All Superman TV shows, Ranked

The best and worst of what Superman TV shows have to offer.

by Leora Waltuch
Image: Fleischer Cartoons

As you’ve probably heard, James Gunn is upending the DCU. Pretty soon we’ll have a whole new multiverse, and in 2025, we’ll have an all new Superman. This is hardly the first time Superman has been revamped. Superman is the original superhero, created in the 1930s by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. He’s been gracing television screens since the 1950s, and remains a significant part of pop-culture to this day.

Ranking all Superman Television Shows from Worst to Best

If we go back through the history, there have been a number of Superman television shows. Some have been amazing, and some have been truly terrible. Still, the Man of Steel has always had a presence on our screens. Check out our list below, as we rank the atrocious to the must-watch Superman television shows.

9. Superboy (1988-1992)

Superboy Intro

Superboy is about Superman in college, back when he was Superboy, which is basically Superman, but younger. He had the cape and everything. This earlier version of our hero did exist in the comics, but had been rewritten out of them before the show premiered. The show was trying to cash in on the popularity of the Superman movies starring Christopher Reeve. Why they chose to make a Superboy show instead of a Superman show is unclear, but they sure played up the camp element of the movies, which didn’t work well for the show.

This was the 80s, and the special effects look pretty laughable now. You need some good acting and plots to make up for that, which the show didn’t have. They knew it too, replacing both the actor playing Superboy/Clark and the actor playing Lex Luthor after season one. Supposedly, the show got better in the later seasons, and it does have some fans, but in comparison to all the other shows, it is forgettable.

8. Justice League (2001-2004)

Justice League Intro

Justice League wasn’t so much a Superman show as an ensemble show about superheroes including Superman. It followed up Superman: The Animated Series and Batman: The Animated Series. Because Superman had his own show in this universe already, time wasn’t wasted on his backstory, and he wasn’t exactly the center of attention. To let other superheroes shine, he was often shown as weaker than he should be, which bugged a lot of fans.

However, Superman did play a significant role in the ensemble’s dynamic, as shown in the season two episode “Hereafter,” where Superman is seemingly dead. The other heroes all mourn, doubting whether the Justice League can even still exist without Superman. Meanwhile, Superman is trapped in the future where Earth has been destroyed because he wasn’t around to protect it, and he has to return to the past to prevent that from happening. There are some great Superman moments, but it’s not a Superman show, strictly speaking.

7. Justice League Unlimited (2004-2006)

Justice League Unlimited Intro

Justice League Unlimited is a continuation of Justice League. With an even bigger ensemble cast, you would think Superman would have even fewer chances to shine, but he always finds a way. Overall, the show is considered superior to Justice League by many, since the creators had more time to work out the kinks.

There are a few episodes throughout the show’s three seasons that focus on Superman. The Season 1 Episode “For The Man Who Has Everything,” shows Superman struggle with choosing reality over a fantasy world where Krypton was never destroyed and he has a happy family, including a son. It gives an interesting look at Superman’s psyche. Other episodes such as “Clash,” and “Destroyer,” have great Superman moments.

6. Superman (1988)

Superman Intro

This lesser-known animated series had a lot going for it when it was created. It was a passion project of comic writers and Superman lovers. Superman was animated to look like Christopher Reeve. For their intro, they used the same script as The Adventures of Superman from the ’50s. This show was meant to play on nostalgia, as well as create nostalgia.

The show wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great and only lasted 13 episodes. The best part was the five-minute “Family Album” segment at the end of each episode. These clips were adorable, slice-of-life moments, where Clark was just a rambunctious child with powers and the Kents were trying to handle him.

5. Superman: The Animated Series (1996-2000)

Superman: The Animated Series Intro

Before Bruce Timm brought us the sequel series Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, he created Superman: The Animated Series. This series was groundbreaking. Yes, it was for kids, and it was only 20-30 minutes, so any storyline that wasn’t a two-parter was wrapped up rather neatly. The dark and gritty were avoided. Still, the show is what many fans think of when they think of an animated Superman. It was fun and engaging for all Superman fans.

