanoid horse-man who’s desperate to launch a comeback after his wildly successful mid-1990s sitcom career begins fading to oblivion. Sound depressing? Oh, it is, but that doesn’t mean the animated show is a drag—it’s one of the best un-kid-friendly cartoons out there.
Photograph: Courtesy K.C. Bailey/Netflix
9. Master of None
Aziz Ansari—who’s also the writer and showrunner—finally lands in a leading role as Dev, an Indian-American actor dating, eating and accessorizing his way through New York City. The show is a unique study of relationships and self-awareness in the Tinder era that won’t be all that unfamiliar to millennials in the city.
Photograph: Emmanuel Guimier
Omar Sy’s master-thief Assane Diop may be the most effortlessly charismatic man on TV just now. The world has been slow to catch up on the stylish adventures of French literary hero Arsène Lupin – think Thomas Crown’s light fingers combined with Sherlock Holmes’s smarts – but Netflix’s smash-hit two-parter, in which Diop channels Lupin in the name of revenge, has brought the non-French-speaking world right up to speed. Even the subtitle-averse will get a major kick out of its super-sexy Parisian backdrops and hairpin plot twists.
11. Russian Doll
Natasha Lyonne created, directed and stars in this comedy-drama that explores life and death through the eyes of her character Nadia Vulvokov. The latter is a game developer that keeps on dying and coming back to life to relive the same night over and over again. While trying to figure out the time loop she finds herself in, she meets a fellow constant perisher, Charlie Barnett as Alan Zavery. Originality has earned Lyonne critical praise, TV award show recognition and lots of love from us.
Photograph: Steve Deitl/Netflix
Ozark has been relatively slow at capturing the attention and devotion of Netflix's audience, but it's now considered to be one of the best crime dramas of recent TV history. Jason Bateman is a financial advisor that moves his family from Chicago to Missouri after a money laundering scheme gone bad. The crime and the drama don't end after the move: expect the Mexican drug cartel and local criminals to make appearances.
Photograph: Erica Parise/Netflix
GLOW is original, GLOW is funny, GLOW is entertaining. Although originally renewed for a fourth and final season, the streaming network reversed its decision given COVID-19-related production problems. Still, you should take the time to binge the first three seasons about the 1980s' syndicated women's professional wrestling circuit—the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (GLOW). Alison Brie shines as Ruth "Zoya the Destroya" Wilder but it's Betty Gilpin's Debbie "Liberty Belle" Eagan that has captured the hearts of critics and the public alike, even landing an oustanding supporting actress in a comedy series nomination at the 2019 and 2020 Emmy awards.
Photograph: Sam Taylor
14. Sex Education
This British dramedy was recently renewed for a third season and has likely been Netflix's most surprising win. Focusing on a socially awkward teenager and his sex therapist mother (a stellar Gillian Anderson), the series has been praised for its subtle sense of humor both commercially and critically. Not often does British humor so effortlessly translate to American laughs, but Sex Education has done just that oh-so-smoothly.
As can be expected with TV dramas, this serial thriller lets you know right away that, obviously, nothing is as it seems. But this particular family and the particular secrets they protect are gripping and layered and will draw viewers in as they tear relationships and familial trust apart.
As any original fan of the series will likely agree with, although season one was above-average good, the second and final one unfortunately fell short. Ben Mendelsohn's performance as the black sheep of the family still resonates, though.
Photograph: Courtesy Juan Pablo Gutierrez/Netflix
There’s no business like the blow business for the infamous Medellin drug cartel kingpin Pablo Escobar, and the DEA agent tasked with his takedown. Narcos looks into the gritty world of the drug trade and how one man stacked his pieces just to have it all torn down. The show is juicy and oddly historically relevant in equal measure.
Photograph: Beth Dubber/Netflix
The 2019 miniseries is based on the 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning article An Unbelievable Story of Rape, written by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong and conjunctively published by ProPublica and The Marshall Project. The cast is phenomenal both in name and performance—Toni Collette, Merritt Wever and Kaitlyn Dever in primis—but it is the poignancy of the adaptation that helped the series earn superb reviews.
