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The 10 Best CW Shows Ever

With a satirical edge and undertones of technology, gadgets and accessories, I aim to make my writing both informative and entertaining.

Is your favorite CW show on the list? Read on to find out!

Is your favorite CW show on the list? Read on to find out!

Origin of The CW

The CW has a reputation unmatched by any other network. The broadcast channel was established in 2006 as a result of a merger between entertainment giants ViacomCBS and Warner Brothers, which had previously operated their own networks, UPN and The WB. Together, they founded The CW, which included new original programming.

The CW began with obvious objectives: to cater to an underserved audience. It targeted a younger audience, first focusing on the adolescent population, particularly teenage girls. It became well-known around this time with Gossip Girl, which offered a raunchier and more scandalous view of the inner lives of teenagers than most other high school series.

More Than Just Gossip Girl & Teen Dramas

With the premiere of Arrow, the network gradually broadened its demographic reach, ushering in a regular series of DC-based superhero programming. Riverdale and its numerous spinoffs are another successful extension of the network’s offerings, pulpy successors to the legacies of both Gossip Girl and Arrow.

This restricted view of The CW diminishes the vast array of quality series that have broadcast throughout its long history. The CW is a unique network because it embraces sensationalism and melodrama in order to produce enjoyable television. Every series gives the impression that the cast and crew are having fun creating something entertaining. It is a network filled with everything from comfort shows to critically acclaimed films, and it deserves more praise than it currently receives.

If you're ready to give the notorious network a chance, the 10 finest CW shows are listed below.

Top 10 CW Series Ranked

  1. The Vampire Diaries
  2. Smallville
  3. Riverdale
  4. All American
  5. Black Lightning
  6. The 100
  7. iZombie
  8. Jane the Virgin
  9. Legends of Tomorrow
  10. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Paul Wesley and Nina Dobrev in The Vampire Diaries

Paul Wesley and Nina Dobrev in The Vampire Diaries

1. The Vampire Diaries

Created by: Julie Plec, Kevin Williamson

Stars: Nina Dobrev, Paul Wesley, Ian Somerhalder, Candice King, Matt Davis, Joseph Morgan

Years: 2009–2017

If there was ever a television show that pushed the needle on bourbon sales, it was The Vampire Diaries. The vampire brothers Stefan and Damon Salvatore, played by Paul Wesley and Ian Somerhalder, own an incredible collection of glassware as well as a supply of brown liquor that never seems to run out. I'll be the first to say that I can't remember another show that made me feel so compelled to imitate the drinking habits of the main characters.

But I digress…What started out as an angst-filled supernatural drama centered on teenagers evolved into a riveting and frequently gory foray into the world of vampires, werewolves, and witches. Like the network itself, The Vampire Diaries grew out of its early, "Dawson's Creek with vampires" phase to embrace more adult themes and behavior.

Once the show's creators, Julie Plec and Kevin Williamson (also the creator of Dawson's Creek, which is not a coincidence) got a feel for where they wanted the show to go, it took off, and over the course of eight seasons, The Vampire Diaries was a consistently well-acted, creepy, and ethically complicated hour of television.

The program ended after eight seasons, which was a smart decision. There is nothing more annoying than staying with a program that has lost its juice. It was sad to see the gang go, but at least we can hope that some of them will make guest appearances in other spinoffs. (And you really ought to be watching the show, Legacies.)

Tom Welling in Smallville

Tom Welling in Smallville

2. Smallville

Created by: Alfred Gough, Miles Millar

Stars: Tom Welling, Kristin Kreuk, Michael Rosenbaum, Eric Johnson, Sam Jones III, Allison Mack

Years: 2001–2006 (The WB); 2006–2011 (The CW)

It is difficult to conceptualize the level of excitement that was generated by the debut of Smallville in 2001 given the current prevalence of superhero-themed material in popular culture. Despite the fact that the show began its run on the now-defunct The WB network and then moved to The CW for its last five seasons, the show is considered to belong to both networks because of its lengthy run and ultimate conclusion on The CW.

