Skip to main content

The Best DC Comics superhero live-action shows ever, ranked from best to worst

From The Adventures of Superman in 1952 to Superman & Lois in 2024, we're covering every TV show based on a DC Comic

Image credit: Warner Bros.

Popverse's top stories of the day

It may shock you to learn this, but 2027 will mark 75 years of TV based on DC Comics. Over that three-quarters of a century, DC characters have been all over the airwaves and streaming services, almost as much in live-action as they have been in animation. To help guide you through that enormous history, Popverse has thrown together a ranking of DC's best live-action TV shows, from worst to best - check it out below.

42. Superboy (1988)

Image credit: Warner Bros.

The worst show on this list is more interesting for what happened off-screen than on. The titular role was recast in season 2, Superboy is a government agent, and Lex Luthor vows to destroy Superboy because of his own hair loss, like in the Silver Age.

You'd think that would make for a more engaging show, but I can assure you, it does not.

41. Gotham Knights (2023)

Image credit: Warner Bros.

Gotham Knights wanted to be a teen drama and a superhero show, but lacked the fun of either. Plus, it starred an all-new adopted child of Bruce Wayne, rather than the baker's dozen of options from the comics.

40. Human Target (1992)

Image credit: ABC

Christopher Chance is an awesome DC Comics creation, as a later entry on this list and the Tom King/Greg Smallwood comic proves. This adaptation of his adventures, though, misses the mark.

39. Swamp Thing (1990)

Image credit: USA Network

Did you know there was a live-action Swamp Thing show in the 1990s? Well neither did the person who was supposed to raise the money for it, apparently. Just look at that costume.

38. Birds of Prey (2002)

Image credit: Warner Bros.

Batman's daughter up against a superpowered criminal underworld is cool as hell as an idea, but the execution of this show never lived up to its potential. For example, they almost had Twin Peaks's Sherilyn Fenn as Harley Quinn, but ended up losing her in the cast.

Talk about missed opportunity.

37. DMZ (2022)

Image credit: DMZ

Maybe it's because the show only lasted for four episodes, but the comic that inspired it is much, much more worthwhile than this series. You won't get through it as fast, but the journey will be more fulfilling.

36. The Secrets of Isis (1975)

Image credit: CBS

Props to this show for being the first female-lead superhero series on television (yes, even before the entry you're thinking of which is further on down this list). Even still, the show feels like an attempt to cash on its predecessor, which is right below.

35. Shazam! (1974)

Image credit: CBS

The character formerly known as Captain Marvel is a fascinating entry into the annals of comic book history, and fans of his Golden Age adventures might appreciate this sparkly if extremely tame TV adaptation. Just don't expect it to ever break its own formula.

34. Naomi (2022)

Image credit: Warner Bros.

A show featuring the more obscure pockets of the DC universe is, on paper, a good idea - Thanagar, for example, plays a role in this story. But Naomi falls into some "chosen one"/origin story tropes pretty early on, and unfortunatley, can't climb out of them.

33. Powerless (2017)

Image credit: NBC

Sadly, the "comedy" part of this superhero worklplace comedy didn't quite come together, though it's still good for a chuckle or two. Not as many as some other funny-forward entries on this list, but maybe worth Googling a "Best Of" video?

32. Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993)

Image credit: ABC

Its Dean Cain-ness notwithstanding, Terry Hatcher makes a pretty great Lois Lane, and Lane Smith is a pitch-perfect Perry White. But for a show about the most famous couple in comics history (whose names are literally the title), there sure is a lot of will-they-won't-they going on here.

31. Pennyworth (2019)

Image credit: Epix

This is a Batmanless Batman show that sticks to its guns on that front, and because of that, I respect it. That said, what they did with V for Vendetta was ill-advised at best, and I refuse to use the "Origin of Batman's Butler" subtitle with anything less than disdain.

30. Arrow (2012)

Image credit: Warner Bros.

The first season of Arrow is, I'd argue, essential to superhero TV. It was smart, well-shot, and opened the door to the modern era of DC TV. And then, the show started getting a little (a lot) of the rails, and the last few seasons are borderline unwatchable.

29. Batwoman (2019)

Image credit: Warner Bros.

Another show that started off strong and got a little muddled toward the end, Batwoman still did some neat things with Gotham City, namely making it more than just a Batrogues playground.

28. Smallville (2001)

Image credit: Warner Bros.

A precursor to The CW's many DC shows, Smallville absolutely works as a piece of nostalgia. It is as 2000s a TV show as they come, but does that excuse all the half-hearted attempts to turn it into a Justice League show at the end?

Unfortunately, no.

27. Constantine (2014)

Image credit: Warner Bros.

Argh, I almost hate to put this so far down the list because it is so apparent how much Matt Ryan likes playing Constantine! But the first season fo this show feels like all set-up, and since it's the only chapter we got (in live-action, anyway), the opportunity for greatness was lost.

