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20 Great Shows Like Breaking Bad, Ranked

In the late 2000s, the term "prestige TV" became commonplace. This was in part due to the influx of quality programming hitting network and cable television, much of which featured high profile actors. "Breaking Bad" was a pioneer in blending compelling action, psychological drama, and great character moments into a lethal cocktail of storytelling that was impossible to stop thinking about until the show ended in 2013. Following Walter White (Bryan Cranston) as a high school chemistry teacher turned meth kingpin, the show is full of memorable villains and shocking moments. The show's success has resulted in a critically acclaimed spin-off show (via Rotten Tomatoes) and a sequel movie. 

"Breaking Bad" was not the first, nor the last, TV drama to raise the stakes. If you are still itching for something to fill the Jesse Pinkman-shaped hole in your heart, these shows all blend crime, drama, and suspense to great results. These 20 great shows remind us of "Breaking Bad" and heck, some are even better.

20. Ozark

A core appeal of "Breaking Bad" was the deconstruction of the nuclear family filtered through a thrilling drug story. As Walter gets deeper into the meth business, his family relationships strain — but, ultimately, he drags them into it with him. This brings us to the premise of "Ozark," a Netflix show that has a lot in common with AMC's modern classic.

"Ozark" follows Martin "Marty" Byrde (Jason Bateman) and his wife (Laura Linney), two seemingly normal parents involved in money laundering. After a scheme goes wrong with the Mexican Cartel, Marty is forced to relocate his family to the Ozarks region in Missouri. His criminal activity does not stop in the Ozarks, and — as you might have guessed — things get even worse for the Byrde family and their two children.

19. Narcos

If you want a story as laser focused on drug running as "Breaking Bad," then "Narcos" is your next best Netflix binge. Instead of meth, this one is all about cocaine. The first two seasons of the show is a biopic-style thriller, following the exploits of cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar. The drug lord is played by Wagner Moura in Seasons 1 and 2 of "Narcos." It is an action-packed show, full of tense fights and shootouts between the Columbian cartels and the American DEA.

The remaining season follows the dissolution of the cartels after Escobar's demise. It is a thrilling watch, but it also acts as a history lesson, which is something you can't say about most Netflix dramas. If a mere three season binge isn't scratching the "Breaking Bad" itch enough, the spin-off "Narcos: Mexico" also ran for three seasons on Netflix.

18. Yellowjackets

"Yellowjackets" is a Showtime exclusive that premiered in November of 2021, and it promptly set the world on fire. The drama follows a group of high school soccer players whose plane crashes in the Canadian wilderness. The show blends horror, mystery, and drama in a debut season that takes place during two separate timelines. If you want a nail-biting drama like "Breaking Bad," this could fill the void. Pitting desperate people willing to do anything to survive against each other is a forte of both shows. 

Much of "Yellowjackets" takes place during the "Lord of the Flies"-style trauma the characters are forced to survive. But in an interesting additional layer, we get to see the characters that survive as adults, 25 years later. This interplay has made for a compelling, critically acclaimed show boasting 100% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes.

While a second season is not yet confirmed, the writers are coming together in 2022 to pitch a continuation of the story. We might not see it until 2023, which gives you plenty of time to catch up.

17. Sons of Anarchy

Based loosely on the Hells Angels, "Sons of Anarchy" follows a handful of families all connected via a biker gang in California. At the start, Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam) runs the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club, Redwood Original (or SAMCRO) with his step-father Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman). Over the course of seven seasons, the show chronicles Jax's rise to power in the gang and the sacrifices he and his family have to make. 

"Sons of Anarchy" focuses on the external and internal struggles of the gang. From drug-running, run-ins with law enforcement, and conflicts with rival gangs to family drama, "Sons of Anarchy" is a dramatic crime show that has it all. If you miss the power struggles of "Breaking Bad," from Jesse and Walt's ever-changing relationship to the ultimate face-off between Walt and Gus Fring, "Sons of Anarchy" is sure to satisfy.

16. Search Party

It may not seem that way at first, but "Search Party" is an absolute trip for anyone who loves nail-biting thrillers about terrible people making terrible choices. But isn't "Search Party" a comedy? It's a fair question, and "yes" isn't an incorrect answer. It begins as a mystery comedy hybrid, and while it takes a while to get there, "Search Party" becomes one of the darkest in the genre to ever see the light of day. For comparison, it is easy to forget just how funny the early seasons of "Breaking Bad" were. Also, before Walter White, Bryan Cranston was still best known for his time on sitcom "Malcolm in the Middle." 

