Since 2000, and especially in the previous ten years, there has been an explosion in science fiction with a huge number of projects being produced and released annually. Sci-fi is so intriguing because it allows us to use our imaginations to the fullest and immerse ourselves in alternate universes where anything is possible.
Moreover, thanks to extensive marketing campaigns, only a few sci-fi shows such as Westworld, Stranger Things and The 100 are popular among fans of the genre. However, due to the enormous volume of programs produced each year, many excellent series go unrecognized.
Updated on January 19, 2023, by Hannah Saab:
With exciting new sci-fi shows like The Peripheral and Severance generating buzz among small communities of fans online, it’s the best time to delve into more overlooked sci-fi series that deserve more love.
‘Future Man’ (2017 – 2020)
Future Man is a comedy sci-fi TV show that follows a janitor named Josh Futturman (Josh Hutcherson) who is underachieving at work but can easily beat his favorite and considerable undefeatable video game, Biotic Wars. Until the game’s two principal characters – Tiger (Eliza Coupe) and Wolf (Derek Wilson) – suddenly arrive and ask Josh for help in defending the planet from the actual Biotic Wars.
Viewers may feel drawn into the narrative and transported back in time by the film’s vibrant color scheme and retro design. Moreover, what makes the series so captivating is the character-based screenplay instead of the normal event-based motif that viewers often see in shows like this, adding depth to the program and balancing the occasionally too many gags.
’12 Monkeys’ (2015 – 2018)
12 Monkeys is an underrated time travel sci-fi show that is partially based on the 1995 Terry Gilliam movie of the same name. The show follows James Cole (Aaron Stanford) and Dr. Cassandra Railly (Amanda Schull), two random strangers who are drawn together by fate on a quest to use time travel to thwart the evil schemes of the mysterious group called “Army of the 12 Monkeys.”
12 Monkeys has a fairly light sense of humor for a program that is drenched in post-apocalyptic melancholy and regret. The show progresses so swiftly that if viewers are not paying enough attention, they may occasionally and easily miss certain important facts for the next segment.
Devs is a sci-fi thriller miniseries created by Alex Garland that follows a software developer Lily Chan (Sonoya Mizuno) who works for Forest’s (Nick Offerman) quantum computing business, Amaya. Lily quickly becomes involved in her boyfriend’s unexplained murder, which occurred on his first day at a new job at Devs.
Similar to Garland’s previous work, the show is incredibly stylish, with lively music and dreamy visuals. Moreover, the murder mystery premise in Devs is accompanied by philosophical ideas that are so profound and esoteric that it may be challenging for many viewers to fully comprehend. Fans should add the series to their watch list since it brilliantly portrays the unsettling, almost religious influence of tech giants that appear to dominate every aspect of our lives.
‘The Expanse’ (2015 – 2022)
Based on James S. A. Corey’s series of novels of the same name, The Expanse is a sci-fi TV series developed by Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby. The show is set in the near future when humanity has conquered the Solar System. The story follows a diverse group of protagonists as they unintentionally uncover and find themselves at the center of a plot that imperils the system’s precarious Cold War while coping with existential issues brought on by recently found alien technology.
The program has six seasons, and each season focuses on a distinct genre that may always be found to be new, intriguing and fascinating. Throughout its runtime, The Expanse never shied away from depicting the atrocities people may commit in the name of authority, discrimination, or corporate greed, which is why it’s so awe-inspiring.
‘Final Space’ (2018 – 2021)
Final Space is an adult-animated space opera TV series that centers on the interstellar adventures of an astronaut named Gary Goodspeed and his incredibly strong alien companion Mooncake (both voiced by series creator Olan Rogers) as they attempt to prevent the end of the universe.
Despite having a straightforward, cartoonish appearance, Final Space is extremely intricate. The program is like the courteous, nerdy, clever offspring of Rick and Morty and Futurama with just enough intrigue to keep viewers interested. Additionally, this series features a number of great performers and includes fascinating galactic terms that will please any sci-fi geeks.
‘Lost in Space’ (2018 – 2021)
A Netflix science fiction TV show called Lost in Space follows the escapades of the Robinson family of space colonists whose ship deviates from its intended trajectory. The Swiss Family Robinson, a novel published in 1812, served as the basis for the original 1965 television series of the same name.
The familial bond, in addition to the newly inhabited alien continent with a wrecked spaceship and deadly robots, is the secret to the show’s popularity and the reason it is so appealing to viewers outside ardent sci-fi fans. Lost in Space also has a lot of intriguing characters that are liked and easy to relate to, which draws viewers in and makes them feel close to the show.
‘Humans’ (2015 – 2018)
Humans is an AMC sci-fi drama based on the Swedish science fiction show Real Humans. The show takes place in a parallel present where Synths, highly evolved robotic servants that eerily resemble live servants, are the newest must-have device for any busy family. One struggling suburban family purchased a used Synth in the hopes of changing their way of life, but they soon learn that doing so has terrifying, far-reaching effects.
Although the show’s concept may not be novel in the sci-fi genre, Humans provides a more realistic sneak peek of what life would possibly be like with A.I. living among us. Additionally, the show focuses on the human side of the Synths and refers back to people rather than delving deeply into the science fiction aspect.
