Fantasy has an undeniable charm because it pulls people out of ordinary day-to-day life and into magical worlds where anything is possible. However, it’s also been a problematic genre to tackle on the screen. This is because creators need to come up with more than just special effects to effectively make these magical worlds and characters come to life. The best fantasy TV shows are those that captivate us from the pilot episode down to the last season.
And the best news is you can easily stream them online! This list includes some of the most successful, most awarded fantasy series that are available on Netflix.
What Is Considered Fantasy?
Since fantasy books, movies, and TV shows often cross genres, some people want a clearer distinction of what is truly considered fantasy. It can even become a topic for debate. It is most often confused with science fiction for understandable reasons. Sci-fi explores things that are possible especially in the future; that’s why it is also called “speculative fiction.” Fantasy, on the other hand, explores what’s impossible and tells stories in a world where these “impossible” things become real.
Some think fantasy is purely about wizards, dragons, and fairies. These are all common elements of fantasy literature and film. However, the genre is actually more encompassing than that. Fantasy can also contain elements of horror, magical realism, supernatural forces, and interdimensional and time travel. The last two are often seen in science fiction so you can see how it can cause confusion.
While it is often set in magical worlds, the plot can also take place on another planet or in the modern world. Another misconception is that fantasy always has a medieval theme. That is not true. A lot of contemporary writers have written fantasy stories and shows that revolve around modern settings and technologies. An example of this is NK Jemisin’s The City We Became—a story where characters have iPhones and laptops but have also been pulled into a fantastical world that is in the present. In other words, contemporary fantasy is still fantasy. To create an easier distinction, it would be helpful to know some of fantasy’s sub-genres, which you can find in the latter part of this article.
15 Best Fantasy TV Shows to Stream on Netflix
These are the best TV series in the fantasy genre that truly bring imagined worlds to life. These include shows based on books, dystopian, and utopian concepts. Some cross genres in the supernatural and science fiction. It includes both animated and live-action series.
1. The Witcher
The Witcher is one of the most recent and most popular shows on Netflix. It is a live-action (not animated) adaptation of the role-playing game (RPG) of the same title. The Netflix show combines elements of the game with books and novels. Some fans of the game were not very optimistic about it at first. But The Witcher has been an incredible success. It is about the monster hunter, Geralt of Rivia played by Henry Cavill. He meets the sorceress Yennefer in one of his hunts, and both their stories start unfolding from there. Yennefer is an air elemental, and she and Geralt end up working together to defeat a monster. The show is definitely one of the best fantasy TV shows on Netflix.
2. The Dragon Prince
From the creators of Avatar: The Last Airbender, this animated fantasy TV show is about two human princes whose kingdom is at war with the elves. The two meet an elven assassin girl, Rayla, and the three of them end up going on a quest to end their wars. The princes, Callum and Ezran, are brothers. All three are kids.
The show puts a unique spin on animated fantasy, which captivates kids and adult audiences alike. What’s great about this show is that the characters are diverse and not limited to white European nobles. Viewers who love sword fights and sorcery will absolutely enjoy this show. It also explores a lot of elven history and magic. If you like duels inside dungeons, this show is for you.
This show is about a young woman who becomes suddenly involved with vampires, demons, and warlocks on her 18th birthday. Dark creatures come to take her mother and the story unfolds when she starts her journey to rescue her. The young woman, Clary Fray, was born with the blood of an angel. She learned soon enough that she was meant to protect her kind from demons. She eventually finds herself in the company of shadowhunters to help her with this quest. The show easily became one of the most popular fantasy TV shows on Netflix.
Of course, one of the most popular magicians of all time, Netflix’s Merlin is a unique retelling of the tale of King Arthur and his relationship with the wizard. It is a family-friendly show with dragons and all the magic you can imagine. What stood out are the elegant sets and costumes that made the feel of the show even more magical. As with the original fantasy tale, Merlin aids King Arthur during his quests. Because it’s wholesome, it’s definitely one of the best fantasy TV shows for kids.
5. Stranger Things
Ever since its pilot episode, Stranger Things has been one of the most popular fantasy shows on Netflix. It follows the story of adolescents who learn that the monsters in their board game are real but they didn’t come from underground. The monsters are a result of scientific experiments, an element that also makes it a sci-fi fantasy. A girl, Eleven, also escapes this science lab, and it turns out that she possesses extraordinary abilities. The show is set in a small town where “strange things” are getting stranger and stranger. One of the boys goes missing, and Eleven and her friends set out to defeat the monsters that took him. The show stars Winona Ryder as the mother of the missing boy.
