Best TV Shows of 2021
Welcome to our Top 40 list for best TV shows of 2020! This has always been our most tightly contested and fiercely debated article of the year. Previous winners include 12 Monkeys Season 4 (in 2018), Mr Robot Season 4 (in 2019) and Crash Landing On You (in 2020). Who will gain the top accolade in 2021?
Our team have been hard at work crafting a diverse, unique list that should please many people. As with every year, this list combines scripted Korean dramas, anime and TV shows the world over into one “Best Of” for each year. The only exception to this are documentaries, which don’t show up on this list in any form.
As with every year, any show that’s currently still airing and finishing in 2022 will not appear on this list. In the interest of fairness, any potential entries will be considered for 2022 when the series ends.
As with every year, there are some casualties and shows we sadly didn’t get a chance to watch so we’ll preface the list with those first. Ted Lasso, For All Mankind Season 2, Succession, Time and The White Lotus were four of the more prolific entries we sadly failed to get around to watching.
So without further ado then, we present our top 40 TV shows of 2021.
Do feel free to click (or tap) the numbers below to be taken directly to that entry!
40 – Schmigadoon!
Schmigadoon is undoubtedly a fun, light-hearted romp that takes all the tried and tested musical tropes and throws them into a wonderful little series.
The show essentially takes the idea of Brigadoon and adds a heavy dollop of satire, both poking fun at musicals of old and embracing all the quirks and simplicity of the genre’s best. There are multiple nods and Easter eggs to different musicals here, and this feeds into the bright and sickly-sweet aesthetic clinging to everything.
Josh, who heads off on a couple’s retreat with his girlfriend Mel. Things are rough between them, and they’re desperate to rekindle that spark they once had. After losing their stone hearts (quite literally) the pair find themselves inexplicably transported to the strange fantastical world of Schmigadoon.
There, the pair realize they need to find their true love in order to find a way back to our world. But are these two really destined for each other? Or will they find their soulmate in this archaic fantasy world?
39 – The Serpent
Charles Sobhraj is one of the most notorious serial killers of our time. Said to have killed anywhere between 12 and 24 people in south-east Asia, this predator is very much a serpent in disguise; striking his enemies and wrapping them up in deceit and big promises.
With a story that jumps back and forth between different time periods, The Serpent follows Charles Sobhraj’s story from his early days in Paris and India through to his notorious reign over South-east Asia.
With gemstone deals, spiked drinks and even burning people alive, this story is a shocking and utterly compelling journey that’s certainly worth taking.
38 – Nine Perfect Strangers
The story here revolves around nine “perfect” strangers selected to join an exclusive wellness resort called Tranquillum. Whether it be weight loss, marriage counselling or dealing with grief, each of these guys and gals carry a heavy briefcase of baggage that’s soon opened and explored over the 8 episodes.
Overseeing this project is the mysterious Masha, a woman with her own secrets and reasons for pushing her project forwards. No spoilers here but her past is fascinating and devastating in equal doses.
While Nicole Kidman will probably get the plaudits, it’s actually Melissa McCarthy and Bobby Cannavale who are the real stars of the show here.
Given the stacked cast and promise behind this, going in with high expectations of a Big Little Lies 2 will undoubtedly leave you disappointed. The show is not without its problems but there’s a great tone and atmosphere clinging to this to keep you watching until the end.
37 – Shadow and Bone Season 1
Based on the popular Grishaverse novels by Leigh Bardugo, Shadow and Bone season 1 adapts the first novel while taking elements of its ‘Six of Crows’ follow-up. The result is a wonderful medley of influences that lean hard into YA territory. However, there’s enough for fantasy fans to enjoy too – especially as this has been renewed for another season.
The story plays host to two divided continents, separated by a large shadowy wall. Across both sides of the Fold are characters who seek to try and swing the upcoming battle in their favour. This world also plays host to Grisha, who are magic-wielders.
Among those is Alina, who happens to be the fabled Sun Summoner; a Grisha so powerful they could change the fate of the world. It’s your typical fantasy set-up but there’s some nicely worked twists and turns along the way that keeps things interesting.
36 – The Uncanny Counter
Based on the web comic Kyeongirowoon Somoon, The Uncanny Counter feels like a heady blend of Mystic Pop-Up Bar, Search and a special superhero team-up like The Avengers.
The main premise revolves around a group of Noodle Bar owners known as the Counters. They’ve been chosen by spirits within the realm of Yung to hunt down demonic forces on Earth.
When one of their own dies at the hands of a powerful level 3 known as Cheong-Shin, the Counters recruit a teenage boy called Mun to their ranks.
