The 22 Greatest TV Teen Dramas Of All Time

You know you love these, XOXO.
PHOTO: Gossip Girl/The CW

Teen dramas are the best dramas when it comes to TV. The high schools look nothing like real life. The clothes are iconic. And let's not even get started on the boys (who are often played by really nice-looking men in their 20s or 30s, but who's checking?). Here, the 22 of the greatest, in no particular order.

1. Freaks and Geeks

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Despite its short life on NBC (so short the last three episodes aired on something called Fox Family Channel), this dramedy gave some of today's biggest stars (namely, James Franco, Linda Cardellini, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, and the lovely Busy Phillipps) their first important roles. The show also dealt with extremely regular and relatable stuff: friendship, love, and the agony of being weird and wonderful in high school.

2. Gossip Girl

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This show gave a sexy and refreshing look at the fabulous and dramatic lives of the rich kids of the Upper East Side, led by Serena van der Woodsen and Blair Waldorf (plus some leftovers sprinkled in Brooklyn—#SorryNotSorry, Dan Humphrey). What's not to love about a show that has whispers of all that is mostly evil, a hot dad (who lives in Brooklyn with those kids), and a severely underrated angel named Dorota?

3. The O.C.

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Before Gossip Girl, Josh Schwartz introduced us to Marissa Cooper, Ryan Atwood, and Ryan Atwood's dirty tank top. The pilot alone was a major triumph for television in the early '00s. The Chrismukkah episodes were also a real treat.

4. Pretty Little Liars

From blackmail to oh, ~*all the deaths*~, PLL has kept fans on high alert since we all met Aria and company in Rosewood. The show is sadly coming to an end in 2017, which means opportunities for said blackmail and deaths are quite limited.

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5. Friday Night Lights

Save for a random season two storyline (sorry, Landry and Tyra, but the murder was just weird), Friday Night Lights was the source of the good stuff. Has there ever been a TV character more sensitive and raw than Matt Saracen? A coach hotter than Eric Taylor? A bo$ more powerful than Tami Taylor? And then there’s the beautiful Tim Riggins…

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6. Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Joss Whedon's prized movie and subsequent TV show paved the way for all the supernatural faves of today (see next entry). Buffy Summers embodied everything any 16-year-old heroine should be: fearless, curious, and strong-willed. She also had the ultimate BFF in Willow Rosenberg (who broke barriers of her own by being part of one of TV's first major lesbian storylines). Quick, call the Willow in your life and perform your favorite song from the show's musical episode, "Once More, With Feeling." Life is better when it's lived like a musical.

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7. The Vampire Diaries

Elena, Damon, and brother dearest Stefan were part of one of the greatest (and oldest, because vampires) love triangles to ever hit the small screen, and you should all be so grateful for it. We now live in a world where there are no more new episodes of The Vampire Diaries, since the show wrapped for good after eight delicious seasons on The CW in March 2017. Hopefully it’s just stuck between life and death, and is planning a brief return to life sometime in the near future?

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8. Beverly Hills, 90210

Being rich and beautiful didn’t mean the teens of West Beverly Hills High were safe from very real problems. Over 10 seasons, the show dealt with serious plot lines involving drug abuse, alcoholism, date rape, domestic violence, racism, suicide, pregnancy, and AIDS. It also gave viewers very serious crushes on David Silver and Dylan McKay.

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9. Dawson's Creek

While Joey Potter was not the first teenager to climb through a window on TV (see Zack Morris from Saved by the Bell and Sam Anders from Clarissa Explains It All), she was the first to do it while delivering volumes of script (and long, complicated words). This was all thanks to WB/CW legend Kevin Williamson, who also wrote I Know What You Did Last Summer. The fictional town of Capeside was a nice escape for those who were also trying to figure out what it was they wanted in life, and how their crushes, weird BFFs, and family members fit into their grand plans.

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10. My So-Called Life

Being a teenager is hard AF and Angela (Claire Danes) showed that in the most beautiful and raw form on TV. It's a tragedy the show only had one season, and it’s a tragedy that not all boyfriends are named Jordan Catalano.

