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This Is The Right Way To Watch The Marvel Shows

Following the launch of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in 2008's "Iron Man," Marvel Television — a now-defunct production company — set about creating television shows that exist in the same universe and share the same timeline as the MCU films. The earliest MCU-connected Marvel Television shows include "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." and "Agent Carter."

However, the promise that the MCU films and Marvel Television series would all interconnect was seemingly short-lived. In 2015, Netflix released "Daredevil" and "Jessica Jones." While both programs include references to the MCU in their early episodes, Netflix's slate of Marvel shows began to feel like they take place on their own timeline before too long.   

Since then, Marvel Television and Marvel Studios have released more than a dozen TV shows, all connecting to the MCU — if, sometimes, only tenuously. This has left viewers questioning the best order in which to watch these shows. Some fans prefer to stick to release order; others swear by a chronological timeline order. However, neither strategy offers the best viewing experience. 

We advise watching the Marvel TV shows in the following order. We've worked out an arrangement that emphasizes thematic consistency, without disregarding the timeline too much.

Agent Carter

If we were going by release order, Marvel's "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." would be the first show on this list. However, "Agent Carter" — which aired two seasons on ABC from 2015 to 2016 — is our starting point, as it's a better overall introduction to the Marvel world. 

It's also the earliest program in Marvel's in-story chronology. The events of "Agent Carter" occur following 2011's "Captain America: The First Avenger," with Hayley Atwell reprising her role as Peggy Carter. Rather than revolve solely around the eponymous protagonist, "Agent Carter" delves deeper into the backstory of characters like Edwin Jarvis (James D'Arcy), Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj), and Dottie Underwood (Bridget Regan) who all have wider connections to the MCU.

Unfortunately, ABC cancelled "Agent Carter" before it could fully depict the origins of S.H.I.E.L.D., as it was originally billed to do. The second season ends in 1946, while Peggy doesn't become the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. until 1949. However, while the series doesn't quite fulfill its initial directive, it's still a solid, entertaining show that helps to establish a stronger backstory for Peggy, so it shouldn't be missed.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Seasons 1 and 2

In 2013, Marvel Television launched "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." on ABC. The series introduces viewers to a group of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents led by the recently revived Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), who is seemingly killed by Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in 2012's "The Avengers."

"S.H.I.E.L.D." begins after the events of "The Avengers" and 2013's "Iron Man 3." Although it more or less evolves into a standalone show, Seasons 1 and 2 of "S.H.I.E.L.D." closely follow events from the MCU film timeline. For example, in Season 1, Episode 8 follows up on the aftermath of 2013's "Thor: The Dark World," and the Season 1 finale mirrors the events that take place in 2014's "Captain America: The Winter Soldier."

The series also includes brief appearances from Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders). When S.H.I.E.L.D. is destroyed, Fury puts Coulson in charge of rebuilding the agency his own way from the ground up. This rebuilding proves both figurative and literal, in the respect that it marks a point for "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." to go in a new direction, away from rigidly following the MCU timeline.

Daredevil Season 1 and Jessica Jones Season 1

Netflix's Marvel era started in 2015 with "Daredevil" and "Jessica Jones." 

"Daredevil" — which stars Charlie Cox as Daredevil, aka Matt Murdock — arrived on the streamer first. As a blind lawyer by day and a vigilante by night, Murdock does everything he can to protect the residents of the section of New York City known as Hell's Kitchen.

"Daredevil" makes sense to watch after the first two seasons of "S.H.I.E.L.D." for a couple of reasons. First, the first episode of "Daredevil" explains that something like a couple of years have passed since the Battle of New York from "The Avengers," which means "Daredevil" begins around the time Season 2 of "S.H.I.E.L.D." ends. Second, Episode 2 references Carl "Crusher" Creel, aka Absorbing Man, a villain who shows up in Season 2 of "S.H.I.E.L.D."