Mun finds himself caught in the middle of an internal struggle, as he sets out to find who was responsible for killing his parents. The truth however, is far more shocking than he could imagine.
35 – Mr. Queen
Mr Queen is a hilarious, well-written body swap comedy, set deep in the heart of the Joseon Era.
Despite a polarizing ending and a couple of misfires along the way, this historical drama is undoubtedly a really solid and enjoyable watch.
For those unaware, this drama is a remake of the popular Chinese costume drama Go Princess Go. However, this remake does have its own quirks and unique elements.
The story revolves around Bong-Hwan, an arrogant chef who finds himself suffering from a head injury which tumbles him back through time. When he awakens, he’s trapped inside the body of the new Queen, So-Yong. With political powers conspiring to thwart her at any moment, Bong-Hwan does his best to play up his role while desperately searching for a way back to the present.
Shin Hye-Sun and Kim Jung-Hyun absolutely carry this show, with some absolutely electric scenes when they share the spotlight.
34 – Yumi’s Cells Season 1
Ever wonder what goes on in someone’s head? Well, wonder no more. Yumi’s Cells is a charming, fun-loving Korean drama that dives head-first into this idea, taking inspiration from Pixar’s Inside Out. The premise is pretty simple and with a straight forward set of episodes and likable characters to boot, tvN have struck gold once more with this rom-com.
The story itself centers on Yu-Mi, an ordinary single working woman. She spends her days at Daehan Noodles, with a likable group of characters while remaining desperate to find “the one”. A failed blind date, an annoying coworker in Ruby and rotten luck combine to leave Yumi hopeless. Until one fateful day.
Set up on a blind date, Yu-Mi meets Koo Woong, a programmer who’s certainly not your conventional suave guy. He rocks up to the date in shorts and a t-shirt but the pair do slowly warm to each other over time.
Yumi’s Cells is the perfect remedy to some of the more serious and gritty Korean dramas out there and a must-watch for anyone looking for a compelling romantic drama.
33 – Brand New Cherry Flavor
Brand New Cherry Flavor is a real oddball series. It’s a show that takes an awful lot of risks; some that pay off and others that really don’t. When it comes to revenge thrillers, it’s incredibly difficult to stand out next to so many others in this field and the fact that this show does, speaks volumes.
Brand New Cherry Flavor feels like a heady cocktail of different influences; a little bit of David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino mixed in with the unsettling atmosphere of Channel Zero.
At the heart of this show lies aspiring film director Lisa Nova. Set deep in the heart of 1990’s Los Angeles, she’s just finished her first student project, Lucy’s Eye. So unsettling and grotesque is this movie, it immediately piques the interest of film producer Lou Burke. Unfortunately, he completely screws her over and that sets up this story.
The architect in all this happens to be a strange woman called Bora. She stalks the periphery of Lisa’s storyline, slowly becoming more integral to the plot as the episodes progress. There’s definitely an air of “be careful what you wish for” with this, as Bora’s strange witchcraft and rituals allow Lisa to get her revenge – at a cost.
32 – Sweet Tooth
Adapted from the popular graphic novels back in 2009, Sweet Tooth is a DC Comic IP that’s surprisingly relevant for our current social climate.
For those unaware, our story takes place some time in the near-future. A viral outbreak has decimated the world. Dubbed the H5G9 strain, what begins with a simple cough soon mutates into something much, more worse. This is known colloquially as “The Great Crumble.”
Hiding out at Yellowstone National Park with his “Pubba”, Gus finds himself growing up and learning how to survive. However, he soon becomes curious about the outside world and decides to venture off to find his Mum, Birdie.
Along the way he’s joined by a bruiser called Tommy Jepp and the two form an unlikely bond that ultimately serves as the glue that ties everything together.
Well written and undeniably charming, Sweet Tooth is well worth your time.
31 – Sex Education Season 3
Well-written, funny and with just a touch of poignancy, Sex Education has been one of Netflix’s brightest original series since it dropped back in 2019. The blend of American and British schooling actually worked surprisingly well, while the large ensemble of characters helped to make this a diverse and intriguing proposition.
Following the cliffhanger at the end of season 2 – and the subsequent delay thanks to a certain viral outbreak – Sex Education is finally back. And boy was the wait worth it.
Netflix’s teen drama is every bit as great as it was in seasons past, with a whole lot of drama to sink your teeth into this year.
The story picks up at the end of the summer holidays and lots has changed at Moordale. There’s a new draconian head teacher in Hope (who’s basically Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter) and plenty of angst for our teens to deal with.
Out of the three seasons, this third one is arguably one of the best. The tonal balance between comedy and poignancy is absolutely on the money while each of the characters get some great development too.
