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Here’s the Best ‘American Horror Story’ Watch Order

When you want to just never sleep again.

Jessica Lange and the cast of American Horror Story Asylum

The horror, the comedy, the ensemble cast, the font! There are so many things to love about American Horror Story, it’s difficult to pick a favorite aspect of the series. It’s probably why I have watched every single episode more than once, and season three, Coven, about four times all the way through. AHS is unique in that it’s an anthology show—meaning the seasons do not all follow a linear story sequentially. Even though much of the same cast returns every year, they play (with some fun exceptions) new characters. And each season starts an entirely new story of horror for viewers to enjoy, often in a totally new decade. So, you can easily start a season and enjoy it (without necessarily having seen past ones). But since the show doesn’t follow the usual “serialized seasons of TV” format, it might leave you wondering, what’s the best way to watch it? Can you skip around?

The short answer is yes, technically. The seasons are all in a shared universe—so you could, for instance, watch seasons by order of the time period they take place in. For that, I’d start with the 1950s era Freak Show (season 4) and end with 2021’s Double Feature (season 10). However, as fun as that is for a second watch-through, I actually think watching AHS in numerical order is still the best. Although the story isn’t the same through the seasons, part of the fun is that many characters and plot points find their way into later seasons. And season 8 (Apocalypse) mixed so many characters and events from several seasons, you’d have a hard time following without some context. If you don’t watch everything in order, you might miss small things. Die-hard fans spend a lot of time searching for Easter eggs and clues for future seasons—and the original order is best for the first-time viewer. Here’s an outline of all ten seasons so far.

Season 1: Murder House

american horror story murder house evan peters

(image: FX)

The first season, subtitled Murder House, created the vibe of American Horror Story. Creepy and alluring, it kept audiences guessing with twist after twist. The story centers on a modern family who moves from Boston to a dilapidated mansion in Los Angeles. They think they can start over after a series of personal traumas/betrayals that threatened to tear their family apart. However, they find their dream house is occupied with several generations of unhappy ghosts. It’s incredibly scary, and really the best way into the AHS universe.

Season 2: Asylum

American Horror Story Asylum Lily Rabe

(image: FX)

The second season took viewers to 1964. Set in a church-run asylum called Briarcliff Manor, the ambiance alone is terrifying. Many of the patients and staff have questionable pasts, and some, even stranger plans for the future. Multiple patients are victims of circumstance who have no right to leave—which isn’t too far from the truth of that era—and the injustice of being trapped there (say because of sexual orientation) is frightening. And supernatural occurrences, demonic possessions, horrific scientific experiments, and alien abductions keep everyone questioning reality.

Season 3: Coven

jessica lange

(image: FX)

Bringing audiences back to the modern era, Coven introduced us to the wonderful world of witches—descendants of Salem witches and Voodoo priestesses who exist in secret amongst us. Mainly set in New Orleans, at an all-girls boarding school, the witch coven tries to refill their dwindling ranks. New recruits explore their growing powers while learning about the sordid history of their forebears, and there’s both a zombie boyfriend and Stevie Nicks playing herself this season—so it’s as much campy fun as it is scary.

Season 4: Freak Show

American Horror Story Freak Show Cast

(image: FX)

Keeping with the pattern of a modern season, then a retro season, Freak Show took place in 1952 at a failing carnival show in Florida. The horror is more realistic and gory this season (rather than relying heavily on the supernatural as it does in previous seasons). Most of the fear comes from how utterly cruel humans can be to each other. Especially how those in power can abuse those without it. Plus, a killer clown stalks the town, so, you know. Nightmare fuel.

Season 5: Hotel

American Horror Story Hotel Lady Gaga

(image: FX)

Old hotels can be creepy places, and this hotel is probably creepier than your average one. At least it has more vampires than you’d normally like to have in your general vicinity. This season capitalized on all the strange lives and stories that interconnect when people stay at the Hotel Cortez. The beautiful art déco architecture, like many of the guests, hides a deadly secret. Lady Gaga joined the cast for Hotel, as the Countess, and she’s just as fabulous as you’d expect. Ghosts, murderers, and sad souls seem to live in every room, but the place is so beautiful, you’d almost risk it to stay there.

Season 6: Roanoke

American Horror Story Roanoke Denis O'Hare

(image: FX)

This isn’t my favorite season, but it’s still entertaining. The first part unfolded like a ghost story reality show—where a couple tells how their dream house in the rural country turned into a nightmare (complete with actor reenactments)! Then, the fictional producers decided the smash show needed a sequel. Set like a found footage piece, the original couple and the actors stay a weekend in the creepy house. Like most reality television, it ends in blood and tears.

Season 7: Cult

American Horror Story Cult Evan Peters

(image: FX)

Cult arrived in 2017, using the feelings of loss and division from the 2016 presidential election to fuel the scary narrative. A newly invigorated, misogynistic leader creates a cult to turn the world into chaos. This is another season that relies more on psychological fear than the supernatural, and one fun aspect is the way lesser-known phobias, like trypophobia (fear of holes), keep appearing. There’s a low hum of anxiety pulsing through the season that rackets up the tension and scares you, even without as much gore on the screen.

Season 8: Apocalypse

cody fern michael langdon antichrist

(image: FX)

Other seasons may have had clues to past characters, but Apocalypse mixed in major arcs from at least two previous seasons. Picking up right as a nuclear apocalypse, orchestrated by the Antichrist, begins—people scramble to find a safe place. Some of the lucky few hide in a well-protected (and stocked) bunker called, Outpost 3. Of course, there’s some weird stuff going down in that bunker. The whole season is a real love letter to fans, as characters from Murder House and the witches of Coven converge to save the world. A gory battle for the fate of humanity rests in their hands.

Season 9: 1984

Billie Lourd gets ready to steal the show again in AHS: 1984.

(image: FX)

If Apocalypse is a love letter to fans, 1984 is a love letter to the horror of the 80s. What can be better than a new summer camp run by apathetic young adults? Nothing could go wrong, right? Especially not at a camp where a previous mass murder took place. Not only does it bring to life the popular camp motif of the era, but also real-life murderer Richard Ramirez. There is so much eighties love from the hair to the music. Yet, despite the fun, 1984 is one of the gorier and sadder seasons of the series.

Season 10: Double Feature

monsters and aliens in American Horror Story

(image: FX)

Double Feature changed up the AHS format. The season is split into two parts. First, Red Tide took place in a modern, sleepy seaside town in the winter months. Normally busy during the summer months, the off-season became a quiet retreat for creative people. Only the success of the creators, and the vampire-like creatures in the town, held a twisted secret. The second half, Death Valley, mixed a contemporary story of aliens with a hidden link to an Area 51-like encounter from 1954. Many actual historical figures appeared, adding a historical conspiracy to the story.

American Horror Story is great because it balances horror, comedy, and camp. The show doesn’t take itself too seriously while still being scary. Some seasons are better than others, but they’re all so different, one person might hate a season another might love. And I think watching them in order is the best way to see the shape and storylines as originally intended.

Tell us in the comments which season is your favorite!

(feature image: FX)

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D.R. Medlen is secretly a selkie that will one day return to the sea. In the meantime, she spends her days fangirling over anything from comic books to folklore podcasts, and everything in between. She lives that hobbitcore life while teaching her offspring the ways of the nerd.