The 20 best teen drama shows you can stream right now
From the 2000s to today, these shows are a must-watch.
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Even in my adult years, I don’t think I’ll ever stop watching teen drama shows. There will always be something nostalgic about rewatching the episodes that defined my teen years (I’ve watched Gossip Girl at least four times all the way through). I love to live vicariously through the youths surviving through the most extreme versions of high school. I mean, what’s life without love, backstabbing, and the occasional murder?
Most of these TV shows feature 20-something-year-olds parading around as angsty teenagers, but they still have become ingrained in our daily lives, from what they wore to iconic soundtracks we wish narrated our own backgrounds. Thankfully, with reboots and new teen shows dropping on streaming services left and right, I don’t think I’ll ever be without a teen drama to watch.
While the bar for a teen drama show I’ll enjoy is set pretty low (the more obscure the better, right Riverdale?), I’ve still set out to find the best teen dramas all the way back to the early 2000s that you can watch on HBO Max, Netflix, and Hulu for ultimate accessibility. In no particular, order here are the 20 best teen drama shows you can stream right now.
Riverdale is a fever dream I can’t wake up from. This CW show is (and I can’t emphasize this enough) loosely based on the Archie comics of the same name and takes the epic highs and lows of high school football to the next level. From serial killers to cults run by Chad Michael Murray, the TV show’s dedication to absurd plotlines that are discarded after a few episodes and a Twin Peaks-esque noir is admirable. Come for witty one-liners, stay for shirtless Archie scenes, dark plots, and the occasional musical numbers that no one asked for. You can watch seasons 1 through 4 on Netflix.
2. Outer Banks
I’m not lying when I say that the Outer Banks single-handedly saved me at the beginning of quarantine. The Goonies meets summer vacation in this steamy teen drama show, which premiered at just the right time for everyone to be obsessed with it. There’s no better dynamic than the rich kids versus the poor, and John B. and his pack of Pogues try to deal with their arch-nemesis known as the Kooks while looking for treasure. Set in beautiful North Carolina (technically South Carolina), the Netflix original series a breezy escape into warmer days, teen love, and, of course, mystery.
I like to describe Euphoria as Degrassi on drugs. This dark teen drama show centers around Rue (Zendaya), a recovering drug addict who falls in love with her new transgender classmate Jules (Hunter Schafer). It dips into every teenage issue imaginable from bad romances to bondage to abuse to toxic masculinity to homosexuality to identity. Each character gets their own backstory and you’re in for a wild ride. The acting is insanely good (Zendaya deserved her Emmy win) and the makeup leaves us wondering why we never thought to bedazzle our faces or experiment with bright colored eyeshadow before.
4. One Tree Hill
One Tree Hill is the pinnacle of 2000s teen dramas: basketball, half-brother rivalries, high school weddings, murders, stalkers, a budding music career. As my friend once put it “everything bad that could happen does.” It gave us teen heartthrobs Lucas (Chad Michael Murray) and Nathan Scott (James Lafferty) and the iconic empowering Brook Davis (Sophia Bush). Sorry if you’re team Payton (Hilarie Burton). I was so obsessed with this TV show that I drove around filming locations in Wilmington, North Carolina, for my birthday. It’s worth a binge if you haven’t already seen it (or a rebinge in that case).
5. The Vampire Diaries
Vampires, witches, werewolves, oh my! The Vampire Diaries is the ideal fantasy teen drama show combining the perils of falling in love while dealing with mythical forces invading the town aptly named Mystic Falls. It follows recently orphaned high schooler, Elena Gilbert (Nina Dobrev), as she falls for a vampire named Stefan Salvatore (Paul Wesley) and deals with immense family drama when his bad boy brother Damon (Ian Somerhalder) comes to town. The TV show is so good it inspired two spinoffs, The Originals and Legacies, both of which I recommend watching as well.
The only thing better than a teen drama is a foreign teen drama that actually makes you pay attention because you need to read the subtitles. Each season of Elite centers on a mystery, starting with a murder (obviously), and follows the classic trope of a poor kid struggling to fit in with the preppies at an elite boarding school. But this hot Spanish drama will keep you on the edge of your seat and features school uniforms you’ll actually want to wear.
7. The Fosters
I think The Fosters is one of the most underrated teen drama shows in history. It follows a family known as The Fosters who, well, foster four children while raising a biological son. It touches on loss, identity, racism, the foster system, and features an interracial lesbian couple as the matriarchs of the family. It has its fair share of drama but a whole lot of love and acceptance. It’s also the TV show where teen heartthrob Noah Centineo got his start after replacing Jake T. Austin as Jesus halfway through the series.
The series may have ended, but you can follow foster sisters Callie (Maia Mitchell) and Mariana’s (Cierra Ramirez) post-college adventures in Good Trouble.
8. Pretty Little Liars
The Pretty Little Liars theme song lives rent-free in my head. The TV show follows four former best friends—Aria, Spencer, Hanna, and Emily—who come back together to investigate the death of their friend Ali while being haunted by a mysterious figure known as “A.” Is there anything more horrifying? The show comes with its fair share of problems (mainly, a questionable student-teacher relationship) and falls off the rails as the creators needed to create more identities for “A” in the later seasons. But the thrilling psychodrama will keep you hooked for at least the first few seasons.
While its spinoff The Perfectionists was short-lived, Pretty Little Liars is getting a reboot on HBO Max, so we won’t have to wait long to watch “A” torture another pack of teenage girls.
