The 30 Best International TV Shows of the Decade

If streaming was the television story of the decade, then close behind was the explosion of global content that came to American screens to help fill all that new bandwidth. Shows suddenly appeared from all over the world, most noticeably financed or acquired by Netflix but also flooding in through a myriad of other streaming services and cable networks. Americans will read subtitles, it turns out. (I’d prefer to think no one’s choosing the dubbed English soundtracks.)

The world is a big place, with a lot of production companies, and on any given day in 2019 there were likely to be more international shows premiering in America than American-made shows. Over the years I’ve tried to sample as much of that bounty as I could, from cozy British mysteries to florid Asian soap operas and everything in between. I’ve distilled all those hours into this list of my top 30 international shows of the last decade, full of glaring omissions which you’re encouraged to gently point out in the comments.

The requirements for my list: scripted series produced outside the United States (though some were American-financed), which were commercially available to American audiences, and which premiered in 2010 or later. I cheated on the dates for one show, the 2009 “Prisoner of War,” which didn’t appear in America until 2012 and was just too good to leave out.

Britain takes 12 of the 30 spots, which might represent some cultural and language biases on my part but mainly reflects that country’s unmatched heritage of making good TV, with significant government support. And before you say I “forgot” them: Yes, I’ve watched “Peaky Blinders” and “Schitt’s Creek.”

30. ‘This Is England’ (Britain)

Like a fictional analogue to the “7 Up” documentary series, Shane Meadows’s three linked mini-series — sequels to his film of the same name — check in on a raucous group of working-class friends growing up in the Midlands in 1986, ’88 and ’90. Purposely rough around the edges and more than a little melodramatic, it compensates with exuberant energy and a large, uniformly endearing cast. (Streaming on Amazon.)

29. ‘Letterkenny’ (Canada)

An absurdist sitcom, set in and around an Ontario farm town, with the brittle loquacity of screwball comedy and the surreal jokiness of the Marx Brothers, much of it delivered in a highly expressive Canadian monotone. (Streaming on Hulu.)

28. ‘Sacred Games’ (India)

Mumbai is being threatened from every direction — the underworld and the upper echelons of the police force, the past and the present — and it’s up to a doughty, doubtful Sikh cop to fend them off. Saif Ali Khan plays the turbaned inspector Sartaj Singh in a series, based on a novel by Vikram Chandra, that mixes Bollywood energy with a literary style and touches of magical realism. (Streaming on Netflix.)

27. ‘Broadchurch’ (Britain)

Chris Chibnall’s seaside detective series was a superior and suspenseful whodunit, especially in its first and third seasons. What set it apart was its cast, including Jodie Whittaker and Andrew Buchan as bereft parents, Arthur Darvill as a sketchy reverend and, pre-eminently, David Tennant and Olivia Colman as the cops, mismatched partners who fought bitterly while seeing each other through their lives’ greatest trials. (Streaming on Netflix.)

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26. ‘Three Times Manon’ and ‘Manon 5 Years On’ (France)

The Oscar-winning documentarian Jean-Xavier de Lestrade (“Murder on a Sunday Morning,” “The Staircase”) made these two companion mini-series, snapshots of the life of a sullenly furious young woman at the ages of 15 and 20. “Three Times” shows her experience in reform school after she stabs her mother and “5 Years On” tracks her stumbling progress into adulthood, each with plain-spoken grace and compassion. (Streaming on Amazon.)

25. ‘My Mad Fat Diary’ (Britain)

Sharon Rooney gives a delicate yet hilarious performance as a 16-year-old, 200-plus-pound girl, just home from a mental clinic after a suicide attempt, in this spirited, moving dramedy. She leads a great cast that includes Jodie Comer of “Killing Eve” as the beautiful best friend, Claire Rushbrook as the mother and Ian Hart as the tough-love therapist. (Streaming on Hulu.)

24. ‘Norsemen’ (Norway)

Several hilariously neurotic bands of Vikings fret about their diet, acceptable sanitation, the state of eighth-century prosthesis design and their comfort zones for rape and pillage, in irresistibly melodic Norwegian-accented English. It never gets old. (Streaming on Netflix.)

23. ‘The Returned’ (France)

Shot in eerily beautiful locations in the Haute-Savoie, this philosophical, supernatural mystery-melodrama portrays the sudden reappearance of a mountain town’s formerly dead residents with a languorous rhythm and atmosphere to spare. (Streaming on Netflix.)

