- In 2023, science fiction series reached new heights with believable worlds and fantastic technology, showcasing the genre’s best stories.
- Streaming giants like Peacock, HBO, and Apple TV+ released faithful adaptations of classic properties, while network TV channels like CW and AMC produced their own original series.
- Standout series in 2023 included “Invasion” season 2, “Hello Tomorrow!” season 1, and “Twisted Metal” season 1, each offering unique storytelling and captivating visuals.
2023 was a fantastic year for science fiction, as reflected by the landscape of televised series that were released over the course of the year’s broadcast season. In the past, sci-fi may have been considered a more niche genre, particularly when it came to TV. Oftentimes, more limited TV budgets have constrained the special effects necessary to convey many sci-fi stories. Today, even the lowest-dollar science fiction offerings are able to conjure believable worlds and fantastic technology representing the best stories the genre has to offer.
In the past year, streaming giants like Peacock, HBO, and Apple TV+ were able to flex their captured audiences with faithful adaptations of classic properties like Twisted Metal and Godzilla. Not to be outdone, network TV channels like CW and AMC have hung in there with their own original series, like The Swarm and The Walking Dead: Dead City. Whether they were post-apocalyptic character studies or technology-driven warnings of a dark near future, 2023’s sci-fi series stacked up to each other closely, but with clear winners in terms of quality.
A fairly typical science fiction story, the first season of Invasion failed to impress audiences or critics, telling a meandering, lagging story obsessed with its own epic scale. Luckily, the sophomore season of Invasion represents a marked improvement, focusing the action on the aftermath of the alien occupation rather than the invasion itself, presenting a lot more opportunities for interesting situations and character development. Ultimately, these improvements may be too little too late, as the damage of season 1 still echoes throughout the subsequent plotline that has yet to fully pick up the pace.
14 Hello Tomorrow!
A curious retrofuture period piece, Hello Tomorrow! mixes Mad Men with the irreverent astro-punk set dressing of The Jetsons. Following a charming sales agent’s misadventures in hawking worthless timeshares on the Moon, Hello Tomorrow! is in the curious position of being a story set within a science fiction setting that doesn’t have any particular strong themes the genre is known for, refusing to lean in to it’s setting in a way that makes it inherent to the themes. Hello Tomorrow! might not have the strongest narrative or most captivating performances, but its breathtaking visuals and endearing charm make it hard to overlook.
Of all the sci-fi video game series to be adapted for TV, few could’ve predicted Peacock reaching for the rights to produce a Twisted Metal live action series, of all things. The dark-toned vehicular combat spectacle games may not have given the show much to work with in terms of a fleshed out story, but Anthony Mackie just manages to carry the cartoonishly violent series across the checkered line as a worthy, if clumsy action comedy. Though the premiere season took a few episodes to find its footing, the showing was solid enough to see Twisted Metal renewed for a second season.
12 Monarch: Legacy of Monsters
The latest edition to Warner Bros. and Legendary’s Monsterverse, Monarch: Legacy of Monsters took a more human delve into the world of Godzilla, investigating the secretive eponymous organization. Kurt and Wyatt Russel’s father-son dynamic on screen as a pair of kaiju hunters have so far managed to endear the journey to those willing to overlook Godzilla’s lack of presence. Despite its strengths, Monarch: Legacy of Monsters has an admittedly small budget to work with in the representation of its monsters, and the stilted performances of the non-Russel characters hold it back as a sci-fi drama.
11 The Walking Dead: Dead City
Coming hot off the back of The Walking Dead‘s historic finale, Maggie and Negan carve their way back onto screens tuned to AMC with The Walking Dead: Dead City. The unlikely duo’s dynamic from the final episode of The Walking Dead is expanded upon with this six-episode arc, delving the viewer into a terrifying post-apocalyptic Manhattan. While The Walking Dead is a franchise just as zombified as the undead inhabiting its world, Dead City manages to prove its worth as a spin-off by having a tighter focus than the bloated main series.
Putting a science fiction bent to the comedy stylings of producer Greg Daniels, known for The Office, King of the Hill, and Parks and Rec, Upload is a post-mortem look into decorporealization after death through the lense of a sitcom. Equal parts The Good Place and Black Mirror, the third season of Upload in 2023 weaves a denser narrative than ever, pondering the human condition’s ability to persevere in the digital world alongside jokes befitting of Daniels’ other work. Though in danger of crumbling under the weight of its own ambitions, Upload‘s thoughtful question-posing and comedy chops still solidifies season 3 as a solid sci-fi offering.
