Seeing the characters in shows like Narcos, one might be forgiven for thinking that these are fictional characters due to some of their ruthless actions. But set in the very real backdrop of narco-ridden Medellin, you have no choice but to understand that these are very real people, with very real choices, and very real consequences, although with some dramatic flair added into the mix.
This perceived realism would not be the case had it not been for the great and grounded performances given by actors like Wagner Moura, who plays Medellin cartel boss Pablo Escobar, Boyd Holbrook, Pedro Pascal, among many others. The plot is centered around these characters, giving us a look at various perspectives of the drug trade in the 70s and 80s.
Narcos is a real show which uses a good blend of archival news and documentary footage to drive home the reality of the times that it is set in. If you’re interested in more series like Narcos centered on the bloody drug trade and those that try to extinguish it, then here are 14 shows like Narcos.
List of TV Shows Like Narcos
1. Narcos: Mexico (2018)
Where better to start than the spinoff to the show we’re talking about in Narcos: Mexico. Narcos: Mexico is an American-Mexican crime drama which focuses on the illegal drug trade in Mexico, especially the rise of the Guadalajara Cartel, headed by Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo (Diego Luna), and an American DEA agent who goes the extra mile to have his empire dismantled.
This show has been praised for expanding the franchise’s impact by expanding into new territories, literally. While it was feared that losing the presence of someone as magnetic as Pablo Escobar, would result in a show of much lesser quality, Narcos: Mexico was actually able to hold its own, and secured a place among the pantheons of great cartel shows like Narcos.
2. Power (2014)
Power is a modern hit executive produced by 50 Cent, and among the series similar to Narcos which tells the story of the rise and fall of a drug cartel Power is centered on the story of James St. Patrick, played by Omari Hardwick also known as Ghost. Things all come to a head when he decides to leave the game gradually and go legit.
This series is one that teaches viewers about actions and the consequences that are borne out of them. Filled with frantic action setpieces, sly maneuvers and scandalous romantic flings, Power has it all, and if you’re looking for something to keep you occupied then this is definitely it.
3. Miami Vice (1984)
Miami Vice, similar to shows like Narcos, follows two partners who are hellbent on fighting crime, especially drug trafficking in early 80s Miami. The episodes were loosely based on real life crimes that occurred over the years, mixed with personal drama surrounding the detectives’ family lives and relationships/marriages.
This show was one of, if not the most visually striking shows of the era, with a distinct stylization, and heavy rock music that served as the soundtrack for a lot of Miami Vice. According to People magazine, it was the “first show to look really new and different since color TV was invented”.
4. Pablo Escobar, the Drug Lord (2012)
Pablo Escobar is an infamous character, and it’s little surprise that a lot of cartel shows are aimed at going in depth into the person that he was, and the decisions that he made. One of this myriad of shows like Narcos is Pablo Escobar, the Drug Lord. The show focuses on Escobar, dealing with how various factors like his mother influenced him to be the man he eventually became.
This show is a Colombian telenovela which takes some liberties with its historical accuracy, but is nevertheless entertaining, bringing the usual telenovela flair to a gritty and bloody crime story. If you’re looking for something out of the usual, then why don’t you try this.
5. The Last Narc (2020)
The Last Narc is a docuseries centered on the events immediately preceding the death of US DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena. It posits a theory based on witnesses coming forward, who blame his death on a conspiracy between Mexican drug lords and the CIA.
The show has been viewed by critics as a “wide-ranging expose” which brings to light the entanglement between the CIA, the Mexican government and secret police, as well as the cartels. It has been endorsed by multiple real life agents who live through the events portrayed in the show.
6. Ozark (2017)
On the other side of the border, it might seem it is quite difficult for the cartel to harm U.S citizens. But this is not the case, as seen in TV shows similar to Narcos asthe hand of crime, power and money reaches far and wide, and it lands on Marty Byrde.
Marty Byrde is a financial advisor who is forced to set up an even bigger money laundering operation after a smaller one which he runs with a partner is compromised due to the latter’s greed. He has no choice but to take on this challenge to make amends and to protect his family.
