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The Greatest R-Rated Superhero TV Shows, Ranked


The Greatest R-Rated Superhero TV Shows, Ranked


Summary

  • Superhero fatigue stems from uninspired storytelling, not from the genre itself – The Boys, Invincible prove this premise.
  • R-rated TV shows like Gen V and Daredevil break the traditional superhero mold with gritty realism and intricate characters.
  • Genre-bending shows like Legion and Preacher challenge superhero norms, offering visionary storytelling and insightful themes.

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At the moment, it feels like there is an undeniable fatigue for superhero projects. Each year, mostly thanks to the MCU, we see countless superhero projects in the form of movies and TV shows, which are sadly, for the most part, pretty dull experiences. The majority of these projects don’t tell interesting stories, offer up compelling characters, or boast any memorable scenes that we will talk about for decades to come.

That said, superhero movies and TV shows rarely miss. From the likes of The Boys, Invincible, Daredevil, or Peacemaker, these shows prove we don’t suffer from superhero fatigue, but instead, are tired of uninspired and lackluster stories that the majority of superhero projects tell today. So with that in mind, here are the best R-rated superhero TV shows.

Updated on April 10, 2024, by Soniya Hinduja: This article has been updated with additional R-Rated TV shows to keep the discussion fresh and relevant.

15 Gen V (2023 – Present)

Gen V

Gen V

Release Date
September 29, 2023

Creator
Evan Goldberg, Eric Kripke, Craig Rosenberg

A spin-off of The Boys, created by Eric Kripke, Gen V is set in the timeline of the former’s fourth season. Marie Monroe is a teenager with a traumatic past who finds herself with a single shot at making it to Vaught as a vital supe. But first, she must attend Godolkin University School of Crime Fighting and make sure she doesn’t mess it up. All the students at this school are manipulative, hormonal, shockingly amoral, and competitive. Their goal? To secure a spot in The Seven.

An Equally Bloody Follow-Up

Gen V wastes no time thrusting viewers into a gritty world of bloodshed and gore. More chaotic and subversive than the original, it features expert fight sequences and stylish action that allows the young supes to channel their strengths. Complex characters are brought to life by newcomers Jaz Sinclair, Chance Perdomo, Lizze Broadway, and more. Mapped particularly for fans who couldn’t wait for a new season for The Boys, Gen V dives deeper into concepts of Compound V, features cameos from Madelyn Stillwell, Victoria Neuman, Butcher, and Homelander, and handles conflict with violence. Stream on Prime Video.

14 Marvel’s Luke Cage (2016 – 2018)

In Marvel’s Luke Cage, Mike Colter stars as the titular character. After a sabotaged super-experiment, he gains the kind of superpowers that make his skin bulletproof. Now strong and agile enough, Luke Cage uses his powers to defend Harlem’s streets as a hero for hire. But all is not as it seems because his past comes to haunt him in the form of an old flame and a ruthless crime boss. Every external force is eager to exploit his abilities and Luke must choose between justice and revenge.

Explores Mature Themes Like Injustice and Corruption

Based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name and sharing continuity with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Luke Cage is rated R not only because of its risqué scenes and violence but also for its exploration of themes like injustice and corruption. It also brought a palpable authenticity to the depiction of ’70s-inspired culture and atmosphere of Harlem. The action leaves a lasting impact but is never gratuitous and paired with a flawless world-building and a rousing soundtrack, the series is a must-watch. Stream on Disney+.

13 Marvel’s Jessica Jones (2015 – 2019)

The second Marvel Netflix series, Marvel’s Jessica Jones was created by Melissa Rosenberg for the streaming service in 2015. It follows former superhero Jessica Jones whose world-saving career ended after Kilgrave caused her to kill someone. She opened her own detective agency in Hell’s Kitchen hoping to avoid larger troubles and still helping people in some way possible. But when a mysterious figure from her past resurfaces and uses their ability to manipulate minds on the innocent, Jessica must use her strength, face her trauma, repair her relationships, and destroy them.

Flawed Female Antihero Leaves a Lasting Impact

Jessica Jones became one of Marvel’s strongest franchises at the time of its release because it offered an engaging and grounded antihero. It explores mature themes of PTSD, abuse, and addiction through an empathetic and realistic lens. The complex characters that brought the comic book arcs to life experience moral dilemmas and the messiness of heroism in a fascinating way. Credit goes to Krysten Ritter, Mike Colter, Rachael Taylor, and Erin Moriarty for setting the bar as highly conceptual characters, with David Tennant making Kilgrave stand out as one of fiction’s most unsettling antagonists.

