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31 Best HBO Series Of All Time Ranked

"It's not television," intones the famous slogan of America's premiere premium TV network, "it's HBO." Well, it is television, because the shows are half an hour or an hour long, and they're beamed out to little boxes across the country. But because viewers have to pay a little extra in their cable bill each month, HBO has the privilege of being something truly special. Unhindered by the limitations of broadcast TV, with its decency standards and need for regular commercial breaks, the widely-lauded channel has created some of the best TV shows ever made. 

Since HBO debuted in the 1970s as an early cable channel offering recently-released movies and live sporting events — a novel notion hinted at in the network's full name, "Home Box Office" — it has majorly evolved. Today, it's a purveyor of some of the most innovative, forward-thinking, and hands-down best television being made. While most HBO shows are pretty good, however, some are definitely better than others. The most impressive are widely considered classics of the form, and high-water marks of 20th and 21st century entertainment. These 31 HBO series are the best of all time — which basically means they're some of the very best TV period

Updated on May 10, 2022: These HBO series are the best of the best, but new shows debut all the time. We'll be keeping an eye on the network's offerings, and will regularly update this list to reflect the cream of the HBO crop.

31. Oz

In 1997, HBO debuted its first-ever original, hour-long dramatic series, proving that the creative freedom and lack of restrictions enjoyed by premium cable could expand the limits of TV. That show was "Oz," arguably one of the darkest series to ever be piped through a cable box. Set in Emerald City, a rehabilitative unit of the fictional Oswald State Correctional Facility, "Oz" follows the inmates, wardens, and guards who populate this tense space. Violence is frequent, and things often seem bleak. Through it all, unit manager Tim McManus tries to maintain control — but that grip is always tenuous.

  • Starring: Christopher Meloni, Ernie Hudson, J.K. Simmons
  • Creator: Tom Fontana
  • Year: 1997
  • Runtime: 56 episodes
  • Rating: TV-MA
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%

30. Euphoria

A stark, shocking contrast to TV's many corny shows about teen life, "Euphoria" posits that the kids are definitely not alright. It follows the intersecting lives of students at a large, contemporary high school, all of whom face their own issues with personal identity, sexuality, and mental health. "Euphoria" takes a dreamy, fantastical, inner monologue-heavy approach to its characters' struggles, resulting in a unique aesthetic and impactful portrayals of addiction, body image issues, and first love. Will these characters find solace and hope before they've even entered the adult world? We don't know — but it's sure to be lushly captured.

  • Starring: Zendaya, Hunter Schafer, Jacob Elordi
  • Creator: Sam Levinson
  • Year: 2019
  • Runtime: 16 episodes
  • Rating: TV-MA
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%

29. Rome

The glories and excess of the ancient world merely hinted at by school textbooks and ruins are fully realized in HBO's "Rome," a political soap set during the transitional period from the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire. On the verge of a largely successful attempt to conquer the world, Julius Caesar navigates a tricky and dramatic power struggle. Powerful figures jockey for control, while others lie in wait, constructing complex plans. "Rome" also explores the ramifications of such power plays on regular people's lives, particularly through soldiers Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus. "Rome" makes ancient history feel personal, and, somehow, modern.

  • Starring: Kevin McKidd, Ray Stevenson, Polly Walker
  • Creators: Bruno Heller, William J. MacDonald, and John Milius
  • Year: 2005
  • Runtime: 22 episodes
  • Rating: TV-MA
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%

28. Betty

Styled like a documentary shot by an embedded, up-close camera crew, "Betty" is a visceral, joyful depiction of what it's like to be young and live in New York City. Shot almost entirely in public places utilizing natural light, this gorgeous series follows a loose group of young women who are linked together by skateboarding. To them, it's an expansive sport, a source of community, and a form of transportation. Based on Crystal Moselle's 2018 film "Skate Kitchen," "Betty" takes these characters across the city as they forge their identities apart from their families and break through the glass ceiling of hostile, male-dominated skate culture.

