Sometimes all you want to do is run away and have an adventure. While this is impractical for most people, TV can be a fantastic substitute for the real thing. I have tried to keep these recommendations varied in the types of adventure they provide, but there is no getting around the fact that the fantasy and science fiction genres are the best for creating that feeling of going on an epic adventure. These can be in the traditional quest stories, but can also take the form of stories with a great journey and high stakes. These recommendations should help if you want the feeling of a long journey to battle evil and save the world, or if you want a fun exploration through a fantastical world.
Legend of the Seeker
Air Date: 2008 – 2010
Country of Origin: USA
Premise: Based on the Sword of Truth book series, Legend of the Seeker follows Richard as he has the title and destiny of the seeker of truth thrust upon him. Richard, along with Kahlan, a confessor with the power to bend men to her will, and Zedd, an eccentric but powerful wizard, must then take down evil king Darken Rahl.
Why it works for this category: The traditional fantasy story is one of the best to turn to when it comes to a sense of adventure. There’s nothing quite as full of adventure as the noble quest through fantastical lands, the use of interesting types of magic, the fighting scary monsters and the battle between good and evil. All of these fantasy elements are present in Legend of the Seeker. This fantasy world looks fantastic on-screen, as is to be expected from filming in New Zealand, and feels real and vast. While the series may not always be as structured as I would have liked, it is hard not to get caught up in the adventure and fun with such an enthusiastic and charismatic protagonist. There is a lot of interesting world building in the series, with Kahlan’s character translating fantastically to the screen and being a real highlight in the series. From the beginning sequence of Kahlan fleeing along on horseback past breath-taking views and coming across the magical boundary, it’s hard not to feel like a great adventure waits. If you are a fan of traditional fantasy and don’t mind a quest with a lighter tone then this could fit your needs.
Note: Legend of the Seeker deviates from the books it is based on quite a lot, so fans of the books may not enjoy the series as much. It is much lighter in tone than the books and removes a lot of the sexual violence and gore. If you prefer a darker, grittier fantasy like Game of Thrones then this will likely not appeal as much.
Related shows: Xena: Warrior Princess (badass female character, fantasy world, filmed in New Zealand, adventure)
The Shannara Chronicles (magic, fantasy world, filmed in New Zealand, adventure)
Merlin (magic, fantasy world and creatures, adventure, fantasy royalty, medieval fantasy)
Air Date: 2015 – 2016
Country of Origin: USA
Genre: Musical, Comedy, Fantasy
Premise: Traditional fantasy story with more than one twist, Galavant is a musical comedy set in a medieval fantasy world. The series follows a knight trying to reclaim his reputation and true love, his overlooked and frustrated squire, a determined princess, a cruel queen, the tyrannical yet sensitive king and his long-suffering guard. Mocking clichés and having a lot of fun subverting expectations, Galavant is a brilliantly fun romp through a fantasy world. The songs are fantastic and endlessly fun to re-listen to. The humour is silly, uplifting and fun. The characters are incredibly lovable, even the villains.
Why it works for this category: Being set in a traditional fantasy world the show has plenty of adventure, with each season setting the characters on an exciting journey with lots of the traditional challenges of a quest along the way. There are brave knights, magic, true loves to be rescued, and the promise of fantastical journeys. However, Galavant will give you a different type of adventure, as the comedy and music adds a new element to the typical fantasy quest. Things never quite go the way they traditionally should, adding unpredictability to the adventure. The comedy also helps to highlight some of the cliché elements of the fantasy quest, such as the training montage, the damsel in distress, dragons, and the evil king. This keeps things fun and original, while still giving a story full of adventure. There are a lot of guest stars in this series, including Weird Al, Reece Shearsmith, Matt Lucas, and Kylie Minogue alongside the fantastic main cast. This is one of my all-time favourite fantasy shows, and when it comes to a craving for adventure I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Note: If you want a serious adventure where you worry about the characters’ safety and the fate of the world, then this will not suit. This is a show that embraces the fun and silliness of fantasy quests and adventures.
Related shows: The Legend of the Seeker (medieval fantasy, magic, fantasy world, quest, badass female characters, adventure)
The Colour of Magic (magic, fantasy world, adventure)
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (comedy-musical, romance)
Air Date: 2015 – Present
Country of Origin: US
Genre: Fantasy, Drama
Premise: This show is adapted from the Lev Grossman book series, which are often somewhat incorrectly referred to as an adult Harry Potter book series. The show centres on Quentin Coldwater, who is depressed, mainly due to the world not living up to the magic contained in his favourite childhood fantasy book series. However, he soon finds out magic is as real as he always secretly believed, and joins other young magicians at Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy. Things aren’t quite as simple and light as they are in his favourite books though, as he is beset upon by evil entities from other worlds, dangerous magic, not to mention the difficulties in managing his new adult social life.
Why it works for this category: While this series takes place mostly at Brakebills College there is plenty of adventure to be had in the students’ explorations with magic and the fantasy world Grossman has created. This is a slightly darker adventure than the others on this list, with more adult themes and situations. There is real danger in using magic in this world and not everyone in the core group always has the best intentions. The characters are deeply flawed, well beyond the help of magic. There is a common theme throughout the series, and book series, of even the fantasy worlds we love as children not being able to solve the issues we have or make us better people. The characters remain selfish, depressed, and capable of making stupid decisions even while trying to fight evil. There is plenty of adventure to be had in this series, particularly the further in to the story you get, but the more grounded approach to the characters and their flaws creates an interesting dynamic missing from most other fantasy. This feels very much the way an adventure might go if the opportunity was given to most college students. The show also plays around with the ways in which children’s fantasy and adventures work, contrasting them with the reality of the adult fantasy world and dealing with the disappointment of these differences.