At the beginning, Dory Sief (Alia Shawkat) convinces her conceited group of Brooklyn hipster friends to help her look for a missing girl they went to college with — albeit one they mostly don't remember. It is a commentary on millennials, but the Season 1 finale brings a shocking twist, and "Search Party" turns suddenly into a crime thriller in Season 2. The best thing about the show — which started on TBS, got cancelled, and was eventually picked up by HBO — is that it pulls this trick every season, to greater and greater success. Each one is a different, darker genre. By the final two seasons, we are very nearly in horror territory before the penultimate episodes become something entirely unexpected.

15. Succession

We can't get enough of bad boys — which is to say, shows that interrogate masculinity by starring some of the most horrible men in fictional existence. Like "Breaking Bad" or "The Sopranos," HBO hit "Succession" is full of awful people and we simply cannot stop watching them screw each other over. Like those shows, "Succession" blurs the line between anti-heroes and villains. 

The sometimes hilarious satirical drama takes a look inside the wealthy, bitter Roy family. When a business tycoon's (Brian Cox) health starts faltering, his vicious family starts to jockey for the top spot in the company. The ensemble that comprises his sons and only daughter (Jeremy Strong, Kieran Culkin, Sarah Snook, and Nicholas Braun) give absolutely amazing performances by embodying these despicable people. What's worse is somehow you become obsessed with them, too. The need to know who is besting who overpowers you, and "Succession" becomes the latest show you can't stop watching.

14. Mr. Robot

Even a few short years after its finale, "Mr. Robot" feels like a relic of an era where making a cable show look like an HBO show was all that mattered. That, and getting a big Hollywood actor attached to the project. Thankfully, USA's hacker drama starring Rami Malek and Christian Slater was much deeper than that makes it sound. Sam Esmail brought a slick style that remained a prominent part of the show's identity throughout its four-season run. What started as "Fight Club" for the high speed internet era slowly became a cerebral drama about identity and trauma. The twists and turns of the first season will remind "Breaking Bad" fans a lot of that show at its best. "Mr. Robot" definitely goes some weird places Vince Gilligan's shows don't, though. 

The flashy first season of "Mr. Robot" was a huge conversation starter when it came out, but the show didn't manage to grab the culture by the throat. That's a shame. While its viewership began to wane during the bumpy second season, the show found its footing again in its third season (per Vox). The ending of the fourth and final season is surprisingly intimate and well worth sticking around for.

13. True Detective

In the era of prestige television that "Breaking Bad" helped create, the first season of "True Detective" was a phenomenon. With star power that was big, even for HBO in 2013, this detective show brought Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson together to give the performances of their lifetimes. And yes, it more or less saved McConaughey's career (via IndieWire). The first season of "True Detective" was a compelling, character focused murder mystery told across multiple time periods. It was disturbing at times, and groundbreaking at others, just like the story of Walter White's rise and fall. 

This gritty crime anthology spawned two more seasons, with equal if not greater star power. Colin Farrell and Rachel McAdams starred in a second season that took the show to a dingy Los Angeles and received middling reviews (via Metacritic). When the show finally returned for a third story, Mahershala Ali took center stage as the lead detective in a good, but criminally under-watched season.

12. The Shield

Before "Justified" and "The Americans" helped define the prestige TV era, FX was already going toe to toe with HBO. Beginning the same year as "The Wire," FX's "The Shield" was another critically acclaimed crime show about morally ambiguous cop. These shows disregarded the usual copoganda route popular contemporaries like "Law & Order" and "CSI" took (and, to an extent, are still taking), and instead turned a critical eye towards the police. "Breaking Bad" would not exist without "The Shield." It was a show that helped usher in the anti-hero era from HBO to cable, paving the way for AMC's success. 

Starring Michael Chiklis as Vic Mackey, an LAPD cop leading a new division, "The Shield ” focuses on corrupt policing tactics and racial tensions that permeate the system. It is a brutally honest show, predating the anti-hero trend by a few years and starring a group of straight-up evil cops who torture, plant evidence, and kill when they have to.

11. Mindhunter

David Fincher's big turn to TV only lasted two seasons, but "Mindhunter" is an excellent psychological thriller. Jonathan Groff plays a criminal psychologist in the 1970s. Based largely on the true stories of the first doctors to study the minds of serial killers, "Mindhunter" is about getting up close and personal with the worst kind of murderers. In part, "Breaking Bad" already felt like it was dealing in Fincher territory, mixing cerebral filmmaking with enough action to satisfy even the most impatient audience members. "Mindhunter" is very much in line with the director's previous work, especially "Zodiac." 