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11. Party of Five

For six emotionally crushing seasons, viewers joined the Salingers at the dinner table to watch big bro Charlie deal with his own problems while taking care of his brothers and sisters after the death of their parents. There was something for everyone, whether it was Julia's ever-changing hair, Bailey's charms, or Claudia's strong sense of independence (despite starting the show as a mere 11-year-old). And then there’s wee baby Owen, who did that weird thing on TV where a character ages faster than everyone else to move a plot along.

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12. Gilmore Girls

If "Oy with the poodles already" or "Kropogs" means anything to you, Stars Hollow holds a very special place in your heart. From her days at Chilton to Yale (and beyond, with Netflix's revival in 2016), Rory was the epitome of what it means to work really, really hard at your dreams while dealing with a mostly terrible lineup of boyfriends. The word "mostly" is used here because Jess Mariano will always be her one true love.

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13. Smallville

Before superhero TV shows and movies were the inescapable juggernaut they are now, the WB introduced a new generation of teenagers to Clark Kent via Smallville, about his youth on the Kansas farm owned by his adoptive parents. As traditional teen dramas go, it's got everything—nerdy outsiders, unrequited love, sassy best friends—but the biggest dramas involve kryptonite rather than chemistry class. Think Dawson's Creek, if occasionally Dawson had to fight off alien invaders hell-bent on ruining his life.

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14. One Tree Hill

With treasures like Chad Michael Murray's eyes and Gavin DeGraw's infectious theme song about not wanting to be anything other than what you've been trying to be lately, One Tree Hill captured the feeling of youth, sibling rivalry, and high school basketball. It also gave way to one of the best mottos to ever come out of fictional businesses when Brooke Davis launched Clothes Over Bros. Because even when the bros look like Lucas and Nathan Scott, clothes still take precedence.

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15. Veronica Mars

Name a better teen spy who also has a talent for delivering savage comebacks. We'll wait.

16. Glee

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Between the over-the-top musical numbers and Sue Sylvester one-liners, Glee taught the students of McKinley High and beyond how to deal with relationships, death, family issues, and big dreams.

17. The Wonder Years

Accompanied by the narration of an older Kevin Arnold, viewers were brought back to the many firsts of his adolescence, from his first real relationship to his eventual heartbreak. To this day, many are still not over the outcome of Kevin and Winnie's love story, even if the show reminds us that "things never turn out exactly the way you plan them." Somewhere, in an alternate TV universe, Kevin and Winnie are lounging at their second beach house after receiving news about the birth of their fourth grandchild.

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18. Degrassi: The Next Generation

One of the longest-running teen dramas on TV, Degrassi tackled subjects like drug use, suicide, mental health, bullying, racism, teen pregnancy, sexism, and relationships. While Drake has emerged as the most famous cast member to date, Degrassi was blessed with a stellar rotating ensemble that propelled the show to 14 seasons.

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19. Roswell

Shortly before Smallville premiered in the early '00s, the WB released Roswell, which executed a fine balancing act between teenage alien soap opera and serious teen drama.

20. Skins

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Much like DegrassiSkins bravely swam in controversial waters as it covered everything from mental illness to substance abuse to sexuality. Written by teens for teens, the show helped launch the careers of names you are more than familiar with these days, including Nicholas Hoult, Dev Patel, Daniel Kaluuya, and Game of Thrones stars Hannah Murray and Joe Dempsie. A North American adaptation was made for MTV in 2011 but it just didn't catch on. Too bad.

21. The Fosters

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Teri Polo and Sherri Saum play Stef and Lena, a cop and school vice principal, respectively, who are married and have four adopted kids and one of their own. Basically, everyone's a Foster on The Fosters   and the door is always open, no matter your sexual orientation, age, or color of your skin.

22. Daria

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Sure, Daria was animated, but that didn't make her problems as someone who was a little bit different any less real. High school was a real pain, a "sick sad world," if you will. Daria and her Lawndale crew just made the experience all the more charming.


This article originally appeared on Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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