"Daredevil" is also the perfect foundation for introducing the rest of New York's street-level vigilantes, making it the obvious segue into "Jessica Jones." Krysten Ritter plays the reluctant do-gooder who's sworn off superhero life, opting to put her powers to use as a private investigator. The first season follows Jessica Jones as she deals with a demon from her past.

Daredevil Season 2 and Luke Cage Season 1

Matt Murdock returns for Season 2 of "Daredevil," which chronologically picks up after the first season of "Jessica Jones." 

If we were following a purely chronological mode of thinking, next on this list would be "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." Season 3. However, if we get too hyper-focused on the MCU timeline, the viewing experience winds up involving a lot of unnecessary switching back and forth between seasons and episodes of each show. For an intuitive watching sequence, "Daredevil" Season 2 is the thematic choice after "Jessica Jones" Season 1, and "Luke Cage" comes after.

Season 1 of "Jessica Jones" introduces Luke Cage, played by Mike Colter, so you'll already be familiar with Netflix's third vigilante hero if you follow our watch order. The first season of "Luke Cage" overlaps with "Daredevil" Season 2 a little bit, so we recommend watching them one after the other. By the end of the first season of "Luke Cage," the events of "Daredevil" Season 2 have taken place.

Iron Fist Season 1 and The Defenders

Danny Rand (Finn Jones) rounds out Netflix's roster of righteous vigilantes. Rand, aka Iron Fist, gets his mystical powers by defeating the dragon Shou-Lao, rather than from accidental or external forces, as is more typically the case for New York's street-level heroes. Debuting on Netflix in 2017, the series follows Danny Rand as he returns to New York with his powers. When the pressure of being the last living member of the wealthy Rand Family combines with the duties of the Iron Fist, it turns out to be a lot to handle.

After watching the first season of "Iron Fist," you'll be primed for "The Defenders" — a limited series that brings together the title characters from four of Netflix's Marvel shows. It takes place several weeks after the events of Season 1 of "Iron Fist," but picks up story threads from all four associated programs. 

"I feel like we're carrying over everybody's stories into the next chapter, so this should also feel like 'Luke Cage' Season 1.5, and 'Jessica Jones' Season 1.5 to a certain degree," showrunner Marco Ramirez explained in a Den of Geek article. He added, "It's not like everyone is guest starring in one other person's show, but rather like all four of them coming together."

The Punisher

"Daredevil" introduces Jon Bernthal's take on Frank Castle, aka the Punisher — a quintessential antihero whose methods of cleaning up New York City tend to get a little more homicidal than his fellow crimefighters. Before his own show starts, he's last seen in the "Daredevil" Season 2 finale, but doesn't reprise his role for "The Defenders." "The Punisher" provides an in-story explanation for Frank's absence from the limited series, although showrunner Marco Ramirez told The Hollywood Reporter the real culprit was Bernthal's lack of availability.

When "The Punisher" begins, a few months on from the most recent events of "Daredevil," Frank Castle is working in construction under the name Pete Castiglione. He doesn't remain in retirement for long.

Netflix canceled "The Punisher" after two seasons — which we recommend watching back-to-back after "The Defenders." In 2020, writer-director Adam Simon pitched a film based on "The Punisher" to Marvel Studios. He imagined it would have the "grit and unapologetic boldness of Logan," per Comicbook.com

"In my take, we find Frank Castle as we left him at the end of the series, only now completely aware of the threat that superheroes and villains pose to mankind. So, Frank Castle has to go gunning for the person who he feels is responsible for the innumerable civilian casualties." Sadly, it's unlikely Simon's pitch will ever come to fruition ... but that doesn't mean we'll never see Frank Castle again in the MCU.

Jessica Jones Season 2, Luke Cage Season 2, and Iron Fist Season 2

If we were sticking to the release order or chronological timeline, Season 4 of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." would come before the second seasons of these Netflix shows. However, since Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Danny Rand are fresh from their foray together as the Defenders, it makes sense to continue their stories before moving back to "S.H.I.E.L.D."

