Superman has been adapted into multiple live-action TV shows, each approaching the character from a different angle and focusing on different aspects of his story.
Some of the older TV shows, like Superboy and Adventures of Superman, had limitations in terms of special effects and storytelling, but they still hold importance in the history of Superman’s live-action adventures.
More recent shows, like Krypton and Superman & Lois, have pushed the boundaries by exploring new aspects of Superman’s mythology and delivering big-screen worthy action scenes.

Superman has been adapted into many live-action incarnations, including seven television shows. From his debut in Action Comics #1 in 1938, Superman has crossed over into other forms of narrative media. Even before the Man of Steel’s return in Superman: Legacy in the new DCU, Clark Kent’s heroic alterego has appeared in video games, along with animated shows and movies, with Superman being the hero of numerous live-action big-screen movies, as well.

Additionally, Superman has been a frequent presence on television screens since his creation, with several live-action series telling the Last Son of Krypton’s story. However the upcoming Superman: Legacy treats him, each live-action Superman TV show has approached him from a different angle, including showing Superman’s origin story over an extended run or having Superman as a married father, while others have had Superman himself in the background and focused mainly on supporting characters connected to his mythology. Here are the seven live-action Superman TV shows, ranked from best to worst.

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7 Superboy (1988-1992)

The Last Son of Krypton’s days as a young hero form the basis for the Superboy TV series, based upon the eponymous Silver Age comic book title in which Clark Kent protects Smallville as teenager. Superboy is somewhat unique among Superman adaptations in having not one but two actors portraying Clark on the show, namely John Haymes Newton in season 1 and Gerrard Christopher for the remaining three seasons. While Superboy is a clearly energetic and ambitious superhero TV series, it is also a rather dated one.

Newton and Christopher each portray Clark admirably, but the show often struggles to truly capture the power of its Kryptonian hero with the limitations of its late ’80s and early ’90s TV budget, especially with its very noticeable green screen work in the young Kal-El’s flying scenes. Superboy also presents some of the goofiest takes of Superman’s rogue’s gallery, particularly Bizarro and Metallo. Still, Superboy‘s off-beat quirkiness and Newton and Christopher’s performances make the series at least worth a revisit for the full legacy of Superman’s live-action adventures.

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6 Adventures of Superman (1952-1958)

George Reeves would come to define the Man of Steel for a generation in the ’50s TV series Adventures of Superman, which would run for six seasons until Reeves’s mysterious death in 1958. Coming off his big-screen performance as Superman in the 1951 movie Superman & the Mole Men, Reeves would do Superman and Clark Kent alike proud as both stalwart hero and mild-mannered reporter. At the same time, the technology of the era would place major limitations on just how far Adventures of Superman could take Kal-El’s powers, and it shows in some less than ideal ways over six decades after the show’s end.

Adventures of Superman banks so heavily on scenes of bullets bouncing off Superman’s chest and his near-effortless defeat of small-time criminals, the show would contribute to the misconception of Superman as a flat, two-dimensional character incapable of being challenged. While that can be hard to overlook upon returning to Adventures of Superman, Reeves’s cheerful performance and especially the role model he would embody for young viewers make Adventures of Superman an undeniably important relic of the character’s history. On top of that, for being a product of the ’50s, the flying scenes of Adventures of Superman (and Reeves’s energetic leap into the skies) have held up better than one might expect.

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5 Krypton (2018-2019)

The Syfy channel’s Superman prequel series Krypton would have a relatively short two-season run, but it is a surprisingly enthralling trip through the history of Superman’s home planet in that time. Set in the days before Krypton’s destruction, the show centers on Superman’s grandfather Seg-El (Cameron Cuffe), determined to restore honor to the House of El. As a kind of DC Comics spin on Game of Thrones, Krypton does a serviceable job of predicating its story on political feuds and scientific debates with Kryptonian society, even if it does feel a bit too removed from the core Superman mythos at times.

That is not to say that Krypton overlooks it either, with classic Superman villains like Doomsday, Lobo (Emmett J. Scanlan), Brainiac (Blake Ritson), and General Zod (Colin Salmon) showing up in major appearances. Krypton also uses its visual effects and sets very effectively to make the planet feel like a truly living alien world pulled right from the comics. Krypton might not have gotten to build out the planet’s pre-destruction tale as much as its debut suggests it to be going for, but as an episodic visit to the Man of Steel’s home, it is a journey worth taking.

