Avid Lover of dark fantasy television. If it goes bump in the night, I watch it!
We live in the golden age of television. With streaming services like Netflix, Amazon TV and the nonstop production of the dark and gritty television it can be a bit difficult to pick out the great Gothic television that has gone the distance, from the smaller failed projects.
Let’s face it; there are few things more important to TV lovers than what is up next on their Netflix queue. These are my top 10 pics for Gothic fantasy dramas every TV lover should watch.
10: The Vampire Diaries
The Vampire Diaries first aired on the CW in 2009 and was surprisingly a massive success. The series was picked up for its eighth and final season despite its declining ratings and launched two successful spinoffs.
It centers on a love triangle between Elena Gilbert, played by Nina Dobrev, and a pair of 100 and something-year-old vampire brothers. Based on a popular series of books by the same name, written by L. J. Smith, the show has a well thought out and interesting mythology that revolves around the supernatural relationships between vampires, werewolves and witches.
Over the years, the series evolved into a far more mature show than the teeny bopper and oh so predictable Romeo and Juliet-esque romance that it began with. By the end of the series, every major character has dated or slept with every other major character, which is why the show doesn’t rate a higher spot on my list.
Despite the gag-worthy over-romanticized plot, the show surprisingly delivers with its clever plot twists and end of season cliffhangers that will keep you coming back for more. If nothing else, fans of fantasy will get a kick out of how the show continually re-envisions different types of witches and magic to stoke the imagination.
9: Teen Wolf
While this series is only available to Netflix users who sign up for their DVD service, it is, in my opinion, one of the better shows to come out in a decade.
It first aired on MTV in 2011 as the network’s attempt at creating quality fantasy television for its primarily teenage viewers and is loosely based on a 1985 movie by the same name. Teen Wolf is about Scott McCall, played by Tyler Posey, a high school lacrosse player with asthma who is bitten by a werewolf and goes from total loser to star of his team overnight.
Coupled with his dorky sidekick Stiles, played by Dylan O’Brien, the show is a hilarious underdog story about brotherhood and family, despite the people who keep dying around them. Funny moments aside, the series is incredibly dark. Leading and supporting characters die or regularly leave when in reality it’s just that the cast of phenomenal young actors keep getting offered movie deals and contracts for other shows.
What makes the show interesting is Jeff Davis’s twist on obscure monsters from cultures all over the world. Each season features something that goes bump in the night, which seems familiar to lovers of dark fantasy, but by the end of the season a secondary and even more obscure mythological evil is always revealed, and they are never quite what you expect them to be.
Despite the brilliant screenwriting and mythological bends, the show was about a group of teenagers who after six seasons were still in high school and somehow passing their classes even though their classmates and teachers kept getting murdered. This means lots of teenage melodrama and over the top romantic nonsense which lands the series in my number nine spot.
8: Lost Girl
Placing the 2010 Canadian Showcase series in the number eight slot will probably result in a lot of hate mail, but let me explain before you x out of this tab.
The series is about Bo, played by the classically beautiful Anna Silk, an orphaned girl who discovers she is actually a soul-eating succubus when she knocks boots with her high school sweetheart… naturally. She spends the next several years on the run… as a lost girl, before her kind discovers her and is taught how not to kill the people she sleeps with.
Apparently she is part of an underground culture called the Fae, which is the genus of everything that has ever gone bump in the night. Just as humans cats and dogs are all mammals everything that feeds on people is Fae. The series has a Sci-Fi element to it that the writers desperately want you to believe in but falls apart once it starts dealing with a multitude of afterlives.
Lost Girl has its hilarious moments, which in the beginning where scattered so the viewer could take its central plot seriously, but by the end of its fifth and final season, the humor is overdone, and the entire story just gets really corny and repetitive.
One of the better social commentaries in the series is that Bo, being a creature that feeds on sexual energy, is naturally bisexual and issues of gender identity are never brought up.
