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Top 25 Fantasy TV Series

Best 25 Fantasy TV Series

TV and fantasy have always had a complex relationship. While long, stretching series often do well in print, they seem to struggle on screen. All too often, important themes are watered down, characters are far weaker than their paper counterparts, and special effects completely ruin any chance of real immersion.

Luckily, there are some efforts, both original and adaptation, that have, and still sit, in shining opposition; series that explore concepts in entirely uncharted ways, bringing the majesty of imagined worlds to life and inspiring fear and emotion with even greater effect.

Excluding superhero and full dystopian fiction, we've collated 25 of the best examples so that you don't have to.

Comments (21)
Awards Won:1997 LocusF
Award Nominations:1997 NEBULA, 1997 WFA

Based on R. R. Martin's already ground-breaking novels, this show is undoubtedly one of the best in recent times. It's one of the few cases in which the adaptation surpasses the source material, removing the sometimes painfully slow print progression while still imbuing staggering character development.

Lord of the Rings forever changed the state of fantasy movies and it's already clear that Game of Thrones will do the same for TV. HBO dared to put a huge budget behind this series, and it's evident that they struck gold. A tale of dragons, wars, and the growth of six children, it holds value for everyone who watches, regardless of their opinion of the genre.

With a non-conservative approach to slaying its main characters, Game of Thrones reaches a feeling of suspense and realness rarely seen in TV. By seamlessly blending industry veterans and new stars, it refuses to break viewer immersion for a single moment.

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Undoubtedly one of the great fantasy classics, The Twilight Zone has acted as inspiration for many of the shows on this list. A mix of horror, fantasy, suspense, and thriller, each episode offers a unique moral perspective and quite often, a twist.

Aside from the great Rod Serling, the series features writing from renowned authors; Ray Bradbury, Charles Beaumont, and Richard Matheson to name a few. The huge collaboration of the period's best writers results in a show that is not just expertly crafted, but one that shares common themes. Like the works of the authors, Twilight Zone brings to attention the themes of time. Nuclear war, mass hysteria, McCarthyism and war feature, poignant in the 1950s and still thought-provoking today.

The crowning concept for the series, however, is the existence and integration of different dimensions. It lets the show jump from humor to tragedy, and between reality and fantasy. It's an act of experimentation (leading to a few duds here and there, at times) but ultimately an experience that's wholly unique.

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When it began its life as a mid-season replacement on the still growing WB network, nobody quite expected Buffy to reach the acclaim that it did. Twenty years after its premiere, this series still has a huge cult following, and it's without good reason.

Looking at the first few episodes, it's easy to see Buffy as something it's not. A silly and generic fantasy show with only minimal depth in its teen cast. The show's strength, however, is its longer-term development. Though it has its share of monsters and great action scenes, it's also about a girl trying to follow her destiny at such a young age.

As the seasons go on, the plot is revealed to be more complex and nuanced than many would expect from its promotional material. Gifted with the ancient powers of a 'slayer', Buffy acts as a contrast to the dumb blond heroines of the time. Imaginative writing from Joss Whedon aptly explores common human themes, from identity, friendship, and the grey areas of good and evil. As viewers see Buffy grow from a young girl to a woman, they can't help but get invested, all the while laughing and having fun.

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As a complete package, Lost has problems. At points, it feels like the show was stretched too long, writers gradually losing focus and penning a very controversial ending. It's not perfect, for sure, but at its highs, it's astonishing, and that propels it to number 3 on our list.

Its hook is impossible to deny. A commercial airline crashes, stranding its 48 passengers on a south pacific island that's far stranger than it first appears. Lost's mystery, however, also comes in the form of character. As the viewer follows 12 of the survivors, they begin to learn about their fascinating pasts. Using flashbacks and dialogue, it explores each extensively their drive, their failings, and their family.

Through this, Lost manages to imbue a depth more complex than its synopsis suggests. Dialogue is superb and humorous, directing is stellar, and acting is solid across the board. But it's the feeling that it's all connected that keeps you watching, and the suspense of what will happen next.

