There’s nothing like the euphoric feeling of first love and the crushing ache of first heartbreak, which is probably why teen dramas have such a strong hold on viewers.
As a love triangle survivor, The Summer I Turned Pretty’s Belly Conklin certainly knows plenty about both falling in love and breaking up, as this week’s Season 2 finale proved. So as the compelling YA series wraps up for the summer, TVLine is honoring the Prime Video breakout, along with 19 other best teen TV dramas, past and present. Our selections include four more shows about the highs and lows of the teenage years that are still airing, but have already made a strong enough impression to land a spot on our list.
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Of course, the below rundown also features classics like Beverly Hills, 90210, Dawson’s Creek and The O.C., which helped to not only put teen hormones on the TV map, but also reinvented the genre. Plus, there’s two short-lived, one-season wonders that still hold a special place in our hearts.
And sometimes, being a high school student is a horror show, so you will find a few dramas that upped the angst with supernatural troubles.
NOTE: Although they feature teen characters in their ensembles, we did not include family dramas such as Everwood, Friday Night Lights and Gilmore Girls.
Review our list of the all-time Best Teen Dramas to find out who took the No. 1 title, then hit the comments with your favorites and any others that didn’t make the cut!
20. Glee (Fox, 2009–2015)
Sure, the Ryan Murphy musical comedy went completely off the rails fairly early into its six-season run, but we’ll be damned if the phrase “(Glee Cast Version)” doesn’t appear in our Apple Music library with alarming regularity.
19. The Summer I Turned Pretty (Prime Video, 2022–)
It’s been a long time since a teen drama gave off such strong Dawson’s Creek vibes. But with its engrossing love triangle, nostalgically WB-esque tone, perfect music cues and idyllic coastal setting — the Prime Video drama shoots in Dawson’s’ old haunt, Wilmington, North Carolina — The Summer I Turned Pretty has, in just two seasons, established itself as the Gen Z successor to the aforementioned WB series. And we can think of no higher compliment than that.
18. All American (The CW, 2018–)
Like any respectable teen drama, All American satisfies our craving for juicy love triangles and expensive, stylish clothes that no real high schooler would wear. And there’s a thrilling sports drama in there, too, punctuated by high-energy football scenes. But the CW series is at its best when it tackles — pardon the pun — heavier themes: Racism, addiction, grief and anxiety have all been addressed with impressive candor and sensitivity, and Daniel Ezra anchors it all with his open-hearted performance as Spencer James.
17. Pretty Little Liars (ABC Family, 2010–2016; Freeform, 2016–2017)
The twists! The ‘ships! The fabulous funeral attire! This insanely addictive ABC Family-turned-Freeform mystery was the reason live tweeting was invented.
16. Degrassi: The Next Generation (TeenNick, 2001–2015)
We were so invested in the outrageous escapades of our neighbors to the north, we barely even noticed that our drama was being served with a side of education, eh? The iconic Canadian series gets extra points for being light years ahead of its fellow teen dramas in terms of representation and the issues it was willing to tackle.
15. One Tree Hill (The WB, 2003–2006; The CW, 2006–2012)
If we were ranking the most emo shows on TV, this nine-season sobfest would be tough to beat. (Yes, you read that correctly — nine seasons.) The television equivalent of water-proof guyliner, One Tree Hill milked every conceivable drop of angst from the high school experience, birthing some of the genre’s most beloved couples, villains and soundtracks along the way. And if you disagree, you can go Brooke yourself.
14. Gossip Girl (The CW, 2007–2012)
A love letter to New York City and cyberbullying, this early CW hit quickly became a pop culture phenomenon, launching the careers of stars like Blake Lively, Leighton Meester, Penn Badgley and Chace Crawford. The smart, sexy sudser also famously gave us one of our favorite TV ad campaigns, which rebranded the show’s harshest critiques (“Mind-blowingly inappropriate!”) as badges of honor.
13. The Vampire Diaries (The CW, 2009–2017)
Just like Elena when she met both Salvatore brothers, it was love at first bite for us with this supernatural treat. Perfectly cast and endlessly quotable, it was appointment television on Thursday nights for much of the 2010s. And initially accused of merely riding Twilight’s sparkly coattails, Vampire Diaries expanded into a full-blown franchise of its own with two spinoffs.
12. Heartstopper (Netflix, 2022–)
Cue the animated leaves, ’cause once we said hi to the LGBTQ+ dramedy, we fell for it faster than future boyfriends Nick Nelson and Charlie Spring did for one another. Even in Season 2, as the teenage sweethearts and their pals grappled with darker issues, series creator Alice Oseman, on whose graphic novels the show is based, never let us — or them — lose sight of the light.
