I watch TV shows for a living — these are the 10 best I saw this year

The Last of Us HBO
(Image credit: Future/HBO)

When it comes to judging the best streaming services, there are a lot of factors. But at its core, everything comes down to does the streaming service have good TV shows and movies. And as someone whose job it is to cover those streaming services, that means I need to watch a lot of TV shows (oh no).

Thankfully, a lot of what I choose to watch is good, even though I end up watching dozens of shows over the course of a year. But even among those good shows, some rise above the rest. This year, I ended up with a shortlist of 12 shows but was pretty quickly able to narrow those down to a top 10 list of the best TV shows I’ve watched this year.

For the record, even though I have to watch a lot of TV shows for my job, and choose to watch several more beyond that simply because I’m passionate about the art that is TV shows and movies, I simply can’t get to everything. There are some great shows out there that I haven’t had a chance to watch, but if I haven’t watched it then it can’t make my top 10.

So without further ado, here are my picks for the 10 best TV shows from 2023.

Top 10 TV shows of 2023

Slow Horses (Apple TV Plus)

The best show this year has frankly been the best show on TV since Slow Horses' first season back in April 2022. It’s certainly been my favorite. So it was no surprise to me when its third season came out this fall and quickly became the best thing I’ve watched on TV this year. Starring Gary Oldman as washed-up MI5 agent Jackson Lamb, Slow Horses is based on the Slough House series of spy novels by Mick Herron. In the books and TV series, Lamb is tasked with overseeing the dregs of MI5 — the “slow horses” — which is supposed to be a quiet job but ultimately is anything but as the team is regularly thrown into volatile situations.

There are simply no weak links to this show. It’s tightly paced (every season is just six episodes) and the casting is perfect — particularly Gary Oldman as Jackson Lamb. It excels when it's a dead serious action thriller and when it's a biting British comedy. If I had to knock it for anything, it’s that no particular episode stands out from the series because nearly all of them are 5 out of 5 stars. TV shows would kill to have that problem.

Stream now on Apple TV Plus 

The Bear (Hulu)

The first season of The Bear was incredible…right until the end. Thankfully, my criticisms of that season finale are essentially undone within the first 30 minutes of season 2, which was even better than the first.

The Bear stars Jeremy Allen White as Carmy, a Michelin star-caliber chef who returns to his hometown Chicago to take over his late brother’s restaurant. In the show’s second season, Carmy is now working with his protege Sydney (Ayo Edebiri) to transform that restaurant into a fine dining Mecca. The show does an incredible job of showing the rigors not just of working in the restaurant industry, but of opening a business and the struggles that come with trying to be the best. 

The Bear also has an incredible cast, and there are a few breakout performances in season 2. But at the top of that list is Ebon Moss-Bachrach as Carmy’s cousin Richie. His character arc throughout the season is gripping, peaking in episode 7 — Forks. If you can’t figure out a way to watch the entire show, at least watch that episode, which is one of the three best I’ve seen this year.

Stream now on Hulu 

The Last of Us (Max)

Speaking of the best episodes of TV that I’ve seen this year, episode 3 of the first season of The Last of Us is probably one of the best episodes of TV ever. It’s soul-crushing in a beautiful way.

Honestly, “absolutely soul-crushing in a beautiful way” is an apt description for HBO’s adaptation of the hit post-apocalyptic survival video game. Starring Pedro Pascal as Joel, the show follows his journey to ferry Ellie (Bella Ramsey) across the US to a resistance group that may be able to synthesize her blood to turn the tide against a deadly fungal plague that has destroyed the world, turning many into zombie-like creatures. 

Of course, the real villains are the humans trying to take power or exact veganace, or simply those who are no longer controlled as society collapses. The Last of Us is incredible, it just falls ever so slightly short of Slow Horses and The Bear.

Stream now on Max 

Blue Eye Samurai (Netflix)

Kill Bill meets historical drama. That’s Blue Eye Samurai in a nutshell, and it’s the most groundbreaking new show I’ve seen this year. It’s also the best animated show I’ve seen this year, but not the only one to make my top 10. Despite being animated though, this show is adults-only. It’s hyper-violent but in a balletic way the way that John Wick movies are beautifully violent, and the sex scenes are similarly well executed. Again, definitely not a kid’s cartoon show — this is prestige TV in animated form.

Blue Eye Samurai stars Maya Erskine as Mizu, a half-white, half-Japanese warrior on a quest for revenge in Edo Period Japan. This period of Japanese history is notable for its strict class system and ban on outsiders, and as a half-white woman, Mizu is viewed as being at the bottom of society. That doesn’t stop her from being an incredible fighter as she hunts down the white man who may be her father and she views him as responsible for her subhuman status. Episode 5 — The Tale of the Ronin and the Bride — is the second-best episode of TV I’ve seen this year.

Stream now on Netflix 

Fargo (Hulu)

The beauty of Fargo is that it’s an anthology series. You don’t need to have seen seasons 1-4 to watch season 5 at all. Loosely based on the themes of the Coen Brothers classic movie Fargo, the fifth season of the TV show focuses on the story of Dorothy "Dot" Lyon (Juno Temple) who may not be what she seems to be on the surface. It also stars Jon Hamm as Sheriff Roy Tillman, who puts in an incredible performance as the North Dakota sheriff who is more a cult leader than a lawman.

Fargo is still ongoing at the moment, but already I feel confident that I can put it this high in my top 10. The performances from Temple and Hamm are incredible — both earned Golden Globe nominations, as did the show itself — and it nails the feel of a Coen Brothers film in its mix of humor, quirk and violence. 

