HBO Max may not boast Marvel properties or Bridgerton, but it more than makes up for that lack with big-budget fantasies like House of the Dragon, hidden-gem comedies like Los Espookys, and generally something perfect for every kind of binge-watcher. Here are 30 of the streamer’s must-see TV shows.
1. House of the Dragon (2022-present)
HBO’s tentpole event of the season delivers on everything you miss from Game of Thrones (read: political scheming and dragons) and some things you probably don’t (decaying flesh and incest). Matt Smith, Emma D’Arcy, Paddy Considine, and more help illustrate what Westeros was like during House Targaryen’s heyday—and how it all fell apart.
2. Our Flag Means Death (2022–present)
The 18th-century exploits of Edward Teach (a.k.a. Blackbeard) and gentleman-turned-pirate Stede Bonnet don’t exactly scream “queer romantic comedy,” but creator David Jenkins managed to make them just that in Our Flag Means Death. Rhys Darby stars as Bonnet, with Taika Waititi as Blackbeard.
3. Industry (2020–present)
This HBO Original from Mickey Down and Konrad Kay follows a set of scrappy young investment bankers struggling to find themselves and their places in London’s cutthroat finance world (which you don’t need to know a thing about in order to enjoy the show).
4. Abbott Elementary (2021–present)
Quinta Brunson’s much-beloved sitcom chronicles the trials and triumphs of the teachers at an inner-city Philadelphia elementary school, with Brunson herself starring alongside Sheryl Lee Ralph, Tyler James Williams, and Lisa Ann Walter. The show’s second season is currently airing on ABC, but season 1 is available to stream in full on HBO Max.
5. Mare of Easttown (2021)
Kate Winslet made a splash as small-town Pennsylvania detective Mare Sheehan, who tries to keep focused on a murder case while coping with a number of personal issues. Evan Peters and the always-brilliant Jean Smart co-star.
6. I May Destroy You (2020)
Michaela Coel’s semi-autobiographical magnum opus (so far) follows a writer grappling with the trauma of sexual assault and its impact on other parts of her life. It’s impossible not to be affected in some way by the rawness and realness of the show, and it’s also impossible to finish watching without thinking Coel—who wrote, produced, co-directed, and starred in it—is a once-in-a-generation storyteller and all-around genius.
7. The White Lotus (2021–present)
Mike White returned to TV in 2021 with a satirical dramedy miniseries set at a ritzy Hawaiian resort, which has since morphed into a full-on series series (season 2 is currently airing, and the show was just renewed for a third season). While you can always count on the likes of Jennifer Coolidge, Molly Shannon, and Steve Zahn to elicit big laughs, you’ll probably keep up a steady undercurrent of giggling (especially the type of nervous giggling that comes with secondhand embarrassment) at all the societal missteps and personal sabotage that goes on between spit-take moments. Season 2 swaps Hawaii for Italy, and all the guests but Coolidge change, too.
8. Hacks (2021–present)
Hacks tells the story of an unlikely, begrudging, tumultuous creative partnership between a cranky older stand-up comedian (Jean Smart again) and a sardonic up-and-coming comedy writer (played by Hannah Einbinder), both of whom are flailing professionally and personally. It’s riotous, witty, and even heartwarming—and well worth the watch if only so that you can join the masses screaming about how much they love Smart.
9. How To With John Wilson (2020–present)
Documentarian John Wilson takes to the streets of New York City to find people who can help him help you learn how to do everything from improving your memory to throwing out batteries. Side quests abound. “It’s kind of like that show Planet Earth, but if it was only in New York and David Attenborough was forced to film everything himself,” Wilson explains in the trailer.
10. Banshee (2013–2016)
Before he was Homelander on The Boys, Antony Starr was convict Lucas Hood, who pretends to be the newly arrived sheriff in a Pennsylvania town ruled by an Amish crime boss. This pulpy, witty action drama originally aired on Cinemax, but you can catch all four seasons here.