Based on the novel of Diana Gabaldon, Outlander follows the story of Claire Randall who goes back in time and is soon trapped living two lives and… two husbands. The first one is her present, during the Second World War, and the second is 200 years back. Unraveling in Scotland, she stumbles into the past and faces accusations of her being an English spy. It crosses the alternate history fiction genre. As in the novel, the series is a sensual drama full of love scenes.
7. Locke and Key
The Locke family has moved into their ancestral house called the Keyhouse. It’s your typical large mansion filled with mysteries. The kids soon find out that there are magical keys inside the house that do extraordinary and sometimes dangerous things. There is a key for everything but someone else is looking for these keys. Someone menacing and deceptive. Can they protect their family and the keys at the same time?
A fantasy show that crosses the “supernatural” genre as the title suggests, this series is about brothers Sam and Dean Winchester who get pulled into the world of monsters. They lost their mother because of a demonic force, and they are now on a quest to hunt these creatures. There is some kind of paranormal evil lurking around. Luckily, their father trained them how to fight them when they were young. Action-adventure fans will enjoy this show because of its thrilling scenes.
9. The Umbrella Academy
Bordering more on science fiction, The Umbrella Academy is one of the best sci-fi fantasy TV shows on Netflix today. Although the characters have superpowers, the show also involves fantastical elements. It stars Elliot Page who plays Vanya, a violinist who has been outcast from the training at first for lack of super abilities. They are being hunted by some mysterious assassins, which drives the story into unexpected twists and turns. It also involves some funky time travel and has an apocalyptic theme. Some say the show is too weird but it didn’t stop it from becoming one of the most popular.
10. Arthdal Chronicles
A story about a power struggle to build a new society, Arthdal Chronicles is an action-filled drama. It’s an epic fantasy TV show set in ancient times. It also has a lot of political themes and romance. This show features characters wearing sabertooth tiger skulls complete with dragons and other mythical creatures.
11. Eternal Love
This fantasy show is a melodrama about a woman who jumps off a terrace to her death and reappears 300 years later. It’s a Chinese TV series based on a novel. The show involves characters transforming into dragons and mortal and immortal realms.
The lord of hell is bored and leaves his realm to go to LA. He finds himself working with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) to hunt criminals. The department’s detective, Chloe Decker works closely with him, but he is worried if she will be able to accept the fact that he is the devil in the flesh. She soon sees his devil face and the story takes on an elaborate twist. This supernatural fantasy TV show has become one of the most popular even before it came to Netflix.
13. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
Yes, it is still Sabrina, one of the most popular witches on TV during the 90s but with a twist. This Netflix original depicts her as a half-witch off to chase mischief. It follows her story as she navigates the world of her present teenage life and the world where she becomes part of the Church of Night.
14. The Bureau of Magical Things
This fantasy show is as magical as it sounds. It tells the story of a teenage girl who discovers a magical dimension by chance. She finds herself with the task of uniting the real world and the magical realm. Both are in danger. It’s a family-friendly show and is one of the best fantasy TV shows for kids and adults alike.
15. The OA
A child who is blinded in her early years disappears but comes back seven years later with restored eyesight. What surprises the town are her new magical abilities. Some of the townsfolk think that her reappearance and her getting back her eyesight are miracles but some are suspicious. She makes friends with five strangers and they all go to fulfill a secret mission.
Why Is Fantasy So Challenging for TV Producers and Writers?
Where fantasy succeeds in novels and comics, it often fails in movies and TV. The plot is watered down, characters are poorly portrayed, and scenes are not powerfully depicted even with special effects. In print, readers recreate the worlds and all the magical elements on their own in their heads. To make those come to life visually requires excellent writing and acting. It all boils down to storytelling and consistency.
The problem with Game of Thrones’ last season, for example, is not just bad storytelling but also the inconsistency in style. You might have been one of those fans who became disappointed and if so, you can see how critical these mistakes are. That is not to say there haven’t been exceedingly impressive shows. So what makes a good fantasy TV show?
What Makes a Good Fantasy Show?
For a fantasy novel, film, or TV show to be successful, it needs multiple elements. It’s not only about originality but also about the effectiveness of showing these elements on the screen. Here are some of the elements that make a great fantasy TV show.
All fantasy stories are set in a unique world. Even if it’s in the present day, there is still a parallel magical world where these extraordinary powers, phenomena, and characters come from. Creators of the best fantasy TV shows have put a lot of effort into world-building to make the setting rich and enthralling for the audience. This is crucial because it sets the tone and the lay of the land in which the characters move. Notice that the most popular fantasy books and shows almost always have a unique map. It also affects how their magical abilities work. Is it on another planet? Or a completely fictional realm detached from ours? No matter the setting, this fantasy world needs to be consistent because it defines the rules that govern its magic.
