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The best sci-fi TV shows that are out of this world

Fancy a sci-fi TV binge? Here are the shows to start with…

The best sci-fi TV shows that are out of this world
Simon Brew
07 May 2023

The best sci-fi TV shows bring us all stunning special effects, wondrous stories and top acting. It's a great time for sci-fi too, with new shows landing on our favourite streaming platforms every few months.

This explosion of sci-fi TV would have seemed staggering for those who were left in the '70s and '80s clawing at only a few options on offer. But today, with such an abundance of fantastic sci-fi stories across a range of streaming services, picking only 30 shows for this best sci-fi series list is a challenge.

What you'll find below is our selection of the best 30 sci-fi TV shows you can watch right now, featuring workplace dystopias, space-faring adventures, multiversal mysteries and much more.

Can't find your favourite sci-fi show? Let us know which we should include next in the comment box below. And remember to upvote or downvote to make this list helpful for anyone new to the genre.

Best Sci-fi TV shows

Best Sci-fi TV shows

1. The Expanse

Stream from Amazon

We are lucky to have The Expanse. The show was nearly cancelled until one of its biggest fans saved it from cancellation. It wasn't just any fan, buy Jeff Bezos who happens to own Amazon. Since being saved the show, about a human colony on the outreaches of space, has gone from strength to strength - pushing its political overtones while keeping the series completely engrossing.

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2. Battlestar Galactica

Stream Now (Prime Video)

If you’re looking for a show that intertwines those dinner party favourite conversations of religion and politics, not least the influence of one on the other, the 2004 reboot of Battlestar Galactica – for around 60% of its run – does just that in terrifyingly authentic style. It goes on to follow a narrative path that’s either incredibly bold or just plain nuts depending on your perspective. It’s also notable for getting around TV swearing censors, in full on Father Ted style, by introducing its own special cuss word.

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Best Sci-fi TV shows

3. Star Trek: TNG

Buy now from Amazon

There has been something of a revival for Star Trek: TNG and it's all thanks to Picard which is currently on Amazon Prime. The show originally straddled the 80s and 90s and focuses on a Starfleet in the 24th Century. It's an absolute blast and a brilliantly iconic part of Star Trek lore.

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Best Sci-fi TV shows

4. The Mandalorian

View on Disney Plus now

The Mandalorian is old-school event television that's just a joy to watch. It's episodic with a new-ish adventure every week - the only real bit of connective tissue is The Child, a Yoda-like figure that The Mandalorian feels obliged to protect. Each episode looks (and is) expensive and it really feels like another area of the world of Star Wars that hasn't been explored yet, as well as some familiar bits too.

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A massive budget Babylon 5 did not have, but a cauldron of ideas it absolutely did. And the similarities between it and the subsequent Star Trek: Deep Space Nine raised questions ultimately nobody tested in court. It also had a bold idea, to treat each of its 100+ episodes as a chapter of a novel, one that ultimately covered five years in the life of a five mile-long space station. In its own way, a groundbreaking show, whose first season boasted effects done on a computer many people had in their own homes.

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The personals column of 1990s sci-fi magazines stopped being about Girl Meets Boy, Boy Meets Girl, Girl Meets Girl and such like, in favour of Scully seeks Mulder, and plenty of variants on that. Such was the grenade conspiracy drama The X-Files threw into popular culture, instantly making stars of Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny. There was a spin-off series too, The Lone Gunmen, but that never fared anywhere near as well.

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Best Sci-fi TV shows

7. Stargate SG-1

Stream Now (Prime Video)

Given the struggle to bring the original 1994 Stargate movie to the screen, and its decent if unspectacular box office returns, it’s remarkable that it went on to spawn such an enduring collection of TV spin-offs. Stargate SG-1 remains the most prominent, running for over 200 episodes across ten consecutive seasons. One of the bosses of its parent studio, MGM, would describe the show as the television equivalent of James Bond to the studio, such was its financial success.