22. ‘Deutschland 83’ (Germany)

It was like a cottage version of “The Americans”: an East German spy, spurred by Ronald Reagan’s “evil empire” speech, recruits her nephew and sends him on an absurdly dangerous undercover mission into West Germany. And it had more than a little of that show’s knack for smartly paced suspense and authentic emotion. A follow-up season, “Deutschland 86,” didn’t reach the same level. (Streaming on Hulu.)

21. ‘Money Heist’ (Spain)

Highly stylized, en el estilo de Quentin Tarantino — a bespectacled genius hires eight code-named thieves to rob the Spanish mint — this puzzle-box of a series employs time trickery, unreliable narration, flashy graphics and every other trick it can think of to keep you locked into its overheated plot. (Streaming on Netflix.)

20. ‘Kingdom’ (South Korea)

This story of a fugitive crown prince battling his young stepmother (and hordes of the undead) to gain his rightful throne is a bubbling stew of genres: historical drama, comic zombie-plague horror, horse-opera adventure and sharp social satire. But its most radical departure from Korean-drama norms is its compact, six-episode first season. (Streaming on Netflix.)

19. ‘Please Like Me’ (Australia)

In a Venn diagram representing funny, charming and scabrous, Josh Thomas’s series about a 20-year-old who’s sidling out of the closet while caring for his theatrically suicidal mother would exhibit maximum overlap. As a bonus, the future stand-up innovator Hannah Gadsby plays a version of herself in the show’s later seasons. (Streaming on Hulu.)

18. ‘Babylon Berlin’ (Germany)

One part “Cabaret,” one part “Chinatown,” one part “Law & Order.” This Weimar-era politics-and-murder mystery has flat spots here and there, but overall the recipe is foolproof. (Streaming on Netflix.)

17. ‘Moone Boy’ (Ireland)

Chris O’Dowd created this goofy, irrepressible comedy about a good-hearted but somewhat dense young boy (David Rawle) coming-of-age in rural Ireland, and he co-starred as the gangly imaginary friend who encouraged the boy’s harebrained schemes right up until they collapsed. (Streaming on Hulu.)

16. ‘Strong Girl Bong-soon’ (South Korea)

Cartoonlike in the best way, this rom-com mystery stars Park Bo-young as a video-game designer with an embarrassing secret: super strength, which is passed along through the women in her family. Investigating a series of abductions, she strikes back at the Korean patriarchy while also romancing a standard pair of doe-eyed K-drama pretty boys. (Streaming on Netflix.)

15. ‘Unforgotten’ (Britain)

Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar play detectives whose particular attributes — modesty, compassion, extreme tenaciousness — make them both excellent cold-case investigators and perfect, if often testy, partners in this poignant and beautifully modulated crime drama. (Streaming on Amazon.)

14. ‘The Bridge’ (Denmark-Sweden)

Other Nordic noirs may have been more tightly (and realistically) plotted, but they didn’t have Sofia Helin, whose understated yet intense portrayal of the on-the-spectrum homicide detective Saga Noren built in power across four seasons to a pitch-perfect conclusion. (Streaming on Hulu.)

13. ‘Fleabag’ (Britain)

Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s razor-edged and smutty comedy of upper-middle-class British manners would rate higher if it weren’t so determined to get you on its title character’s side. (And if it hadn’t tried to reposition mugging to the camera as a postmodern storytelling strategy.) But few shows could make you laugh quite as helplessly. (Streaming on Amazon.)

12. ‘El Marginal’ (Argentina)

A former cop goes undercover inside a Buenos Aires lockup that resembles a fortified, Felliniesque shantytown, in a show that makes most American prison dramas look like work release at Disneyland. (Streaming on Netflix.)

11. ‘Detectorists’ (Britain)

Mackenzie Crook (who wrote and directed all three seasons) and Toby Jones play a pair of friends who share featureless lives and a passion for metal detecting. Their long walks up and down the fields of Essex parallel their equally doubtful searches for love and fulfillment in a quiet comedy that could best be described as mournfully joyous. (Streaming on AcornTV.)

10. ‘A Very English Scandal’ (Britain)

Clocking in at just under three hours, Stephen Frears’s scathing yet touching satirical drama about the British politician Jeremy Thorpe and Norman Scott, the former lover he was accused of trying to kill, barely counts as a series. But it belongs here for the bold, outstanding performances of Hugh Grant as Thorpe and Ben Whishaw as Scott. (Streaming on Amazon.)

