The Arrowverse is a phenomenon unlike any other attempt at superheroic television. There’s no denying that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has built the most successful cinematic franchise in Hollywood history, but the DC Comics universe that has blown up on The CW since 2021 is arguably just as impressive. In just under a decade, it has amassed over 700 episodes and 42 seasons of continuous superheroics.
The Arrowverse has brought comic book characters to the small screen like never before and shows no sign of stopping. It all started with Arrow, the series that gave the shared universe its name and a template so strong it could continue to thrive even after the original show ended in 2020.
A significant part of the Arrowverse’s success is the presence of crossover events that ambitiously mimic comic book events. It started with Arrow’s refreshingly open approach to cameos, which led to The Flash’s arrival after two years. The spin-offs have barely stopped since, supported by epic annual crossovers that drew together its growing league of stars.
The Arrowverse’s sprawling success makes it complex to watch in a precise order, although many fans will tell you it’s worth it. Before you jump into the best way to watch them, here’s our rundown of the shows constituting the Arrowverse in order of release.
Arrow (2012 – 2020)
The adventures of Oliver Queen did more than give this television universe its name ⏤ it set the template for the Arrowverse. Here’s where its season-long arcs that dragged likable and growing teams through comedy, drama, and tragedy began.
A show-stealing turn in Smallville meant that Green Arrow hadn’t long been off the screen. But Arrow wiped the slate clean as it followed billionaire playboy Oliver Queen’s return to his hometown after five years shipwrecked on the mysterious island of Lian Yu. Brilliantly, the show stretched Arrow’s origins over multiple series, using flashbacks to reveal what happened during the five years to shape the man, alongside Queen’s difficulties balancing a double life in Starling City.
Arrow was a confident show, eager to include high-profile cameos from other DC superheroes that acted as pilot episodes for spin-off series. But every archer has their day. Arrow soared for eight seasons before lead Stephen Amell decided to move on, and the show’s creators called time on the show.
The Flash (2014 – present)
Probably the biggest name on the Arrowverse roster, Barry Allen sped onto screen in Arrow’s second season. The Flash took the Arrow formula into new spheres of the DC Universe, including the Speed Force, the multiverse, and a host of meta-enhanced supervillains.
It was more extensive in its scope and more mind-bending than the show that spawned it, but it still felt comfortably at home in the burgeoning Arrowverse as it adapted the format of Team Arrow. As franchise expansion can only start from a second success, it was The Flash that proved the potential of the DC Universe’s TV expansion.
Constantine (2014 – 2015)
NBC’s Constantine was the short-lived live-action debut of DC antihero John Constantine. It was never part of the Arrowverse and didn’t enjoy the same success, but its faults were made up for by one thing it got very right: casting Matt Ryan as Constantine.
Ryan’s portrayal was so spot-on that he defied the multiverse to carry his brilliant reading of the Liverpudlian mage into DC Animated Films and the Arrowverse. After an appearance in the fourth series of Arrow, he earned a regular berth on DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. If you’re looking to catch up on all of the official series, it’s worth fitting in these 13 episodes early on.
Supergirl (2015 – 2021)
Supergirl’s place in the Arrowverse was touch-and-go for a while. The show premiered on CBS before it moved to The CW and secured a regular part in franchise crossovers.
Unlike Arrow and Flash, Supergirl was set on a parallel Earth, which not only added some exciting complexity to crossovers but also made it one of the Arrowverse’s most fearless shows, pairing intergalactic adventures with the exploration of hard-hitting terrestrial themes around immigration, inclusion, and sexuality. It may have ended earlier than expected, but it left ready to launch spin-off Superman & Lois in 2021.
Vixen (2015 – 2016)
The Arrowverse wasn’t restricted to just one media. Two series of this web show followed Mari McCabe as the DC superhero who could mimic any animal. This version of the character guest-starred in the fourth season of Arrow before her grandmother Amaya Jiwe brought the same abilities to DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. The Arrowverse web series aren’t essential viewing for the franchise’s famous crossovers, but are worth catching for completists.
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (2016 – present)
Four years into its run, the Arrowverse had introduced enough supporting characters to form a team of their own. Although it continued the trend of season-long arcs, Legends has a more anthology feel than the series that came before, with a shifting set of characters, both heroes and villains, working together to stop crises throughout time.
In many ways, Legends is the Arrowverse’s Justice League. But this superteam was assembled to open up the timelines and draw in even more classic DC characters and teams from various eras, like the Justice Society of America. As its many pun-based episode titles suggest, Legends enjoys dipping into comedy and surreality in the way other shows couldn’t.
Freedom Fighters: The Ray (2017 – 2018)
The second Arrowverse web series picked up from crossover Crisis on Earth-X, following the titular superhero and his light-based powers across two Earths.
Black Lightning (2018 – 2021)
The adventures of the electrically-powered superhero forced out of retirement kept a loose connection to the Arrowverse until the dramatic events of the franchise’s eighth year. Jefferson Pierce ⏤ a high school principal who picks up the superhero life after nine years ⏤ and his family provided the compelling center as Black Lightning explored inequality and racial dynamics with solid superhero action.
Batwoman (2019 – present)
Batwoman has capably represented Gotham and the Bat-Family in the Arrowvere, even if it’s found itself in the news for the wrong reasons. Controversial events behind the scenes made it the only show to change its lead character after one year in, but Javica Leslie’s Batwoman has flown ever since. This is another series that proves the Arrowverse’s dedication to representation.
Stargirl (2020 to present)
This is another positively received series, although Stargirl originally premiered on the DC Universe streaming network before it became exclusive to The CW in its second year. The adventures of high school student Courteney Whitmore after she inherits the fabled Cosmic Staff still haven’t fully slotted into the Arrowverse. That said, some Stargirl characters did cameo in the epic Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover event and John Wesley Shipp appeared as Golden Age Flash in its first crossover.
Superman and Lois (2021 – present)
This Supergirl spin-off demonstrates that there’s plenty of life left in the Arrowverse. It took its cue from DC Comics Rebirth, showing a family-orientated live-action Clark Kent and Lois Lane like never before. It may seem counterintuitive for DC’s Big Blue, but it’s the show’s grounded approach that marked it out from its super-competition.
The Arrowverse shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon. The recently-released Naomi has the potential to enter the fold soon, joining the strong lists of shows that took their time to step into the wider universe. It’s expected that new official Arrowverse shows Gotham Knights and Justice U will both premiere later this year as well.