In general, I hold that animated series are the best onscreen medium for comic book superhero storytelling. The medium allows virtually anything to happen, and it translates near perfectly from comic to screen. However, there are some superb live-action series that take the comic material and expound on the profound themes in a world that are often meant to reflect our own more directly. But it’s also often those live-action series that embrace the absurdities of the comic medium and balance that with the serious themes that do best on tv. So here I’ve compiled a list of 10 favorite live-action comic-based series that are currently running or have come out recently that you should check out!
Supergirl does an overall fantastic job of translating comic elements to a live-action setting in this comic-based series. Kara Danvers (Melissa Benoist), A.K.A. Kara Zor-El, starts as a mid-20s Kryptonian living on Earth who is spurred to become a hero like her famous cousin once her adopted sister Alex (Chyler Leigh) needs saving. When Lena Luthor (Katie McGrath) enters her life, Kara’s double-life becomes even more complicated as she becomes best friends with the genius Lena. With the help of James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks) and Winn Schott (Jeremy Jordan), she starts leading a double life as Supergirl, eventually joined by her sister, Martian Manhunter (David Harewood), Kelly Olsen (Azie Tesfai), Nia Nal (Nicole Maines), and others. Supergirl isn’t always on point, sometimes biting off more than it can chew when it comes to socio-politics (especially in its short-sighted fourth season), but when it is focused on its characters and heart, it shines brightest. With it concluding this year on its sixth season, it leaves behind a noble legacy for others to follow.
You can watch Supergirl streaming on the CW or Netflix.
9. The Boys
We love superheroes, but what if our love of superheroes goes too far? What if wealthy corporations and the corrupt state use superhero worship as a way to subdue the hapless populace? Eric Kripke’s The Boys, based on the comic of the same name by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, shows this dystopian world in which a tyrannical team of superheroes, called “The Seven,” terrorize the populace. In contrast, a vigilante group called “The Boys,” led by Billy Butcher (Karl Urban), fights them. The Boys is a subversive, hilarious, and violent look at the pitfalls of superhero worship, compelling its hero-loving audience to be more critical of whom they choose to admire. As much as we love heroes, it may be good to have other live-action series like this to help keep ourselves in check.
You can stream The Boys exclusively on Amazon Prime.
While acknowledging the behind-the-scenes controversies that spurred the show to oust its first season lead, Ruby Rose, Batwoman in Season 2, underwent a stunning change. Now with a Black woman, Ryan Wilder (Javicia Leslie), stepping into the mask and making the mantle her own, the show doesn’t just leave it at that. It consciously tackles the implications of a Black woman taking the Batwoman mantle while still letting Ryan be a fully developed character in other ways. It delved more directly and explicitly into social justice issues, such as police brutality in its second season. It deftly incorporated these themes into the superhero narrative, making it clear that these stories are at their best when they’re challenging the system. With a fantastic and diverse supporting cast including Camrus Johnson, Nicole Kang, Meagan Tandy, and Rachel Skarsten, Batwoman is a constantly exciting watch that’ll make you invested in its character dynamics.
You can watch Batwoman streaming on the CW and HBO Max.
Daredevil stands out as one of the all-time best comic book adaptations, taking Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) and his supporting cast and villains into the MCU but letting them stand apart in their home on Netflix. You won’t hear much about the Avengers or other God-like heroes on this show. Instead, you have a genuinely grounded story about a man equipped only with his martial arts skills and heightened senses (due to his blindness) to rid his neighborhood of the organized crime that plagues it. All the while dealing with the same types of villains at his day job as an attorney. Matt Murdock is constantly conflicted about his heroic journey, always doubting he’s doing the right thing even though he clearly is. He’s a relatable hero, leading legions of fans online to demand his return to the MCU. I, for one, think it’s very likely he’ll reappear, and since he is such a core component of Marvel, I’d wager to say he deserves it.
You can watch all of Daredevil streaming on Netflix.
A dysfunctional and separated adopted family of superheroes must come back together after their patriarch has passed away. It turns into a wild adventure that none of them anticipated, involving time travel. And lots of it. Based on the Dark Horse Comics series by Gerard Way, this Netflix original presents audiences with a supernatural family drama that happens to feature superheroes. With stirring performances from a cast that includes Elliot Page, David Castañeda, Emmy Raver-Lampman, and Mary J. Blige, The Umbrella Academy is a funny, charming, and dramatic live-action series that will leave you itching for more.
