Top 25 Crime Shows of All Time: The Essential Guide

Crime shows and Dramas are by far the most popular series on Television. If you disagree, think of Breaking Bad, True Detective, or Sherlock. That’s why we decided to compile our reviews of the popular crime shows over the years, get feedback from our contributors and use well-known critics and fan ratings in platforms such as Rotten Tomatoes to arrive at a “Top List”.

What comes below is a list composed of crime shows which have delighted viewers old and young over the last 30+ years. Some of them are familiar, but some are not. However, one thing is is for sure: They are essential, must-watch TV!

25. The Mentalist

This is an American police drama/mystery television series that ran from September 23, 2008 until February 18, 2015, broadcasting 151 episodes over seven seasons, on CBS. The series follows Patrick Jane, an independent consultant for the California Bureau of Investigation (CBI) based in Sacramento, California. Although not an officer of the law, he uses his skills from his former career as a successful, yet admittedly fraudulent, psychic medium to help a team of CBI agents solve murders.

24. True Detective

Another American anthology crime drama television series created and written by Nic Pizzolatto. The series, broadcast by HBO in the United States. It premiered on January 12, 2014. The first season, starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, takes place in Louisiana. It follows a pair of Louisiana State Police homicide detectives, and their pursuit of a serial killer over a 17-year period. But, the second season, starring Colin Farrell and Rachel McAdams, is set in California, and focuses on three detectives from three cooperating police departments and a criminal-turned-businessman as they investigate a series of crimes they believe are linked to the murder of a corrupt politician.

23. Campion

A BBC mystery show which adapted the Albert Campion mystery novels written by Margery Allingham for TV. Although this series only lasted two years, it is one of the classics. The two series were made, in 1989 and 1990, starring Peter Davison as Campion, Brian Glover as his manservant Magersfontein Lugg and Andrew Burt as his policeman friend Stanislaus Oates.

A total of eight novels were adapted and Peter Davison himself sang the title music for the first series. But in the second series, it was replaced with an instrumental version.

22. The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes

The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes is a another British anthology mystery series that was produced by Thames Television and originally broadcast on the ITV Network. There were two series of 13 fifty-minute episodes; the first aired in 1971, the second in 1973. Each episode presented TV adaptations of short mystery, suspense or crime stories featuring, as the title suggests, detectives who were literary contemporaries of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.

This is one of our favorite classic TV shows as it brings together a stellar group of notable actors playing memorable characters such as forensic scientist Dr. John Thorndyke, blind detective Max Carrados, and corrupt detective Horace Dorrington. The episodes in the series can be watched as standalone because each one is dedicated to one particular detective.

So, if you’re a fan of Conan Doyle‘s Sherlock Holmes stories, you may well be enjoying these other great detectives from the golden era of the crime fiction.

21. Sherlock Holmes

sherlock holmes crime shows top tv

This 1984 adaptation of the famous detective remains extremely popular and many believe is the definite TV version of Sherlock Holmes. It was produced by British television company Granada Television between 1984 and 1994, with the first two series bearing the title The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes. This was followed by subsequent sub-series bearing the titles of other short story collections by Arthur Conan Doyle. The series was broadcast on the ITV network in the UK and starred Jeremy Brett as the famous detective.

20. Quincy, M.E.

Quincy, M.E. (also called Quincy) is an American medical mystery-drama series from Universal Studios that aired from 1976 to 1983 on NBC. The series starred Jack Klugman as Dr. Quincy, a strong-willed, but principled Medical Examiner (forensic pathologist) for the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office. His work typically included analysis to ascertain facts about and reasons for possible suspicious deaths.

During his investigations, Quincy frequently came into conflict with his boss, Dr. Robert Asten (John S. Ragin), and the police, in particular, LAPD Homicide Lieutenant Frank Monahan (Garry Walberg). Each had their own (often flawed) ideas about what’s going on and about Quincy’s deductions.