  • Starring: Dede Lovelace, Rachelle Vinberg, Nina Moran
  • Creator: Crystal Moselle
  • Year: 2020
  • Runtime: 12 episodes
  • Rating: TV-MA
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%

27. Boardwalk Empire

A period piece produced by Martin Scorsese, iconic chronicler of the seedier side of American life in films like "Goodfellas" and "Gangs of New York," "Boardwalk Empire" is an elaborate ensemble saga about organized crime in the 1920s. Gangster Nucky Thompson is the man who really runs Atlantic City, keeping the coastal resort town stocked in just-banned alcohol (and other controlled or outlawed vices). He runs afoul of tenacious authorities, quietly goes to war with his enemies, and finds joy where he can. But he's not the only man in Atlantic City — and the winds of change are blowing.

  • Starring: Steve Buscemi, Michael Pitt, Kelly Macdonald
  • Creator: Terence Winter
  • Year: 2010
  • Runtime: 56 episodes
  • Rating: TV-MA
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%

26. Girls

Hannah Horvath, an aspiring writer, is launching her adult life in New York City alongside a pack of friends. But this isn't exactly the glamorous existence they thought it would be. With this show, creator Lena Dunham gives voice to a certain segment of the population at a very particular point in time: Young people who aren't sure what to do or where to go next, but are interested in not getting run over by the world in the process. Just as Hannah has her writing, Marnie is an art gallery assistant, Shoshanna aims to be an ideal yuppie, and bohemian Jessa flits through life, dispensing wisdom she doesn't really have. Somehow, they'll all have to grow up.

  • Starring: Lena Dunham, Allison Williams, Adam Driver
  • Creator: Lena Dunham
  • Year: 2012
  • Runtime: 62 episodes
  • Rating: TV-MA
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%

25. Westworld

Expanding on the themes and ideas of the 1973 movie of the same name, HBO's "Westworld" is set in an ultra-expensive Old West theme park, where the wealthiest and most debauched can live out their cowboy fantasies amidst by robotic "hosts." These hapless beings cater to guests' every whim, and suffer endless violence as a result. But then, "Westworld" takes a turn for the philosophical, and begins questioning what it even means to be human. As the hosts gain sentience, they realize there's a world beyond Westworld — and they want in, no matter the cost.

24. Flight of the Conchords

"Flight of the Conchords" manages to create comedy that is both bone dry and relentlessly silly. Named after the understated New Zealand-based folk-rock duo consisting of Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie, the series follows their misadventures as they attempt to make it as musicians in New York City, with only their incompetent agent and a single unhinged super-fan encouraging that dream. But really, "Flight of the Conchords" is all about very funny songs, like the "Space Oddity" riff "Bowie's in Space," "Business Time," a paean to routine lovemaking, and the desperately romantic "The Most Beautiful Girl (In the Room)."

  • Starring: Jemaine Clement, Bret McKenzie, Rhys Darby
  • Creators: James Bobin, Jemaine Clement, Bret McKenzie
  • Year: 2007
  • Runtime: 22 episodes
  • Rating: TV-MA
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%

23. The Righteous Gemstones

A black comedy about religion, shame, and family, "The Righteous Gemstones" chronicles the life and times of the wildly rich Gemstones, a Southern family who've turned worship into an empire. Praise music, an influential megachurch, and televangelism have made Eli Gemstone and his adult children, Jesse, Judy, and Kelvin, wealthy and protected. But they are also arrogant, above the law, and totally twisted. Since the death of the family matriarch, every Gemstone has been shining a little less brightly –  specifically, they've gotten themselves involved in financial scandals, low-level crimes, and forbidden relationships. Will these missteps bring the Gemstone enterprise to a quick and ignominious end?

