The 50 greatest teen shows of all time

Whether nerd, jock or actually neither, there's something in here for everyone

Words: Matt Charlton

50. ‘The Politician’

Imagine Cruel Intentions made into a TV series, then add a dollop of politics, some Lucy Boynton and a light sprinkling of Gwyneth Paltrow. Oh, and Bette Midler, of course. This polished and pithy entry from the pen of Ryan Murphy is sleek, cynical and funny enough to keep you coming back for more.

Watch it on: Netflix

49. ‘Ackley Bridge’

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The first British entry on this list has a tad more grit and a bit less polish than some of the other selections. Set in Yorkshire, it follows the merging of two schools from segregated white and Pakistani communities. What follows is a soapy but honest take on modern UK school life.

Watch it on: All4

48. ‘Sabrina the Teenage Witch’/’Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’

We’ve combined both Sabrinas into one place here because it would be rude to choose between Melissa Joan Hart’s ‘90s sitcom or Netflix’s more gothic take starring Kiernan Shipka. In any case, the important thing is that Sabrina has Salem the Cat as a sidekick in both versions.

Watch It On: Prime Video/Netflix

47. ‘Blossom’

It could chart at this position for the theme tune alone, but this early ‘90s sitcom about a “broken” family with a single dad was famous for tackling hard-hitting issues with a deft touch. It starred future Big Bang Theory actress Mayim Bialik as Blossom Russo, a teenage girl in a male-dominated house, who we couldn’t help but root for.

Watch it on: currently unavailable in the UK

46. ‘As If’

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With this turn-of-the-millennium drama about young adulthood, Channel 4 again proved indispensable to the youth of the UK: pay attention, Nadine Dorries. It perfectly captured all the angst-ridden goings on of crossing the threshold into your twenties. Plus, it featured Emily Corrie as Suzanne, a character who inspired McFly’s ‘Five Colours In Her Hair’.

Watch it on: currently unavailable in the UK

45. ‘Friday Night Lights’

One of those cult shows that never quite got the audience it deserved, this particular slice of teen angst revolved around a really quite good high school football team. Pinging from network to network during its four-season run, it covered all the usual teen drama subjects: racism, drugs, abortion, small-town ennui, the whole selection box.

Watch it on: All4

44. ‘13 Reasons Why’

There are more than 13 reasons why this show isn’t higher in the rankings, but it definitely broke new ground when it debuted five years ago. There aren’t many shows that start with a suicide, then examine every facet of the fallout – and although the first season dealt with this in sometimes thoughtless fashion, it was nonetheless gripping. Subsequent seasons? Well, not so much.

Watch it on: Netflix

43. ‘Heartbreak High’

A little bit grungy, this was sort of an Australian answer to Grange Hill. Set at a Sydney high school, it followed fresh-faced kids having all manner of problems in the mid-to-late ‘90s. An eight-episode reboot is currently in the works at Netflix.

Watch it on: Netflix

42. ‘The Fades’

This supernatural drama revolves around Paul, an outsider who can see fades, unascended souls of the deceased who’ve become bitter towards the living human race. It then becomes his job to stop an apocalypse. Does he do it? We’ll never know, because BBC Three chose not to commission a second season back in 2011. Cast members Jodie Comer, adn Daniel Kaluuya went on to do alright for themselves, though.

Watch it on: BBC iPlayer

41. ‘Party Of Five’

A touch dull? Maybe. But this is the show that gave the world Neve Campbell, Jennifer Love-Hewitt and that bloke who played Charlie in Lost. An older brother has to take charge of his wayward siblings when their parents are suddenly killed, which, infused with some serious teen angst, leads to an absolute boatload of drama.

Watch it on: All4

40. ‘Elite’

A little Spanish ‘adolescente’ class war drama for our next entry. Three working-class students are enrolled at a private school: so far, so fish out of water. But the themes, narrative style, and progressive approach have won it plaudits from all over the world, and a sixth season is in the offing.

Watch it on: Netflix

39. ‘We Are Who We Are’

Director Luca Guadagnino’s follow-up to Call Me by Your Name came in the form of this dreamlike miniseries. Set on an US army base in Chioggia, a town just outside Venice, it follows two 14-year-olds (Jordan Kristine Seamón and Jack Dylan Grazer) as they grapple with gender identity, outsiderdom and the pain of first love. Sigh.

Watch it on: NOW

38. ‘Degrassi: The Next Generation’

Set at a fictional school in Toronto, Ontario, this decades-old franchise was where Drake cut his teeth and also includes The Kids of Degrassi Street, Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High. HBO is now rebooting the series again with another chapter called… wait for it… Degrassi.