30 – The Expanse Season 5
While season 4 leaned into the protomolecule and Sol Ring plotline, season 5 takes a step back and doubles down on the politics instead. With the Belters growing ever-restless, an extremist by the name of Marco Inaros takes the spotlight for much of the season. As he tries to rally the Belters together, our Roci crew find themselves split after their time on Ilus until the finale where everyone comes together to try and thwart this common enemy.
This consequently shifts the focus from one central story to different pockets of subplots that all work together across the course of the season. Amos finds himself back on Earth, running personal errands before being reunited with old faces from the past.
After the slow pace of season 4, season 5 starts brightly before stagnating a little in the middle. There’s much more of a soapy feel to some of the drama this year although the visual design, technicality and individual plot points do have some real high points too. Thanks to the unbelievably high bar set by this show, season 5 is still very good but a bit of a step back, hence why it’s not higher on the list!
29 – Midnight Mass
Midnight Mass is a polarizing story that you’re either going to love or hate. While half our team lean into the latter, equally some of our guys absolutely loved this one, hence why it sits pretty at number 29.
The opening begins in a pretty compelling way and the first two episodes are by far the best of the season. Here, we center on a man named Riley, who’s arrested for drink driving. Instead of finding his faith behind bars, he turns away from God.
When he’s released and returns to his hometown of Crockett Island, everything has changed. This once bustling community has slowly died, with a few dozen inhabitants remaining. Buildings are shacked up, the isolation becomes suffocating and the arrival of a new Monsignor at the church is just what’s needed to shake things up.
With inexplicable miracles and something sinister lurking in the shadows, it doesn’t take long before we find out what’s going on. From episode 3 onward, Midnight Mass plays its hand early, showing whatever is out there and instead leaning into its slow-paced ride through its various themes.
28 – Heels
“Wrestling is fake.” These three words have been heard ample times by wrestling fans around the globe by those who don’t understand the appeal of this sports/entertainment product. It’s the same argument sports fans have explaining why soccer, American football or ice hockey are so appealing.
If you ever wanted to watch a show that comes pretty darn close to replicating the excitement and tumultuous politics involved in pro wrestling – Heels is a must-watch.
The show itself is simple enough, revolving around brothers Jack and Ace. They’ve been left with their father’s crowning achievement after his death; wrestling federation DWL. The main draw is Ace, the “babyface” (good guy) of the company. Jack is the reigning champion and plays the “heel” (bad guy). It’s classic good VS bad storytelling 101 but with a big twist. Outside the ring, the roles are reversed.
Ace is egotistical and rude; Jack is a loving husband and family man. It’s a clever dynamic, one helped by an interesting ensemble of supporting players, including aspiring wrestler Bobby, talented wrestler turned valet Crystal, and mid-card Rooster, who’s desperate for a title shot.
While there could have done with more action in the ring, Heels more than makes up for that with its acting and characters, which are both brilliant. Add to that some good choreography, a solid soundtrack and some nice twists, and you’ve got yourself a heady cocktail of dizzying enjoyment.
27 – Reservation Dogs
Comedy is always subjective but when it comes to Reservation Dogs, this one sure struck a chord with many people. The set-up is simple, offering a glimpse of Native American life while simultaneously weaving that around jokes and drama.
Equal parts funny and touching, Reservation Dogs takes place deep in the heart of eastern Oklahoma. The show opens strongly, introducing our main ensemble of characters before diving into individual bottle episodes across most of the season. A lot of the exploits here revolve around the four teens committing crime and fighting it, in an effort to get to California.
The messages here are delivered with wit and sincerity, and with a second season already renewed, this isn’t the last we’ll see of this one!
26 – Only Murders in the Building
Only Murders in the Building is a fun ride, one that plays out much closer to a comedy than a gripping whodunit. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though and the trio at the center of this one do a great job balancing out the story.
In its simplest form, the plot revolves around three strangers who share an obsession with true crime. When a murder occurs in their apartment block, they set out to cover the investigation themselves, which the police have ruled as a suicide.
Steve Martin is fantastic as Charles-Haden Savage while Selena Gomez balances out the trio with some fresh energy as Mabel Mora. Martin Short makes up the final member, who plays Oliver Putnam.
The series is really more about these characters than the crime itself, but that’s enough to make this an endearing ride all the same.
25 – Girl From Nowhere Season 2
Revenge is a dish best served cold. When it comes to mysterious Thai student Nanno however, it usually comes with a side order of violence and gore.
Back in 2018 this wonderful little Thai gem snuck onto Netflix without much fanfare. That’s a real shame because this daring and outrageously violent anthology is a serious Asian treat.