Also Read: Shows like Breaking Bad
7. Cocaine Coast (2018)
Cocaine Coast is a Spanish crime drama similar to TV series like Narcos. It is set in Galicia, Spain, in the 1980s, and follows the story of a young fisherman who goes from a nobody to becoming one of the biggest cocaine suppliers in Spain, through his South American connections.
It’s a show that gives us a usually overlooked story which is the drug war which raged on in the 80s in Spain, with stories usually being focused on Colombia and to a lesser extent Mexico. It’s definitely a good show for you to try out once you’re done with Narcos.
8. Dopesick (2021)
America’s opioid crisis has gone on for a while now, and Dopesick tries to draw a line in the sand, to find out where it all started from. It tells a story about the start of the opioid crisis which emanated from the manufacture of OxyContin and the prolonged battle to ensure it is shut down.
The show tackles a weighty topic just as in TV series like Narcos, thanks in no small part to performances by Michael Keaton and Kaitlyn Deaver. It features very real people in very real situations trying their best to save their community from an impending doom.
9. Vinyl (2016)
Vinyl is set in the debauchery and drug-filled decade of the 70’s, quite similar to shows like Narcos. Its story centers on Richie Finestra, who aims to revive the glory days of the once behemoth American Century Records, a music label which he founded, and is the President of.
This show contains a collection of great music recordings from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, and has been praised for the eclectic mix of genres curated by the showrunners. Vinyl has been praised for its historical accuracy in terms of setting, and the detail present in its costume and set designs.
10. Snowfall (2017)
Snowfall is set a decade later in 1980’s LA, and follows the story of a young drug dealer by the name of Franklin Saint, who hits it big after a chance encounter with CIA operative Teddy McDonald, putting him and his ‘business’ on a different level entirely.
The show does a good job creating distinct storylines which form back inevitably into a singular whole. Like many anti-heroes on TV today, Damson Idris’ Franklin Saint slowly but surely falls into the trap that money and power have set for him. This show is good enough to add to your watchlist if you’re looking for more stories crafted in a similar way to shows like Narcos.
11. The Pharmacist (2020)
Set in 1999, after a man loses a son to a drug-related shooting, and with the police not making any headway in the case, a pharmacist named Dan Schneider decides to go out all on his own to find those that are responsible for his son’s death, methodically gathering the evidence necessary to bring the, to justice.
Similar to series like Narcos, we get to see the real consequences of the illegal drug trade, and how it cuts lives short at its prime, leaving the families of the deceased to pick up the pieces. The Pharmacist is a grounded portrayal of these realities all packaged neatly into this short miniseries.
12. Breaking Bad (2008)
Walter White in Breaking Bad is one of the anti-heroes previously mentioned in previous recommendations on this list, many of which can be found in series similar to Narcos. Breaking Bad is about Walter White a frustrated Chemistry teacher, who gets diagnosed with cancer, and decides to manufacture and sell meth to secure his family’s future, or so he thinks at first. If you’ve already seen it, check out our list of shows like Breaking Bad.
Breaking Bad with its ensemble cast full of fascinating and entertaining characters, is a consensus classic, and regularly named among the best TV series of the current millenia. A regular presence on our recommendations, if you haven’t seen this yet, I have only one question for you. Why?
13. Queen of the South (2016)
Queen of the South is a story about Tersa Mendoza, a woman who comes from nothing, but fights to change her trajectory in life. Things indeed begin to change when she marries a cartel member, but this new life is threatened to be taken away from her when her boyfriend is murdered.
She has no choice but to cross into the United States and start all over again. She soon begins to build something of her own, but with more power comes more responsibility and more threats, as characters in series similar to Narcos would attest to.
14. The Corner (2000)
Reminiscent of shows like Narcos and The Wire, The Corner is actually a predecessor to both shows, having been created by David Simon and Ed Burns who both worked on The Wire which would debut two years later.
The story is centered on the life of a family living in the slums of West Baltimore, a place known as “the corner”, which is the junction of West Fayette Street and North Monroe Street. If you’re a fan of any of The Wire or Narcos, then this should definitely get a watch from you.
Here is a list of TV shows like Narcos that didn’t make it, which you can also watch regardless:
- The Wire (2002)
- Better Call Saul (2007)
- The Knick (2014)