Best 20 Teen TV Dramas of All Time

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Best Teen TV Dramas of All Time

'Friday Night Lights'
Photo credit: NBC

Although the genre didn't exist 50 years ago, soapy teen TV dramas have become so popular that they've secured its place for years to come. Teen dramas are shows that focus mainly on teenage characters, but that doesn't mean you have to be in high school to watch a show about teenagers. Watching these characters grow can make a person appreciate how much emotional turmoil can fill a teen's world or even help a parent connect with his or her child. Or maybe, they can just fuel some nostalgia. Here are 20 of the best and most popular teen TV dramas of all time. 

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20. Smallville (The CW)

'Smallville'
Photo credit: The CW

Like other teen dramas, it seems that the series fell off somewhere around the time all of the characters graduated from high school. Unlike other teen dramas, this isn't just another angst-y guy trying to make his way through high school. Smallville surveys the beginnings of one of the world's most iconic superheroes ever (Superman) while he's trying to comprehend having super powers and experiencing puberty all at once. 

Key Cast Members: Tom Welling as Clark Kent, Allison Mack as Chloe Sullivan, Kristin Kreuk as Lana Lang, Michael Rosenbaum as Lex Luthor, Erica Durance as Lois Lane, Annette O'Toole as Martha Kent and John Schneider as Jonathan Kent. 

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19. Pretty Little Liars (ABC Family)

'Pretty Little Liars'
Photo credit: ABC Family

Pretty Little Liars is one of the most popular TV shows to hit screens due to its murder mystery plot that draws in all ages. Although it started off strong, most of the girls' secrets have been revealed since its beginning. Nevertheless, hype continues to surround the series, which follows four girls trying to solve the mystery of their friend's death while being blackmailed by "A."

Key Cast Members: Troian Bellisario as Spencer Hastings, Ashley Benson as Hanna Marin, Lucy Hale as Aria Montgomery, Shay Mitchell as Emily Fields, Ian Harding as Ezra Fitz, Sasha Pieterse as Alison DiLaurentis, Janel Parrish as Mona Vanderwaal and Keegan Allen as Toby Cavanaugh. 

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18. Awkward (MTV)

'Awkward'
Photo credit: MTV

From mistaken accidents to sexual encounters, Awkward explores what embarrassment feels like on so many levels. The female-led series begins when Jenna's high school mistakes an incident for a suicide attempt, and from there, it never stops toeing the line between cynical and hilarious. 

Key Cast Members: Ashley Rickards as Jenna Hamilton, Beau Mirchoff as Matty McKibben, Jillian Rose Reed as Tamara Kaplan, Brett Davern as Jake Rosati, Molly Tarlov as Sadie Saxton and Desi Lydic as Valerie Marks. 

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17. Undeclared (FOX)

'Undeclared'
Photo credit: FOX

Undeclared, created by Judd Apatow, only lasted on FOX for one season before it was cancelled. The short-lived series, which follows college freshman Steve Karp and his dorm buddies as they experience their first year of college together, never really got a grasp on what it wanted to be. However, its ability to be hilarious one episode and sincere the next was engaging and unique. 

Key Cast Members: Jay Baruchel as Steven Karp, Carla Gallo as Lizzie Exley, Charlie Hunnam as Lloyd Haythe, Monica Keena as Rachel Lindquist, Seth Rogen as Ron Garner and Jason Segel as Eric. 

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16. The Carrie Diaries (The CW)

'The Carrie Diaries'
Photo credit: The CW

The Carrie Diaries chronicles Carrie Bradshaw's high school years, before she ruled the streets of New York with her ladies in HBO's Sex and The City. The series tells the story of a teen asking her first questions about friendship, sex, careers and love in the '80s through the lens of her diary.

Key Cast Members: AnnaSophia Robb as Carrie Bradshaw, Austin Butler as Sebastian Kydd, Ellen Wong as Jill 'Mouse' Chen, Katie Findlay as Maggie Landers, Stefania LaVie Owen as Dorrit Bradshaw and Brendan Dooling as Walt Reynolds. 

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15. Gossip Girl (The CW)

'Gossip Girl'
Photo credit: The CW

Gossip Girl surveys several teens living on the Upper East Side of New York, among the rich and elite. Many call the characters' actions in this show a parent's worst nightmare, and they aren't far off. But, it makes for a juicy drama series that creates a binge vibe, and it feeds one's curiosity on how the children of the wealthy and famous might live and get away with. 