Watch it on: Prime Video (Freevee)

37. ‘Never Have I Ever’

The drinking game we’ve all played at some point became the title of this ground-breaking coming-of-age show from Mindy Kaling. It follows Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), an Indian-American high school student dealing with the sudden death of her father, and will be rounded off with a fourth season in 2023.

Watch it on: Netflix

36. ‘Riverdale’

One of the kings of the final season time-jump, this teen drama based on an Archie Comics franchise kickstarts after a teenager is murdered in Riverdale. Archie, Betty, Jughead and Veronica take it upon themselves to unravel the evils lurking within this seemingly innocent small town, which turn out to be very freaky indeed.

Watch it on: Netflix

35. ‘Atypical’

With the tagline “normal is overrated”, this ground-breaking comedy-drama follows Sam (Keir Gilchrist) as he decides he’s ready for romance. He also happens to be on the autism spectrum. Atypical was criticised when it launched in 2017 for not featuring contributions from autistic actors and writers, but it took steps to rectify this in subsequent seasons.

Watch it on: Netflix

34. ‘My So-Called Life’

Though it only ran for one season in the mid ’90s, this comedy-drama is now recognised as a cult classic. That’s partly because it offered an uncommonly realistic depiction of teen growing pains, and partly because it featured terrific performances from future stars Claire Danes, Jared Leto and Wilson Cruz.

Watch it on: currently unavailable in the UK

33. ‘Yellowjackets’

It’s tempting to compare this 2021 breakout show to Lost, except Yellowjackets‘ writers actually seem to know where the plot is going. Told partly in flashback, it follows a squad of ’90s cheerleaders fending for themselves after their plane crashes in a remote part of Canada. In the present-day, Juliette Lewis and Christina Ricci excel as a recovering addict and not-exactly-recovering sociopath.

Watch it on: NOW

32. ‘My Mad Fat Diary’

This could be the show that first made the ’90s retro. Set during the height of Britpop – with a kickass soundtrack to boot – it follows 16-year-old Rae (Sharon Rooney) as she struggles with mental health issues and body image. With The Charlatans supplying the theme tune and a pre-fame Jodie Comer playing Rae’s oblivious friend Chloe, it’s classy and very funny stuff.

Watch it on: All 4

31. ‘Normal People’

A sensation of the first COVID lockdown and a boon to men’s necklace sales, this brilliantly-realised adaptation of Sally Rooney’s novel made stars out of Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal. Brooding looks, believable first steps into romance and a sensitive approach to mental fragility made it a really engrossing watch.

Watch it now: BBC iPlayer

30. ‘Byker Grove’

This ‘90s series didn’t just give us mega presenters Ant and Dec, but also accomplished urban pop artistes PJ and Duncan. Yes, they were the same people, but the contribution to British pop culture of this Geordie youth centre drama can’t be underestimated. Who can forget the paintball incident, the banger of a theme tune, and Geoff’s moustache?

Watch it on: currently unavailable to watch in the UK

29. ‘Gilmore Girls’

Sure, maybe this much-loved show should be higher, but the competition is steep. Centred on a complex and ever-evolving mother daughter-relationship, it became known for its zippy dialogue and honest writing about female relationships. It made a comeback on Netflix in 2016.

Watch it on: Netflix

28. ‘Veronica Mars’

Well hello Kristen Bell. The future Good Place star sprung to fame in this teen detective series where she solved a new and often quite dark mystery each week. The inevitable film spin-off came in 2014, followed by an even more inevitable comeback series in 2019. There are no plans for anything else at present, but never count out Veronica Mars.

Watch it on: Prime Video (Starz)

27. ‘Gossip Girl’

Only at 27, you say? Well, we don’t make the rules… okay we sort of do. Gossip Girl was quite the sensation during its initial six-season run, keeping us hooked with its upscale Manhattan glamour and clique of privileged and manipulative private school students. Last year’s reboot, which adds some much needed diversity, has been renewed for a second season.

Watch it on: BBC iPlayer

26. ‘Doug’

This Nickelodeon stalwart from the ‘90s has a typically ‘90s Nickelodeon colour palette. It follows unassuming Doug as he makes his way through life with his head down, while best friend Skeeter supplies some much-needed extrovert energy. An earworm theme tune tops off this understated entry, which is very much worth your while.

Watch it on: Disney+

25. ‘Boy Meets World’

This colourful ’90s sitcom was a bit like Saved by the Bell with better acting. A popular show on US network ABC for seven years, it followed Corey (Ben Savage), love interest Topanga (Danielle Fishel) and best friend Shawn (Rider Strong) as they navigated the ups and downs of high school life. It was rebooted in 2014 as Girl Meets World.

Watch it on: Disney+

24. ‘Big Mouth’

A coming-of-age sitcom in animated form, this show really leans into the upheaval of puberty by depicting sexual arousal as maniacal hormone monsters: imagine the daemons in His Dark Materials but really, really horny. Still, it’s been praised for its “empathetic approach to the messiness of adolescence”, so even adults could learn a thing or two.