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Best Sci-fi TV shows

8. The Twilight Zone

View now at Amazon

Given the influences of The Twilight Zone on his movie Us, it’s little surprise filmmaker Jordan Peele is in charge of the latest reboot of the iconic TV series. The anthology show was created by Rod Serling and debuted in 1959, telling primarily sci-fi stories and attracting writers such as Richard Matheson (I Am Legend), Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451) and in its later iteration, directors such as William Friedkin (The Exorcist) and Wes Craven (A Nightmare On Elm Street).

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9. Westworld

Stream Now (Now TV)

True story: the low budget 1973 movie of Westworld, on which HBO’s hugely expensive television series is mainly based, introduced pixelisation effects to the big screen for the first time. The TV series expands heavily on the late Michael Crichton’s work, taking what was an 88 minute movie and turning it into a far deeper, broader series about a robot theme park starting to go out of control. HBO was rewarded with its best-ever ratings for a series launch.

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Best Sci-fi TV shows

10. Black Mirror

Stream Now (Netflix)

If the aim of all good science fiction is to take life and technology now, and reflect where it could head in the future, few do it to as chilling effect as Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror. Brooker wove in things he learned from his zombie Big Brother drama Dead Set, with the approach of the classic anthology series The Twilight Zone. Technology is the thematic glue holding it all together. Robert Downey Jr was amongst the many soon hooked: he optioned the episode The Entire History Of You for a (thus far unmade) movie adaptation.

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Best Sci-fi TV shows

11. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Stream Now (Netflix)

By all means, substitute your own Star Trek variant here. But for the purposes of this piece, DS9 gets the nod. Deep Space Nine may not be the finest of the Star Trek television series – although it’s a fight many are prepared to have – but it’s the most quietly ambitious. Furthermore, it sees Star Trek go into more morally grey areas, with sometimes less obviously likeable characters. A turning point in one of the planet’s two longest-running sci-fi shows.

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12. Doctor Who

Stream Now (Netflix)

Given Doctor Who has reinvented itself successfully many times over its near-60 year lifespan, it’s worth a venture into cliché corner to suggest the show, at some point, has had something for everyone. The incredibly successful 2005 reboot of the show, overseen by Russell T Davies, not only brought in a legion of fresh fans, but was all the more remarkable given that the programme had been near-dormant on screen for 16 years beforehand.

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13. The Leftovers

Buy now on Amazon Prime

The Leftovers isn't just one of the best sci-fi shows ever made, but one of the best shows made. Writers/creator Damon Lindelof took all the best mystery bits of Lost and made everything a little more adult. The premise is slight: a rapture-like event has made sections of the world's population disappear - we see what happens to the leftovers. It's just three seasons long but by the end, things are wrapped up perfectly in an awe-inspiring ambitious conclusion.

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14. Firefly

Watch on Disney+

t's best to think of Firefly as a space western but set more than 500 years in the future. Created by Joss Whedon (of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame), it follows the story of a renegade (but totally lovable) crew aboard a small spacecraft called Serenity.

They travel to distant parts of the galaxy and try their best to avoid trouble, despite the fact they're being pursued for some very important cargo they're harbouring. Firefly is a true joy to watch. There are bold sci-fi ideas here, heartfelt and funny writing and impressive acting from the cast – especially Nathan Fillion and Summer Glau.

The bad news is there are only 14 episodes of Firefly to enjoy, despite best efforts from fans to keep it rolling for a second season. But the good news is there's a movie called Serenity which stars most of the same cast and continues the story of the crew.

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Originally we thought that The Orville would just be a pastiche of old-school sci-fi but it's morphed into something far better - and that's a show that's packed with poignancy while still being funny thanks to Seth MacFarlane's witty story. One of the reasons that The Orville feels like the real deal is becaus it uses some of Star Trek: The Next Generation's writers, including the brilliant Brannon Braga.

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From the brilliant mind of James Garland (Ex Machina, Sunshine) comes Devs. This smart science-fiction show is all about secretive goings-on in a tech company in Silicon Valley. It's full of conspiracy, weird-tech and it looks damn good too.