Key Cast Members: Blake Lively as Serena van der Woodsen, Leighton Meester as Blair Waldorf, Penn Badgley as Dan Humphrey, Chace Crawford as Nate Archibald, Ed Westwick as Chuck Bass and Taylor Momsen as Jenny Humphrey. 

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14. Party of Five (FOX)

'Party of Five'
Photo credit: FOX

This late '90s series tells the story of five siblings who lose their parents in a car accident. Party of Five hits hard as the kids struggle to raise themselves and each other. The show's plot isn't what makes it a top teen drama; the high acting level among the cast and the characters' contrasting personalities, which pretty much cover the typical high school cliques, make it great. 

Key Cast Members: Scott Wolf as Bailey Salinger, Matthew Fox as Charlie Salinger, Neve Campbell as Julia Salinger, Lacey Chabert as Claudia Salinger, Paula Devicq as Kirsten Bennett and Jennifer Love Hewitt as Sarah Reeves. 

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13. Veronica Mars (The CW)

'Veronica Mars'
Photo credit: The CW

Veronica Mars is a sort of modern-day Nancy Drew tale, which works to solve the mystery of Veronica's best friend's death in a small town. The whole concept may seem cheesy, but the show is full of high school class divides and hierarchies that bring a piece of realism to its core. Plus, the plot is smart, and it's surprisingly more difficult to guess what's next than you'd think. 

Key Cast Members: Kristen Bell as Veronica Mars, Percy Daggs III as Wallace Fennel, Jason Dohring as Logan Echolls, Francis Capra as Eli 'Weevil' Navarro and Enrico Colantoni as Keith Mars. 

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12. Felicity (The WB)

'Felicity'
Photo credit: The WB

Felicity is a coming-of-age story centered on a girl (Keri Russell) who follows her crush to New York University just to be near him. What she fails to realize is that she will find her way and herself, make beautiful friends and actually fall in love all on her own. 

Key Cast Members: Keri Russell as Felicity Porter, Scott Speedman as Ben Covington, Scott Foley as Noel Crane, Tangi Miller as Elena Tyler, Greg Grunberg as Sean Blumberg and Amanda Foreman as Meghan Rotundi. 

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11. One Tree Hill (The CW)

'One Tree Hill'
Photo credit: The CW`

One Tree Hill follows several teens in the small town of Tree Hill, N.C., where the local high school basketball team is the biggest source of pride. All of the drama begins when two half brothers, who have the same pushy father, end up on the team. What this series does better than others is it dives deep into the characters' home lives instead of their lives at school. Absentee parents, single parents, dysfunctional family dynamics and unlikely relationships between those families drive the drama. Like other teen dramas, its best moments occur while the characters are still in high school; it loses itself during the characters' adult lives. 

Key Cast Members: Chad Michael Murray as Lucas Scott, James Lafferty as Nathan Scott, Bethany Joy Lenz as Haley James Scott, Sophia Bush as Brooke Davis, Hilarie Burton as Peyton Sawyer, Lee Norris as Marvin 'Mouth' McFadden and Paul Johansson as Dan Scott. 

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10. Dawson's Creek (The WB)

'Dawson's Creek'
Photo credit: The WB

Dawson's Creek follows the lives of four teenagers growing up in small-town Massachusetts and battle adolescence. Although the characters spend too much time describing things using SAT-caliber words, they aren't too smart to avoid hooking up with their best friend's ex-girlfriend, getting into inappropriate teacher-student relationships or get stuck between two guys. It offers several life lessons, including that you shouldn't drown yourself in your own misery when you have another choice. 

Key Cast Members: Katie Holmes as Joey Potter, James Van Der Beek as Dawson Leery, Michelle Williams as Jen Lindley, Joshua Jackson as Pacey Witter, Mary Beth Peil as Evelyn 'Grams' Ryan, Kerr Smith as Jack McPhee and Mary-Margaret Humes as Gail Leery. 