The first season was a mixed bag of goodies, with a variety of great and good episodes – but nothing falling into the realm of disappointing. While the overarching idea here is a little outlandish, the cautionary tales and strong themes are enough to look past that.
For those unaware, Girl From Nowhere follows the exploits of a schoolgirl called Nanno, who unashamedly skips between different schools. In the process, she teaches lessons to different students who may be breaking the rules. These lessons can range from shifts in their own personal universe, suffering physical abuse and despair or even – if the occasion calls for it – death.
With double the trouble and more violence than ever before, Girl From Nowhere season 2 successfully pushes the barriers of what this series is capable of, delivering an enthralling, heady trip across its 8 uniquely different episodes.
24 – The Chestnut Man
If you’re a fan of crime dramas, you really don’t want to pass up watching The Chestnut Man. Well written, gritty and utterly engrossing from start to finish, this Nordic noir is nicely poised to end September with a bang.
Adapted from the novel by Soren Sveistrup, The Chestnut Man is incredibly chilling and captures the same atmosphere and tone the books are synonymous with.
Much like the books, the story here centers on police detective Naia Thulin and her new associate Mark Hess. It’s your typical “new guy teamed up with hardened senior” set-up, but this is a show that leans in harder to its plot than its characters. That’s not a bad thing though and across the six episodes you’ll find yourself trying your best to piece together all the clues and solve the crime before our detectives do.
This Nordic drama is beautifully constructed, well-paced and a must to put on your watch-list.
23 – WandaVision
With Disney changing its focus to more small screen efforts, WandaVision’s release felt like a breath of fresh air in the superhero genre. At least until the ending anyway. Despite that, WandaVision steers away from the conventional Marvel set-up, delivering something different in an increasingly predictable formula.
Our central protagonist here is Wanda, whom we’re introduced to in a black and white sitcom with Vision. How? What happened? Is this an alternate universe? How is Vision still alive? And is there someone pulling the strings? These questions ultimately form the crux of the opening chapters, teasing some cliffhanger endings and wonderfully eerie reveals.
It’s here where WandaVision excels the most, keeping its card close to its chest and unwilling to show what’s really going on.
It’s not until the middle of the show where the direction shifts slightly, giving more clues and answers to what’s been happening. I won’t spoil anything here but suffice to say WandaVision is a unique hybrid of superhero and sitcom that’s unlikely to be replicated any time soon.
22 – Hometown Cha Cha Cha
Hometown Cha Cha Cha is a light, breezy k-drama; a show rife with romance, comedy and light bites of drama. It’s the perfect small town weekend treat and an undeniably fun watch from start to finish.
The main premise is pretty straightforward and revolves around a woman named Hye-Jin. She’s a dentist from Seoul, but a series of unfortunate events see her wind up in the small seaside town of Gongjin. Once there, she immediately finds herself an outsider and struggles to fit in. When she decides to open a dentistry, it only exacerbates issues. Step forward “Chief Hong” Du-Sik.
Du-Sik is a handsome and suave man who’s officially unemployed but undeniably a busy man. He helps out all the different residents and gives Hye-Jin some sound advice. As one may expect, the duo start to grow closer together and across the episodes each grow and evolve over time.
Hometown Cha Cha Cha goes a lot deeper than a simple romance though, with a large ensemble of characters helping to flesh this show out. Like a warm cup of hot chocolate on a cold winter’s night, Hometown Cha Cha Cha will warm you right the way down to your core.
21 – Pui Pui Molcar
Pui Pui Molcar is one of the best anime of the year. It’s a wholesome, beautifully animated slice of joy and at only 2 minutes an episode, it’s a show that everyone should watch. Although predominantly geared toward kids, this stop-motion delight can be enjoyed by kids and adults alike. It also absolutely exploded in popularity across Asia, with fans desperate for more.
Each episode revolves around sentient beings known as Molcars; a weird Guinea-pig/car hybrid that roam around a big city. There are lots of pop culture references here, deeper thematic work going on below the surface level cute-ness and some absolutely adorable characters. It’s no wonder then that this has taken the anime world by storm.
This is a ray of sunshine in an otherwise cloudy sky, a cute and cuddly series that everyone should take some time to open their arms and embrace this year. Pui Pui Molcar is a sure-fire winner.
20 – The Witcher Season 2
The first episode essentially works to reintroduce all our characters, picking up shortly after the events of the finale. Geralt and Ciri are bound for Kaer Morhen, the Witcher refuge inhabited by other Witcher brethren during the harsh winter months. Ciri is the prophesied key to what’s happening, and Geralt intends to try and train her up to defend herself.