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17. For All Mankind

Watch on Apple TV Plus now

For All Mankind, now in its third season, is sci-fi TV at its finest. It's an alternative history of the space race by Brian K. Vaughan who rebooted Battlestar Galactica fantastically (a show which is also on this list). In a way, it's a shame that this one is an Apple TV Plus exclusive as more should be watching it - then again, it's a massive win for Apple as this one is worth the subscription alone.

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There are lots of Star Wars TV shows on Disney+ to watch these days. But if we had to pick only one to recommend in this best sci-fi series guide, it'd be Andor (although we have included awesome shows The Mandalorian and Star Wars Rebels, too).

This 12 episode series follows the story of Cassian Andor, who fans will remember from Rogue One. Andor is set before Rogue One, telling the story of Cassian's formative years when he first joined the Rebellion, as well as some of the challenging missions he had to carry out.

We think if you like Star Wars you'll enjoy this darker, grittier story, which covers themes of power, justice and race. Even if you can't even tell your Death Star from your Millennium Falcon, Andor does standalone as a great-looking, smart show with a powerful story and strong cast.

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Best Sci-fi TV shows

19. The Peripheral

Watch on Prime Video

Based on William Gibson's 2014 book of the same name, The Peripheral is set around 10 years in the future. It's about a woman called Flynne who plays an incredibly life-like virtual reality game and sees something she shouldn't, bringing real-life danger to her family.

Flynne soon realises that the virtual reality game is actually London in the distant future and she uses a peripheral – a robot avatar – to find out more about what's going on in this alternate timeline.

This sci-fi show isn't easy to follow, but it is beautiful to look at – especially the depictions of a future, ruined London – and explores some mind-bending sci-fi concepts.

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The newest entry on our list, Silo only landed on Apple TV+ in May 2023, but it's expected to be a huge hit. Based on the popular book series by Hugh Howey, it's about a community of 10,000 people who live in the Silo, a vast underground bunker, due to an apocalyptic event that took place on the surface a century before.

This is a dark sci-fi series with rich world building and, like the Silo itself, many layers. There's social commentary, philosophy and, at it's core, a mystery that'll keep you guessing for the whole ten episodes.


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Best Sci-fi TV shows

21. Blake’s 7

View now at Amazon

From the brain of Dalek’s creator Terry Nation, Blake’s 7 ran for 52 episodes between 1978 and 1981, and was a notable counterpoint to the lighter sci-fi coating pop culture at the time. You can see the very tight budget stretch before your eyes, but Blake 7 is a dark, compelling story of a bunch of rebels fighting against a tyrannical array of rulers. To its immense credit, Blake’s 7 also looks like a focus group has been nowhere near it.

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22. The Last Of Us

Watch on Prime Video

The Last Of Us is a dark, post-apocalyptic TV series based on the super popular 2013 video game of the same name. It's set in 2023, 20 years after a pandemic has ravaged the population. The illness is caused by a horrifying fungal infection that turns people into violent, zombie-like creatures.

The series follows the story of Joel (played by Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (played by Bella Ramsey) as they try to make their way across the US amidst destruction, infected people and murderous gangs.

This isn't an easy watch, but the visuals are stunning (and terrifying), and Pascal and Ramsey deliver truly stellar, heartfelt performances every episode.

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23. Severance

Stream from Apple TV

Severance is a brilliant, tense, cerebral and at times even darkly funny sci-fi series exclusive to Apple TV. But trust us, it's well worth signing up for yet another streaming service. It's set in a world very much like our own with some dystopian elements. It follows the lives of employees at a company called Lumen Industries, where a new way of working has been pioneered that promises to make people happier and more productive. But the employees who signed up for this unconventional way of working start to suspect something sinister. This is a fantastic TV series, with an excellent story, brilliant acting and a truly mind-blowing story.

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24. Orphan Black

Watch on Netflix

If you enjoyed She-Hulk and thought Tatiana Maslany was funny, charming and stole the show as Jennifer Walters, then you're going to love sci-fi thriller TV series Orphan Black.

