TV

25 of the best TV shows set in high school

Written by:
June 30, 2021
ABC Family

25 of the best TV shows set in high school

High school is a defining time for teenagers. It’s a time to figure out who they are and who they can become. It is a time wedged between childhood and adulthood, filled with painful, poignant, and wondrous firsts. Television series often mirror our own high school experiences or the ones we wish we had. Through our favorite shows, we can relive our own formative years or reimagine them as we wish they had happened, living vicariously through television characters.

Stacker surveyed TV history and chose 25 of the best series about high school life. To qualify, the show had to have at least a 6.5 on IMDb and have 10,000 votes. Shows are organized by IMDb user rating.

These shows filled with teen angst, first loves, bitter betrayals, and tight-knit bonds represent every high school group from nerds to jocks. The list includes shows from every genre. They are about a popular comic book that gets a dark makeover, an animated superhero who fights crime when she isn’t cheerleading, two stepbrothers finding common ground though they are polar opposites, vampire brothers who fall in love with a local high school girl, and two siblings as they try to figure out where they fit in their 1980s suburban Michigan high school.

Join Stacker as we cruise the corridors of some of the coolest high schools on the small screen and explore 25 of the best TV shows set in high school.

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1 / 25
Berlanti Productions

Riverdale

- IMDb user rating: 6.8
- Years on the air: 2017–present

This show based on the “Archie” comics features Betty, Archie, Veronica, and Jughead and their adventures in the small town of Riverdale where they attend Riverdale High, but the similarities stop there. The comics upon which the series is based are light-hearted fare, and “Riverdale” is not. It features dark plotlines involving suicide, death, betrayal, and murder.

2 / 25
NBC Productions

Saved by the Bell

- IMDb user rating: 7.0
- Years on the air: 1989–1992

Every Gen Xer who grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s remembers the Saturday shenanigans of the crew at Bayside High. Zack Morris, A.C. Slater, Jessie Spano, Lisa Turtle, Kelly Kapowski, and Screech Powers loved, laughed, hung at The Max, and drove Principal Belding up the wall. Most of the episodes offered PG-rated fare, but every once in a while things got serious, like when super-smart Jessie Spano struggled with her fondness for caffeine pills.

3 / 25
Disney Television Animation

Kim Possible

- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Years on the air: 2002–2007

Not your average high school cheerleader, Kim Possible is also a superhero. This animated series follows Kim and her best friend as they battle crime and the challenges of life as a teen. There was also a feature film, “Kim Possible Movie: So The Drama,” which was meant to conclude the series, but due to fans’ efforts, the show aired for a fourth and final season.

4 / 25
Bell Broadcast and New Media Fund

Degrassi: The Next Generation

- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Years on the air: 2001–2015

This popular Canadian teen drama is the fourth series in the “Degrassi” franchise. The show follows the lives of several teens as they navigate sex, drug use, and other complex high school issues while attending Degrassi Community School. Teenager Emma from “Degrassi: The Next Generation” is the daughter of Christine “Spike” Nelson who had her as a teenager when attending Degrassi Junior High.

5 / 25
ABC Family

Pretty Little Liars

- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Years on the air: 2010–2017

Based on the book series by Sara Shepard, “Pretty Little Liars” is set in the small town of Rosewood, Pennsylvania. Four teenage girls fall apart after the leader of their clique, Alison DiLaurentis, goes missing. They come back together to figure out why they are receiving mysterious messages from the anonymous “A,” who threatens to reveal their secrets.

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6 / 25
17th Street Productions

Gossip Girl

- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Years on the air: 2007–2012

The lives of privileged teens living on New York’s Upper East Side are toyed with by an anonymous blogger known as Gossip Girl, who seems to know all their secrets. Kristen Bell narrates each episode as the all-knowing Gossip Girl. The TV show is based on a series of novels by Cecily von Ziegesar. 

7 / 25
MTV/Remote Productions

Awkward.

- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Years on the air: 2011–2016

The MTV series featured an awkward teenage girl, Jenna Hamilton, who gains popularity after an accident is misconstrued, leading to sympathy and a new chance at finally fitting in. Jenna attends the fictional Palos Hills High School in Southern California. At one point during the show, Jenna receives a DVD of “Sixteen Candles,” one of the quintessential teen angst movies of the 1980s.

