It is daunting, but doable.
With five solo shows and a crossover miniseries, Marvel’s Netflix franchise is kind of daunting. If you’re not sure which shows to watch and which to skip, hopefully we can help. We’ve seen every Marvel/Netflix series to date, and as die-hard superhero fans, we’ve put together the definitive ranking of Marvel series on Netflix. Get your queue in order.
The best Netflix Marvel series
1 season | Season 2 premieres March 8
A tense drama that inspired plenty of well-deserved analysis for its feminist themes. Jessica Jones takes place in the same New York setting as Marvel’s other Netflix shows, but it has more in common with Top of the Lake or The Killing than your average comic book adaptation. Season 1 pits private investigator Jessica Jones against her former abuser, the mind-control supervillain Kilgrave (David Tennant). It’s a smart and witty psychological thriller, and season 2 is just as great. The new season delves deeper into Jessica’s origin story, with more fleshed-out roles for Jessica’s best friend Trish (Rachael Taylor) and her lawyer Jeri Hogarth (The Matrix‘s Carrie-Anne Moss). It’s Marvel’s most consistently well-written and thoughtful Netflix show, although it’s not for the fainthearted.
2) Luke Cage
1 season | Renewed for season 2
Like Jessica Jones, Luke Cage has some pretty obvious political subtext. The lead character is a black man with bulletproof skin, a power he gained by signing up for scientific experiments in prison. When he returns to his home neighborhood in Harlem, he’s determined to keep a low profile with his newfound powers. That quickly changes when he meets a crime boss played by the brilliant Mahershala Ali, one of Marvel’s greatest villain performances alongside Tom Hiddleston and Vincent D’Onofrio. Luke Cage is perhaps the most immersive of Marvel’s Netflix shows, with a carefully selected soundtrack and an extensive background cast. (By comparison, Daredevil’s Manhattan setting lacks personality and is barely convincing as New York.) The only reason we don’t rate Luke Cage alongside Jessica Jones is the abrupt plot twist halfway through season 1, which derails the story and introduces a rather unsatisfying new antagonist.
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2 seasons | Renewed for season 3
A well-executed example of the masked vigilante formula. Matt Murdock is a lawyer by day, crime-fighter by night—a blind man who “sees” with his other senses. This combination of superheroism and crime drama is undoubtedly clichéd, but Charlie Cox’s puppy-dog vulnerability prevents Murdock from being a total manpain stereotype. Daredevil’s first season is better than the second, introducing a strong supporting cast and a world-class supervillain with crime boss Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio). Season 2 is weaker because it swaps Fisk for the Hand, a clumsily-written team of ninja gangsters. (On the bright side, season 2 also includes the iconic Marvel anti-heroes Elektra and the Punisher, both of whom are thoughtfully adapted.) Fans were a little overzealous in crowning Daredevil the best superhero show ever made, but the fight scenes are great and the lead actors give a compelling emotional performance.
4) The Punisher
1 season | Pending
Unfortunately, there’s a big gap in quality between our third and fourth picks. While Jon Bernthal’s Punisher was great in Daredevil, his solo series was disappointing. Slow-moving and rather dull, it tries to make Frank Castle more sensitive and relatable than his brutal role in the comics. The creators were understandably wary about glorifying the Punisher’s violence, but they wound up making him the generic protagonist of a bland revenge drama. The show gives a more interesting role to some other military veteran characters in the supporting cast, but it’s not exactly must-watch TV. If you want a badass action movie with a similar premise, stick with John Wick. If you want a TV series about vigilante justice and the military/industrial complex, try Person of Interest.
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1 season | Pending
Superhero franchises insist on team-ups, but are they always necessary? The Defenders brings together Daredevil, Iron Fist, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones to fight the Hand, the criminal cult from Iron Fist and Daredevil’s solo shows. The Hand still aren’t very interesting, but their new leader is a highlight. Sigourney Weaver plays the glamorous villain Alexandra with menacing charm, almost making up for the lack of originality elsewhere. The Defenders is watchable enough, but it’s aimed solidly at long-term fans of the franchise. It’s also several episodes too long, much like The Punisher.
1 season | Renewed for season 2
Do you enjoy being intensely bored and annoyed? If so, you’ll love Iron Fist. This humorless, poorly written martial arts show stars an actor who can’t fight (Finn Jones) as a billionaire kung fu master. After spending his youth learning martial arts in the Himalayas, he returns to New York to retake his family’s business empire. Think Batman Begins, but bad. Iron Fist has virtually no upsides beyond David Wenham’s beautiful haircut (he plays the lead villain), and the return of Marvel stalwart Rosario Dawson. The fight scenes suck, the pace is agonizingly slow, and it’s riddled with racist subtext. It’s primarily famous for earning horrible reviews.