Watch it on: Netflix

23. ‘Press Gang’

Written by future Sherlock creator Steven Moffat, this turn-of-the-’90s Brit drama followed the goings on at a local comp’s student newspaper. Back in the day, it gave us a Ross and Rachel-style “will they won’t they” between Lynda and Spike, played by fresh-faced Julia Sawalha (Saffy from Absolutely Fabulous) and Dexter Fletcher, now a big-time Hollywood director.

Watch it on: BritBox

22. ‘Daria’

This Beavis & Butthead spin-off centres on misanthropic, cynical, angsty teen Daria. Wittily scripted with her acerbic words set against the sunny backdrop of Anywhere, USA, it’s such a seminal example of the genre that it’s now getting its own spin-off, Jodie.

Watch it on: Prime Video (£)

21. ‘Grange Hill’

Flying sausages, heroin overdoses, teen pregnancies, rooftop falls, Munchausen by proxy… and all before the BBC’s Six O Clock News? This soapy school drama was a revelation in its day depicting, grittily, the world of an inner city secondary comprehensive. It gave rise to many heated debates around the dinner table and a top ten anti-drug single. Creator Phil Redmond went on to create Hollyoaks.

Watch It on: BritBox

20. ‘Happy Days’

This show earns its place here because it has one of the catchiest theme tunes ever, and because it gave us the expression “jumping the shark”. But beyond that, this ’50s-set US sitcom became a true after-school favourite in the UK, and made us want to hit a jukebox in the sweet spot just like The Fonz did.

Watch it on: not currently available in the UK

19. ‘Beavis & Butthead’

A generation-defining show. MTV introduced us to these sofa-dwelling wasters just as the alternative ’90s were getting into full swing: somewhere between ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and Ugly Kid Joe doing whatever the hell they did. Dumb, lazy, and terminally single, the duo made a short comeback in 2011, and are being revived again by Paramount+.

Watch it on: Prime Video (£)

18. ‘Heartstopper’

Adapted by Alice Oseman from her own graphic novel and webcomic series, this charming schoolyard series put blossoming queer romance at its centre. The internet loved every minute – taking popular rugby lad Nick (Kit Connor) and nerdier, nervier Charlie to its heart instantly. An important show, and incredibly moving too.

Watch it on: Netflix

17. ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’

Well this show absolutely slaps. Thanks to a catchy theme tune and the iconic Carlton Dance – plus Geoffrey the sarcastic butler, Jazz being thrown out of the door, and some seriously good abandoned son acting from Will Smith – this show still pulls in the punters today. A ‘gritty’ reboot, Bel Air, is also streaming on NOW, and worth a look.

Watch It On: BBC iPlayer

16. ‘Saved by the Bell’

Producer Peter Engel was responsible for a stream of feelgood teen shows in the ‘80s and ‘90s – California Dreams, Hang Time, City Guys and more – but this one really stuck. Set at LA’s fictional Bayside High School, Saved by the Bell could be cheesy and moralistic, but even some hammy acting and ridiculous plots didn’t put us off. We were rewarded with a stream of spin-offs (remember The New Class?) and a recently cancelled reboot featuring OG stars Mario Lopez and Elizabeth Berkley.

Watch it on: Prime Video

15. ‘The End Of The F***ing World’

If you imagine True Romance set in rural England with an excellent original soundtrack by Blur’s Graham Coxon, you’re some of the way there. A brilliantly funny and honest account of mental health issues based on a mini-comic, this show covers murderous intent, falling in love with your intended victim, abuse, vengeance and a whole lot more. Plus, the first series ends on a genuinely excellent cliffhanger.

Watch it on: All4 or Netflix

14. ‘Fresh Meat’

From the writers of Peep Show and Succession, this student house-share comedy showed that Jack Whitehall had some serious acting chops, and also introduced us to Zawe Ashton, Charlotte Ritchie and Kimberly Nixon. Plus, it featured The Inbetweeners’ Joe Thomas as Kingsley, essentially a more grown-up version of The Inbetweeners’ Simon.

Watch it on: All4

13. ‘Sister, Sister’

Ah, the age-old story of identical twins being split at birth, but then accidentally bumping into each other in a shopping mall and convincing their respective adoptive parents to move in with each other. You know, that one. The sitcom started with a bang, but suffered diminishing returns over its five year-run. Still, we’d be keen on a revival.

Watch it on: Netflix

12. ‘Misfits’

A gritty riff on the superhero-as-antihero trope, Misfits centres on a bunch of young offenders who are caught in an electric storm and furnished with powers that reflect their personalities. Rude, crude and brilliantly written, this E4 hit helped to launch the careers of Robert Sheehan, Antonia Thomas and Iwan Rheon.

