Last Updated: December 4th
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.
2 seasons, 16 episodes | IMDb: 7.8/10
The OA has been wildly divisive among both critics and viewers alike, with about 50 percent strongly disliking it and the other 50 percent incredibly intrigued by the Brit Marling series. Marling stars as Praire Johnson, a blind, adopted woman who disappears for seven years and when she returns, she has scars on her back, she’s clearly been underground for a long period of time, and she can see. She calls herself The OA, and shares the details of her disappearance with only a few select people, her cult of followers. It’s an ambitious, imaginative series and though it is wildly uneven, it still remains watchable, full of moments both profound and eye rolling. The problem with The OA, however, is that it buys too readily into its own ethos and ultimately takes itself way more seriously than any viewer could.
Mystery Science Theater 3000
1 season, 20 episodes | IMDb: 8.5/10
The brand new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000, featuring a cast a crew of old-hands and newcomers alike, arrived on April 14th but that’s no excuse to ignore 20 of the original series’ classic episodes, made available by Netflix for both longtime fans and lollygagging greenhorns to enjoy. So before new human host, Jonah Heston (Jonah Ray) and his robot companions come along to participate in new sketches while vilifying more awful movies, watch these old favorites with your old favorites.
5 seasons, 23 episodes | IMDb: 8.9/10
Love it or hate it, Black Mirror is one of the more popular and successful shows on television right now. A modern successor to The Twilight Zone, albeit with a technological twist, Charlie Brooker’s British-American creation recently came to Netflix with an exclusive fourth season featuring new horrifying critiques of some very real-world behaviors that, with a little science-fiction flourish, could become a nightmare reality in just a few years or decades.
3 seasons, 39 episodes | IMDb: 7.5/10
You’re trapped aboard a semi-functioning ship in the depths of space. You have no idea who you are. You’re all alone, except for an assortment of fellow human beings who are asleep in stasis. So you wake them up for answers and for the company, only to discover that they have no idea who they are either. No, this isn’t that terrible sci-fi film Passengers with Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. It’s a Canadian series called Dark Matter that aired on the Space channel. And since its six main human characters cannot remember their names or pasts, they name each other numbers One through Six (in order of who woke up when) and set about trying to discover who they are, why they’re there and who’s coming after them.
Star Trek: The Original Series
3 seasons, 80 episodes | IMDb: 8.3/10
Frankly, almost half of this list could consist of Star Trek shows. Star Trek: The Animated Series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager and, hell, even Star Trek: Enterprise are all available to stream on Netflix. All of these have their merits (except for Enterprise), but the William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy-starring original series is where it all began. To admit to watching one or all of the other programs cited above, but not Star Trek: The Original Series would be a crime against yourself and the rest of sci-fi fandom. This is where Gene Roddenberry’s vision first got its start on broadcast television, after all.
Legends of Tomorrow
4 seasons, 87 episodes | IMDb: 6.9/10
Legends of Tomorrow, the third Greg Berlanti-produced DC Comics show to come alive on The CW, is bonkers — but in the best way possible. It’s like if someone took the nuts and bolts of Doctor Who, the most disparate, minor superheroes and villains in the DC roster, and combined them into a single vehicle. (Quite literally, in fact.) It’s literally a show about time-traveling comic book characters hopping from one famous portion of human history to another, all in an effort to “fight the future” and its nefarious bad guys. It doesn’t always make the most sense, but it’s still fun to watch.
Star Trek: The Next Generation
7 seasons, 176 episodes | IMDb: 8.6/10
As significant as Star Trek: The Original Series is, Gene Roddenberry’s television successor broken even more ground in the science-fiction genre and beyond. TNG fans are just as stalwart as TOS proponents, if not more so, and the generational differences between the two groups produce more positivity within the series’ larger fan community than anything else. Plus, there were four more and far longer seasons of TNG for viewers to watch, re-watch and discuss frequently — both at the time, and decades later with the arrival of the Internet, message board and social media.
3 seasons, 33 episodes | IMDb: 8.9/10
A throwback and love letter to the early 1980s movies of Steven Spielberg and John Carpenter, the Duffer Brothers’ Stranger Things feels both familiar and new. It’s about a boy named Will (think E.T.‘s Elliot) who is captured by a The Thing-like creature and trapped in a Poltergeist-like world. His mother (Winona Ryder) recruits the local sheriff to investigate Will’s disappearance. Meanwhile, Will’s dorky, Goonies-like best friends take to their bikes to do some sleuthing of their own and eventually befriend an alien-like girl with telepathic powers (the E.T. of the series). Season two continues that vibe as the show dives deeper into government conspiracies and alien monsters intent on wreaking havoc on small-town Indiana. It’s great PG horror/sci-fi, like the blockbusters of the early ’80s, and even if you didn’t come of age in the era, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.