26. Adventures of Superman (1952)

Image credit: Warner Bros.

This is one of those moments where you have to acknowledge what a piece of art was for its time. Imagine being a kid in the 1950s, and there's a Superman, a real Superman, ripped straight from your favorite comics on TV. Though there are better live-action Superman shows on this list, let's salute the one that started it all.

25. The Flash (1990)

Image credit: CBS

Leaning into the Tim Burton brand of comic adaptations was this first attempt at a live-action Flash show, as fans of the more recent series know thanks to its lead in John Wesley Shipp, AKA The CW's Jay Garrick. Featuring some trippy visuals and as close as we ever got to a live-action Mark Hamill Joker, this show is at least pretty fun, and there's not much of it to get through.

24. Gotham (2014)

Image credit: Fox

Though it eventually devolved into a Batman-lite show, there was a lot about Gotham that really worked. The Penguin and Riddler, of course, but also a really menacing, gothic cityscape that didn't mind leaning into comic book imagery. If only it had finished what it had started and not solely relied on its own Batmanness, this show could've ranked even higher.

23. Titans (2018)

Image credit: Max

When that first "Fuck Batman" trailer debuted for Titans, we all laughed. But then the show aired and... well, we were all still laughing. But kind of having fun with it? Eh, chalk it up to guilty pleasure.

22. Y: The Last Man (2021)

Image credit: FX

The ten episodes that make up the only season of Y: The Last Man have some really great moments. But what makes the show fall short of its Vertigo comic inspiration is that they feel a little too run-of-the-mill in the field of post-apocalyptic fiction. That's a heavily saturated field, to be fair, but Y: The Last Man, for all its potential, doesn't break the mold enough.

21. Wonder Woman (1975)

Image credit: ABC

Speaking of breaking molds - it's Wonder Woman! There's so much to love about this show: Lynda Carter, spinny costume changes, and a willingness to treat the magic/scifi of comics books seriously. Still, it's a pretty dated show with a tendency to repeat plots, but honestly? You should still check it out.

20. Krypton (2018)

Image credit: Syfy

We've all seen attempts at Batmanless Batman shows, but what about a Supermanless Superman show? Krypton managed to do this pretty well, and even introduced a live-action Lobo to the TV-watching world. But the shadow of one of DC's flagship characters grew too long, and you couldn't help but hope the planet would just blow up already to get to him.

19. Bodies (2023)

Image credit: Netflix

Did you know Netflix's recent hit crime/scifi thriller was based on a Vertigo comic? Don't worry, most people didn't. But that didn't mean the show wasn't a solid mystery with some genuinely fresh genre elements, and I'd recommend it to people whose tastes trend that way.

18. Superman & Lois (2021)

Image credit: Warner Bros.

Ok gang, we're finally getting to the "mostly good" section on this list, starting with what I'd argue is the best live-action Superman adaptation ever to be on TV. This show balances superheroics and family drama so well, and its decision to start with Clark and Lois as not just married, but parents, was a stroke of genius.

17. Human Target (2010)

Image credit: ABC

I told you Christopher Chance can be cool! Cool enough to carry two short but scrappy seasons of a thoroughly watchable action thriller. I doubt we'd ever get calls for a reboot thanks to this show's relative obscurity, but I'd watch it if there was one.

16. Batman (1966)

Image credit: ABC

You know, people write a lot these days about how A-listers like Christian Bale and Robert Pattinson brought seriousness to the role of Bruce Wayne. But Adam West never once acted anything but deadly serious, thin tights and shark-repellant Batspray be damned. Now THAT is acting.

15. The Flash (2014)

Image credit: Warner Bros.

Ok, stick with me for a moment - it seems, at first, like the goal of The CW was to play with superhero action figures in a soap opera sandbox. It was The Flash that truly established the Arrowverse as superheroics-first, probably because its main character has such a visually exciting power. For that, and for Grant Gustin's portrayal of Barry Allan, this show is a winner.

14. iZombie (2015)

Image credit: Warner Bros.

I am not sure why Hollywood looks at comics and says "this should be a crime procedural," but in the case of iZombie, it makes all the sense in the world. A great adaptation of a great crime comic, iZombie is what all good zombie television should be. That is, gross.

13. The Sandman (2022)

Image credit: Netflix

Yes, I know you thought this would be higher - it's a prestige genre series with Neil Gaiman's blessing and involvement - but the later half of the first season felt a little contrived and, I hate to say it, Marvel-esque? At least Whedon-esque in what it did with Lucifer's character.

But that first half was prime TV. What they did with the Boyd Holbrook's Corinthian was so satisfying, and I know you were just as excited as I was when you learned who was playing Gilbert. Overall, I'm still VERY excited for the second season.

