18 TV Shows Like 13 Reasons Why That Deal With Tough Topics

If you binged each season of 13 Reasons Why in one day, you aren’t alone. The show is compelling, and it tackles some tough topics that other shows are afraid to. Its depiction of suicide, sexual assault, bullying, and mental health are raw and can be upsetting at times, but ultimately they encourage viewers to begin much-needed conversations about the ways we treat each other, and the ways we treat ourselves.

However, 13 Reasons Why isn’t the only show to breach these subjects. There are plenty of programs on TV — past and present — that take on social issues all the time. Maybe you loved 13 Reasons Why, or maybe it wasn’t for you. Whether you’re looking for something exactly like the Netflix Original, or you want something different that still shines a light on deeper topics, here are 18 shows that will do just that.

18. Law & Order: SVU

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has been on air since 1999, so it’s pretty much the first show to tackle sexual assault in such an explicit way, and although it can be a pretty big downer, it sparks major discussion about real-life issues involving sexual assault like slut-shaming and intoxication, while serving up some actual shocking statistics. The SVU unit has gone undercover in a women’s prison to catch a drug-dealing correctional officer who is raping inmates, they’ve tracked young girls who are held captive by sexual predators, and they’ve uncovered white supremacy groups who are murdering children. It’s one of the longest-running TV shows that’s currently on-air, and the fact that it’s been so successful shows that these are issues that people care about, paving the way for a show like 13RW.

17. Queer Eye

Now, if you’re looking for a show that is woke and ready to discuss some heavy topics, but without all the doom and gloom of a show like 13 Reasons Why, Queer Eye is for you. The Netflix reboot of an old show called Queer Eye for the Straight Guy follows five gay men working in Georgia as they help people transform their lives in every way from dressing, grooming, cooking, culture, and their home. The best part is that, unlike the original show, they don’t just help out straight men. In the first two seasons, the Fab 5 visit a gay man, a black woman, and a transgender guy.
But when they’re helping people who are vastly different from them, that’s when we get to the really touching aspects of the show. We see conversations about police brutality, racism in America, religion and homosexuality, and more. TBH, the entire episode featuring a transgender person is eye-opening and groundbreaking. If you want to smile (and weep) while learning something new, check this show out.

16. The Handmaid’s Tale

It’s impossible to get through an episode of The Handmaid’s Tale without feeling emotions you didn’t even know you could feel while watching a TV show. The is set in a totalitarian America — now named The Republic of Gilead — which treats women as property and forces them into sexual servitude in order to combat declining birth rates. If that sounds scary to you, that’s because it is. It’s even scarier because the parallels to our world are unavoidable.
While gender issues are at the center, other hot topics like immigration, human rights, and toxic masculinity are tackled regularly. Similar to 13 Reasons Why, The Handmaid’s Tale will probably leave you feeling upset about the current state of the world. It’s hard to watch more than one episode in a row without feeling upset, but it’s also one of the most binge-worthy shows on TV. Proceed with caution.

15. Black-ish

Black-ish is another show that’s perfect to go to if you need a good laugh, but you still want gain a fresh perspective from all the other shows on TV. Black-ish follows a successful black man and his family as they navigate their social identities as people of color in the U.S.A. They are constantly working toward success, but also trying to honor their history and their background. Not only is Black-ish breaking down racial stereotypes in every episode, it also discusses issues like sex education, divorce, gender norms, and police brutality. Basically, no topic is off limits on this show; it’s just a bit more lighthearted than 13 Reasons Why. No matter what episode you watch, you’ll come out of it with a different perception of the world around you. Not to mention, it’s just a quality show with great characters and storylines. They dress up like the Jackson 5 for Halloween and Wanda Sykes is a recurring character. What’s not to love?

14. Shameless

Ah, Shameless. We really aren’t sure what to categorize this show, because it’s just as hilarious as it is heartbreaking. The Gallaghers are a mess, to say the least, but amidst the over-the-top craziness, this show actually approaches some intense subject matters. Shameless follows a family of six kids who live with their flakey, alcoholic dad and rarely see their mom as they try to raise themselves on the south side of Chicago. They’re exposed to drug addiction, alcoholism, teen pregnancy, gun violence, and the foster care system from a young age. You’ll find yourself laughing and crying within moments of each other when watching this show, and the story makes you feel for every character despite their (incredible) flaws.

13. The Fosters

While many of the shows on this list have mature content that might not be super accessible to a younger audience, The Fosters is the perfect show to watch with a family or to introduce kids to social issues in a more palatable way. The show follows a lesbian couple and their three children — one biological and two adopted twins — as they welcome a new foster daughter and son into their lives. Or at least, that’s how it begins. The show explores interracial relationships, adoption, cultural assimilation, and coming out at a young age. The best part about this show is how it treats all of these topics with acceptance. Nothing is ever seen as taboo, and the family never shoves anything under the rug. It shows the benefits of talking openly about our lives, having tough conversations, and it takes all of these conversations seriously.

