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Shows Like One Tree Hill That Drama Fans Need To See

The year was 2003. Matchbox Twenty and 3 Doors Down were topping the charts, Myspace had only just launched, and The WB was the king of teen TV. It was in this auspicious year that the beloved teen drama "One Tree Hill" premiered. Lasting for an impressive nine seasons (making it one of the longest-running teen shows in history), the series quickly became a mainstay on The WB (later The CW) and was revered by fans.

"One Tree Hill" takes place in a small town called Tree Hill, North Carolina, and follows several teenagers as they muddle through high school, and later adulthood. (The series neglected to show us their college years — college often being the curse of teen shows — instead opting to skip ahead four years in Season 5). The main cast of characters includes loner Lucas (Chad Michael Murray); his best friend, the studious Hayley (Bethany Joy Lenz); his estranged half-brother Nathan (James Lafferty); Nathan's angsty, music-loving girlfriend Peyton (Hilarie Burton); and popular girl and cheerleader Brooke (Sophia Bush). 

The title of the series comes from something Lucas' mom says to him –- "there's only one Tree Hill, and it's your home" — and fans love the series' small-town feel. It's also a show about sports, as Lucas and Nathan are the star players on their school's basketball team (with Nathan going on to play in the pros). As opposed to other glitzy teen shows like "Gossip Girl" or "90210," "One Tree Hill" was always framed as a show about characters you can relate to in some way, albeit with some Shakespearean, soap-operatic storylines thrown in.

"One Tree Hill" ended in 2012, and for the show's most dedicated fans, it may be hard to find another show to take its place. Nonetheless, if you're willing to take the chance on starting another TV-based obsession, here are some shows that embody the elements that made "One Tree Hill" so special.

Friday Night Lights

Like "One Tree Hill," "Friday Night Lights" is a show about high school sports and all the drama they entail, especially in a small town. Set in the town of Dillon, Texas, the series follows Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler) as he leads the local football team to victory. "Friday Night Lights" has consistently been called one of the best American shows in recent memory, genre notwithstanding. The show focuses on the complicated interior lives of its characters, touching on issues like substance abuse, racism, and classism throughout its run.

Where "Friday Night Lights" differs from "One Tree Hill" is in its style and tone, which leans more towards gritty realism as opposed to the more dramatic — though still grounded — elements of "One Tree Hill." The style is epitomized by the artistic choice to film the whole series using handheld cameras, which lends the show a documentary-like quality, separating it from other, more polished American dramas. 

What both shows do well is illustrate the pressures of high school athletes, and the powder keg that high school sports can become when players and fans get too wrapped up in the game. So, if you're looking for something like "One Tree Hill" that's injected with a bit more realism and grit, look no further than "Friday Night Lights."

Gilmore Girls

Like "One Tree Hill," "Gilmore Girls" is set in a small town, and this setting is hugely important to the show. You might even say — as is often said about films or shows set in New York City — that the town of Stars Hollow is its own character in the show. The series centers primarily on a mother and daughter duo named Lorelai and Rory (also technically named Lorelai), played by Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel, respectively. Unlike "One Tree Hill," "Gilmore Girls" is not quite a teen show, although Rory is a teenager for the first few seasons, so half of the action centers on teen life during those seasons.

While "One Tree Hill" certainly has its funny moments (like when Brooke takes too many painkillers and went on a road trip with Peyton and Hayley), "Gilmore Girls" certainly ups the ante when it comes to humor and whimsy, with Lorelai and Rory constantly exchanging witty banter in every episode. (In fact, they talk so fast on the show that the scripts were routinely twice as long as an average television script.) The show also premiered in 2000 on The WB, so you might find some cultural and stylistic similarities between it and "One Tree Hill." While there are no sports to be found in "Gilmore Girls," it is a show about complicated family dynamics and the unique experiences of growing up in a small town. For that reason, it's worth a shot if "One Tree Hill" is your jam.