Photograph: Saeed Adyani/Netflix
18. Grace and Frankie
Given constant Hollywood chatter about the difficulty that older actresses face when looking for suitable roles, Grace and Frankie is a truly refreshing show that makes full use of Jane Fonda's and Lily Tomlin's comedic chops. Add to that Sam Waterston and Martin Sheen as supporting actors and you've got yourself a sure success. Back in 2019, a seventh final season was announced, making this the longest-running Netflix original series in history. That would be 94 episodes in total.
Photograph: Beth Dubber/Netflix
19. 13 Reasons Why
13 Reasons Why was marred in controversy, and we understand why. The show was extremely graphic, at times even seemingly glorifying teen depression and suicide. The second season even includes a warning video at the beginning of each episode. That being said, there was just something about the show that truly hit home, especially during the first season, which was intended as a limited series. The success of the ladder propelled the production of three following ones. Beware: this is a very sad story.
Photograph: Atsushi Nishijima/Netflix
20. When They See Us
This Ava DuVernay miniseries about the 1989 Central Park jogger case was much anticipated and very well received, earning Jharrel Jerome, one of the many cast members, an Emmy for his work. The series tells the true story of the five suspects falsely accused of assaulting and raping a woman in Central Park. The show was accompanied by a special, Oprah Winfrey Presents When They See Us Now, that also drew a lot of attention.
Photograph: Beth Dubber/Netflix
Sam Gardner (Keir Gilchrist) is an 18-year-old with autism spectrum disorder living in Connecticut. Atypical is his show. Although criticized in season one for its lack of autistic actors, the second and third seasons were well received by critics, an opinion matched by the show's rising popularity.
Photograph: JoJo Whilden/Netflix
22. The OA
The OA is one of those rare shows that land on the scene without notice, are anchored by relatively unknown actors, yet unexpectedly make a mark on television history and society in general. Unfortunately, after an absolutely incredible first season—probably one of the best that Netflix has ever aired—the second one turned out to be the exact opposite. The negative reviews are likely what prompted the network to cancel the show after season two, although originally announcing The OA would wrap up after five.
Photograph: Patrick Wymore/Netflix
Although failing when attempting to honestly depict modern love, Easy should still be considered part of Netflix's golden canon. A total of three seasons and 25 half-hour episodes, the anthology series boasts some pretty swanky cast members, including Orlando Bloom, Malin Akerman, Aubrey Plaza and Dave Franco. Given its format, you don't necessarily need to watch the episodes in order—although we suggest you do.
24. American Vandal
American Vandal deserves a spot on this list for many reasons. Chiefly, its sheer originality. The mockumentary is basically a parody of the true crime documentaries that still seem to capture the world's attention—we're talking Serial, Abducted in Plain Sight and more. Keep national trends in mind while watching.
Photograph: Joe Lederer/Netflix
25. A Series of Unfortunate Events
The always wonderful Neil Patrick Harris takes us inside the eponymous children's novel series written by Lemony Snicket (yes, that's a pen name). All 13 books are adapted across the three seasons that make up the series, which wrapped up in 2019.
Photograph: Axel Decis
26. The Spy
Showing off Sacha Baron Cohen's dramatic chops fresh off his much talked about Showtime political satire Who Is America?, The Spy tells the story of Eli Cohen, Israel's top Mossad Spy in the years preceding the Six-Day War in 1967. The gut-wrenching true tale is a piece of history that, ironically, sounds like fiction.
Photograph: Anika Molnar/Netflix
Unorthodox is both hard and easy to watch. Heavy material depicted in digestible bits (4 episodes, each just under an hour), the story takes you inside the Hasidic community that calls Williamsburg, Brooklyn home. Loosely based on Deborah Feldman's 2012 autobiography (Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots), this is the first Netflix series almost exclusively shot in Yiddish.