It's clear the writers are trying to present a feministic society were sexual or gender identity is no longer a concern or a topic even worth mentioning, but the message proves disappointing due to its entire cast of male characters either dying or being left romantically destitute by the series finale.
The show focuses on female empowerment so much, that by the end, men are the devil… literally.
The only reason this series doesn’t get knocked down a few pegs on my list is because despite the over girlfriend moments, it stays true to its more mature audience and features unique and quirky supernatural team-ups, such as werewolf and siren detectives or succubus and valkyrie frenemies, which prove to be very entertaining and creative.
Charmed originally aired on the now long forgotten WB in October of 1998 and aired for eight seasons.
The series is about a trio of sisters who develop magical powers after their grandmother dies. They discover they are members of the most powerful coven of witches in the world tasked with insignificant matters, such as protecting all of humanity from the never-ending the onslaught of demons hell-bent on killing the sisters and stealing their powers.
What makes Charmed such a great show is that when you strip away the magic, demons, and white lighters, it’s really a show about three women trying to get by in the modern world… with magic, demons and white lighters to make the series interesting.
Like most great TV shows, it’s the relationship between the sisters and the individual character arcs that drive the series forward without ever having to get too dark to entertain.
(2019 update: I have given the 2018 Charmed Reboot a chance. 10 episodes in and it really really sucks. Not worth anyone's time)
Before he was a special agent with the FBI on Bones, David Boreanaz played the tortured vampire with a soul on Buffy the Vampire Slayer for three seasons before Joss Whedon, and his endless bag of genius decided to make Angel the star of his spin off series, which ran for five seasons on the WB.
While the story of the tortured and misunderstood vampire may seem like a cliché in our post-Twilight world, when it first aired in 1999, tortured vampires still made for excellent television.
Angel is exactly what you would expect from Whedon. The plot is great, the characters are fantastic, and the writing is phenomenal. I guarantee fans of the Buffyverse will be more than satisfied with this series and newcomers will enjoy the well-written stories.
5: The Originals
The number five show may be another spin-off, but it massively improves the universe of its origin series, The Vampire Diaries.
The show, which to my dismay concluded after five seasons, centered on the Mikaelsons, the original family of vampires cursed/ blessed with near perfect immortality by their witch mother more than 2,000 years ago.
The series is infinitely more interesting than the Vampire Diaries due to its adult themes from the very beginning. What also sets it apart is its main character Niklaus, played by Joseph Morgan, who is a poster boy for what happens when your mother hugs you too much… you become a psychotic serial killer of course.
But all jokes aside, he is a far richer character than any of the two-dimensional twits on The Vampire Diaries. The dysfunctional relationship between the immortal siblings and those they consider to be members of their extended family has an almost of Game of Thrones feeling to it complete with the passing of metaphorical crowns from one group to another as the original family tries to maintain their grip on New Orleans.
(2019 Update: I will be writing a review for Legacies, The Originals' spin-off series soon)
4: True Blood
If I had to sum up True Blood in one word, it would be 'sexy.'
The HBO series ran for seven seasons, which began in 2008, and is based on The Southern Vampire Mysteries series of novels by Charlaine Harris.
The series follows Sookie Stackhouse, played by Anna Paquin, a small town waitress in Louisiana who can read people’s minds. Set in a world where vampires have come out of coffin, the gorgeous yet perpetually lonely girl meets a vampire for the first time and learns they are immune to her telepathy, so naturally she becomes his love slave... lolz
Although a bit over the top, True Blood is nonstop sex, blood, and death with equal parts gore and nudity. It’s definitely the least kid-friendly option on this list, which is partially what makes it one of the best dark fantasy shows of all time. Unfortunately, True Blood is only available through Netflix's DVD service, but is totally worth it.
3: Penny Dreadful
If I were to measure the success of a television show based on the number of seasons it aired, Penny Dreadful would be at the bottom of this list, but during its three seasons on Showtime the 2014 series blew audiences away with its style, action, intrigue, and sex appeal.
