As the network that basically invented prestige TV, HBO has a well-deserved reputation for shows that go above and beyond the norm. Some have even permanently woven their way into pop culture, like Sex and the City, Game of Thrones and The Sopranos, while others are cult favorites still being discovered by new viewers, like Enlightened and The Leftovers. Not every HBO series is great, and some aren’t even good (sorry, Avenue 5), but many stand apart for being worth every second of your valuable binge-watching time.
So if you’re in search of a new, nail-biting drama or laugh-out-loud comedy to devour, check out our list of the 44 best HBO shows and series of all time, in no particular order.
Mare of Easttown (2021)
You may think if you’ve seen one dramatic miniseries about a small-town cop trying to solve a grisly murder while battling their inner personal demons, you’ve seen ‘em all —but not until you’ve seen Mare of Easttown. Kate Winslet gives another one of her can’t-miss performances (and delivers another spot-on accent, this time from Delaware County, Pennsylvania) as Detective Mare Sheehan, whose claustrophobic hometown is as rife with secrets as it is with bitter resentments. Rounding out the stellar cast are Jean Smart (who can do no wrong) as Mare’s mom, Juliette Nicholson as Mare’s BFF and David Denman as her ex-husband. The twists and turns in this truly gripping murder mystery will have you guessing until the very end.
Flight of the Conchords (2007-2009)
New Zealand comedy-folk duo Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement play loser versions of themselves in this gem of a comedy series. Bret and Jemaine’s misadventures as aspiring NYC musicians are interspersed with music videos for their hilarious, must-download-immediately jams.
A vicious drama about the lives of the 1 percent, Succession centers on media mogul Logan Roy (played by Brian Cox and loosely based on Rupert Murdoch) and his power-hungry family. With their many secrets and schemes, the Roys’ lives are the stuff of thrillers–but it’s money and reputation, not life and death, that hang in the balance.
Big Little Lies (2017-2019)
A breezy California murder mystery centered on a group of gossipy, well-heeled suburban moms, Big Little Lies boasted the incomparable ensemble of Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Zoë Kravitz, Shailene Woodley and Laura Dern. The first season stands alone as a masterful miniseries, but the second is worth watching for Meryl Streep’s unhinged mother-in-law from hell.
Sex and the City (1998-2004)
You can’t help but wonder, how well has Sex and the City aged? With its late-‘90s luxury lifestyle, pre-cell phone dating scene, and annoyingly limited perspective on sexuality, the groundbreaking comedy might as well take place on another planet. That said, the adventures of Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte are still compulsively watchable, and Carrie’s zany wardrobe will always be a peak moment in television fashion.
The first season of this beautifully shot, Zendaya-starring show–about Gen Z teens experimenting with sex, drugs and incriminating selfies–enthralled audiences and terrified parents.
The Undoing (2020)
Nicole Kidman reunited with Big Little Lies producer David E. Kelley—and traded BLL’s beachy-chic environs for uber-tony uptown Manhattan—for this psychological whodunit about an enigmatic murder case. Hugh Grant joins in on the taut, sleek, soapy fun as Kidman’s husband, while Edgar Ramirez, Lily Rabe, Donald Sutherland, Annaleigh Ashford and Rosemary Harris round out the A-list cast.
Fraggle Rock (1983-1987)
Eighties kids danced their cares away (clap clap) when this funny, tuneful Muppet fantasy played on HBO. Jim Henson’s 96-episode series remains enjoyable and occasionally profound, although HBO seems to have lost the rights to air it.
Game of Thrones (2011-2019)
HBO’s big-budget fantasy saga broke the mold for epic storytelling, and made household names of stars like Peter Dinklage, Emilia Clarke and Jason Momoa. Despite a disappointing finale (and far too many rape scenes), the show’s eight seasons of elaborate world-building and mysteriously entwined stories weave a spell that’s hard to resist.
Mr. Show with Bob and David (1995-1998)
Before they were best known as Breaking Bad’s Saul Goodman and Arrested Development’s Tobias Funke, respectively, Bob Odenkirk and David Cross created one of the funniest sketch-comedy shows in TV history. Keep an eye out for appearances from other on-the-verge comedians like Jack Black, Scott Aukerman and Sarah Silverman.
True Detective (2014-present)
This atmosphere-drenched crime drama has become the preeminent example of a show that went downhill after its first season. But can we remind you just how good that first season is? Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson give remarkable performances as Louisiana detectives, haunted by their own pasts, who spend 17 years obsessing over the same gruesome murder case. Season 2 was forgettable, but True Detective got some mojo back in Season 3, starring the incomparable Mahershala Ali.
I May Destroy You (2020)
Easily the most critically acclaimed show of 2020 (on HBO or anywhere else) was Michaela Coel’s unflinching, yet surprisingly delicate drama about a young London novelist who goes out for a night on the town and winds up having to piece together the hazy details of her own sexual assault. Coel wrote, co-directed, co-produced and starred in the 12-episode series, which plays out as part revenge fantasy, part ultra-black comedy, part tender coming-of-age—and which, she revealed, was based on her own, true-life experience as a sexual assault victim.