4 Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993-1997)

There’s a reason Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman places the three names in its title in that order – that being it’s focused upon the workplace romance of Clark Kent (Dean Cain) and Lois Lane (Teri Hatcher) first, and superheroics second. This would prove to be a clever reinvention of Superman’s mythos, with Lois & Clark running for four seasons on ABC, and even indirectly leading to The Death of Superman comics story, following a request by the show’s producers that DC Comics hold off on Lois and Clark’s marriage story (“Let’s just kill him!” in the words of artist Jerry Ordway).

Cain himself is a much more convincing Clark Kent than he is as Superman, and his and Hatcher’s chemistry it what makes the show work, so Lois & Clark‘s emphasis on romance over action would ultimately be to its benefit. At the same time, Lois & Clark still finds plenty of time for Kal-El to fly into action against evildoers, even if quite a few are all but unrecognizable from their comic book counterparts (particularly Antonio Sabato Jr.’s Deathstroke and Howie Mandel’s Mister Mxyzptlk). In all, Lois & Clark‘s ’90s era romance holds up well as one of the better live-action Superman TV shows.

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3 Supergirl (2015-2021)

Superman’s Kryptonian cousin Kara Zor-El would leapfrog from CBS to the Arrowverse after the first season of Supergirl, and the show would become one of the most popular modern superhero television adventures. Melissa Benoist deserves the lion’s share of credit for that with her engaging portrayal of Kara and chemistry with the Arrowverse’s other heroes, most notably Grant Gustin’s Barry Allen on The Flash. Supergirl would also mark the debut of Tyler Hoechlin as Superman, but despite his game performance, it would not be the strongest of starts.

With Hoechlin’s Superman a surprisingly secondary character in the Arrowverse, he has far less to work with than most Superman actors. His suit on Supergirl also outfits him with cape clips that prove to be an unnecessarily distracting detail. In the end, Superman himself would prove to be the weakest link of Supergirl, while the show overall soars high with strong action scenes and Benoist’s portrayal of Kara, though the Arrowverse’s conclusion would sadly leave the two joining the Justice League at the end of Crisis On Infinite Earths an unfulfilled tease.

2 Smallville (2001 – 2011)

Smallville would commence its tale of a teenage Clark Kent (Tom Welling) in 2001 with one strict rule – “No tights, no flights” – and that would prove instrumental to the show telling one of the most human Superman stories of all time. Over its decade-long run, Smallville is a true coming-of-age story, with Clark gradually developing his Kryptonian powers one at a time. For all its superhero action and (admittedly not always stellar) CGI, Smallville thrives on its story of Clark’s friendships, most especially his romances with Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk) and Lois Lane (Erica Durance), his heroic partnership with Oliver Queen (Justin Hartley), and eventual formation of the Justice League.

Most of all, Smallville‘s core lies in Clark’s ill-fated friendship with Lex Luthor, with Michael Rosenbaum embodying a scarred and humanized portrayal of the character that is perhaps the most tragic take on the Man of Steel’s arc-nemesis ever conceived. On a technical level, Smallville‘s reach does occasionally exceed its grasp, as seen in the show’s clunky version of Doomsday, and even the final scene only shows a shirt rip without a full look at Tom Welling’s Superman suited up. Even still, Smallville and Welling himself absolutely hit the bullseye on portraying the heart of Superman over 10 seasons that remain an eternal joy to return to.

1 Superman & Lois (2021-)

Tyler Hoechlin’s Man of Steel would headline his own series in Superman & Lois (revealed in season 2 to be a different Earth from the Arrowverse), which would prove to be one of the best surprises of any superhero TV show upon its 2021 debut. Superman & Lois follows Hoechlin’s Clark Kent and his wife Lois Lane (Elizabeth Tulloch) as they move to Clark’s hometown of Smallville to raise their teenage sons. Superman & Lois‘s emphasis falls upon Clark in the ultimate juggling act as a superhero father, and it dives into areas of Superman’s mythology never seen before on a live-action TV show.

These include his heroic alliance with John Henry Irons (Wol? Parks) and a who’s who of villains ranging from the lesser known Parasite (Rya Kihlstedt) to a considerably more gruff Lex Luthor (Michael Cudlitz). Superman & Lois‘s story of Clark’s son Jordan (Alex Garfin) developing his powers places Superman in a rare mentor role, while the show also regularly pays loving tributes to everything from Smallville, the Christopher Reeve Superman movies, Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, and many other Superman adaptations. Along with its big-screen worthy action scenes, Superman & Lois simply does everything a Superman show must do to near perfection, and stands as the greatest live-action Superman TV show.

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