However, Geralt is also burdened by the perceived loss of Yennefer, who is thought to have fallen during the fires that consumed the Battle of Sodden. With Cahir prisoner and Nilfgaard on the run, the reality here is that Fringilla has taken control of the armies and has Yennefer as her prisoner. Their story soon coincides with the elves, where a loose alliance is agreed. Only, this thin allegiance looks set to shatter at any moment.
Now, fans of The Witcher 3 will instantly recognize some of what’s happening here, especially the teasing glimpses of a Hunt and black riders, that are teased right the way through the season. All of this, of course, crescendos into quite the dramatic showdown, with the final set of episodes arguably the best of the season.
Sure there’s less nudity, grunts and individual monster hunts, but in its place is a story that feels much more like an epic main quest. Well written and visually stunning, The Witcher season 2 has certainly been worth the wait.
19 – The Billion Dollar Code
With the ability to book a restaurant at the touch of a button and even the functionality to jump into a museum virtually, Google Earth is an innovative tech unlike any other. Or is it? The reality is that Google hides a much darker past that’s been shielded from the public.
Way back in 1993 a company called ART+COM developed a piece of tech called Terravision, allowing a user to zoom all the way in from a satellite view to street level. Sound familiar? Well, it should, and this forgotten truth is slowly revealed across the course of this four episode biographical drama.
The case itself is an interesting one, wrought with tension and shocking revelations along the way. Although the series does take some dramatic liberties, throwing in a couple of contrived character developments late on that aren’t needed, this is a well-written, gripping watch from start to finish.
18 – What We Do in the Shadows Season 3
Now onto its third season, What We Do In The Shadows has been consistently funny and this year is no exception. Flolowing season 2’s hilarious plot involving Guillermo and his unintentional vampire hunting, season 3 leans into the absurdity and vampire lore even further.
Nandor, Laszlo and Nadja are all fantastic here, with individual plotlines involving a gym date, a trip to Vegas and an absolutely hilarious finale too. This show continues to prove why it’s the funniest comedy on TV right now, and with a fourth season already filmed and ready to go, this isn’t the last we’ll see of our vampire brethren!
17 – Youth Of May
The Gwangju Uprising marks a horrific moment in Korean history. Back in May 1980, protestors were shot down and beaten for their part in protesting against the government.
Released at the start of May no less, Youth of May is a well written romantic Korean drama that centers on this conflict while weaving in a forbidden love angle around that. The result is one of this year’s bigger surprises; a beautifully written and touching tribute to those 600 people who lost their lives during this horrific incident.
This is easily one of the bigger surprises this year; a mid-week gem that tells a compelling story well with enough emotion, heartache and tension to stand the test of time. Youth of May is a wonderful Korean drama and a must-watch for 2021.
16 – Happiness
Happiness is a brilliantly written hidden gem from Korea. Our story takes place post-COVID. Korea and the rest of the world are just starting to get back on their feet.
When experimental vaccine pills called Next drip-feed onto the market, it’s soon revealed that these are the catalyst for another outbreak – one far deadlier than Corona.
With an unquenchable thirst for water and a madness that descends over the infected, the virus spreads courtesy of bites and scratches – as well as taking the pills.
What’s particularly interesting here is the development for all the supporting players. While Sae-Bom and Yi-Hyun have their own angle, intent on finding a vaccine with the help off government official Tae-Seok, the real meat of the story lies in the reaction from the different owners and renters inhabiting this block.
Happiness is an absolute must-watch and one of the hidden gems from this year.
15 – 30 Coins
From its stunning opening scene to the suitably bombastic climax, 30 Coins delivers a creepy, suspenseful and atmospheric show that’s sure to please horror aficionados.
The story here blends elements of alt-history akin to that seen in Dan Brown novels with a creepy underbelly of supernatural phenomena. The opening scene to 30 Coins is arguably one of the best in recent memory. Within this, a mysterious figure walks into a bank and steals a coin from a safety deposit box.
Shrugging off bullets from incredulous guards and hitting them with a barrage of his own, he steps inside a black car and hands over the coin to a shadowy priest. From here, the story only grows weirder and more frantic as the episodes progress.
To give much more away would be a disservice to this story but suffice to say, 30 Coins is well worth your time.
14 – The Underground Railroad
The Underground Railroad is not an easy watch. It’s a harrowing, heartbreaking and oftentimes poignant reminder of the horrors inherent with the slave trade.
With episodes clocking in at upwards of an hour, an abundance of long shots, dreamy fantastical segments and a raw, harsh, societal examination combine to make this a very unusual but very unique small screen treat.
