An anthology series is a TV show that doesn’t tell just one continuous story season after season, and it’s an incredibly exciting format. Anthologies were popular way back in the early days of TV, but they’ve seen a real renaissance in the past few years. With hot shows like American Horror Story, TV producers have gotten creative with that the anthology format can offer.
While some regular TV shows stay around long after they should’ve been canceled, anthologies can always find ways to stay fresh and interesting. Here are all of the best recent anthology shows, along with some classics that are worth a throwback.
16. American Horror Story
If there’s one show that can be credited with starting the current anthology craze, it’s American Horror Story. When it debuted in 2011, AHS was a completely fresh idea, and audiences loved it. Creator Ryan Murphy has taken the show in lots of directions over the years, and every season is packed with plot twists. My personal favorite is Coven, but everyone is drawn to a different theme. All-star casts, anchored by Jessica Lange and Sarah Paulson, have kept this show new and exciting for seven seasons.
Who knew that this spin-off could be so great? Released in 1996, Fargo is a modern classic crime movie that takes place in Minnesota and North Dakota. The TV show lives in the same northern world as the movie, but the characters and time period change every season. The storylines are truly wild, and the accents never get old. This is the exact right way to make a movie into a TV series.
14. The Twilight Zone
Many modern anthology suspense shows take cues from the true classic The Twilight Zone. The show originally ran for five seasons from 1959-1964 and has had two revivals in the decades since. On the show, each episode is its own story, where characters deal with strange and unsettling events. The show was known for its unexpected plot twists and moral lessons, which kept viewers coming back week after week. There’s even a ride at Disney World based on the iconic show!
13. Black Mirror
One of the most popular recent anthology shows, each episode of Black Mirror feels like its own movie. The installments have a premise that examines modern society, and usually the effect of some futuristic technology. Some of the episodes are fairly serious, and many featured complex and disturbing themes about society. The show has become a viral hit since moving to Netflix, and each episode is a true conversation starter. If you ever want to really get to know someone, just ask about their favorite episode of Black Mirror.
In 2017, Ryan Murphy did it again on FX. For his third anthology series with the network, he decided to focus on famous real-life feuds. The first season, Bette & Joan, focused on the legendary drama between Hollywood icons Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. The two began to clash while filming the cult classic Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, and the beef between the two stars would last the rest of their lives. The title roles were played spectacularly by Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange, and the show was campy and delicious. The second season will focus on Prince Charles and Princess Diana, which should be a ton of fun.
11. American Crime
Despite the similar title, this ABC anthology series is pretty different from American Crime Story. The cast for all three seasons was anchored by Felicity Huffman and Regina King, and the stories being told were relevant and gripping. They dealt with important issues like race and gender politics, all put in the context of exciting criminal cases. The show was canceled after three seasons, but it got great reviews while it was on the air. Regina King got particular praise for her role, and won two Emmy awards for her work on the show.
10. Tales from the Crypt
This horror anthology aired on HBO from 1989-1996, and it pulled out all the stops in telling its creepy stories. Most of the material was based on the 1950s comics of the same name, so the stories fit nicely into each episode. Because the show was on premium cable, there were no limits on what they could show, so there’s lots of violence, profanity, and all-around inappropriate situations. In that way, Tales from the Crypt really feels like you’re watching a 20-minute movie. Some of the effects might be a little dated, but this show is great to dive into if you’re feeling a little spooky.
9. Electric Dreams
With Electric Dreams, Amazon has officially entered the anthology series game. They went big, adapting some of the science fiction stories of legendary author Philip K. Dick. Bryan Cranston is one of the show’s executive producer, and the show features acting contributions from stars like Cranston, Steve Buscemi, and Anna Paquin. The first season received mixed reviews, but the intriguing concepts and strong visuals are enough to make this show worth a watch. Great science fiction stories have the power to make you think long and hard, and these stories are pretty crazy.
If you grew up with access to a library, you probably read at least a few of the Goosebumps books. The books were exciting and quick to get through, and they were just the right amount of creepy. On the TV show, each episode is based on a different story from the books, and you’ve probably seen them on VHS. There are 74 episodes, including six hour-long specials. Goosebumps was a staple of any ’90s childhood, which probably means I’ll end up looking up clips on YouTube later tonight.
7. True Detective
The first season of True Detective is definitely worth watching. Starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, the show follows a pair of detectives investigating a serial killer in Louisiana. The season was universally praised and won many awards. The second season, however, got mostly negative reviews and was nowhere near as successful as the first. There’s still a third season in the work starring Mahershala Ali, which could easily land this show back on the must-watch list. Fingers crossed!
6. Room 104
Room 104 succeeds on a simple but very unique premise. The entire show is set in a single motel room on Long Island and each episode explores different characters who pass through the room. This genius concept allows the show to take a completely different tone every episode, and it could literally go anywhere. The first season was received positively in 2017, and there’s a second on the way. Created by brothers Jay and Mark Duplass, Room 104 is probably one of the most interesting shows on television right now.
5. Inside No. 9
There’s something about a British dark comedy/horror/anthology show that just feels right. Inside No. 9 was created by Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, and they star in every episode with different supporting casts. The episodes all tell different stories, tied together only by some association with the number nine. For a funny little touch, there’s also a metallic rabbit that appears in the background of each episode. This show does an excellent job of merging the horror genre with the dry British humor that we all love.
4. Masters of Horror
There’s no real common link in the episodes of Masters of Horror other than that they were all directed by top talent in the industry. The idea for the show came about in a pretty unique way. Back in 2002, creator Mick Garris invited ten of his director friends to dinner, and they ended up hitting it off. The dinners became a regular event, and eventually many of the guests directed one-hour episodes of the show. The stories vary widely from episode to episode, but every time, you get to watch a master at work.
Many of the best anthology series are all about suspense and horror, but there’s no reason they have to be. The Netflix original series Easy tells lots of different stories about love and other issues, and they all range from comedy to drama. The show is very endearing, and the anthology format allows for lots of famous guest stars. In the first two seasons, stars such as Orlando Bloom, Dave Franco, and Aubrey Plaza have all taken turns on the show. The ability for fun, unexpected casting is truly one of the best things about the anthology format.
2. Alfred Hitchcock Presents
The Master of Suspense did more than just movies. Alfred Hitchcock is best remembered for his classic suspense films like Psycho and Vertigo, but his anthology TV series ran for a full decade. In more than 350 episodes, countless fascinating stories of mystery, suspense, and drama are told, in a way that only Mr. Hitchcock could dream up. More than 50 years after it last aired, Alfred Hitchcock Presents is still a classic, and the gold standard when it comes to anthology series.
1. American Crime Story
Ryan Murphy is one of the hottest names in TV, and he’s behind a few of the top anthology series. American Crime Story tells a different true crime story each season, and the first two seasons have been unreal. The first season, which focused on the murder trial of OJ Simpson, received universal acclaim and basically won every award. Sarah Paulson was amazing as prosecutor Marcia Clark, and the entire supporting cast was just great. The recent second season told the story of Gianni Versace‘s murder, and it was also pretty strong.