8 / 25
Wonderland Sound and Vision

The O.C.

- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Years on the air: 2003–2007

Troubled teen Ryan Atwood lives with wealthy family the Cohens in Newport Beach in Orange County, California, and ingratiates himself into the lives of those surrounding them. He attends the private and elite Harbor School with his best friend Seth Cohen, and has an on-and-off romance with troubled party girl Marissa Cooper.

9 / 25
Tollin

Smallville

- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Years on the air: 2001–2011

The WB show told the story of a teenage Clark Kent growing up in Smallville, Kansas, and attending Smallville High with his best friend Chloe Sullivan, where they work on the school newspaper The Smallville Torch. Clark also does his best to hide his superhero alter ego from his love interest, Lana Lang, and frenemy Lex Luthor, while helping his parents maintain the family farm.

10 / 25
MGM Television

Teen Wolf

- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Years on the air: 2011–2017

Though it shares a title with the 1980s movie starring Michael J. Fox and a basic concept—teen becomes werewolf—that is where the similarities end. While the movie was a light-hearted comedy, the MTV show was a much darker vehicle. It featured teen Scott McCall getting bitten by a werewolf after hanging in the woods with his best friend Stiles. While being a werewolf has its advantages, like speed, strength, and popularity, it also means being hunted and dealing with the awesome responsibility that comes with having cool powers.

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11 / 25
July Moon Productions

13 Reasons Why

- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Years on the air: 2017–2020

When Hannah Baker dies by suicide, teen Clay Jensen receives a series of cassette tapes revealing the reasons why Hannah took her life. What Clay hears upsets the balance at Liberty High School, where much of the show takes place. Based on Jay Asher’s bestselling book of the same name, the series stirred up controversy because of its handling of the topic of suicide, with many feeling it did more harm than good.

12 / 25
Nickelodeon Productions

Drake & Josh

- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Years on the air: 2004–2007

Two teens become step brothers in this Nickelodeon series. Drake is the popular musician who gets into trouble and Josh is the responsible straight-A student. They attend Belleview High School and while they are total opposites, they bring out the best in each other.

13 / 25
Warner Bros. Television

One Tree Hill

- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Years on the air: 2003–2012

Set in the fictional town of Tree Hill, North Carolina, half-siblings Lucas and Nathan Scott battle and connect in life and on the basketball court at Tree Hill High. They are surrounded by a tight-knit group of friends while their lives unfold soap-opera style, as audiences follow them from high school through adulthood. Three of the stars of the original series launched a podcast “Drama Queens” in response to a renewed interest by audiences in “One Tree Hill” during the pandemic.

14 / 25
Outerbanks Entertainment

The Vampire Diaries

- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Years on the air: 2009–2017

The Salvatore brothers, Damon and Stefan, both fall for the beautiful Elena Gilbert who attends Mystic Falls High School and tragically lost both her parents, but Mystic Falls isn’t like other places, it has a dark history filled with vampires and legend. “The Vampire Diaries” follows the twisted lives and loves of the Salvatores, who happen to be vampires, and the local high school kids they run with. The show spawned several spinoffs.

15 / 25
NBC Productions

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Years on the air: 1990–1996

In this popular 1990s sitcom, things get tough in Will Smith's West Philadelphia neighborhood, and his mother sends the high schooler off to live with his uncle and aunt in Beverly Hills. There he adjusts to the high life alongside his three cousins, including the annoying but loveable Carlton, who is Will’s polar opposite. 

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16 / 25
Michael Jacobs Productions

Boy Meets World

- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Years on the air: 1993–2000

“Boy Meets World” is the coming-of-age story of Cory Matthews and his adventures with best friend Shawn Hunter and eventual girlfriend Topanga. They all attend John Adams High School under the watchful eye of Principal Feeny, who also happens to either live next door or behind the Matthews family. John Adams High is really John Marshall High School, which is located in Los Angeles and was also used in feature films like “Pretty in Pink,” “Grease,” and “Nightmare on Elm Street.”

