It’s official. HBO Max is Max. Despite having gone through a tumultuous time, this streamer still has an astounding catalog of original shows and streaming favorites. So astounding, in fact, that when it came time to make a list of the best TV shows on Max, the task was kind of impossible. Some of the best TV shows ever made are HBO originals, and telling people to watch The Sopranos, The Wire, Sex and the City, The Leftovers, Barry, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Succession, Big Little Lies, Insecure… you get the idea; it seemed redundant.
For this list, we’ve collected 20 “less obvious” choices for the best TV shows on Max, which range from a Hanna-Barbera animated courtroom comedy to a kung fu Cinemax gem about 19th-century Chinese gang wars to some recent hits that really are must-see.
Here are the 20 best shows now streaming on Max.
1. The Last of Us
Credit: Liane Hentscher / HBO
Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin’s astonishing adaptation of the popular video game The Last of Us offers nine hour-long episodes, telling a compelling and self-contained story. Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey star as a pair of survivors thrown together in a post-apocalyptic America, ripped apart by a tenacious fungus that turns man into (essentially) zombies. To save the future of all mankind, mercenary Joel must get snarky teen Ellie across the U.S. to a safe zone. Along the way, they’ll not only have to face a variety of vicious creatures but also humans who bring new meaning to the word evil.
This series not only offers hair-raising horror, goofy puns, and a playlist that’ll get stuck in your brain; it also delivers some of 2023’s most emotionally devastating onscreen moments. Lean into it, and give yourself a good long cry.* — Kristy Puchko, Film Editor
How to watch: The Last of Us is now streaming on Max.(opens in a new tab)
‘The Last of Us’ finale: Why the giraffe scene is so important
2. White Lotus
This dark comedy series from creator Mike White explores the humor to be found among the ridiculously wealthy in a resort that caters to their every whim. While each season of White Lotus is set in a different picturesque locale (Hawaii! Sicily!), they share a setup of a mysterious death in the first episode. As the stories of privileged jerks tangle with the hardships of the workers tending to (and exploiting) their desires, viewers are tempted to play whodunnit, even if the show’s not really about that.
Come for the murder mystery, the cynical humor, or the star-stuffed cast that includes Jennifer Coolidge, F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hollander, Aubrey Plaza, Haley Lu Richardson, Murray Bartlett, and Connie Britton.* — KP
How to watch: The White Lotus is now streaming on Max.(opens in a new tab)
‘The White Lotus’ Season 2 opening credits spoiled the ending
3. Pushing Daisies
Creator Bryan Fuller’s trademark mix of death obsession and aesthetic whimsy reached its peak with Pushing Daisies, an occasionally musical television masterpiece. Pushing Daisies stars Lee Pace as Ned the Piemaker, a socially anxious man with the power to bring the dead back to life with a single touch. Anna Friel plays Chuck, Ned’s dead childhood sweetheart who (kind of) benefits from those powers. The world of Pushing Daisies is a candy-colored, grown-up Dr. Seussian landscape with tongue-twister names and unforgettably unique characters, and its two lovely seasons will forever leave viewers wanting more. — Alexis Nedd, Senior Entertainment Reporter
How to watch: Pushing Daisies(opens in a new tab) is now streaming on Max.(opens in a new tab)
4. My Brilliant Friend
Based on the novels by Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend is the kind of breathtaking drama that envelops you completely in its characters’ lives and feelings. Margherita Mazzucco and Gaia Girace play lifelong best friends Lenu and Lila, bonded by their big dreams and small town outside of Naples. The show is filmed entirely on location with a native cast and Neapolitan dialogue, immersing you instantly in Italian summers, teenage dreams, and a neighborhood that comes to feel familiar after just a few episodes (along with Max Richter’s hauntingly beautiful score). Lila and Lenu are vastly different characters, but played with the same elegant stoicism by Mazzucco and Girace, as the friends grow up, grow apart, and face life’s hardships. — Proma Khosla, Entertainment Reporter
How to watch: My Brilliant Friend(opens in a new tab) is now streaming on Max.(opens in a new tab)
5. Doom Patrol
Credit: Dan McFadden / HBO Max
Imagine a superhero team as group therapy, and that’s basically Doom Patrol, which collects some of the strangest and saddest super-powered characters you’ve ever met and then sits back and watches as they work through their issues with each other, the world, and most especially themselves. But an endless sob fest this is not: As seriously as Doom Patrol takes its characters’ trauma, it’s also darkly hilarious, with a sardonic sense of humor and a willingness to embrace whatever bizarre shit gets thrown at it — vengeful rats, interdimensional donkey portals, teleporting sentient streets, and all. — Angie Han, Deputy Entertainment Editor
How to watch: Doom Patrol(opens in a new tab) is now streaming on Max.(opens in a new tab)
‘Doom Patrol’s Madame Rouge is the mystery that keeps on giving
6. Miracle Workers
Need a laugh? No comedy compares with the outside-the-box antics of 2019’s Miracle Workers. It began as a seven-episode arc about two bumbling angels trying to save the world from annihilation by winning a bet with a frustrated God. This might sound like a premise ripe for an epic quest! Instead, creator Simon Rich imagined an office comedy where angels are listless, irritable, or incompetent, and God is a needy, fitful oaf who can’t even impress his parents.