On the surface, "Smallville" actually seems quite similar to "One Tree Hill." It's a teen show set in an average American town, with the first four seasons following the show's characters as they navigate high school. The difference between the two, however, is that "Smallville" also happens to be a superhero show. The series focuses on a young Clark Kent (Tom Welling) as he comes to discover his superpowers and tries to hide them from his friends, including romantic interest Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk) and his eventual nemesis, Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum).

"Smallville" premiered in 2001, and at the time of its release set a ratings record for a WB debut series. Like "One Tree Hill," the characters in "Smallville" graduate high school after the fourth season and begin their careers, with Clark, of course, beginning his job as a reporter at the Daily Planet. Similar to the early days of the relationship between Lucas and Nathan, "Smallville" also features a complicated relationship between two close male companions — Clark and Lex. (Though Lucas and Nathan's relationship is eventually repaired, Clark and Lex's, as you may know, is certainly not). If you're looking for a show like "One Tree Hill" but with some comic book elements, check out "Smallville."


Like "Smallville," "Roswell" is another show that is similar to "One Tree Hill" with the addition of some supernatural themes. "Roswell" premiered in 1999 on — can you guess what network? — that's right, The WB. As you might be able to surmise from its title, the series is set in Roswell, New Mexico, and centers on a girl-next-door waitress named Liz (Shiri Appleby) who encounters a group of aliens living in her hometown. The series was created by Jason Katims, who has created several other successful dramas such as "Friday Night Lights" and "Parenthood." A reboot of the series premiered on The CW in 2019.

When a handsome guy saves Liz's life, she learns his secret: he and his friends are aliens. The rest of the series follows the lives of Liz and her friends as they learn more about this alien world, while Liz falls in love with the alien that saved her (Max, played by Jason Behr). Though the show only lasted three seasons (the series finale had the main characters preparing to graduate high school), it had a dedicated group of fans (in fact, the series was saved from cancellation by a fan campaign that involved sending bottles of hot sauce to The WB), and is worth rewatching today. Like "One Tree Hill," "Roswell" focuses on everyday, relatable characters, albeit under supernatural circumstances.

Veronica Mars

"Veronica Mars" is another teen show set in a small town that "One Tree Hill" fans might like. The show was created by Rob Thomas (who would go on to co-create "90210"), and premiered on the UPN in 2004. It takes place in the fictional town of Neptune, California, and centers on a local teen named Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) who solves mysteries in her free time under the tutelage of her private investigator father. Though she used to be popular, Veronica is now an outcast as a result of several traumas she endured as a young teen. This makes her the perfect person to observe the goings-on of her high school from afar, never getting too close to anyone involved – except for when she falls in love with the popular guy in her class, Logan Echols (Jason Dohring).

In many ways, Lucas and Veronica are similar characters in their respective shows — they're both outsiders raised by single parents, and they both narrate their shows. Indeed, the narration is an important part of both series, as Lucas uses the voice-over to tell us the moral themes of each "One Tree Hill" episode and quote his favorite pieces of literature, while Veronica uses her trademark snark to describe her latest case. 

While "Veronica Mars" is certainly more sardonic than "One Tree Hill," at its core it's an earnest show about a girl trying to follow her passions and overcome her traumas — a description that could also apply to many of the characters on "One Tree Hill." While Veronica and Lucas probably wouldn't have gotten along had they gone to the same high school, Veronica and Peyton very well might have. Check out the show to test this hypothesis yourself.


"Parenthood," created by "Friday Night Lights" and "Roswell” creator Jason Katims, is an emotional family drama centering on several generations of the Braverman family. The show also stars Lauren Graham of "Gilmore Girls" fame, playing a character that is actually quite similar to Lorelai Gilmore. The series is set in Berkeley, California, which does not quite fit the qualifications of a small town, but the complicated family dynamics of the show are still likely to endear it to those who enjoy "One Tree Hill." In particular, the series' focus on relationships between siblings is one thing it has in common with "One Tree Hill."