Out of these three second seasons, it makes the most sense to start with "Jessica Jones," chronologically. There's a lot going on in "Jessica Jones" Season 2; the reluctant hero struggles to move past her recent encounters with Kilgrave (David Tennant), and the sophomore batch of "Jessica Jones" episodes bring a lot more of her history to the screen, including the story behind how exactly she got her powers.

Season 2 of "Luke Cage" — in which the man with unbreakable skin has become a sort of superhero-mascot of Harlem, and must contend with the baggage and responsibilities of celebrity – is the natural progression from Season 2 of "Jessica Jones." Danny Rand appears in Season 2 of "Luke Cage" before the second season of "Iron Fist," and it's more than a mere cameo. After the crossover, there're three episodes of "Luke Cage" left to watch before you can dive into Season 2 of "Iron Fist."

Daredevil Season 3 and Jessica Jones Season 3

Out of Marvel's Netflix shows, only "Daredevil" and "Jessica Jones" return for a third season. If you went by release order, these seasons would appear way further down this list, but it makes the most sense to watch them when their previous seasons are still fresh in your mind. 

Daredevil is last seen several in-story months ago in "The Defenders." Viewers know he survives after seemingly sacrificing himself, and this third season clarifies exactly how that happens. Meanwhile, the third season of "Jessica Jones" picks up about three months after the events of Season 2. Viewers who are correctly miffed that "Luke Cage" comes to an abrupt and inconclusive end with Season 2 can enjoy some degree of closure when he briefly returns in the series finale of "Jessica Jones."

Both "Daredevil" and "Jessica Jones" conclude with their third seasons, temporarily bringing the storylines of all of Netflix's vigilantes to close. However, whether they're all gone for good remains to be seen. In 2021, audiences saw Daredevil reemerge in "Spider-Man: No Way Home," and The Kingpin (Vincent D'Onofrio) return to television in Disney+'s "Hawkeye." Could more Jessica Jones or Luke Cage be far off? 

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 3

After watching every season of Marvel's streaming Netflix shows uninterrupted — which, let's be honest, just makes sense — it's time to check in with Director Phil Coulson and his team from network television.

While the third season of "S.H.I.E.L.D." was broadcast around the same time 2015's "Ant-Man" and 2016's "Captain America: Civil War" hit theaters, the show stops reflecting the events of the MCU after Season 2, forging ahead in its own direction. The second season ends with a box of Terrigen crystals falling into the ocean and contaminating Earth's water supply, causing anyone with Inhuman DNA to go through the Terrigenesis process that activates their innate powers. 

While some S.H.I.E.L.D. agents search for Inhumans, Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet) get a handle on her Inhuman powers and builds a team of Secret Warriors. Meanwhile, Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) looks to rebuild HYDRA, and Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) figures out that the Monolith is an extraterrestrial portal that may have transported Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) to an unknown planet. 

If that makes it sound like "S.H.I.E.L.D." Season 3 has a lot to unpack, that's because it does.

Inhumans

The third season of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." deals with alien planets, Terrigenesis, and the search for more Inhumans. All those Inhuman-related components makes "S.H.I.E.L.D" Season 3 the perfect predecessor to Marvel's "Inhumans."

In 2017, the first two episodes of "Inhumans" were released in IMAX theaters before the remaining six episodes premiered on ABC. This single-season series follows the Inhuman Royal Family, led by King Blackagar Boltagon, aka Black Bolt (Anson Mount). Generations ago, Black Bolt fled Earth and created Attilan, an Inhuman safe haven on the Moon. When Black Bolt notices the Terrigen outbreak on Earth (from Seasons 2 and 3 of "S.H.I.E.L.D."), he sends his cousin Triton (Mike Moh) to rescue any Inhumans who are on the run and bring them back to Attilan. However, this doesn't exactly go according to plan when Black Bolt's mad brother Maximus (Iwan Rheon) tries to usurp the throne.