Photograph: Lara Solanki/Netflix
28. Dear White People
Based on the eponymous 2014 film, the series centers on several African American college students at Ivy League school Winchester. Each 30-minute episode zooms into a single character's story, poignantly touching upon race relations and issues. The fourth and final season of the show is set to premiere some time this year.
Photograph: Saeed Adyani/Netflix
This one's not for those with a weak stomach. Ratched is Ryan Murphy's take on Ken Kesey's 1962 novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, specifically focusing on the origin story of nurse Mildred Ratched. Murphy's usual cast of actors stars in the show, with Sarah Paulson taking on the title role. Netflix green-lighted the series with a two season order, the first one of which premiered this past September. Although the acting is magnificent and the storyline as intricate as any true Murphy production, the thriller is pretty graphic, so beware.
30. Luke Cage
The Marvel show about an unassuming vigilante (Mike Colter) makes some serious statements about racism, and it’s so buzzy it crashed Netflix for more than two hours with its debut. It can be slow-moving, but those impressive fight scenes will sneak up on you as Cage nonchalantly saunters into battle on the streets of Harlem (which actually look like real Harlem), with only a car door as a weapon.
Photograph: Patrick Harbron/Netflix
Mindhunter started off greatly: the storyline, based on the book Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit, was gripping, the critics loved it, it was executive produced by the likes of David Fincher and Charlize Theron, and it gave us an out-of-the-ordinary performance by Jonathan Groff (always great, the actor clearly tapped into his dramatic persona when taking this on). Although the second season still focused on the way serial killers see the world, it fell flat when compared to the debut episodes. In January of 2020, Netflix announced the show would be on an "indefinite hold."
Photograph: Courtesy Patrick Harbron/Netflix
The dark drama let Netflix redeem Daredevil from the uneven 2003 Ben Affleck film. Charlie Cox steps into the role of the blind crime fighter who takes on the legal system by day and the criminals who hide in the shadows by night.
Photograph: Courtesy Suzanne Hanover/Netflix
Look, dating is hard these days, and Love doesn’t let it off easy. Mickey and Gus are friends and also not so much friends, and also maybe more than friends? The two deal with their past relationships, hang-ups about love and feelings about it all with dry humor and the will to just make it out alive. Yep, we’ve been there.
Photograph: Kailey Schwerman/Netflix
34. The Baby-Sitters Club
Based on the beloved eponymous children's novel series by Ann M. Martin, the adorable show focuses on five middle-school girls who live in Connecticut and—duh—start a babysitting business. The delightful show is sure to tug at your heartstrings.
Photograph: Vince Valitutti/Netflix
Australian actor, comedian and writer Chris Lilley is a genius. The characters he's created throughout the years—Mr. G: a true standout in comedy—are remarkably, deeply and undoubtedly funny. That being said, Lunatics falls a bit short. The personalities illustrated are at-times stale and a tad too creatively flamboyant to attract the sorts of laughs that Jonah and Ja'mie, two memorable characters from his previous shows, still deserve.
Courtesy of Netflix
36. The Get Down
A musical drama created by Baz Luhrmann will always get our attention, but we must admit that The Get Down wasn't as good as we hoped it would be. Cancelled after a single short season (five additional episodes were released following its wrapping to properly conclude the story), the series is set in New York's 1970s Bronx and tracks the rise of disco and hip-hop music.
Photograph: Saeed Adyani/Netflix
37. Dead to Me
This Liz Feldman tragicomedy could have been better: the story becomes at times convoluted and its moral even moreso. Yet, the work of Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini as two grieving women who meet during therapy was certainly above average, reminding audiences why it is we've loved the two of them for decades already.
Photograph: David Lee/Netflix
38. She's Gotta Have It
Spike Lee takes his 1986 eponymous film and turns it into a show for Netflix, directing the production himself. The great DeWanda Rise plays Nola Darling, whose life in Brooklyn takes center stage throughout each episode. Dissecting the experiences of a young Black woman in New York, the series—which was cancelled after two seasons—was certainly undersung.