Historically, zombies are more associated with cinema than TV. Originally defined in a modern context by George Romero’s 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead, in the decades since, zombies have evolved (watch out!) to become one of pop culture’s most recognizable horror tropes—to the point where they even pop up in TV shows that are decidedly not about zombies. In honor of All Of Us Are Dead, the horrifying zombie K-drama that just dropped on Netflix, we’re taking the time to recommend some of our favorite zombie TV shows of all time.
All of Us Are Dead
Adapted from a Naver webtoon of the same name, 지금 우리 학교는 (which translates directly as “Our School Now”) follows a group of high school students as they fight to stay alive when their school becomes ground zero for a zombie outbreak. Though the TV show isn’t doing anything new with the zombie trope, it is doing it well, with plenty of gore, social commentary, and character moments to sustain the story across 12 episodes. All of Us Are Dead is also one of the first, big zombie dramas to be released post the outbreak of COVID-19, which has so many long-familiar narrative tropes hitting differently. “No matter what happens, don’t die. And don’t let anyone else die,” a teacher tells her students relatively early in the grim story. It’s the sort of sentiment that might have come across as too obvious or sentimental in a pre-COVID world. Now, it just sounds like good advice. – Kayti Burt
In many ways, 2012’s Les Revenants (which translates directly as “They Came Back,” and is based on a film of the same name) was ahead of its time. Farther into the streaming era, this gorgeously shot, critically acclaimed French series set in a small mountain town where deceased residents quietly come back from the dead might have found a larger audience. (The English-language remake never came close to capturing the eerie existentialism of the original.) To call The Returned a zombie TV show might be too much of a sub-genre stretch for some. Though it features characters who return from the dead—some a few years after their deaths, some many decades later—there is no brain-eating or rotting corpses in this show. The series isn’t particularly concerned with exploring why some of the town’s residents came back from the dead. Instead, like The Leftovers after it, The Returned is deeply interested in how individuals, family, and community react to and process this incomprehensible event. – KB
There aren’t enough zombie period dramas (I’m still upset that the film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies wasn’t better), but Kingdom goes a long way in filling this genre gap. For many international viewers, the zombie drama set during Korea’s Joseon Dynasty was the first K-drama they ever watched, opening “mainstream” American domestic audiences up to the idea that Korean entertainment can be very, very good. Based on a webtoon, the series follows Crown Prince Lee Chang (Ju Ji-hoon) as he investigates a political conspiracy and rumors of his father’s death (he has become sick with “smallpox,” everything is probably going to be fine…), only to stumble upon a horrifying plague set to gobble up the, well, kingdom. Kingdom pairs period political intrigue with classic zombie gore for one of the most refreshing takes on the zombie genre in a long time, exploring how crisis can expose and exacerbate institutional corruption and social inequalities. With two seasons, a prequel film, and more planned in-universe stories on the way, Kingdom is well worth any zombie-lover’s time. – KB
iZombie, which is loosely based on the comic book of the same name, aired for five glorious seasons on The CW, mixing up zombie tropes with detective procedural in clever and often hilarious ways. The story follows Liv Moore (get it?), a Seattle-based med student who is turned into a zombie while attending a boat party. Because of the undead transition, she decides to take a job at the morgue, giving her free access to brains and allowing her to use her zombie skillset to solve murders. You see, when Liv (and other zombies in this world) eats brains, she gets flashes of memory from the deceased’s life. She plays the insights off as psychic ability (because why not?) and helps Detective Clive Babineaux get to the bottom of this week’s murder, usually while acting like a total weirdo as she also takes on elements of the deceased person’s personality in the process.
iZombie slowly grew its zombie world and stakes, but it was the friendships within the show’s main cast—grounded by one of the most delightful casts on TV—of zombie and human characters that made this series so darn delightful. – KB
For those who want a little bit less gloom and doom in their zombie apocalypse, there’s Z Nation, the surprisingly good romp from The Asylum that aired five seasons on Syfy. The Asylum is the production company that produced Sharknado and a slew of other derivative schlock movies, but although Z Nation never takes itself too seriously, it’s definitely not in the “it’s so bad it’s good” category. It’s actually good!
