Best Detective Shows: Top 5 Crime Series Most Recommended By Fans

One must admit that detective shows, murder mysteries, crime dramas, and even true crime are a guilty pleasure for most people. Just think of the number of mysteries you’ve seen solved on the small screen. But with so many television shows with so many different tones, it’s hard to tell the mediocre from the best detective shows out there. That’s where we come in. But before we dive in, let’s talk about why our brains are so drawn to these types of series. 

According to an expert on morbid curiosity, a recent study found that watching crime shows makes people feel prepared if they ever find themselves in a similar situation. According to a recent study, there’s an almost primal reason people are endlessly fascinated by true crime content specifically. People’s fascinations don’t stop with true crime, though; fictional shows exposing similar stories surely have the same effect. Just think of how many iterations of Law & Order there have been. While it may be scary to watch in that “this is sort of fun” way, there’s also a part of your brain storing information in case you ever find yourself someplace similar.  

However, not all detective and crime shows leave you with a bad feeling in your stomach and paranoia about taking on the day. Take “Pushing Daisies,” a prime example of how tone can completely switch a genre. Though the show was about solving sometimes gruesome crimes, the aesthetic and writing made it unique and comical, putting amateur sleuth and pie baker Ned right up there with Olivia Benson for iconic television detectives

Ok crime enthusiasts, you may have a few more shows on your watchlist after reading. As always, we at StudyFinds have thoroughly researched across sources to bring you the top five best detective shows to watch for all of our crime lovers. As always, if we missed your top pick, please comment down below; we would love to hear from you! Now, without further ado: the list.

A detective's silhouette
A detective’s silhouette (Photo by Craig Whitehead on Unsplash)

The List: Best Detective TV Shows, According to Experts


1. “Sherlock” (2010 – 2017)

Based on the century-old tale of the brooding sleuth, Sherlock Holmes, these stories “got a modern update in this BBC show starring Benedict Cumberbatch as a cold, meticulous, drug-addict version of the great detective and Martin Freeman playing Dr. Watson. The two solve crimes and track the mysterious worldwide criminal Moriarty. Each episode spans roughly an hour and a half, making them closer to movies than television episodes,” reports Stacker.

“Sherlock” The Complete Series

“In this contemporary version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective stories, Dr. John Watson is a war vet just home from Afghanistan. Then he meets the brilliant but eccentric Holmes when the latter, who serves as a consultant to Scotland Yard, advertises for a flatmate. However, almost as soon as Watson moves into the Baker Street flat, they find themselves drowned in mysteries,” notes MysteryTribune.

“Easily one of Benedict Cumberbatch’s breakout roles, Sherlock stars Cumberbatch as the famous detective, paired with Martin Freeman as his Dr. Watson. It’s a modern retelling of some of the most well-known stories, and along with Robert Downey Jr.’s movie adaptation, the show is one of the most fun spins on the character in recent years,” adds Men’sHealth.

2. “The Wire” (2002 – 2008)

“Whether it was the drug trade inside a public housing complex, the cops trying to contain it, the dock workers importing illegal goods, a school trying to educate a community, or a newspaper working its way past shady politics, ‘The Wire’ consistently and cleverly dealt with the nuances of crime. No longer was it as simple as good and bad or right and wrong. The systematic nature of American crime was examined from every perspective, and every perspective was treated with empathy and understanding,” says IndieWire. “‘The Wire’ exposed every dark corner it could find and made for damn fine television while doing it.”

"The Wire" (2002-2008)
“The Wire” (2002-2008)

“Creator David Simon spent years as a journalist in Baltimore and made each season of ‘The Wire’ reflect a different systemic ill that he saw in the city’s fabric. The show garnered numerous awards, including a Writers Guild of America Award and one Directors Guild of America Award, in addition to two Emmy nominations for writing. A groundbreaking show for its breadth and realism, ‘The Wire’ didn’t earn many awards when it aired, but it is widely considered one of the greatest television shows in history,” raves Stacker.

“One of the most popular crime shows of all time (and arguably the best), ‘The Wire focuses on the city of Baltimore and its law enforcement. With each new season, a different aspect of the local government and illegal acts are explored. The show served as major breakout roles for Idris Elba and Michael K. Williams, and cemented David Simon as a strong television writer,” adds Men’sHealth.

3. “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” (1999 – present)

“‘The Law and Order: SVU’ TV series premiered on September 20, 1999, on NBC as the first spin-off of Dick Wolf’s successful crime drama Law & Order. The show focuses on the police detectives of the Special Victims Unit in a fictional version of the 16th Precinct of the New York City Police Department (NYPD),” explains EInvestigator. With being one of six spin-offs of the original “Law & Order,” it’s a feat within itself just to be the best of the bunch but an even bigger one to be one of the best detective shows of all time. 