  • Starring: Danny McBride, John Goodman, Edi Patterson
  • Creator: Danny McBride
  • Year: 2019
  • Runtime: 18 episodes
  • Rating: TV-MA
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%

22. A Black Lady Sketch Show

Often feeling more like a collection of brilliantly bizarre short films than standalone skits, "A Black Lady Sketch Show" also stands apart in that its bits aren't political, absurdist, or satirical — they're all of those things. Linked together by a focus on Black women's lives, "A Black Lady Sketch Show" offers hilarious commentary on everything from nightclub etiquette to the apocalypse. It also features a never-ending wealth of all-star talent, including appearances from Yvette Nicole Brown, Patti LaBelle, Angela Bassett, and Gina Torres, among others.

  • Starring: Robin Thede, Ashley Nicole Black, Quinta Brunson
  • Creator: Robin Thede
  • Year: 2019
  • Runtime: 13 episodes
  • Rating: TV-MA
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%

21. Enlightened

"Enlightened" embraces and questions self-help culture in a post-Great Recession climate through the eyes of a character just barely holding on to stability. Amy Jellicoe's life has fallen apart. Following her divorce, a public mental health episode, a lot of heavy drinking, and an affair with her boss, she attends a wellness retreat, moves in with her mother, and returns to work, where she's been demoted to a position in a dreary data processing basement. It's there that Amy discovers all manner of illegal corporate activities. She attempts to become a whistleblower while keeping her own happiness in check — but what does balance even mean in the modern, corporatized age?

  • Starring: Laura Dern, Luke Wilson, Timm Sharp
  • Creator: Laura Dern and Mike White
  • Year: 2011
  • Runtime: 18 episodes
  • Rating: TV-MA
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%

20. Eastbound and Down

Kenny Powers is riding high as one of the major leagues' top pitchers, but he's also foul-mouthed, racist, arrogant, and snide. After he's kicked out of baseball, he heads back to his North Carolina hometown to bask in his celebrity and be a middle school P.E. teacher at the same institution his one true love works. But Kenny has learned nothing about changing his ways, and runs roughshod over the whole community. He wants a road back up to the top, but the one he finds snakes through low-rent Mexican baseball leagues, a job hosting a sports-centric talk show, and the suburbs. Good thing it's so entertaining.

  • Starring: Danny McBride, Katy Mixon, Steve Little
  • Creators: Ben Best, Jody Hill, and Danny McBride
  • Year: 2009
  • Runtime: 29 episodes
  • Rating: TV-MA
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%

19. How to with John Wilson

Independent documentary filmmaker John Wilson is seemingly always capturing bizarre footage of life in New York City. In each episode of this one-of-a-kind series, he uses these clips to explain a modern problem with original, investigative film work — or at least, he tries to. This approach quickly, hilariously, and invariably leads him down a completely different path to murkier elements of the human psyche, curious subcultures, and more.  One episode, for example, purports to look into how to make risotto, then turns into a touching and funny portrait of his crumbling apartment and the life story of his landlady. You might not learn what he promises, but you'll never regret spending time with John Wilson.

18. Insecure

Issa Rae fleshes out her celebrated web series "Awkward Black Girl" into this stirring tale of two Black women seeking career success and fulfilling relationships in modern Los Angeles. Former Stanford classmates Issa and Molly have a friendship full of support and validation — but they're not afraid to challenge each other when the moment calls for it either. As they wend their respective ways through adulthood, they deal with on-again-off-again boyfriends, career success bumping up against romantic frustration, and personal loss. Watching them confront each obstacle can be hilarious, tragic, or cringe-worthy, but it's always memorable.