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Jump inside the world of Stranger Things and discover everything you need to know about the hit TV show.Grab your Eggo waffles and get ready for a visit to Hawkins, Indianajust dont forget the fairy lights! If you devoured Stranger Things on Netflix and youre looking to fill the demogorgon-sized hole in your life, then look no further than Notes from the Upside Down. This fan-tastic guide has every fact you could ever wish forfrom insights into the origins of the show, including the mysterious Montauk Project conspiracy theory; a useful eighties playlist (because, of course); and much more. If youve ever wondered why Spielberg is such a huge influence, which Stephen King books you need to read (hint: pretty much all of them), or how State Trooper David OBannon earned his name, then this book is for you. Entertaining, informative, and perfect for fans of eighties pop culture, Notes from the Upside Down is the Big Mac of unofficial guides to Stranger Thingssuper-sized and special sauce included.

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When publishers significantly alter source material, bad things tend to happen. You only have to look at the whitewashed Earthsea to see how poorly it can go, but occasionally directors make a right decision here and there for their TV audience. The Magicians is a perfect example of this; mashing together multiple books but still managing to tell a complex and entertaining story.

Following the adventures of fantasy fanatic Quentin Coldwater, we quickly realize that it's not all in his imagination. His dedication to books has created the perfect foundation for real magical ability, and he manages to get a place at the Brakebills University for Magical Pedagogy.

He soon finds that real life isn't quite like the books, however. A moth-headed creature runs amok, murdering students; drugs and alcohol are abundant; spells can be deadly. It makes for a refreshing change of atmosphere, and also gives space for some incredible characters to form.

Julia is tortured by Brakebill's refusal, Alice by her difficult upbringing, and Quentin by his depression. For once we're presented with a show that doesn't shy away from the issues surrounding mental health, and one that refuses to indulge the happy ending clich and paint a far more complex picture. A world that has fantastic ups but also brutal, long-lasting lows.

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It may not be the to come to mind when thinking fantasy, but Twin Peaks is one of the best. Masterminded by David Lynch, it tells of a murder in the synonymous town, merging dark fantasy, mystery, and soap opera.

Daring to do something different for its time, the show moves away from the traditional model of a linear plot and likeable characters. It's confusing, disorienting, focused on individual moments rather than a cohesive whole, yet working all the same.

Though the murder of Laura Palmer is a key driving point, it's more of a vessel for characterization. The focus is just as much on the residents, their interactions with each other, and their strange quirks. Using the supernatural world of his dreams to solve the case, Dale Cooper acts a stark contrast to the sitcoms of the time, and remains one of the best characters on TV.

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First aired in 2011, American Horror Story quickly gained its reputation as one of the darkest shows on TV. Combining horror and supernatural elements, each season presents a unique mini-series in different settings and time periods. The fantasy elements range from witches to hulking monsters, ghosts, and demons, creating a variety rarely seen in a single show.

Thankfully, despite those changes, the quality of AHS remains stable throughout. Each fantasy element is executed in a way that denies clich and focuses on the darker side. Intense mystery, horror, and great writing carry each season, slowly unfolding a prevailing sense of dread.

Acting, meanwhile is superb across the board, the skillful Evan Peters making an appearance in most series, joined by the likes of Zachary Quinto, Jessica Langue, and even Lady Gaga. Despite its recurring actors, the characters in AHS remain complex and immersive, creating a horror experience that's deeper anything else out there.

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Fantasy and comedy aren't two genres you'd think to put together. Amidst the seriousness of worldbuilding and magical ability, there's little room for jokes, but Misfits carves out space for itself.

Following five young Brits as they complete community service, it quickly diverts into fantasy when a storm hits the town. Suddenly, Kelly can read minds, Curtis can turn back time, Simon can turn invisible, and Alisha turns anyone she touches into a sex-crazed maniac. The only person unchanged is Nathan, who claims his only symptom was "a strange tingling sensation in my anus."

It continues in this dark comedy fashion, their powers mirroring each character's personalities as they find themselves in some pretty deep water. An hilarious script is performed skilfully by the young actors, revealing the people behind their character's stereotypes in an illuminating manner. The result is witty yet dark, fast-paced yet chilling, and will let suspense give way to grins as the brilliant dialogue shines through.

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With special effects so costly, animation is the perfect place for fantasy to thrive. While we've stepped away from the rabbit-hole that is anime on this list, great Western shows like Avatar still stand above many live-action efforts.

Part of this is down to Avatar's extensive and intriguingly-built world. Home to hybrid animals and a parallel universe, civilization is split into four nations, each with their own respective element and style of bending air, water, earth, and fire.

