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The 25 Best Coming-of-Age TV Shows of All Time

Experience the best and worst of growing up all over again with these classic and modern series.

Relieving adolescence is not something a lot of people want to do—especially not the most awkward parts—but watching a show about other people growing up? That's another story. A lot of changes happen as one goes from a tween to a teen to a young adult, so it's no surprise that so many films, TV shows, books, and even video games explore this time. When it comes to TV, there are comedies about how cringe-worthy growing up can be, dramas that also explore social and political issues, and plenty of shows that straddle genres or lie somewhere in between. After all, coming-of-age usually involves a combination of comedy, drama, and so much more. So, if you're looking for some of the best coming-of-age TV shows ever made, read on for our picks.

RELATED: The 25 Best Coming-of-Age Movies Ever Made.

The 25 Best Coming-of-Age TV Shows of All Time

The Wonder Years

Still from The Wonder Years

The Wonder Years follows Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage) and his friends Paul (Josh Saviano) and Winnie (Danica McKellar) for six years, as they age from 12 to 17. Though the series aired in the late '80s and early '90s, it's set in the late '60s and early '70s and each episode features a voiceover from future Kevin (Daniel Stern) looking back on his younger days. In additional to Kevin facing usual adolescent issues like having crushes, the show also features major events from the time period, including the Vietnam War.

Everybody Hates Chris

Tyler James Williams in Everybody Hates Chris

Everybody Hates Chris has a similar setup to The Wonder Years in that it features an adult narrator—in this case Chris Rock—looking back on his youth. The sitcom is inspired by the life of the comedian, featuring young Chris (Tyler James Williams) and his family, who live in Brooklyn, New York in the '80s. The future star struggles to fit in at the all-white school he is sent to, while also dealing with his annoying younger siblings (Tequan Richmond and Imani Hakim).

Never Have I Ever

Maitreyi Ramakrishnan on Never Have I Ever

The four-season Netflix series Never Have I Ever was co-created by Mindy Kaling and stars Maitreyi Ramakrishnan as Devi, a 15-year-old who recently lost her father and experienced a freak illness. In addition to the series tackling Devi's grief, it also looks at her sometimes strained relationship with her mother, Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan), her crushes on two boys from school, Ben (Jaren Lewison) and Paxton (Darren Barnet), and her friendships. Oddly enough, the narrator of this series is tennis player John McEnroe as himself. That part makes a little more sense as the funny and poignant show goes on.

Freaks and Geeks

A still from Freaks and Geeks

Freaks and Geeks only aired for one season in 1999, but the early '80s-set series became a cult classic and launched the careers of several notable actors. Teenager Lindsay Weir (Linda Cardellini), who was previously a well-behaved, A+ student, starts to hang out with the misfit and rebellious "freaks" at her school, while her younger brother Sam (John Francis Daley) prefers to hang out with his geeky pals. The ensemble cast of future stars also includes Busy Philipps, James Franco, Seth Rogen, and Jason Segel.

My So-Called Life

Claire Danes on My So-Called Life

Like Freaks and GeeksMy So-Called Life was canceled after one season and is also considered a show that was gone to soon. In the 1994 series, Claire Danes stars as Angela Chase, a suburban high schooler dealing with the politics of high school, as well as her crush on Jordan Catalano—the character that made Jared Leto a teen heartthrob. The drama also took on social issues facing teens at the time and still today, including drug use, violence, and bullying.

RELATED: The 21 Best TV Shows to Fall Asleep To.

Boy Meets World

Ben Savage, Danielle Fishel, and Rider Strong on "Boy Meets World"

Across seven seasons, the titular boy of Boy Meets World, Cory Matthews (Ben Savage), goes from a sixth grader living with his parents and siblings to a married man college student. Along for the journey are his best friend Shawn (Rider Strong) and friend-turned-girlfriend-turned-wife Topanga (Danielle Fishel), among other characters who come and go. The '90s comedy takes on some serious content—Shawn's relationship with his dad, for example—but as it went on, it became more about the character's romantic relationships.


Mayim Bialik on "Blossom"

Another '90s series popular with teens and tweens was Blossom, starring Mayim Bialik as Blossom Russo, a teen being raised by her single father (Ted Wass) along with her two older brothers, Joey (Joey Lawrence) and Tony (Michael Stoyanov). While Blossom and her best friend Six (Jenna von Oÿ) have plenty of fun, the show also addresses serious topics such as getting your first period, eating disorders, racism, and drug use.

