The scope of comic book worlds, characters, and narratives make them great candidates for adaptation to the screen, in both television and movie circles. For TV adaptations of comics, the animation is often a popular choice, with the medium allowing for fantastical stories to be transferred from the page with more flexibility.
On the other hand, live-action adaptation has its advantages too, as voters at Ranker have shown, taking into account both animation and live-action comic book shows to determine which are the best of all time. The shows which made top ten rankers are more often than not those which capture the specific tone of the comic that they are adapting, making for a rewarding viewing experience.
Teen Titans (2003 – 2006) — Stream on HBO Max
teen titans is an anime-inspired adaptation of the DC superhero team of the same name, following a group of young individuals facing down supervillains and their struggles as they grow older.
Although the show’s conclusion and subsequent sequel movie (Teen Titans: Trouble In Tokyo) left viewers with burning questions that still need answers, the series has still had a big impact as a whole, with some aspects of the show even going on to influence designs of the comic book characters on which it was based.
The Flash (2014 – Present) — Stream on Netflix
though Flash protagonist Barry Allen first appeared in Arrow, the speedster soon found success in his self-titled show, which is currently airing its eighth season. After gaining powers of superspeed through being struck by lightning, the series sees Barry fights crime in his home of Central City.
Noted for its lighter tone when compared to Arrow, Flash balances villain-of-the-week battles with more overarching storylines and uses humor while retaining moments of great emotion. With stylized costumes and special effects that feel straight out of a comic book, Flash makes for a satisfying adaptation.
Young Justice (2010 – Present) — Stream on HBO Max
Similar to teen titans, Young Justice is a cartoon that focuses on young DC heroes, who in this case are the teen sidekicks to more prominent figures. Young Justice sees these individuals come together and form their team, providing their mettle as they battle against a group of villains known as the Light.
With characters like Dick Grayson, Wally West, and Megan Morse at the forefront, Young Justice explores characters who are often underused in comic adaptations. Well received not only for its originality but also for its voice acting, Young Justice has quickly become a classic of the genre.
Arrow (2012 – 2020) — Stream on Netflix
The series which kickstarted the CW’s Arrowverse continuity of shows, Arrow tells the story of billionaire Oliver Queen, who returns home after being shipwrecked five years prior with plenty of secrets and a vigilante quest on his agenda.
Bringing one of the best archer heroes to the screen, Arrow utilize flashbacks to track two stories simultaneously; the present-day in Starling City, and the shipwrecked Oliver on the island of Lian Yu. The show found success in its intriguing plots and dynamic fight scenes, as well as in introducing viewers to Arrowverse favorites like Barry Allen, Sara Lance, and Slade Wilson.
Justice League Unlimited (2004 – 2006) — Stream on HBO Max
The only sequel to crack rankers’ top ten, Justice League Unlimited follows on from the story of the 2001 cartoon Justice League, which itself places number three for Ranker voters. Part of the DC Animated Universe, Justice League Unlimited fairy greatly expanded cast of characters.
Featuring storylines that were ahead of their time and marking the on-screen debut of several heroes never before adapted from the comics, Justice League Unlimited had a significant scope, aiding the series in the narratives that it told.
Batman Beyond (1999 – 2001) — Stream on HBO Max
Rather than focusing on Bruce Wayne under the cowl, batman beyond—which is set in the Neo-Gotham of 2039—tells the story of teenager Terry McGinnis, who takes on the vigilante role under an elderly Bruce’s tutelage.
As part of the DCAU continuity, batman beyond takes place in the same world as Batman: The Animated Series. The cyberpunk and sci-fi aspects of the show contributed to its dark tone while setting it apart from many other comic book adaptations, and the juxtaposition of Bruce and Terry’s life stages made the story appealing to a wide audience.
X-Men: The Animated Series (1992 – 1997) — Stream on Disney+
X-Men: The Animated Seriesalso known simply as X Mendepicted the lives and battles of the Mutant superhero team the X-Men, with a lineup that included some of the most powerful X-Men-like Rogue, Storm, and Jean Grey.
Often credited for setting the stage for the 2000 live-action X Men movie, the cartoon was notable not only for crafting original narratives but also for adapting many comic book storylines with depth and maturity. Its popularity has led to a revival, entitled X Men ’97set for release in 2023 on Disney+.
Justice League (2001 – 2004) — Stream on HBO Max
DC Animated Universe shshowsUsice League shows the formation and subsequent operation of its titular superhero team, with an ensemble main cast consisting of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Hawkgirl, Flash, and Martian Manhunter, and Green Lantern.
The cartoon’s 2D animation style lent it a retro feel that supported the characters’ long comic book histories, and the series flourished in showing the many dynamics of the team as they faced off against iconic villains, honoring their abilities all the while.
Daredevil (2015 – 2018) — Stream on Disney+
The sole show from the Marvel Cinematic Universe to make it into Ranker voters’ top ten, Daredevil was the first of Marvel’s Netflix original series and follows the journey of lawyer Matt Murdock into becoming the vigilante Devil of Hell’s Kitchen.
Largely taking inspiration from the Frank Millar run of comics, Daredevil was well received by fans and critics alike for its performances, take on Matt’s morality, and gritty action sequences. The show ran for three seasons, though a revival through Disney+ is reportedly in production, according to ComicBook.
Batman: The Animated Series (1992 – 1995) — Stream on HBO Max
The show which would later act as the genesis for the DCAU, Batman: The Animated Series is widely regarded as one of the best adaptations of the Batman character, with IGN even going as far as to say it’s the best comic to TV adaptation, a sentiment that Ranker voters agree with.
Turning the best aspects of the comics into a show that consistently delivered inonts ambition, Batman: The Animated Series pushed the limitations of its form. Aside from its treatment of Batman, the series also had a fresh take on Bruce Wayne’s alter ego, leaning into the character’s intelligence and business acumen which made for a more well-rounded protagonist.
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