Maslany plays Sarah Manning, a con-artist who, at the beginning of the first episode, witnesses the suicide of a woman who looks just like her. What follows over the next five seasons is a dark and complex mystery filled with twists that we guarantee will keep you on the edge of your seat.

We don't want to give too much away, but let's just say that if you need more Tatiana Maslany in your life, then this is about to become your new favourite sci-fi series.

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25. Star Wars Rebels

Watch on Disney+

Here's a tip for any Star Wars newbies: don't skip the brilliant Star Wars animated content in favour of the live action stuff. Seriously shows like Clone Wars and Rebels are among the best in the galaxy and explore some more offbeat, mythical storylines that you'd never get from one of the movies or new TV shows.

We could have easily included Clone Wars in this list too, but we're picking Rebels as one of our top sci-fi TV shows because it's so incredibly fun, watchable and we think anyone can dive in – even those who aren't obsessed with Star Wars like we are.

This series takes place a decade after Revenge of the Sith and leads up to Star Wars A New Hope era. It follows a group of rebels called the Spectres at a time when the Galactic Empire are hunting down the last of the Jedi – and it just so happens that the Spectres are harbouring one or two.

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This Netflix original series has a huge cult following and we're not surprised. You won't find spaceships or science experiments gone wrong or time machines here. The OA doesn't deal in sci-fi tropes, but redefines them. The OA follows the mysterious story of Prairie Johnson, a young woman who resurfaces after being missing for seven years. Prairie was blind before her disappearance, but returns with her sight restored and a newfound ability. That's all we can really tell you about The OA without giving away the story and some of the magic. Unfortunately The OA was cancelled after the second season, but the story still holds up and is a must-see if you're a fan of sci-fi.

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Best Sci-fi TV shows

27. The Handmaid’s Tale

Watch on Amazon Prime Video

Based on the popular book of the same name by Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale is a dystopian TV show set after the Second American Civil War. A totalitarian society gets into power, which ends up subjecting fertile women, which become known as Handmaidens, to slavery, bearing the children of the elite.

This is a dark and dismal look into the future, but with themes that feel eerily prescient today. The writing is excellent here and the show has won multiple awards over the years. The acting is also fantastic, with Mad Men's Elizabeth Moss wow-ing us all (and breaking our hearts) in the lead role as Offred. There are five seasons to watch with the latest arriving in late 2022.

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Best Sci-fi TV shows

28. Tales From the Loop

Watch on Amazon Prime Video

Simon Stålenhag is a well-known Swedish artist who specialises in creating digital art that depicts alternate histories and dystopian futures. His work is the inspiration behind TV show Tales From the Loop, which is about the people who live near the Loop, a machine that's been built to unlock the mysteries of the universe.

There are only 8 episodes of Tales From The Loop and each can be watched as a standalone story, though we recommend giving them all a watch as they're fantastic. Some of the concepts here are mindblowing, the writing is deeply emotional and, as you'd expect, the visuals are superb. Just be warned that although this is sci-fi, there are a lot of deep, heartbreaking stories here. Watch them with someone you love.

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Paper Girls is based on the comic book series of the same name written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Cliff Chiang that first came out in 2015. It's about a group of teen girls delivering papers in the early hours of the morning after Halloween in 1988 who become caught up in a war between two different groups of time travellers.

The visuals are breathtaking, the time travel concept is incredibly cool and interesting to see play out and there's some wonderful acting here from the mostly very young cast. If you're looking for a sci-fi series that's fresh and fun, this is it.

Unfortunately this is the only season of Paper Girls we'll ever get. We loved the show, but Amazon didn't feel the same and cancelled it after the first season.

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Best Sci-fi TV shows

30. Raised by Wolves

Watch on NOW

Raised by Wolves is intelligent sci-fi that riffs on similar ideas that Ridley Scott had with Prometheus, the idea of humans and androids trying to co-exist with each other. The result is a fantastic-looking, thoughtful show that unfortunately was cancelled just two seasons in. Those seasons are well worth a watch, though

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SOMETHING MISSING FROM OUR SHORTLIST?

Tell us about it, and if enough people agree we'll add it in.

Additional words: Becca Caddy