The best Star Trek series, ranked

·9 min read

Star Trek is one of the greatest franchises ever created. If you're new to the world of transporters and holodecks, you have so much wonderful content to catch up on — of course, some would say too much content.

With 850 episodes and counting (all of which you can stream on Paramount+), watching all of Star Trek can be more difficult than fighting a Gorn in the desert. To make things easier for you to get started, we've ranked every series of this long-running franchise. Some of these choices were a bit daunting to play favorites with, but like Jim Kirk, there's no belief in the no-win scenario.

Without further ado, here's our list of Star Trek series, along with their premiere dates, ranked from the worst to the best.

11. <i>Star Trek: Picard</i> (2020)

Star Trek: Picard was meant to be like comfort food to fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation. And whether fans were turned off by the changes in franchise direction with shows like Discovery or just wanted to see Patrick Stewart back in action, Paramount clearly thought this show would be almost universally beloved.

That didn't happen, though. The warm and fuzzy feeling of seeing a few familiar faces in the first season evaporate in the face of an often-confusing plot about androids. The second season continues this confusion with a time-travel story that often borders on incoherence. While many Star Trek shows take a few seasons to hit their stride, it was shocking that so much of this relatively short series was seemingly created with "make it so-so" in mind.

Picard
Picard

10. <i>Star Trek: The Animated Series</i> (1973)

If you're in the right mood (or you've been sipping on some Saurian brandy), Star Trek: The Animated Series has some wacky entertainment value. Any given episode has the writers throwing in stories like a giant version of a beloved character. And the animators throw some fun curveballs, including making the embodiment of evil into a shirtless hottie that would make even shirtless Kirk jealous.

However, this animated show is often caught between two very different worlds. It's not fully a return to the (relatively) grounded exploration of space, science, and morality of The Original Series. And it doesn't fully lean into the manic possibilities of a cartoon world (something Lower Decks would later handle much better). So while more and more elements of The Animated Series have become canonical thanks to shows like Discovery, and it's fun to hear the voice acting of the Original Series cast, this cartoon is one that all but the most hardcore fans can skip.

Star Trek: The Animated Series
Star Trek: The Animated Series

9. <i>Star Trek: Enterprise</i> (2001)

Despite what you might have heard, Star Trek: Enterprise is not a bad show. It just didn't start as a very good show. The series was tragically canceled after the fourth season, which is arguably when it just began to hit its stride (thanks in part to longer story arcs and a really fun glimpse into Trek's popular Mirror Universe).

At the end of the day, Enterprise is a show best enjoyed by Star Trek fans that like to pore over the Memory Alpha wiki and familiarize themselves with Trek minutiae. As a prequel show, it lays the groundwork for everything from Starfleet policy to alien interactions that other shows explore in more detail. If you don't have a shot at winning any Star Trek trivia contests at your local bar, it's still worth watching how captivating Scott Bakula can be in the captain's seat.

ENTERPRISE, (aka STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE), Scott Bakula, Jeffrey Combs, 'United', (Season 4), 2001-200
ENTERPRISE, (aka STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE), Scott Bakula, Jeffrey Combs, 'United', (Season 4), 2001-200

8. <i>Star Trek: Prodigy</i> (2021)

Star Trek: Prodigy was very difficult to rank. Unlike the other two Trek cartoons, this series was explicitly designed for younger audiences. Paramount clearly wants to use this show as a gateway for these younger fans to explore the wider world of Star Trek, but there are enough elements (most notably the return of Kate Mulgrew, reprising her role as Captain Janeway via a holographic form) to keep veteran franchise fans invested.

Ultimately, your enjoyment of this series will be largely dependent on how much you enjoy animated content and YA entertainment. If nothing else, you should check out the premiere two episodes of this show to see just how beautiful the CGI animation can get.

STAR TREK: PRODIGY
STAR TREK: PRODIGY

7. <i>Star Trek: Discovery</i> (2017)

If Enterprise is the Star Trek show cut off too soon, Discovery may very well be the first Star Trek show to outlive its welcome. There are many things the show gets right, from nifty effects to quirky characters to amazing casting (seriously, Sonequa Martin-Green is electrifying whenever she is on screen).

The show veers from a disjointed-but-interesting first season to a mesmerizing second season, which gets a real shot in the arm by introducing Captain Pike (played by the inimitably charming Anson Mount) and Spock (played as a perfect homage to Leonard Nimoy by Ethan Peck). Later seasons, however, prove that the series can't get away from galactic-level threats, and character drama begins overriding plot development enough that we want to slingshot around the sun and return this series to its earlier roots.

Pictured: Sonequa Martin-Green as Burnham of the Parmount+ series STAR TREK: DISCOVERY.
Pictured: Sonequa Martin-Green as Burnham of the Parmount+ series STAR TREK: DISCOVERY.

6. <i>Star Trek: Voyager</i> (1995)

Like many Trek series, Star Trek: Voyager had a rocky beginning, and it was often overshadowed by the excellent Deep Space Nine. Ironically, Voyager dramatically improves with what could be a cynical casting stunt: adding the alluring Jeri Ryan (who's constantly wearing a catsuit, no less).