“Dick Wolf’s Law & Order franchise juggernaut started in 1990 with an original installment that launched the careers of Chris Noth and Angie Harmon, has spun off numerous times, and still has a strong presence in prime time 29 years in. But gun to our head, if we have to narrow it down to a specific Law & Order, then it’s SVU all day, every day. Mariska Hargitay’s Olivia Benson is the avenging angel we all wish were real, ridding the mean streets of New York of sexual predators with each ripped-from-the-headlines case,” raves Reader’s Digest.

“Since 1998, Olivia Benson has navigated New York’s Special Victims Unit investigation team through countless sexual offense cases to fight for survivors during their darkest and most vulnerable moment. With the help of Fin Tutuola (Ice T), the team has tackled 24 seasons worth of cases,” notes Hulu Press. You can also stream all 538 episodes now on Hulu.

4. “Monk” (2002 – 2009)

“Meet Adrian Monk (Tony Shalhoub), a former police detective turned private consultant whose obsessive-compulsive disorder both hinders and enhances his crime-solving abilities. As he battles personal demons while cracking cases with Captain Leland Stottlemeyer (Ted Levine) and assistance from Sharona Fleming (Bitty Schram) or Natalie Teeger (Traylor Howard), Monk showcases resilience in overcoming adversity while delivering satisfying whodunit,” raves Ranker.

“Monk” The Complete Series

When Adrian Monk “loses his wife in a car bombing accident, he becomes a recluse and loses his job. When he finally manages to leave his house, he decides to become a private detective and also consult the police on complex cases,” notes BoredPanda. “But his compulsive habits are what help him solve cases where other professionals are stuck. Monk held the record of the most-watched scripted drama, not only among cop shows but in the entire history of cable TV, until passing this title in 2012.”

Tom’s Guide goes on to add that “Monk works — and lasted eight years on cable — because Shalhoub plays the titular character with a lovable peculiarity.” Being one of the earliest shows to feature a lead character battling multiple mental illnesses, Monk was a fantastic approach to many heavy subjects and has and will always remain a favorite for many.

5. “True Detective” (2014 – present)

“The first season — which paired Woody Harrelson with Matthew McConaughey as two detectives trying to resolve an old murder case — is still a classic. The chemistry between Harrelson and McConaughey is what makes this series work as much as the mystery of what they’re investigating. Each eight-episode season revolves around a completely different set of characters; season 2 features Colin Farrell and Rachel McAdams, while season 3 has Mahershala Ali as the lead detective. A fourth season of the show, starring Jodie Foster, is currently in production,” explains Tom’s Guide.

“The first season of one of the best detective series by HBO follows a murder investigation led by two homicide detectives, ‘Marty’ Hart (Woody Harrelson) and ‘Rust’ Cohle (Matthew McConaughey). While all seasons of ‘True Detective’ have received praise, the first season, in particular, has been named the best season out of the three. The chemistry shared between detectives Harrelson and McConaughey, followed by a strong plot line and characterizations, made it an impeccable season,” says Collider.

The Cinemaholic had similar feelings for the show, writing, “The plot focuses on an ongoing investigation in a series of murders dating back to the time of the two main characters’ service. The story is presented to us in a syncretism of flashbacks and current interviews. The OUTSTANDING performance of the leads, coupled with the intriguing plot, made the series a fan favorite while also appeasing critics with its authenticity and realism. The series’ unwavering adherence to the deconstruction of the human psyche and exploring different shades of the characters made it special.” All seasons of the detective drama can be streamed now on Max!

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Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.

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About the Author

Jilly Hite

New York raised and Florida-based Jilly Hite studied screenwriting and theatre at The Lee Strasberg Institute before becoming a full time content creator and podcaster. She loves old movies, musical theatre, and her pup Ted.

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  1. Sherlock is the trendy Brit pick but what about Inspector Morse? It was top detective show in the UK and PBS far longer than Sherlock.

  2. To paraphrase Meatloaf, 3 out of 5 out bad…Monk True Detectives The Wire…nailed it. Mindhunters is too good to ever miss and I think original or even L&O Criminal Intent. I’ve been disheartened with Special Victims because everyone is technically a special victim. It’s literally jumped the shark or nuked the fridge.

  3. Sherlock? One of the worst detective shows of our time and it’s number one? According to experts? You gotta be kidding

  4. Ive been watching SVU since it first came on TV and it is one of the greatest TV shows of all time IMO but in the last few seasons it has shown signs of the Woke Virus with a lot of blatent left leaning story arcs and unfortunate political nonsense,it would be a shame for such a Legendary Show to have to end its run as nothing more than a vehicle for Liberal claptrap!!!

  5. I guess you only pulled from American television. The UK has the absolute best detective shows. From slightly comedic, “Midsomer Murders”, “Father Brown”, “Sister Boniface” to serious, “Whitechapel”, “Luther”, “Ripper Street”, there’s too many to chose from. They’re all great!

  6. Inspector Morse, Lewis, Endeavour, Daniel and Pascoe then the Dalgleish series. Everyone of them better than this list.

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