Boardwalk Empire (2010-2014)
Steve Buscemi led an incredible ensemble cast, including breakout stars Michael Shannon and Jack Huston, in this gilded gangster saga, set in Atlantic City during Prohibition.
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (2014-present)
In a field of instant-react political commentary, this comedic news show has taken the long view, presenting extended, well-researched segments on key issues–and occasionally, inspiring actual changes to U.S. law.
Silicon Valley (2014-2019)
With this smart, obscenely funny show, Office Space writer-director Mike Judge reinvented the workplace comedy for the tech era. You don’t have to live in the Bay Area or work at a website to enjoy this one–although if you do, you’ll understand that Silicon Valley’s absurdities are shockingly close to reality.
In this BBC co-production, Ricky Gervais (back in his chubbier, funnier days) played an aspiring actor who mainly works as a film extra, bringing him in the proximity of all kinds of huge stars. The best scenes in Extras involve A-list celebrities parodying themselves, among them David Bowie, Ian McKellen, Kate Winslet and Samuel L. Jackson.
Angels in America (2003)
Tony Kushner’s groundbreaking play about the AIDS epidemic, which blends realism, history and supernatural elements, was adapted into a moving six-part miniseries by director Mike Nichols. The dream cast includes Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Emma Thompson, Mary-Louise Parker and Jeffrey Wright reprising his Tony-winning role from the original Broadway production.
Based on the world of Alan Moore’s 1987 dystopian superhero comic, but set in the present day, this nine-episode miniseries expanded our idea of what a reboot could be. The incredible Regina King stars as a cop-turned-vigilante who takes on a white supremacist group, and learns the secret history of American superheroes, in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The Sopranos (1999-2007)
The original premium-cable antihero, Tony Soprano threw viewers for a loop in the early aughts. Surely this charismatic, likeable mobster would become a better person by the end of the series! Spoiler alert: it doesn’t happen. But that doesn’t lessen the emotional wallop or shocking twists of The Sopranos, and James Gandolfini’s performance remains one for the ages.
True Blood (2008-2014)
Released the same year as the first Twilight movie, this Southern Gothic fantasy series (based on the novels by Charlaine Harris) upped the ante for supernatural sexiness, with a frequently-naked cast including Joe Manganiello as a werewolf, Alexander Skarsgård as a vampire and Anna Paquin as the half-fairy protagonist. It’s soapy and over-the-top, and does it really, really well.
Lovecraft Country (2020- )
A young Black man (Jonathan Majors) in 1950s Jim Crow America is searching for his missing father with a little help from a childhood friend (Jurnee Smollett) and happens upon a small town where the supernatural seems to occur all too often. While the works of iconic horror author H.P. Lovecraft serve as inspiration for the series, Lovecraft Country is actually based on a 2016 novel of the same name by Matt Ruff.
The little-known true story of how one man rigged the entire McDonald’s Monopoly game makes for ludicrously entertaining television, full of characters who seem like they were invented for a Christopher Guest movie but are, in fact, totally real. It’s also the rare true-crime docuseries that requires no trigger warnings.
Sci-fi fans who enjoy playing “who’s really a robot?” were easily sold on Westworld, but this dystopian drama turned out to be a deep look at humanity’s capacity for cruelty, a parable of female liberation and a fascinating puzzle that might never be fully solved. The premise: a high-tech amusement park re-creates the Old West with fully realistic androids, to whom visitors can do whatever they want without consequence…or so they think.
Future generations will be furious that Issa Rae didn’t win as many Emmys as Phoebe Waller-Bridge or Lena Dunham for creating and starring in Insecure–as relevant, sexy and hilarious as anything being produced right now. Rae plays Issa Dee, an ambitious but under-confident 20-something navigating life, romance and work as a black woman in Los Angeles.
Sharp Objects (2018)
Based on Gillian Flynn’s Southern Gothic detective story, this miniseries is as terrifying and hypnotic as a slow drip of poison. Amy Adams plays an alcoholic journalist exploring two child murders in her Missouri hometown, where she’s forced back into a relationship with her manipulative mother (Patricia Clarkson in a career-best performance).
The Comeback (2005 and 2014)
Lisa Kudrow channeled all of her megawatt comedic star power into a pitch-perfect performance as Valerie Cherish, a faded sitcom star desperate for new relevance, in this caustic reality-show satire. The one-season wonder developed such a massive cult following that it was rebooted a decade later–and somehow, was even funnier the second time around.
Bill Hader gives a performance like no other in this pitch-black comedy about a career hit-man who moves to L.A. to pursue an acting career. From that terrible-sounding premise comes a horrifyingly funny show about the masks we all wear, and the price of disconnecting from our own feelings.
Like The West Wing through a cracked looking glass, this bold and biting political satire managed to be perfectly timed with American history, sliding from the Obama years to the Trump era with uncanny precision. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is brilliant as Selina Meyer, a shameless political climber trying to transcend the prominent but thankless job of U.S. vice president.
