The Ultimate Guide to the Best Spy TV Series: Intrigue, Espionage, and Thrilling Secrets
Are you ready to delve into the thrilling world of espionage? If you're a fan of exhilarating spy dramas that keep you on the edge of your seat, then this article is a must-read. We've curated a list of the best spy TV series that will transport you into a world filled with intrigue, suspense, and heart-pounding action. From classics like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy to contemporary hits like Homeland and Killing Eve, these shows will have you hooked from the very first episode. So buckle up and get ready for a pulse-pounding adventure through the gripping world of spies.
The Hunters (2020 - )
If you're a fan of spy shows, you have plenty of options to choose from. In addition to "The Hunters" (2020 - ) starring Al Pacino, you might also want to check out other espionage series like "Covert Affairs" (2010-2014), "Mr. Robot" (2015-2019), "The Americans" (2013-2018), "Jack Ryan" (2018 - ), and "Burn Notice" (2007-2013). These shows are available on various streaming platforms like Hulu, Vudu, GooglePlay, YouTube, Prime Video, and Apple TV.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (BBC, 1979)
Watch if you enjoy: The hunt for a mole.
The novels of John le Carré have had a significant impact on spy fiction, and "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" is one of his most personal works. This acclaimed series, starring Alec Guinness, is a more in-depth adaptation divided into seven episodes. It offers a slower-paced, yet captivating viewing experience set in the Cold War era. Don't forget to check out the sequel series, "Smiley’s People," which was released in 1982.
You can stream "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" on BritBox in the UK.
The Night Manager (BBC, 2016)
Watch if you enjoy: An all-star cast.
Based on John Le Carré's 1993 novel, "The Night Manager" is a slick and beautifully filmed mini-series set in the present day. It stars Tom Hiddleston alongside Hugh Laurie, Olivia Colman, Elizabeth Debicki, Tom Hollander, and David Harewood. The series offers a thrilling mix of tension, intense acting, and charismatic performances. For fans of the MCU's Loki, it's a must-watch.
"The Night Manager" is available to stream on Prime Video.
Spooks (MI5 in the US, BBC, 2002 - 2011)
Watch if you enjoy: UK politics, gripping action.
"Spooks," also known as "MI5" in the US, ran for nearly a decade and introduced several well-known British actors to the audience. With a reputation for shocking twists and unexpected character deaths, the series became a fan favorite. It even spawned a film sequel in 2015 called "The Greater Good." Brace yourself for an unpredictable and thrilling ride.
"Spooks" is available to stream on Prime Video in the UK and on BritBox in the US.
Homeland (Showtime, 2011 - 2020)
Watch if you enjoy: Tension around potential traitors.
Starring Claire Danes, "Homeland" is an eight-season thriller that delves into the world of CIA operative Carrie Mathieson. The series follows Mathieson's counter-terrorism work across different locations, exploring moral grey areas and the human cost of intelligence work. With a talented supporting cast and gripping storylines, "Homeland" keeps viewers on the edge of their seats.
"Homeland" is available to stream on Netflix in the UK and on Hulu in the US.
Alias (ABC, 2001 - 2006)
Watch if you enjoy: Twists and turns.
"Alias," created by JJ Abrams, is a highly popular female-led spy show from the early 21st century. Starring Jennifer Garner, the series is known for its intricate plot twists and surprises. Similar to Abrams' other works like "Lost" and "Fringe," "Alias" keeps you guessing with its unpredictable narrative. Each season presents a fresh and slightly different take on the spy genre.
"Alias" is available to stream on Disney.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (MGM, 1964 - 1968)
Watch if you enjoy: Western and Russian spies working together.
If you liked the 2015 film adaptation, you should give the original series, "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.," a watch. It features Western and Russian spies working together during the Cold War, offering a classic '60s spy show experience. Immerse yourself in the world of espionage with this entertaining and visually appealing series. And don't miss out on other '60s spy dramas like "The Prisoner," "The Avengers," and the original "Mission: Impossible."
"The Man from U.N.C.L.E." is available to buy from Apple TV or Prime Video.
Deutschland 83-89 (2015-2020)
Reluctant East German border guard Martin Rauch (Jonas Nay) is sent to West Germany in 1983 to spy on Major General Edel’s team. His aunt Leonora - brilliantly played by Maria Schrader - is one of his Stasi handlers. As "Deutschland" unfolds over the three series, the Berlin Wall comes tumbling down and old loyalties are tested.
You can stream "Deutschland 83-89" on Prime Video, Apple TV, Google Play, and SKY TV in the UK.
Condor (2018 - )
Paranoid thriller "Condor" follows Joe Turner (Max Irons), a millennial CIA analyst who discovers everyone in his office is dead. The series is based on James Grady's novel "Six Days of the Condor" and offers a thrilling dive into the world of truth, lies, and deception.