  • Starring: Issa Rae, Yvonne Orji, Natasha Rothwell
  • Creators: Issa Rae and Larry Wilmore
  • Year: 2016
  • Runtime: 44 episodes
  • Rating: TV-MA
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%

17. The Comeback

Just one year removed from "Friends," one of the most celebrated sitcoms of all time, Lisa Kudrow led "The Comeback," a faux-documentary series about a former sitcom star desperate to return to her former heights. Valerie Cherish once starred on the barely remembered and not particularly beloved sitcom "I'm It!," but today, she plays a dowdy landlord on a boorish comedy about promiscuous 20-somethings. She wants more, and she's turning to reality TV to get it. In every episode of "The Comeback," Valerie is subject to constant humiliation. She endures it with a smile and pretends everything is okay, because there's a documentary crew tracking her every move. But eventually, the reality of her situation comes knocking — and even "reality" television can't stop it.

  • Starring: Lisa Kudrow, Robert Michael Morris, Lance Barber
  • Creators: Michael Patrick King and Lisa Kudrow
  • Year: 2005
  • Runtime: 21 episodes
  • Rating: TV-MA
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 73%

16. Los Espookys

Surreal to the point of unabashed silliness, "Los Espookys" is a very original comedy about the unlikely intersection of business, hustle, passion, and gore. Presented partially in Spanish and partially in English, this series is set in a quirky, unnamed Latin American country, where horror lover Renaldo and his oddball friends form a collective called Los Espookys. Together, they stage "supernatural" events and create realistic-seeming monsters for paying customers — think angry ghosts, sea creatures, and exorcisms. Meanwhile, Renaldo's uncle Tico gets into all kinds of adventures in his work as a renowned valet parking lot attendant. It's weird, bloody, and absolutely delightful.

  • Starring: Ana Fabrega, Fred Armisen, Bernardo Velasco
  • Creators: Fred Armisen, Ana Fabrega, and Julio Torres
  • Year: 2019
  • Runtime: 6 episodes
  • Rating: TV-14
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%

15. Sex and the City

"Sex and the City" captures dating in Manhattan of the late '90s and early '00s through the eyes of four very different women: Free spirit Carrie, traditional Charlotte, cynical Miranda, and unabashedly libertine Samantha. They regularly meet for (and helped popularize) brunch and Cosmopolitan cocktails, where they dissect what romance, career, and family mean for women in their 30s and 40s. There's a reason this show became a phenomenon, and it's not just the glitzy shoes: Its frank approach to life and love resonated with millions, and continues to do so today.

  • Starring: Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis
  • Creator: Darren Star
  • Year: 1998
  • Runtime: 94 episodes
  • Rating: TV-MA
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 70%

14. Barry

A dark, psychological slow-burn of a comedy from "Saturday Night Live" standout Bill Hader, "Barry" is about the dangers of fulfilling deep impulses, be they narcissistic or outright deadly. Hader plays Barry, a military sniper turned hitman. When his flaky handler Fuches sends him to Los Angeles to work for a surprisingly charming Chechen mob boss named NoHo Hank, his already unique life takes an even stranger turn. Barry stalks his target to an acting class and does the deed ... then finds himself enchanted with the world of performance. He decides then and there to become an actor, and keep it as separate as possible from the professional killing with which he's become disenchanted.

13. The Larry Sanders Show

This entertaining satire takes a peek behind the scenes of a late-night network talk show. It's hosted by a jaded veteran comedian named Larry Sanders, a fictionalized version of co-creator and star Garry Shandling. Needy, self-loathing, and vulnerable, he both hates and seeks the validation of his celebrity guests (who play themselves) while letting his overburdened support staff, producer, and on-air sidekick handle the details and the fallout.

  • Starring: Garry Shandling, Rip Torn, Janeane Garofalo
  • Creators: Dennis Klein and Garry Shandling
  • Year: 1992
  • Runtime: 90 episodes
  • Rating: TV-MA
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%

12. Silicon Valley

The Northern California-based tech industry, with its never-ending cavalcade of software, apps, online services, and gear, has changed life as we know it. It's also ripe for a send-up, particularly one targeting the tension between earnest engineers and flashy, aggressive business people. "Silicon Valley" does this by following Richard Hendricks, a shy and goofy engineer who wants to disrupt the industry with his app, Pied Piper. To do so, he'll have to get out of his own way, avoid the massive blunders to which he is fatalistically prone, keep his fussy staff happy, and fend off the evil, thieving antics of the huge tech corporations who all want a piece of his operation.

