DC Comics has had a long presence on the small screen. While the company struggles to make a strong presence in cinema with its lineup of characters (aside from Batman), they do pretty well in television. Over the years, DC characters have been on TV in animated ventures or live-screen adaptations. More than often, these shows feature unique storylines taking inspiration from the comics without actually adapting classic storylines from the source material.
The long story of DC’s presence on TV sets begins way back in 1952 with Adventures of Superman, featuring George Reeves, who recently made a posthumous cameo in The Flash. Batman would join him in 1966, with Shazam and Wonder Woman joining the party in 1974 and 1975. Their animated adventures also took off, with Batman leading the way in 1968 with The Adventures of Batman. The Justice League would take the big screen in 1973 with Super Friends and so on.
While the quality of these shows varies, it’s safe to say we’ve always had a DC show on the small screen for the past 60 years. Now, It’s a tough challenge to rank the best of the best in a single list, but we sure are going to try, as some of the best Superhero shows from the longstanding brand have come and gone without getting the audience they deserve. This ranking lists the best DC shows in the modern era.
19 Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993)
Alexander and Ilya Salkind held on to those Superman rights for quite some time. After their final project, the live-action Superboy show came to an end, Warner got a hold of the character and launched Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, created by Deborah Joy LeVine and Joe Shuster; this high-profile offering played like a romantic drama, with a strong emphasis on the romance between Superman and Lois Lane. It lasted four seasons with a total of 88 episodes.
You can credit showrunner Deborah Joy LeVine with the marriage of Clark and Lois, as she sought synergy between the comics and the show. In 1997 the characters finally tied the notch in the show and the comics, which still stands today. Thanks to this move, Supes became a dad back in 2015, something that will be explored in a further offering in our ranking. The show starred Teri Hatcher, Dean Cain, John Shea, and Lane Smith, and it had the perfect blend of action, romance, intrigue, and humor.
18 Gotham (2014)
It must be said that Batman is the proverbial cash cow of DC Comics and Warner Studios. When the network is not producing its own shows around the character, they are licensing the IP to other studios to make a mint. Gotham is a show produced by the Fox network focused on the early years of Gotham, right after Bruce Wayne’s parents are killed, and he becomes Batman. It was created by Bruno Heller, who also served as showrunner, with Danny Cannon, who was the show’s lead writer.
Most stories are focused on James Gordon, Harvey Bullock, and young Bruce, played by Ben McKenzie, Donal Logue, and David Mazouz, respectively. The show explores the origins of some of Batman’s most famous villains and the rise of Gordon from a young detective to commissioner while he tries to maintain order in the corrupt and crime-ridden city of Gotham. The show was quite popular, with a dark and gritty atmosphere and a unique take on most characters. It lasted for five seasons and 100 episodes.
17 Titans (2018)
No show among DC lore has been more divisive than Titans. Since the cast was announced back in 2017, the show has been making waves. The show created by Akiva Goldsman and Geoff Johns has cultivated a loyal following for being daring, bold and uncompromising. The setup takes the beloved team-up of sidekicks from the DCU to form their own team. However, the show takes some of the most venerable mainstays of DC and makes them way more complex than the regular versions you see in the comics.
Brenton Thwaites, Anna Diop, Ryan Potter, and Teagan Croft take the lead as Robin, Starfire, Beast Boy, and Raven. Many prominent characters from the DC Universe would also appear, with many Bat-family members chiming in, such as Jason Todd, Tim Drake, and Barbra Gordon. Some arcs also feature Conner Kent (Superboy) and the Titan’s perpetual nemesis Deathstroke. The edgier tone of the show didn’t sit well with many people, yet the show managed to build a solid audience to last four seasons with 49 episodes.
