For a few weeks in early Autumn 2022, trying to keep up with sci-fi and fantasy TV was a bit like trying to take down The Boys’ super-powered, psychopathic antagonist, Homelander: equal parts near-impossible and irresistible.
Between dueling fantasy prequels in House of the Dragon and The Rings of Power, the arrival of Andor, and yet another Marvel streaming series (remember She-Hulk?), there was enough genre TV to keep even the most scathing fans happy and satisfied. For critics like us, it was exhausting enough just trying to keep track of all those Targaryens. But in a year full of incredible television, it was inevitable that some of the best stuff would overlap.
From incredible encore performances like The Boys Season 3 and What We Do in the Shadows Season 4 to brilliant debuts like Severance and Outer Range, here are the 25 best TV shows of 2022, according to the Inverse Entertainment staff and some of our favorite freelance writers.
25. Cobra Kai Season 5
Even five seasons in, it’s still a miracle Cobra Kai exists. Much like its characters, the show is a true comeback story. Despite Cobra Kai’s consistent popularity over the last four years, it’s maintained an undeniable underdog quality. Maybe it’s because our expectations are always just below what the show manages to deliver. Or maybe it’s because the showrunners tap into the innate appeal of that first Karate Kid movie: watching teenagers and their parents settle rivalries with karate never really gets old.
Season 5 kicks off with Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) picking up the pieces of their shattered dojos and personal lives after losing the big tournament last season. It’s a slow start, but the central message about knowing when to fight and when to move on is compelling enough to rank it among the show’s best entries. — Jon Negroni
24. The Sandman
Neil Gaiman’s work may be impossible to adapt perfectly to live-action, but Netflix’s The Sandman gets pretty darn close. The TV adaptation of Gaiman’s seminal graphic novel series is admittedly tamer and more subdued than its genre-bending source material, but it overcomes the limits of reality thanks to its tremendous cast and a keen sense for turning the stuff of nightmares into compelling television. In some of the year’s best casting, Tom Sturridge growls his way through Sandman as Morpheus, the anthropomorphic personification of Dream and one of the “Endless” who have been alive since the beginning of time.
The Sandman is at its best when it’s less a slavish adaptation and instead captures the strange, surreal, uneasy spirit of those imaginative comic book pages. When it hits its stride midway through its first season, The Sandman plays like a dream. — Hoai-Tran Bui
23. The Rehearsal
The Rehearsal is the greatest portrayal of anxiety ever seen on television. Nathan Fielder, the master of grand schemes and deadpan direction, must have cost HBO a fortune with the show’s premise: what if you could rehearse key life moments until you can control all the variables? The first episode, following a man telling his trivia partner he doesn’t actually have a Master’s degree, went well enough, but over the course of the show, Fielder becomes more and more invested in his experiments.
By the end, Fielder becomes a Philip Zimbardo-like puppet master reckoning with the results of his evil experiments. It’s a hilarious comedy, but it’s also a surreal, introspective script that brings to mind Synecdoche, New York, more than Nathan for You. — Dais Johnston
22. Only Murders in the Building Season 2
Who knew throwing Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez together in a true-crime comedy show would make TV magic? And that it would work twice? The unlikely comedy trio returned as our favorite true-crime podcasters in a more lightweight but still extremely fun season of Only Murders in the Building. While we couldn’t tell you what the plot of the season — or its murderer — was, we can say that Only Murders in the Building Season 2 delivers exactly what we needed: a frothy and self-aware tone, fabulous coats, and just general good vibes from actors we were happy to see onscreen together again. Witnessing Steve Martin in a beachy throwback music video didn’t hurt, either. — Hoai-Tran Bui
21. Atlanta Seasons 3 & 4
Back in 2016, a genre-bending television revolution began on a disused couch on a grassy knoll. Even creator and star Donald Glover couldn’t have imagined back then that Atlanta would become a pop culture force, making stars out of Brian Tyree Henry, Lakeith Stanfield, and Zazie Beetz — and creating a cottage industry of indelible internet catchphrases, memes, and GIFs. If Seasons 1 and 2 are surreal, iconoclastic shots to the bow of television (where Blackness became a prickly comedic tool for enlivening the inequities of culture and mass media), then Seasons 3 and 4 are Atlanta’s swan song as Glover grappled with the difficulty of remaining creatively distinctive and spiritually honest within a mainstream you’ve helped define. These seasons offer no easy answers. Rather, they are as endlessly quirky, ingenious, and defining as the city that inspired them. — Robert Daniels
20. Russian Doll Season 2
Russian Doll’s surrealist first season made us all want to move to New York and got Harry Nilsson’s “Gotta Get Up” stuck in our heads for weeks. If there was any series that made creating a second season near impossible, this was it.