11. Euphoria (HBO, 2019–)
There’s something starkly compelling about the fatalistic attitude with which Zendaya’s Rue and the rest of the teens in HBO’s drama approach the world. After all, if nothing matters, what’s the big deal about a little hard drug abuse/sexual violence/toxic masculinity? There are no happy or easy answers in the show, which just makes performances like Zendaya and Hunter Schafer’s Jules all the more transcendent as they find beauty in what can be a truly ugly phase of growing up.
10. Sex Education (Netflix, 2019–)
With a cast full of up-and-comers and a pinch of British flair, Sex Education put an entirely fresh spin on the teen drama subgenre. Following Otis (Asa Butterfield) as he kickstarts a sex clinic for his fellow high schoolers, the show tells stories that greatly impact the youth of today. From discovering their bodies and sexualities to the horrific aftermath of sexual assault, the show juggles serious crises while simultaneously winking at the rather humiliating elements of teenage fornication. Plus, its outlandish characters and will-they-won’t-they pairings are impossible to resist.
9. The O.C. (Fox, 2003–2007)
With its puka shell necklaces, adorable indie soundtrack and casting of Mischa Barton, The O.C. exists as a living snapshot of mid-2000s pop culture. One of Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage’s finest contributions to the teen TV landscape, this smart, self-aware soap was also where we fell in love with future stars like Ben McKenzie, Adam Brody and Rachel Bilson.
8. Dawson’s Creek (The WB, 1998–2003)
Creator Kevin Williamson’s teen angst-fest not only helped put the WB network on the map, it also redefined teen dramas with its hyper intellectual dialogue and introduced one of the most iconic love triangles since Kelly had to choose between Dylan and Brandon on Beverly Hills, 90210.
7. Freaks and Geeks (NBC, 1999–2000)
Whether you were a rebellious freak like Lindsay Weir or a hapless geek like her little brother Sam, everyone could find someone to relate to in NBC’s bittersweet, cancelled-too-soon dramedy. With a cast full of future A-listers and insightful writing from the likes of Paul Feig and Judd Apatow, it beautifully captured all the hilarious highs and angsty lows that come with being a teenager.
6. Party of Five (Fox, 1994–2000)
The drama about five orphaned siblings — most of whom were also trying to navigate teenage angst or the awkwardness of puberty — elevated the genre with its poignant storylines and nuanced performances, proving that stories about teens can be just as rich and smart as any adult shows. It’s no wonder the series is one of the few of its kind to snag a Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series – Drama.
5. Beverly Hills, 90210 (Fox, 1990–2000)
At the height of its popularity, this Aaron Spelling/Darren Star sudser was pulling in upwards of 20 million viewers a week with promises of sun, surf and scandal. And as the eldest series on this list, it paved the way for many of the other shows ranked here today. If the phrase “Donna Martin graduates” means nothing to you, close this browser, fire up Hulu and binge your brains out immediately.
4. Felicity (The WB, 1998–2002)
In the spirit of calling a spade a spade, Keri Russell’s titular coed was a stalker. But she was a relatable, sensitive, extremely well-tressed stalker who, thanks in large part to Russell’s alternately hilarious and moving performance, captured beautifully the exhilaration, confusion and terror of first love. (And yes, we know Felicity was a college-set show, but the heroine and her friends were still very much teenagers making the bumpy transition to young adults.)
3. Veronica Mars (UPN, 2004–2006; The CW, 2006–2007; Hulu, 2019)
Kristen Bell’s titular character was a hard-boiled detective in the body of a SoCal cheerleader, and the noir-informed drama made great use of the young gumshoe’s unique blend. But Veronica also was a daughter missing her absent mother, a friend grieving her murdered bestie and a young woman falling for the school’s obligatory psychotic jackass — of course we were instantly hooked.
2. My So-Called Life (ABC, 1994–1995)
Perhaps what makes the short-lived ABC drama so brilliant is the very fact that it only lasted one season, and thus, remains encapsulated in a bubble of perfection. But we have a feeling that even if Angela Chase and her friends had gotten to live on, they would have continued to capture our attention with their raw, vulnerable hearts.
1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (The WB, 1997–2001; UPN, 2001–2003)
Adolescence is a scary, dramatic time in which every choice seems life-or-death. So what better allegory than a teen girl saddled with the responsibility of saving the world… a lot? Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Buffy had a loving mentor, great friends, a couple hot-and-forbidden romances and the ability to come up with a pithy quip under nearly any circumstances. And the show had such stellar writing that viewers of all ages watched to see just what was at stake.
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