16 Smallville (2001)
Whoever says Superman is a boring character needs to learn the nuances of someone who has ultimate power but chooses to do good. Alfred Gough and Miles Millar understand Superman really well. They know someone this powerful grows to be kind because of the people surrounding him. This is the ongoing theme of Smallville, a show exploring the early youth of Clark Kent in Smallville as he learns about his Kryptonian heritage and encounters other beings as powerful as he is.
Smallville gathers a fair amount of talented people showing that Hollywood rarely gets it wrong when it comes to casting The Man of Steel. The show features Tom Welling, Kristin Kreuk, Michael Rosenbaum, Annette O’Toole, John Schneider, Erica Durance, and John Glover. The overarching plotlines blend coming-of-age stories, superhero action, sci-fi, and romantic drama. It’s a great show to explore the early days of the Man of Steel and see him evolve from the mild-mannered farm boy into the primary hero of the planet Earth.
15 Superman: The Animated Series (1996)
Bruce Timm and Paul Dini created something extraordinary when they premiered Batman: The Animated Series on the Fox network back in 1992. It would make sense to follow up with their take on the ultimate Superhero of all times. That’s how we got Superman: The Animated Series in 1996. Alan Burnett was brought in to serve as the showrunner, with Paul Dini writing some of the best stories. The team made the perfect casting choices, with Tim Daly as Superman, Dana Delany as Lois Lane, and Clancy Brown as Lex Luthor.
Most of the stories take place in Metropolis while introducing many elements that laid the foundation for the expanded DC Animated universe we got in Justice League years later. The show seamlessly adapted stories featuring characters from The Fourth World. Other DC characters such as Aquaman, Flash, and Firestorm guest starred, and Superman got to team up with Batman at least a couple of times. It still stands as one of the best-animated shows featuring Superman, with many compelling storylines and a strong emphasis on morality that gave it an enduring appeal.
14 DC’s Stargirl (2020)
Geoff Johns’s tenure at DC hasn’t gone unnoticed. The man has been producing bangers in the company since 1999 when he debuted a brand new take on the Justice Society of America. One of the standout characters was Stargirl, known initially as Star-Spangled Kid. The character’s real name is Courtney Whitmore, and she is based on the real-life sister of Johns, who died in the crash of the TWA Flight 800 in 1996. Johns would serve as the showrunner and lead writer for the duration of the show.
Stargirl is more of a wholesome take than other CW shows in the Arrowverse. Most stories included a lot of callbacks to the Silver Age of DC comics, with prominent characters of the JSA making a comeback with brand new identities, such as Yolanda Montez as Wildcat, Rick Tyler as Hourman, and Beth Chapel as Dr. Mid-Nite. The fantastic cast includes Brec Bassinger, Luke Wilson, and Anjelika Washington. It’s a story about self-discovery and building a new generation of heroes as Courtney learns how to handle the cosmic staff and be a hero.
13 Constantine (2014)
Constantine is a show that had it all to be a hit, but it also signaled the incoming hit of superhero fatigue, proving that much of a good thing doesn’t sit well with audiences. The first tenure of Constantine as a weekly show was conceived by Daniel Cerone and David S. Goyer. The supernatural horror drama based on the character drew a lot from the mainstream version of the character recently absorbed by DC after rebranding their universe as The N52. The shows feature the excellent cast of Matt Ryan as John Constantine, alongside Harold Perrineau and Angélica Celaya in recurring roles.
Showrunner Daniel Cerone would retroactively include the character in the Arrowverse when the show was canceled after the first season. The network cited late viewership as the show only gained a cult following much later after it premiered. Matt Ryan would play the part in multiple shows across the Arrowverse while becoming the defacto voice for Constantine in every DC animated movie moving forward. It was a dark, gritty take on the character that stayed true to the source material while including adventure elements mixed in with the occult.