But with one key decision — changing “time loops” to “time travel” — what began as an exploration of community and personal trauma became a sobering look at generational trauma and how the suffering of our ancestors reverberates through our lives. Natasha Lyonne kills it, as usual, but Charlie Barnett and Annie Clark give her ample material to bounce off. Against all odds, Season 2 stuck the landing. — Dais Johnston
19. Outer Range
One of the best science fiction series of the year was a show about Josh Brolin finding a giant hole in his ranch. By telling one of the most original time travel stories in recent memory, Outer Range pushed the notion of prestige sci-fi into an entirely different direction. This series also proved that just because a science fiction series is serious and dark doesn’t mean that it can’t also be hilarious. At its best moments, Outer Range feels like a fantastic stage play, one in which you’re hooked not by the high concept premise but by the small decisions each actor makes in their nuanced performances. A truly unique series. — Ryan Britt
18. Moon Knight
You may have already forgotten Moon Knight, but that’s not a mark against it. While every other Marvel and DC release this year kept one eye on the future, Oscar Isaac’s Egyptian adventure was aggressively disinterested in expounding on MCU canon. Without the need to dangle plot baubles and foreshadow future revelations, the miniseries could just sit us down and tell us a damn story. Maybe it meandered a little, and the requisite CGI blobfest wasn’t the most compelling finale, but it was refreshing to watch a superhero show that wasn’t also trying to sell us a ticket to a movie scheduled for 2026. As more and more Marvel TV feel like homework, Moon Knight’s remedial strategy of letting good actors do their thing was a revelation. — Mark Hill
17. Stranger Things Season 4
If there were any doubt Stranger Things could still be relevant in 2022, let Kate Bush’s overnight ascension to the top of the Billboard charts and legions of Metallica converts put them to rest. The fourth season of Netflix’s biggest original series straight-up owned summer streaming as it told yet another enthralling chapter in the saga of the Hawkins gang, now growing from middle school weirdos to high school outcasts.
Season 4 introduced even more to love: metalhead Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn) and cheerleader Chrissy Cunningham (Grace Van Dien), whose doomed romance kicked off a new Satanic panic — and the doors to the Upside Down to finally crack open for all to see. Stranger Things will soon come to an end, but right now, it’s never been better. — Eric Francisco
The glam metal theme of Peacemaker asked, “Do you wanna taste it?” And we all said hell yes. Under the guiding hand of James Gunn, Peacemaker was a surprise delight that surpassed expectations to deliver subversive adult superhero fun to stand firmly in a marketplace ruled by The Boys. The first and arguably unlikeliest spin-off of the DC film franchise picks up from Gunn’s The Suicide Squad to follow its titular anti-hero — played again by an absurdly game-for-anything John Cena — on a bloody road to resume his duty and reclaim his dignity. The show’s satirical and oftentimes dark exploration of masculinity elevates Peacemaker into something far more complicated and insightful. Cena’s comically stupid chrome helmet turns into a self-reflective mirror in which we can gaze at our moral compass — or lack thereof. — Eric Francisco
15. Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
If the Star Trek franchise has a reputation for being deeply entangled in its own complex continuity, Strange New Worlds proved the Final Frontier can be mainstream again. Capturing the freshness of both The Original Series and The Next Generation, the biggest strength of Strange New Worlds is that it’s a sci-fi series that isn’t trying to accomplish all that much. While other new Trek shows like Discovery and Picard might be more ambitious and risky, Strange New Worlds succeeded by recreating the classic planet-of-the-week format that defined early TV science fiction. It’s easy to forget that all sci-fi TV owes something to the 1960s Star Trek, but when you watch Strange New Worlds, you remember. It’s retro without feeling clunky and new enough to feel a bit transgressive. — Ryan Britt
14. Barry Season 3
The third season of Bill Hader and Alec Berg’s Barry is a testament to what can happen when a TV show is given the time to evolve past its original self. What started as a straightforward series about a hitman who decides to become an actor has slowly become a searing, unflinching treatise on the effects that violence and guilt can have not only on one man’s soul but on the community that surrounds him. In its third season, Barry rips off the band-aids that had long been used to cover its characters’ lingering wounds and lets them sit and fester under the Sun. Across its eight episodes, Barry Season 3 delivers all the moments of humor and violence its viewers have come to expect while only doubling down further on the touches of darkness and formal invention present in the first two seasons. — Alex Welch
13. The White Lotus Season 2
Mike White is quietly one of the most interesting creators in entertainment. Aside from the fact he wrote and acted in Richard Linklater’s masterpiece School of Rock, he’s also appeared on Survivor and The Amazing Race. Then, in 2021, he rocked TV fans with The White Lotus, an ensemble drama (and quasi-murder-mystery) that gave audiences the escape we needed and went on to sweep the Emmys.