Smallville starred Tom Welling as the title character Clark Kent and ultimately evolved into a full-fledged DC television series about the much-loved character. It had a dual purpose as an adaptation of the Superman origin tale. Although it may have begun as a drama focusing on a different evildoer each week, Smallville eventually morphed into a much more epic narrative that connected all facets of the DC mythos.

Even after two decades have passed, the investigation of Clark Kent as a character continues to be a fascinating journey. In fact, it still holds up well. The program never wavered from its commitment to its origins, and despite its expanding scope, it never lost sight of the importance of Kansas to the story of Smallville.

In spite of the fact that later and older incarnations of the Superman characters may supplant Smallville's depictions in the collective mind, the creation of a live-action superhero show like Smallville remains an incredible feat and one of the most innovative approaches ever taken.

Despite the fact that the Arrowverse, shows like Gotham, and even aspects of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have all set out to create epic origin stories and watch characters become legends, Smallville is still considered one of the first great achievements in superhero media produced in the 21st century.

Madelaine Petsch and KJ Apa in Riverdale

Madelaine Petsch and KJ Apa in Riverdale

3. Riverdale

Created by: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

Stars: K.J. Apa, Cole Sprouse, Lili Reinhart, Camila Mendes, Madelaine Petsch, Marisol Nichols, Ashleigh Murray, Mädchen Amick, Luke Perry

Years: 2017–present

It's like Gossip Girl crossed with Twin Peaks, but with Archie Comics characters instead of the high school students. That alone should be enough to convince you to watch the show, but if you need more convincing, the late Luke Perry plays Archie's dad, Molly Ringwald plays Archie's mom, Skeet Ulrich plays Jughead's creepy hot dad (who is also the head of the local gang, the Southside Serpents), and for the first third of the season, Archie is boning his music teacher, Ms. Grundy.

It's ridiculous and campy in all the right ways (hey, this is a CW teen drama, after all), but there's also a compelling murder mystery driving the plot ("Who killed Jason Blossom?" is Riverdale's "Who killed Laura Palmer?"), with new twists and turns peppered in along the way.

Taye Diggs (left) and Daniel Ezra in All American

Taye Diggs (left) and Daniel Ezra in All American

4. All American

Created by: April Blair

Stars: Daniel Ezra, Taye Diggs, Bre-Z, Greta Onieogou, Samantha Logan, Michael, Evans Behling, Cody Christian, Karimah Westbrook, Monét Mazur, Jalyn Hall, Chelsea Tavares, Da’Vinchi

Years: 2018–present

All American is a beacon of diverse near-realism in a predominantly White sea of superheroes, the supernatural, and the humorously stylized.

All American tells the story of Spencer James (Daniel Ezra), a star football player from South L.A. who is recruited by a coach (Taye Diggs) from the same neighborhood to come play for him in Beverly Hills—a plan that requires Spencer to move in with the coach's family in order to circumvent the school's hyper-strict zip code requirements.

Much of the drama that ensues, both in Beverly Hills and again in South Los Angeles, is predictable: The rich kids have expensive pill addictions or are spiraling into depression after being left alone for months at a time in their mansions by their oblivious jet-setting parents, whereas the kids in South L.A. are trapped in a chronically underfunded and over-policed school and are at risk of falling into gang life.

All American, however, has sufficient opportunity to transcend primetime melodrama due to the compassion and grace with which it addresses all of these difficulties, along with the grounded performances of each of its young actors. As the protagonist, Ezra is excellent, as captivating in private moments of vulnerability as he is in athletic feats. Equally arresting are Bre-Z as Spencer's fast-talking, bar-spitting, gay best friend Coop and Samantha Logan as Coach's daughter Olivia Baker, Spencer's first friend and confidante in Beverly Hills.

Throughout the real-time run of each of its first two seasons, All American hasn't made much of a splash. However, given how quickly it ascended to the Top 10 in Netflix's new internal ranking system once its third season was added, and how long it remained there, even weeks after first becoming available, it's clear that teens streaming at home know exactly where the good shit is.