Despite the clear link between "S.H.I.E.L.D." and "Inhumans," viewers shouldn't expect any crossovers between the two shows. "Inhumans" showrunner Scott Buck confirmed that the show was built more off of Marvel Comics than Marvel Television. 

"We don't see ourselves as an offshoot of S.H.I.E.L.D. in any way. We're just all part of the same family," he told IGN.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Slingshot and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4

"Inhumans" might not technically be an "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." spinoff, but "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Slingshot" clearly is. The six-part web series focuses on S.H.I.E.L.D. newcomer Elena "Yo-Yo" Rodriguez (Natalia Cordova-Buckley). Yo-Yo is being forced to sign the Sokovia Accords, but this interferes with a personal mission she must complete.

"Slingshot" was technically released midway through the fourth season of "S.H.I.E.L.D.", but the events in it take place before the beginning of the season. The main cast members of "S.H.I.E.L.D." are also present in "Slingshot." Cordova-Buckley explained to IGN that the web series partly serves as a prequel to Season 4. She said it's meant to help viewers, "understand the reasoning for many of the decisions that characters make in Season 4."

"Slingshot" also realigns "S.H.I.E.L.D." with the MCU timeline, placing it sometime after the Sokovia Accords are introduced in 2016's "Captain America: Civil War." The relationship between "S.H.I.E.L.D." and the MCU timeline becomes even clearer with the introduction of Robbie Reyes (Gabriel Luna) — thus far, the only version of Ghost Rider to canonically appear in any MCU-adjacent live action media. The middle of the season focuses on Reyes' very mystic storyline. By no coincidence, this season of "S.H.I.E.L.D." aired around the same time 2016's "Doctor Strange" was released in theaters.

Helstrom

After Season 4 of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." introduces you to Robbie Reyes, aka the Spirit of Vengeance, it's the perfect time to meet Daimon and Santana "Ana" Helstrom. The series, "Helstrom," has a darker tone than some of Marvel's other shows, and Daimon and Ana definitely aren't your typical heroes. The siblings, played by Tom Austen and Sydney Lemmon, are the offspring of a prolific serial killer. On a quest to redeem their family legacy, they use their occult know-how to hunt down the worst of humanity.

Going by release order, "Helstrom" wouldn't follow "S.H.I.E.L.D." Season 4 on this list, as it's set a few years down the road in 2020. However, it's the perfect time to watch this series from a thematic standpoint. It's also the only true standalone series on this list, as it doesn't cross over with "S.H.I.E.L.D." or any other Marvel shows.

"There are [Marvel] Easter eggs in the show for sure, but they're more towards that Helstrom universe, and that Ghost Rider universe," series creator Paul Zbyszewski explained to The Fanboy Factor. "We are not tied to the MCU. We are our own separate thing."

Wait, when he says "that Ghost Rider universe," is he talking about the Nicolas Cage movies? It sounds like Zbyszewski either knows something we don't, or he misunderstood the question. 

Cloak & Dagger

On its surface, Freeform's "Cloak & Dagger" looks like a standalone show. It's set in New Orleans rather than New York, and it follows two superpowered teens – Tyrone Johnson (Aubrey Joseph) and Tandy Bowen (Olivia Holt) — rather than adult superheroes. However, comic book fans might notice "Cloak & Dagger" has more connections to the MCU than a passing glance indicates.

The presence of the Roxxon Corp. — a crooked energy corporation, and Cloak and Dagger's primary antagonist — connects the series to the "Iron Man" franchise, "Agent Carter," "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," and Marvel's former Netflix shows. In Season 1, this program's dynamic duo's frenemy in the police department Brigid O'Reilly (Emma Lahana) mentions knowing Misty Knight (Simone Missick); Season 2 includes a scene where Tyrone discusses a newspaper article about Luke Cage. 

However, despite the show's indirect connections to several of the aforementioned Marvel show, both seasons of "Cloak & Dagger" are perfectly placed here, because the biggest crossover of the series is with the next show on our list.

