We keep getting older, but the teens on TV stay the same age.
There’s been a recent boom in young adult and teen series on TV, especially on streaming services (even HBO is getting into the mix), leading to a lot of good programming for Generation Z – and some mediocre drivel. And with the upcoming debuts of new streaming services Disney+ and Apple TV+, the adolescent marketplace is only going to get more crowded.
In honor of the recent releases of “Looking for Alaska” on Hulu and “Daybreak” on Netflix (streaming now), we ranked some of the highest-profile teen-focused streaming original series from the past few years.
10. ’13 Reasons Why’ (Netflix)
The success of this series, which explains how a teen girl’s suicide affects her classmates and friends, is perhaps the inspiration for the recent boom in teen TV, which is great because it means you can watch any other series on this list for teen hormones and drama. “13 Reasons” is controversial in its depiction of suicide, but just a badly written and acted series that has become more ludicrous the longer it’s around. There really are zero reasons to watch.
9. ‘Daybreak’ (Netflix)
The latest entry in the young adult subgenre of “teens on their own after something supernatural happens,” Netflix’s zombie apocalypse dramedy portrays a post-nuclear world where the bombs killed everyone over the age of 18 or turned them into “ghoulies” (aka zombies). The series has a few good moments that hone in on Gen Z anxieties about climate change and gun violence, but most of the time it’s trying far too hard to be hip and cool. Netflix’s “The Society” does a far better job of creating characters and conflicts with a very similar concept.
8. ‘Marvel’s Runaways’ (Hulu)
Hulu’s take on one of Marvel Comics’ best superhero teams is a wild disappointment and disservice to the source material. The series, about a group of super-powered teens fighting with (and running away from) their maybe-evil parents, is slow and plodding, and lacks the heart of the comics while spending too much time on the dull parental plots. It’s far outshined by Freeform’s rival teen Marvel series, “Cloak & Dagger,” which isn’t a streaming original but has its past seasons on Hulu, too.
7. ‘Euphoria’ (HBO)
Sparking nearly as much controversy and conversation as the far inferior “13 Reasons Why,” HBO’s first foray into a younger-skewing series didn’t garner nearly as many viewers as it did headlines. The messy drama is a dark take on being a teen in a modern world with easy access to porn and drugs. Some of its outrageousness (MS-13 drug dealers, frequent teen-sex videos, unauthorized One Direction fan fiction) seems designed to shock rather than tell a story, but when the series takes a step back to focus on its main pair, recovering addict Rue (Zendaya) and transgender teen Jules (Hunter Schafer), it finds a lot more truth in their quieter emotional journey than all its fearmongering about vaping and partying.
6. ‘The Society’ (Netflix)
A modern, supernatural take on the classic novel “Lord of the Flies,” the series reveals what happens when high school students are suddenly alone in their quaint New England town with no adults around. Have the kids been transported somewhere? Has something happened to the adults? It’s not immediately clear. The series leans toward cheesy most of the time, but it’s got a good cast (including “Blockers” breakout Kathryn Newton) that sells the relationship drama, which ultimately becomes far more important than the supernatural mystery.
5. ‘The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’ (Netflix)
If you need a little darkness and magic, this horror-tinged update on everyone’s favorite teenage witch has you covered. Kiernan Shipka stars as Sabrina, and while it sometimes struggles with acting and tonal consistency, most of the time the series is fun and campy enough to make up for its flaws.
4. ‘Looking for Alaska’ (Hulu)
A gauzy, emotional fantasy, “Alaska” is a millennial teen story set in the early 2000s, like the book it’s based on, by “The Fault in Our Stars” author John Green. At a Georgia boarding school, a prank war breaks out between the rich “Weekday Warriors” and the scholarship students, until a tragedy changes everything. A rare adaptation that improves upon the source material, “Alaska” modernizes and expands the book, bringing greater depth to Alaska (Kristine Froseth), the object of protagonist Miles’ (Charlie Plummer) affections.
3. ‘PEN15’ (Hulu)
If you are emotionally secure enough to laugh at puberty rather than hide under the covers in embarrassment and shame, then “PEN15” is perfect. One of the best – and most cringe-inducing – shows on television, the series, set in 2000, features comedians Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle playing middle schoolers surrounded by a supporting cast of actual kids. Braces, bowl cuts, crushes and intense awkwardness abound in the riotous series.
2. ‘The End of the F***ing World’ (Netflix)
This weird, violent and surprisingly sweet British series from early 2018 is returning for a second season in December, but the first was a perfectly bookended story about two runaway teens who get in way over their heads. As wild-child Alyssa and self-proclaimed sociopath James, Jessica Barden and Alex Lawther have perfect chemistry and timing, making the dark comedy addictive. The wonderfully ambiguous ending is about to be undone (for better or for worse), so it’s worth experiencing the first season on its own while you can.
1. ‘American Vandal’ (Netflix)
Although Netflix canceled this gem of a mockumentary after just two seasons, those outings are so superb that a third year may not have been able to match them. The series skewers true-crime documentaries and teen TV shows, by investigating pranks (male genitalia graffitied on faculty cars) with the vigor and detail of a “Making a Murderer”-type docuseries. The first season excels at the true-crime jokes, but the second season, set at a new high school, finds deeper insights, as its main characters have a far more serious crime to investigate (poisoning dozens of students with painful laxatives).