Disney launched its exclusive streaming service, Disney+, with a bang. The service is home to a slew of cinematic-quality Marvel content, including shows like Wandavision and Loki. These new series all offer a deeper look at our favorite heroes than the movies can grant, making them a unique addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Notably, these aren’t Marvel’s first foray into live-action TV. The studio’s first show, Agents of SHIELD, started airing in 2013. That show, and follow-ups like Agent Carter and the Netflix Defenders shows, fell under the Marvel Television umbrella. While these shows borrowed elements from the main MCU, the movies never returned the favor. The new crop of MCU shows on Disney+, on the other hand, will have a two-way street in terms of narrative continuity.
Today, we’re ranking the new MCU shows so far to see how they stack up against other recent Marvel series. Fans adored series like Daredevil and Agent Carter, but do they hold a candle to the official MCU shows?
Warning: Spoilers for every MCU show follow after the break.
Inhumans is a mess of a television show. The series aired on ABC in 2017 and received scathing reviews from critics and fans. Showrunner Scott Buck, who also worked on poorly reviewed seasons of Dexter and Iron Fist, was singled out by reviewers as one of the worst showrunners in the business.
Critics derided Inhumans for its melodramatic writing and shoddy special effects. The show received only an 11% rating from Rotten Tomatoes, and its viewership failed to impress ABC executives. It was unceremoniously canceled on May 11, 2011. Now, there’s fan speculation that Marvel might resurrect the show with a reboot on Disney+.
14. Iron Fist
Iron Fist is another misstep from showrunner Scott Buck. The messy Netflix show is the weakest of the four Marvel Knights series due to its underwhelming fight choreography and numerous boardroom sequences. The show, which ostensibly follows a master martial artist, spends more time focusing on the internal politics of Rand Enterprises than on protagonist Danny Rand’s combat prowess.
The few times the show deigns to show audiences Danny’s mystical powers, the fights are brief and confusing to follow. Thankfully, Iron Fist isn’t a complete waste of time: Finn Jones is a likable actor and does a great job bringing Danny Rand to life on the small screen. Hopefully, he can redeem his underwhelming TV series with future appearances in the MCU.
13. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
Marvel Studios intended for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier to be their first Disney+ series. However, scheduling issues shuffled the release dates of Wandavision and Falcon, resulting in the more straightforward Captain America sequel slipping, becoming the second MCU show.
Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan turn in stellar performances as Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes. The show focuses on the legacy of Captain America and explores what it means for Sam Wilson to take up the mantle as a black man. Sadly, the series suffers from convoluted scripts in the later episodes that make the final confrontations confusing and nonsensical.
12. Luke Cage
Luke Cage gave audiences a glimpse at the MCU’s version of Harlem, a city devastated by the events of The Avengers and recovering from decades of racial inequality. The titular hero, Luke Cage, is a man with unbreakable skin and a checkered past. His attempts to shield his neighborhood from organized crime and corrupt authority figures make him one of the most compelling heroes in Marvel’s deep roster.
The series struggled to keep viewers engaged after its first season, sadly. The show lost exemplary villain Cottonmouth halfway through its first season, halting its momentum. That misstep pushes Luke Cage lower on this list than some fans would like to see it.
11. Cloak and Dagger
Cloak and Dagger and its sibling show, Runaways, were marketed as young adult fare. Reviewers likened the series to other stylish young adult series like Riverdale and Teen Wolf. The show is tenuously connected to the larger Marvel universe at best. But, it technically shares continuity with the MCU.
Cloak and Dagger is an enjoyable show, but audiences broadly overlooked its status as an official Marvel series. The young adult drama follows Tandy Bowen and Tyrone Johnson, the inseparable crime-fighting duo Cloak and Dagger. Its most notable strength is the on-screen chemistry between the excellent stars: Olivia Holt and Aubrey Joseph.
Runaways aired on Hulu for three seasons and focused on a group of young superheroes who use their abilities to stop their supervillain parents. The heroes battle against the Pride in the first two seasons before turning their attention to recurring Marvel villain Morgan le Fey in the third season.
All three seasons of Runaways were well-received by critics, but the show suffered from low viewership. Hulu canceled the show in 2019 despite strong critical reception. Reviewers heaped praise on the young actors who played the Runaways, as well as their evil parents.
Defenders allowed the Netflix Marvel Knights a chance to come together and fight crime as a team. Netflix billed the event as the small-screen version of The Avengers, with the four superheroes finding a way to fight as a team instead of tackling their problems alone.