The acting is top notch, as it has to be for the show to work. In the first season, Cameron Britton gives a memorably chilling performance as serial killer Ed Kemper. More than just bringing these killers to life on screen, "Mindhunter" digs into social and political issues of the time and asks its audience to dig a little deeper about what they know to be true.

10. Barry

With Bill Hader as the star, you might have looked at "Barry" and dismissed it as too much of a comedy to satisfy your needs for blood, violence, and twists. But hear us out, "Barry" doesn't take long before it gets seriously dark. Plus, aren't legendary dramatic shows like "Breaking Bad" and "The Sopranos" full of dark humor, anyway? The answer is an unequivocal yes. If you miss the tension of the "Breaking Bad" season finales, "Barry" is one of the best HBO shows you might be missing.

The elevator pitch for this one is killer, pun intended. Barry (Hader) is a hitman who is ready to give it up for a career as a thespian. Hollywood doesn't bring Barry the peace he is seeking, and his profession ends up catching up with him. "Barry" has a compelling, dark storyline, but it is backed up by some of the funniest performances on TV. Hader is great, but Henry Winkler as his hapless acting coach shows that a veteran actor like him can still put out his best work. Anthony Carrigan as NoHo Hank also gets an honorable mention in the "most hilarious character on TV" category.

9. Fargo

Based on the 1996 Coen Brothers dark comedy of the same name, "Fargo" takes on an identity entirely its own. Each season of this anthology show focuses on a different set of characters in radically different time periods. Each is full of standout characters and performances. Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman enraptured audiences to critical acclaim for the first season, leading quickly to a follow-up season starring Jesse Plemons, Kirsten Dunst, and Patrick Wilson. Both managed to capture the dark humor of the Coens' classic, while making strange, yet compelling, new artistic choices along the way.

The first two highly regarded seasons of the anthology crime show skyrocketed creator Noah Hawley's reputation. Season 3 — which starred Ewan McGregor in two roles, playing brothers — came out in 2017, and a fourth season starring Chris Rock debuted in 2020. 

8. Justified

"Breaking Bad" and "Mad Men" put AMC on the map as a destination for the best dramas on TV. In the following years, we would see other cable networks do the same. FX is another such success story, and the TV Western "Justified" was one of the network's earliest breakout hits, beginning in 2010. If you liked the tense character dynamics of "Breaking Bad," specifically the relationship between Walt and his DEA agent brother-in-law Hank, the two leads of "Justified" might fill that void. 

Set in contemporary times, "Justified" often feels like it is taking 19th Century Western characters and plopping them into the modern era. It works too, considering how much the lead Timothy Olyphant channels classic American cowboys in his role as U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens. He returns to his hometown in Tennessee to investigate a series of crimes perpetrated by the Crowder family. While each season focuses on a different investigation, Boyd Crowder (Walter Goggins) is a constant. The old acquaintance of Raylan is an uneasy ally, and the relationship between the two men, and the actors who play them, will keep you watching until the sixth and final season.

7. Boardwalk Empire

Before meth, there was booze. If you miss the tense drug story of "Breaking Bad," then give "Boardwalk Empire" a shot. This HBO drama set during Prohibition-era was created by former "Sopranos" writer Terence Winter and had a pilot directed by Martin Scorsese. "Boardwalk Empire" doesn't get as much love anymore, but it remains a critical darling and a standout from HBO's prime era of programming.

Based on a real historical figure, the gangster drama follows Atlantic City politician "Nucky" Thompson (Steve Buscemi). As he gets involved with the mob and bootlegging in order to gain political power, the FBI inevitably gains an interest in his actions. If you're into "Peaky Blinders" or you can't get enough of mob classics like "Goodfellas," it is worth giving "Boardwalk Empire" a shot.

6. The Americans

"The Americans" is peak TV critics loved, but you probably didn't watch. Seriously, the show boasts some of the highest critics ratings of its era, and in 2015 Salon called it "the best TV show you're not watching." This FX drama starred Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell as two undercover KGB agents posing as a suburban married couple in the United States. While it's dark and full of anti-heroes, the spy drama is unique among 2010 prestige dramas. But if you are aching for season after season of suspense and betrayal that shows like "Breaking Bad" deliver so consistently, "The Americans" should go straight to the top of your list.

Set during the '80s, Elizabeth (Russell) and Phillip (Rhys) Jennings have been living in deep cover for over a decade and have begun to raise a family. As the Cold War drags on, the characters grow increasingly hostile and paranoid. If you're worried that "The Americans" might be too political for you, don't. There is plenty of talk of communism and capitalism, but the show is about the twists, dark reveals, and the cast of completely untrustworthy characters.