Runaways

Despite Season 2's decline in ratings, "Cloak & Dagger" proved that an audience for teen superheroes definitely exists, which can also be said of Marvel's "Runaways." The show follows six Los Angeles teens who unite against their criminal parents, discovering their superpowers in the process. As it happens, one of their powers entails psychic communication with a dinosaur.

"Runaways" premiered on Hulu in 2018, and is set around the same general time as "Cloak & Dagger." Tandy and Tyrone even appear in two episodes of "Runaways" Season 3. "Obviously, both shows are kind of different tonally, but [Aubrey Joseph and Olivia Holt] got right on board right away," said "Runaways" co-showrunner Josh Schwartz, who noted that the chemistry between the two casts really makes the crossover work, per CinemaBlend.

Along with its "Cloak & Dagger" crossover, Season 3 of "Runaways" might also connect the show to the wider MCU by introducing Morgan le Fey (Elizabeth Hurley). The sinister sorceress attempts to wield the power of the Darkhold — a tome of dark magic last seen at the end of Season 4 of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." when Ghost Rider takes it to hell. Maybe we shouldn't assume Morgan le Fey's Darkhold and Ghost Rider's Darkhold are the same grimoire ... but we can't assume they aren't, either.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Seasons 5, 6, and 7

For the most part, "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." might as well exist on its own timeline during its final three seasons. However, a few brief events from Season 5 tie in with 2017's "Thor: Ragnarok" and 2018's "Avengers: Infinity War," which makes the last three years of "S.H.I.E.L.D." a perfect TV binge to bring the MCU's Phase 3 to a close.

The first half of "S.H.I.E.L.D." Season 5 is set in a dystopian future which has no bearing on the MCU timeline. However, an off-the-cuff remark from Noah (Joel David Moore) in Episode 11 about an Asgardian walking the streets of New York — presumably a reference to Thor's visit to the Big Apple in "Ragnarok" – gives Season 5 a loose sense of place within the larger MCU timeline.   

However, even though the end of Season 5 runs alongside "Avengers: Infinity War," the season doesn't end with the snap. According to showrunner Jed Whedon, the minds behind "S.H.I.E.L.D" avoided the major plot point out of concern that their unpredictable broadcast schedule could lead to "S.H.I.E.L.D." accidentally spoiling the movie. 

The final season of "S.H.I.E.L.D." sees the team literally jumping through time. During a "S.H.I.E.L.D." adventure in 1955, the show resolves the question of Peggy Carter and Daniel Sousa's relationship status ... which seems a little redundant, considering 2019's "Avengers: Endgame" makes it pretty clear she ends up with Steve Rogers (Chris Evans).

WandaVision

By the time the events of the MCU's designated Phase 4 begins, Marvel Television has been absorbed by Marvel Studios in the real world. As a consequence, Marvel TV shows greenlit after this point tend to sync up with the films more overtly than we'd gotten used to.   

The 2021 limited series "WandaVision" is the first show in an extensive line of Marvel series for the Disney+ streaming platform. Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany reprise their roles as Wanda Maximoff and The Vision, and the story spins off directly from "Avengers: Endgame." 

"WandaVision" has particularly transformative implications for Wanda. The tale ends with her officially claiming the title of the Scarlet Witch, after years of everyone acting like her superhero codename was "Wanda." Trailers for 2022's "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" strongly indicate that "WandaVision" sets up the Scarlet Witch's character arc for that movie.  

However, while the series does a lot to move Marvel TV forward, "WandaVision" also links back to past Marvel projects. Wanda gains possession of a book called "the Darkhold" — which could connect "WandaVision" to "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." and "Runways." But more directly, "WandaVision" reintroduces characters from other MCU films, including Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) from the first two Thor movies, and Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) from 2018's "Ant-Man and the Wasp." Hopefully speculation of a Darcy and Woo spinoff proves accurate. 

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

After the events of "Avengers: Endgame," Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) reunite in "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier."