9 The Swarm
The CW moved quickly on capitalizing upon a curious news story that made a splash in 2023, regarding Orca whales having aggressive encounters with boats at sea. The Swarm hypothesizes what this rebellious act of nature would look like taken to the extreme, pitting a mysterious collective consciousness affecting the behavior of animals around the world against a globe-trotting team of researchers. Though the German-produced series is as unabashedly pulpy as the SyFy channel’s greatest hits, it’s undoubtedly effective at preying on very real fears of ecological collapse.
Unleashing a second season on unassuming fans the very next year after its release, From continued its crusade to replace Lost as the most iconic sci-fi mystery series of all time in 2023. The tense horror drama manages to ask more questions than it answers with its second showing, puzzling and terrifying returning viewers with a compounding mystery. Though From is in no rush, playing its cards sometimes frustratingly close to its chest, the town’s sense of dread, mystery, and textured characters makes it a standout sci-fi series with great potential.
Adapting the works of science fiction legend Isaac Asimov, Foundation was another original series to fire off a second season in 2023, making the year’s competition for viewership even denser. Unlike From, which layered yet more mystery over its setting already heavy with intrigue, Foundation‘s second season takes advantage of the first season’s laying of the groundwork for a dense space opera setting. Foundation has the production value, smart writing, and historic spectacle to be a worthy adaptation to some of Asimov’s most cerebral stories.
6 Black Mirror
As an anthology series with many different directors and creative visions, Black Mirror runs the gamut of quality with a diverse portfolio of episodes that fans rate wildly differently, a curious curation of tales of technology gone too far. After season 5’s disappointment as one of the weakest seasons of Black Mirror, 2023 saw the British-produced horror series’ true return to form, eschewing low-hanging fruit for less topical stories. Sprinkling in some more supernatural stories throughout its collection of standout performances, the jury may still be split on which episodes are best, but it’s undeniable that 2023 was a triumph for the Netflix horror anthology.
5 For All Mankind
Four seasons since its premiere in 2019, For All Mankind has evolved into a true feather in the cap of Apple TV+. Telling the story of an alternate history in which the space race with the Soviets never ended, season 4 of For All Mankind saw the show internalizing lessons from the failures of the previous season to reinvigorate the story into a truly gripping epic. The series’ long-anticipated catching up to modern day has paid off phenomenally thus far, with new political turmoil on Earth propelling Ed and his team to go even further beyond the starscape of Mars.
4 Scavengers Reign
Released quietly on HBO Max to the sound of cult critical acclaim, Scavengers Reign is an animated series that proves the best science fiction stories don’t need to be overly complex. A tale of survival, Scavengers Reign follows the stranded crew of a crashed spaceship marooned on a beautiful, yet deadly, alien planet. The stunningly simplistic animation and moody tone manages to harbor a genuine sense of danger as the crew of the Demeter 277 contend with all manner of alien creatures, showing off a level of creature design creativity few series can compete with.
3 Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
The first season of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds was lauded as a triumphant return to form for the franchise, introducing Trekkies to a new fan-favorite captain to contend with the likes of Kirk and Picard with Captain Pike. Season 2 keeps up the good work, recapturing the magic of the series’ past with a delicate balance of nostalgic homage and modern vigor. The slightly longer episodes and strong central cast all contribute to serving Star Trek fans the best fare they’ve enjoyed in the 21st century.
Based on Hugh Howey’s critical touchstone science fiction book, Wool, Silo engulfs viewers in a post-apocalyptic mystery that pays off fast. The claustrophobic setting and stifling conspiracy only propel the strength Rebecca Ferguson’s work as Juliette further into the spotlight, a shining central star around which the intrigue can center itself. Though Silo is undeniably cheesy at times, it channels the spirit of Howey’s original works with a deserving adaptation that couldn’t have come out at a better time, the story of a young woman trapped in her home being all-too-relatable for many audiences post 2020.
1 The Last Of Us
Putting the final nail in the “video game curse” with a truly prestige adaptation of Naughty Dog’s title of the same name, The Last of Us utterly entranced both fans of the original and new audiences hungry for a dramatic post-apocalyptic character study. Pedro Pascal once again crushes his role as leading man, and Game of Thrones alum Bella Ramsey proves her worth as an upcoming actress worthy of acclaim. The expert pacing, thoughtful changes to the video game’s narrative, and breathtaking visuals all cooperate alongside career-defining performances and heart-wrenching drama to deliver the premiere science fiction TV show of 2023.