The 15 Best TV Shows About Gangs and Gangsters, Ranked

Like cop shows, gangster shows can easily fall into boring tropes and clichés. Here are the best gang TV shows that are unique.
The 15 Best TV Shows About Gangs and Gangsters, Ranked

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The illicit world of gangs is a fascinating subject for television, which is why some of the most compelling TV series in recent years have been about gangsters and their endeavors.

Gangs can form for all kinds of reasons, with one of the most common catalysts involving contraband and the black market. But even then, gangs and gangsters come in all shapes and attitudes.

There have been so many great gang-related TV series over the years. Some are violent, some are psychological, some are historical, but they're all worth watching.

Here are my picks for the best TV shows about gangs and gangsters for fans of crime drama television.

15. Love/Hate (2008)

Created by Stuart Carolan

Starring Aidan Gillen, Robert Sheehan, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor

Crime, Drama

28 episodes (5 seasons)

8.5 on IMDb

This RTÉ series about Dublin, Ireland's criminal underworld probably flew under your radar. Across five seasons, we watch a string of interconnected characters as they fight, bargain, and kill for power.

Although Love/Hate was the subject of controversy due to its graphic nature and the casting of a real undercover Garda Síochána member, it was still met with critical acclaim and various awards.

Created by Stuart Carolan, this realistic TV drama stars Aidan Gillen, Robert Sheehan, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, and Killian Scott—names that aren't unknowns in the British TV industry.

14. Top Boy (2011)

Created by Ronan Bennett

Starring Ashley Walters, Kane Robinson, Malcolm Kamulete

Crime, Drama, Thriller

32 episodes (5 seasons)

8.4 on IMDb

Top Boy got a lot of buzz throughout its five seasons. When Channel 4 suddenly cancelled it after two seasons, Drake himself bought the rights and sold Top Boy to Netflix so fans wouldn't be disappointed!

The popularity of Ronan Bennett's crime drama was mostly due to its unflinching realism. Top Boy unfolds in modern-day London in a Hackney housing estate that many viewers will find familiar.

Even though Dushane (played by Ashley Walters) and Sully (played by Kane Robinson) are drug dealers, Top Boy still feels relatable because it successfully adopts a realist tone with sympathetic characters.

13. McMafia (2018)

Created by Hossein Amini and James Watkins

Starring James Norton, David Strathairn, Merab Ninidze

Crime, Drama, Thriller

8 episodes (1 season)

7.6 on IMDb

The protagonists of gangster shows are difficult to place. We're privy to their motives, histories, and pressures, so we come to understand their criminal behaviors. Yet, what they're doing is still technically immoral.

Alex Godman (played by James Norton) truly wants to play it straight as a banker, despite his wealthy father's involvement in the Russian Mafia. But by the end of McMafia, he's accidentally transformed himself into an all-out kingpin, Walter White style.

You can feel the money, greed, and alpha energy radiating off this BBC drama, which was triggered by Misha Glenny's nonfiction book McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld.

12. Kin (2021)

Created by Ciaran Donnelly and Peter McKenna

Starring Charlie Cox, Clare Dunne, Aidan Gillen

Crime, Drama

16 episodes (2 seasons)

7.8 on IMDb

A more polished version of the aforementioned Love/Hate, Kin is yet another Irish crime drama produced by RTÉ and starring Aidan Gillen. Peter McKenna and Ciaran Donnelly fly us back to Dublin, where a petty local feud erupts into death and destruction.

The bad blood between the Kinsellas and the Cunninghams is uncannily similar to the real-life Hutch versus Kinahan rivalry that has left 18 people dead (so far).

That said, the creators have only vaguely denied that the events in Kin were inspired by the Kinahan gang, even going so far to say that it's up to viewers to decide for ourselves.

The narrative isn't anything we haven't seen before, but with its talented cast, inventive framing, and tense cinematic atmosphere, Kin is very much worth roving the usual tropes for.

11. Ozark (2017)

Created by Bill Dubuque and Mark Williams

Starring Jason Bateman, Laura Linney, Sofia Hublitz

Crime, Drama, Thriller

44 episodes (4 seasons)

8.5 on IMDb

Bill Dubuque and Mark Williams gave us this American crime drama that features two unlikely criminals: an average suburban couple.