Clark and Lois’ dynamic was great. The origin story of how Clark got to earth was expertly done. Finally, there was a reason why his parents couldn’t go with him that actually made sense! You can see the handprints of other shows, not to mention the comics, all over this show, and it’s done beautifully. Also, their Lex Luthor is iconic. He perfectly captures everything Lex Luthor the villain should be. If you’re a Superman superfan who loves animation and doesn’t mind a more PG show, this is the binge for you!

4. Superman and Lois (2021-Present)

Superman and Lois Trailer

This one was tricky because it’s still running, so it might get a lot better or a lot worse by the time its run is over. As it stands, with two seasons under its belt and Season 3 premiering March 14th on the CW, Superman and Lois is a pretty strong Superman interpretation. While the show itself is a little dark, Superman himself remains a symbol of hope and light.

This version of Superman has never been done on television before. Superman and Lois portray Superman as a father, with two teenage boys who are facing their own struggles. Seeing Superman as a father is a reminder of how strong he is and how much he cares. It’s a reminder of why he does everything he does. He loves so strongly, and it drives him to want to take care of people. That drive extends beyond his family because that’s who he is as a person. This show really highlights that. His dynamic with Lois is awesome, and the new characters are interesting. Their interpretation of Lana is great, as is her dynamic with the Kents. This show has so much to offer. Let’s just hope its quality only goes up, up, and away.

3. The Adventures of Superman (1952-1958)

The Adventures of Superman Intro

This show has to be on our list because it was the first Superman television show ever made. It’s iconic, and its OG fans still love it today.

This Superman, played by George Reeves, is a bit of a detective. He solves crimes and fights criminals more than super-powered baddies. He’s so different than the character we’ve come to know over the past 84 years, and yet, he is easily recognizable as exactly who he is: Superman. The show is worth binging for any Superman fan who wants to see where it all began.

2. Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993-1997)

Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman Intro

What if, instead of an action series, a Superman show focused on the love story? That’s the question the creators of Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman asked when they created the show. The answer was that the show would have a cult following and last four seasons.

Part of the charm of the show, romance aside, is that it’s just as much about Clark Kent as it is Superman. Clark is not just our hero. Lois is not just our damsel in distress. These are two fully formed people who are trying to figure out everything from their careers and their love lives. The will-they-won’t-they two-person love triangle of Lois/Clark/Superman was so much fun to watch, but the best part is that in the end, it isn’t Superman that Lois falls in love with, but her mild-mannered best friend and co-worker. As he says in one iconic line from Season 2, “Superman is what I can do, Clark Kent is who I am.” Who wouldn’t want to get to know Clark Kent?

1. Smallville (2001-2011)

Smallville Original Trailer

Speaking of Clark Kent, ever wonder how he became Superman? After all, he didn’t just wake up one day and decide to save the world; he went on a journey often referred to as an origin story. That story was told by Smallville. Contrary to popular belief, this is not Superman as a kid; it’s Clark Kent’s coming of age as he becomes Superman.

For ten years, fans watched with bated breath as Clark went through the trials and tribulations of his teens and early twenties. He discovered his powers, dealt with peer pressure, made friends and enemies, found and lost love. Seeing Clark go on this journey was amazing, but even more intriguing was seeing how Lex Luthor went from being Clark’s friend to a villain. Michael Rosenbaum is the ultimate Lex Luthor. He is a man trying so hard to be good but destined to be anything but, because of his upbringing and the betrayals he faces over the years. The show also featured Clark’s high school sweetheart Lana Lang, who was a much more complex character than the movies would have you believe.

This show had such a great cast, such a story to tell, so many great characters, arcs, and twists. Eight of its ten seasons were near flawless, and the other two were … there. Overall, it was the longest-lasting Superman show that still permeates a cultural consciousness.

- This article was updated on February 17th, 2023