At the center of this is young Cora, a woman bubbling with anger and devastation at the situation she’s found herself stuck in. Deep in the heart of Georgia, Cora works the cotton fields on a plantation, overseen by the cruel and sadistic Terrance Randall.
Eventually she has enough and, alongside friend Caesar, the two escape and set out to travel along the railroad. They intend to seek a safe refuge from the oppressive slave trade that threatens to gobble them up again at any moment.
What ensues from here is essentially a long-form cat and mouse chase as Cora and Caesar try to evade their captors. Along the way Cora ends up in a variety of different states across the country, including Indiana, South Carolina and Tennessee.
The Underground Railroad is a well written, thought provoking and oftentimes harrowing journey across 18th century America. It’s a series that travels to some pretty unpleasant places and very rarely comes out with much positivity to show for it.
13 – Navillera
Dementia is a horrible disease. It’s a nasty, debilitating virus that eats away at everything that makes you unique. For those who have lost a loved one to this, the process is not nice – or quick. It’s perhaps surprising then that we haven’t seen more small screen shows exploring this topic and its effect on loved ones. Well, wonder no more. Korean drama Navillera is here to bring the heart-wrenching feels.
Split across 12 episodes, Navillera is ultimately a healing drama about two lost souls. Sim Deok-Chool is a recently-retired 70 year old who has always had dreams of becoming a ballet dancer. However, he was forced to give up these dreams to support his growing family. After being given the diagnosis of early-onset dementia, Deok-Chool makes a big decision to pursue his lifelong dream.
Helping him out is Lee Chae-Rok, a tortured soul who’s incredibly talented at ballet. With his Father arrested and his family stuck going through hard times, Chae-Rok’s passion and love of ballet soon turns to one of necessity. Thanks to Deok-Chool’s impassioned love of dancing, he slowly starts to rekindle those lost flames of passion.
The show is a wonderful example of how to take such a sensitive subject and spin it into something wholly beautiful and heart-wrenching. This is an outstanding Korean drama and a 12 episode beauty that deserves to be watched. An absolute must-watch for sure.
12 – Odd Taxi
Odd Taxi is quite simply brilliant. It’s not only one of the best anime this year, it’s actually one of the best TV shows of 2021 as well. While you could easily write this off as another furry anime, Odd Taxi dispels that myth with a dark storyline, several subplots that interweave together and some brilliant twists along the way.
In its simplest form, Odd Taxi takes place in a world of anthromoprohic animals. At the center of this lies 41 year old Odokawa, a quiet taxi driver going about his business. He’s notably asocial, thanks in part to his parents abandoning him as a child.
As he drives his taxi, Odokawa ends up engaging in small talk with various different animal inhabitants around town, who hop in for a ride and leave a lasting impression. Interestingly, a handful of these go on to have fully-fledged subplots that run parallel (and sometimes cross over) with Odokowa’s journey.
The writing is sharp, the characters endearing and the entire anime balances comedic quips with dark and gritty themes to perfection.
11 – Calls
Calls is unlike anything else you’ll watch this year. In fact, watch may actually be a bit of a stretch. Instead, this experimental series combines smart storytelling in an audio-transcribed format, complete with a gripping mystery and a really spooky atmosphere.
Calls feels like a combination of Netflix series Dark, BAFTA winning videogame Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture and true crime docu-series The Confession Tapes. Each of these 12-20 minute episodes play out with a telephone conversation between two or more characters – and it’s absolutely gripping.
Within these chapters, paranormal or unexplained phenomena occur which plays into a larger story encapsulating the whole show. No spoilers of course, but this series rewards you with a wonderful ending that actually make the minimalist visual work make a lot more sense. This one is well worth binging through to the end.
10 – Squid Game
456 players. 6 rounds. 6 deadly games. And 1 victor. Welcome to Squid Game, the latest deliciously dark K-drama on Netflix. With interesting characters, an artistic flair and plenty of tense segments, this 9 episode series squeezes absolutely everything it can out of its run-time.
The story here centers on Ji-Hun, a man down on his luck and struggling to make ends meet. He’s millions in debt, owed to both loan sharks and the bank, something that’s only made worse by a particularly nasty gambling addiction.
When a mysterious businessman offers Ji-Hun a way out from that life though, he takes it with both hands. The only trouble is, this offer is quite literally a matter of life and death.
Played out as a blend of Takeshi’s Castle and Alice in Borderland, Ji-Hun and the other 400+ contestants soon learn that they’re stuck in a deadly game that will cost them more than money.