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9. Gilmore Girls (The CW, The WB)

'Gilmore Girls'
Photo credit: The CW

Gilmore Girls is another small-town story, but this time, a single mother and her daughter sit at its center. Unlike other teen dramas, the series focuses on one family, giving the creators room to explore complex character arcs. Honestly, it isn't the teen thing that makes this show transcend time. The show illustrates one of TV's strongest and sought-after parent-child relationships ever alongside a truly wacky town full of witty banter and weird traditions. It's a change of pace for teen dramas because it's not tragic all of the time; it's sweet and funny. 

Key Cast Members: Alexis Bledel as Rory Gilmore, Lauren Graham as Lorelai Gilmore, Scott Patterson as Luke Danes, Keiko Agena as Lane Kim, Kelly Bishop as Emily Gilmore, Melissa McCarthy as Sookie St. James, Liza Weil as Paris Gellar and Jared Padalecki as Dean Forester. 

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8. The O.C. (FOX)

'The O.C.'
Photo credit: FOX

The O.C. is a story of upper-class teens searching for answers in Newport Beach, Orange County, Calif. A kid straight out of juvie is taken in by a wealthy family and is exposed to a life full of infidelity, drugs, psychotic breaks and girls who look like they stepped out of a Hollister ad. The cast's chemistry and the writing make the show really come to life and keep its viewers engaged. 

Key Cast Members: Adam Brody as Seth Cohen, Mischa Barton as Marissa Cooper, Peter Gallagher as Sandy Cohen, Kelly Rowan as Kirsten Cohen, Ben McKenzie as Ryan Atwood, Rachel Bilson as Summer Roberts and Melinda Clarke as Julie Cooper with appearances by Olivia Wilde and Chris Pratt. 

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7. Beverly Hills, 90210 (FOX)

'Beverly Hills, 90210'
Photo credit: FOX

Although the series was re-made in 2008, it doesn't come close to the original '90s Beverly Hills, 90210. If you are wondering what it's like to be incredibly attractive and unnecessarily rich in high school, this is the show for you. The characters dealt with just about everything you don't wish on yourself, including date rape, AIDS, teen pregnancy, abortion, eating disorders, suicide and more, during the show's 10-season run. And yet, people really really love this series. 

Key Cast Members: Jennie Garth as Kelly Taylor, Ian Ziering as Steve Sanders, Brian Austin Green as David Silver, Tori Spelling as Donna Martin, Jason Priestley as Brandon Walsh, Joe E. Tata as Nat Bussichio, Luke Perry as Dylan McKay, Gabrielle Carteris as Andrea Zuckerman, Carol Potter as Cindy Walsh, James Eckhouse as Jim Walsh and Tiffani Thiessen as Valerie Malone. 

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6. Degrassi (The N)

'Degrassi'
Photo credit: CBC Television

Degrassi was never afraid to take on taboo issues that teens face. What made it so engaging was that each character could go through so much drama on his or her own, that there was never a lull. In a world filled with school shootings, homosexuality, disabilities, heartaches and shaky friendships, how could there be? The Degrassi franchise made such a mark that it came back for a 5th series. In 2016, Degrassi: Next Class was released on Netflix. 

Key Cast Members: The casts varied greatly each season; however, big-time rapper Drake appeared on the series. 

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5. The Wonder Years (ABC)

'The Wonder Years'
Photo credit: ABC

It would be difficult to rank great teen dramas without mentioning the popular and endearing ABC series The Wonder Years. The series illustrates Kevin Arnold's extraordinarily relatable memories of growing up in the '60s and '70s and making a rocky transition from child to adult. Full of life lessons, the timeless dramedy confirms that we all go through similar experiences—heartbreak, love, laughter and loss—in life. 

Key Cast Members: Fred Savage as Kevin Arnold, Dan Lauria as Jack Arnold, Alley Mills as Norma Arnold, Jason Hervey as Wayne Arnold, Josh Saviano as Paul Pfeiffer and Danica McKellar as Winnie Cooper. 

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4. My So-Called Life (ABC)

'My So-Called Life'
Photo Credit: ABC

Although My So-Called Life only lasted for one season, it was one of the best teen dramas on TV. Maybe that is true because it never had a chance to disappoint anyone. It had a similar premise to many other teen dramas on this list, but it also had the phenomenal red-headed angst-y teen, Angela Chase (Claire Danes), who was impossible not to root for. The incredible cast, paired with the writers' fearlessness when it came to what topics they were going to tackle, made for an unforgettable show, even if it didn't gain a fan base quickly. 