The Jinx (2015)
Did reclusive real-estate heir Robert Durst actually confess to three murders on a hot mic, or was it just the ramblings of a madman? Either way, Andrew Jarecki’s six-part docuseries–which premiered the same day Durst was finally arrested and charged–is true-crime drama at its most riveting.
John Adams (2008)
Seven years before Hamilton premiered on Broadway, HBO turned the politics of America’s Founding Fathers into must-see TV with this seven-part miniseries. Lead actor Paul Giamatti (a surprisingly controversial casting choice) creates the definitive portrait of our second President as a brilliant lawyer with high ideals, who pisses off just about everyone to achieve them.
My Brilliant Friend (2018-present)
The first non-English-language series to debut on HBO, this Italian co-production immerses viewers in the sensory-rich world of Elena Ferrante’s beloved Neapolitan Novels. The story of a lifelong friendship and rivalry between two women in post-Mussolini Italy, My Brilliant Friend has moments of pure beauty but pulls no punches when it comes to Lila and Elena’s world of misogyny, violence and organized crime.
The Wire (2002-2008)
Creator David Simon called the Baltimore-set crime drama his “novel for television”; many have called it the best TV show ever made. Nearly 20 years after its premiere, The Wire remains untouchable: it’s a slow-burn tragedy loaded with gut punches, a potent story about inequality and systems of power in America, and an expansive ensemble drama that gets you deeply invested in dozens of characters at once.
Life as a gay man in America has changed dramatically over the past three generations, and Looking was a groundbreaking story about how modern gay life is shaped by those changes. Jonathan Groff gives a stunning lead performance as Patrick, a videogame designer stumbling through romances and evolving friendships in San Francisco.
A terrifying thriller about a real-life mini-apocalypse, HBO’s dramatic account of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear meltdown captures the tragedy, horror and heroics that took place, while never forgetting the incompetent, uncaring government that allowed the unthinkable to occur.
Deadwood (2004-2006, 2019)
The TV Western against which all others are measured, the canceled-too-soon Deadwood re-envisioned the Old West with characters of enormous complexity and dialogue that played like R-rated Shakespeare. Much of the cast went on to become stars of other prestige cable shows (including Justified’s Timothy Olyphant, Breaking Bad’s Anna Gunn, House of Cards’ Molly Parker and Big Little Lies’ Robin Weigert), and most returned to appear alongside series standout Ian McShane in the 2019 Deadwood film.
Six Feet Under (2001-2005)
Death is at the forefront of this beloved drama about the funeral home-owning Fisher family, whose story is sometimes life-affirming, sometimes brutally tragic, and sometimes defies reality itself. The series finale is a legendary knockout.
The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (2008)
This gentle, optimistic detective show resembled nothing else on HBO, before or since—making it more of a pity that it only lasted one season. Originally conceived as a film by Oscar winner Anthony Minghella (who directed the two-hour pilot before his death), The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency stars Jill Scott as the irrepressible Mma Ramotswe, who solves mysteries for her Botswana community.
We’re in the midst of a delightful Laura Dern-aissance, which makes it the perfect time to revisit her performance as antihero Amy Jellicoe in Enlightened. Written by cringe-comedy genius (and Dern’s costar) Mike White, this unpredictable series tells the story of a self-absorbed executive who hits rock bottom, attends a New Age-y rehab and returns determined that she can change the world.
The Larry Sanders Show (1992-1998)
This ultra-meta, single-camera showbiz satire, starring Gary Shandling as a neurotic late-night talk show host, featured a jaw-dropping lineup of celebrities playing themselves–and influenced a generation of TV shows ranging from The Office to The West Wing.
Band of Brothers (2001)
Produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, this cinematic World War II miniseries plunged viewers into the harrowing journey of “Easy Company,” a renowned group of paratroopers who took part in D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge and the occupation of Germany. Band of Brothers features interviews with actual Easy Company veterans (who were extensively consulted on the series) alongside the dramatic reenactments, which are painstaking in historical detail and unsparing in violence.
Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000-present)
Seinfeld creator Larry David managed to top his iconic ‘90s show by just playing a caricature of himself. Misanthropic, neurotic and opinionated, the fictional David walks through life saying out loud what any reasonable person would keep to themselves. The result is often cathartic, sometimes offensive and reliably hilarious.
The Leftovers (2014-2017)
The Leftovers begins in a world that seems hopeless, where 2 percent of the population has inexplicably vanished. From bleak place rose every nightmare scenario imaginable–and extraordinary stories of human connection against impossible odds. Damon Lindelof‘s dystopian fantasy still speaks to our present-day, topsy-turvy reality with uncanny empathy.
High Maintenance (2016-2020)
Since being taken under HBO’s wing, this low-budget web comedy about an unnamed marijuana dealer has quietly blossomed into an epic: a series of funny, poignant stand-alone stories about life in New York City, where private and public lives collide in unexpected ways, and one person on a bicycle can expose the beating heart beneath it all.