“Irreverent” doesn’t even begin to describe the jokes at play here, and the cast — centered around Daniel Radcliffe, Geraldine Viswanathan, and Steve Buscemi — makes a meal of every absurd turn, goofy visual gag, and jolting one-liner. Like True Detective, this mini-series was so great that it upgraded to anthology with its following seasons. Thankfully, Miracle Workers kept its cast through a second season in a merciless medieval setting and a third upon the treacherous Oregon Trail. That this bonkers but brilliant show even exists is a miracle.* — KP
How to watch: Miracle Workers(opens in a new tab) is now streaming on Max.(opens in a new tab)
7. Eastbound and Down
When it comes to capturing a very specific subgenre of white male American bluster, few are doing it better than Danny McBride. Eastbound & Down — the first, rawest, and arguably laugh-out-loud funniest of what McBride calls a “misunderstood angry man” trilogy, which also comprises Vice Principals(opens in a new tab) and The Righteous Gemstones — stars McBride as Kenny Powers, a washed-up major league pitcher desperate to reclaim some semblance of his former glory at any cost.
Floridly obnoxious and offensively crude, Kenny is hard to like and even harder to root for. But McBride makes you enjoy watching him in spite of yourself, no matter how low he sinks, how depraved his actions become, how pathetic he’s revealed to be. — A.H.
How to watch: Eastbound & Down(opens in a new tab) is now streaming on Max.(opens in a new tab)
Credit: Mark Hill / HBO
In this 2019 superhero show, Damon Lindelof boldly re-imagines the iconic comic book series from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Taking place decades after the events in the comics, this Watchmen centers on Sister Night (Regina King), a Tulsa police detective who wears a nun-like costume to fight crime. In this striking guise, she combats the rising power of a white supremacist group known as the Seventh Kavalry. Thankfully, she won’t have to do it alone, as she’s got some super friends of her own. Tim Blake Nelson, Jean Smart, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jeremy Irons, and Hong Chau co-star, playing characters complex, outrageous, and absolutely riveting. Weaving mature themes with graphic violence and daring socio-political commentary, this audacious adaptation won critical acclaim, a vociferous fan following, and a whopping 11 Emmy Awards, including one for King.* — KP
How to watch: Watchmen (opens in a new tab)is streaming on now Max.(opens in a new tab)
9. Chewing Gum
Before she wrote and starred in the powerful I May Destroy You, Michaela Coel wrote and starred in Chewing Gum, a laugh-out-loud series about a 24-year-old woman whose quest to get laid for the first time takes up her every waking thought. Coel’s signature quick humor and amazingly expressive face is front and center in her character Tracy, whose corner of London is far removed from what less creative shows have ever portrayed. — A.N.
How to watch: Chewing Gum(opens in a new tab) is now streaming on Max.(opens in a new tab)
10. Search Party
From the very first episode that premiered on TBS in 2016, Search Party was immediately more brilliant — more thought-provoking, hilarious, and sardonic — than it had any right to be. Dory Sief (Alia Shawkat) is desperate to feel important, and she finds a perverse sense of purpose in pursuing a missing high school classmate. The case of the missing girl engulfs Dory and her entitled millennial friend group, leading to murder, subterfuge, kidnapping, and the complete destruction — or reveal — of Dory’s identity.