12 The Flash (1990)
After DC reinvented itself with Batman 1989, the campy aesthetic was gone, and grim and gritty was in. Warner tried to emulate that feeling on TV with The Flash. Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo created the show, and it has everything that made Batman a smash hit in the movies: a score by Danny Elfman, a sculpted costume, and pulp-like stories for every episode. Most of the stories were written by classic comic mainstay Howard Chaykin, and the cast included working actors of the era, such as John Wesley Shipp, Amanda Pays, and Alex Désert.
The main focus of the series is Barry Allen, a forensic scientist who manages to obtain superhuman speed after being struck by lightning. With his newfound powers, Barry becomes The Flash and protects Central City from criminals and metahumans alike. The show had a single season with 22 episodes, but it garnered a cult following, unlike anything of the era. John Wesley Shipp would prove to be so popular and remembered in the role he would get the chance to play Barry’s dad in the 2014 version of The Flash, where he also gets to play Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash.
11 Arrow (2012)
It’s pretty difficult to understate the importance of Arrow when it comes to the long-lasting legacy of DC properties on TV. While many people dismiss it as a Batman rip-off due to the constant influx of villains from Batman lore, the show was the main foundation to build the Arrowverse. Arrow was developed by Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, and Andrew Kreisberg. It’s the story of Oliver Queen, a millionaire who returns to Star City after a near-death experience to protect it from crime as the masked vigilante The Green Arrow.
As the show grew each season, it introduced more heroes to its own lore, with many spin-offs taking off successfully, such as The Flash, Supergirl, Black Lighting, and DC Legends of Tomorrow. It was likely the most successful shared universe outside of Marvel to achieve the same level of recognition with only a fraction of the budget of the massive franchise. The cast includes Stephen Amell, Emily Bett Rickards, David Ramsey, and many others. Most of the show’s storylines had a gritty and grounded approach, but as more metahumans were introduced, the show depicted more fantastic elements. It ended its final run with eight seasons and 170 episodes.
10 Batman: The Animated Series (1992)
Batman 1989 created a revolution around the character. The film revitalized the character by removing all the campy elements of the 60s and turning it into a worldwide phenomenon. Warner saw fit to capitalize on that by commissioning the Fox Network with a new animated show following the same premise of the film. Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, and Eric Radomski took on the challenge and created Batman: The Animated Series, a show that would set the stage for the future of DC in animation for many years to come.
Showrunner Alan Burnett took every element of the film and transitioned to an animated style that is still regarded as the best Batman portrayal ever made for any media. The cast would become entangled in Batman lore for a long time, with Kevin Conroy voicing Batman, Mark Hamill as the Joker, and Arleen Sorkin as Harley Quinn, among many others. The series has a fantastic timeless setting making it impossible to say what year takes place, which is perfect for anyone watching the show for the first time. Batman TAS had a successful run of 2 seasons and 85 episodes, later evolving into The New Batman Adventures, which ran for 24 additional episodes.
9 The Flash (2014)
The Flash is the most successful spin-off from the Arrowverse, and it ran way longer than its parent show. Barry Allen was introduced in the second season of Arrow in 2013, played by Grant Gustin, who is regarded by many as the best live-action Flash to date. His appearance proved to be so popular he would get his own spin-off next year. The concept for the series was crafted by Greg Berlanti, Geoff Johns, and Andrew Kreisberg, who would also serve as showrunner for much of the show’s duration.
Grant Gustin plays the lead role, and the man was genuinely committed to playing the character right by reading as many Flash comics as possible. Most of the show’s stories take cues from famous comic storylines, with multiple comic-inspired villains taking prominence, such as Reverse Flash, Professor Zoom, Savitar, Godspeed, and many others. The cast grew exponentially as many members of the Flash family were introduced to the show, such as Jay Garrick, Bart Allen, and Wally West. The show frequently played with multiverse storylines and crossed over with other Arrowverse properties. It ran for a total of nine seasons and 184 episodes.