You can stream "Condor" on Prime Video.
A Spy Among Friends (ITVX, 2022)
Watch if you enjoy: True stories, complex character relationships.
Adapted by "Homeland" writer Alex Cary, "A Spy Among Friends" is a captivating drama based on the true story detailed in Ben Macintyre's book. Set in the past, it focuses on the complex relationships between real-life British intelligence agents Nicholas Elliott, Kim Philby, and fictional MI5 debriefer Lily Thomas. With a stellar cast led by Damian Lewis, Guy Pearce, and Anna Maxwell Martin, this series offers a layered and engaging portrayal of betrayal, friendship, and espionage.
"A Spy Among Friends" is available to stream on ITVX.
If you're looking for a unique spy show, consider "Kleo." This German series follows the story of Kleo Straub (Jella Haase), a young woman who works as a contract killer for the Stasi in East Germany. Betrayed by her contacts, she is arrested and spends years in prison. Upon her release after the fall of the Berlin Wall, she seeks revenge on those who wronged her using the skills she learned from the Stasi. "Kleo" combines elements of spy and revenge thrillers, showcasing a visually appealing style and surprising humor.
"Kleo" is available to stream on Netflix.
For a truly unique spy show, look no further than "Patriot." This sublimely weird and darkly comedic series follows the life of John Tavner (Michael Dorman), a depressed intelligence agent who also moonlights as a singer-songwriter. Assigned to a mission in Luxembourg, things quickly spiral out of control for John, leading to absurd and unexpected situations. "Patriot" expertly combines absurdism, comedy, and dark character drama, creating a truly special viewing experience.
"Patriot" is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
White House Plumbers (2023)
The White House Plumbers is a captivating satirical take on the infamous Watergate break-in at the Democratic election headquarters in 1972. The story centers around two larger-than-life characters: E. Howard Hunt (Woody Harrelson), a former CIA officer and expert in dirty tricks, and G. Gordon Liddy (Justin Theroux), a former FBI agent. Despite their belief that they are above the law, or at least able to outsmart it, Hunt and Liddy find themselves in over their heads when they attempt to bug the Democratic National Committee headquarters. (HBO)
CIA officer Eva Geller (Michelle Monaghan) embarks on a high-stakes mission to determine whether a ‘Messiah’ is a divine being or a fraud. Her journey forces her to question her own spiritual beliefs. (Netflix)
Secret Invasion (Disney , 2023)
Watch if you enjoy: Science fiction and Marvel
If you like spy thrillers infused with alien invasions, then you won't want to miss the latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Secret Invasion gives Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury the leading role he deserves, showcasing not only superpowers but also a complex web of political maneuvering, betrayal, and espionage that surpasses even the likes of Ms. Marvel.
It's worth noting that if you're not familiar with the MCU, this series may be a bit confusing and the emotional moments may not resonate as strongly. However, if you're up for some exciting and immersive alien-filled storytelling, we recommend starting with Captain Marvel, researching "the Blip," and diving into this thrilling saga.
Secret Invasion is available to stream on Disney.
Spy City (2019 - 2020)
In Spy City, an English spy (Dominic Cooper) is sent to Berlin, Germany, in 1961 to uncover a traitor in the UK Embassy or among the Allies, just before the construction of the Berlin Wall. (Prime Video, BritBox)
If you're seeking a realistic spy show, look no further than The Bureau. This French series delves into the inner workings of France's intelligence agency, DGSE, offering a grounded and emotionally-driven narrative that rivals even The Americans.
Mathieu Kassovitz, known for his role in Amélie, stars as intelligence officer Guillaume Debailly. After returning from a six-year undercover mission in Syria, Guillaume struggles to readjust to his real life, especially when his Syrian girlfriend, Nadia, joins him in Paris. Alongside personal challenges, he also becomes involved in locating a missing undercover agent and training a young agent for an upcoming mission in Iran. The subsequent seasons delve deeper into the lives of Guillaume, Marina, and other DGSE operatives.
While The Bureau is heighted for TV, it retains a sense of authenticity. The office settings and wardrobe choices are deliberately unassuming, and the ethical dilemmas faced by the characters take center stage. If you enjoy shows like Mad Men, but with a contemporary counterrorism twist, this series is a perfect choice. The series ran for five seasons from 2015 to 2020, and an American adaptation is currently in progress at Showtime, helmed by director and executive producer George Clooney.
The Bureau is available to stream on AMC Plus.