In 2022, The White Lotus Season 2 built off that precedent and reached new heights with a location change to Sicily. With a cast boasting Michael Imperioli, Aubrey Plaza, and returning icon Jennifer Coolidge, the series is reviving farcical tropes found in Italian operas and giving them a harsh 21st-century backdrop. This isn’t just a rehash: it’s a revelation. — Dais Johnston
12. Harley Quinn Season 3
Set in a Batman universe unlike any you’ve seen before, Harley Quinn revolves around the Joker’s ex-girlfriend as she strives to leave behind her sidekick status and become a bonafide supervillain. The HBO Max series debuted in 2019, and in Season 3, Harley Quinn truly hit its stride.
The show’s adult humor and devotion to spotlighting some of DC’s weirdest characters quickly made it a favorite among comic book fans, but in Season 3, Harley Quinn dove deeper into the good-evil binary that defines so many of the stories set in Gotham City. The result is a story that’s equal parts bizarre, shocking, and surprisingly three-dimensional. — Meg Walters
11. Ms. Marvel
Gloriously shot and chock full of spectacular special effects, Ms. Marvel was the MCU’s best — and most memorable — television output of 2022 because it wasn’t afraid to be about being a teenager and being about a teenage superhero. Created by Bisha K. Ali, the Disney+ miniseries is loaded with humor and heart that feels authentic to this fantastical, larger-than-life story about a Muslim Pakistani-American girl in New Jersey desperate to make her parents proud and retain her individuality. As if puberty and fitting in weren’t tricky enough, she develops superpowers at a seriously inopportune time. Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) may not be a household name quite yet, but this thoroughly enjoyable origin story is a good indicator that the best is yet to come from the magnificent Ms. Marvel. — Mónica Marie Zorrilla
10. The Rings of Power
Not to toot Jeff Bezos’ horn here, but maybe one of the wealthiest people in the world also being a J.R.R. Tolkien nerd is a good thing. Amazon’s The Rings of Power, a Lord of the Rings prequel set thousands of years before Frodo Baggins' unexpected journey, is the most expensive show to have ever been made.
Guess what? The inclusion of steamy Ismael Cruz Cordóva as Elven hero Arondir and bubbly Sophia Nomvete as Dwarf queen Disa were inspiring choices that added to the story. And speaking of narrative, Rings of Power was written superbly, drawing from Tolkien’s texts and Peter Jackson's sensibilities while taking creative liberties when necessary. The striking set design and cinematography are mind-blowing, the battle choreography is epic, and the score by Bear McCreary is nothing short of mystical. With a five-season arc in the works, the future looks bright for The Rings of Power. — Mónica Marie Zorrilla
9. The Boys Season 3
Season after season, it doesn’t have to go as hard as it has. Still, The Boys builds upon its zany and downright nasty premise — naughty superheroes and their even naughtier corporate bosses — and turns around masterful satire that tackles the Marvel/DC phenomenon and so much more. Season 3 is vicious and shrewd, giving us some of the raunchiest gross-out visuals the show has ever dared to depict while expanding upon its more down-to-earth narratives.
This season of The Boys was likely the Amazon Prime show’s most ambitious. Season 3 subverts its foundations by temporarily giving its anti-Supe heroes (Karl Urban’s Billy Butcher and Jack Quaid’s Hughie Campbell) superpowers of their own while stretching the limits of its genre with a dreamy, choreographed dance sequence and cartoon animals. There’s a reason why The Boys has every other superhero series beat: it has guts. — Mónica Marie Zorrilla
8. Mythic Quest Season 3
After stepping away for nearly two full years, Apple TV+’s Mythic Quest debuted its long-awaited third season in November 2022. When it did, any fears or concerns about the show’s future were quickly extinguished. Not only does Mythic Quest Season 3 survive the loss of an original recurring player, but it makes up for the absence of F. Murray Abraham’s C.W. by investing in character pairings that the series previously hadn’t explored. By proving that it can evolve and survive even the most disruptive of cast departures, Mythic Quest’s third season has only made yet another convincing case for the series’ status as the best workplace comedy on TV right now. — Alex Welch
7. Our Flag Means Death
Our Flag Means Death is like a TV show made by an AI trained on 2012-era Tumblr, and that’s a compliment. Starring New Zealand comedy star Rhys Darby and multi-hyphenate Taika Waititi, this “historical” rom-com is unlike anything else on TV. Incredibly loosely based on the life of real-world “Gentleman Pirate” Stede Bonnet, Our Flag Means Death follows adventurer wannabe Stede as he assembles a ragtag crew, ends up on the wrong side of Blackbeard, and then falls in love with him.
