Last Updated: September 13th
In the world established by Joss Whedon’s famously canceled Firefly television series (which is sadly no longer available on Netflix), the word “shiny” shares a connotation with the word “cool.” So the co-opted adjective is all too perfect for assessing the 15 best sci-fi shows on Netflix streaming right now.
Anything ascribed to the genre of science fiction typically includes elements like imagined futures, advanced technologies, and life on faraway planets whose constellations are unrecognizable to our own, but not everything there is straight sci-fi. Nevertheless, here are the “shiniest” shows that are must watch viewings on Netflix.
2 seasons, 22 episodes + 1 Christmas special | IMDb: 8.4/10
The Wachowskis’ Sense8 is about a group of people around the world who are suddenly linked mentally. Like Cloud Atlas, the disparate stories about love and relationships weave in and out of each other. For all its sci-fi flourishes, however, Sense8 is about big, sloppy profound love, and as unwieldy as the series can often be, there’s at least one moment in every episode so powerful that viewers can’t help but to feel moved by the affection the characters feel for one another. It is sometimes cheesy, and occasionally illogical, but it is also one of the most diverse, multi-cultural, romantic, life-affirming sci-fi series ever. It may require some patience from viewers, but for idealists and romantics, it’s a truly special series.
1 season, 10 episodes | IMDb: 8.2/10
Based on the 2002 science fiction novel by Richard K. Morgan, Altered Carbon mixes a few great, new ideas with a lot of derivative ones and delivers a series that alternates between frustrating and brilliant. The show is set in a future where everyone’s consciences have been downloaded into stacks, which can be transferred into different “sleeves,” or bodies. Theoretically, a person can live forever, unless his or her stack is destroyed; however, in practice, only the wealthy can afford to buy the necessary sleeves to live indefinitely. In this world, Joel Kinnaman stars as Takeshi Kovacs, a former U.N. elite soldier who returns in a different sleeve to work as a private investigator hired by a wealthy man to solve the murder of his own sleeve. The premise itself is fascinating, but the show gets bogged down in world-building before it can establish its characters. There are also a few fascinating wrinkles (clones, backed-up consciences, Blade Runner-like androids), but it’s a show that, for better or worse, requires viewers’ close attention. Unfortunately, the characters themselves are often not worth the attention required. It’s a better show on paper than onscreen, but there are easily enough interesting ideas percolating here to sustain sci-fi enthusiast through some of the dense, slower-moving episodes and the occasionally unengaging characters.
Into The Badlands
3 seasons, 24 episodes | IMDb: 8.1/10
There are plenty of post-apocalyptic shows on this list but none as inventive and action-packed as AMC’s Into The Badlands. The series takes place after a great war destroyed what civil society was left on Earth, leaving behind a hierarchal system of Barons, men and women who use slaves to help them achieve power and keep a tentative peace in a wasteland known as The Badlands. Daniel Wu plays Sunny, a clipper — highly trained soldiers — who serves as the show’s protagonist and anti-hero, a man with a moral center and questionable allies. There’s plenty of martial arts, bloodshed, and war to keep things interesting but what’s really intriguing about this sci-fi series is the amount of world building the writers have been able to craft out of the three seasons available on Netflix.
6 seasons, 74 episodes | IMDb: 7.8/10
The CW continues to prove it’s committed to bringing quality sci-fi series to the masses. It’s got a slew of superhero fare currently in its lineup but we can’t forget one of the longest-running shows on the network, The 100. The series from Jason Rothenberg focuses on a group of delinquents sent down from space to see if a post-apocalyptic Earth is survivable. The story quickly balloons to include Grounders, natives who survived the first nuclear apocalypse instead of fleeing to space, Mountain Men, warring clans, a second apocalyptic event, and plenty of bad guys.
3 seasons, 37 episodes | IMDb: 7.5/10
Whatever you do, please do not sleep on Wynonna Earp. The Syfy series is a combination of genres — supernatural Western, action-adventure, and a bit of horror thrown in for good measure. The show follows Wynonna Earp, the great-great-grandaughter of the gunslinging Wyatt Earp who inherits his ability to kill revenants — old enemies returned from the dead — on her 27th birthday. Along the way, Earp has to rescue a couple of family members, contend with famous outlaws from her family’s past, and come to terms with her own supernatural abilities.
The Twilight Zone
4 seasons, 132 episodes | IMDb: 9/10
Unlike Farscape, the Rod Serling classic didn’t always adhere stringently to the genre boundaries of sci-fi. Elements of fantasy and horror were also thrown into the mix on The Twilight Zone, which made for a rather complex and difficult-to-categorize show. Depending on the episode and its writer, however, the program’s best and most memorable entries almost always featured at least some significant amount of recognizable genre components. Be they miniature aliens terrorizing a single human victim or imagined aliens whose supposed invasion sends the town into a violent panic, The Twilight Zone resides appropriately at the top of Netflix’s sci-fi offerings.
1 season, 6 episodes | IMDb: 7.2/10
With its tangible basis in the historical reality of President John F. Kennedy’s space-driven administration, the six-part Syfy miniseries Ascension imagines a scenario in which a secret mission was launched by the United States during the ’60s to colonize another planet. This narrative conceit allows for a story that is both retro and futuristic, a pseudo “Mad Men in space” in which a murder sends the ship into a tailspin just over 50 years into its 100-year mission. Of course, like any well-written science fiction television show, Ascension offers a few good twists to tease its viewers along until the very end. Some, like the reality (or lack thereof) of the ship itself as easy to foretell, while others remain hidden.