11. We’re Here (2020–present)
Bob the Drag Queen, Eureka O’Hara, and Shangela Laquifa Wadley—all alums of RuPaul’s Drag Race—travel to small towns across the nation to teach “drag daughters” the art of drag in this non-competitive Max Original reality series. Each episode is chock-full of personal growth and glitter, and culminates in a drag show. It’s basically a fusion of Queer Eye and RuPaul’s Drag Race, and it’s just as entertaining as you’d expect that to be.
12. Gossip Girl (2021–present)
The Gossip Girl reboot features enough trademark elements from the original show (The Met steps, Kristen Bell’s voiceover, very bad behavior, very good fashion, a presumably astronomical music-licensing budget, etc.) to entertain anyone who misses Blair, Serena, and the rest of the Upper East Siders. And this cast, led by Jordan Alexander, Whitney Peak, Thomas Doherty, and a few other relative newcomers, is captivating—and catty—enough to entice a whole new generation of Gossip Girl fans.
13. The Sex Lives of College Girls (2021–present)
This charming comedy from Mindy Kaling and Justin Noble captures all the social and physical fumbling that’s par for the course in college. Watching the leading foursome—played by Pauline Chalamet (yes, Timothée’s sister), Amrit Kaur, Reneé Rapp, and Alyah Chanelle Scott—navigate frat parties and roommate squabbles is significantly more entertaining than living through them yourself.
14. Doctor Who (2005–present)
In 2005, Russell T. Davies resurrected this BBC sci-fi classic for a new generation—and now he’s coming back as showrunner when Sex Education’s Ncuti Gatwa takes over as The Doctor. Christopher Eccleston originated the role in the “new” adventures of the iconic Time Lord, and was followed by a succession of new actors, including fan favorite David Tennant, House of the Dragon star Matt Smith, and outgoing Doctor Jodie Whittaker. You can jump into the TARDIS with all of them on the service.
15. Lovecraft Country (2020)
Jurnee Smollett and Jonathan Majors are unforgettable in this drama about a Black man looking for his father in the 1950s. Produced by J.J. Abrams and Jordan Peele, the show blends the horrors of Jim Crow-era America with horrors inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s fictional stories.
16. Los Espookys (2019–present)
From Fred Armisen, Julio Torres, and Ana Fabrega comes a hilariously absurdist series about a group of spooky friends who get contracted to carry out a variety of spooky gigs. The show—which features both English and Spanish—has mandatory subtitles, which actually amplify the comedy rather than detracting from it.
17. His Dark Materials (2019–present)
HBO carved out a niche in big-budget fantasy with Game of Thrones and continues to pursue that genre with His Dark Materials, based on the series of novels by Philip Pullman. Young orphan Lyra (Dafne Keen) navigates a multi-dimensional world full of anthropomorphic animals. Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) co-stars.
18. Euphoria (2019–present)
In Sam Levinson’s Euphoria, teenagers struggle to ground themselves amid drug addiction, new sexual experiences, family troubles, and a slew of coming-of-age issues. Zendaya leads a cast of extremely talented young actors—including Maude Apatow, Hunter Schafer, Sydney Sweeney, Jacob Elordi, and more—who make the series a must-watch.
19. A Black Lady Sketch Show (2019–present)
Drinking anything while watching A Black Lady Sketch Show is a dangerous game—every single sketch is spit-take-level hilarious. Robin Thede executive produces and stars in the series, which also features Ashley Nicole Black, Quinta Brunson, and Gabrielle Dennis, with guest appearances from celebrities like Angela Bassett, Laverne Cox, and co-creator/star Issa Rae (who is also one of the show’s executive producer). It’s the first sketch comedy series entirely created by and starring Black women, and sketches cover contemporary culture without ever straying into stale or trope-y territory—take, for example, this parody of “stans” through the lens of a 21st-century retelling of Romeo and Juliet.