Created by Sarah-Violet Bliss, Charles Rogers, and Michael Showalter, Search Party is a a gold-standard dark comedy with a formidable young cast. Shawkat consistently pushes herself into new territory, impeccably balanced out by John Reynolds’ jaded nice guy, John Early’s hyperactive narcissist, and Meredith Hagner’s demented sweetness. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll gape in horror, and then you’ll want to do it all again. — P.K.
How to watch: Search Party(opens in a new tab) is now streaming on Max.(opens in a new tab)
‘Search Party’ Season 4 is a magnificent horror movie
11. Perry Mason
You don’t need to know about, let alone like, the long-running CBS legal drama this 2020 reboot was based on to appreciate its impeccable execution.
Matthew Rhys stars as the titular Perry Mason, a hard-as-nails private investigator working for a defense attorney’s office in 1932. He’s investigating the murder of a baby boy — more specifically, whether the boy’s mother had anything to do with it — against a backdrop of Prohibition-era prosecutorial misconduct and religious fervor. It’s a gritty and theatrical ordeal that only ramps up its intensity across eight phenomenally well-written episodes.
Knockout performances from John Lithgow, Juliet Rylance, Chris Chalk, Shea Wigham, Tatiana Maslany, Gayle Rankin, Stephen Root, Lili Taylor, and more make this a masterclass in reimagining historic franchises. It’s the perfect binge for a weekend, but just as compelling to break up across evenings. — Alison Foreman, Entertainment Reporter
How to watch: Perry Mason(opens in a new tab) is now streaming on Max.(opens in a new tab)
12. Harley Quinn
Credit: HBO Max
Imagine a bloodier, more profane, and hilariously over-the-top animated take on Birds of Prey(opens in a new tab). Then throw in stuff like winking nods to Bane’s terrible voice in The Dark Knight Rises(opens in a new tab) and heartfelt and deeply textured relationship drama. That’s DC’s animated Harley Quinn series in a nutshell. It’s one of the most entertaining and thoughtful DC stories of the modern era and a must-watch for anyone who cheered Harley’s post-breakup rebound mayhem in the (unconnected but thematically simpatico) 2020 film. — Adam Rosenberg, Senior Entertainment Reporter
How to watch: Harley Quinn is now streaming on Max.(opens in a new tab)
Did ‘Harley Quinn’ just redeem the Joker?
13. True Detective
From the moment Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson were cast as a duo of detectives on the hunt for an elusive killer, this 2014 show screamed “prestige TV.” Shortly after its debut, this neo-noir mini-series had audiences screaming too, hollering in horror of the unnerving visuals, cheering over its immersive cinematography, and yarn-walling over how it might end. Heralded filmmaker Cary Joji Fukunaga helmed the entire premiere season with aplomb, creating a rich world of Southern-fried intrigue, blood-curdling violence, and mind-bending philosophy. Critics cheered. Audiences tuned in, and the Primetime Emmys presented five awards to this daring drama. Sure, all that success led to writer Nic Pizzolatto spinning new stories for successive seasons. But it all began as one damn fine mini-series.* — KP
How to watch: True Detective(opens in a new tab) is now streaming on Max.(opens in a new tab)
Though it debuted an entire decade ago, Enlightened feels every bit as fresh and relevant today as it did then. Maybe even more so, considering it was ahead of the curve on conversations about complicated female characters, workplace harassment, corporate irresponsibility, and the unimpeachable brilliance of Laura Dern.
Dern plays Amy Jellicoe, a woman who returns from work after a nervous breakdown and subsequent rehab stint with a less prestigious job position, a sunnier outlook on life, and a newfound determination to change the world for the better — starting with her own corrupt employer. You’ll love her, you’ll hate her, and above all else, you won’t be able to look away from her.* — A.H.
How to watch: Enlightened is now streaming on Max.(opens in a new tab)
‘Enlightened’ is your next TV binge if you can’t stop thinking about ‘The White Lotus’
15. Avenue 5
Avenue 5 takes the dry and cutting comedic sensibilities of Veep(opens in a new tab) — both were created by Armando Iannucci — and sends them hurtling off, out of control, into deep space. The intensely relatable comedy follows a leisurely space cruise line that’s thrown off course, turning a months-long journey into a years-long one. Driven by hilarious performances from Hugh Laurie, Zach Woods, Suzy Nakamura, and an overall impressive ensemble around them (including Josh Gad, if you’re into that sort of thing), Avenue 5‘s escalating series of disasters makes for one of HBO’s funniest seasons of new TV in recent years. — A.R.