9. ‘Killing Eve’ (Britain)

A repressed intelligence analyst and a glamorous, childish killer have a mutually thrilling crush on each other, playing out their fascination, attraction and jealousy in life-changing and potentially lethal ways. The stars, Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer, and the principal writers, Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Season 1) and Emerald Fennell (Season 2), have turned that premise into a riff on the romantic spy thriller that can be darkly funny one moment and devastating the next. (Streaming on Hulu.)

8. ‘Fauda’ (Israel)

An absorbing, straightforward thriller about an Israeli counterterrorism unit that shrewdly exploits the exigencies and emotions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its dusty, mazelike locales. (Streaming on Netflix.)

7. ‘Chewing Gum’ (Britain)

Based, like “Fleabag,” on its star’s one-woman play, Michaela Coel’s sitcom about a sex-starved minister’s daughter in a London housing project is that show’s more raucous, more joyful, more colorful and screamingly funny cousin. Coel, Susan Wokoma (as the alarmingly uptight sister) and Shola Adewusi (as the Pentecostal mom) trade off dazzling comic performances. (Streaming on Netflix.)

6. ‘The Crown’ (Britain)

The writer Peter Morgan finds an even greater quota of subtle psycho-political drama in the life of Elizabeth II than he had in the films “The Queen” and “The Appointment,” mainly by adding in the variously jealous, scheming, greedy and crackpot members of her family. Focus on the first two seasons and the excellent performances of Claire Foy (Elizabeth), Matt Smith (Prince Philip), Margaret Kirby (Princess Margaret) and John Lithgow (Winston Churchill). (Streaming on Netflix.)

5. ‘Gomorrah’ (Italy)

Developed by Roberto Saviano from his book of the same name (also the source of the hit 2008 film), this saga of Neapolitan gangland politics is an exemplary mafia tale: brutal, brooding, utterly addictive. Only two of its four (thus far) seasons are available in America because of legal issues. (Streaming on Netflix.)

4. ‘Happy Valley’ (Britain)

Among the writer and producer Sally Wainwright’s impressive portfolio of shows (“Gentleman Jack,” “Scott & Bailey,” “Last Tango in Halifax”), the jewel is this ingeniously constructed and consistently powerful police drama set in the small industrial towns and winding country lanes of Yorkshire. Sarah Lancashire gives a tour-de-force performance as a weary, tenacious patrol officer who continually finds herself butting up against the violence, physical and emotional, of men. (Streaming on Netflix.)

3. ‘The Bureau’ (France)

Perhaps the smartest and most authentic-feeling procedural espionage series anywhere in the world, especially in its first two seasons. (Season 5 premieres in France in March.) Mathieu Kassovitz stars as a foreign-intelligence agent who, after returning from a posting in Syria, makes a mistake whose increasingly grim ramifications have played out across the entire series. (Streaming on Sundance Now.)

2. ‘Sherlock’ (Britain)

The nimble inventiveness of the show’s creators, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, and the superbly assured and clever work of its stars, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, made this modern retelling of the Sherlock Holmes stories the most smartly entertaining show on TV (in its first few seasons, anyway). No one has definitively said no to a fifth season, but no one has said yes, either. (Streaming on Netflix and at

1. ‘Prisoners of War’ (Israel)

The show that inspired “Homeland” turned out to be something quite different: tense but in a quiet, leisurely, realistic style; a taut and intelligent political thriller that was above all a melancholy, at times heartbreaking character study of soldiers and families damaged by war. (Streaming on Hulu.)

Honorable Mentions

Australia: “Jack Irish,” “Mr. Inbetween,” “Mystery Road”
Britain: “Black Mirror,” “Catastrophe,” “Downton Abbey,” “Gentleman Jack,” “Line of Duty,” “Mum,” “People Just Do Nothing,” “Top Boy”
Britain-France: “The Tunnel”
Denmark: “Borgen”
Finland: “Bordertown”
France: “Call My Agent!”
Germany: “Dark”
India: “Delhi Crime,” “Stories of Rabindranath Tagore”
Israel: “Our Boys,” “Shtisel”
Japan: “Attack on Titan,” “Mob Psycho 100”
Northern Ireland: “Derry Girls”
Norway: “Occupied,” “Valkyrien”
Spain: “Las Chicas del Cable”
Sweden: “Jordskott”

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