5. The Leftovers

Damon Lindelof has become a divisive creator over the years. His movies often have critics and audiences split, and we all know the reputation "Lost" has received due to the once-awesome show's descent into convolution. HBO's "The Leftovers" remains Lindelof's crowning achievement and one of the best dramas on the network to boot. Something of a post-apocalypse sci-fi, this show takes an already depressing premise and takes it to even rawer places.

Two percent of the world's population has vanished, and everyone has suffered in their absence. Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) is the chief of police in Mapleton, New York, where tensions rise between the community and a local cult. The show is Tom Perrotta's novel of the same name — but unlike "Game of Thrones," once "The Leftovers" ran out of source material to cover, it only got stronger.

In its second and third season, Kevin leads a core group of characters (featuring outstanding performances by Carrie Coon and Christopher Eccleston) on a journey of biblical proportions. Fans of the character drama of "Breaking Bad" will get a lot out of "The Leftovers." Both shows deal in complex characters making hard choices for their families. 

4. Better Call Saul

It should come as no surprise that "Breaking Bad" fans would be into a spin-off series focusing on one of the show's most entertaining characters. What is surprising is that "Better Call Saul" is almost as critically acclaimed as the show that spawned it. The critical consensus doesn't lie. It may not have as much of a slice of the cultural conversation as "Breaking Bad" did, but the latest series proves that creator Vince Gilligan hasn't gotten any less sharp.

The series follows the soon to be crooked lawyer Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) and how he fell from grace. Over the course of the show, we've watched him change from the well intentioned lawyer Jimmy McGill to the sleazy Saul that "Breaking Bad" fans love. "Better Call Saul" develops a whole new cast of nuanced characters, including a focus on Saul's love interest Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) and his strained relationship with his brother Chuck (Michael McKean). "Better Call Saul" also brings back beloved "Breaking Bad" villains Mike (Jonathan Banks) and Gus (Giancarlo Esposito), giving those actors another chance to shine in these incredible roles.

3. Mad Men

At the time it was on the air, "Man Men" was a network mate to "Breaking Bad." Together, the two shows helped establish AMC as a go-to channel for prestige television. Both of these shows changed TV, and forecasted a shift to sleek, high budget dramas with serialized narratives. While they are very different, "Mad Men" shares in many the themes of "Breaking Bad," and the two leading characters are dark mirrors of each other.

Set in the 1960s, "Mad Men" is a punny name that follows an ad agency in New York City. Don Draper (Jon Hamm) is an ambitious advertising executive who has it all, until it all starts to slip away. His ambitions begin to grow his family life crumbles, much like Walter White. There is plenty of machismo here, but in many ways the women of "Mad Men" — Peggy Olson (Elizabeth Moss) in particular — are the heart of the show, and its social and moral conscience.

2. The Wire

HBO diehards might guffaw at "The Wire" being mentioned in the same sentence as "Breaking Bad," but let's all calm down and just admit both are in the TV hall of fame. While HBO's groundbreaking drama is a much more down-to-earth realistic take on drug crime, both are top of the class in the stories they are trying to tell.

Throughout its five season run, "The Wire" follows groups of cops, drug dealers, and other criminals and politicians in Baltimore. A group of police forms the narrative core of the show, a thread tying disparate characters and tragedies up like a classic Russian novel. Each season of "The Wire" follows the Baltimore PD on a different beat, focusing on a different part of the city.

Characters like the Baltimore PD's Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West), drug kingpin Stringer Bell (Idris Elba), and stick-up man Omar Little (Michael K. Williams) are some of the most complex in TV history. And a very young Michael B. Jordan even had his first big performance during the first season.

1. The Sopranos

Without "The Sopranos" there would be no "Breaking Bad." Or anything like it — period. David Chase's crime drama following a New Jersey mob family in the modern day set the stage for the next two decades of prestige TV. From its very first episode, "The Sopranos" was funny, self-aware, and always kept you on your toes.

This post-modern mob story follows Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) as he quite deals with stress — stress of and from his immediate family, including his wife (Edie Falco) and children, but also the extended mafia family. Sure, there are great mob storylines throughout the show, but the thematic focus is on Tony and his progress with his therapist Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco). "The Sopranos" is operatic, hilarious, and violent. But at the end of the day, it is one of the earliest dramas to seriously dig into the psychology of the modern man — and for that alone, it holds its place in the TV hall of fame.