Marty and Wendy Byrde (played by Jason Bateman and Laura Linney) move to the Lake of the Ozarks with their kids. Why? To launder money for a Mexican drug cartel. Of course, it goes badly wrong.

The final season was particularly praised for its clear direction, acting, and polished cinematography. It also won a fair number of awards, including a couple of Golden Globes for Bateman's performance.

10. Gangs of London (2020)

Created by Gareth Evans and Matt Flannery

Starring Joe Cole, Sope Dirisu, Michelle Fairley

Action, Crime, Drama

17 episodes (2 seasons)

8.1 on IMDb

If you like Peaky Blinders, you have to check out Gangs of London. It's about another British gang-family who practically owns the city, except this time it's in modern-day London rather than post-war Birmingham.

Peaky Blinders star Joe Cole even headlines this action-packed drama, created by Gareth Evans and Matt Flannery.

Loosely based on the 2006 video game, Gangs of London tracks two rival gangs in the heart of Britain's most multicultural city, where a power vacuum is left after the assassination of the head of the Wallace family.

Gangs of London was an immediate critical and commercial success, one of the biggest shows to launch in the summer of 2020.

9. Gomorrah (2014)

Created by Roberto Saviano

Starring Salvatore Esposito, Marco D'Amore, Ivana Lotito

Crime, Drama, Thriller

58 episodes (5 seasons)

8.6 on IMDb

The US and UK television landscapes both feed off all things thrilling and criminal, but that doesn't mean they should hog all the spots! That's why I'm throwing an Italian-language pick into the mix.

Roberto Saviano's gritty modern noir Gomorrah is set in Naples and depicts the internal shifts of the Savastano clan.

Unlike most gang TV shows, which focus on external gangland warfare, Gomorrah is more concerned with different generations within a specific mafia family. You know, like a TV version of The Godfather.

Marco D'Amore reigns supreme over this critically acclaimed drama, which was so successful that it hopped across continents and streamed in almost 200 countries!

8. The Wire (2002)

Created by David Simon

Starring Dominic West, Lance Reddick, Sonja Sohn

Crime, Drama, Thriller

60 episodes (5 seasons)

9.3 on IMDb

Like Top Boy, The Wire is one of those shows that everyone seems to have watched. At first, it seemed like HBO had just made another detective show where police try to crack down on crime and corruption.

However, what makes The Wire so uniquely great is that it's taken from a range of perspectives, from detectives to drug dealers to dockworkers to school teachers to journalists, all representing the city of Baltimore.

There are actually some major allegorical themes and motifs woven throughout The Wire's five seasons, with each season moving the lens to a different institution and its effects on Baltimore as a city.

Richard Nixon's war on drugs is still being battled in present-day Baltimore, where the hierarchies and bureaucratization of the law, the criminal and the business worlds closely mirror each other.

7. Sons of Anarchy (2008)

Created by Kurt Sutter

Starring Charlie Hunnam, Katey Sagal, Ron Perlman

Crime, Drama, Thriller

92 episodes (7 seasons)

8.6 on IMDb

Sons of Anarchy follows the personal and "professional" life of Jackson "Jax" Teller, the president of a criminal Californian biker gang who wants to reduce the criminality of the group. Easier said than done.

Played by Charlie Hunnam, Jax is loosely based on the tragic Shakespeare protagonist Hamlet. Both characters are born into power without a father, the ghost of whom lingers over their heads as they deal with their evil uncle/stepfather.

Kurt Sutter's action-packed crime drama attracted an average of 4.9 million weekly viewers as evidence of its brutal popularity.

6. Boardwalk Empire (2010)

Created by Terence Winter

Starring Steve Buscemi, Kelly Macdonald, Michael Shannon

Crime, Drama

56 episodes (5 seasons)

8.6 on IMDb

HBO has produced an array of hit television shows in their time, from 1998's Sex and the City to 2019's Euphoria. In fact, many of the shows on this very list were brought to us by HBO, including this one: Terence Winter's period crime drama Boardwalk Empire.

Set during Prohibition in New Jersey, Boardwalk Empire is inspired by Nelson Johnson's 2002 book Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City.