Squid Game is a mature, raw, edgy show that manages to depict life or death games in a realistic and brutal manner. And yet through it all, it also manages to tell a much larger story about the rich and poor, how the poor are forced to do everything they can to try and escape their debt-ridden lives while the rich live in luxury.
9 – Dopesick
Dopesick is a tough show to watch. It’s a devastating, raw and unflinching look at the opioid epidemic that gripped the US and crescendoed in 2019. Through the distribution of a new drug called OxyContin, Dopesick dives into all aspects of this drug, from those executives calling the shots through to sales reps, doctors and innocent patients that become addicts.
The show is a little confusing for the first few episodes to be fair, but stick with it as you soon become accustomed to the frequent time jumps. Beginning in the late 90s, Dopesick uses three or four key characters and throws them across different years, including the height of the epidemic in Appalachia between 1996 and 2002.
Dopesick also follows the beginning of investigative efforts in 2006 and the eventual outcome in 2019. Along the way, the show follows a number of different characters which helps to flesh this world out and provide a comprehensive breakdown of exactly what happened and how.
It’s a raw, intimate and heartbreaking portrayal of Big Pharma’s relentlessness to push dangerous drugs onto the market. Corruption, greed and justice are the main ingredients of this highly addictive show.
8 – Invincible
Forget The Falcon and the Winer Soldier. And forget WandaVision. Invincible is the superhero show to beat in 2021. This stunning display of storytelling, bloody violence and enthralling action combines to create one colourful animated adventure. Invincible essentially takes everything great about other superhero shows and dials that up to 11.
Boasting an all-star voice cast and 8 episodes of twists, turns and thrilling fights, Amazon Prime have struck gold again with this hellraising brother to The Boys.
Declared the strongest and more powerful superhero on the planet, Omni-Man helps the Guardians of the Globe to thwart any threats that come their way.
In the midst of all this action is Mark Grayson, Nolan’s son. He’s starting to develop his powers now and looks to his Father for guidance. The only trouble is, his Father’s keeping a pretty big secret of his own.
To give much more away would be a disservice to this show. The first episode ends with a bloody shocking twist and from here the show builds up layers of character development across both the hero and villain spectrum.
7 – Move to Heaven
Move to Heaven is a very special Korean drama. It’s a show that takes the taboo subject of death and lays it out across 10 episodes, complete with excellent acting, impressive storytelling and tear-jerking segments. I dare anyone to sit through Move to Heaven and not be moved to tears.
Suffering from Aspergers, Geu-Roo is our main protagonist and he’s looked after by his Father Jeong-U. These two live together, running a business called Move to Heaven.
Basically, when a loved one passes away, a team arrive and clear out the room, collecting up any valuables in a yellow box while getting rid of everything else. This team are the Move to Heaven crew. This act also allows the loved ones a respite from the harrowing ordeal of having to do this themselves.
Much like Navillera and It’s Okay To Not Be Okay before it, Move to Heaven essentially takes both concepts and merges them together. The result is a drama that shares a lot of similarities but also moves to the beat of its own drum.
With excellent acting, tightly written chapters and a careful, respectful and empowering view on death, Move to Heaven is a cleverly written and unique Korean drama.
6 – Mare of Easttown
Mare of Easttown is an incredible murder mystery. It’s a well-acted, enthralling and hugely satisfying 7 episode thriller. The show manages to combine deep characterization with a compelling narrative that runs through a series of different red herrings, clues and culprits in a believable way.
All of this leads to the final episode where one final twist serves as the cherry atop this beautifully constructed cake.
Mare of Easttown is hands down one of the best murder mysteries of the year and another reminder that TV is just as good – if not better – than big screen blockbusters.
5 – Beyond Evil
At its core, Beyond Evil plays out as a simple murder mystery. Police detective Dong-Sik is haunted by the death of his sister Yu-Yeon 20 years prior. With the case still unresolved, a string of new murders seem to be connected with her death. It also coincides with the arrival of junior detective Joo-Won.
He suspects Dong-Sik killed Yu-Yeon and sets to work piecing together evidence to incriminate him. Only, as he soon comes to learn, those at Manyang substation are a tight-knit family and watch out for one another.
Beyond the killings, Beyond Evil is a tale of forgiveness, healing, and respect. There’s no big romance or montage sequences, there’s just 16 episodes of crime investigating and character development. Beyond Evil completely exceeds expectations, solidifying itself as one of the best Korean dramas of all time.
4 – Arcane
Videogame adaptations have, by and large, been pretty poor across the board. Thankfully Arcane is, quite simply, brilliant. It’s the perfect videogame adaptation, managing to take the characters from League of Legends and convert them to the small screen with all the nuances and traits fans have come to expect from LOL. However, even those unfamiliar with the games will find a lot to like in this show, which is both visually stunning and narratively impressive.