11. True Detective

Each season of "True Detective" is a self-contained story about a horrendous, hard-to-solve crime and the deeply flawed investigators tasked with cracking the case. Invariably, they endure tremendous personal and psychological pain that leaves them scarred for life. There's inscrutable Rustin Cohle, who leads a years-long investigation into a haunting, ritualistic murder in Louisiana. Then there's Wayne Hays, an Arkansas detective haunted by his combat experiences in Vietnam, who must figure out a baffling kidnapping case in one timeline and deal with memory lapses in another. While Season 2 is widely regarded as a lesser slate of episodes, "True Detective" stands strong as a whole.

10. Succession

"Succession" is, at once, a family drama, business thriller, and ultra-dark comedy. The nastiness executives and associates of the Waystar Royco corporation are guilty of in the public sphere is no match for what happens behind closed doors. Boss Logan Roy and his grown children are veritable fonts of back-stabbing, cruelty, and all manner of insidious machinations. As Logan negotiates old age, his offspring and their partners fight to take over the empire, even as it's plagued by a cascade of scandals. It's Shakespearean, hilarious, and absolutely brutal.

  • Starring: Brian Cox, Jeremy Strong, Kieran Culkin
  • Creator: Jesse Armstrong
  • Year: 2018
  • Runtime: 29 episodes
  • Rating: TV-MA
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%

9. Mr. Show with Bob and David

A combination of live theatrical sketches and taped segments, the edgy, ramshackle "Mr. Show with Bob and David" is one of the most beloved cult comedy shows of all time. It earned this acclaim through brutally satirizing the emptiness of pop culture and modern life, while still tying each individual episode's content together in some form or fashion. Many classic characters and sketches came out of "Mr. Show," including Ronnie Dobbs, the most frequently captured man on "Cops," a grocery store advertising war, and the world's deadliest roller coaster.

  • Starring: Bob Odenkirk, David Cross, Tom Kenny
  • Creators: David Cross and Bob Odenkirk
  • Year: 1995
  • Runtime: 30 episodes
  • Rating: TV-MA
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%

8. Veep

A catty, mischievous, and creatively profane satire of high-level American politics, "Veep" follows the people who keep the humdrum, day-to-day tasks of governance happening. They hate themselves even more than they resent the country. Julia Louis-Dreyfus won six Emmy Awards for portraying Selina Meyer, an entitled, self-absorbed career politician with no real platform or beliefs who likes being famous and powerful and is openly disenchanted with the ceremonial duties of the vice presidency. When thrust into the presidency she so desperately desires, Meyer and her team of exhausted and cynical underlings find themselves way out of their depth.

  • Starring: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Anna Chlumsky, Tony Hale
  • Creator: Armando Iannucci
  • Year: 2012
  • Runtime: 65 episodes
  • Rating: TV-MA
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%

7. Six Feet Under

Death is a part of life, albeit one most people and TV shows don't like to acknowledge. Yet it's central to "Six Feet Under," which captures the lives of the Fisher family, who run a Los Angeles funeral home. Shuffling off that mortal coil looms over everything on this thoughtful series. Each episode presents a new death in need of handling, which parallels the Fishers' personal problems and those of their employees, friends, and lovers. As they attempt to find meaning in the void of oblivion, the Fishers find grace, misery, and joy — in other words, the stuff of life itself.

6. Curb Your Enthusiasm

After Larry David co-created and wrote many episodes of "Seinfeld," he made another show purportedly "about nothing." "Curb Your Enthusiasm" follows a fictionalized version of David as he arrogantly flits through life in Los Angeles. Crucially, this version of Larry David is a jerk who has no understanding of or interest in saying or doing the right thing, as dictated by society. Thus, he's always getting himself in trouble for snide remarks or rude actions. David just can't help but call out the hypocrisies, annoyances, and offenses of the world — and the world always enacts retribution against him for it. He never learns his lesson, and that's how fans like it.