12. Lucifer (2016)

Image credit: Netflix

So, as a fan of Mike Carey's phenomenal Lucifer Vertigo comic, I was reticent to put an adaptation that throws away so much of the source material as high as this. But, look, Lucifer is a blast - there's a reason so many fans rose up to save it after its first cancellation. Tom Ellis's role as Devil-turned-Sherlock is just really fun to watch, and I'm here for a mask-wearing live-action Mazikeen.

11. Preacher (2016)

Image credit: FX

High-octane, vulgar, and as blasphemous as can be. The fact that both the Preacher show and comic book fit this description perfectly speaks to its success as an adaptation.

10. Supergirl (2015)

Image credit: Warner Bros.

Now we're getting to the really good CW stuff. Of all those CW shows, it's Supergirl with the most fan ships, and I think that says more about how much audiences love these characters than I could here on this list.

9. Black Lightning (2018)

Image credit: Warner Bros.

Definitely not the first "superhero family" show and certainly not the last, Black Lightning manages to also work in the trope of a past-his-prime hero in Jefferson Pierce that really drives home the generational aspect of the show. Though the visual effects and costuming leave something to be desired, Black Lightning stands pretty high on the Arrowverse platform, and as its own comic book show.

8. Legends of Tomorrow (2016)

Image credit: Warner Bros.

Fight me, but Legends of Tomorrow is the best thing that The CW's Arrowverse ever gave us. It's DC's Star Trek and also DC's Doctor Who, with a cast of characters lovable enough to also kind of have been DC's BUffy the Vampire Slayer. Blend all that together and let the characters change costmes every time they go to a different time period, and you've got a recipe for great TV.

7. Sweet Tooth (2021)

Image credit: Netflix

This show doesn't feel like other post-apocalyptic television (even the stuff on this list), and for that reason, I've ranked it fairly high. Not only are the visuals of the Hybrids cool, but this shows us how a child would view a post-apocalyptic landscape. Is that deeply sad? Of course, but there's also a heavy beauty to it.

6. Swamp Thing (2019)

Image credit: Max

I was already excited for Swamp Thing when I heard that Derek Mears (the modern Jason Vorhees) was cast as Guardian of the Green. Then I watched it and... he was perfect? I mean, everyone was, but that guy did heartbreak in a big rubber suit just abou as well as Doug Jones, and that's saying something. I dearly, dearly wish this show would come back, but since there are plans for a Swamp Thing movie, I doubt that will happen.

But I want to see more Floronic Man dammit!

5. Dead Boy Detectives (2024)

Image credit: Netflix

Dead Boy Detectives is better than Sandman? I know, it's a hot take, but as I mentioned in my rating for Sandman, that show lacked a certain consistency that Dead Boy Detectives does not. Weaving magic and mystery together in a way that feels distinctly like a Neil Gaiman tribute to Terry Pratchett doesn't hurt either.

4. Stargirl (2020)

Image credit: Warner Bros.

"But Grant," you say, "Didn't you say that Legends of Tomorrow was the best thing The CW ever gave us?" I did, but remember, Stargirl didn't come from The CW. It was a DC Universe project (remember DC Universe?), like three others in the Top 10 of this list. Of all those, it was the most CW-like, which is probably why the network picked it up. And of everything that was on The CW, this show handled legacy superheroing the best.

3. Peacemaker (2022)

Image credit: Warner Bros.

James Gunn does heart and humor in comic book storylines like nobody else in Hollywood, so we knew before Peacemaker even aired that this one was going to be good. Then, John Cena absolutely floored us with his portrayal of a broken mand stuck in a cycle of violence that was still darkly hilarious, a welomce doorway between the old and new regimes of DC adadptations.

2. Doom Patrol (2019)

Image credit: Warner Bros.

Comics, I will forever believe, are for the weirdo in us all, and no comic adaptation knows that better than Doom Patrol. Gone are the catsuited babes and star-spangled hunks of your average superhero fare - this is a show of the freaks, by the freaks, and for the freaks. And that would make it almost the best comic adaptation ever to grace TV, if it wasn't for...

1. Watchmen (2019)

Image credit: Warner Bros.

Sure, this is a little unfair - this show was a follow-up to probably the bets superhero story ever written, of course it's going to be great. But rather than just adapt, Watchmen builds on the original story, giving us Black, Vietnamese, and female perspectives that Watchmen the comic lacked. Deeply relevant to our current US history, Watchmen was also just plain gorgeous, and cast to absolute perfection especially in the cases of Jeremy Irons and Regina King.

Adapting a masterpiece is one thing - making a new one is another.

It's an exciting time to be a DC fan right now - but then again, when isn't it? get your Geek Knight on with Popverse as we tell you exactly how to watch through the Arrowverse, or if movies are more your jam, how to view the entire cinematic catalogue of the DCEU. Then, see if your opinions line up with ours as we rank every DC Comics movie ever, and perhaps more importantly, give you our list of the best DC Comics ever created.

Featured events