Vampires are one of the most beloved and enduring horror tropes—and for good reason. Like the zombie or the werewolf, vampires bridge that gap between the seen and unseen world, connecting the known and unknown.
Vampires live forever and have an insatiable thirst for blood. They dodge social norms and, as a result, give us a space to explore cultural taboos such as blood, sex, death, and power.
Just as often the vampire is viewed as misunderstood and struggling as they are deemed villainous. And no matter how many times audiences declare the vampire trope dead—citing overuse or a lack of innovation—it surges back to life (much like the vampire itself.) There’s always a new spin, a new take, and a new bite that draws fresh blood—and bewitching fascination.
The following television shows demonstrate the versatility of the vampire, revealing how the trope bends and contorts to fit their monstrous role in humanity's ongoing story of life and death. They’re also some of the best of the genre.
Check these iconic and innovative vampires out—just make sure you don't invite them in.
Based on the comic book series of the same name, Preacher is a show that’s dripping with alcohol and absurdity. Our protagonist is Jesse Custer, a preacher battling his own waning beliefs. He drinks and he smokes like he’s got a death wish. In trademark hero’s (or in this case anti-hero) journey, Custer hits the road to find God—literally—when he becomes possessed by a supernatural entity named Genesis who gives him powers.
Along for the ride is a vampire by the name of Cassidy as well as Custer’s ex, Tulip. And about that power, Custer soon discovers that using it renders people to believe what he preaches. Preacher takes this crazy, irresistible concept and constantly exceeds expectations, often going for the more absurd when you expect it to slow down.
Midnight Mass (2021)
Considered a masterpiece by many, Netflix’s 2021 hit Midnight Mass is a wonderfully dark descent into the small town of Crockett Island and the appearance of one Father Paul Hill. Riley Flynn returns home after serving time for a drunk driving accident that resulted in the death of a young woman. The town has fallen on hard times after an oil spill renders one of the main sources of income impossible. A devout community of Catholics, the sudden replacement for their original pastor marks what becomes the beginning of increasingly odd events.
At first, it’s a sudden mass of dead cats; but soon there are miracles, and the community of Crockett Island becomes rapt at the possibility of their pastor’s power. Or so they think. Midnight Mass is an excellent rendition of the trope, especially when unleashed on a community desperate for levity.
From the title alone, NOS4A2, series villain and vampire, Charlie Manx’s license plate, you can glean a lot about what might be at the core of the series. Based on the novel of the same name by Joe Hill, NOS4A2 is about one Victoria McQueen, an artist who happens to also have the ability to see the previously mentioned Charlie Manx. She becomes fascinated and then frightened by Manx, who seems to be able to enter different dimensions.
McQueen discovers that Manx is a vampire that feeds on children, luring them to his too-good-to-be-true Christmasland, an undone and maybe undead rendition of Manx’s own imagination. In Christmasland, it’s Groundhog Day but with Christmas, and everyone— everyone—must remain cheerful and happy. McQueen becomes the only person who can save those children and perhaps stop Manx, a vampire that has thrived for over a hundred years.
The Strain (2014)
The Strain is a venerable post-apocalyptic vampire series spanning four seasons, an ongoing epic involving a cast of characters that take life day by day, moment by moment, due to the strain that has caused the downfall of humanity. Yeah, it turns people into vampires.
The Strain is based on the trilogy of novels by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan and has as much in common with the canon (think King’s The Stand and Matheson’s I Am Legend) while also taking on its own unique dramatic bent. Viewers meet Dr. Ephraim Goodweather, who works for the CDC; at the show’s start, she is called in to investigate a plane wherein all passengers aboard are found deceased, only to discover the strain that launches the epidemic of vampirism.
Goodweather and crew become among the last of humanity’s hope for a cure. Viewers looking for some of that visceral vampire menace coupled with the feel-bad highs (or lows) of a good end-of-the-world narrative, The Strain is the kind of brain candy you’ll sink into and likely binge.
What We Do in the Shadows (2019)
When the mockumentary film What We Do in the Shadows was released back in 2014, it quickly became a standout release of the year. And with good reason, the film merged hilarity with horror. The TV series expands on the groundwork done by the film, returning to the same mockumentary conceit. A film crew chronicles the lives of vampires in Staten Island, New York City. All of them are roommates in a crumbling abode, and the series defines them into their own enigmatic and delightfully dark personalities.
There’s Nandor, the oldest at 760 years, and then there’s Laszlo, former-porn-actor-now-vampire. There’s Nadja, who often is nostalgic for human living. Oh, and don’t forget Colin Robinson, the energy vampire, who feasts not on the blood of his victims but rather on their energy, sapping them with the inane and dull realm of social interaction. They bumble and fumble their way through countless social situations, all the while those watching simply can’t help but empathize. It’s an addictive show—and a must-watch.
Buffy: The Vampire Slayer (1997)
This one is an absolute must. How could a list of memorable vampire TV shows exclude one of the best—a true 90s classic?
By now, most have at least dabbled in the world of Buffy Summers, and just as many frequently enjoy that nostalgic fix of, you know, bingeing an entire season as self-care. Buffy: The Vampire Slayer is everything that became foundational and functional in a 90s television show aimed at teens. You’ve got the strong-willed and ever-tenacious Buffy Summers with her supernatural abilities that help her face off against a legion of vampires. Leading that double life, Buffy’s friends from high school become fixtures in her own crew aiding in her mission to slay evil.
It’s the recipe from which the show creates a full menu of frights and, well, fun. And that’s what Buffy does so well: The characters are memorable, the episodes blur together to create an iconic world, and Buffy herself becomes a character so well rendered viewers begin to see her as a living person, perhaps a friend. Buffy: The Vampire Slayer is proof, like the series on this list, that the vampire is an ever-shifting slate. Beyond their immortality and need for blood, they become like an echo to their surroundings and an excellent vehicle for writers in their ongoing examination of humanity.