Britain has gifted the world with great TV. From their gripping crime dramas like Sherlock, Luther, and Peaky Blinders to their quirky sitcoms like Fleabag, Derry Girls, and Chewing Gum — time and time again, audiences are reminded of their creative talents as they continuously produce projects that excite and entertain.
One of the other genres they particularly thrive in is fantasy. Between mythological creatures and the mysteries of magic, several British fantasy shows have captured the hearts of many. These are the few you should check out first — some you may know and others that are hidden gems.
1 ‘Ghosts’ (2019-)
Having unexpectedly inherited an abandoned country house from a distant relative, Alison (Charlotte Ritchie) and her husband Mike (Kiell Smith-Bynoe) decide to renovate it to turn it into a luxury hotel. Unbeknownst to them, the property is haunted by several squabbling ghosts who died on the grounds of the house throughout history — all of whom aren’t pleased with Cooper’s upcoming plans.
Written and created by the team and cast of the beloved children’s sketch-comedy show, Horrible Histories, Ghosts is a charming sitcom that guarantees laughs for the whole family. From its goofy premise, great witty comedy, and unbelievably strong chemistry between the large ensemble — it’s unsurprising that this show has become such a hit. In fact, it became such a quick sensation that it only took a couple of months after its initial airing for this British comedy to be adapted for American screens.
2 ‘Misfits’ (2009-2013)
While completing their community service, five young offenders are suddenly struck by lightning during a freak storm, causing them to mysteriously gain superpowers.
As today’s cinematic climate becomes increasingly dominated by superheroes, Misfits provides a refreshing take on this genre by being a twisted story of unlikely heroes. From its dark humor to its debauchery — kind of like The Boysmeets Skins — the show is an unconventional superhero tale coupled with a bunch of young-adult angst.
3 ‘His Dark Materials’ (2019-2022)
Lyra Belacqua (Dafne Keen), a young orphaned girl, embarks on a journey to find her missing friend. But her adventure takes a sharp turn once she uncovers a deeper, more sinister plot involving the kidnapping of children and a magical cosmic substance called Dust.
As the beloved adaptation of Philip Pullman‘s classic fantasy novels, it’s safe to say that His Dark Materialswas a lot better received than its poor movie adaptation, The Golden Compass. Perhaps it was the magic of HBO or simply the medium of television – and its luxury of time – but the rich story world of His Dark Materials truly came to life and tracked an epic adventure that was both thrilling and emotional. It also helps that the show features a stellar supporting cast that includes the likes of James McAvoy, Ruth Wilson, and Andrew Scott.
4 ‘Ashes to Ashes’ (2008-2010)
After being shot in 2008 by a man named Arthur Layton (Sean Harris), DI Alex Drake (Keeley Hawes) suddenly awakens, only to find herself in 1981 – coming face to face with several members of the old British police force, whom she had read about from old reports in her research.
As the sequel series to Life on Mars, another beloved British show, Ashes to Ashes, provides a unique take on the average police procedural; not only is Alex trying to solve her mysterious fate, but she’s also bizarrely solving criminal cases while in this limbo state. With major twists and turns along the way, this show brilliantly welds together the genres of crime and fantasy. It also helps that its 80s setting gives Ashes to Ashes a phenomenal soundtrack that includes songs from iconic artists like David Bowie, Duran Duran, and Blondie.
5 ‘Britannia’ (2018-)
Set in 43 AD, the Roman Imperial Army has come back with a vengeance to destroy the Celtic heart of Britannia — a strange land ruled by warrior women and powerful druids — and complete the invasion that Julius Caesar couldn’t.
As a thrilling piece of historical fiction, Britannia is a hidden gem in the fantasy genre. With fierce action and an incredibly rich story world, this show almost feels like a fever dream with its gorgeous production design and stunning cinematography, especially when dealing with the magic sequences that almost appear hallucinogenic. It’s dark, it’s twisted, and still somehow a whole lot of fun.
6 ‘Being Human’ (2008-2013)
A vampire, a werewolf, and a ghost attempt to live together under the same roof — each trying to work out the complexities of their own lives and blend in among the human world.
Where the premise makes this show seem like a fun sitcom or another supernatural spoof, a laWhat We Do In The Shadows, Being Humanis a drama that surprisingly gained a large cult following over the years. With all its fantastical elements giving the plot a special flare, its magic came from its stories rooted in humanity. In fact, this show proved to be so influential that it spawned a North American adaptation that began to air in 2011.
7 ‘The Bastard Son & The Devil Himself’ (2022)
Having discovered himself to be the illegitimate child of Marcus Edge (David Gyasi) — a notoriously dangerous witch — Nathan Byrne (Jay Lycurgo) is suddenly caught between two warring bloodlines.
With incredible world-building, compelling character arcs, and a great acting ensemble, The Bastard Son & The Devil Himself was a quick hit, even with all its gore and brutality. A coming-of-age story with a flare of magical realism, it’s no surprise that fans couldn’t stop raving about the show. And yet, it has sadly become another popular project that Netflix bizarrely canceled after just one season.
8 ‘Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell’ (2015)
Set in an alternative reality of 19th century England, during the Napoleonic Wars, the practice of magic is no longer as frequent as it once was. That is, until two men, Gilbert Norrell (Eddie Marsan), a highly skilled magician, and Jonathan Strange (Bertie Carvel), a budding novice, come forward with their abilities.
Based on Susanna Clarke‘s award-winning novel, many fans and critics alike found Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell to be a thrilling viewing experience. With its intoxicating drama and gothic-like aesthetics, this show spins the classic British period piece and enchants its audience with its magical narrative. In fact, the show was so successful that it received four BAFTA nominations and was even recognized by the British Film Institute as one of the best British TV programs to come out in 2015.
9 ‘Merlin’ (2008-2012)
With magic being outlawed by its King, Merlin (Colin Morgan) must hide his powerful abilities once he’s sent into Camelot. But things become complicated after Merlin unexpectedly saves the life of Prince Arthur (Bradley James) as he’s quickly made aware of his destiny; he must protect the young Prince as he’s prophesied to bring magic back to the land and unite the entire realm.
From its epic scope of action to its beautiful world-building to its even greater cast — it’s no surprise that Merlindeveloped an incredibly passionate fan base and achieved great success. Often described as a comfort show, this fantasy series is filled with twists and turns that’ll keep audiences at the edge of their seat.
10 ‘Good Omens’ (2019-)
Knowing that the Earth is about to face an imminent apocalypse, finicky angel Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) and carefree demon Crowley (David Tennant) form an unlikely alliance to stop the end of the world.
Based on Neil Gaiman‘s famed novel, Good Omens has fallen into the good graces of many fans. Where it did hook audiences with its interesting concept, this show truly found its magic with the brilliant cast dynamics — especially between Sheen and Tennant. The show was so well received that despite being advertised as a single miniseries, Good Omens has since been renewed for a second season, allowing an expansion to Gaiman’s story world and his original narrative.
KEEP READING: 7 British Shows Perfect For An American Adaptation