  • Starring: Larry David, Jeff Garlin, Cheryl Hines
  • Creator: Larry David
  • Year: 2000
  • Runtime: 110 episodes
  • Rating: TV-MA
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%

5. The Sopranos

Heralded as a masterpiece of modern television, "The Sopranos" explores organized crime with unique depth. Tony Soprano is a mob boss from New Jersey who's in way over his head. Not a hero, an antihero, or even a sympathetic main character, Tony is deeply flawed, and he knows it. Viewers get to see the apparent family man work through the stress of running a massive criminal operation, his guilt over killing people, and the toll behaving like a ruthless businessman takes. Unlike stylish crime epics like "The Godfather" and "Goodfellas," "The Sopranos" is drab, bleak, and skeletal, depicting the unavoidable consequences of mob life from which there is no escape, even for Tony.

  • Starring: James Gandolfini, Lorraine Bracco, Edie Falco
  • Creator: David Chase
  • Year: 1999
  • Runtime: 86 episodes
  • Rating: TV-MA
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%

4. The Wire

Formerly a Baltimore police reporter, David Simon created "The Wire," an unflinching look at a slowly fracturing American city, out of his experiences. Set in Baltimore, each season of this celebrated show examines a different municipal pillar or phenomenon as it relates to the city's complicated law enforcement system. In Season 1, Baltimore police battle the thriving drug trade, which is itself a response to systemic racial and economic disparity. Then, the story shifts to the shipping and port trade, the corrupt city government, an underfunded and ineffectual school system, and the local media. "The Wire" offers no easy answers — it's only interested in the ever complex and often unforgettable truth.

  • Starring: Dominic West, Michael K. Williams, Wendell Pierce
  • Creator: David Simon
  • Year: 2002
  • Runtime: 60 episodes
  • Rating: TV-MA
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%

3. Deadwood

Audaciously ambitious, "Deadwood" completely upended the Western genre with its realism and grit. With few clear-cut good guys and bad guys to its name, "Deadwood" portrays the 1870s as full of complex characters, violence, and grime. A rickety boomtown that sprung up after gold was discovered nearby, Deadwood is torn apart by the power struggle between the morally questionable Al Swearengen, owner and operator of the Gem Theater saloon and brothel, and Seth Bullock, a hardware store owner who dives back into being sheriff when he realizes Deadwood is lawless and bleak.

2. The Leftovers

"The Leftovers" is a hauntingly beautiful series about grief, belonging, and humanity's ceaseless search for answers that might never come. We begin a couple of years after the cataclysmic and unexplained Departure, an event which saw 2% of the global population vanish from existence. People try to go about their lives, but trauma and survivor's guilt are never far behind. This stirring story's main characters are Kevin Garvey, a small town police chief dealing with a fatalistic cult, and Nora Durst, a woman who lost her entire family in the Departure. Their experiences won't leave you any time soon.

  • Starring: Justin Theroux, Carrie Coon, Christopher Eccleston
  • Creator: Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta
  • Year: 2014
  • Runtime: 28 episodes
  • Rating: TV-MA
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%

1. Game of Thrones

Based on George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" novels, "Game of Thrones" is packed with spectacle, intrigue, and war. In this fantasy world, multiple families vie to control the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros (and occasionally, places beyond it). Who will eventually guide their armies to victory, granting them a seat on the Iron Throne? Will the incestuous and brutal Lannisters keep power? Will the Starks of the far North rip it away? Will Daenerys Targaryen's fire-breathing dragons make all the difference? Or, as the mysterious men who guard the Wall that separates Westeros from the wilderness argue, will an inhuman enemy shortly make such petty squabbles irrelevant?