And then there's the Avatar, capable of bending all four elements, their role to bring peace and restore balance. When the Avatar dies, they are reborn into the cycle's next element. Meticulously researched and well-developed, the story follows twelve-year-old Aang, an airbender, as he seeks to finally end a hundred-year war.

The great concept is home to great voice acting, relentlessly developing characters, and a heavy East Asian influence. Through its young protagonist, the series tells complex and emotional stories, reaching far beyond its original 11-year-old audience.

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At first glance, Adventure Time looks like a kids' show, and to a certain extent, it is. But like all good children's shows, there's something in there for an older audience, too, and this show goes further than most.

Inspired in part by Dungeons & Dragons, Adventure Time tells the story of a boy named Finn and his adopted brother Jake, who happens to be a shapeshifting dog. Both live in their treehouse, in the land of Ooo. Home to strange creatures like whywolves and rainicorns, a canny viewer will quickly realize something. They are the subject not of magic, but nuclear mutation rusting street signs reveal a post-apocalyptic earth.

Despite this subtly dark premise, the series lives up to its name. It's a tale of great adventure across a princess-filled land, characterized by bright animation and fantastic voice acting. A rich fantasy world begins to appear, complete with complex villains, meaningful relationships, and a touch of surreal humor.

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Neil Gaiman's work is no stranger to adaptation, but his entrance into TV is much more recent. Lucifer is a notable example, and is further down on this list, but American Gods is by far the best yet.

Developed by Bryan Fuller and Michael Green, the series delves into Gaiman's urban fantasy world through the character known as Shadow Moon. Caught in a war between the new gods and the old, he becomes an essential piece of the puzzle in the bizarre magical world.

With stunning visuals, flawless acting, and some of TV's most memorable characters, the series is already on its way to greatness. Despite being a fraction of the way into the novel, American Gods already presents an emotional and compelling tale.

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“On the shores of despair, there was a maiden, she was my quarry and my redemption.”

Marishka Grayson’s novel Bloodreign I: Regnum Ignis is a new breed of adult neo-gothic fantasy—a cross-genre novel that defies easy categorization but makes for a scintillating and highly enthralling read.

Magdalena’s encounter with the vicious but fascinating creatures of light, the Nuria, push her to the brink of sanity. Dark and brooding, the story reveals a hidden world of beings who possess magic, and a lore whose thread is hidden in the haze of history. Battling against their own violent, lustful nature and seeking atonement, the Nuria pursue their goals in the constant shadow of powerful foes—magi who have sworn to destroy them. Allegiances shift, alliances form and shatter. But through all the madness, there may be one immutable constant—Arik Kuno, grandson of the Sovereign and heir to the title of Luminary, whose obsession with Magda seems to have no bounds and time itself cannot wane.

Click here to buy Bloodreign on Amazon. For more information about the book and author, check out her blog.

Another example of a great comic book adaptation, Preacher uses the minds of Sam Caitlin, Evan Goldberg, and Seth Rogan to craft a show that's comical, gory, and beautiful. The series follows preacher Jesse, who trails the dusty roads of West Texas with a mysterious entity living inside of him; the story quickly develops into a wildly unpredictable tale.

Running once more into his homicidal ex-girlfriend and an Irish vampire, Jesse gets roped into a journey out of Texas to find God. Much of the series, however, focuses on a small town, introducing a violent husband, a man still under the thumb of his mother, and a boy with a literal ass for a mouth.

With a great blend of dark humor and serious elements, the show continues; its perfectly chosen cast propel witty dialogue and a slow reveal of Jesse's bloody past.

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Heroes has had its ups and downs over the years, but it's hard to deny just how great it is when it hits the mark. The series chronicles the lives of regular people who discover incredible innate abilities, from self-healing, to flying, time-travel, and mind readings.

It's clear that the show's creators were greatly inspired by early American comic books. There's the sense of an epic, interweaving tale, each character's story told separately but ultimately intertwining. Every superhero story has a villain, though, and the series shines in that respect too.

While there are humans who use their powers for good, others aren't so inclined. Sylar seeks to steal others' powers by removing their brain, feeding his serial killer urges and fuelling his need for recognition. Hiro, contrastingly, travels to the future and witnesses a nuclear explosion, and the cast must band together to prevent it.

