The amazing dramedy Sex Education, arguably one of the best teen shows ever made, has returned. Set at the fictional Moordale High, the British series featuring Gillian Anderson follows a group of teenagers (and a few adults) as they navigate their own sex lives and relationships. Critically-acclaimed for its realistic and relatable look at teenage sexuality, the series sets itself apart from most American teen shows, because Sex Education isn’t afraid to go there. Despite all of its drama, it’s also endearing and at times hilarious.
Thanks to the miracle of global streaming, there is now a whole bevy of international teen shows to watch, focusing on issues that are both universal and unique to their country of origin. While quite a few of them veer into absurd territory (which makes them fun), others are quite grounded. From detention to drugs, relationships to revenge, makeups to murders, these teen shows have it all.
Set in Northern Ireland in the early 1990s, during the time known as “The Troubles,” Derry Girls isn’t really about that chaotic period of political upheaval. Instead, history serves as the background of the story focused on a group of teenage girls as they navigate the complexities of adolescence at their Catholic girls’ high school. Each girl has a distinct personality: Erin (Saorise-Monica Jackson) is a sarcastic girl who cares deeply about what others think of her; Orla (Louisa Harland), Erin’s oddball cousin, is the exact opposite, and enjoys tormenting Erin; Claire (Nicola Coughlan, whom you can also catch in Bridgerton), is the voice of reason within the group; Michelle (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell) is the boy-crazy wild child of the group; and finally there’s James (Dylan Llewellyn), Michelle’s cousin, who grew up in England and has to attend the same Catholic school as the girls to avoid becoming a target of anti-English violence at the boys’ school. Derry Girls is hilarious, awkward, and charming. In other words, pretty typical of the average teen experience.
Where to stream it: Seasons One and Two are currently on Netflix
(Warning: NSFW Trailer)
In what may be one of the most intense shows on this list, Skins developed a cult following during its initial run in the UK, which led to an American remake (though it only lasted a season on MTV). The original British series, which ran from 2007 until 2013, deals with the darker side of the teenage years, tackling dysfunctional families, mental illness, sex, sexuality, drug abuse, and death — to check just a few of the very merry topics it touched on. The series was praised for not shying away from these heavy topics and for casting more realistic actors (no 30-year-olds cast as 16-year-olds here). In fact, every two years or so, the show would feature a new cast, becoming a sort of anthology series over time. As you can imagine, its unflinching portrayal of sex, drugs, and rock and roll met with controversy, especially after reports that it was inspiring Skins-themed parties. Regardless, Skins is still worth a watch, remaining just as powerful today as it was when it originally aired.
Where to stream it: All seven seasons are currently on Hulu.
If Gossip Girl seems mundane to you, then you may want to watch Elite. This Spanish series follows three working class friends who earn scholarships to attend a wealthy private school, Las Encinas. There, they come up against materialistic students who dismiss the three because they aren’t “elite.” Their only weakness is an arsenal of potentially explosive secrets. Through a series of flash forwards, it’s also revealed that a murder has taken (or will take) place, a la Riverdale. Elite has become a bonafide hit that makes the upper east siders look boring in comparison.
Where to stream it: All four seasons (and a fifth that is coming!) are currently on Netflix
Also known as the show where Drake first got his start, Degrassi is about as teen soapy as it gets, but that’s what makes the show so much fun. What began in 1979 as a series of after-school specials, the show spans 14 seasons, which were divided up into five series following a group of kids from junior high through high school and beyond. In their teen years alone, the students of Degrassi Community School in Toronto faced the following: a school shooting, teen pregnancy, abortion, mental illness, drug addiction, sexual assault, domestic violence, alcoholic parents, bullying, coming out, stripping, sexual transmitted diseases, and awkward dates. Despite the sheer drama and occasionally cringe-worthy writing, Degrassi did touch on subjects other teen dramas were afraid to—in fact, one episode focusing on abortion didn’t air in America until many years later due to concerns about the controversial subject matter. The show also featured age appropriate actors who were actually teenagers and, like Skins, brought in new characters to keep it fresh. If you are in the mood for bingeing the full range of coming-of-age DRAMA and heavy Canadian accents, then give Degrassi a watch.
Where to stream it: All 14 seasons are currently on Tubi. The latest incarnation, Degrassi: Next Class, completed its run on Netflix in 2017 and is still available on the service.
If horrific dystopian societies like The Hunger Games are your thing, then you’ll want to watch 3%. Although the series is not technically set in high school, it does focus on younger folks and is too good to leave off this list. In the first Portuguese-language show for Netflix, this Brazilian series is set in an apocalyptic future in which civilization is divided into two distinct societies — the affluent “Offshore” and the impoverished “Inland.” At the age of 20, those living in the Inland have one chance at a better life by competing in a ritual called The Process. The catch is that only—you guessed it—3% of the competitors actually make it to the Offshore. The characters are all quite complex, ranging from those who have family who always pass The Process to those who really have no hope of even making it out alive.
Where to stream it: All four seasons are currently on Netflix
In what may be the most popular K-drama about high school, Boys Over Flowers had a massive impact on South Korean culture. The series follows Geum Jan-Di (Hye-seon Kim) who, despite being from a poor family, is incredibly optimistic and hard working. Her tenacity pays off when she is admitted to a prestigious private school where she comes up against a group of rich and snooty boys known as the F4. The group’s leader, Koo Jun-Pyo (Min-ho Lee), is the most spoiled, as he is an heir to the mega conglomerate Shinhwa. Jan-Di immediately dislikes her new classmates, and after she stands up to them, becomes the target of a group of mean girls. Jun-Pyo is intrigued by Jan-Di, as no one has ever stood up to him before, and begins to defend her, while also developing feelings for her. Boys Over Flowers isn’t the most sophisticated teen drama, but it’s a fun and cute love story. Here’s a fun fact: the series influenced Korean men to care a lot more about their image, and they began to include more florals and pinks in their wardrobes.
Where to stream it: Boys Over Flowers is currently on Hulu and Amazon Prime.
The second Jordanian series for Netflix, AlRawabi School For Girls presents a darker, more complex look at high school today. The series follows Mariam (Andria Tayeh) who, after the mean girls at her school take bullying one step too far, enlists her friends to help get revenge on them. While the plot is familiar, the characters are not. Instead of taking the easy way out and presenting the girls as good vs. bad, each character is nuanced and changes significantly throughout the series. The show also focuses on issues that are prevalent for young Arabic women, such as family pressures, relationships, and the patriarchy. If you want to know more about this fascinating series, be sure to read our Watercooler Pick recommendation.
Where to stream it: AlRawabi School For Girls is currently on Netflix.
Breaking Bad set the standard for intense drug-selling sagas. But while Walter White (Bryan Cranston) sold meth to pay for his healthcare — because that’s the state of the American health system — the lead in the German series, Moritz (Maximilian Mundt) decides to sell ecstasy to get his ex-girlfriend back. Moritz and his friend, Larry (Danilo Kamperidis), start off as small-time drug dealers before they end up going big. If that premise isn’t intriguing enough, then this fact might interest you: the entire series is based on a real life story that took place in Leipzig in 2015.
Where to stream it: All three seasons are currently on Netflix.
For more fun international picks, check out our round up of rom-coms from around the world.