Those who know me know I am a sucker for a good teen drama. As frustrating as they can be a lot of the time (if I have to witness another love triangle, I will pop my eyes out), they’re just as entertaining, with characters you can’t help but love at the end of the day.
Since I like to keep lists of things I watch/read/listen to, I can see that over a span of seven(ish) years I’ve seen a lot of teen dramas and as I love dissecting media, I thought I would rank them from my least to most favourite. I won’t go into much detail because if I did, this article might as well be a novel. At first, I thought not to include the shows with supernatural elements but then I realised I’d be missing out some of my favourites and that just can’t happen. I’m also bending the rules a little bit and including shows that have elements of other genres if the majority of their main cast are teenagers. Anyway, if you’re up for discussing some juicy teen dramas, let’s begin!
Disclaimer: this article is likely to be super long, so read at your own risk. The rankings are purely my subjective opinion and I am definitely up for a discussion!
33. The Secret Life of American Teenager
Honestly, this one might as well be a soap opera. It’s like, I know it’s one of those shows you’re meant to take seriously but come on, it’s insane. Imagine attending that high school, you’d get no studying done. I don’t even think I finished it, at some point halfway through I was like ‘you know what, I’m out’. Despite the crazy storylines, I actually barely remember it. Perhaps my brain blocked it out?
32. South of Nowhere
So, this show dealt with a lot of important topics and gets props for putting a lesbian relationship front and centre. Regardless, I have to rank it this low because I genuinely can’t remember a single thing from minus a few quotes. I think I just found characters and plots from other teen dramas more endearing and memorable. Maybe if I watched it again, I would rank it higher, but for now, I digress.
Another show I genuinely can’t remember a single thing from. I’m not too big on aliens so I think the main reason I gave it a chance to begin with was because of Matt Lanter (who can blame me?). I do think that despite my personal preference, aliens are something that should be explored more in teen dramas, but there is another one further up this list that just does it better.
30. Friday Night Lights
I am very tempted to give this one another shot as it appears on every list as one of the best teen dramas of the 2000s. As of now, I have only seen half of the first season as the filming style put me off and the story just didn’t seem to drag me in. Because of my intention to watch it again at some point in the future, I am not putting it right at the bottom.
I might get some flack for this one because it’s widely agreed that while quality-wise Riverdale is a mess, it’s entertaining as hell. I absolutely agree with that but I guess the entertainment factor just wasn’t enough for me stay interested, especially since some of my less liked characters stole all the screentime and my favourite ones were mistreated by the narrative. I do have to give points for such a legendary adult cast, though.
28. Pretty Little Liars
I feel a bit hypocritical typing this because back in the day I was absolutely obsessed with this show. It had good characters, involving relationships and compelling mystery – until it didn’t. The latest seasons managed to drive some sort of a wedge into pretty much every character, couple, not to mention the fiascos and plot holes that were created by the last two A reveals, making the whole story fall flat. It’s my opinion that the whole show started falling apart as early as season 3. If I could rank the first two seasons separately (as they are the only ones I’d ever consider rewatching), I would easily place them in the top 10, but as a whole, there’s really no other place for it, unfortunately. I do still love Spencer, Hanna and Alison (as a fabulous villain she originally was), if only the show treated them with the respect they deserved.
27. The Fosters
Another show that I tuned out from before it even finished airing. At first, I found the premise original and expiring and enjoyed the different relationships it explored. As seasons went on, I found it hard to sympathise with Callie as she seemed incapable of breaking the cycle of self-destructive behaviour, and once you don’t appreciate the protagonist, it’s pretty much over. The toying with the very controversial Brandon/Callie ship was also kind of tasteless to say the least (although I have shipped them back in the season one days). Overall, a mixed bag of feelings on this one.
26. Gilmore Girls
So, here’s the thing; this show is definitely a classic by this point and it sure has a lot of good qualities. However, I just can’t get past the fact that the show seemed just way too in love with its main characters, even when they acted in ways that would certainly have been condemned otherwise. In the same vein, it felt like a lot of the time we were told something by the narrative rather than shown it, which in itself is a crappy storytelling device. All in all, not sure how I feel about this one in the end.
25. Party of Five
While I was interested in the premise of this show, I also struggled to get into it as I found the first season quite stilted. Once it found its footing, I really enjoyed the storylines and a strong cast definitely helped. Unfortunately, as the series, went on, I started getting agitated by certain characters who never seemed to learn from their mistakes and I barely remember the last season, which is why I can’t rank it any higher.
The main thing I remember about this one is lots of cheese factor, which turned out to be part of its charm. The concept is definitely corny considering the time it aired but it’s a classic for a reason as it explored a rare premise for a teen drama and also knew how to quite while ahead, something a lot of shows could stand to learn these days. I definitely should give it a rewatch soon!
23. Dawson’s Creek
A staple of 90s pop culture, this show definitely stands its ground, despite the sometimes ridiculously pretentious dialogue and crazy storylines, not to mention one of the most annoying triangles in TV history (I still get war flashbacks). I think the main reason it’s not ranking higher is that for the most part, I could not connect or like half of the main characters, which really isn’t a good starting point. I do have to give the show props for giving us one of the best platonic friendships of all time in Jack and Jen, god knows we need more of those on TV.