Z Nation is set three years after an outbreak of the ZN1 virus, which turns its victims into zombies. The show follows a group of survivors as they escort the only known survivor of a zombie bite to a research facility in California, hoping that his blood will lead to a cure. Over its five seasons, the show introduced many outlandish plot developments that entertained despite being full of sci-fi and horror tropes like flying saucers, zombie bears, murderous dentists, a travelling gun show, radioactive zombies, evil scientists, and even a zombie tornado.
The Asylum continued the saga in Black Summer, which is set in the same universe as Z Nation with a different cast, currently awaiting a third season on Netflix. – Michael Ahr
The Walking Dead
The works of George Romero will always be the most iconic pieces of zombie art when it comes to film or really any other medium. But if you had to pick second place …
If nothing else, The Walking Dead has been the most influential and popular zombie story since Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. The key to its appeal might come down to simple longevity. Just as the original comic from Robert Kirkman ran for an impressive 193 issues, so too has the AMC drama run for seemingly forever. Through 10 and ⅓ seasons (with another ⅔ and many spinoffs to come), The Walking Dead has tapped into the true elemental horror of zombies: they just never stop.
You can run until your muscles give out. You can hide until your stomach starts to grumble. But no matter how far you go or how long you wait, there will be an army of the ever-persistent dead right on your tail, shuffling along and following the faint stench of flesh. The Walking Dead has gone through many casting changes and has cycled through many different storytelling arcs. Through it all, however, zombies have been its constant. And thanks to the unbelievable work from producer, director, and visual effects artist Greg Nicotero, they’re never looked quite so iconic. – Alec Bojalad
Apocalypse? No! The zombies in fantasy rom-com Pushing Daisies aren’t shambling brain-hungry monsters, and its leads aren’t survivalist toughies. They’re Ned and Chuck, a pie-maker with the ability to revive corpses (for exactly one minute, after which point somebody else automatically dies in their place) and the dead-but-reanimated girlfriend he can never touch (if they touch, she dies again for good).
Played by Lee Pace and Anna Friel, Ned and Chuck are delightful, as is everybody else in Bryan Fuller’s festival of whimsy. That includes Kristin Chenoweth (does she sing? Of course she sings), Ellen Greene (Audrey from The Little Shop of Horrors movie), Swoosie Kurtz (her name is Swoosie!), Chi McBride, and a golden retriever. After a local gumshoe discovers Ned’s resurrection power, they team up to solve murders. Ned momentarily revives victims to hear their side of the story, and so begins the most charming detective show of all time.
The sole pain of Pushing Daisies is that it was cancelled too soon, running for just two seasons on ABC between 2007 – 2009. Without a macho bone in its beautiful body, this is zombie TV to fill your heart with cheer. – Louisa Mellor
In the Flesh
What if zombies could be rehabilitated? What if, after they go on a gut-chomping rampage, they could be rounded up, medicated, and rehomed in the community? Would they be welcomed back? How would they cope with the guilt? That’s the premise of Dominic Mitchell’s In the Flesh, a darkly comic British horror about otherness.
What starts as the story of teenager Kieran finding his feet as a sufferer of PDS – or Partially Deceased Syndrome – expands over two short series into a political satire about religion, tribalism and intolerance. Set in the fictional Yorkshire village of Roarton, In the Flesh follows the formation of the new PDS community and the groups that rise up in opposition.
It’s funny, poignant and beautifully photographed. The writing and performances though, are the show’s steel core. Luke Newberry and Emily Bevan as Kieran and Amy will melt you, while Mitchell drives the plot to unexpected places without losing sight of the human story he’s telling. It’s supernatural drama with brains and heart both. – LM
In a genre that is often guilty of leaning too heavily on the formulaic, 2008 E4 series Dead Set truly feels like something different, which is to be expected when it comes from the mind of Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker. The short, five-episode series follows the crew and cast of a fictional edition of UK reality show Big Brother. On the show’s eviction night (when one of the stars of the Big Brother house is voted out of the series), the fame-obsessed house members are tied up in the drama of reality television. Unbeknownst to them, something even worse is happening outside their closed, isolated set. To say more is to give too much away!
Dead Set not only dishes plenty of scares and gore but is also wickedly sharp, delivering the kind of social commentary even the late, great George A. Romero would applaud. Here is Brooker warming up for Black Mirror with a show that examines our voyeuristic obsession with celebrity. – John Saavedra
What is your favorite zombie TV show of all time? Let us know in the comments below.