Stranger Things

Noah Schnapp, Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Sadie Sink and Caleb McLaughlin in Stranger Things

Stranger Things is a sci-fi series, but it's also very much a story about growing up and is influenced by many '80s and '90s movies dealing with that subject. Set in the '80s, the massive Netflix hit is about a group of tweens (later, teens) in Hawkins, Indiana, a fictional town that has some pretty spooky stuff going on—from an open portal to a world known as the Upside Down to secret government mind control experiments. One friend group changes forever when the supernatural events touch their lives and they meet a mysterious girl with superpowers named Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown).

Beverly Hills, 90210

Shannen Doherty on Beverly Hills, 90210

There's a lot of overlap when it comes to teen dramas and coming-of-age shows. Often times, these teen shows start out on the coming-of-age side of things, but the storylines become more focused on drama between the characters and outlandish plots as the seasons go on. Just look at Beverly Hills, 90210.

When it premiered in 1990, the show centered twin siblings Brandon (Jason Priestley) and Brenda (Shannen Doherty), who move from the midwest to Beverly Hills and experience the associated culture shock. But over 10 seasons, 90210 became more of a nighttime soap, though it certainly didn't lose any fans for that.

The O.C.

Ben McKenzie and Adam Brody on The O.C.

Another California-set teen soap, The O.C. begins when Ryan Atwood (Ben McKenzie), a teen with a terrible home life, gets taken in by his rich lawyer's (Peter Gallagher) family after being arrested and kicked out. The aughts series then follows the fish out of water as he adjusts to his new life, including attending a fancy high school, being expected at seemingly weekly gala events, making new friends with totally different backgrounds, and, at one point, becoming a cage fighter. (Just watch it to find out why.)

RELATED: The Saddest TV Episodes of All Time.

Gilmore Girls

Alexis Bledel on "Gilmore Girls"
Warner Bros. Television

Gilmore Girls is about mother and daughter Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and Rory Gilmore (Alexis Bledel), who live in a small town in Connecticut. When the series begins, Rory is an over-achieving high schooler while Lorelai, who welcomed Rory as a teenager, works at an inn. Both Gilmore girls deal with drama in their personal lives—especially when it comes to dating—while always maintaining a close relationship with one another.


Anna Konkle and Maya Erskine on Pen15

Pen15 has a unique premise: The series' co-creators Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle, both in their 30s, co-star as fictionalized versions of their 13-year-old selves. Not only that, but the actors playing their middle school peers are actually middle-school age. The series aired from 2019 to 2021, but is set in the year 2000 with Konkle and Erskine reflecting on and reliving the most cringeworthy aspects of being a young teen.

Derry Girls

A still from Derry Girls
Channel 4

The creator of the sitcom Derry GirlsLisa McGee, is also a millennial who based her series on her own childhood, though her circumstances were much different than those of the Pen15 duo. The beloved comedy is set in Derry, Northern Ireland during the Troubles, featuring a group of four girls and one boy having normal teenage experiences such as going to dances and managing their overprotective parents, against the backdrop of the Troubles, the political conflict that lasted from the late '60s through the late '90s.


A still from Skins

When it premiered in 2007, the British series Skins was extremely controversial for showing its teenage characters using drugs, having sex, and drinking. But the show also tackles topics such as eating disorders and other mental health issues, suicide, violence, revenge porn, and so much more. Skins aired for six regular seasons—with a special, shorter seventh season—with the primary cast switching out every two years. Some major actors made names for themselves on the show, including Nicholas Hoult, Daniel Kaluuya, Hannah Murray, and Dev Patel.


Zendaya in Euphoria

Much like Skins before it, HBO's teen drama Euphoria also deals with heavy issues, including main character Rue's (Zendaya) struggle to get and stay sober, and features some graphic content. But while some criticize Euphoria and have accused the show for sexualizing its teen characters, it's also been praised for its "brutal honesty" and won Zendaya in particular a lot of praise—and an Emmy—for her performance.

RELATED: The Saddest TV Deaths of All Time.


Brandy and Sheryl Lee Ralph in Moesha

The 90's series Moesha was rare for being a sitcom centered around a Black teenage girl. Singer Brandy stars as the lead character, a teen living with her family in Los Angeles. Like other shows from the time period, many social issues were brought up on the show, such as sex, drug use, teen pregnancy, and sexual orientation. The series shows Moesha go from a high schooler to a college student as she learns life lessons along the way.

