Sometimes dismissed as simply a teen show by the “unknowing ones,” those miserable souls doomed to walk the earth without knowing the greatness that is the Scooby Gang, Buffy the Vampire Slayer shaped the future of television. The show that gave us the shocking death of a major character long before Game of Thrones and put “the big bad” into our television vernacular, Buffy was a crazy mix-up of great storylines, fantastic drama, excellent writing and a we-don’t-take-ourselves-too-seriously sense of humor.
There will never be another Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There may be a show with the same name, but that show — that special magic spell of a show — will never be truly repeated. The best we can do is look to shows that inherited those special traits that made Buffy so addicting.
What you won’t find in this list are shows that would sound similar if you simply read the synopsis. There’s no Charmed on this list. Simply having female protagonists in a supernatural setting doesn’t cut it. And as much as I would love to put The Boys on the list based on mixing action, supernatural and comedy together into a great show, its essence is a bit more Kick Ass meets Preacher.
So what is the essence of Buffy the Vampire Slayer? If it could be expressed, we’d have a formula to repeat it. Even Joss Whedon might have a problem really distilling that essence, and he created it. Buffy is… Buffy. Some of the shows on this list are pretty obvious, but for others, they can best be described with something along the lines of… “it’s Buffy… only with Norse mythology!”
I did say there would be some pretty obvious selections on the list. The only reason Angel gets mentioned first is because it is a spin-off of Buffy. And a very good one despite jumping a rather vicious shark to set up the last season. Even with the shark-jumping, every season of this show is fantastic.
Angel takes a few episodes to really hit its stride, but once it gets going, it will give you that Buffy-like feel like no other show. Bonus: many of the Buffy characters make appearances on the show, and if you are a Spike fan, he becomes a regular during the last season.
“Huh?” I know what you are thinking. What’s a high school private detective show with nothing supernatural or science fiction doing on the list? But there may not be any other character more like Buffy than the wise-cracking total-bad-ass Veronica Mars.
The show definitely checks a lot of the boxes. Great one-liners? Check. The ‘big bad’ overarching plot line? Check. Excellent writing? Check. Just a whole heap of fun to watch? Absolutely. The big thing missing from the list is that not-take-itself-too-seriously theme that put Buffy over the top, but if you are a Buffy fan, you will like Veronica Mars.
Creator Rob Thomas went on to do iZombie, which has Buffy-like qualities as well, but while it is a good show, it’s not quite Veronica Mars.
Russell T. Davies used Buffy as a model for Doctor Who when he resurrected the series in 2005, and it definitely shows. This one definitely checks all of the boxes, especially after David Tennant begins his reign as the Doctor. No offense to Christopher Eccleston who was a fantastic Doctor, but Tennant’s time during Doctor Who was truly epic.
Stephen Moffat took over the revival after Davies, and seasons 5 and 6 may be two of the best written seasons of a show in television history. Matt Smith’s ability to mix humor with that darkness that is hidden deep within the Doctor certainly made for must-watch television. Peter Capaldi had a great stint after Smith, and the show remains excellent under the care of Chris Chibnall of Broadchurch fame with Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor.
The Almighty Johnsons
In what might be the most Buffy-like show that no one knows exists, The Almighty Johnsons is a show about the Norse gods who have been living among us for century upon century passing their essence along through the Johnson family. While their powers are stunted, they still have enough supernatural juice to get into some trouble while waiting for their true powers to emerge.
One of the most endearing features of Buffy was the casual absurdity, such as fighting demons that looked more like kids on Halloween than something produced by a Hollywood studio. The Almighty Johnsons is able to nail this in just the right way that it seems more like a style rather than a lack of budget.
The show was cancelled after the second season, but a third and final season emerged after a fan-led campaign of sending twigs representing the world tree Yggdrasi to TV3.
Perhaps the easiest way to describe True Blood is that it is Buffy with a lot more skin. This one is easy to dismiss as an HBO softcore porn series set in a fantasy setting, but once you get through a few episodes, the underlying comedy begins to emerge.
Similar to Buffy, True Blood never takes itself too seriously. Set in the vampires-out-in-the-open world created by Charlaine Harris, Anna Paquin in the role of Sookie Stackhouse might be the most recognizable name, but it is Ryan Kwanten playing Sookie’s brother that often steals the show.
Again, softcore porn. So definitely for adults. But easily one of the funniest shows centered around vampires since Buffy.
Supernatural (The First 5 Seasons)
One of the longest running shows on the list, Supernatural is absolutely fantastic for the first five seasons under Eric Kripke’s control. The first episodes take themselves a little too seriously, but as the first season progresses, the underlying humor begins creeping into the show.
Had Supernatural ended after the fifth season, it would have been a near-perfect series. And perhaps if creator Eric Kripke had stayed at the helm past that season, it could have survived for much longer, but the show definitely begins to wane. Seasons six and seven are still very good and contain some fun episodes, but these are also the seasons where Kripke was still somewhat involved as a producer. Once he leaves the show completely after season seven, that special Buffy magic goes with him.
But don’t let this dissuade you! The first five seasons are incredible. I actually went back through and watched them again just so that I could stop with season 5, which is a perfect story arc.
I absolutely love The Magicians. And they definitely pay tribute to Buffy. This is another one that starts out pretty serious in the first Season, and there definitely seemed to be a choice to inject more humor into the show starting in season two. But don’t mistake this for “needing to get through” season one before the show becomes good. It’s fabulous from the pilot onwards. You’ll just notice more Buffy-like qualities starting in season two.
One thing to love about The Magicians is how it is a very dark and decidedly adult take on a classic children’s fantasy tale. It’s downright wicked at times. But it also manages to be very fun.
This one really shouldn’t come as any surprise. Firefly is Joss Whedon at the height of his powers. How it was cancelled after a single season is an example of how Hollywood can become too enamored with viewership that they can’t see greatness staring them in the face. This is why so many pilots aren’t very good. They are written for Hollywood executives rather than the audience and spend too much time trying to tell the executive what the show is about rather than telling a good story and showing what the story is about.
In this regard, Firefly might have one of the best pilots of all time. It is a great story, it doesn’t get bogged down with backstory, and it sets up the series in a way that isn’t obviously setting up the series.
And the pilot is just where it gets started. Nathan Fillion plays a perfect wise-cracking always-finds-a-way-to-win captain of a space ship in a decidedly western science fiction series, and Summer Glau’s River Tam is a fantastic spotlight stealer.
Ordinarily, I might have knocked it down a peg simply because it was from the Buffy creator so of course it had that Buffy spirit. But Firefly is simply too good not to be at the top (or, more accurately, the bottom) of the list. It is Buffy at its finest. And if you’ve been living under a rock and somehow have never heard of Firefly, you can cap off your binge of the one and only season with Serenity, the movie fans strong-armed Hollywood into making.
My goal here has not been to put as many shows on the list as possible. I could have certainly padded it with shows that deal with similar themes but don’t necessarily have that Buffy charm, but my intent was to list shows that the Buffy fan could watch and say, “Yeah, that has it.”
However, I haven’t seen every show ever produced. I’m trying. But too often I can’t get past the really bad pilot. (Next up: Shows that had a really bad pilot but turned out to be pretty good!)
If you disagree with anything on the list or see such an obvious omission that you can’t believe it wasn’t mention — or even if you want to make the case for Charmed — speak up in the comments!