12 Legion (2017 – 2019)

legion

Legion

Release Date
February 8, 2017

Set in an alternate timeline of the X-Men film series, Legion is centered on David Haller, a mutant who was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was young. Despite being sent to multiple psychiatric facilities over the course of years, it seems that the strange and uncontrollable incidents plaguing his life have little to do with his mental illness. After encountering fellow patient Syd Barrett, David discovers that he possesses incredible psychic abilities, joins a secret mutant family, and learns to control his powers.

Features Visionary Storytelling

By fabricating a hallucinatory world where reality shatters and folds in on itself, Legion redefines the superhero genre. The surreal dreamscapes and unreliable narration mirror David’s own fragmented understanding of the world around him and offer the viewers a glimpse into his head. Dan Stevens, Rachel Keller, Aubrey Plaza, and Bill Irwin are all exceptional actors who achieve remarkable standards with their art. Under Noah Hawley’s direction, the creativity of the show stunned critics and fans alike.

11 The Tick (2016 – 2019)

The Tick is a humorous superhero TV show created for Amazon Prime Video by Ben Edlund. It centers around a mild-mannered accountant named Arthur who is under the suspicion that his city is owned and controlled by a supervillain. When a hulking and nearly invincible vigilante in a blue tick suit starts following him everywhere, Arthur gets pulled into a bizarre battle against “The Terror.” Arthur and The Tick’s campaign for justice against the city’s underworld leads to the most slapstick and entertaining situations.

Deconstructing the Superhero Genre Using Dark Comedy

There are only a few good superhero comedy TV shows out there, and The Tick is one that revels in honest absurdity. Its tongue-in-cheek approach towards a richly enthralling and well-established genre highlights the endless possibilities in the medium and paves the way for more innovative shows. The R-rating comes from realistic characters and high-octane action. Peter Serafinowicz and Griffin Newman deliver performances that carry the show’s surreal world-building at a light pace.

10 The Punisher (2017 – 2019)

In The Punisher, Jon Bernthal stars as former Marine Frank Castle, who loses his entire family in a mafia feud. He wages a one-man war on the organized crime responsible for ruining his life and becomes the titular urban legend. Once he has exacted personal revenge, Castle digs deeper into the systematic criminal network that is ruining the lives of many families in New York. However, when his latest target makes him the villain, Castle must outwit the enemy with the help of new allies.

Tells The Story of an Uncompromising Antihero

The Netflix Marvel Universe has been one of the best universes of the past decade. The likes of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and, of course, The Punisher, are not just great superhero shows but are also among some of the best TV shows to come from the streaming service. The Punisher, however, was exceptionally memorable. The show’s brutality and violence exceed the rest; the writing is engaging, impactful, and emotional, and Bernthal gives a phenomenal performance as Frank Castle. The series truly encapsulates the character of Frank Castle and The Punisher’s unrelenting vengeance.

9 The Umbrella Academy (2019 – 2024)

The Umbrella Academy

The Umbrella Academy

Release Date
February 15, 2019

Creator
Steve Blackman. Jeremy Slater

Cast
Tom Hopper , Robert Sheehan , Elliot Page , Marin Ireland , Yusuf Gatewood , Justin H. Min

Created for Netflix by Steve Blackman, The Umbrella Academy is an exceptionally beautiful superhero TV show. Its plot goes something like this: On the same day in 1989, 43 women across the world gave birth without a prior pregnancy. Seven of these children were adopted by Reginald Hargreeves. Having grown up on a bitter note, when the dysfunctional family reunites after Hargreeves’ death, they are faced with a global crisis and a responsibility to stop it. On the other hand, old resentments, unresolved trauma, and personal secrets between the siblings emerge.