Cress Williams hugging up in Black Lightning

Cress Williams hugging up in Black Lightning

5. Black Lightning

Created by: Salim Akil

Stars: Cress Williams, China Anne McClain, Nafessa Williams, Christine Adams, Marvin “Krondon” Jones III, Damon Gupton, James Remar

Years: 2018–2021

There is no denying that Greg Berlanti's Arrowverse has been a huge success for both The CW and the DC Universe on screen. The popularity of the Arrowverse was recently validated by a monetary contract worth $400 million that will keep the universe-runner employed until 2024.

However, throughout its history, it has not had much to say about the deeply rooted prejudices that exist in the real world. These prejudices are what have contributed to the violence and terror that shape places like the Glades in Green Arrow's Star City, and they are also what are reflected in the bigotry that metahumans face at the hands of "normal" society. Black Lightning, created by Salim Akil and Mara Brock Akil, tackles this problem head-on by depicting persistent racism and systematic unfairness as the primary challenges for a new kind of superhero.

Starring Cress Williams as Jefferson Pierce (aka Black Lightning, retired Black superhero), the show uses systematic injustices—and the tensions they cause in communities and individual families—to tell a compelling and heady story. What does it mean to do right in a world that resembles our own, certainly more than any superhero story told to date? Plus, what about the score and music? So good.

Eliza Taylor (center) with other members of The 100

Eliza Taylor (center) with other members of The 100

6. The 100

Created by: Jason Rothenberg

Stars: Eliza Taylor, Marie Avgeropoulos, Bob Morley, Isaiah Washington, Henry Ian Cusick, Lindsey Morgan, Richard Harmon, Zach McGowan

Years: 2014–2020

The 100 is what you get when you mix a traditional CW teen drama full of interesting characters with high-falutin' science fiction lingo, eye-popping visuals, and extremely convoluted narratives. This is a show for people who like to be pulled into an alternate reality. Get in or get lost.

The 100 takes place 97 years after a nuclear holocaust, when millions of survivors are residing in an impossible-to-comprehend space station known as the Ark. To determine whether Earth is still habitable, one hundred juvenile detainees are sent to the planet to either thrive or die trying.

While on Earth, the really attractive cohort comes across a few different groups that survived the apocalypse. These include:

  • Grounders: Organized into clans.
  • Reapers: Grounders who became cannibals as a result of the Mountain Men.
  • Mountain Men: Descendants of those who hid themselves away prior to the apocalypse.

When the various factions come into contact with one another, chaos erupts, but at the conclusion of the seventh season, the juveniles have another group to worry about: humans from another world who call themselves the Disciples.

Rose McIver in iZombie

Rose McIver in iZombie

7. iZombie

Creators: Rob Thomas, Diane Ruggiero-Wright

Stars: Rose McIver, Malcolm Goodwin, Rahul Kohli, Robert Buckley, David Anders, Aly Michalka, Robert Knepper

Years: 2015–2019

Veronica Mars meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the best way to characterize this wonderful drama. iZombie, created by Rob Thomas, draws upon the characteristics of each of these legendary series while forging its own course.

Liv Moore (Rose McIver) was a bright medical student until a night of excessive partying transformed her into a zombie. Now she works in the morgue solving murders on the side while concealing the true nature of her ailment from her loved ones. (C'mon people, sunscreen use does not explain her pale complexion!) As the second season proceeded, more people discovered Liv's secret, and she formed her own Scooby gang while attempting to protect those she loves.

The show's amazing sense of humor is largely responsible for its popularity, as evidenced by all the delicious ways Liv serves brains. But, the grotesque and ravenous undead and Steven Weber's villainous CEO Vaughn Du Clark are truly horrifying. However, it is the show's central idea that will keep you up at night: that any of us could find ourselves among the undead, struggling to control our most basic instincts while our normal lives remain just out of reach.

Gina Rodriguez in Jane the Virgin

Gina Rodriguez in Jane the Virgin

8. Jane the Virgin

Created by: Jennie Snyder Urman

Stars: Gina Rodriguez, Justin Baldoni, Yael Grobglas, Jaime Camil, Andrea Navedo, Ivonne Coll, Anthony Mendez

Years: 2014–2019

This show follows the exploits of a virgin perfectionist with a golden heart. She deals with the possibility of her grandmother's deportation and her attempts to balance parenting with a writing career. All told, Jane is a truly compelling woman on the small screen.

