It’s easy to think of the kind of stories that get told in the comic book world as just one genre or tone, but as seen below, graphic novels, comic strips, and other sequential art have offered up an incredible range of storytelling. And these stories have been inspiring great TV shows for years, even before superhero stories dominated the box office.
There were plenty of options that nearly made the list, like the WB’s “Smallville,” which squandered its early potential after running just a few seasons too long, and “Marvel’s Runaways,” which is still discovering the depths of what it can do. Because one of the most exciting things about these stories is that there’s a rich variety to choose from.
Based on the Belgian comics by Hermann Huppen and created by J. Michael Straczynski (“Babylon 5,” “Sense8”), this intriguing post-apocalyptic drama ran for two seasons on Showtime. The excellent premise — a virus wipes out everyone on Earth “over the age of innocence,” and 15 years later the world is still in ruins — springboarded a number of twist-packed storylines, as star Luke Perry proved his ability to play characters who aren’t some form of Dylan Walsh, and Malcolm-Jamal Warner got to kick ass and swear. While the original run ended rather ignominiously, the show is now available to stream on Hulu and Amazon Prime, and is worth checking out.
19. “Sabrina the Teenage Witch”
Archie Comics has been going through a revival with The CW’s “Riverdale” putting a murder mystery twist on the classic high school story and Netflix now starting to cast its darker take on “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.” But before that Kiernan Shipka-starring series begins, it’s helpful to remember that the title once existed in a sunnier form. As Sabrina, Melissa Joan Hart exuded an endearing goofiness that set the tone for the frothy series that lasted a whopping eight seasons. Bad puns, teen angst, and ridiculous situations were the show’s bread and butter, and despite the show’s title, we all know who the real star was.
Voiced to pompous purr-fection by Nick Bakay, the witch-turned-cat Salem Saberhagen had all the best lines and cat-oure. His animatronic puppetry somehow complemented Bakay’s delivery, and to this day, there’s a Salem gif appropriate to almost every situation. We don’t know exactly how Salem will be handled in the revamped series, but Bakay’s version will always be first in our hearts.
Mistakenly launched on CBS, “Supergirl” eventually settled into her true identity on sister network The CW. And this is where she really earned the cape and flew. Once you move past the overly schmaltzy, inspiration-heavy first season spent bafflingly in the office for much of the time, the series takes off with the type of female-led superhero action that we’ve been all been craving.
“Supergirl” fulfills a need that some other superhero shows may not, bringing positivity — hell, even the production is lighter and brighter — and a strong moral code to the forefront. As much as we appreciate the grittier and more morally gray Marvel shows on Netflix, there’s something to be said about Kara Danvers, played by the luminous Melissa Benoist, having an unshakable instinct for what’s right and wrong. The supporting cast has brought in some surprising depth to the show as well, with Calista Flockhart as the intriguing mentor Cat Grant stealing scenes that are only rivaled by that more famous cousin, Clark Kent, played to perfection by Tyler Hoechlin. But most of all, “Supergirl” is just pure joy, as can be seen by these two illustrative Gifs below:
17. “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman”
This charming take on Superman made stars out of the perfectly cast Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher, who for a generation were the Clark Kent and Lois Lane, their classic will-they-won’t-they love story depicted in balance with Superman fighting to protect truth, justice, and the American way. What “Lois & Clark” did best was capture the spark of goodness that makes Superman such an enduring character, while also not forgetting the Lois part of the equation — giving the show a “His Girl Friday”-esque screwball energy we still remember fondly.
16. “The Walking Dead”
One of the biggest strengths of “The Walking Dead” is that its characters will always be subservient to the world around them. Because these are desperate people living in desperate times, the show will always follow the humans still alive, whether it’s Sheriff Rick and Co. or not. These characters have an expiration date, but the show itself might not. (At the very least, it’s set up a full universe that’s already birthed one spinoff and could likely sustain a few others.) That’s part of the dramatic appeal, knowing that the heroes of the story are fighting what is essentially an unwinnable fight. While the show has failed many times in being restrained at showing just how massive the horrors of this world are, it’s also whipped up human characters that are just as monstrous as the flesh-eating walkers that haunt them at every turn. Through the intense moments of doom to the quieter introspective moments of temporary peace, “The Walking Dead” has managed to maintain a rabid fan base, even as the ground underneath its characters has shifted an impossible amount of times.
There have been a number of attempts to translate Todd McFarlane’s grim cursed superhero tale from the page to the screen (there’s even another one in development right now, courtesy of Blumhouse Productions) but the best one may be HBO’s first foray into adult-themed animation. The story of a murdered soldier (the always welcome voice work of Keith David) who makes a deal with the devil to return to Earth, “Spawn’s” dark sensibility and hyper-violence redefined how we thought about comic book-based storytelling years before these tales hit the mainstream.
14. “Black Lightning”
While all of the Greg Berlanti-produced comic book adaptations do a nice job of balancing the fun of superhero stories with a real-world component, the CW’s newest superhero drama stands out as perhaps its best, thanks to the mature storytelling of executive producers Salim Akil and Mara Brock Akil, Cress Williams’ notable gravitas as the titular hero, and the world-building that makes the fictional city of Freeland feel thoroughly grounded in the real world, dealing with all-too-relatable issues of race and power. All that, plus an inclusive cast, including a lesbian woman of color getting her own chance to suit up, and we feel comfortable saying that “Black Lightning” has risen to the top of the heap fast.
It’s difficult to capture authenticity when dealing with incredible extremes, but for as dark as the Netflix original series “The End of the F***ing World” can get, it manages to hold onto the truth through its characters. Alyssa (Jessica Barden) is an angry young woman with good reason to be angry. James (Alex Lawther) is a nervous, disturbed young man with good reason to be nervous about his disturbing hobbies. When they first come together, it feels like a doomed pairing — especially considering what James originally plans to do to Alyssa. But “The End of the F***ing World” is all about a glimmer of hope in a dark universe, so it’s only fitting a tender romance emerges from such troubled beginnings. Though the series makes a few key changes from Charles Forsman’s comic book, in both, it’s the kids that hold it all together.