19. Miami Vice

Created by Anthony Yerkovich for NBC, the series starred Don Johnson as James “Sonny” Crockett and Philip Michael Thomas as Ricardo “Rico” Tubbs, two Metro-Dade Police Department detectives working undercover in Miami. The series ran for five seasons on NBC from 1984 to 1989.

Miami Vice is noted for its innovative use of stereo broadcast music, particularly countless pop and rock hits of the 1980s and the distinctive, synthesized instrumental music of Jan Hammer.

18. Poirot

British mystery drama television series that aired from 8 January 1989 to 13 November 2013 with David Suchet as Agatha Christie’s fictional Hercule Poirot. As a result of playing Poirot, he received a 1991 British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) nomination.

17. A Touch of Frost

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Produced by Yorkshire Television (later ITV Studios), this British series aired from 6 December 1992 until 5 April 2010. The series stars David Jason as Detective Inspector William Edward “Jack” Frost, an experienced and dedicated detective who frequently clashes with his superiors. In his cases, Frost is assisted by a variety of different detective sergeants, with each bringing a different slant to the particular case.

16. Inspector Morse

This is another British series based on the fictional character in the detective novels by British author Colin Dexter. And in U.K., the show aired  33-episodes from 1987 to 2000. John Thaw played the role of the character. In general, Morse is the embodiment of white, male, middle class Englishness, with a set of prejudices and assumptions to match. Opposite to American hard-boiled characters, he is rather a late example of the gentleman detective, a staple of British detective fiction.

15. Wallander 

A Swedish crime show adapted from Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander novels, starring Krister Henriksson in the main role. The first season of thirteen films was produced in 2005 and 2006. But the second season of thirteen films was shown between 2009 and 2010. Although a British version of this series is also available, The Swedish version remains more popular. The stories are set in Ystad, Scania near the southern tip of Sweden.

14. The Shield

An American crime drama series starring Michael Chiklis that premiered on March 12, 2002, on FX in the United States. Although a very popular series, the show concluded on November 25, 2008, after seven seasons.

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The Shield is about an experimental division of the Los Angeles Police Department set up in the fictional Farmington district (“the Farm”) of Los Angeles. The division doesn’t have a typical office, but uses a converted church (“the Barn”) as their police station. The series features a group of detectives called the Strike Team, a four-man anti-gang unit based on the LAPD’s real-life Rampart Division Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums (CRASH) unit.

13. Law and Order

NBC originally aired this popular series. All of the episodes deal with some aspect of the criminal justice system. Together, the original series, its various spin-offs, the TV film, and crossover episodes from other shows constitute over 1,000 hours of programming.

In a nutshell, this is a crime procedural which features both a police investigation of a crime discovered during the cold open, and a prosecution case set forth by the New York County District Attorney, at the Manhattan DA’s office. The first thirty minutes of an episode typically features a lead detective trio, while the second thirty minutes follows their legal counterparts.

12. Monk

Yet another American comedy-drama detective mystery television series starring Tony Shalhoub as Adrian Monk. It originally ran from 2002 to 2009. This is primarily a police procedural series. And the episodes also exhibits comic and dramatic tones in its exploration of the main characters’ personal lives.

11. Miss Marple

Another adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novels. But this time featuring Miss Marple murder mystery stories. The series starred Joan Hickson in the title role, and aired from 26 December 1984 to 27 December 1992. Although all 12 original Miss Marple Christie novels are available in the series.

10. Hinterland

Hinterland: Richard Harrington

This is is a Welsh noir police detective drama series. Richard Harrington plays the role of the main character, DCI Tom Mathias. On the run from his London past, DCI Tom Mathias, a brilliant but troubled man, isolates himself on the outskirts of town a town filled with secrets as dark and destructive as his own. Partnered with the intelligent and complex DI Mared Rhys they form an engaging relationship as they embark on solving cases that involve the ultimate anti-social crime, murder.