Tell Me Who I Am (2020-21)
Spanning 20th-century European conflicts, the Spanish thriller Tell Me Who I Am provides a captivating glimpse into the life of a socialist-turned-wartime spy. With a mix of grit and glamour, the series seamlessly transitions between past and present. Amelia Garayoa, played by Irene Escolar, takes center stage in this enthralling tale. (Apple TV, Netflix in select countries)
Proving that women are just as capable, if not better, than men in spy thrillers, Hanna features highly trained female assassins and one exceptionally skilled ex-CIA operative. Season Three of Hanna puts women front and center, stealing the show. (Prime Video)
The Diplomat (2023 - )
Keri Russell, known for her role in The Americans, takes on the lead in this high-end thriller as Kate Wyler, a US State Department career diplomat who feels more at ease in Kabul than Calvin Klein. After a British aircraft carrier is attacked in the Middle East, she is appointed as the US Ambassador to London. Russell is joined by a stellar cast, including Rufus Sewell as Wyler's 'wife' (ex-Ambassador Hal Wyler) and Ali Ahn as CIA London Chief of Station Eidra Graham. The Diplomat combines the best elements of The West Wing and Veep. (Netflix)
The Family Man
The Family Man, a Hindi-language action thriller, has become one of Amazon's most popular Indian shows. In fact, it has even inspired a local spinoff set in India for the Citadel series. The series follows Srikant Tiwari (Manoj Bajpayee), a middle-class father of two whose seemingly mundane government job is far more exciting than it appears. As an intelligence operative fighting domestic threats like ISIS associates and separatist groups, Srikant navigates action-packed missions while maintaining his role as a doting sitcom dad.
The show is a thrilling blend of high-stakes action, witty dialogue, and an outstanding performance by Manoj Bajpayee. With two seasons already released and a third on the way, The Family Man offers a gripping and ongoing story that combines the best elements of spy thrillers with a touch of Indian cinema.
The Family Man is available to stream on Prime Video.
Traitors tells the story of a young English woman, played by Emma Appleton, who aids an American agent in uncovering Russian infiltration within the British government at the end of World War II. The series poses the age-old question: Can anyone in the world of espionage be truly trusted? (Netflix, Apple TV, Prime Video, GooglePlay, YouTube)
Slow Horses (Apple TV , 2022 - Present)
Watch if you enjoy: British humor.
Renowned for his portrayal of George Smiley, Gary Oldman takes on a different kind of British spy in this series based on Mick Herron's Slough House novels. While more modern and less refined than Smiley, Oldman's character, Jackson Lamb, brings the same level of intelligence and care for his colleagues to the table.
Slough House is the name of the MI5 department led by Lamb. Its members are agents who have made mistakes but haven't been dismissed from service. While their official role is mundane administrative work, they often find themselves involved in less conventional activities. The name Slough House itself sets the tone of the department's low standing, as Slough is known for being the location of the British sitcom The Office and a famous John Betjeman poem. The show embraces dry and self-deprecating British humor, making it a delightful watch.
The series consists of two seasons, each with six episodes, released in 2022. Season three has completed filming, and work has already begun on season four, ensuring plenty more engaging Slow Horses content to come. If you're in the mood for a current and ongoing series, Slow Horses is a must-watch.
Slow Horses is available to stream on Apple TV.
Iris offers a unique blend of undercover action and gripping K-drama. This romantic spy thriller follows best friends Kim Hyun-jun (Lee Byung-hun) and Jin Sa-woo (Jung Joon-ho), who serve in an elite military unit. While both are recruited by National Security Service agent Choi Seung-hee (Kim Tae-hee), a forbidden romance blossoms between her and Hyun-jun, straining their friendship. Amidst their personal conflicts, they train to become spies for a top-secret organization dedicated to safeguarding South Korea against threats.
Released in 2009, Iris became a record-breaking series in South Korea, both in terms of popularity and budget. Its winning combination of thrilling spy action and emotional, dramatic storytelling captivated audiences.
Iris is available to stream on Netflix.
Jack Ryan (Prime Video, 2018 - Present)
Watch if you enjoy: Updated Cold War themes and tropes.
Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan, a character originally born in the midst of the Cold War, makes his way to the modern-day in this ongoing Amazon Prime series. While the character has navigated post-Cold War settings in the novels, the most famous stories and their film adaptations focus on the Cold War era. For example, The Hunt for Red October directly tackles Cold War tensions, while Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger explore other significant issues of the 1980s. The Amazon series takes Clancy's beloved character and brings him up to date, presenting him in a contemporary context.
The true brilliance of the series lies in its casting. Jack Ryan, an analyst for the CIA, consistently finds himself in dramatic and action-filled situations, often receiving advice as practical as not shooting bullets in a nuclear submarine's engine room. While Alec Baldwin portrayed Jack Ryan with a more nerdy and analytical flair in The Hunt for Red October, the subsequent films featured action star Harrison Ford, focusing on the character's more physically demanding aspects. John Krasinski's portrayal strikes the perfect balance, conveying the physique and confidence required for an action star, while retaining a hint of Jim Halpert's charm from The Office.