The British-American series follows yet another heroine, Vanessa Ives played by the incredibly talented Eva Green, who begins the series as a medium tortured by visions of demons her entire life and the cadre of would-be lovers and surrogate fathers who surround her.
Almost every character is inspired by monsters from Victorian Gothic novels, such as Dracula, Dorian Grey, Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll, and blends them all together League of Extraordinary Gentlemen-style.
The series shocks its audience when it finally reveals what character Ms. Ive’s is based on in its series finale.
Penny Dreadful delivers as an homage to the classic monsters of the Victorian era and stays true to the core of the literature portraying each of its horrors as tragic creatures burdened by their own existence and begs the question as to what makes a person and at what point does society call them a monster?
Supernatural Is the longest running primetime dark fantasy series in television history and for good reason. Over the course of its 14 seasons on the CW the series has gone through many transformations as it dares to go where no series has ever dared to go.
The show follows Sam, Jared Padalecki, and Dean, Jensen Ackles, Winchester brothers who perform the family business of hunting everything that goes bump in the night.
During the first five seasons, every episode feels like a one-hour horror movie that will make you jump in your seat, culminating with a showdown against the biggest bad guy of them all, Lucifer.
What should have been the end of the series only made people want more, as the studio received thousands of letters from fans demanding more!
The CW kept the show going but it was touch and go there for a while. After going toe-to-toe with the Prince of Darkness, Supernatural struggled to get its footing opting for a more comedic style than the horror that originally gained attention from its viewers, but in the last couple seasons the show has really hit its stride again becoming, even more, daring with its portrayal or creatures like God… with a capital G.
In the two years since I originally wrote this blog. It's ONLY GOTTEN BETTER!
1: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The number one spot goes to Joss Whedon’s masterpiece.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, based on the 1992 film by the same name, is the story of Buffy Summers, played by Sarah Michelle Gellar, a teenage girl who discovers she is the slayer, a woman gifted with superhuman strength, reflexes and is cursed to battle all of the minions of darkness.
Just like the tortured vampire of its spin-off series, the whole idea behind Buffy might be corny to audiences today, but when the series was airing, it was as unique to the monster genre as the original Star Trek was to Sci-fi.
That is precisely why it gets the number one spot on this list!
If it wasn’t for the massive success of the 1997 series, most if not all of the projects on this hub might never have gotten past the drawing board.
What's impressive is that the show can be enjoyed by the whole family. The sex appeal is more implied than overt, and its stereotypical coming of age story doesn’t take itself too seriously so you can almost ignore the teeny bopper aspects and focus on the rich cast of characters as they grow past their college years and into adulthood… while dusting vampires and decapitating demons.
Fans of the dark and Gothic will love Buffy and those who just want to pass the time will be more than pleasantly entertained.
Brandi Goodman from Holland, MI on July 07, 2020:
I've seen all of these except Teen Wolf. I'll have to give that one a try.
Juan D Alfonso (author) from Portland Oregon on April 22, 2020:
@GaryaQuinn I write this years ago during season 2 of the originals. Bitten was good, but not my fav
GaryaQuinn on April 22, 2020:
i loved bitten dont know why its not in the top 10 the originals and vampire diary,s are good and legacies wasn't mentioned that,s a lot better than 1 or 2 that,s on the list ill say no names no scandal lol!
Marma from United States on June 15, 2019:
Juan D Alfonso (author) from Portland Oregon on June 15, 2019:
I like Bitten, and I think it had a lot of potential, but I feel like it ended before it really hit its stride.
Marma from United States on June 14, 2019:
The Originals was definitely one of my favorites.
The show, Bitten, never made it on your list, unfortunately.
David Lynch on September 18, 2016:
I thought the same about Lost Girl. Too much girl power not even actual plot.
Ashley Morgan on September 15, 2016:
Thanks for the article. I really enjoyed it although I think True Blood should have taken first place.