This sense of time running out gives Heroes a steady build-up of drama, while its cast provides a source of entertainment and growth. Stellar performances by Hayden Panettiere, Zachary Quinto, and Jack Coleman create a real sense of connection between the heroes, while special effects remain one of the best of the time.

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Though it's another rare British venture into comedy-fantasy, Being Human delivers a different premise to Misfits. This time the tale focuses on Annie, George, and John, a young ghost, werewolf, and vampire trying to live together peacefully.

Rather than embracing their supernatural selves, the three are simply trying to co-exist in the world of humans. Despite their abilities, they simply want to live normal lives, and the city of Bristol makes for a perfect backdrop.

Presenting a struggle to manage internal strains and everyday life, Being Human delivers on the promise of its title. It's as much about human nature as it is fantasy, combining a wider supernatural community with highly relatable dialogue.

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The shows on this list are all great in their own way, but none have the same longevity as Supernatural. There have been plenty of ups and downs over its twelve years, but even now fans are entertained by its latest content.

Part of its long life is undoubtedly due to its simple yet character-based nature. A mix of fantasy and horror, Supernatural follows brothers Sam and Dean as they hunt the supernatural and follow in their father's footsteps.

However, thanks to the perfect casting of Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, it's as much about the character's demons as physical ones. Despite Sam's unusual ability of telekinesis, he wants a simple life, away from danger. With consistent conflict between the brothers, shapeshifters, vampires, and even gods, the show has incredible characterization and never a dull moment.

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A mystery series with fantasy elements, The OA presents one of Netflix Original's  most inventive premises. Prairie Johnson returns to her family seven years after her disappearance, no longer blind, with scars on her back, and named 'OA'.

It's clear that something strange and terrible happened during that time, but rather than tell the FBI, Prairie assembles a group of high school students to reveal her story to. Each night, she continues her tale, exhibiting the classic signs of an unreliable narrator. During the day, they work to verify her outrageous claims.

The OA's compelling dynamic pulls viewers in with great acting, suspense, and constant twists. You'll find yourself questioning if the show is fantasy, or just the story of a crazy young woman, and whether that even matters. Dramatic visuals and chilling moments are brought to life as Prairie narrates, demanding an emotional response as the beautiful score accompanies her.

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Usually, we try to stay away from superhero movies, but Legion is a true exception. Though the series is set in the X-Men universe, its execution is different to anything else out there, so much so that it barely feels connected.

Rather than a generic action series, Legion opens with a complex look into the world of a schizophrenic, constantly pushing the boundaries of reality. Director Noah Hawley shows David as an entirely unreliable narrator, yet gives stunning depth to his mental illness and the performance of Dan Stevens imbues amazing emotion.

The emotional and psychological heights are only strengthened by the shows' direction, quick editing and strange angles making for a disorientating yet immersive experience. Each shot is beautiful, made better by the appearances of Aubrey Plaza, Rachel Keller, and Bill Irwin.

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This Gaiman adaptation may not quite reach the heights of American Gods, but in some ways, it almost trumps it. For a start, it's readily watchable, humorous, and far less bizarre.

As you would expect from its name, Lucifer follows the devil, but it's not the portrayal you'd expect. Lucifer Morningstar is fed up with his stint in Hell, and has decided to visit Earth to gain better understanding the humans he punishes. Played by the suave Tom Ellis, he's charming yet manipulative, confident yet likable. A nightclub owner in Los Angeles, he becomes involves with the LAPD, ironically helping Chloe Decker, who is immune to his powers, solve crimes.

By showing Lucifer as a complex being, director Tom Kapinos makes him far more interesting. It's clear that there's humanity in him and a real concern for the human race. He manages to be self-interested but also subject to emotion, and able to produce a surprising amount of humor. With amazing dialogue, a great light-hearted soundtrack, and a strong supporting cast, it's difficult to not like.

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It feels like vampires have been done to death. Every show seems to use the same clichs, the same settings, and even recurring characters. True Blood promises to change that, and it's mostly successful.

Set in small-town Louisiana, it follows telepathic waitress Sookie Stackhouse, two years after an obtainable synthetic blood allows vampires to reveal themselves to humans. Treated as second-class citizens and struggling for equal rights, they must avoid the growing number of anti-vampire groups. Sookie, meanwhile, finds herself falling for 172-year-old Bill Compton, and their complex relationship begins.

