Characters from 'American Horror Story,' 'Channel Zero,' 'Twin Peaks,' and 'Hannibal' on a glitchy TV screen background

The Best Horror TV Shows of All Time

From anthologies and adaptations to limited series that’ll leave you shaken (and wanting more), the horror genre has been thriving on television for decades. Over the years, countless spine-tingling tales have stuck with us not only because of how scary they are, but also because some of them actually managed to make us … cry?

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If you’re down for a scream-fest and in need of a few recommendations, then you’ve come to the right place. Here are 15 of the best horror TV shows of all time.

15. Penny Dreadful (2014-2016)

The cast of Victorian-era horror series 'Penny Dreadful,' featuring (clockwise from top left): Reeve Carney, Harry Treadaway, Josh Hartnett, Eva Green, and Timothy Dalton
(Showtime)

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 most famed monsters and creatures. Think Universal’s scrapped Dark Universe, if it actually managed to pull off what it intended to do. With only 27 episodes, Penny Dreadful features iconic characters from classic titles such as Frankenstein, Dracula, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, who all interact with one another in a larger narrative. It also stars Eva Green as the mysterious but powerful Vanessa Ives. – Den Baranda

14. Channel Zero (2016-2018)

A clown-faced man named Pretzel Jack (Troy James) crouches on the floor of a dark kitchen in 'Channel Zero.'
(Syfy)

Nick Antosca makes it his business to ensure that you lose sleep at night. The Brand New Cherry Flavor showrunner (and scribe behind Antlers and several episodes of Hannibal) crafted a low-budget anthology series that manages to unnerve even the most jaded horror fans. The binge-worthy Channel Zero concentrates on creepypastas and internet-circulated paranormal legends, with each season focusing on a new storyline. The first season adapts Kris Straub’s “Candle Cove,” about a freaky children’s puppet show on public access TV featuring a character known as the “Skin-Taker.” Other nightmares come to life across the series’ 26 episodes, including an unforgettable grinning contortionist called Pretzel Jack (played by Troy James, who writhes and twists his way through Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark as the Jangly Man). In an age where teen wolves and zombies and witches are the norm, Channel Zero offers something unique, squarely aimed at universal childhood fears. – Anya Stanley

13. Castle Rock (2018-2019)

the Kid in Castle Rock
(Hulu)

Castle Rock is arguably among the most popular fictional towns in fiction, immortalized by master of horror Stephen King as the setting of several of his horror stories—including 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.

With the surge of modern media 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 in season 1 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. – DB

12. Masters of Horror (2005-2007)

A pale, emaciated humanoid being in John Carpenter's "Cigarette Burns" episode of 'Masters of Horror.'
(Showtime)

The origin story goes that director (and frequent adapter of Stephen King stories) Mick Garris summoned a few filmmaker friends to a casual dinner in Sherman Oaks, California. The guests were a Murderer’s Row of genre storytellers, considered by Garris to be “masters” of the medium: John Carpenter (Halloween), Stuart Gordon (From Beyond), and Joe Dante (Gremlins), among others. The dinners continued, with an ever-expanding lineup of directors to include Wes Craven, Ernest Dickerson, William Lustig, and Tom Holland. In 2005, Garris created an anthology series for Showtime, with one-hour episodes crafted by these talented storytellers. Masters of Horror ran for 26 episodes, some wholly original, others adaptations of stories by Clive Barker (Hellraiser) or Edgar Allan Poe. The teleplays vary in tone, each bearing the fingerprints of their respective director; Takashi Miike’s “Imprint” episode, naturally, was removed by Showtime for its disturbing content. For maximum spooks, check out John Carpenter’s “Cigarette Burns” (season 1, episode 8), about a theater owner who tracks down a rare film said to drive its viewers to violent madness. – AS

11. Supernatural (2005-2020)

Sam and Dean Winchester from Supernatural
(The CW)

This wouldn’t be a proper horror TV show ranking without the Winchester brothers. Supernatural holds the record for longest fantasy show on television. The CW’s longest-running series had us all reaching for the salt as we watched Sam and Dean save people and hunt supernatural entities.