Jane is a wonderful person because she has a positive attitude on life, and you can't help but fall in love with her demeanor. Jane accepts the hand she's been dealt while never forgetting or renouncing the underlying kindness her Abuela ingrained in her. If you want something bad enough, you'll find a way to make it happen.

It was heartwarming to see a character that was unafraid to show her vulnerability in the face of life's biggest moments, whether it was through dancing competitions or sincere tears.

The motley crew of misfits in Legends of Tomorrow

The motley crew of misfits in Legends of Tomorrow

9. Legends of Tomorrow

Created by: Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, Andrew Kreisberg, Phil Klemmer

Stars: Brandon Routh, Caity Lotz, Dominic Purcell, Maisie Richardson-Sellers, Nick Zano, Tala Ashe

Years: 2014–2022

This is one of only two Arrowverse shows to make the list (the other being Black Lightning). "Joyful" is an underutilized and undervalued adjective when it comes to television dramas. Too many programs equate "prestige" with sadness, bloodshed, and horror, when it can (and should) also imply joy and beauty.

Legends of Tomorrow is a drama that fully comprehends the idea of happiness. The series, which follows a motley crew of misfits through space and time as they attempt to "correct" historical abnormalities caused by villains and supernatural beings, can be frivolous and facile, but it can also be profoundly moving. The conclusion is that it is simply good.

For those turned off by the show's first episodes or even its first season, Season 2 (or Season 3, if you're truly pressed for time) is where you should start. It gets significantly better. Legends is a rare example of a show that learns from its mistakes, since it is always willing to expand and innovate in order to deliver us the craziest, yet most magnificent television. And unlike most other series (especially those dealing with superheroes), it isn't afraid to replace cast members when things aren't working, which keeps each season feeling fresh while maintaining the stakes.

Legends of Tomorrow is humorous, odd, quirky, gorgeous, and absurd. It contains puppets and unicorns and sentient lopped-off nipples, but also covers the grief of losing loved ones, the need of speaking for people without a voice, and an ongoing journey of self-discovery. Join us on our journey.

Rebecca Bunch learning about love triangles in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Rebecca Bunch learning about love triangles in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

10. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Created by: Rachel Bloom, Aline Brosh McKenna

Stars: Rachel Bloom, Vincent Rodriguez III, Santino Fontana, Donna Lynne Champlin, Pete Gardner, Vella Lovell, Gabrielle Ruiz

Years: 2015–2019

Rachel Bloom, the show's creator and star (and winner of multiple Emmys, a Golden Globe and a Gracie Award for her work on the show) addresses the name of the show before the theme song is even finished, responding to choruses of "she's the crazy ex-girlfriend" with lines such as "that's a sexist term" and "the situation's more nuanced than that." In fact, it is: Rebecca Bunch is a lawyer who turns down a partnership at her New York firm in order to follow her ex-boyfriend Josh to West Covina, California, to try and win him back.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a clever musical comedy, not unlike Flight of the Conchords, but leaning way more heavily into musical theater. There are full-on musical revues paying homage to everything from Les Misérables and The Music Man to Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Hamilton. Bloom, Jack Dolgen, and Adam Schlesinger (who tragically passed away from COVID-19 in April 2020) could seemingly write any kind of song and make it believable: pop, heavy metal, country, Indian music, R&B, big band, you name it.

In between the musical segments, the series follows Rebecca as she tries to win Josh back, but gets sidetracked by Josh's friend, Greg. She also gets sidetracked by her boss at her West Covina law firm, Nathaniel. Ultimately though, Rebecca wins over Josh, but gets rejected at the altar. This leads to the series' great revelation: winning Josh back was a MacGuffin. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is really about Rebecca getting diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and how she used these relationships—and music and comedy—as distractions from accepting herself as a human being with a mental illness.

Over the course of four seasons, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was a space where female characters were allowed to be flawed and crappy, but also empathetic and heroic. Rebecca's complicated relationship with her workmate, playmate, and occasional co-dependent, Paula Proctor—who had her own glorious character arc—is one of the great female dynamics in TV history, especially when you factor in that both women sing their asses off.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Maina Wilson