20. Succession (2018–present)
The adult Roy children vie for their father’s (Brian Cox) approval and his media conglomerate in this Murdoch-inspired dramedy from Jesse Armstrong. What the characters lack in morals they more than make up for in wealth markers and biting wit (at least from an entertainment standpoint).
21. The Flight Attendant (2020–2022)
Based on Chris Bohjalian’s novel of the same name, The Flight Attendant chronicles the alcohol-addled misadventures of a flight attendant (Kaley Cuoco) who finds herself tangentially involved in a murder that might have ties to something even more nefarious. Rosie Perez, Zosia Mamet, Michiel Huisman, and Michelle Gomez co-star.
22. Station Eleven (2021–2022)
This evocative adaptation of Emily St. John Mandel’s novel of the same name captures the best and worst of humanity as characters try to survive in the aftermath of a devastating pandemic. Mackenzie Davis, Himesh Patel, and teenage Matilda Lawler—among many other cast members—all give standout performances.
23. Looking (2014–2016)
Heaps of critical acclaim weren’t enough to keep HBO from pulling the plug on Looking, but low viewership is no reason to skip its two existing seasons (plus a 2016 television film that serves as the series finale). It chronicles the lives of three gay friends in modern-day San Francisco: video game designer Patrick (Jonathan Groff), artist Agustín (Frankie J. Alvarez), and sommelier Dom (Murray Bartlett). Groff delivers the type of nuanced, earnest performance that his fans have come to expect from him in every role, and you’ll probably find yourself torn between wanting to binge-watch Looking all in one sitting and making it last as long as you can.
24. We Own This City (2022)
From The Wire creator David Simon comes yet another riveting story about corrupt cops in Baltimore. This six-episode miniseries, starring Jon Bernthal and Wunmi Mosaku, is based on Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton’s 2021 book about the real-life downfall of the Baltimore City Police Department’s Gun Trace Task Force.
25. The Righteous Gemstones (2019–present)
This Danny McBride-created and -starring series chronicles the exploits of the Gemstone family and their televangelist empire. But all you really need to know about the show is that Walton Goggins plays a character named “Uncle Baby Billy.”
26. Love Life (2020–present)
The first season of this Max Original anthology series follows Anna Kendrick’s Darby as she navigates a string of relationships in her mid-twenties. In the second season, it’s Marcus—played by William Jackson Harper of The Good Place—revisiting and reflecting on his partners past.
27. Friends (1994–2004)
Friends wasn’t off Netflix for long before it became available on HBO Max, but it probably felt like an eternity for anyone who plays the classic sitcom on a continuous loop. All 10 seasons—not to mention the reunion special—are available on the service.
28. Barry (2018–present)
Bill Hader takes on a tired genre—the reluctant hitman trying to go straight—and turns it on its ear in this alternately hilarious, darkly disturbing, and poignant comedy-drama. As Barry Berkman, Hader tries to distance himself from his violent occupation by pursuing acting. His life becomes divided between his thespian dreams and the whims of his handler, Monroe Fuches (Stephen Root), and his sometimes-rival NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan).
29. Nathan for You (2013–2018)
If you’re a fan of surrealist—and uncomfortable—improvisational comedy in the vein of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat, Nathan for You provides plenty of it. Writer and star Nathan Fielder is Nathan Fielder, a man willing to do whatever it takes to help ailing businesses succeed—even if it’s not at all what those businesses want. One Fielder start-up, a “parody” coffee house dubbed Dumb Starbucks, made national headlines in 2014. Pair Nathan for You with Fielder’s most recent offering, The Rehearsal, for an overdose of uncomfortable comedy.
30. Minx (2022–present)
Equal parts workplace comedy and homage to the 1970s porn industry, this fictional series follows the priggish Joyce Prigger (Ophelia Lovibond), whose lofty visions of changing the world with a high-brow feminist magazine don’t exactly come to fruition. Instead, she teams up with a charismatic porn publisher (New Girl’s Jake Johnson) to produce the first-ever NSFW magazine made for women.
A version of this story ran in 2020; it has been updated for 2022.