Note: If you want to be swept up in an adventure with clear morals and happy outcomes then this will not be the show for you. While there are many light moments in the show, and lots of comedy, there is also a lot of darkness and the show distances itself from the child-friendly fantasy its characters love.
Related shows: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (magic existing in the real world, flawed characters)
Going Postal (magic, flawed characters, dull jobs alongside magic)
The Worst Witch (magical school, protagonist not being the greatest magician)
Air Date: 1963 – Present
Country of Origin: UK
Genre: Science Fiction, Family
Premise: Following the charismatic and mysterious Doctor through numerous regenerations, played by different actors, Doctor Who is a show with a rich and in-depth history. At its heart the show is about the Doctor and his, also ever-changing, companions, as they travel through space and time exploring the universe and saving it when they can.
Why it works for this category: I don’t think I actually know a show with more adventure in it than Doctor Who. Every episode creates a new adventure as the Doctor finds trouble whichever planet or period he finds himself in. There’s always new terrain to explore, evil plots to overthrow, innocent lives or even whole planets to save, mysteries to solve and other species to understand. This show embraces adventure like no other, and has the most fun possible while doing it. The tone of the show does vary depending on which incarnation of the Doctor you are watching, but you’ll find fun adventure wherever you decide to watch from, as the show is the best of family adventure at its core.
Note: If you are watching for the first time then watching from when the show was rebooted, in 2005 with the Ninth Doctor, might be easier. The 2005 season is made to be easy for new fans to jump in to, while still continuing on from the classic seasons. Then if you enjoy the show there is always the option to go back and watch the classic episodes.
Related shows: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (traveling in space, aliens, lighthearted adventure)
Torchwood (set in the same world, aliens)
12 Monkeys (time-travel, mystery)
The Lost Room
Air Date: 2006
Country of Origin: US
Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery, Action
Premise: The Lost Room is an engaging and fast paced series which follows a detective who comes across a mysterious key with unexpected abilities. The consequences of this hurl him into an increasingly bizarre investigation. I won’t say much more here because the show is very unique and surprising and I feel it is more fun to go in without knowing the finer plot details.
Why it works for this category: The investigation the protagonist gets involved in becomes one of absolute adventure, with a fantastical journey to unravel the mystery as the threat increases. His desperate attempts to figure out the truth behind the impossible key and save a life lead him across the US, working and fighting with characters in search of the same truth. There are fantastical elements, brilliant science fiction moments, a unique mystery and world, and an adventurous rescue attempt. There are only 6 episodes, which were aired as 3, making it an easy series to marathon. It’s a very difficult series to stop watching after one episode, as the series moves at an unstoppable pace, upping the tension and stakes at every turn. If you want an adventure full of mystery, bizarre science fiction, unique world building, that’ll keep you on the edge of your seat, then this will be a great choice for you.
Note: Unfortunately the show was cancelled after one season, and the proposed graphic novel to continue the story appears to no longer be happening. However, the series does have an ending, and a satisfying one, even if there is some plot threads clearly left unfinished for a season two.
Related shows: Fringe (mysterious sci-fi occurences, action, investigation)
Dollhouse (mystery, fast pace, action, investigation)
Warehouse 13 (similar sci-fi elements, investigation, mystery)
Air Date: 2006
Network: Sky One
Country of Origin: UK
Genre: Fantasy, Comedy, Christmas
Premise: Hogfather is an adaptation of the book of the same name by Terry Pratchett. Told over two episodes, the story is set during the run up to Hogswatchnight, an equivalent to Christmas, in the fictional fantasy world of Discworld. With the Hogfather, an equivalent to Santa, mysteriously missing, Death decides to take the Hogfather’s place to ensure children continue to believe in him.
Why it works for this category: When it comes to adventures there are few as fun, and funny, as those written by Terry Pratchett. Hogfather is, in my opinion, the best of the adaptations of his work. For a Christmas adventure you could do a lot worse than one with the personification of Death attempting to become Santa Claus. Add to that a mysterious assassin, a governess who fights the monsters under the children’s’ beds with an iron poker and the tooth fairy, and you have a uniquely brilliant adventure. This story is very funny, but also engaging, touching and meaningful, as the best of Pratchett’s work always is. Death is one of my all-time favourite characters and he is particularly fantastic in Hogfather. Riding along with Death as he attempts to become the Hogfather is an amusing adventure, but it is equalled by governess Susan’s unravelling of the mystery and race to save the day. If you want an interesting and original adventure that will give you lots of laughs along the way, then this is a fantastic choice.
Note: If you are more in the mood for a serious adventure, I wouldn’t necessarily write this one off simply because of its comedy. There is a lot of heart and deeper meanings in Pratchett’s work, even with sillier elements surrounding it. I also wouldn’t write this one off if you don’t want to watch a Christmas story, as this is just one element to the story and there is a lot more to it.
Related shows: The Colour of Magic (also based on a Terry Pratchett novel, comedy-fantasy, fantastical world, magic, odd characters, Death character, adventure)
Going Postal (also based on a Terry Pratchett novel, comedy-fantasy, fantastical world, magic, odd characters)
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (similar comedy, odd characters and creatures, adventure)