Stream now on Hulu 

Fall of the House of Usher (Netflix)

While not exclusively an adaptation of the famous Edgar Allen Poe short story, Mike Flaningan’s miniseries is an incredible homage to the Baltimore poet. The story is the rise — but mostly fall — of the powerful Usher family led by Roderick Usher (Bruce Greenwood), the CEO of the family business, Fortunato Pharmaceuticals. 

Clearly a nod to the opioid epidemic and the Sackler family, The Fall of the House of Usher makes no effort to make the Ushers anything other than villains. Instead, each episode pulls themes and storylines from the works of Poe to bring the downfall of the Usher family to a close. It is distinctly a horror story but devices like jumpscares, blood and gore are used sparingly and to great effect so even people typically averse to the genre can enjoy the series. The performances by the cast are also a reason the show succeeds, particularly Greenwood and a supporting performance by Mark Hamill as the family’s lawyer Arthur Gordon Pym. 

Stream now on Netflix 

Succession (Max)

People may be shocked to find Succession so far down the list in its final season, but I just found the show’s victory lap to be relatively unmemorable despite being objectively excellent television. For those unfamiliar with Succession, the show follows the Roy family, a fictional version of the real-life Murdoch media dynasty, as it decides on a successor to the family patriarch and CEO Logan Roy (Brian Cox).

Now, I say “relatively unmemorable” but the show’s fourth and final season still manages some incredible moments. Episode 6, Living+, is truly farcical in its satire, and the season’s examination of Shiv Roy (Sarah Snook) and Tom Wambsgans's (Matthew Macfayden) deteriorating relationship leads to some incredible scenes. It may be my least favorite Succession season, but it's still better than most seasons of television.

Stream now on Max 

Invincible (Prime Video)

The Boys may be Prime Video’s most successful comic book adaptation, and certainly its most popular, but Invincible might be its best. The first season was incredible whether you had read the Robert Kirkman comic book series or were completely new to the series and through four episodes of its second season the quality hasn’t dropped off even if at times it feels like the show’s writers intentionally take their foot off the gas to slow things down.

Starring Steven Yeun as Mark Grayson, a.k.a. the superhero Invincible, J.K. Simmons as his father Nolan, a.k.a. Omni-Man, and Sandra Oh as his mother Debbie, Invincible, like The Boys, turns the typical superhero story on its head by subverting expectations. Though in this instance, instead of what if Superman was a genetically engineered fascist it’s what if Superman was secretly the emissary of a fascist alien empire.

But despite its animated form factor and comedic moments, I’d argue that Invincible is the more serious show of the two, keeping the hyper-violence but losing some of the more absurdist behaviors of its live-action Prime Video sibling. It also manages to have some incredible, shocking, twists. Episode 3 of season 2 in particular drops not just one but several bombshells on you, each more devastating than the last.

Stream now on Prime Video 

A Murder at the End of the World (Hulu)

Of all my choices on this list, A Murder at the End of the World is probably the most polarizing. If you don’t like its choice of using dual storylines, this show is not going to work for you, and frankly, even I struggle with it at times. But when the show is on the right track it is thrilling to watch and if you get sucked in you’ll want to keep binging the show until you’re done. The pacing does well at keeping your interest even if during episodes it occasionally loses you, consistently drawing you in by the end of each episode so that you have no choice but to keep watching.

Starring Emma Corrin as Darby Hart, an amateur detective and hacker who solves cold cases, A Murder at the End of the World is essentially what if Knives Out was a dark psychological thriller rather than a comedic murder mystery. By the time you’re reading this the final episode will have aired but I have not watched it as of this writing. Unless it fails to stick the landing though, A Murder at the End of the World should keep its spot on my 2023 top 10 TV shows.

Stream now on Hulu 

Justified: City Primeval (Hulu)

Justified: City Primeval lacks a few things that made the original Justified series so great. Chiefly, it lacks the procedural elements of the original show that allowed it to successfully go for six seasons without feeling tired. 

But what it doesn’t lack, is Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens. And if you have that, you’ve got 90% of a great TV show already. Add in an incredible performance by Boyd Holdbrook as the villainous Clement Mansell, a criminal known as “The Oklahoma Wildman,” and the recipe for success is there. 

Justified: City Primeval is an adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit and while there are some B plots of varying appeal, the point of the show is Raylan vs Clement and in providing that story effectively the show absolutely succeeds. Olyphant and Holbrook are electric whether together or apart and when they appear together you can literally almost feel the sparks radiate from your TV screen.

Stream now on Hulu 

More from Tom's Guide

Malcolm McMillan
Senior Streaming Writer

Malcolm McMillan is a senior writer for Tom's Guide, covering all the latest in streaming TV shows and movies. That means news, analysis, recommendations, reviews and more for just about anything you can watch, including sports! If it can be seen on a screen, he can write about it. Previously, Malcolm had been a staff writer for Tom's Guide for over a year, with a focus on artificial intelligence (AI), A/V tech and VR headsets.

Before writing for Tom's Guide, Malcolm worked as a fantasy football analyst writing for several sites and also had a brief stint working for Microsoft selling laptops, Xbox products and even the ill-fated Windows phone. He is passionate about video games and sports, though both cause him to yell at the TV frequently. He proudly sports many tattoos, including an Arsenal tattoo, in honor of the team that causes him to yell at the TV the most.