17 / 25
Carsey-Werner-Mandabach Productions

That '70s Show

- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Years on the air: 1998–2006

The series focuses on the lives of teen Eric Forman and his friends growing up in fictional Point Place, Wisconsin. Eric falls in love with his next-door neighbor and best friend Donna, while the gang including rich girl Jackie, pretty boy Kelso, foreign exchange student Fez, and anti-establishment Hyde get high in Eric’s basement, and drive around in the Vista Cruiser. They all attend Point Place High School, except for Donna, who during her senior year attends Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrow.

18 / 25
Dorothy Parker Drank Here Productions

Gilmore Girls

- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Years on the air: 2000–2007

Lorelai Gilmore left home at 16 and raised her daughter Rory on her own, severing her relationship with her wealthy parents. She settled in Stars Hollow but when Rory gets accepted into prestigious Chilton Prep, Lorelai must ask her parents for money for tuition. Rory works hard to adjust to life at Chilton while still maintaining friendships with the kids she grew up with in Stars Hollow.

19 / 25
Company Pictures

Skins

- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Years on the air: 2007–2013

This BBC series focuses on a group of teenagers trying to figure out who they are and where they want to go with little guidance from parents or teachers. They party a lot, and the series was often criticized for its brash content featuring explicit drug use. Unique in that it replaced its cast every two years, “Skins” was reworked for American audiences by MTV and followed a group of teens in Baltimore.

20 / 25
The Bedford Falls Company

My So-Called Life

- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Years on the air: 1994–1995

Angela Chase, played by a young Claire Danes, comes of age in suburban Pittsburgh in this series that had a very short life. While “My So-Called Life” only lasted for one season, its endearing tale of the trials and tribulations of teenagers figuring out who they were and where they fit continues to fascinate audiences. Between the dialogue, the on and off-again friendships, and her crush on the misunderstood brooding heartthrob Jordan Catalano, Angela Chase was the personification of awkward, wistful teen angst.

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21 / 25
New World Television

The Wonder Years

- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Years on the air: 1988–1993

The Arnold family weathers life in the tumultuous, politically charged 1960s and 1970s, and their story is told through the lens of their youngest, Kevin, who we follow through junior high and high school. The series is narrated by the adult Kevin as he looks back to his youth with nostalgia and wonder, remembering the many firsts—first kiss, first girlfriend, and first job—that make up the teen years. Fans of the show still remember the first kiss between Kevin Arnold and Winnie Cooper, set to Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman,” and phrases like, “Do you like him, or do you like him, like him?”

22 / 25
Hat Trick Productions

Derry Girls

- IMDb user rating: 8.4
- Years on the air: 2018–present

This coming-of-age show introduces viewers to teenager Erin Quinn, her family, and the all-girls Catholic school she attends. “Derry Girls” is set in 1990s Northern Ireland against the backdrop of The Troubles. The show’s cast isn’t actually in their teens, but is in their mid-to-late 20s.

23 / 25
A24

Euphoria

- IMDb user rating: 8.4
- Years on the air: 2019–present

“Euphoria” stars Zendaya as Rue Bennett, a recovering addict who struggles through high school. She begins a relationship with the new girl, Jules, while surrounding herself with friends and family. One of the filming locations for the show is Ulysses S. Grant High School in Valley Glen, California, which has also appeared in the feature film “Clueless” and the television show “Freaks and Geeks.”

24 / 25
Imagine Television

Friday Night Lights

- IMDb user rating: 8.6
- Years on the air: 2006–2011

This tale of Coach Eric Taylor follows not only his family, including wife Tami and daughter Julie, but the lives of the football players he coaches at Dillon High School in Texas. The Taylors are intertwined in both the town and the high school, where not only does Eric serve as a coach, but Tami becomes a guidance counselor and Julie is a student. The show is based on H.G. Bissinger's book and the 2004 film of the same name.

25 / 25
Apatow Productions

Freaks and Geeks

- IMDb user rating: 8.8
- Years on the air: 1999–2000

Told from the point of view of mathlete-turned-burnout Lindsay Weir and her innocent little brother Sam, this coming-of-age story lasted only one short season, but has achieved cult classic status in the years since its release. Lindsay befriends the so-called freaks, while her younger brother Sam belongs to the geeks. They both do their best to navigate the treacherous and wondrous times at William McKinley High School in suburban Michigan.

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