Key Cast Members: Bess Armstrong as Patty Chase, Wilson Cruz as Rickie Vasquez, Claire Danes as Angela Chase, Devon Gummersall as Brian Krakow, A.J. Langer as Rayanne Graff, Jared Leto as Jordan Catalano, Devon Odessa as Sharon Cherski, Lisa Wilhoit as Danielle Chase and Tom Irwin as Graham Chase. 

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3. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (The WB)

'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'
Photo credit: The WB

Buffy the Vampire Slayer was one of the first successful supernatural shows to hit TV screens, and its fan base is still gigantic today. The show follows a 16-year-old, Buffy Summers, who is destined to fight off evil vampires, creatures and demons. Thankfully, she has the help of her goofy friends. People really enjoy the show because it's kind of crazy. It's not too serious, and you don't see Buffy falling in and out of love with these creatures (like in today's Vampire Diaries). She's simply a girl trying to make it through high school and college with her friends. She just happens to be literally dealing with Hell along the way. 

Key Cast Members: Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy Summers, Nicholas Brendon as Xander Harris, Alyson Hannigan as Willow Rosenberg, Anthony Head as Rupert Giles, James Marsters as Spike, Emma Caulfield as Anya, Michelle Trachtenberg as Dawn Summers and David Boreanaz as Angel.

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2. Freaks and Geeks (NBC)

'Freaks and Geeks'
Photo credit: NBC

Freaks and Geeks is one of few series that frequently appears on lists of the best TV shows. Why? Because no other show creates a clearer picture of what it is like to be in high school than Judd Apatow's single season series. The series had a way of making its audience laugh, feel embarrassed and feel heartbroken for its characters while accurately depicting the woes of puberty. Plus, the hilarious and beloved cast has been all over the industry since the show aired. When are you going to see Jason Segel, James Franco, Seth Rogen, Linda Cardellini and Busy Phillips in the same place again? 

Key Cast Members: Linda Cardellini as Lindsay Weir, John Francis Daley as Sam Weir, James Franco as Daniel Desario, Samm Levine as Neal Schweiber, Seth Rogen as Ken Miller, Jason Segel as Nick Andopolis, Martin Starr as Bill Haverchuck, Becky Ann Baker as Jean Weir, Joe Flaherty as Harold Weir and Busy Phillips as Kim Kelly. 

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1. Friday Night Lights (NBC)

'Friday Night Lights'
Photo credit: NBC

Like One Tree HillFriday Night Lights uses sports as a way to connect a community and town. The difference is that Friday Night Lights makes everything feel more real using its everyday dialogue and situations, documentary-like camerawork and real Texas home settings. It brings to light just how much pressure an athlete can feel in a town where nothing else matters and the struggles a teenager faces while attempting to overcome it. There are first loves and first heartaches, awkward student-teacher relationships, jail visits, drugs, losses and dark secrets. Although some of the acting performances can be a little uncomfortable, it feels authentic. Teenagers are uncomfortable. That being said, Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler are a powerful pair. 

"Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can't Lose."

Key Cast Members: Kyle Chandler as Eric Taylor, Connie Britton as Tami Taylor, Aimee Teegarden as Julie Taylor, Brad Leland as Buddy Garrity, Taylor Kitsch as Tim Riggins, Jesse Plemons as Landry Clarke, Zach Gilford as Matt Saracen, Derek Phillips as Billy Riggins, Minka Kelly as Lyla Garrity, Adrianne Palicki as Tyra Collette, Gaius Charles as Brian 'Smash' Williams, Scott Porter as Jason Street, Michael B. Jordan as Vince Howard and Jurnee Smollett-Bell as Jess Merriweather.

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Rodefer, Meredith. "Best 20 Teen TV Dramas of All Time." ThoughtCo, Apr. 24, 2016, thoughtco.com/best-teen-tv-dramas-of-all-time-4027661. Rodefer, Meredith. (2016, April 24). Best 20 Teen TV Dramas of All Time. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/best-teen-tv-dramas-of-all-time-4027661 Rodefer, Meredith. "Best 20 Teen TV Dramas of All Time." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/best-teen-tv-dramas-of-all-time-4027661 (accessed November 19, 2017).