8 Doom Patrol (2019)
The most obscure team of superheroes at DC Comics finally had time to shine on its own back in 2019. Doom Patrol is a group that is very much akin to Marvel’s X-Men, with many fans stating the mutants are an outright copy of the team. The Doom Patrol is a team of misfits who gather together under the tutelage of the Chief. While their stories deal with super heroics, Doom Patrol is more interested in exploring the personal dramas of each team member. The premise was developed by Arnold Drake, Bob Haney, and Bruno Premiani, with Jeremy Carver working as the showrunner.
Most of the series takes a cue from Grant Morrison’s version of these characters. The solid cast includes many working actors with familiar faces, such as Diane Guerrero, Brendan Fraser, Matt Bomer, Alan Tudyk, and Timothy Dalton. The show explores each team member’s abilities and the tragic past that led them to become such an unlikely squad. Most of their adventures are played in the realm of supernatural phenomena while protecting the world from some of the most bizarre threats. The show is about to wrap up its fourth and final season with 40 episodes.
7 Superman & Lois (2021)
The Arrowverse has its own Superman, which of course, debuted in the Supergirl show. His appearance was such a massive hit that Superman & Lois was commissioned as the last show in the Arrowverse. Although recent remarks by developers Greg Berlanti and Todd Helbing seem to imply the show takes place in a different universe, making the swan song of the Arrowverse its own thing, just as Smallville and Lois & Clark. Superman & Lois is a superhero drama series focused on something rarely explored with such a powerful character: his family life and his marriage with Lois Lane.
Unlike most depictions of Superman, this one is married, with kids, and works as a high school coach, while Lois works at a local paper. They moved out of Metropolis to give their kids a chance at a normal life, but being Superman doesn’t come easy, as danger follows wherever he goes. The solid cast features the talents of Tyler Hoechlin, Elizabeth Tulloch, Alex Garfin, Michael Bishop, and Dylan Walsh. It’s a great story balancing the challenge of being the world’s greatest Superhero while raising two teenage sons. It’s currently airing with three seasons and 43 episodes.
6 Peacemaker (2022)
Ask anyone what was the best part of The Suicide Squad, and most will point at Peacemaker. The unforgiving assassin who loves peace so much and it’s willing to kill as many men, women, and children as it takes to achieve his objective was exquisitely played by John Cena. The character proved so popular that it was spun on his own spin-off right after the events of the film. The show was created, written, and directed by James Gunn, which cemented his position as master of all trades for the upcoming DCU.
The casting call includes many of the side characters who appeared alongside Viola Davis in The Suicide Squad, such as Danielle Brooks, Steve Agee, and Freddie Stroma, who now work for Peacemaker as their backup operatives. The team is forced to assist Peacemaker as he infiltrates the ARGUS black ops squad to uncover what is behind Project Butterfly. The unique, irreverent writing of Gunn highlights all the strengths of Cena as the character while also highlighting his human side. It’s a great story with only eight episodes and no prospects of a future renewal.
5 Batman Beyond (1999)
After Batman TAS proved to be a smash hit, the team of Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, and Alan Burnett had a lot of leeway to experiment with the animated universe. Batman Beyond was one of the best experiments to come out of their many brainstorming sessions. This animated series goes one step beyond the usual lore by completely replacing Batman with a brand-new character. Terry McGinnis became the story’s main focus, with an older Bruce Wayne mentoring him. The show was also a smash success, lasting for three seasons and ranking 56 episodes.
Will Friedle played McGuinnis, while Kevin Conroy returned as Batman. The show was set in a futuristic version of Gotham City, where Batman has lost his battle against crime. The cyberpunk landscape revisited many of the old mainstays of the show, while others received special treatment, such as The Joker, who made his triumphant return in a feature film by taking over Tim Drake’s body. It was a gripping story that finally got a resolution in the final episodes of Justice League Unlimited, with a great twist.