Normal People

Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones in Normal People

The miniseries Normal People, based on the buzzy Sally Rooney novel of the same name, is about two Irish students, Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Connell (Paul Mescal), who begin the series in the Irish equivalent of high school and go on to attend university. While they're still in high school, the two teens from different classes begin a secret relationship that continues on-and-off over the years as they move in and out of each others' life and struggle with their own self-esteem and emotional issues.


Yara Shahidi in Grown-ish

Grown-ish is a spinoff of Black-ish that initially focuses on the Johnson family's oldest daughter Zoey (Yara Shahidi) after she leaves home for college. After the first four seasons, Zoey's younger brother, Junior (Marcus Scribner) becomes the main character as he continues his college experience after Zoey graduates. The series shows the siblings adjusting to life away from home and also addresses broader issues including mental health and cultural appropriation.

The Facts of Life

A still from The Facts of Life

Another spinoff, The Facts of Life takes the character of Edna Garrett (Charlotte Rae), the housekeeper from Diff'rent Strokes, and places her in her new job at an all-girls boarding school. The girls, including Blair (Lisa Whelchel), Tootie (Kim Fields), Jo (Nancy McKeon), and Natalie (Mindy Cohn), learn various life lessons in each episode and see Mrs. Garrett as a mentor.


A still from Degrassi: The Next Generation

The Canadian coming-of-age franchise Degrassi has existed in various iterations since 1979. The format of the first series differs from that of later versions, but by the mid-'80s, the franchise was all about students at either Degrassi Junior High or High School, with shows including Degrassi Junior High, Degrassi High, Degrassi: The Next Generation, and Degrassi: Next Class all in the mix. The characters in the series come across serious topics, such as abortion, suicide, and HIV/AIDS, while also facing interpersonal issues with their classmates and families.

RELATED: 18 Old TV Shows the Whole Family Will Love.

Sex Education

Asa Butterfield and Ncuti Gatwa on Sex Education

The British Netflix series Sex Education is about a socially outcast student, Otis (Asa Butterfield), who secretly sets up a sex therapy clinic at his school with another student, Maeve (Emma Mackey), after they realize their classmates could use some professional advice. Otis' mother, Jean (Gillian Anderson), is a sex therapist, which is why he believes he has what it takes to teach his peers. The series has been praised for being diverse and inclusive, including in gender identity and sexual orientation, and for being frank (and funny) about the sex lives of teenagers.

RELATED: 6 Classic Sitcom Episodes That Are Wildly Offensive by Today's Standards.

Reservation Dogs

A still from Reservation Dogs
FX on Hulu

Reservation Dogs follows a group of teenagers (Devery Jacobs, D'Phraoah Woon-A-Tai, Lane Factor, Paulina Alexis), who are part of Muscogee Nation in Oklahoma. The teens commit low-level crimes for money so that they can leave their reservation and move to California, something that their friend Daniel (Dalton Cramer) dreamed of doing before he died. It also comes to focus on how they connect with the elders of their community, and what their futures may look like after they grow up.

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

Will Smith and Alfonso Ribeiro on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

Will Smith was primarily known as a rapper when he got his own sitcom, playing a teenager from Philadelphia who gets sent to live with his rich relatives in Southern California after he gets in trouble. The trouble doesn't stop there, however—he influences his cousins (Alfonso Ribeiro, Karyn Parsons, Tatyana Ali) to become more irreverent and free, while his aunt (Janet Hubert/Daphne Maxwell Reid) and uncle (James Avery) try to keep them all in line.

Lizzie McGuire

Hilary Duff on Lizzie McGuire
Disney Channel

The early 2000s Disney Channel series Lizzie McGuire is aimed at kids and preteens and stars Hilary Duff as a 13-year-old just trying to fit in at school. With her friends Gordo (Adam Lamberg) and Miranda (Lalaine), Lizzie navigates crushes, peer pressure, and other age-appropriate school drama.

Dawson's Creek

Joshua Jackson and James Van Der Beek on Dawson's Creek
The WB

The six seasons of Dawson's Creek follow a friend group in a small Massachusetts town from high school through college and even into adulthood with a flash-forward series finale. James Van Der Beek stars as Dawson, Katie Holmes plays his best friend-slash-love interest Joey, Joshua Jackson plays another best friend Pacey, and Michelle Williams is Jen, a new girl in town who moves in next to Dawson and shakes up the group.

Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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