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The 20 Best Sci-Fi TV Series of the 21st Century, Ranked

From "Doctor Who" to "Dollhouse," these are the series that told their greatest TV stories in worlds far away from our own.

Best Sci-Fi Series 21st Century

10. “Misfits”

Iwan Rheon, “Misfits”


A working-class British alternative to the squeaky clean Peter Parker story, this Channel 4 sci-fi series lets its superheroes also be teenagers. Dealing with the hormonal problems of young adulthood, it also punctured the idea that people with extraordinary powers are also blessed with the ability to handle them. With a dry wit and a merciless approach to its roving cast of characters, “Misfits” found just as much satisfaction in watching these teenagers discover themselves as it did the usual trappings of a superhero origin story. With a world-class theme song and a hazy filter that did just as much to muddy our perspective as the occasional peek into a character’s brain, this was a story about special abilities that wasn’t afraid to stay unpolished.

9. “Orphan Black”

Tatiana Maslany and Tatiana Maslany in "Orphan Black."

Tatiana Maslany and Tatiana Maslany in “Orphan Black.”


Cloning isn’t all that scary if our future looks like Tatiana Maslany. The Emmy-winning actress playing multiple characters is the No. 1 reason this show is as good as it is. Each of the characters she plays have such distinct identities that it’s easy to forget that all of them come from one performer.

With the vibrancy of each of the characters, the show is at its best when the overarching conspiracies take a backseat to simple character interactions. Alison with Felix, Helena with Donnie, Helena with Alison, Sarah with Alison, all the clones together — no matter what the combination of is, the dialogue sparkles and the bigger corporate plot becomes mere background. But this is precisely why the show is so strong. It works in the most basic way, placing human characters in unusual, technology-fueled circumstances. The women of “Orphan Black” own their bodies and biology, no matter what some scientist has done with their DNA: It’s one of the most feminist statements on TV.

8. “Legion”

Legion Season 1 Chapter 1 Rachel Keller Dan Stevens


Chris Large/FX

Perhaps we should’ve expected Noah Hawley would be a good fit for sci-fi when he brought UFOs into “Fargo.” That successful blend of cold reality with inexplicable phenomena functioned as an effective preview of “Legion.” The wild, confounding, and exhilarating comic book adaptation carried a central premise that kept viewers on edge all the way through its opening season: Is David Haller (Dan Stevens) crazy, or does he have otherworldly powers? By keeping that mystery at the core of the show, Hawley grounded his science fiction in a reality we could all identify with. Who hasn’t imagined being the most powerful man in the world?

7. “Fringe”

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Fox-TV/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5886112bs) Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, Lance Reddick, John Noble Fringe - 2008 Fox-TV USA Television



A spiritual sequel to “The X-Files,” featuring Joshua Jackson, John Noble and Lieutenant Daniels from “The Wire”? Hell yes. “Fringe” was most notable for the fearless chances it took from season to season. Experimenting with form and function, it slowly shed its procedural roots to become one of broadcast television’s most imaginative sci-fi series, leaping through realities and timelines with relative abandon. “Fringe” was also rich with humor, anchored by an amazing lead performance by star Anna Torv, and often far smarter than we gave it credit for. Plus, it was fun. The troubled final season, largely taking place in the not-too-distant future and pushing the show into full-on dystopia, wasn’t the show at its best. But Seasons 2-4 were dramatic, romantic and ridiculous, in the best ways possible.

6. “The Expanse”

THE EXPANSE -- "Doors & Corners" Episode 202 -- Pictured: Dominique Tipper as Naomi Nagata -- (Photo by: Shane Mahood/Syfy)

Dominique Tipper in “The Expanse.”

Shane Mahood/Syfy

You want hard sci-fi? Then you want “The Expanse.” One of the most science-obsessed shows on this list, the drama based on James S.A. Corey’s novels is rich with big ideas about how interplanetary exploration might not just change society, but our conception of humanity in general. After two seasons, the relationships between Earthers, Martians, Belters and beyond have become more complicated than viewers might have ever expected. But the show’s devotion to creating a fully realized, fully believable future universe has made it one of modern TV’s more striking sci-fi adventures.

Up next: Our pick for the greatest sci-fi TV series of the century

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