Watch it on: All 4

11. ‘Malcolm in the Middle’

Yes, no, maybe, I don’t know, could you repeat the question? Initially sold as a real-life version of The Simpsons, this brilliantly funny portrayal of lower middle class life introduced us to a pre-Breaking Bad Bryan Cranston. It also combined slapstick and wordplay at a dizzying, hilarious pace and had an amazing They Might Be Giants theme song.

Watch it on: Disney+

10. ‘Derry Girls’

One of the best sitcoms of recent years follows four school girls (and one “wee English fella”) as they grow up in Northern Ireland at the end of The Troubles. It’s a bighearted show full of big laughs and big supporting characters, especially the scene-stealing Sister Michael. “If anyone is feeling anxious, worried or maybe you just want a chat,” she tells our heroines, “please, please do not come crying to me.”

Watch it on: All4

9. ‘Sex Education’

Though it has the aesthetic of an ‘80s American high school movie, this Netflix hit is set in the Welsh countryside and deals with very modern themes indeed. It’s dramatic, funny and daring in equal measure. With break-out performances from Emma Mackey and Ncuti Gatwa, plus a spectacular supporting turn by Gillian Anderson, this show already feels like a classic.

Watch it on: Netflix

8. ‘Dawson’s Creek’

This is the teen show that launched a million crying GIFs. It was a also a game-changer of the genre, with ‘teenagers’ who looked about ten years younger than the people playing their parents, and a super-wordy script that made damn good use of a thesaurus. With a nostalgic setting, a cast dressed by Gap at its peak, and beloved characters like Pacey and Joey, this show could tell Gen Z everything they need to know about over-analytical millennials.

Watch it on: Netflix

7. ‘The Inbetweeners’

Yes, ‘bus wanker’, but it was so much more than that. What was originally supposed to be a school-day sitcom set in the ’90s, about a group of nobodies who were neither the jocks or the nerds, was moved to the modern day, and went on to capture the imagination of a generation of British adolescents. Two film spin-offs followed, both of which cleaned up at the box office.

Watch it on: All4

6. ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’

A classic line – “this is Sunnydale, home of the big, brewing evil” – sets the scene for this seriously kick-ass show. One of the chosen ‘Slayers’, Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Buffy originally hopes to outrun her fate, but ends up vanquishing a steady stream of vampires and falling in love with a couple too. An era-defining show with witty scripts and a great cast.

Watch it on: Disney+

5.’ Euphoria’

You can almost imagine this show being pitched: “What about Skins, but with harder drugs and everyone having a breakdown?” Not even into its third season yet, this TV sensation has got plenty of tongues wagging, what with Cassie’s bath-hiding, Rue’s… we want to say third relapse, and that shoot-out at the end of season two. How will they keep this pace up?

Watch it on: NOW

4. ‘Stranger Things’

A love letter to the paranormal films of the ‘80s, Stranger Things introduces us to the strange goings on in Hawkins, Indiana, and a group of pre-pubescents (later teenagers) determined to get to the bottom of things… or to be precise, the upside down of things. Teen icon Winona Ryder at her wide-eyed best bounces off the young cast as a traumatised mother. One of Netflix’s biggest hits, and deservedly so.

Watch it on: Netflix

3. ‘The O.C.’

Admit it: you had Phantom Planet’s ‘California’ playing in your head as soon as you saw the title. This early ’00s time capsule is one of the definitive teen shows because it took all the lessons learned from it forbearers, most recently Dawson’s Creek, and upped the drama, comedy and fashion to another level entirely. It had zippy dialogue, a stellar soundtrack – which gave the likes of The Killers a big boost – and an unlikely fashion icon in the shape of Adam Brody’s Seth Cohen.

Watch it on: NOW

2. ‘Freaks and Geeks’

Back in 1999, this criminally short-lived high school drama launched the careers of Linda Cardellini, Jason Segel, Seth Rogen, Busy Philipps and James Franco. Set in the mid-’80s, it was Judd Apatow’s first foray into TV, and had the kind of zippy, slightly surreal script you’d expect from the comedy colossus.

Watch it on: currently unavailable in the UK

1. ‘Skins’

Landing smack bang in the middle of nu-rave – Gossip’s ‘Standing in the Way of Control’ became the show’s unofficial anthem – this pulsating, cheeky, full-on beast of a series blazed naughty new trails for dramas about suburban British teens. Overdoses, desk sex, psychotic psychiatrists and comas were just another day for this crowd, and don’t forget it gave us Dev Patel, Nicholas Hoult, Daniel Kaluuya, Jack O’Connell and Kaya Scodelario.

Watch it on: All4

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