Top 10 Superman TV Shows
VOICE OVER: Stephanie Ng Wan
WRITTEN BY: Matt Demers
Welcome to WatchMojo and today we're counting down our picks for the Top 10 Superman TV Shows. For this list, we're looking at the best TV series centred around the Superman franchise. Our countdown includes "Superman & Lois" (2021-), "Adventures of Superman" (1952-58), "Superman: The Animated Series" (1996-2000), "Smallville" (2001-11), and more!
#10: “Superboy” (1988-92)
With Superman’s 1978 big screen success waning in the late ‘80s, the film’s producers, Ilya and Alexander Salkind, tried their hands at bringing the Man of Steel to the small screen – only this time, it was more so the “Boy of Steel.” Revolving around Clark Kent’s younger years, the syndicated program featured many familiar characters from the comics, including the farm-boy’s first crush, Lana Lang. And, unlike a later “teen Superman” program, this one had no issues showing our hero in full costume and taking flight. Unfortunately, the show was hampered by low production values and notorious creative changes – not to mention a switch in the actor playing the titular hero… after the very first season!
#9: Superman (1988)
With the exception of Max Fleischer’s stellar cinematic shorts, Superman’s early animated outings left a lot to be desired. That all started to change, however, when Ruby-Spears Enterprises produced a Saturday morning cartoon to coincide with the character’s milestone 50-year anniversary. In addition to upgrades in the visual design, the short-lived series also provided poignant flashbacks to Clark’s time growing up in Smallville. This would also mark the first Superman cartoon to follow the events of DC Comics’ “post-Crisis on Infinite Earths” reboot. All in all, it was a step in the right direction – one that would give the Man of Tomorrow an on-screen boost towards the fruitful 90s!
#8: “Supergirl” (2015-21)
Given the overwhelming success of the CW’s “Arrowverse,” it was only a matter of time before other networks dipped their toes in the wide-open world of superheroes. But, when CBS went all in with a show centered on Superman lore, its Kryptonian star wasn’t the Man of Steel, but rather his cousin - Kara! Thanks to a delightful core cast, including Melissa Benoist in a wonderful personification of the Girl of Steel, “Supergirl” delivered the requisite emotional connection to the character fans had grown to love in the comics. And, when the series eventually jumped to the CW to join their existing superhero lineup, it brought with it some super cameos - including a certain big red and blue boy scout!
#7: “Krypton” (2018-19)
When the SYFY network announced that they were going to debut a show that explored the early days of Superman’s mythology, they weren’t kidding. Set 200 years in the past, “Krypton” followed Superman’s grandfather, Seg-El, as he not only fought to save his home planet from complete destruction, but uphold his family’s honor in the process. The program featured impressive production values, not to mention plenty of intrigue for fans looking to discover more of Superman’s historic lineage. Alas, not even well-known baddies like Lobo and Doomsday were enough to keep this genre gem on the air, as “Krypton” met its demise after just two seasons.
#6: “Superman & Lois” (2021-)
With the Last Son of Krypton’s frequent appearances in the “Arrow-verse” proving popular among fans, the CW decided to give Supes a show of his own – with a twist. Instead of going with the familiar “will they or won’t they” approach between Lois and Clark, the story picks up with the two blissfully married and raising a pair of teenage sons – one of whom begins exhibiting powers akin to his super-dad. When sudden events take the family back to Clark’s old stomping grounds in Smallville, they decide to stick around and start anew. The mix of endearing family drama and exciting action has thus far been quite a hit with critics and viewers alike. In short, this show packs a punch!
#5: “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” (1993-97)
An absolute ‘90s favourite, “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” is fondly remembered for its romantic elements – not so much for the “superhero stuff.” With an abundance of chemistry between them, the series served as major star vehicles for leads Dean Cain and Terri Hatcher - the latter being especially praised for her natural comedic abilities. Unfortunately, the program soured fans when the infamous wedding episode, made to coincide with the pair’s comic book nuptials, saw Clark unwittingly marry a frog-eating clone of Lois. Luckily, the series had other, more magical moments - ones that made us fall in love with the characters in new and unexpected ways! And for that, we thank them!
#4: “Adventures of Superman” (1952-58)
For many who grew up in the 1950s, there is only one, true Superman! Balancing a sincere portrayal of Clark Kent with a stoically confident Man of Steel, George Reeves became an instant favorite with fans of all ages – even though the actor himself was a little less enamoured with the role at times. And, while the special effects of the era were definitely a little subpar, the wondrous adventure, cast chemistry, and good ‘ol fashion wholesome fun more than made up for it. To this day, the “Adventures of Superman” stands as a true celebration of the righteous hero we all know and love!
#3: “Smallville” (2001-11)
Immensely popular upon its release, “Smallville” ushered Superman into the new millennium in a big way! Following Clark Kent during his formative years, the show adopted the “Monster of the Week'' formula to initial success. What made the sci-fi melodrama really soar, however, was our young hero’s constant battle between attempting to live a normal life and embracing the role of a super savior. The producers also invoked a “no tights, no flights'' rule early on, essentially reducing the character to just the basics. Lucky for us, actor Tom Welling was up for the task. Paired with an equally game cast of new and familiar faces, Welling’s Superman would go on to define a generation through ten thrilling seasons!
#2: “Superman: The Animated Series” (1996-2000)
With “Batman: The Animated Series” being a game changer in the world of animation, it wasn’t long before the team behind the award-winning series set their sights on DC’s other flagship star. Thanks to Bruce Timm and Alan Burnett’s inspiring approach, the response to Superman’s return to the small screen was an overwhelmingly enthusiastic one. Borrowing heavily from John Byrne’s comic book interpretations of the character, our hero took on a decidedly more human edge, increasing his relatability in the process. While the series had no shortage of epic action, it still managed to adapt some of Superman’s more nuanced stories and was praised for its merge of both the older, classic Superman and the newer, more modern version of the character. World’s finest indeed!
Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
“Justice League Action” (2016-18)
An Animated Series Following the Supervillain-Fighting Members of the JLA
“The New Adventures of Superman” (1966-1970)
A Super Popular Saturday Morning Cartoon
“Super Friends” (1973-85)
Hanna-Barbera’s Take on the JLA for ABC’s Saturday-Morning Cartoon Lineup
“Legion of Superheroes” (2006-08)
Superman & the Titular Team in the 31st Century
#1: “Justice League Unlimited” (2004-06)
A major part of Superman’s legacy is, of course, his allegiance with other super friends - you know, the Justice League! And so, when Cartoon Network wisely continued Batman and Superman’s adventures with an animated team-up series featuring DC’s holy grail of heroes, fans were thrilled. But, it wasn’t until the show took on its successor with a deeper roster, that things really took off – especially for Superman. It’s here that Earth’s greatest hero found himself in darker, more complex storylines - including one heck of a final clash with Darkseid! Yep, for a true distillation of what makes Superman the icon that he is, look no further than the final episodes of “Justice League: Unlimited”!