HBO is one of the powerhouses of modern television thanks to its contributions to “peak TV” and highly acclaimed original series. From unique comedies to complex dramas, there’s no denying that the best shows on HBO have gripped television and streaming audiences alike.
Whether you’re accessing HBO content via HBO Max or a cable subscription, we have compiled a list of the best HBO shows—including both new HBO shows and classics—that make HBO worth paying for…
Science Fiction Drama | IMDb: 8.7 | Rotten Tomatoes: 82%
Westworld is a fictional amusement park for the rich, where lifelike robots called hosts play out Wild West scenarios for visitors to take part in. However, with the mistreatment by human guests and malfunctioning in the hosts’ programming showing a greater depth of consciousness than expected, you’ll quickly find yourself questioning what “humanity” really entails.
This incredible show is an expertly crafted crossover of genres: drama, science fiction, mystery, suspense, thriller, romance, and more. Not many series can claim to be an experience for viewers, but Westworld is one of the few exceptions.
2. True Detective
Crime Drama | IMDb: 9.0 | Rotten Tomatoes: 78%
True Detective is an anthology crime series, with the first season of True Detective praised as one of the best television shows of the past decade. Additional seasons follow different cases and different detectives within the same universe.
The HBO series grips viewers with the intensity of the gruesome crimes under investigation, but also with its nuanced portrayals of the very flawed characters whose job it is to seek justice.
Dark Comedy | IMDb: 8.3 | Rotten Tomatoes: 99%
Barry is a dark comedy starring Bill Hader that follows a hitman who unexpectedly discovers a love for acting. He tries to end his career as an assassin to pursue an acting class, where he rediscovers the joy and human connection he lost since returning from war.
However, his handler isn’t as keen on Barry’s new career path, and starting a new life isn’t easy when there are so many skeletons in your closet. Barry is a dark, complex, and often absurdly hilarious story thanks to its excellent cast and unusual story.
Superhero Drama | IMDb: 8.1 | Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
The HBO Watchmen series is a sequel to the acclaimed DC comic book series of the same name. It takes place in the modern day, several decades after the events of the comics. World War III was avoided, but the effects of the attack on New York continue to affect society in unexpected ways.
In this alternate timeline, attacks on police officers by white supremacists have resulted in officers needing to adopt masked identities to protect their families. They now resemble the very vigilantes that were made illegal.
While the series initially contains only brand new characters, links and involvement from the comics’ characters emerge as the show progresses.
Historical Drama | IMDb: 9.4 | Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
The Chernobyl miniseries on HBO is one of the most gripping series to come out in recent years—made even more poignant by the fact that it is based on a real-life disaster.
While the series takes some liberties with the historical events, it is an eye-opening window into the human toll of nuclear disasters and the consequences of bureaucratic inaction.
6. Silicon Valley
Comedy Drama | IMDb: 8.5 | Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Silicon Valley is about six young guys who make a technological breakthrough in file compression and decide to start a new company around it. What follows are successes, failures, and a whole lot of hilarity.
The series provides amusing yet all-too-recognizable portrayals of startup culture and the cult of personality around tech company founders. The series is both a parody of and familiar reflection of the cutthroat industry, amoral business practices, and absurd stories found in Silicon Valley.
7. His Dark Materials
Fantasy |IMDb: 7.9 | Rotten Tomatoes: 80%
While Game of Thrones has ended, HBO still offers other great fantasy series. His Dark Materials is one of these, based on the novel series of the same name (which includes The Golden Compass).
The series features a star-studded cast with James McAvoy and Lin Manuel Miranda, as well as a enchanting mystery at its core.
8. Band of Brothers
Historical Drama | IMDb: 9.4 | Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
This miniseries tells the incredible tale of the Easy Company’s training and involvement throughout Europe during World War II. While some parts were adapted for structure and drama, it is based on historic people, events, and accounts.
How good is Band of Brothers? Not only does it sit atop IMDb’s list of Top Rated TV Shows, but it’s been there for years.
9. The Wire
Crime Drama | IMDb: 9.3 | Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
The Wire is a police drama unlike any other. It takes place in the city of Baltimore and follows a massive cast of characters that are so fleshed out that it can feel more like a documentary than a drama at times.
Each season offers a study of the various institutions of Baltimore—police, dockworkers, politicians, schools, the media—and shows how the problems of the city are intertwined and systemic.
For its sheer amount of dramatic depth and breadth, The Wire is one of the most acclaimed series of all time. It’s also available on Amazon Prime, making it one of the best TV shows on Amazon Prime
10. Curb Your Enthusiasm
Comedy | IMDb: 8.7 | Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
From the creator of Seinfeld comes a more cynical and absurd kind of comedy. Curb Your Enthusiasm follows a retired television writer, his family, and his friends. Like Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm feels very much like a “show about nothing.”
In addition to being awkwardly hilarious, it maintains a consistent quality over the course of its seasons. Taken in small doses, Curb Your Enthusiasm can be, and often is, laugh-out-loud funny.
Comedy Drama | IMDb: 7.8 | Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
Insecure has all the hilarity and cringe-worthiness of watching its leading lady try to navigate adulthood while refusing to grow up—but it also provides a fresh take on contemporary life.
The show stars Issa Rae, who also co-created the series, as she drifts through life in Los Angeles with her best friend. Between awkward hilarity, the series also provides a frank look at the social and racial issues faced by black women in America.
12. The Night Of
Crime Drama | IMDb: 8.5 | Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
This miniseries follows the story of a Muslim college student who is accused of murdering an acquaintance in New York City. The premise may sound rather run-of-the-mill, but The Night Of is packed with suspense.
What’s to love about this show? Many things, but its commitment to realism is something that’s rare in modern television. This realism amplifies the stakes and makes the story that much more meaningful.
13. Sharp Objects
Psychological Thriller | IMDb: 8.2 | Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Sharp Objects is a tense, dark miniseries with Amy Adams in the starring role. The story follows a crime reporter who is sent to cover a developing crime story in her hometown.
Not only does she need to grapple with the mystery surrounding the disappearance of two girls, but also her own mental health issues and alcoholism stemming from abuse during childhood. The series features twists and turns that unravel the facade of a sleepy, quiet town.
14. Big Little Lies
Drama | IMDb: 8.5 | Rotten Tomatoes: 89%
What goes on behind the closed doors of the wealthy homes in Monterey Bay? Much more than what the community thought, it turns out, when five women become embroiled in a murder investigation.
The series switches back and forth between past events and the police interrogation room during the first season, slowly revealing what took place. Meanwhile, the second season further explores the fallout that follows the events of the first.
The show quickly deconstructs the vapid charade put on by its characters to unearth compelling explorations of trauma, abuse, and the complexities of relationships.
15. Gentleman Jack
Period Drama | IMDb: 8.2 | Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
Gentleman Jack has many of the typical aspects of a classic period drama—family politics, business rivalries, and a lovable rogue who charms the ladies. However, this lovable rogue isn’t an English gentleman, but Anne Lister—a real-life landowner whose detailed diaries recounted her business dealings and romances with other women.
The series follows Lister as she returns to her home of Shibden Hall. Recently heartbroken, she spends her time trying to revive her family’s business and find a wife who she can settle down with.
Are These the Best Shows on HBO?
While there are ways to watch HBO for free
by utilizing free trials and limited offers, at $15/month, HBO Max is a bargain, quite honestly. Especially if you don’t have cable TV. And these shows, which we consider to be the best HBO shows ever made, are the reason why. Do you agree? If not, let us know in the comments below.
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