The story here takes place in a world on the verge of all-out war. Above-ground is the utopian Piltover. They’re prospering, with food left out nonchalantly on rooftops and endless rays of sunshine. In essence, these guys have wealth in abundance. Below ground however, it’s a very different story.
The underground city of Zaun (colloquially referred to as the Undercity) is struggling and their resentment for Piltover’s advancements looks rife for a rebellion. At the center of this big struggle lie two sisters, Powder and Vi. Their relationship is ultimately what drives this series forward, and the show does a great job showing their individual journeys toward becoming the iconic League of Legends champions.
Arcane is an incredible series, easily one of 2021’s brightest prospects and – without jinxing it – a great leap forward for the medium.
3 – D.P.
D.P is a stunning Korean drama. It’s a show that takes an unflinching look at bullying, the effect it has on mental health and larger societal questions about the mandatory military service in Korea.
At the center of this lies new recruit Jun-Ho. A man with a difficult upbringing, this young recruit isn’t exactly thrilled about enlisting. Still, he joins the military and begins counting down the days until he’s allowed to leave. It’s like a prison sentence for this boy, which is made all the more ironic given he starts off with the military police department.
Big themes centering on abuse run much deeper than the surface level and infect every part of this story. From Jun-Ho’s past to the way it affects every supporting player – deserter or loyalist, culprit of instigator – this is ultimately what makes this such a good show. At only 6 episodes as well, this punchy little series never outstays its welcome and leaves quite the lasting impression when the final credits roll. Although be sure to watch the post-credit sequence before you bow out completely.
D.P. is a special show. It’s a series that manages to explore a very sensitive and prevalent topic in a raw, artistic and unflinching way. In doing so, it also manages to provide a damn good story in the process, with just the right touch of levity to prevent this slipping into depressive melodrama territory.
2 – Maid
Maid opens with the sound of breathing. When the camera finally flickers on, we hone in on our protagonist, a wide-eyed young woman called Alex. She scoops up her daughter Maddy in the middle of the night, sidesteps broken glass shattered on the floor and takes off in her car, away from abusive partner Sean.
This anxiety-inducing opener soon paves way for what’s easily one of Netflix’s best new originals this year. While the story is not without contrivances and a couple of late bouts of deux ex machina, it’s easy to look past that with such a profound message and story.
Maid is quite simply outstanding. It’s perhaps a tad too long and relies on a couple of contrivances to move the plot forward but those are minor points in what’s otherwise a very important drama that touches on very real issues that affect many people. With well written characters, an utterly gripping story and a strong emotional core, this is easily one of Netflix’s best shows in 2021 and an absolute must-watch.
1 – It’s A Sin
It’s a sin that this Channel 4 show hasn’t released earlier than the year 2021. Mixing the crackling dialogue of Russell T. Davies with a harrowing, poignant and incredibly well written story, It’s A Sin shines a grim spotlight on the epidemic that plagued the 80’s.
Much like Davies’ previous familial drama, Years and Years, It’s A Sin builds up a consistent level of dread underneath a central character-driven drama. At the center of all this lies a solitary apartment in London that’s shared by five eclectic characters.
Ritchie Tozer is our “fish out of water”, arriving off the South Coast via his home in the Isle Of Wight for a new future. He has big dreams to become a star and finds himself tumbling head-first into the gay scene.
Joining him there are friends Ash and Jill, the latter of which the only straight member of this close-knit family. Roscoe is the life of the party, flamboyantly brightening every room he steps in with some gorgeous costumes hiding a darker past involving his parents. Rounding out this group is outsider Colin, a shy Welshman who arrives late to the party – quite literally – but soon becomes part of the set-up.
The end result is a poignant, heart-wrenching and thought provoking show that perfectly captures the horrors of this nasty disease.
So there we have it, our picks for the top 40 TV shows of 2021. Crafting this year’s list has been incredibly challenging, with so many heavy hitting shows and amazing international IPs battling it out for supremacy. In the end, It’s A Sin was just too powerful a series to ignore. We’ve deliberated over the positioning of our top 6 series for most of the year, which just goes to show how many series have knocked it out the park!
With lots of new shows on the horizon, we truly are in the golden age of television and as always, our team at TheReviewGeek will be there every step of the way to celebrate the best – and despair at the worst!
From all of us here though, thank you for your support and comments across this year. 2021 has been an amazing year of television and 2022 promises to be just as strong!
Do you agree with our list? What was your favourite show of the year? Let us know in the comments below!