9. Gossip Girl
Gossip Girl was every parent's worst nightmare, but every high schooler’s dream. From the iconic fashion (you can thank Blair Waldorf for an obsession with headbands) to steamy hookup scenes to the extravagant parties, you just wanted to be a teen living in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The TV show follows a rich group of teens—and lonely boy Dan Humphrey (Penn Badgley) from a massive loft in Brooklyn—who navigate the trials and tribulations of being socialites whose every move and secret is broadcasted on an anonymous blog. You just had to be there.
The unmasking of Gossip Girl was quite the letdown, but with a Gossip Girl reboot on the horizon, I’m hoping for redemption there.
10. On My Block
Another underrated Netflix original teen show? On My Block. The show is filled with hilarious dry humor as it follows four childhood best friends as they navigate high school in the intercity. There’s a touch of a treasure hunt, secret romances, and gang wars that keep the drama flowing, but the cast is utterly charming and the storylines cut deep. The episodes are under 30 minutes, so it’s super bingable, too.
11. Friday Night Lights
“Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.” It’s somehow the Instagram bio of way too many questionable men, and it’s also the iconic chant of Friday Night Lights. It doesn’t get much better than Texas, football, and drama—even if you don’t care for sports. The TV show focuses on Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler) as he coaches a high school football team in Dillon, a small town in Texas. From the first episode, you’ll be hooked as an injury changes the trajectory of the entire team, but you’ll likely stay for Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch) who arguably has the greatest character development of all time.
12. All American
I consider All American the modern-day Friday Night Lights—if it was set in Beverly Hills/Compton. The TV show is loosely based on the life of professional football player Spencer Paysinger and it’s genuinely the most realistic teen drama out there. When Spencer James (Daniel Ezra), star player at South Crenshaw High, gets recruited for Beverly Hills High by coach Billy Baker (Taye Diggs), he moves to the rich town and drama ensues as he navigates his new life while dealing with issues from his past. The acting is superb, the storyline keeps you on edge, and there’s also plenty of football scenes.
13. Marvel’s Runaways
Love superheroes and teen drama shows? Then Marvel’s Runaways is for you. The Hulu original show is based on the Marvel comic series of the same name. It doesn't necessarily deserve a place in the MCU but stands out as a teen drama. When a pack of childhood friends realizes their parents might be evil, naturally, they run away (hence the title) and discover they all have their own set of powers. It’s packed with action, adventure, and some teenage romance.
14. Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Buffy is the OG supernatural teen show, exploring the premise that “high school already feels like hell, but what if it actually was?” While struggling with the traumas of high school like puberty, romance, and mean queen bees, Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) must fight actual evil in the form of vampires and demons. Honestly, I don’t know what’s worse.
15. The Society
I’m going to say it loud for the people in the back, JUSTICE FOR THE SOCIETY. The criminally underrated series was unjustly canceled after initially being renewed for a second season (thanks Ms. Rona), but the one and only season is worth the watch. As a modern-day Lord of the Flies, a bunch of teenagers return from a field trip only to find all the adults are gone and they can’t leave the New England town. Things erupt into chaos as teens—namely the intelligent Allie (Kathryn Newton)—attempt to form a just society while maintaining law and order in this supernatural realm. It touches on a variety of governance styles while tackling darker issues like gun violence and abuse. I’m still praying season two of the Netflix original series does pop up.
16. Degrassi: The Next Generation
Degrassi gave us so many things: Drake, Nina Dobrev, actors playing teenagers who are actual teenagers, and so much drama. The Canadian teen show is the most realistic out there, focusing on actual teen issues like abuse, school shootings, drugs, identity, and the like. The TV show doesn’t rely on any supernatural or sports-heavy background (it’s really just a normal high school), which makes it so genuine and relatable. It’s likely why it’s been around for years and has spun off into a new generation known as Degrassi: Next Class.
17. Veronica Mars
We all love a little mystery, especially when it’s solved by a high school heroine. Veronica Mars stars Kristen Bell as the titular character, a popular girl turned private detective when her best friend (Amanda Seyfried) is murdered. Fair warning, the show is dark. Throughout the series, Veronica attempts to solve the murder among other mysteries.The TV show touches on themes of suicide, the mass murder of teenagers, pedophilia, and rape, with a stellar cast of supporting characters bringing them to light.
It’s so great we were blessed with not only a movie but a Hulu reboot filled with more mysteries as it follows Veronica through her adult years.
18. The O.C.
There are two teams of people who watched teen drama shows in the 2000s: Team East Coast and Team West Coast. Team East Coast was for Gossip Girl and One Tree Hill while Team West Coast were lovers of The O.C. and had us all dreaming of moving to California. Filled with likable nerds and the classic girl-next-door romance, The O.C. also gave us Seth Cohen (Adam Brody) and Summer Roberts (Rachel Bilson), Chrismukkah, and an iconic indie soundtrack.
19. Looking For Alaska
This show could not have captured John Green’s Y.A, novel Looking For Alaska more perfectly. The cast, the setting, the pranks are all chef’s kiss. The mini-series follows Miles “Pudge” Halter (Charlie Plummer), an expert in last words, as he attempts to find the “Great Perhaps” by attending the Alabama boarding school his dad went to. He immediately winds up in a group of hijinking teens and falls for the troubled Alaska Young (Kristine Froseth). It’s sad, beautiful, and tragic, and completely worth the watch.
Another dark teen drama show, Skins (the U.K. version, not the unfortunate American remake) touched on every issue under the sun. I applaud the TV show for managing to tackle heavy topics like drug abuse, eating disorders, and unexpected death without using trauma for shock value and instead show these issues in a raw, real way. The early cast is star-studded, too, with Nicholas Hoult, Dev Patel, and Daniel Kaluuya.