You can watch The Umbrella Academy streaming exclusively on Netflix.
WandaVision is a deep exploration into one woman’s life of trauma and loss and how that ultimately caused her to create a new reality where everything was as perfect as an American sitcom. What more can be said about this uniquely riveting series? Taking inspiration from Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision’s (Paul Bettany) longtime passionate and troubled comic relationship, WandaVision is a trippy, emotional, relatable, and stunning new look at the superpowered mythos. With great performances by Teyonnah Parris as Monica Rambeau and Kathryn Hahn as Agatha Harkness, it’s a unique watch. At least until the end, where it capitulates itself into a typical MCU CGI fest and does a disservice to Monica as a character. Plus, even though Olsen gives an excellent performance, the optics of a white woman playing a traditionally Romani Jewish role aren’t ideal. Despite this, the single-season WandaVision makes for an emotionally riveting and entertaining watch that skillfully translates its comic elements to the screen.
You can watch WandaVision streaming on Disney+.
Not only was Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal of Loki so popular that it literally brought him back to life in the films, but it got him his own Disney+ series that was released to near-universal acclaim. Covering topics such as free will, destiny, time variation, self-love, and so much more, Loki was able to cover a lot within the space of its six-episode season. And it did it well with Hiddleston at the helm, bolstered by a great supporting cast including Sophia Di Martino, Owen Wilson, Wunmi Mosaku, and Gugu Mbathu-Raw. Even though, like with Wandavision, there was a capitulation to tying this seemingly singular story to the continuity of the MCU, even that was done rather impressively with the introduction of acting maestro Jonathan Majors in a potentially villainous role. Loki Season 1 tackles so much and does it deftly, and I can’t wait for Season 2.
You can watch Loki streaming on Disney+.
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow truly has it all and is the best of the CW DCTV offerings. After an admittedly less than stellar first season, the show found its legs with a soft reboot in its Season 2 opener, delivering a constant barrage of uplifting, zany, emotional, dramatic, action-packed, and overall exciting stories throughout human history with these misfit time-travelers. It’s also one of the most diverse ensembles on superhero television, now having Iranian, Latina, Black, and queer characters as part of the main cast. It’s a comic book series that doesn’t directly adapt a single run but incorporates and goes beyond anything you can imagine. With magic, aliens, robots, action, drama, and loads of comedy, Legends does it all, and there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
You can watch DC’s Legends of Tomorrow streaming on the CW and Netflix.
Watchmen is unique for not being a direct adaptation of the famous Alan Moore comic or related in any way to the 2009 film. Instead, it’s a single-season continuation of the comic storyline, exploring what exactly happened in the aftermath and how this alternate history earth is doing after the infamous 1985 conflict between Rorschach and Mr. Manhattan and the fake attack made by Ozymandias (Jeremy Irons). Now, 34 years later, in an alternate history 2019, the once outlawed vigilantes are now part of the police system, by way of the law requiring police to be masked to protect their identities, including one Angela Abar (Regina King), AKA Sister Night. What follows in this story is an in-depth exploration of the US’s history of white supremacy, police violence, systemic racism, power corruption, along with a central love story. Watchmen is a singular and stunning story that’ll never leave your mind.
You can watch Watchmen on HBO and streaming on HBO Max.
1. Doom Patrol
Doom Patrol has and does it all. This series, about a dysfunctional set of misfits dealing with and unpacking their various forms of trauma while facing the wackiest villainous threats, is mesmerizing, exciting, emotional, heartfelt, hilarious, action-packed, and has more twists and turns than you can count. But it effortlessly never feels like too much as it joyfully embraces its source material. Starring the extraordinary talents of Diane Guerrero, Joivan Wade, Matt Bomer, April Bowlby, and the internet’s favorite Brendan Fraser, Doom Patrol has something for all fans of genres, incorporating, as Legends does, sci-fi, magic, time-travel, and so much more. And throughout it all, there’s deeply stunning humanity at its core.
You can watch Doom Patrol streaming on HBO Max.