Like "One Tree Hill," the tone of Parenthood is heartfelt and earnest, without veering too far into soap opera territory. As in "Friday Night Lights," the characters are written as people you could meet in real life, with problems you might be able to relate to. Though it never gained a huge audience, the show ran for six seasons, with The New Yorker's Emily Nussbaum calling it "one of only two great dramas on network television" (along with "The Good Wife"). If you're looking for something like "One Tree Hill" but with a more "grown-up" spin, "Parenthood" might be for you.

Degrassi: The Next Generation

"Degrassi" is the longest-running drama series in Canadian history, having aired consecutively on television since 1986. There have been several iterations of Degrassi in that time, with each new series centering on a new "generation" of teenagers. The one fans of "One Tree Hill" are probably most familiar with is "Degrassi: The Next Generation," which ran from 2001 to 2009. "Degrassi" is famous for a number of things, one of which is the show's casting process. Instead of casting established 20-something actors, the show put out casting calls for actual teenagers — many of whom had little acting experience — which makes the show feel much more grounded and real. (Though to be fair, James Lafferty was only 18 when he first appeared on "One Tree Hill"). You might recall that Drake actually got his start on "Degrassi."

"Degrassi" is also famous for tackling many issues that teens across the world face, such as sexual assault, eating disorders, substance abuse, mental health issues, and bullying. Certainly, some of these issues are addressed on "One Tree Hill" as well (like when Nathan struggles to cope with becoming paralyzed), but "Degrassi" has always has a mission to address these issues in a way that might be helpful to those watching. "Degrassi: The Next Generation" is worth your time if you're looking for a teen show that explores some of the same issues as "One Tree Hill," but in a grittier, more realistic manner.

Dawson's Creek

As you might have guessed, "Dawson's Creek" is told from the perspective of the titular character, Dawson (James Van Der Beek). This is similar to the structure of "One Tree Hill," which features an ensemble of characters, but is narrated by Lucas for as long as he is on the series. "Dawson's Creek" is set in the fictional town of Capeside, Massachusetts (though, like "One Tree Hill," was actually filmed in Wilmington, North Carolina), and centers on Dawson and his friends: Joey (Katie Holmes), who is in love with him; Pacey (Joshua Jackson); and new girl Jen (Michelle Williams).

Funnily enough, one of the things "Dawson's Creek" has in common with "One Tree Hill" is that Dawson himself is almost universally agreed to be the worst character on the show. Much like Lucas, he appears as a "nice guy" who is actually not so nice after all. (Lucas has been criticized for similar reasons). Despite this, the show does actually include other likable characters, most of whom are played by actors who would go on to become stars. If you can handle a less-than-perfect main character, you might want to give "Dawson's Creek" a try.

The O.C.

The Fox teen drama "The O.C." premiered in August of 2003, just one month before the premiere of "One Tree Hill." As you might be able to guess, the show is set in Orange County, California, which is less of a small town and more of an exclusive community. Certainly, this is a significant difference between "The O.C." and "One Tree Hill," as environment and wealth definitely play a role in both shows in different ways. Both shows could certainly be described as teen soaps, however, with the angst levels in "The O.C." reaching peak capacity beginning with the arrival of outsider Ryan (Ben McKenzie).

In actuality, one of the biggest things "One Tree Hill" and "The O.C." have in common is the music. While both feature iconic theme songs ("I Don't Wanna Be" and "California," respectively), they also prominently feature music throughout. The music supervisor on "The O.C." was the Grammy-nominated Alexandra Patsavas, whose music tastes have shaped a generation of pop culture and helped launch the careers of bands like Death Cab for Cutie. Illustrative of this point is the fact that both shows featured all-ages clubs where real-life bands played, cementing the importance of music in each show. (In "One Tree Hill" Hayley is actually a musician herself.) Come for the music, stay for the characters.