In this single-season series, Sam and Bucky are both dealing with their grief over Steve Rogers' departure from their lives in their own ways. The story kicks off when Sam rejects Captain America's shield, while Bucky faces up to acts of horrific violence he committed during his time as the Winter Soldier. "Falcon and the Winter Soldier" dives into the backstory of both central characters while following its central plotline — multiple groups attempting to foil an anarchist organization known as the Flag Smashers.

"The Falcon and the Winter Soldier" serves as a stepping-stone for these characters to reach their next steps in the MCU. Eventually, "Falcon and the Winter Soldier" concludes with Sam taking on the mantle of Captain America and, of course, receiving his new costume.

Hawkeye

Christmas of 2024 (Remember, the MCU is a few years ahead of the real world) sees semi-retired Avenger Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), back in action with an unofficial protégé, Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld). Kate prefers to think of herself as Clint's partner rather than his sidekick, but let's not waste time splitting hairs... 

The series takes place after "Avengers: Endgame," "WandaVision," and "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier." It also sets up at least one upcoming Marvel show by introducing Echo (Alaqua Cox) and establishing her connection with Wilson Fisk — played, as he is in "Daredevil," by Vincent D'Onofrio.

"Hawkeye" is billed as a limited series. A second season hasn't been officially ruled out, but even if we never get more episodes of "Hawkeye" it seems reasonable to expect more from its characters, particularly Echo, Kate, Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), and Pizza Dog (Jolt).

Loki Season 1

The first season of "Loki" technically takes place straight after "Avengers: Endgame," around the same time as "WandaVision," although it was released between "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier" and "Hawkeye." However, the show's place in the chronological timeline gets a little funky, as "Loki" takes viewers back to 2012, introduces a series of new timelines, and eventually confirms the existence of the Multiverse.

The series ends with Tom Hiddleston's God of Mischief fracturing the multiverse and landing in an alternate reality where a presumably evil variant of He Who Remains (Jonathan Majors) rules over The Time Variance Authority.

"Loki" adds an element of chaos and creates infinite possibilities for the MCU. Like "WandaVision" and "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier," "Loki" is an important part of the Marvel canon, shaping the future of the multiverse saga. It's also the only live action Disney+ Marvel show so far with a confirmed Season 2

What If...? Season 1

"What If...?" fits nicely alongside "Loki," as its premiere ties into the cliffhanger of "Loki" Season 1.

"It's no coincidence that the show picks up right after 'Loki,'" executive producer Brad Winderbaum explained in a 2021 press conference. "The multiverse has erupted in every possible direction. 'What If...?' gives us a chance to explore that." 

The series sees characters like Captain Carter and the Star Lord version of T'Challa make their MCU debut. "What If...?" also welcomes Marvel film actors like Benedict Cumberbatch and Chris Hemsworth who made their debut on the television side of things by voicing versions of their big screen characters. Tragically, "What If..." includes one of the final performances from "Black Panther" star Chadwick Boseman.  

Winderbaum also noted "the potential is there for characters from 'What If...?' to appear in live action." This means that the increased crossover from films to TV throughout Phase 4 will probably continue. For the time being, it looks like the days of tenuous continuity links between the MCU and projects like ABC's "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." are behind us. 

Moon Knight

Oscar Isaac makes his MCU debut as Marc Spector and Stephen Grant in "Moon Knight," the next installment in Marvel's Phase 4 television roster, and the first to reach the small screen in 2022. The series definitely takes place after the Blip, since an ad for the Global Repatriation Council (GRC) is visible in Episode 1. As viewers might remember, the GRC makes its first appearance in "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier."

Release order is, of course, not the only factor in the placement of "Moon Knight" on this list. The series establishes itself as more of a standalone show that delves into Isaac's character or, to put it more precisely, his characters. "He's brand-new, and he is going on a brand-new adventure," executive producer Grant Curtis explained in a press release, via CBR.

However, that doesn't mean Isaac's appearance is a one-off. In fact, it's quite the opposite, as Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter that Moon Knight will cross over with the MCU films at some point in the future.