Defenders playfully hints at Iron Fist and Luke Cage’s legendary team-up, the Heroes for Hire. It also adds depth to Matt Murdock’s character, delving into his backstory with Elektra and the Hand criminal syndicate. Krysten Ritter steals every scene she appears in, bringing Jessica Jones’ trademark wit to bear and keeping the group focused.
8. Agent Carter
The only thing wrong with Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter character in the first Captain America film is that she didn’t get enough screen time. Marvel corrected this with the release of Agent Carter, which ran during Agents of SHIELD’s mid-season breaks. The series aired on ABC, like its sibling show.
The series offers a unique look into the MCU’s 1940s era, showing audiences the pulp-inspired adventures of Agent Carter and Howard Stark. The show’s first season is one of the most well-regarded pieces of media from the Marvel universe: it received a glowing 96% from Rotten Tomatoes, indicating near-universal acclaim.
7. What If…?
What If…? is the first animated show to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The series uses its computer-generated medium to explore bizarre elements of the universe. What If…? opens the toy box and plays with fun ideas like “what if the Avengers never assembled?” or “what if zombies took over the Marvel universe?”
The series boasts impressive animation quality and a star-studded voice cast. Big-name MCU actors like Tom Hiddleston and Benedict Cumberbatch reprise their film roles in the show. Even when the original actor isn’t available, the series casts impressive sound-alikes to give the proceedings the feeling of a big-budget Marvel movie.
6. Agents of SHIELD
Agents of SHIELD was Marvel’s first foray into TV shows, and it offered mixed results at first. The show found its footing after the first season, though, introducing viewers to comics staples like the Inhumans, life-model decoys, and the hellish superhero Ghost Rider.
The series aired its final season in 2020, culminating in a two-part finale that was equal parts touching and exciting. Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige remains frustratingly tight-lipped about the show’s canonicity, though. It’s unclear whether the larger MCU will ever acknowledge Agents of SHIELD’s biggest plot points.
5. Jessica Jones
It’s hard to imagine anyone besides Krysten Ritter playing the hard-drinking private investigator Jessica Jones. The series adapts the best parts of Marvel’s street-level heroes, from the realistic look at life in the big city to the character’s struggles with addiction and toxic relationships.
David Tennant puts on an acting clinic with his chilling turn as the villain Kilgrave, known in the comics as the Purple Man. Kilgrave’s terrifying superpower, mind control through the power of irresistible suggestion, makes him a perfect match for the super-strong Jessica Jones.
Wandavision was the first live-action Disney+ show, thanks to a scheduling mix-up with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Wanda’s series coming first might have been for the best. It’s a meta-commentary on television’s role in presenting “normal” life, with Wanda’s bubble reality taking the shape of sitcoms from across the decades as she struggles to maintain the illusion of a happy life.
Wandavision gives Wanda Maximoff space to grieve after the rapid-fire tragedies of losing her brother and husband within three years of one another. It’s a vital piece of Marvel mythmaking, giving the Scarlett Witch a compelling origin story ahead of her presumably increased role in the MCU.
The Hawkeye series adapts Matt Fraction’s excellent 2012 run and introduces audiences to Kate Bishop. The series serves as a character study for Clint Barton, the original Hawkeye, and a tour de force for the up-and-coming Kate Bishop.
Hawkeye also brings Vincent D’Onofrio’s incomparable take on Kingpin back into the MCU’s canon. D’Onofrio is as electric as ever in the series finale, reminding audiences why even the Avengers are hesitant to tangle with The Big Man.
Tom Hiddleston is the best part of any MCU film he appears in. As such, it’s a no-brainer that he’s stunning in the title role on Loki. Loki is at the top of the list of Marvel characters who deserved their own show, thanks to his complicated motivations and occasional turns as a supervillain.
The series also opens the door for Loki to return to the main MCU timeline following his defeat at the hands of Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War. Fans can’t wait to see the God of Mischief reunite with his estranged brother, Thor.
Daredevil is the best Marvel TV show, and it’s not a close contest. Loki and Hawkeye are phenomenal shows, but neither reaches the same heights as Daredevil.
Charlie Cox was born to play Matt Murdock. He perfectly balances Matt’s affable daytime persona with the intensity that underscores his Daredevil alter-ego. The show also features heart-pounding fight choreography, stunning cinematography, and gripping performances from the supporting cast.
D’Onofrio deserves special praise for his role as series antagonist Kingpin. His Wilson Fisk is a terrifying monster, but the veteran actor grounds him with a believable performance and affecting pathos.