Unique Genre-Bending Superhero TV Show

Before the show, The Umbrella Academy wasn’t a particularly well-known comic book universe. However, since the show brought these powerful and simply bonkers characters to life, they have all become a deeply important part of pop culture, similar to how the Guardians of the Galaxy characters were appreciated. The series did the comic book justice and presented a visually stunning, hilarious, stylish, and action-packed comic book TV show. Dealing with the premise of time travel, each season tells a compelling story. On top of that, the characters helped elevate the show to its success, and the cast was simply exceptional. Stream on Netflix

8 Preacher (2016 – 2019)

Preacher

Preacher

Release Date
May 22, 2016

Main Genre
Sci-Fi

Preacher is one of the most underrated TV shows of all time. Created for TV by Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, and Sam Catlin, Preacher is a wild ride from start to finish. The series includes a superpowered preacher, angels, demons, vampires, a vengeful cowboy risen from the dead, a deadly assassin, cults, and even Adolf Hitler. Likewise, as we delve into the depths of hell and ride up into the skies of heaven, we meet both the Devil and God.

A Thoughtful Comic Book Adaptation

As yet another comic book adaptation, Preacher does an outstanding job of balancing its hard violence with poignant moments of drama. While the graphic action served its purpose, it was the supernatural elements that explored themes such as faith, humanity, corruption, and addiction. The show is simply insanity, but with its highly engaging character-driven stories and stellar performances from the cast, gut-busting humor, and, of course, the show’s unforgettable action scenes, you have one of the best and most underrated TV shows of the past decade.

7 Doom Patrol (2019-2023)

doom patrol

Doom Patrol was a show that blew all of our expectations out of the water. The Doom Patrol in question is another obscure team of superheroes that isn’t as well known as DC’s other superhero teams, like the Justice League or the Teen Titans. In the series, we follow a mysterious scientist named Dr. Niles Caulder who assembles a group of individuals who have undergone freak accidents and grants them superhuman abilities, training them to use their powers for the greater good. But when a larger threat looms overhead, they are forced to deal with their past and present.

Witty Storytelling That Resonates With All

Although the cast was fantastic, with Brendan Fraser, Matt Bomer, Diane Guerrero, Timothy Dalton, and Alan Tudyk headlining the show, we still weren’t expecting the show to be as fantastic as it was. Doom Patrol excels at telling the interpersonal stories and drama of each of its characters. Sure, the show still sees the heroes take on some of the world’s most bizarre threats, with their absurd arrangement of superpowers and abilities, but it’s the characters’ pasts, their stories, and each of our heroes’ relationships that keep us coming back for more.

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6 Daredevil (2015 – 2018)

He was once a lawyer, but Matt Murdoch’s life changed after a radioactive accident took his eyesight. Despite being blind, his other senses were heightened, so he took on the identity of a vigilante named Daredevil. By night, he defends the crime-laden streets of Hell’s Kitchen and exacts his own brand of revenge. His greatest foe, however, is the ruthless crime lord Wilson Fisk, who aims to reshape and control the city through corruption and violence.

One Of The First R-Rated Superhero TV Shows

Daredevil was one of the first ever R-rated superhero TV shows, and without it, many of the rest of the shows on this list may not have existed. It set the bar for more grounded and multidimensional heroes on screen. This phenomenal superhero show offers some captivating writing, jaw-dropping fight scenes, and spectacular performances from the likes of Charlie Cox in the lead role and Vincent D’Onofrio as Kingpin/Wilson Fisk. Overall, it proved that superhero TV can be artistic and stylish as well.

5 Harley Quinn (2019 – Present)

DC’s Harley Quinn is perhaps the most refreshing DC superhero TV show in recent memory. It takes beloved characters like Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, Bane, and Clayface, and offers up new depictions of the characters to great effect. In the series, Harley Quinn finally breaks up with Joker and joins up with Poison Ivy. Her ultimate goal (other than regaining her self-respect) is to become a criminal queenpin and a member of the Legion of Doom. However, Joker does not like the idea and his romantic entanglements constantly foil her plans.

Subversive and Hilarious

Other than the show being utterly hilarious, poking fun at everything and anything DC by showing the utmost respect to the universe’s characters and history, Harley Quinn tells an incredibly inspiring story about moving on from toxic relationships and finding out who she is, while also finding new love. The romance between Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn is the show’s greatest achievement, showing a complicated but admirable romantic relationship. Fully animated R-rated comedic storytelling is no longer a rarity, but still, Harley Quinn shatters enough conventions to have us expect more from the format.