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 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 4 to 6, when they introduce one of many apocalyptic plots featuring angels, the biblical Four Horsemen, and a prophecy. – DB

10. American Horror Story (2011–)

american horror story murder house evan peters
(FX)

American Horror Story is another anthology that’s among the most recognizable of the previous decade. With seasons like “Murder House” and “Coven,” the Ryan Murphy show boasts a stellar ensemble cast that once included regulars like award-winning actress Jessica Lange, Sarah Paulson, and Lily Rabe. Each season takes viewers on a macabre journey and highlights classic urban legends, tropes, and horror myths that range from infamous serial killers like Madame LaLaurie to unsolved mysteries like the Roanoke colony. – DB

9. Kingdom (2019-2020)

Joseon-era royal guards barricade against a horde of undead South Koreans in 'Kingdom.'
(Netflix)

Also on The Mary Sue’s list of The Best Series to Watch on Netflix Right Now, Kingdom could be summed up as the best parts of House of Cards meets the best parts of a zombie movie. If you’re the kind of horror fan who’s more interested in the first weeks of a zombie outbreak and the ensuing breakdown of society than humanity’s attempts to rebuild in the months after, this South Korean period series offers the wild and rapid pandemic mayhem that you’re looking for. Balancing the scale is a measured, tense observation of a free-for-all power tussle at the highest levels of royalty and government during the reign of a (fictional) 16th-century dynasty, which is also touched by the same corpse-reanimating “resurrection” plague that spreads throughout the nation. – AS

8. Tales From the Crypt (1989-1996)

A skeletal Cryptkeeper reads from an EC comic book in 'Tales From the Crypt.'
(HBO)

When we think of TV horror anthologies, Tales From the Crypt is one of the first shows to come to mind. Both its title and much of its material stem from the EC Comics series that reigned throughout the 1950s, and was successful enough to run for seven seasons; that’s 93 half-hour episodes for your viewing pleasure. The show’s master of ceremonies is the iconic Cryptkeeper, who welcomes “boils and ghouls” in his intro to each episode which, like Masters of Horror, was helmed by a different (but familiar) director every time. The show’s biggest draw is minimal censorship due to its slot on premium cable channel HBO, which means that the chainsaw kill in the “Split Second” episode (season 3, episode 11) is as gory and thrilling as intended. For maximum creep-out, look up “Television Terror” (season 2, episode 16), featuring trash TV staple Morton Downey Jr. practically playing himself as a tabloid vulture investigating a haunted house on live TV. If you’ve seen Ghostwatch or WNUF Halloween Special, you’ve got an idea of the kind of scares Tales From the Crypt has in store. – AS

7. Hannibal (2013-2015)

Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham in a close pose for NBC's Hannibal
(NBC)

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?), and of course, there is the fourth season of NBC’s Hannibal (it seems that waiting is pointless by now, but a girl can dream). The show is based on the characters from Thomas Harris’ novels and follows FBI profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), whose hunt for serial killers has begun to take a toll on his psyche. On the advice of his superior, Will begins working with forensic psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) to find a way to cope. Given the popularity of Silence of the Lambs and its sequels, you’re probably aware that Hannibal himself is secretly a serial killer. 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. – DB

6. The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020)

dani in The Haunting of Bly Manor
(Netflix)

This one. This one right here left me SOBBING buckets, I tell you. The second of Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting anthology reunites the filmmaker with several of his regulars, including Victoria Pedretti, Kate Siegel, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Henry Thomas, and Carla Gugino. The ensemble moves to a creepy new estate, this time across the pond in England. The Haunting of Bly Manor stars 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 memories and nostalgia, and builds on a quiet but impending sense of horror as each episode progresses. – DB