Jack Ryan is available to stream on Prime Video.
Killing Eve (BBC, 2018 - 2022)
Watch if you enjoy: Complex female characters.
While female characters have always played a part in spy dramas, their roles were often limited to certain stereotypes, such as femme fatales, disposable or slightly less disposable love interests, or secretaries. If you're looking for complex female spies, Killing Eve is a must-watch. This series concluded its four-year run across various BBC channels.
What truly sets Killing Eve apart from other shows on this list is its humor. While humor plays a part in all these shows, preventing them from becoming overly serious or dull in between action sequences, Killing Eve takes it a step further by incorporating black comedy into its consistently witty approach. Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the showrunner and head writer of the first season, is best known for creating and starring in the hit sitcom Fleabag. Her comedic touch is evident in Killing Eve, providing a welcome respite from the intensity of spy dramas.
Killing Eve is available to stream on BBC iPlayer in the UK and Hulu in the US.
The Little Drummer Girl (2018)
Charlie (Florence Pugh) is an English actress recruited by Mossad to infiltrate an assassin's terrorist cell. However, her true purpose remains uncertain: is she being recruited as a spy or a terrorist? (GooglePlay, YouTube, Prime Video)
Treason (Netflix, 2022)
Watch if you enjoy: Surprise plot twists.
Netflix's five-part limited series, Treason, starring Charlie Cox, was released on December 26th, 2022. The series comes with a reputable background, as its creator Matt Charman received an Oscar nomination for co-writing the screenplay of Steven Spielberg's 2015 film, Bridge of Spies. With each episode lasting approximately 45 minutes, it is a quick series to binge-watch, offering plenty of surprising twists and turns to keep the audience engaged.
The series boasts an exceptional cast, including Oona Chaplin, Olga Kurylenko, Ciarán Hinds, and Alex Kingston. In addition, it delves into family drama, enthralling viewers as they root for Chaplin's resilient Army veteran and Cox's overwhelmed spy as they strive to keep their family intact.
Treason is available to stream on Netflix.
Mission: Impossible is a unique franchise where the remake has surpassed the original, yet the original series remains highly enjoyable. Despite lacking the extreme spectacles of Tom Cruise hanging off planes during takeoff, the 1966 series captivates audiences from the start. It was one of the most acclaimed shows of its time, earning the Drama Series Emmy twice. With numerous episodes to explore, it offers a cool vintage experience.
The episodic structure of the show will be familiar to fans of the Mission: Impossible movies. An agent from a mysterious spy organization undertakes a dangerous mission and assembles a team of skilled operatives. Together, they endeavor to capture the villain, utilizing a range of espionage techniques, from disguises to advanced gadgets and sheer physical prowess.
The visual aesthetics are striking, with Martin Landau's captivating blue eyes standing out on the screen, and Lalo Schifrin's iconic score never failing to impress. It's a great show to have on in the background, especially on Pluto TV, where it has its own dedicated channel.
Mission: Impossible is available to stream on Paramount Plus and for free with ads on Pluto TV.
Tehran is a well-crafted geopolitical thriller that prioritizes character development, sharing similarities with the TV series Homeland. Its serious tone adds gravity, while its tightly woven plot keeps audiences engaged.
This Israeli series follows the journey of Tamar Rabinyan (Niv Sultan), a Persian-Jewish Mossad agent and skilled computer hacker who assumes a covert identity in Tehran, the capital of Iran. Her mission involves infiltrating and disabling the electric company's systems, enabling Israel's Air Force to strike a nuclear plant undetected by the Iranian defense apparatus. However, her plan encounters complications, leaving her stranded in her country of birth, which happens to be her adopted home's enemy. With no means of returning to Israel, she turns to her family for assistance. In season 2, she returns to Tehran to save someone she couldn't protect in the first season.
Tehran's high production value has attracted renowned Hollywood actors, with Glenn Close featuring in season 2 and Hugh Laurie joining the cast for the upcoming third season. If you appreciate thought-provoking thrillers that delve deep into the psyche of individuals with dangerous and demanding occupations, Tehran delivers exceptionally well.
Tehran is available to stream on Apple TV Plus.
With a wide array of thrilling espionage dramas to choose from, it's clear that the world of spy TV series continues to captivate audiences year after year. From the nostalgic classics like "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" to the contemporary hits such as "Homeland" and "Killing Eve," each show offers its own unique blend of suspense, intrigue, and high-stakes action. Whether you're a fan of the old-school secret agents or prefer the modern, edge-of-your-seat thrillers, there's no shortage of options to satisfy your espionage cravings. So, grab your popcorn, dim the lights, and prepare to be taken on a thrilling journey through the shadowy world of spies.
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