In relation to the rules that govern magic, the magic itself must also make sense in the story. If a character with magical powers can do just anything with it, it wouldn’t be as interesting. There have to be some limitations of some sort; otherwise, it would just be flat. What is the cost of conjuring this magic? Does it get depleted when overused? There must also be some danger involved when used incorrectly. The most successful fantasy shows and literature implement some forbidden spells or at least put some great consequences on them. Killing someone with magic, for example, comes with some risks as does murder in real life.
The complexity of characters is significant not only in fantasy stories but in all fictional works. Would you be interested in a protagonist that has no flaws? It is very hard to relate to a character that does not have any sort of weakness. In the same way, the villain or antagonist would be better if there is something in them that we can understand if not sympathize with. The best villains are not those who just want to destroy the world. They are the ones who believe in something they think is right and thus fight for it.
Not all fantasy shows need to have mystical creatures but if they do, they also need to be as interesting as any character in the show. Sure, unicorns are great but what’s unique about this particular show’s unicorns? Most magical creatures in the genre come from ancient myths. A lot of fantasy fans appreciate the accuracy of these creatures to their original depiction. But it would also be good if the audience can see them in a different light. The elves of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, for example, are depicted as an elegant race. This is the norm in the high fantasy sub-genre. On the other hand, they are slaves in the Harry Potter world.
What drives the characters to go on their quests and adventures? Are they off to defeat evil or are they just doing it for the fun of it? The best fantasy TV shows successfully create conflict within the story so that the characters are forced to make difficult choices. Conflict is important because human beings face them constantly. And this conflict must be consistent with the characters’ personalities and backgrounds.
Plot-Driven vs Character-Driven
There is almost a unifying vote among fantasy fans that character-driven fantasy stories are better than plot-driven ones. Why? Because it is the characters that wield whatever magic is present in this fantasy world. This is where the complex characters discussed above come in. These characters must want something so badly to use their magic. Or they may have been unwillingly pushed into this magical setting, that they need to learn it in order to return to their normal lives.
Sub-Genres of Fantasy
Fantasy sub-genres have more specific “conventions” or ideas. In general, if a story or TV show has a magical setting, then it is a fantasy no matter the plot. Here are some sub-genres of fantasy and you may be surprised by some of them.
This is also called “epic fantasy” and is the most traditional one. Stories under this sub-genre often involve characters like elves, kings, legendary weapons like swords, and wizards. They are lengthy and the quest or journey is on a bigger scale—like saving the world or a kingdom. You may notice they almost always have a map of their unique worlds. An entirely fictional language like “elvish” is also common. A great example of this is JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. The TV series Game of Thrones can also be considered high fantasy.
A story where characters travel between this world and a magical world is called a portal fantasy. They often get into that world or “dimension” through a gateway or portal, hence the name. A time discrepancy between the two worlds is very common in this sub-genre. It means that two hours or even days in the magical world may only be a minute on Earth. The Chronicles of Narnia is a good example of portal fantasy.
As mentioned above, contemporary fantasy is still fantasy even if it features modern technologies. It is set in the present day and the real world. Some of them are also paranormal in nature, involving ghosts, creatures like werewolves and vampires, underground worlds, and hidden cities. The series American Gods, which came from Neil Gaiman’s novel, is an example of this sub-genre. It is one of the best fantasy TV shows today.
Books, movies, and TV shows in the historical fantasy category are set in a particular historical period in the real world. It crosses alternate history fiction—stories where historical events are depicted differently. In the case of historical fantasy, these events are mingled with magic or supernatural forces. Even so, it strictly enforces strong accuracy in these historical events. It often includes elements of important battles or wars in history. Time travel is also very common.
The word “comic” here does not refer to comic books. Comic fantasy is comedic in nature. Its purpose is to amuse viewers and has a light-hearted tone. It is also usually “satiric,” meaning the content is satire—a work of fiction that aims to ridicule abusive practices mostly in governments or society in general. These stories often feature ridiculous characters or characters with flaws so extreme that they become naturally funny. The setting has absurd magical rules. For a comic fantasy TV show to work, it requires strong witty writing.
This is also referred to as gothic fantasy. It throws horror into the mix. Dark fantasy literature and TV shows often involve creatures like monsters and the undead, haunted castles, and ruins. It aims to create an effect that disturbs, horrify, or unsettle readers and viewers. While it can also involve paranormal creatures like werewolves, not all paranormal fantasy (discussed below) is considered dark.
Aside from the usual vampires, paranormal fantasy also involves shapeshifters, angels, demons, zombies, and characters that have supernatural talents. Paranormal romance is another category of this sub-genre. This is often a romance between an ordinary/human and a supernatural being. Twilight is an example of this.