4 Peacemaker (2022 – Present)

Peacemaker

James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad introduced audiences to some bizarre but captivating characters. None, however, were as memorable as John Cena’s Peacemaker. Thankfully, it wasn’t long after the movie’s release, a few months in fact, when a series centered around Peacemaker was released. Focusing on the origin story of Peacemaker and the characters whom he surrounds himself with, the show introduces us to his father, a white supremacist called The White Dragon, his best friends are an eagle, and a narcissistic mercenary called Vigilante. On top of that, he, Vigilante, and his unlikely crew of special agents and tech geniuses must stop an alien invasion, known as the Butterflies.

John Cena at His Finest

For some reason, Peacemaker made patriotism and blind faith in authority compelling for the mainstream audience. And to say it’s terrifying is an understatement. The gory action scenes paired with fast-paced storytelling and questionable humor earned the show its R rating. Fans and critics had a lot to chew on with each episode and the overall series was a gut-busting, emotional, and incredibly entertaining ride. John Cena was again pitch-perfect in his role as Peacemaker, always delivering hilarious lines, as well as delving into his empathy when dealing with the more emotional scenes. The show is unhinged, but it’s a ton of fun.

3 Watchmen (2019)

DC’s Watchmen is perhaps one of the universe’s greatest comic book runs. The mature themes, characters, stories, action, and style all culminate in a simply unforgettable comic book run. Set in an alternate history where masked vigilantes are treated as outlaws, Watchmen transports you to a world where the police hide their identities to stay safe. Agent Laurie Blake of the FBI’s Anti-Vigilante Task Force is among those investigating the mysterious murders and vast conspiracies plaguing the city. Meanwhile, a secret history is also revealed.

DC Universe’s Greatest Accomplishment

While Zack Snyder’s Watchmen was a fantastic outing and among the best R-rated superhero movies ever made, it was the series that offered the best and most engaging adaptation yet. The cast was perfect, with the likes of Regina King, Jeremy Irons, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Tim Blake Nelson, Jean Smart, and Don Johnson, who all unsurprisingly give brilliant performances. Its themes and stories are poignant, and the world that the show creates is terrifyingly immersive, as the bleak dystopian future feels viscerally alive. The writing is top-notch and helps prove why Watchmen is one of the best TV shows of all time.

2 Invincible (2021 – Present)

Amazon Prime’s Invincible is without a doubt one of the best, if not the best, animated superhero TV shows of all time. At first, it tells a typical story of 17-year-old Mark Grayson, a hero coming into his powers while trying to juggle being a superhero, high school, and his dating life. It is more difficult for him since his father Omni-Man, the most powerful superhero on the planet. But as Mark develops his own perception and powers, he realizes that his father’s legacy may not be as heroic as everybody believes it to be.

Graphic Action Rarely Seen in Animated Genres

Invincible may have a fairly unassuming plot. But it is the show’s many shocking plot twists and character changes that will keep audiences on the edge of their seats and hooked in for the entire ride. With the show’s flawless writing and exceptional cast, Invincible‘s characters are deeply compelling, no matter how little screen time a hero or villain gets. The action is second to none, and even competes with some of the best superhero movies and shows to date. Invincible is simply fantastic, and we can’t wait for what season two has in store.

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1 The Boys (2019 – Present)

What else other than the unhinged, unrelenting, sadistic, yet flawless superhero TV show, The Boys could top this list? Set in a world where costumed superheroes are highly regarded and treated as celebrities, the series introduces us to The Seven, a team of Supes owned by a powerful multinational corporation called Vaught. When a member of The Seven casually runs through Hughie’s girlfriend, he is approached by Billy Butcher, who suggests they take down Vaught and reveal the truth about the Supes to the world.

Genre-Twisting Satire That Delivers

The show’s writing, performances, and brutality are all second to none. This world of unhinged superheroes committing horrific acts of crime offers a real and satirical look at our world, politics, and superhero culture to great effect. The majority of the show’s characters are detestable, yet we can’t help but adore them.

Homelander is equally one of the best and worst characters in TV history, thanks to Antony Starr’s jaw-dropping performance as an unpredictable man-baby with the deadliest set of superpowers. In other hands, some of the show’s most depraved moments would not have worked, but with Eric Kripke at the helm, these moments are fantastically horrible to witness, and with each season, we can’t wait to see how far they will push things.

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