9. Midsomer Murders

A British television detective drama that has aired on ITV since 1997. The show is based on Caroline Graham’s Chief Inspector Barnaby book series. And the current lead character is DCI John Barnaby (Neil Dudgeon), who works for Causton CID.

The stories happen in modern-day England and revolve around Tom Barnaby’s (later, John Barnaby’s) efforts to solve numerous murders that take place in the idyllic, picturesque but deadly villages of the fictional county of Midsomer.

8. Columbo

This is an American television series starring Peter Falk as Columbo, a homicide detective with the Los Angeles Police Department. Columbo is an unassuming, disheveled police detective of Italian descent, whose trademarks include wearing a rumpled, beige raincoat over his suit, and smoking a cigar.

He is consistently underestimated by his suspects who, while initially reassured and distracted by his circumstantial speech, become increasingly annoyed by his pestering behavior.

7. Bones

Another American crime procedural drama television series that premiered on Fox in the United States on September 13, 2005. The show is about experts in forensic anthropology and forensic archaeology. But each episode focuses on an FBI case file concerning the mystery behind human remains.  FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz) usually brings the cases to forensic anthropologist Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan (Emily Deschanel). The series also covers the personal lives of the characters.

6. Dexter

Another American TV series that aired on Showtime from October 1, 2006, to September 22, 2013. Set in Miami, the series centers on Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall), a forensic technician specializing in blood spatter pattern analysis for the fictional Miami Metro Police Department. He leads a secret parallel life as a vigilante serial killer, hunting down murderers who have slipped through the cracks of the justice system.

5. Broadchurch

Broadchurch - Specials

Another British television crime drama broadcast on ITV. Chris Chibnall is the writer and creator of the series. The first series (which premiered on 4 March 2013), focused on the death of an 11-year-old boy and the impact of grief, mutual suspicion, and media attention on the town. But the later seasons follow different plots.

Specifically, Broadchurch series one focused on the search for the boy’s murderer by detectives Alec Hardy (played by David Tennant) and Ellie Miller (played by Olivia Colman).

4. Breaking Bad

One of our favorites. When chemistry teacher Walter White finds out he has Stage III cancer and given only two years to live, he decides he has nothing to lose. He lives with his teenage son, who has cerebral palsy, and his wife, in New Mexico. And as he wants to ensure that his family will have a secure future, Walt embarks on a career of drugs and crime. Soon, he proves to be remarkably proficient in this new world as he begins manufacturing and selling methamphetamine with one of his former students.

3. NCIS

Naval Criminal Investigative Service Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs leads a group of colorful personalities in investigating crimes. Although their cases range from murder and espionage to terrorism, in all of them the evidence is connected to Navy and Marine Corps personnel. The team includes witty ex-homicide detective Anthony DiNozzo, quirky forensics specialist Abby Sciuto, and the brilliant — if insecure — Timothy McGee. Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard brings his vast experience in forensics into play to help solve cases.

2. CSI

A dedicated group of forensic investigators at the Las Vegas Crime Lab works to solve often-grisly crimes in Sin City. Heading up the graveyard shift (an appropriate term in this case) is supervisor D.B. Russell, a “Left Coast” Sherlock Holmes who devours crime novels. But he is not alone. Other members of Russell’s team include Julie Finlay, Nick Stokes, Sara Sidle (the team’s moral compass), Greg Sanders and Morgan Brody. Although, the investigative team does the bulk of the work, they collaborate closely with Capt. Jim Brass, a seasoned detective who is a protector of CSI. But there are more support resources: Dr. Al Robbins — medical examiner — and quirky lab technician David Hodges also help the core team. Previous leaders of the group include Gil Grissom and Dr. Ray Langston.

1. Sherlock

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In this contemporary version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective stories, Dr. John Watson is a war vet just home from Afghanistan. Then he meets the brilliant but eccentric Holmes when the latter, who serves as a consultant to Scotland Yard, advertises for a flatmate. However almost as soon as Watson moves into the Baker Street flat, they find themselves drowned in mysteries.

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