This is a very specific fantasy sub-genre in which the main component is extraordinary technology run by steam engines and cogs. It crosses the science fiction genre. You will often encounter hot air balloons, trains, huge clockwork, and other machinery. It also often features Victorian clothing.
Also a popular sci-fi sub-genre, dystopian fantasy explores imagined worlds where everything has gone wrong, hence the name. Examples of this are stories where Earth has lost all of its resources, society is at its worst, and all the possible terrible scenarios you can imagine. It differs from pure dystopian fiction when magic or a fantastical setting is involved.
Of course, the most popular sub-genre of fantasy is sci-fi fantasy. It is also the most fascinating one because it combines the “possible” with the “impossible” as discussed above. It is so widely encompassing that it can be futuristic, historical, and even epic. These stories are set in a world that is highly technologically advanced but are still tightly incorporated with magic. Some of them are set on other planets, both fictional and real, and often involve aliens and a grand higher power such as “The Force” in Star Wars. You can say Star Wars is a sci-fi fantasy although it is mainly science fiction. Which begs the question: what is pure sci-fi and what is pure fantasy?
Difference Between Science Fiction and Fantasy
Some people may think that this is a question with a straightforward answer. What’s the difference between sci-fi and fantasy? It can be a bit complicated even for writers and film creators themselves. This is because they often have similar elements as you’ve seen in the fantasy sub-genres above. The two genres cross almost all the time but most of them lean on one more than the other.
Science Fiction vs Fantasy
Science fiction uses elements of science as is obvious. They set the tone and theme of the story. The story explores advanced or futuristic technologies and is often told in dystopian or utopian settings. These scientific elements are knit in the real world. You can say it has more limitations. Fantasy, on the other hand, has a lot more room for going beyond what’s realistic. It does not have to have a link to our world.
That does not mean that there are no rules when it comes to magical worlds. In fact, a lot of great fantasy writers know that in order for their stories to work, they must also make sense logically. JK Rowling, for example, has made it so that magic can’t come out of “nothing.” In the Harry Potter world, food is made by elves with real ingredients even though they magically appear on the table. In fact, one of the most important aspects of fantasy is that it must have a “unique magic system.” It regulates the effects of anything magical in that fictional world. For example, even someone with born magical abilities still needs to hone those powers before they can properly use them.
Are Superheroes Fantasy or Science Fiction?
Stories that have characters with “superpowers” in them tend to lean toward one or the other and it often depends on the type of “power” these characters have. Superman is easily sci-fi. His extraordinary strength and abilities are largely due to him being from another planet. It is not because someone handed him a magic cape. Unlike Wonder Woman whose life was given by the gods. She also has magical weapons so she leans more toward fantasy. So is Thor who is a Norse god.
Why Stream on Netflix?
Netflix has an incredible array of fantasy shows and movies. But with so many streaming platforms out there, why choose Netflix? It remains to be the most popular online streaming platform in the world. One of the best reasons for this is because it is completely ad-free. No matter your type of subscription, you will not see any ads. It has an easy-to-use interface and features such as creating a watch list.
It does have some downside. There are some great shows that are still not available on the platform because of exclusivity terms. However, over the years, we’ve seen these shows become available on the platform eventually. But there are other good reasons why many people choose to subscribe to Netflix instead of other services.
Without a doubt, Netflix has the most varied selection of shows, films, and documentaries. From family-friendly shows to content that caters to more mature audiences, the platform has them all.
Another great thing about Netflix is you can download videos on your device so that you can watch them offline. Take note that not all content is available for download.
Value for Money
Even in the lowest tier (most affordable subscription), Netflix offers a good value for money. All types of subscriptions give you access to unlimited shows and movies. The standard subscription allows multiple users to use the service simultaneously.
What’s the Best Netflix Subscription for You?
Here are the three tiers that you can subscribe to on Netflix.
As mentioned, even the basic plan lets you watch unlimited content. However, it only allows one user on the account. This is great for those who don’t have anyone to share the account with. However, it does not come with HD and Ultra HD capabilities.
With the standard plan, two users can log in to your Netflix account at the same time. It means that you can stream content on two screens simultaneously. You can create two separate profiles so that each one can create their own lists and see their viewing history. It includes HD videos but not Ultra HD. This is great for couples or roommates.
The premium Netflix subscription allows up to four people to log in to your Netflix account at the same time. This is the best plan for families or a group of friends who want to save on subscription fees. It includes HD and Ultra HD streaming.
Netflix is still one of the best streaming services to get your fantasy show fix. Despite some shows not being available, it has the most varied selection and offers a great value for money. It has some of the best fantasy TV shows both original and shows that came from other TV networks. Subscribe today and start watching your favorite fantasy shows!