20 Best Coming-of-Age Shows to Watch Right Now

20 Best Coming-of-Age Shows to Watch Right Now

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As nice as it is to remember adolescence in all its fresh and pink-hued glory, we all know the so-called wonder years of our youth weren’t really all that wonderful. Puberty was awkward, fitting in painful, and rude awakenings unavoidable—a punch in the face wherever you looked. 

The best coming-of-age stories capture that bizarre mix of awestruck and angst. And we can look to films for that—they are in themselves fascinating portraits of youth—but there’s something special about a TV series dedicating its entire, episodic run to exploring this specific time in our lives. The characters start to feel like friends; their aches relatable and their growth a cause for joy. So below, we round up the very best shows to do just that. Some are funny, some are grim, but all offer that unique company only a fellow kid going through it can give. 

20. Heartbreak High

7.3

Country

Australia

Actors

Asher Yasbincek, Gemma Chua-Tran, Josh Heuston, Rachel House

Moods

Character-driven, Dramatic, Easy

It’s tempting to say that Heartbreak High, with its gloriously unfiltered takes on relationships of all kinds, is just another Sex Education replica, especially since both shows don the same multicolored fashion and Commonwealth accent. But while Heartbreak High isn’t breaking new ground by having kids and adults talk openly about sex and gender, it’s also bold, funny, and insightful in its own right. The characters are well-drawn and the problems are relatable; the show itself is sometimes annoying but also, more importantly, authentic. It’s perfectly imperfect in that contradictory teens can only be.

19. Elite

7.4

Country

Spain

Actors

Álvaro de Juana, Álvaro Rico, André Lamoglia, Aron Piper

Moods

Binge-Worthy

Three kids from a poor neighborhood win scholarships to the best high-school in Spain and later find themselves at the center of a murder. There is a lot that comes to the surface from the working-class kids clashing with the wealthy. Themes of money, power, religion, and even sexuality make this show so compelling that I never felt like I needed a murder to keep watching.

18. My Mad Fat Diary

7.8

Country

UK, United Kingdom

Actors

Ciara Baxendale, Claire Rushbrook, Dan Cohen, Ian Hart

Moods

Binge-Worthy, Character-driven, Emotional

Sixteen-year-old Rae Earl struggles with many things, among them: severe mental illness, a distorted body image, and less-than-ideal home life. In an attempt to redefine herself and pursue the teenage dream she’s always wanted, she reconnects with her estranged friend Chloe and the cool new people she’s met in Rae’s absence. As Rae gets to know this group more, she embarks on a coming-of-age journey that is, at turns, hilarious, awkward, and painfully real.

Set in ‘90s-era UK and scored to the unbeatable, headbanging tunes of English rock, My Mad Fat Diary is also an effective throwback of a show. It’s sure to be nostalgic to those who grew up in that era, while also doubling as a finely-aged portrait of a simpler time to the rest of us. Elevated, too, by diary doodles come to life and Rae’s unflinching witticisms, the series is a gem for anyone who has struggled to come to terms with their teenage self. 

17. Never Have I Ever

7.8

Country

United States of America

Actors

Adam Shapiro, Cocoa Brown, Darren Barnet, Eddie Liu

Moods

Funny

This comedy is about a girl whose family moves to the U.S. on September 2001. She grows up to excel academically but, as she asks from the shrine in her room on her first day of sophomore year, she has yet to be cool. “I want to be invited to a party with hard drugs,” she prays, “not to do them, but just to say: no cocaine for me, thanks. I’m good.”

The show is narrated by tennis legend John McEnroe who was known for his explosive temper (played recently by Shia Laboeuf in Borg vs McEnroe). It’s a genius arc because Devi is a “hothead”, exactly like McEnroe. Instead of recoiling, Devi keeps boiling over, making for a fresh and original high-school comedy.

16. The Get Down

7.8

Country

United States of America

Actors

Eric Bogosian, Giancarlo Esposito, Herizen F. Guardiola, Herizen Guardiola

Watch out for Ezekiel in this show, he will steal your heart. And also please sit through the first episode. Yes, it’s long, but if you get The Get Down, it is one of the best shows on Netflix. Created by Baz Luhrmann and Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis, it narrates the rise of hip-hop in a broken 1970’s New York. The impressive credentials don’t stop there, as the series is narrated by Nas, features work by four-time Academy Award winner Catherine Martin as well as hip-hop historian Nelson George. It is perhaps for this reason that the word “narration” takes its full meaning here. Every episode, every scene, every character are made with extreme care, resulting in sometimes longer than necessary sequences. A sacrifice that will make some viewers very happy, but which many might have a hard time adjusting to.

