The 15 Best Netflix Originals of 2021, According to PureWow Editors
If there’s one thing we’re grateful for this year, it’s Netflix.
Like clockwork, the streaming platform kicked off each month with a new lineup of films and binge-worthy titles. And while we’re happy to see that some of our favorite movies and shows (like L.A.’s Finest) were added to the queue, we can’t deny that Netflix’s original programming really left an impression on us.
From coming-of-age dramas to eye-opening documentaries, keep reading for the 15 best Netflix original movies and shows of 2021, according to PureWow editors.
1. ‘Sex Education’
It’s funny, it’s thoughtful and it explores real issues that most shows wouldn’t even dream of tackling. Of course, we couldn’t contain our excitement when Netflix renewed the series for a fourth season.
“This is seriously one of the best and most progressive shows on TV—and in each episode, Gillian Anderson reminds us why she's an (inter)national treasure.” — Philip Mutz, VP, News & Entertainment
3. ‘Never Have I Ever’
With smart writing and a charming, diverse cast, Mindy Kaling's Never Have I Ever is a feel-good show that will help you unwind after a long day.
“Never Have I Ever is a total fave. It's full of angsty coming-of-age moments, but I love the cast the most, especially Devi and her mom. Total comfort food and a show I love to throw on in the background and re-watch!” — Rachel Bowie, Director of Special Projects
4. ‘Squid Game’
In case you missed it, the South Korean survival drama dethroned Bridgerton as Netflix’s most-watched show ever, beating it by over 29 million views. Therefore, we had to add it to this list.
“It's terrifyingly suspenseful. I'm someone who watches the same shows over and over again, but obviously I had to fall into the SG hype, and I was on the edge of my seat every episode. I'm super glad it was only nine episodes though, because I don't think my heart could take a tenth.” — Liv Kappler, Commerce Editor
5. ‘Blood & Water’
You know a show is worth watching when the Gabrielle Union and Lil Nas X sing its praises. Set in Cape Town, South Africa, Blood & Water revolves around a young girl who transfers to an elite school to investigate a potential long-lost sister.
“It’s got mystery, gossip, hot rich teenagers and a fancy prep school. This South African series is better than the Gossip Girl reboot could ever hope to be.” — Abby Hepworth, Editor
6. ‘The Harder They Fall’
Simply put, Idris Elba and Regina King are cinematic gold. If only all westerns were made like this…
“The performances are brilliant all around. Elba's Rufus has the air of a king who can shift the atmosphere of any room, and King shines as the unforgettable, no-nonsense gangster. But the movie’s biggest strength is that it stays true to the Old West genre without exploiting Black trauma.” — Nakeisha Campbell, Assistant Editor, Entertainment & News
The Spanish drama follows a trio of working-class students, who struggle to find their place at an elite secondary school. (Think Gossip Girl, but better.)
“In its fourth season, the show managed to stay fresh with a new set of characters who were intriguing and were able to hold their own amongst the series regulars. Also, I don’t know how this show manages to amp up the drama (and the sex) every season but somehow it does, while also broaching many progressive topics. I haven’t lost my love for this series.” — Joel Calfee, Assistant Editor, Entertainment & News
8. ‘Money Heist’
Told through a series of flashbacks and time-jumps, this daring Spanish drama follows a criminal mastermind (AKA "The Professor") as he assembles a group of people to help him carry out a major heist.
“If you loved the green jumpsuits and high stakes drama of Squid Game, you’ll probably love the red jumpsuits and high stakes drama of this Spanish series” — Abby Hepworth, Editor
The drama series follows a family man, Nick Brewer, who goes missing after a cryptic video of him goes viral. It’s not Emmy-worthy, but this twisted whodunnit tale has just enough cliffhangers to keep viewers on their toes.
“Clickbait was so highly silly and bingeable. Plus, I'm never mad about having to look at Adrian Grenier's absolutely perfect face.” — Jillian Quint, Editor in Chief
Stunning period costumes, steamy love scenes and juicy gossip are all things you’ll find in Shonda Rhimes’s hit drama, Bridgerton.
‘I’ve gotta say I devoured Bridgerton,” says Hepworth. “It was so pretty to look at, and even though I didn’t love the main love story, I really loved all the side characters.”
Omar Sy shines as Assane Diop, a pro thief on a mission to avenge his father for a crime he didn't commit. Oh, and did we mention that it topped the Netflix charts just four days after its release?
“I love this show! Every time you think something is going to happen, the show goes in a totally different direction. It literally has you on your toes from beginning to end. Plus, the French story crossover element was a refreshing touch.” — Destinee Scott, Assistant Editor
PureWow’s Senior Editor, Alexia Dellner, also agrees, describing the mystery thriller as an “edge-of-your-seat suspense set against beautiful Paris.” She adds, “Mostly, the show is just so much fun to watch.”
12. ‘I Care a Lot’
Two words: Rosamund Pike. If you’re obsessed with her performance in Gone Girl, just wait until you see her in this twisty comedy thriller.
“As someone who’s seen a lot—I repeat, a lot—of movies, it’s rare that I don’t predict the ending or, at the very least, one aspect of the storyline. The same can’t be said for I Care a Lot, since the conclusion left me shook. Not only did the film keep me on the edge of my seat the entire time, but it also left me wanting more.” — Greta Heggeness, Senior Editor, Entertainment and News
13. ‘Bo Burnham: Inside’
If you’re looking for thought-provoking content that reflects real life during the pandemic, then Bo Burnham: Inside—a film that depicts Burnham’s deteriorating mental health during quarantine—is your best bet.
“He really put into perspective everything about 2020, from the pandemic and the internet to mental health, and it has catchy songs that I still sing today. I also got to see a deeper, more vulnerable side of the comedian that I never get to see in his stand-up, and the visuals were fantastic (considering that he filmed, edited and directed it all by himself in one room).” — Chelsea Candelario, Assistant Editor
14. ‘Surviving Death’
Ever wondered what happens after we die? Allow us to introduce Surviving Death, the docuseries that explores the possibility of life after death through real-life stories and scientific research.
“It tackles one of life’s biggest questions in such a thoughtful and sincere way—without being overly spiritual or trying to make people believe in the afterlife. Plus, those testimonials shook me to my core.” — Nakeisha Campbell, Assistant Editor, Entertainment & News
15. ‘History of Swear Words’
The title alone will probably make you raise an eyebrow, but trust us, Nicholas Cage giving detailed lessons on the cultural impact of swear words is way more insightful (and entertaining!) than you might think.
“History of Swear Words was actually more educational than I thought it would be,” says Hepworth. “Although I’d watch anything with Nicholas Cage in it.”
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