The Vampire Diaries

Like "One Tree Hill," "The Vampire Diaries" is another show about two brothers in a small town. The catch, of course, is that both brothers happen to be vampires. Based on the book series of the same name, "The Vampire Diaries" is set in the fictional town of Mystic Falls, Virginia, and centers on Elena Gilbert (Nina Dobrev), a teenage girl who has just lost her parents in a car accident. As tends to happen in these stories, while struggling with her grief, Elena winds up falling in love with a vampire named Stefan Salvatore (Paul Wesley). When Stefan's brother Damon (Ian Somerhalder) comes to town, things get more complicated, and a love triangle ensues.

Though "The Vampire Diaries" is significantly darker than "One Tree Hill" (both literally and figuratively), both shows take the issues their teens face very seriously. While the feeling of Tree Hill is generally one of familiarity and homeliness, the town of Mystic Falls certainly emanates a distinctly more foreboding vibe, making comparisons between the two series all the more interesting. Come for small-town teen shenanigans, stay for horny vampire drama.


It's probably fair to say that "Supernatural" is the most popular show about brothers in recent memory, and that's why it deserves a place on this list. Though Lucas and Nathan's relationship is downplayed in later seasons (especially once Chad Michael Murray leaves the show), their relationship is certainly a central one in the show's early seasons. "Supernatural" is, as its title suggests, a supernatural show. It centers on two brothers, Dean (Jensen Ackles) and Sam (Jared Padalecki, who you might recognize from "Gilmore Girls"), who carry on their father's legacy by hunting monsters and other supernatural creatures.

Despite concluding its originally conceived storyline in Season 5, "Supernatural" continued on for ten more seasons, becoming the longest-running sci-fi show in the U.S. by the time it ended in 2020. Though it is certainly a supernatural show by name, it's also a family drama at heart. For fans who like their brotherly love mixed in with some demonic activity, "Supernatural" might be for you.

This Is Us

Like "Parenthood" before it, "This Is Us" is an American family drama focusing on two parents and their three children. The show has a unique narrative structure with episodes sometimes switching between time periods as we see the Pearson children both as kids and as adults. Originally conceived of as a film, the show has received positive reviews and a large viewership since it premiered in 2016. Though at times it veers into soapy territory with dramatic storylines and plot twists, its well-drawn characters and impressive acting have kept viewers hooked.

Though it is certainly not a teen show, "This Is Us" might hook viewers for similar reasons "One Tree Hill" did — its relatable characters and its compelling plotlines that only start to get soapy once you're already invested. (Remember that crazy episode of "One Tree Hill" with the school shooting?) With a talented cast that keeps viewers coming back for more, "This Is Us" could very well be your newest television addiction.

Switched at Birth

Like "One Tree Hill," "Switched at Birth" can get quite Shakespearean at times. The series premiered in 2011 on ABC Family (now Freeform), and focuses on two Kansas City teens, Daphne (Katie Leclerc) and Bay (Vanessa Marano), who discover as teenagers that they were accidentally switched at birth. Bay grew up wealthy, with two parents and a brother, while Daphne is working-class, was raised by a single mother, and lost her hearing as a child. Upon learning that they were switched at birth and that Daphne is experiencing financial hardship, Bay invites Daphne to come live in her guesthouse. Unsurprisingly, drama ensues.

A similar plotline runs through "One Tree Hill." While Lucas and Nathan are half-brothers (the vile Dan Scott is their father), Nathan grew up with two well-to-do parents while Lucas grew up with a single mom who runs the local café. This situation creates resentment between the brothers, who are often in conflict during "One Tree Hill's" first season. Like Lucas and Nathan, Bay and Daphne eventually learn to understand each other — and their respective families — better as the seasons wear on, leading to many surprises on the way. If heartfelt and earnest is your thing, you might add "Switched at Birth" to your post–"One Tree Hill" watch list.