5. The Terror (2018-2019)

A Royal Navy crew assembles on the Arctic ice beside their ice-lodged explorer ship in 'The Terror.'
(AMC)

Though it only ran for two seasons, The Terror packs a wallop in its short lifespan. The first season— commonly agreed upon as the best—is based on Dan Simmons’ 2007 novel, a loosely fictionalized chronicle of a lost Arctic expedition in the mid-19th century. A pair of Royal Navy explorer ships navigate uncharted waters near King William Island, in the hopes of finding the legendary Northwest Passage. The icy waters soon entrap the vessels, and soon the crews learn that not only do they have to weather frigid conditions and growing tensions, but there’s a massive polar monster to contend with if they step off of their ships. Part prestige period drama and part supernatural thriller, The Terror is filled with enough atmosphere and heavy performances to keep the nightmares coming long after its final episode. – AS

4. Midnight Mass (2021)

Father Paul Hill (Hamish Linklater) in the horror series 'Midnight Mass'
(Netflix)

Flanagan followed Bly Manor with 2021’s Midnight Mass, which packs a similar gut-punch. Unlike Flanagan’s Haunting series, this miniseries isn’t based on a classic horror novel, and instead centers on a small remote island slowly succumbing to evil. Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford) returns home to Crockett Island after serving four years in prison, hoping to start anew. He coincidentally arrives at the same time as a mysterious yet charismatic priest (Hamish Linklater), who immediately captures the attention of the local folk. Strange and increasingly violent events ensue in another tender yet visceral horror story from Flanagan. – DB

3. The Haunting of Hill House (2018)

A pale woman stands in front of a creepy red door.
(Netflix)

The first of Flanagan’s Netflix series is a reimagining of the Shirley Jackson novel of the same name. The Haunting of Hill House follows the lives of five siblings who are forced to go back to the home where they grew up after a horrible tragedy. Unfortunately, the house also happens to be the most haunted one in the country. While navigating grief and heartbreak, the siblings are forced to confront the literal and figurative ghosts in their lives. – DB

2. The X-Files (1993-2018)

Agents Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) and Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) in 'The X-Files': A woman and a man stand with guns pointed upward at an unseen target.
(20th Century Television)

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 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. – DB

1. Twin Peaks (1990-1991)

Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) holds a voice recorder and looks concerned in a promo image for 'Twin Peaks'
(Paramount Television)

Ah yes, the mother of all horror television, Twin Peaks. David Lynch and Mark Frost’s iconic small town crime drama had the ostensible appearance of another whodunnit, and sought to answer the question: “Who killed Laura Palmer?” Generally considered one of the greatest television shows of all time, Twin Peaks features great visuals, distinct cinematography, a haunting score, and dream sequences like no other. Despite some unwieldy plotting in season 2, Twin Peaks is still an indelible work of serialized television that marries horror with beauty and existential inquiry. It also spawned an equally compelling—though arguably more terrifying—prequel film (Fire Walk With Me) and an incredible eight-episode revival on Showtime, Twin Peaks: The Return. – DB

(featured image: FX / Syfy / Paramount Television / NBC / Getty Images / Illustration by The Mary Sue)


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Author
Danielle Baranda
Danielle is a twenty-something writer and postgrad student based in the Philippines. She loves books, movies, her cat, and traveling. In her spare time, she enjoys shooting 35mm film and going to concerts.
Author
Anya Novak
Anya Stanley (she/her) is a writer for The Mary Sue, most frequently covering the horror genre across mediums. Among her six+ years of working in the digital media and entertainment industry, Anya’s past works can also be found at The AV Club, Fangoria Magazine, and Crooked Marquee. See her smug face on Shudder's docuseries Behind the Monsters. When she’s not consuming every scary movie she can find, she is trying to add to the word count of her non-fiction book in progress (her second author credit following her chapter in Scared Sacred: Idolatry, Religion and Worship in the Horror Film, by House of Leaves Publishing). You can find more of her ravings on X (formerly Twitter) @BookishPlinko.