10 Best Horror TV Shows of All Time, Ranked
From anthologies and adaptations to limited series that’ll leave you both scared yet wanting more, the horror TV genre has always been thriving. Through the years, we’ve seen countless spine-tingling tales that have stuck with us not only because of how scary they were but also because of how some of them actually managed to make us … cry?
If you’re in for a scream-fest and in need of a few recommendations, then you’ve come to the right place— here are 10 of the best horror TV shows, ranked.
10) Penny Dreadful (2014-2016)
If you’ve never seen or heard of Penny Dreadful, the best way to describe it would be that it’s a crossover of some of literature’s famed monsters and creatures. Think The Dark Universe, if it actually managed to pull off what it intended to do. In fact, one could say that The Dark Universe walked so this show could run, but I digress. With only 27 episodes, Penny Dreadful features famed characters from classic titles like Frankenstein, Dracula, Dorian Grey, and Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, who all interact with one another in one large narrative. It stars Eva Green as the mysterious but powerful Vanessa Ives.
9) Castle Rock (2018-2019)
Castle Rock is arguably among the most popular fictional towns in fiction and is immortalized for being the setting of several of the master of horror Stephen King’s stories like The Body, Cujo, and The Dark Half. The town is also often referenced across his books and serves as the primary anchor that binds his novels into one universe of its own.
And with the surge of media today that heavily draws inspiration from King’s extensive body of work, Castle Rock was an excellent ode to his stories, a sort of testament to his legacy. As one would expect, the show makes several references to some of the Maine native’s best characters (there’s a girl from season one who says she’s related to Jack Torrance from The Shining) and is equal parts creepy (Bill Skarsgård is in this, just so you know) and intriguing. Classic King.
8) Supernatural (2005-2020)
This wouldn’t be a proper horror TV show ranking without the Winchester brothers. Lauded for holding the record for being the longest fantasy show on television as well as The CW’s longest-running series (it was the last show that was carried over from when The CW was known as the WB), Supernatural had us all reaching for the salt as we saved people and hunted things because it was the family business.
Starring Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki as Dean and Sam Winchester, the series follows the two for over a decade as they fight off evil that comes in the form of demons, spirits, mythological beings from both history and urban legends—you name it. One of the show’s best arcs comes around seasons four to six where they introduce one of many possibly apocalyptic plots that feature angels, the biblical Four Horsemen, and a prophecy.
7) American Horror Story (2011–)
American Horror Story is another anthology that’s probably among the most recognizable ones of the previous decade. With seasons like “Murder House” and “Coven,” the Ryan Murphy-led show boasts a stellar ensemble cast that once included regulars like award-winning actress Jessica Lange, Sarah Paulson, and Lily Rabe. Each season (especially its early ones) takes viewers on a macabre delight and highlights on classic urban legends, tropes, and horror myths that range from infamous serial killers like Madame LaLaurie to unsolved mysteries like the Roanoke colony.
6) Hannibal (2013-2015)
I’ve waited for a lot of things in this life. There’s George R.R. Martin’s The Winds of Winter (it’s been over a decade but hey, who’s counting, right?), and of course, there is the fourth season of NBC’s Hannibal (from what I’ve heard waiting is pointless by this point but a girl can dream). The show is based on the characters from Thomas Harris’ novels and follows FBI profiler, Will Graham whose hunt for serial killers is now taking its toll on him. Upon the advice of his superior, he begins working with forensic psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter to cope better. As we all probably know by now, Hannibal himself is secretly a serial killer as well. The show goes all out with its visuals and keeps you hooked whenever Hannibal is in the kitchen—which is saying a lot considering that he’s, well, you know…a cannibal.
5) The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020)
This one. This one right here left me SOBBING buckets, I tell you. The second (and hopefully not the last) of Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting anthology sees the return of his favorite ensemble cast featuring Victoria Pedretti, Kate Siegel, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Henry Thomas, and Carla Gugino in a new creepy estate, this time across the pond in England. It follows Pedretti as a young au pair hired to look after two children in their family’s country house where she begins seeing apparitions. True to Flanagan fashion, the narrative is a slow burn that plays with both memories, nostalgia, and a quiet but impending sense of horror as each episode progresses.
4) Midnight Mass (2021)
Flanagan immediately followed up on Bly Manor and kept rolling with the punches with 2021’s Midnight Mass. The mini-series isn’t an official part of The Haunting anthology and instead centers on a small remote island called Crockett. Riley Flynn (played by Zach Gilford), who’d grown up on the island, returns after serving four years in prison. He coincidentally arrives at the same time as a mysterious yet charismatic priest who immediately captures the attention of the local folk. Strange events ensue, and Crockett is left forever changed.
3) The Haunting of Hill House (2018)
The first of The Haunting anthology was a reimagination of the Shirley Jackson novel of the same name. It follows the lives of five siblings who are forced to go back to the home they grew up in after a heartbreaking tragedy. The house, unfortunately, also happens to be the most haunted one in the country. While there, they’re forced to confront the literal and figurative ghosts in their lives.
2) The X-Files (1993-2018)
As they say, the truth is out there. The X-Files follows FBI Special Agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) as they navigate through countless cases regarded by the government as outlandish and bordering on conspiracy. The iconic science-fiction thriller features everything you could ask for: aliens, various monsters of the week, serial killers, abductions, and unsolved mysteries.
1) Twin Peaks (1990-1991)
Ah yes, the mother of all, Twin Peaks. David Lynch and Mark Frost’s iconic small-town crime drama had the ostensible appearance of another whodunnit that asked the question, “Who killed Laura Palmer?” The show is generally considered one of the greatest television shows of all time and features great visuals, distinct cinematography, and dream sequences like no other.
(featured image: Netflix)
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