There’s more happening on your television (or computer, or phone) screen now than there’s ever been before. There is just too much TV for the average human brain to sift through at any given time! And with television budgets skyrocketing, genre TV looks and sounds better than ever — especially in the realms of science fiction and fantasy. There are a ton of those shows out there too, some better than others, so we’ve taken it upon ourselves to curate the best, weirdest, and most creative stories out there about aliens, magic, robots, dragons, and everything in between. If you’re looking for something totally new to watch, or need one last incentive to go ahead and start that one show you’ve been curious about, allow us to suggest some of our favorites. If you’re in the market for the best sci-fi movies from this year instead, we’ve got that too.
Black Mirror (Netflix)
The fifth season of Black Mirror is a weird one: with every installment, the show seems to be getting less imaginative, especially when stacked against standout episodes like Bandersnatch. Season 5 has an episode that is little more than a “don’t text and drive” PSA (Simple Plan did it better), but its other two are actually not bad, and much more grounded than something like “San Junipero” or “USS Callister.” One of them imagines a future in which VR gaming tech makes things a little awkward between a guy and his best friend, and the other traps a pop star’s consciousness inside a little toy robot. It’s not exactly the heavy stuff you’d get from Season 1, but if you’re looking for more ways in which technology could ruin your life, you know where to turn.
Stranger Things (Netflix)
The newest season of Netflix’s Stranger Things, coming July 4, takes our favorite ’80s kids to a place they’ve never gone before: the mall! The show is even more vibrant and technicolor in its third season, introducing a few new characters, and at least one new monster into the mix. The demodogs are gone, but the Mind Flayer is far from beaten, sending a hew horror into the town of Hawkins, Indiana — something to do with rats, creepy fog, and body-snatching. Without spoiling too much, this season makes you actually root for Billy, the scary brother with the cool car from Season 2 — or, at least, root for him to not, you know, get eaten by something.
Good Omens (Amazon Prime)
It’s always a bit of a tense thing when a really, really good book is adapted into a film or a TV show. Most of the time, adaptations take too many liberties or switch up too many characters or generally just don’t get what it was that made the source material great in the first place, so when one really works, it feels like a miracle. The Good Omens miniseries, adapted from Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s cult classic 1990 apocalyptic farce, is one of the good ones, its best moments, naturally, centering around its two leads: slimy-cool demon Crowley, played by David Tennant, and his friend/frenemy/partner-in-crime the angel Aziraphale, played by Michael Sheen.
Love, Death + Robots (Netflix)
There’s a certain artistry to making entertaining, effective, and imaginative short films, and Netflix’s new animated series Love, Death + Robots blends all three of those strengths with some really crazy sci-fi stories. The title pretty much says it all: Every episode will have elements of love (read: sex — the show is very rated R), death, and/or robots, and sometimes a combination of all three. From a tourist party of androids traipsing through a post-apocalyptic Earth, to a monster-fighting ring where the creatures are powered by human minds, to an ancient civilization thriving in a couple’s refrigerator, to a beautiful fable about an artist in the future who only paints using one shade of blue, Love Death + Robots is a multifaceted collection of some of the most exhilarating and inventive storytelling out there.
A German-language TV show about the complexities of time travel might sound like an exhausting way to spend a Tuesday night, but I promise you, Dark is well worth the mindmelt of trying to understand the intricacies of dimension-hopping while words like Zeitreise and Umwelt are washing over your brain. The show follows Jonas Kahnwald, a boy living in the fictional town of Winden, who finds his family and his hometown wrapped up in a mystery that spans three generations, involving multiple disappearances and a spooky cave containing a wormhole that, depending on how you go through it, can transport you to the past or to the future.
Swamp Thing (DC Universe)
DC Universe’s Swamp Thing is their buzziest and most expensive project yet, with a beloved comic book hero as its protagonist and a production credit from none other than Aquaman’s James Wan — and, somehow, the most doomed. Not even a week after its first episode appeared on the streaming service, the show was canceled, some say due to operator error when it came down to a few zeroes on a Warner Bros. paycheck. What’s most unfair is that the show is really good: if you can get past all the guh-ross slimy plant stuff, there’s a crazy — and plenty terrifying — superhero origin story wrapped up in a fascinating Outbreak-style disaster tale with a dimly lit, Deep South aesthetic.
Game of Thrones (HBO)
Game of Thrones! HBO’s wildest, most expensive undertaking returned for one last round earlier this year, and… let’s just say reactions were mixed. After nine years, a gajillion character deaths, and lots of intrigue, betrayal, and trauma, we finally found out how it all ended, and got to feel a little smug about all those weirdos who named their kids Khaleesi. Wrapping up eight seasons’ worth of great houses, wars, armies, dragons, spells, old gods, new gods, true gods, poisons, lies, belated truths, incest, loot trains, and lots and lots of ravens was no easy task, but, however you feel about it, you can’t deny that the show went out with a real bang.
Star Trek: Discovery (CBS All Access)
The first season of Star Trek: Discovery was a thrilling, fiery new addition to the Star Trek family, and pretty much reason number one for adding CBS All Access to your bevy of streaming service subscriptions. (Number two is The Good Fight.) Season 2 is even better, focusing lots of its energy on a plot arc involving Spock himself, as well as a time-traveling angel dressed in a mechanical suit, and adding a new character, the particularly dashing Captain Pike (a character whom long-time fans are sure to recognize from the very first Star Trek episode). There’s still plenty of room, though, for some classic Trek-style one-off episodes, including a particularly touching story early on that throws into sharp relief the strange hypocrisy of Starfleet’s Prime Directive.
Russian Doll (Netflix)
With Natasha Lyonne’s Russian Doll, Netflix might have actually invented the perfect show. It’s eight episodes, each shorter than 30 minutes, and it’s incredibly good. When Nadia keeps dying in horrifying ways and waking back up in the bathroom the night of her birthday party to the same Harry Nilsson song, she realizes that it’s up to her to figure out why it’s happening, why it’s happening to her, and how she can stop it. What starts off as a weird, dingy Groundhog Day-inspired horror-comedy becomes an unexpectedly moving meditation on self-acceptance and our responsibility towards others in a world in which everyone only cares about themselves. As soon as you finish, you’ll want to go back in time and rewatch it immediately.