Exploring the mix of two worlds, True Blood paints a dark world of murder and betrayal, but also draws parallels with the LGBTQ rights movement. It refuses to shy away from taboo, saturated with nudity, gore, and death. Dialogue and plot weaves intricately through the first five seasons, all delivered on a beautiful backdrop.

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Drawing on some of the 19th century's most popular characters, Penny Dreadfulis a mashup of all things classic that somehow manages to work. Taking inspiration from Dorian Gray, Van Helsing, Dracula, Frankenstein, and Dr. Jekyll and Hyde, you may expect the plot to be something of a mess.

But as it turns out, the characters co-exist quite naturally in the world, a beautifully re-created Victorian London. Supernatural creatures crawl the streets and the classic characters band together to fight them. Tying it all into a complex thriller with a palpable atmosphere, director John Logan brings new life and progression.

At the same time, Penny Dreadfulkeeps has a notable lack of cheap tricks. You won't find jump scares or deus-ex machinas, but a subtler experience; one with a steady pace, a flamboyant cast, and an utterly captivating narrative.

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Three years ago, two percent of the global population disappeared. 140 million people gone in an instant, with no explanation. Mainstream religions are in turmoil, cults have formed, and families are torn apart.

That's the world The Leftovers, throws the audience into, and it's not a particularly cheery one. Nobody knows why the 'Sudden Departure' happened, and the viewer isn't clued in, either. The series is a journey of discovery, where each plot point isn't painfully explained to the viewer and there's plenty of room for interpretation.

As a result, it only gets better as time goes on. While the first season is often the best for many shows, The Leftovers slowly grows with the viewers' and characters' understanding. Whilst focusing for the most part on one family, the show also touches on individuals from all backgrounds, and its ambitious storytelling leaves viewers dwelling on important concepts.

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The Originals is, admittedly, the second vampire show on this list, but it's in no way less ambitious than True Blood. A spin-off from the hugely successful Vampire Diaries, it brings different tones and production values to create a clear improvement.

Following three vampire siblings who have returned to New Orleans, it follows their return to power in the city they built. Unfortunately, it's an environment shared by werewolves, witches, and rival vampires, and war is looming. Meanwhile, one of the family members is about to sire a witch-wolf-vampire hybrid who may grow into extraordinary powers.

A true mix of drama, fantasy, and horror, the show has elements that will appeal to anyone. The macro view of one family allows for great depth yet surprising variety, vampires presented complexly and with detailed backstories. It may not have the same thematic weight as True Blood, but it's worth a watch all the same.

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A story of eight mentally linked 'sensates' from across the world, Netflix's Sense8 offers one of the most complex and well-executed stories in modern fantasy. Hunted by a man named Whispers, the eight must share their knowledge with each other to escape his reach, and in doing so overcome cultural bias.

With a diverse cast of trans, homosexual, Chinese, African, Indian and more, it uses an arching story to highlight important themes of acceptance and identity. The Wachowskis' develop their characters' individual and combined stories throughout the series, creating a complex yet perfectly executed narrative.

Weaving all the episodes together is a constant sense of tension and mystery. As the characters discover their past and abilities, so does the viewer, providing a constant source of twists as Whispers and the sensates try to outsmart each other.

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Fans of the novels will be disappointed with this adaptation, but they aren't the target audience. It was MTV that won the battle of rights for Terry Brook's series, and that means it has a firm, young adult flair.

As a result, you can expect heavy romance and some cheesy lines, but there's also a lot to like. Despite the young cast, the acting is fairly solid, and it really does bring to life the strange and wondrous world. Thanks to the great choice of shooting locations and special effects, the world itself is beautiful, even if it doesn't quite reach the level of Game of Thrones.

The story, too, is reasonably well-executed, scratching the itch for high-fantasy in an easily digestible manner. Drawing parallels to Lord of the Rings, it tells of a demon lord who returns, destroying a magical tree to release his dark kin on all. A band of heroes sets off on a quest to revive the tree, journeying to Safehold where ancient magic awaits them.

It all sounds very familiar, but that's not a bad thing. The Shannara Chronicles doesn't pretend to be high-brow. It's easy-to-watch, entertaining fantasy, and sometimes that's all you need.

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