One thing’s for sure – there's no other teen drama like it. This show gave us so many great (and better in some cases) covers of some classic hits and one of the best antagonists in the form of Sue Sylvester – let's be real, who didn’t love watching glee club kick against her at every occasion? Although I have to admit that after season three, I just lost most of my interest as I couldn’t get invested in the new cast, hence why it’s stuck somewhere halfway through this list.
21. Sex Education
I feel bad placing this show so low because there are so many good reviews and great things said about it in general but when I gave it a shot, I just couldn’t seem to fully get into it, or remember much from it. I have placed it higher than other shows of that nature because I do intend to rewatch it at some point as I really think it deserves another chance.
I was debating whether I should put this one on the list because of how it focuses on fantasy forefront but it has just the right amount of drama to make the cut. While it took a bit to find its ground - the first few episodes were quite campy and cheesy, not that it’s a bad thing - as the show went on, the actors got more comfortable in their roles and the story upped the stakes, keeping the viewers entertained. At least the network had the decency to conclude the story after cancelling it!
19. Faking It
What a rollercoaster of a show. The concept is definitely original, but I have to admit the relationship drama got exhausting after a while, and there was definitely some queer baiting around Karma and Amy ship. Despite that, I did enjoy the range of representation in the series and I think I would like another go at it at some point.
As far as spin-offs go, this one is pretty solid, considering I actually detached myself from the fact and saw the characters as their own, invested in their stories. That being said, the characters can be absolutely horrible to each other – making a friend an outcast at school for months, switching medication, not to mention ridiculous partner swapping – but I guess the last one is just a genre staple. The finale also managed to wrap things up quite well, bringing most fan favourite couples back together (although Silver’s ending was terrible, I mean, what was that about?).
17. Beverly Hills, 90210
This was actually the first show I’ve watched properly back-to-back and damn, was it a journey. Think of a teen drama issue – this one’s probably done it. Sometimes it would get a bit too soap-opera-y for my taste, but I’ve come to care for the characters and their journey, so I stuck it out through the ridiculousness. I do roll my eyes every time I think about one of my least favourite trials in history (seriously, what were they thinking putting Dylan and Kelly together? Urgh.)
16. The Vampire Diaries
If I made this list when I was fourteen, it would’ve easily been in the top five. Nowadays, while I do still aspects of it, some of the charm has been lost on me. I feel like the supernatural drama hasn’t utilised its best aspect – the supernatural. For most of the show, almost all of the vampire characters are either whining about how they miss being human, or are looking for the cure and those who don’t are villains. Then combine that with the show taking itself too seriously and falling on its ass with unravelling mythology more and more each season (if I hear the word ‘doppelganger’ one more time, I will shoot myself in the head). Even with all these nit-picks, though, it has one of my most adored romantic relationships (Damon and Elena still rip my heart out), as well as some of my favourite villains, which definitely lifts it up a few spots on this list.
15. Teen Wolf
Yet another supernatural flick on this list. Just like the previous entry, I think my love for the show suffered a bit during a recent rewatch. Despite having some really likeable characters, Teen Wolf often mistreats its people of colour (including the protagonist himself), as well as its female leads (Lydia Martin deserves better). The one pitfall of this show was that it wouldn’t let the characters to just be – every moment was full of supernatural threats with barely any recognition that they’re still human beings who get to do normal things in between (to be fair, I feel like a lot of supernatural shows lose that sense of reality over the seasons). Still, Stydia owns my heart and Dylan o’Brien is easy on the eyes, so that automatically earns it some points.
14. Freaks and Geeks
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a show with more of a cult following than this one. I can see why as it launched so many of its cast members into stardom, as well as its unique approach to teenage struggles which makes them seem more realistic. However, I have to say that for what it is, the series is just a tad bit overrated, especially since I noticed myself getting a bit bored in the second half of the season, which probably explains why it was cancelled after twelve episodes. I’m putting it this high on the list because I feel like the show didn’t have the time to sink itself into the ground by overstaying its welcome.
13. The Lying Game
This show is quite unknown and I’m honestly not sure why. Sure, the concept is a bit far-fetched, but it sure was entertaining to watch (besides, Pretty Little Liars was way more insane and it lasted seven seasons,) and it had some insane cliff-hangers. Frankly, I haven’t seen it in a while but I distinctly remember it took me four days to binge the entire thing and I was on the edge of my seat throughout. I should probably watch it again at some point and see what I think now.
12. The Secret Circle
Yes, another supernatural flick for this ranking. This one, however, mainly feels like a relationship drama coated with a layer of mythology and supernatural powers, not that it’s a bad thing. I genuinely found the show super entertaining and was so upset that it got cancelled but because it’s been so long ago since I watched it, I don’t have much else to add. It earns a good spot on the list because it didn’t have the time to go downhill, which is a luxury not many shows get.