Though it really look like a desperate ratings stunt, Ryan turns the reformed Borg Seven of Nine into the most interesting character on the show. And despite their alleged clashes behind the scenes, the actress helps to elevate every scene she shares with Kate Mulgrew. Between the new cast member, improved writing, and Mulgrew being nothing short of a damned icon, Voyager soon becomes appointment television, and it's definitely worth binge-watching for modern audiences.

STAR TREK: VOYAGER
STAR TREK: VOYAGER

5. <i>Star Trek: Lower Decks</i> (2020)

Lower Decks is an impressive show for many reasons, including the fact that its execution elevates its initial premise, which focuses on the lives of the lower-level staffers aboard the starship. Because showrunner Mike McMahan previously wrote for Rick and Morty and the animation takes its cues from the cartoon adventures of Rick Sanchez, many fans may have assumed Lower Decks would simply be "Star Trek meets Rick and Morty."

Thankfully, that's not the case. Aside from animation similarities, the main elements these two cartoons have in common is a breakneck, borderline manic pace. But as entertaining as it can be, Rick and Morty is an often nihilistic show with gags revolving around how nothing really matters. Lower Decks, however, is a lighthearted series that serves as the cure to modern Trek. If you've dismissed franchises such as Discovery and Picard because they are grim, violent, and serious, Lower Decks is a wonderfully lighthearted alternative that is never afraid to poke fun at its own franchise.

Star Trek: Lower Decks
Star Trek: Lower Decks

4. <i>Star Trek: Strange New Worlds</i> (2022)

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is a truly pleasant surprise to fans of the franchise. Set years before Captain Kirk sat in that famous chair, we see Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount reprising the role) lead the U.S.S. Enterprise into bizarre adventures alongside some familiar characters (Ethan Peck returning as Spock, for example) and a few new ones.

Part of what helps this show shine is that it marks a return to episodic Trek in that every installment is a self-contained adventure as opposed to newer series like Discovery and Picard, which build entire seasons around a single plot.

The characters all ooze with the same swashbuckling charm of The Original Series characters, and we can't wait to see more of their adventures. We also can't wait to see more of Anson Mount's amazing hair (arguably the most awesome practical effect in the franchise).

STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS
STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS

3. <i>Star Trek: The Next Generation</i> (1987)

Star Trek: The Next Generation has the dubious honor of being the first Trek show where veteran fans warn against new fans starting at the very beginning. Early episodes range from stupidly horny (planetary natives in the episode "Justice" are barely wearing scraps of clothing) to ridiculously racist ("Code of Honor" may very well be the worst Star Trek episode ever made). Many of these problems stemmed from the fact that despite being called "The Next Generation," the show was trying to recreate The Original Series (right down to using some of the same writers and shamelessly reusing scripts from the scrapped Star Trek: Phase II series).

As fans like to joke, the show gets better as Commander Riker's beard gets longer. Season two was a major improvement and was usurped by season three, which brought in new uniforms, new sets, and the late, great Michael Piller to head up the writing team. Just like that, TNG embraced its differences from its famous forerunner (Picard was cerebral whereas Kirk was impulsive, Data yearned for emotion whereas Spock detested it, and so on). At last, the gamble paid off, and the next generation of this franchise ushered in the next generation of Star Trek fans.

Star Trek - The Next Generation - 1987-1994
Star Trek - The Next Generation - 1987-1994

2. <i>Star Trek: The Original Series</i> (1966)

What can we say about The Original Series which hasn't been said already? Gene Roddenberry successfully fused science fiction with American pioneer spirit to create his vision of this "Wagon Train to the stars." The episodes are both fun and thought-provoking in equal measure, and William Shatner as Kirk and Leonard Nimoy as Spock, among many others, turn in performances that seared themselves into our collective pop culture consciousness.

The Original Series offers social commentary about racism, imperialism, and (often to Spock's annoyance) the human condition. And the blend of big acting, ambitious sets, and poignant plots helps this show become something truly transcendent. The OG Star Trek shaped not only the future of the franchise but television itself, and it's not hard to see why it continues to win over new generations of fans year after year.

Star Trek: The Original Series
Star Trek: The Original Series

1. <i>Star Trek: Deep Space Nine</i> (1993)

Placing Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in the top spot is perhaps a contentious decision. However, this series did more than measure up to the quality of The Next Generation (a lofty feat in and of itself). The show also makes a number of storytelling and production choices that have helped DS9 seem more relevant in recent years than ever before, including tackling issues about race, religious fundamentalism, and war on a regular basis.

Perhaps the main way DS9 feels so relevant is that the show breaks the longstanding Trek rule of making only standalone episodes. As the powers that be focused more on creating their next show, Voyager, DS9 showrunner Ira Steven Behr was able to get away with creating long story arcs and frequent episode callbacks. The end result of this is that Deep Space Nine is the first of the pre-streaming era Trek shows that is perfect for binge-watching.

STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE, season 4 cast, top, from left: Michael Dorn, Terry Farrell, Cirroc Lofton, bottom, from left: Armin Shimerman, Rene Auberjonois, Avery Brooks, Nana Visitor, Colm Meaney
STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE, season 4 cast, top, from left: Michael Dorn, Terry Farrell, Cirroc Lofton, bottom, from left: Armin Shimerman, Rene Auberjonois, Avery Brooks, Nana Visitor, Colm Meaney

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