‘Counterpart’ (2017 – 2019)
Counterpart is a sci-fi thriller TV show that follows Howard Silk (J. K. Simmons) who works as a menial cog in a United Nations spy organization with offices in Berlin. Howard is forced into a shadowy world of intrigue, danger, and double-crossing when he learns that his organization controls the knowledge of a portal into a parallel dimension. The only person Howard can rely on is his nearly identical counterpart from this parallel world.
The show’s concept is not original, but that’s part of what makes it fascinating because Counterpart explores what makes each individual unique. Additionally, the show is elevated to a new level of complexity and excitement thanks to Simmons’ stunning and skillful performance.
‘Tales from the Loop’ (2020)
Tales from the Loop, a beautiful sci-fi drama TV show created and produced by Nathaniel Halpern, is based on Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag‘s art book of the same name. According to the show, the town’s residents wind up living in an alternate reality in which things that are impossible become attainable because of a scientific research facility called The Loop, located beneath the town.
Fans of the Netflix program Stranger Things may be reminded of Tales from the Loop‘s premise, however, this series takes a more adult and serious tone. The show is a terrific option for curious viewers looking for the answers to the sci-fi mystery because it is told with tenderness and care and features magnificent landscape compositions from filmmakers like Jodie Foster and Andrew Stanton.
‘Resident Alien’ (2021 – )
Resident Alien is a sci-fi comedy-drama TV show based on Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse‘s comic book of the same name. The show follows Dr. Harry Vanderspeigel (Alan Tudyk) whose identity is assumed by an alien that has crashed-landed on earth and is on a mission to wipe out humanity. He struggles with the ethical conundrum of his covert mission when he is requested to do an autopsy on the town’s doctor, who passed away under mysterious circumstances.
For sci-fi fans who can readily set aside the show’s lack of realism in favor of a good time and an engaging plot, the program is a terrific choice. Moreover, the showrunners execute their craft with amazing sincerity and knowledge. They make use of outdated clichés without being cynical and without constantly winking at the audience for a good laugh.
‘Salvation’ (2017 – 2018)
Salvation is a CBS science fiction drama series that follows Liam Cole (Charlie Rowe), an MIT grad student, and Darius Tanz (Santiago Cabrera), a tech genius, as they work together to stop an asteroid from crashing into the Earth. The asteroid is projected to destroy the Earth in six months, and the characters race against the clock to avoid the imminent disaster.
The well-written main characters perfectly complement the high-stakes scenario. The show also dives into the situation’s political and military aspects, as well as how the government is trying to deal with the inevitable crisis. Unfortunately, it did not last long and was discontinued after only two seasons, leaving fans with an unresolved cliffhanger that could’ve changed everything.
‘The 4400’ (2004 – 2007)
The 4400 follows a group of 4,400 people who were taken by aliens and then mysteriously returned to Earth unaged and with exceptional talents. Over time, it becomes clear that the biggest threat to the survivors isn’t off-planet.
The show gained traction due to its innovative premise and ability to blend science fiction with the deeply emotional aspects of the story. It also delves into topics like identity and power, all set against the backdrop of an intriguing government conspiracy. The show was canceled after four seasons, but it has since become a cult classic with a devoted following.
‘Alice in Borderland’ (2020 – )
Alice in Borderland is a Netflix series about a group of friends who are sent to a strange world in which they must play deadly games to survive. They’re all given “visas” that accrue points, and any player who runs out is immediately disqualified and killed. They soon find that things are more sinister than it seems.
It’s impossible not to binge-watch it with its intense action and suspenseful storytelling, believable actors, complex world-building and examination of themes like friendship, survival and power. The series’ second season further explores the reality that the players are forced to deal with, and leaves viewers with more questions than answers (in the best way possible).
‘The Peripheral’ (2022 – )
Set in a bleak yet chillingly familiar future where technology has changed society, The Peripheral follows a VR gamer, Flynne Fisher (Chloë Grace Moretz) as she explores a connection to an alternate reality. Along the way, she discovers details about a grim future of her own.
The slow-burn sci-fi series manages to paint a terrifying future in the subtlest of ways, which makes for a unique viewing experience. With a powerful performance from Moretz, the show has viewers eagerly waiting to hear more about a potential second season. Unless it gains traction in the coming months, it may become one of the best underrated sci-fi series of this decade.
‘Severance’ (2022 – )
Severance follows the unsettling story of Mark S. (Adam Scott) and his other officemates who are “innies.” They’re perfectly isolated from their “outties” through a mindwipe medical procedure dubbed “severance” that splits these two parts in the name of work-life balance. Both innies and outties soon learn bizarre and disturbing truths about a massive conspiracy by the corporation responsible for all of this, Lumon Industries.
With its biting satire of real-life workers’ plights, visually-stunning scenes and engrossing mystery, Severance is undoubtedly among the best shows from last year. It starts slow but escalates quickly once viewers are introduced to its bizarre setting, and is worth watching for its wholly original story and remarkable application of sci-fi elements.