How to watch: Avenue 5(opens in a new tab) is now streaming on Max.(opens in a new tab)
16. Los Espookys
Credit: Diego Araya Corvalán / HBO
Los Espookys centers on a group of horror enthusiasts who start a business staging spooky scenarios for various clients — a fake sea monster to drive tourism to a seaside town, for instance. But the “real” world the characters live in is pretty damn strange already. On any given day, this gang might find themselves showing a water demon the 2010 Colin Firth drama The King’s Speech(opens in a new tab), or figuring out how to break an American ambassador out of a supernatural mirror world, or fending off the advances of a duke whose greatest flaw is that he is not a cartoon prince. Whatever comes their way, you can bet on these besties to take it in stride and live to haunt another day.* — A.H.
How to watch: Los Espookys(opens in a new tab) is now streaming on Max.(opens in a new tab)
‘Los Espookys’ is the best comedy you might have missed this summer
17. Harvey Birdman
The best use of Hanna-Barbera cartoons ever? Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law.
The adult animated series, which debuted on Adult Swim in late 2000 and had its brilliant spinoff Birdgirl(opens in a new tab) debut in April 2021, casts the Saturday morning icons we know and love in a nonsensical legal drama. Superheroes like the titular Harvey Birdman (voiced by Gary Cole) help defend and prosecute iconic characters from shows like The Flintstones(opens in a new tab), Yogi Bear(opens in a new tab), and Scooby-Doo(opens in a new tab) on behalf of the Sebben & Sebben law firm.
If that doesn’t sound instantly incredible to you, then it’s probably not your thing. However, the deciding factor for anyone on the fence should be a quick listen to Harvey Birdman‘s earworm of a theme song(opens in a new tab). “Whooooooo is the man in the suuuuit? Whooooo is the cat with the beeeeeaaaaak?” — A.F.
How to watch: Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law(opens in a new tab) is now streaming on Max.(opens in a new tab)
Fans of The Wire(opens in a new tab) need to know just one thing: Treme is a David Simon production. Created in partnership with his former Homicide: Life on the Street collaborator Eric Overmyer, the underrated 2010 series dives deep into the life, community, and culture of one of the most vibrant cities in the United States: New Orleans. Picking up in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the series follows a memorable crew of residents as they work to rebuild and rediscover their sense of community in the wake of the natural disaster. Just like The Wire, all the pieces matter here — right down to the authenticity of a locally sourced cast and an intense, loving focus on music, which has long been one of the city’s finest cultural exports. — A.R.
How to watch: Treme(opens in a new tab) is now streaming on Max.(opens in a new tab)
19. The Knick
Set in turn-of-the-century New York City, this 2014-2015 series tells the story of a medical staff at the forefront of surgery, just as it was beginning to be practiced by doctors rather than barbers (yes, that was a real thing(opens in a new tab)). The show puts you on the ground at the Knickerbocker, as its brilliant surgeons (played by a stunning cast that includes Clive Owen and André Holland) figure out gruesome but life-saving procedures for illnesses that used to be terminal, like appendicitis.
What makes The Knick especially pertinent during the pandemic is a visceral understanding of how you can never win when you’re the one faced with the impossible task of outsmarting death. It’s the unlivable anguish we’re asking medical professionals to endure every day now on the frontlines of this battle against our unseen, unknowable enemy.* — Jess Joho, Staff Writer
How to watch: The Knick is now streaming on Max.(opens in a new tab)
Based on the original treatment written by Bruce Lee, Warrior is a show almost 50 years in the making and worth every minute of the wait. It’s a kung fu crime action drama starring actor/stuntman Andrew Koji as Ah Sahm, a Chinese immigrant to San Francisco whose deadly martial arts skills earn him a spot as a hatchet man for a dangerous Chinatown gang. Warrior may take place in the 1870s, but its themes of immigrant exploitation, xenophobia, found family, and spin-kicking racists directly in the face all resonate with today’s America. — A.N.
How to watch: Warrior is now streaming on Max.(opens in a new tab)
* Some of the blurbs on this list previously appeared in other Mashable articles in slightly modified form.
UPDATE: May. 10, 2023, 4:05 p.m. EDT This list has been updated with the current streaming options.