In it, Johnson details the rise of criminal kingpin Enoch L. Johnson, fictionalized here as Nucky Thompson, a politician with connections to the mob. Steve Buscemi takes up the role of the Machiavellian protagonist, alongside a host of other famous faces.

5. Narcos (2015)

Created by Carlo Bernard, Chris Brancato, and Doug Miro

Starring Pedro Pascal, Wagner Moura, Boyd Holbrook

Biography, Crime, Drama

30 episodes (3 seasons)

8.8 on IMDb

Colombia is essentially headquarters for the cocaine trade. It's where infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar reigned, who centers as the primary figure of interest in the first two seasons of Netflix's Narcos.

The billionaire's interactions with other drug dealers, his enemies, and the DEA make for a gritty and fast-paced show, with an omniscient voice-over narrator to keep us up to speed.

The third season of Narcos moves into the boom of the Cali cartel in the absence of Escobar and remains as gripping as ever. Instead of a fourth season, there was a spin-off series in 2018 called Narcos: Mexico.

4. Godfather of Harlem (2019)

Created by Chris Brancato and Paul Eckstein

Starring Forest Whitaker, Ilfenesh Hadera, Lucy Fry

Crime, Drama

30 episodes (3 seasons)

8.1 on IMDb

Forest Whitaker stars in Godfather of Harlem as said Godfather, based on the real-life New York crime boss Bumpy Johnson in the 1960s.

After Bumpy serves ten years in prison, he returns to find his city run by the Italian mob—so he forms an alliance with Muslim minister Malcolm X. How's that for an intriguing premise?

Chris Brancato and Paul Eckstein are the creators behind this sharply written (and dressed) crime TV series, even managing to make us sympathize with the short-tempered murderer.

As of this writing, Godfather of Harlem has been renewed for a fourth season. There was also a documentary series made in 2020 called By Whatever Means Necessary: The Times of Godfather of Harlem.

3. The Sopranos (1999)

Created by David Chase

Starring James Gandolfini, Lorraine Bracco, Edie Falco

Crime, Drama

86 episodes (6 seasons)

9.2 on IMDb

When you think gangster, you probably think of stereotypical Italian-American mobsters like the ones featured in Martin Scorsese films. And then you have The Sopranos.

Conceived by David Chase, The Sopranos documents one mob leader's struggle to maintain family life while leading a criminal organization. What you don't expect is for that same crime boss to have a therapist.

James Gandolfini takes on the role of Tony Soprano, who—for all his drug lord machismo—suffers from panic attacks. The Sopranos ran for six seasons and is often regarded as one of the best TV shows ever made.

2. Breaking Bad (2008)

Created by Vince Gilligan

Starring Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn

Crime, Drama, Thriller

62 episodes (5 seasons)

9.5 on IMDb

When Breaking Bad first aired in 2008, viewers were understandably skeptical. How could the dumb-but-lovable Hal from Malcolm in the Middle convincingly play a homicidal drug kingpin?

But Bryan Cranston proved us all wrong with his iconic performance as the high school teacher who resorts to cooking meth. He's the innocent Walter White by day, the notorious Heisenberg by night.

Alongside him is his troubled-but-gold-hearted partner Jesse Pinkman (played by Aaron Paul), and they get into all sorts of trouble with the Mexican cartel and the DEA. Vince Gilligan's five-season series was hailed by critics for its writing, direction, and performances.

1. Peaky Blinders (2013)

Created by Steven Knight

Starring Cillian Murphy, Sam Neill, Helen McCrory

Crime, Drama

36 episodes (6 seasons)

8.8 on IMDb

Of course, Peaky Blinders had to be number one on this list.

Despite his appearances in Christopher Nolan's cinemaverse as well as the cult classic zombie flick 28 Days Later, Cillian Murphy's truest claim to stardom is as the eerily calm gang leader Thomas Shelby.

Beneath Tommy's measured composure is a swarm of rage, violence, trauma, and addiction. Fighting beside him are his brothers Arthur (played by Paul Anderson) and John (played by Joe Cole), plus his legendary aunt Polly Gray (played by the late Helen McCrory).