15. My So-Called Life

7.9

Country

United States of America

Actors

A.J. Langer, Bess Armstrong, Claire Danes, Devon Gummersall

Moods

Binge-Worthy, Discussion-sparking, Dramatic

Coming-of-age shows are not hard to come by these days. If anything, there might be too many, with a majority of them being hit-or-miss in terms of quality. But before all this, there was one show that tested the waters and bravely went where no teen show had gone: it was called My So-Called Life, and like anything ahead of its time, it was canceled almost from the get-go. 

The show was one of the first to forgo happy endings and neat tie-ups in exchange for depicting the messy, complicated, and real. Fifteen-year-old Angela Chase (Claire Danes) was hardly likable, what with her bouts of angst and anger, but she was always relatable, and you could rely on her and the rest of the Three Rivers gang to deliver the unfiltered truth about teenhood. Even though the ’90s series didn’t attract enough eyeballs to warrant a second season, it’s now getting its due among modern audiences who recognize its influence in every disaffected young lead trying their best to navigate the confusing waters of youth.  

14. Teenage Bounty Hunters

7.9

Country

United States of America

Actors

Anjelica Bette Fellini, Kadeem Hardison, Maddie Phillips, Virginia Williams

Moods

Action-packed, Binge-Worthy, Funny

With the deluge of hyper-stylized teen shows everywhere (but especially on Netflix), Teenage Bounty Hunters comes as a refreshing and welcome surprise. Sisters Blair and Sterling, played by Anjelica Bette Fellini and Maddie Phillips respectively, strike the perfect balance between spiky and endearing, creating a chemistry that’s rare to see among TV siblings. There’s friction but also love all around. 

Their interactions alone make the series thoroughly enjoyable, but their coming-of-age hijinks and comedic timing, especially around their reluctant mentor Bowser (Kadeem Hardison), make it an absolute must-watch. If you enjoyed Booksmart but wished it was more action-packed, you’ll surely love this show.  

13. High School

7.9

Country

United States of America

Actors

Amanda Fix, Brianne Tju, Cobie Smulders, Esther McGregor

Moods

Character-driven, Discussion-sparking, Dramatic

Based on a forthcoming memoir by queer music duo Tegan & Sara, High School follows the twin sisters in ’90s Canada as they figure out their place in school, in family, and ultimately in each other’s lives. Despite the well-worn premise and the throwback setting, High School feels fresh and honest in ways that are not always present in teen stories. It’s delicate and subdued while still being potent and edgy—a great alternative if Netflix’s brasher teen fare isn’t for you. High School has been likened to other great authentic coming-of-age shows like Freaks and Geeks and My So-Called Life.

12. How to Sell Drugs Online (Fast)

7.9

Country

Germany

Actors

Bjarne Madel, Damian Hardung, Danilo Kamber, Danilo Kamperidis

Moods

Binge-Worthy, True-story-based

This is Breaking Bad meets The Social Network. Based on a true story that took place in Leipzig, Germany in 2015, this show is about Moritz, a high-schooler who starts Europe’s biggest drug market online. He initially does this to impress his ex-girlfriend, who had just come back from the States with new drug experiences.

The transformation of a nerd into a drug kingpin is fascinating. But because it is based on a true story, there is an important nuance to that transformation. Moritz is rarely portrayed as a hero, and his creepy side is always present. This makes for an interesting and exciting plot-heavy show.  

11. On My Block

best

8.0

Country

United States of America

Actors

Brett Gray, Diego Tinoco, Jessica Marie Garcia, Sierra Capri

Moods

Character-driven, Emotional, Funny

TV has never been as diverse as it’s been today, but despite the multitude of perspectives, nailing an authentic and enjoyable story that’s outside the realm of the classic white experience continues to be tricky. How do you relay very real dangers like gang violence and poverty without undermining universal teenage concerns like heartbreak and rejection? 

Enter On My Block, a series that manages to stuff many things on its small plate without compromise. It’s funny and charming, but also smart and serious when it needs to be. Unlike a number of teen sitcoms before it, On My Block is in touch with the real world, and it’s unafraid to shove its characters into difficult situations at every and any moment—not just during special episodes. This authentic setup coupled with its very likable and well-drawn leads is sure to draw in viewers of all leanings.

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