Our Flag Means Death made the gay subtext text, allowing what would have been an average historical workplace comedy into one of the best love stories of 2022 — and one of the best engines for fan work. — Dais Johnston
6. House of the Dragon
If Better Call Saul was a “How will they pull this off?” prequel, the question raised by House of the Dragon was, “Why should we care?” We know this all ends with Jon sad, Daenerys dead, and fans lamenting the waste that was Game of Thrones’ final seasons. So does it really matter how we get there? Maybe not, but HotD is a reminder of why we loved the brutality of Westeros in the first place. Free from the weight of crushing expectations, it’s shown us ambitious people doing terrible things to claim a throne we know will betray them. Forget the plodding analyses of its themes and messages, this is pulp fiction in fancy dress told with enough panache to justify your Sunday nights. — Mark Hill
5. What We Do in the Shadows Season 4
Devilishly entertaining as ever, What We Do in the Shadows took a wildly creative risk for Season 4. Resurrection gimmicks wouldn’t work in almost any other show, but a CGI-plastered visage of Mark Proksch’s face on a kid’s body gives the FX comedy a facelift it didn’t even need. The fourth season of the irreverent mockumentary has enough panache, low-brow hilarity, and consistent cleverness to deliver a good time. Of course, it helps the cast’s chemistry is simply off the charts — this wouldn’t have worked half as well without the likes of Natasia Demetriou, Matt Berry, Kayvan Novak, Harvey Guillên, and Proksch all under the same crumbling Staten Island roof. What We Do in the Shadows reminds us that we shouldn’t have to turn off our brains to enjoy comedy while still being as crude and gross as anything else on TV. — Mónica Marie Zorrilla
4. For All Mankind Season 3
Apple’s ambitious alternate timeline series entered its version of the 1990s in Season 3 and in doing so, delivered its most complex and daring story yet. In Season 1, exploring a super-charged NASA in the 1960s and early ‘70s felt like a space race version of Mad Men, while the alternate ‘80s of Season 2 gave us a twisted sense of nostalgia. But in Season 3, the novelty of this show’s alternate timeline is less important. Instead, For All Mankind focused on social progress — and how technological progress affects big changes in our political landscape (and vice versa). This isn’t always a good thing, of course. And despite having a deep sense of optimism at its core, For All Mankind Season 3 depicted humanity at its messiest and most contradictory. If the show gets to its ambitious seven-season arc, it will become the sci-fi version of A Hundred Years of Solitude. — Ryan Britt
From out of nowhere in early 2022 came Severance, which vigorously reimagined the eerie workplace thriller with arresting, finely composed skill. In this near-future dystopia, employees at the controversial and mysterious Lumon — like the widowed Mark, played by Adam Scott; and panicked Helly, played by Britt Lower — are “severed” between their work and personal lives. Within the walls of Lumon's pristine emptiness, devoid of outside influence, a worker’s revolution brews under oppressive surveillance. When the pandemic encouraged us to reassess our relationship with employment, Severance reminded us that we’re more valuable than what we’re worth to our corporate overlords. Come for the creepy Control-like vibes, and stay for the waffle party. — Eric Francisco
Andor belongs to one of the biggest franchises ever, yet it somehow benefited from word of mouth. Fans who had sworn off Disney-era Star Wars heard that “Tony Gilroy made a spy thriller about how the only answer to a dictatorship is armed rebellion” and found themselves re-evaluating.
Alongside masterclass performances from Diego Luna, Kyle Soller, and Stellan Skarsgard, every episode has an emotional climax powerful enough to anchor a Star Wars movie of its own. In Episode 10, Andy Serkis makes himself a major Emmy contender in a rare non-motion-capture role, while Season 1’s haunting finale featured a riot that starts with a blow from a brick containing a character’s ashes. Andor isn’t just one of the best Star Wars TV shows. It’s one of the best spy shows ever. — Dais Johnston
1. Better Call Saul Season 6
When Better Call Saul was announced in 2013, fans asked how Vince Gilligan and company could pull off a prequel about a beloved Breaking Bad character best known for providing slimy legal advice and comic relief. By the time the show concluded this year, the only question being asked was whether Better Call Saul had managed to eclipse its legendary precursor.
Arguably, yes, thanks to strong writing, committed acting, and relentlessly clever directing. But despite all the praise it deservedly won for picking apart the arrogance and spite that traps smart people in stupid decisions, maybe Better Call Saul should be best-remembered for trusting its audience. There was no handholding or mystery box conundrums, cheap tricks, or forced cliffhangers to keep viewers engaged. There was just character and drama and a reminder that that should be enough. — Mark Hill
Inverse celebrates the best of the best in entertainment, gaming, science, and technology of 2022. Go to the Inverse Awards hub.