11. The End of the Fucking World
I really wasn’t sure about this one but at the end of the day I thought, why not put this one on here? It’s one of the most unique pieces of TV I’ve ever seen – starts out quite outlandish and then turns on full murder-flee-chase halfway through the season, creating a surprisingly worthy of rooting pairing in the process. I actually still haven’t seen a second season, which is why I can’t say much else, but I am sure looking forward to it once I get around to it!
The way I see it, slasher flicks are just a setting backdrop for exploring some messed up relationship dynamics and the spin-off series to Wes Craven’s classic is no exception. The trick to making a slasher TV show is precisely to spend time developing characters in order for us to start caring about their fate, and there is plenty of drama to go around in this one – cheating boyfriends, sex tapes, you name it. Its blissfully short run didn’t give the chance for it to drag on too much (I am noticing a trend here) while the scares aren’t too gruesome so even those who aren’t crazy on horror can try it out.
I completely understand why this one was such a phenomenon – the unique format, beautiful scenery and utterly real characters. My personal favourite season, the one that struck a cord the most was the one centred on Eva – it was pretty much the most accurate representation of loneliness and toxic relationship (although Eva wasn’t completely blameless in the situation), which is why it was so great to see a genuine representation of a group female friendship. While I have a few tad bits to pick at during later seasons, it definitely deserves to be in the top ten.
When I first watched this show back in my teenage years, I was astounded and questioned if that was the accurate portrayal of British teens. Now I know it’s very exaggerated, but despite that, the show has become a cult classic with its crazy storylines and countless black and white gifs on Tumblr. While I’m not impressed with its glamourised depiction of mental health issues and most of the relationships were very toxic, I also found it a very entertaining and memorable piece of TV that felt real despite the out-of-this-world plotlines.
7. The OC
Never has rags-to-riches trope has been used in a show so well. For a premise so centred around rich people and their problems, it surprisingly felt very relatable and human. It also presented us with some of the most iconic relationships of genre (the tragic Ryan and Marissa as well as witty Seth and Summer) that I ship now just as much as I did the first time I saw it. Besides, who doesn’t love the California beach scenery? The quality of seasons dips, rises up, then dips again (also, killing off Marissa Cooper? What were they thinking?) but ultimately, it definitely earns its rightful spot on the list.
6. Boy Meets World
The first thing to be said – this show has one of the best male friendships ever presented on TV. Secondly, it definitely makes you feel like you’re growing up with characters, all the way from middle school to university. While technically it is categorised as a sitcom, I took the liberty of including it because it went ‘all there’ in exploring a lot of sensitive topics, such as absent parents, substance abuse, etc., and managed to strike a chord in between all the laughs. Honourable mention goes to Mr Feeny for being one of the mentor figures to exist.
5. Degrassi: The Next Generation
The show’s tagline is ‘It goes there’ and damn, did it live up to that. Drug abuse, family abuse, cancer, school shooting, rape, bullying, bipolar disorder – whatever you can think of, Degrassi probably did it. Granted, most of the characters have done some terrible things throughout the show’s run but that’s what makes them human at the end of the day and with so many different dynamics and storylines, there are plenty of favourites to choose from. It’s also interesting to watch them involve from pre-teen years to university times, just like in Boy Meets World, making you really invested in their journey.
4. One Tree Hill
This show is so heart-warming and with some of the best character development I’ve ever seen (Brooke Davis and Nathan Scott are precious). While Lucas Scott is definitely far from perfect and I am not a huge fan of Peyton either and a lot of storylines are far from realistic (as much as I love Naley, who gets married in high school? Also, please tell me all the secrets of being that successful at twenty-two years old, please), the series just has a soul to it, encouraging the characters to grow and find themselves, and to find a place to call home in their small town, which is wishful thinking to an extent, but makes for a great comfort show.
The newest addition to the list, this drama took me three times to focus on because I insisted on watching it in the original language, but I am so glad I stuck it out because I loved it so much – relationship drama wrapped in a murder mystery? Sign me up! Also, their school uniforms look like ones I would actually want to wear, which can’t be said often (not to mention the rest of the fashion). While none of my ships actually ended up together (still crying over Samuel and Carla) and two of my favourite characters are leaving, I am not sure I will keep on watching but I have definitely enjoyed the experience.
2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Ah, the ultimate classic. No other show in my experience combines the supernatural, the coming-of-age and the romance better than this one. Buffy and her friends go through so much more than just battling monsters and vampires in order to stop the apocalypse – they also experience love, loss, self-acceptance and many other emotions of human spectrum. It’s truly a masterpiece and despite some mixed bag of feelings on Spike-dominated seasons (I am just not a fan), the show as a whole holds up and will definitely be remembered twenty more years from now.
Honestly, what other show could’ve been number one? Sure, it’s completely unrealistic and can be unrelatable as let’s face it, pretty much all the characters are horrible people but it’s also iconic, entertaining, fashionable, quotable to no end, and those NYC sceneries – it's perfect. Even when the later seasons went downhill, sometimes spectacularly, it was still so fun to binge. It brought us one of the most iconic TV couples and yes, Chuck and Blair are all kinds of toxic but we can all agree that they were pretty much the most memorable part of the show. All in all, when I think of a classic teen drama to watch when I need an escape, this is my go to choice and I have a blast rewatching it every time.