4 Swamp Thing (2019)
Some of the best shows produced by CW during the Arrowverse never got their time to shine, despite being great offerings with solid stories in unique settings. Constantine and Swamp Thing shared a similar fate. The show was developed by James Wan and Mark Verheiden, who also served as the lead writer for the show. The supernatural horror elements of the show never had their time to shine, as the network undermined the show with poor marketing and a shoddy spot on the weekly schedule. Despite its critical acclaim, the series was canceled after ten episodes, but it completed the planned story arc.
The casting of Swamp Thing features working actors such as Andy Bean, Crystal Reed, Derek Mears, and Virginia Madsen. The story follows Dr. Abby Arcane as she investigates a mysterious swamp-borne virus that can potentially be deadly to human life. As her research deepens, she finds out about Alec Holland and how he became the powerful elemental creature known as Swamp Thing. It was a great story with a lot of potential, such as Constantine, which combined horror, fantasy, and intrigue that went to waste due to a lack of vision by the network.
3 Young Justice (2010)
It’s impossible to build a ranking of the best DC Superhero shows of all time and not include the best-animated venture of the studio to date. Young Justice has certainly been a roller-coaster for fans of the franchise who had to endure long pauses between seasons. The good trait of this show is still present for most of its duration: it has some of the best writing of any DC animated show, with overarching storylines and a singular plot in each season that leads to a satisfying ending while setting up the next season with great success. Young Justice was created by Greg Weisman and Brandon Vietti, alongside Peter David, who works as the lead writer of each season.
Young Justice is a fresh take on DC’s young heroes. It’s different from the Teens Titan, although it could bear the name without issues. The large cast includes people like Jesse McCartney as Robin, Nolan North as Superboy, Stephanie Lemelin as Artemis, and many more. The series follows a group of teenage superheroes being mentored by Justice League members, who frequently appear in the show. The show resembles most of DC’s Animated features of the era but takes place in its own continuity. It had a solid run of four seasons and 98 episodes.
2 Watchmen (2019)
How do you follow up on something as great as Watchmen? The most remarkable story ever told in comic books was deemed unfilmable for many years until DC shed their fears and gave Zack Snyder a chance to tell the story with mixed results. It would take ten years for Warner to shed their fears again and make a follow-up to the story. Watchmen is a show that works as a sequel to the comic book series. Flashbacks in the story show the actual Squid hitting Manhattan, so it’s safe to say the story is the same continuity. It was created by Damon Lindelof, who also wrote and directed the whole thing.
Watchmen is a dystopian story set in the future where America has fallen due to extremist groups taking over. Gun Control runs rampant; somehow, Robert Redford is President, and all the characters who participated in the original events are dead, retired, imprisoned, or forced to work for the government. The amazing cast features the talents of Regina King, Jeremy Irons, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. It’s a dense story full of social commentary, with themes such as vigilantism, racial tension, and moral ambiguity rearing its head in every single episode. It’s a one-shot miniseries with only nine episodes, but it’s well worth your time.
1 Justice League (2001)
The buildup that started with Batman TAS and Superman TAS led to the most beloved show ever created by Warner Bros. Justice League, an animated series created by Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, and Alan Burnett. It’s a thrilling series featuring the team-up of the most powerful heroes on Earth under a single banner. The ensemble cast features every single character you have seen in the previous ventures of Batman and Superman, along with many new faces. Kevin Conroy, Tim Daly, Mark Hammill, and Clancy Brown are joined by Susan Eisenberg as Wonder Woman, Carl Lumbly as Martian Manhunter, and many more.
The series begins with the formation of the Justice League to protect the Earth from supervillains and cosmic threats. The epic storylines were told in two to three episodes. It was peak DC animated bonanza, full of dynamic action, impossible threats, and significant interpersonal relationships. The show would be a massive success, leading to its evolution into Justice League Unlimited. The new series added more heroes to the fray and a storytelling format similar to the one that would be used later in Young Justice. The two shows managed to get five full seasons with 91 episodes, and it’s still considered the ultimate version of the Justice League ever placed on the small screen.