12. Skins

Skins is a British TV show that follows a group of teenagers in Bristol, England through their last two years of school. It’s a critically-acclaimed series that has delved into themes like substance abuse, teen pregnancy, eating disorders, personality disorders, and mental illness. It’s more similar to 13 Reasons Why with its subject matter and intended audience, so fans of the Netflix show will most likely enjoy this one — basically, we get major Skins vibes every time we watch 13RW. The show doesn’t shy away from causing controversy or pushing the envelope, which is something that it has in common with 13 Reasons Why. Just be warned, if you choose to take on this show, there are seven seasons to commit to, and you’ll become invested in the characters pretty quickly.

11. Friday Night Lights

If One Tree Hill met 13 Reasons Why, you’d have Friday Night Lights. The drama might be a little cheesy at times, but this show definitely has some intense storylines. It’s about a football-centric town in Texas, the coach and his family, and the team. The small town of Dillon, TX is the driving force behind many of the social issues FNL brings up and several episodes will certainly bring you to tears. By the end of season one (there are five all for your viewing pleasure), you’ll be just as hooked on these characters as you are with any of the characters on 13RW.

10. Degrassi: The Next Generation/Degrassi: Next Class

Degrassi: The Next Generationwas literally on the air for 14 years and everyone talked about it constantly, so if you were old enough to watch teen dramas during the aughts, you probably have strong feelings about this one. If not, then welcome to the world of Degrassi. You’ll never be the same. The show focuses on a cast of high school students as they navigate their sexuality, transitioning to adulthood, and developing their sense of self. This series has won multiple awards for its handling of topics like gang violence, date rape, suicide, bullying, body image and countless other issues. In its 14 seasons, it pretty much breaches every social issue you could think of. If you’re the type of person who loves getting attached to characters and binging for days on end, this show is for you. The show’s been continued on Netflix and is called Degrassi: Next Class, we you’ll probably be watching this show for years if you want to catch all the episodes.

9. The End of the F***ing World

Now, The End of the F***ing World is supposed to be a comedy, but it might not be for you — depending on your sense of humor. The show is based on a comic book series about two 17-year-olds, James and Alyssa, who go on a road trip to find Alyssa’s father. From the get-go, we see Alyssa’s strained relationship with her mother and James’s battle with mental illness as he tries to convince himself he isn’t a psychopath. It’s a pretty ominous show, and the humor is not for everyone. But both characters are the epitome of teen angst, and it makes for some hilarious scenarios. It breaches topics like personality disorders and domestic violence with a dark sense of humor. The episodes are only about 25 minutes long, so it’s a great show if you want something with similar themes to 13 Reasons Why without the same level of commitment and intensity.

8. Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black is notorious for attacking the most relevant social justice themes every season. Set in a women’s jail, it tells the story of Piper as she learns how to check her privilege at the door prison gate and navigate her new life as an inmate at Litchfield. As the seasons progress, more diverse characters take the spotlight, and we get to see how their backstories shaped who they became. Overall, it’s a powerful story about the problems with the justice system in the United States, but each season comes with its own set of messages as well. The show has introduced concepts of homophobia, racism, police brutality, and women’s rights throughout its course. The tone of the show is mostly pretty heavy, but the creators always manage to sneak a few funny moments into each episode to keep it from getting too dark.

7. Dear White People

Dear White People is likely one of the most socially aware shows on television. The Netflix Original is an extension of a 2014 movie by the same name about a group of students of color at a predominantly white fictional Ivy League university. The students tackle cultural bias and misguided activism through self-deprecation to make for a hilarious show about what it’s like to be a black student in a perceived “post-racial” society. As we follow each character, we see how their identities and problems differ based on class, sexuality, skin tone, and gender, even though they are all students of color. With every episode, you’ll find yourself considering a perspective on these issues you may have never thought about before while also laughing at the irony and brutal honesty of it all.

6. Atypical

If you can’t think of a main character on a TV show with a disability, it’s probably because there aren’t that many. And usually, when a character on a show has a disability, they are exploited solely for the story arc of a different character. Netflix’s Atypical puts a person with disabilities at the forefront of this unique story. The show follows the life of an 18-year-old on the autism spectrum as he becomes more independent and tries to start dating for the first time. It makes for a pretty heartwarming show about what it means to be “normal.” It tackles sex and sexuality through the lens of a person with autism, which is a perspective that is especially absent on TV. Some of its subject matter isn’t handled in the best way, but if you don’t know anything about teenagers on the autism spectrum and you want to, it’s a good place to start.

5. My So-Called Life

It’s a shame that My So-Called Life didn’t get more than one season, because this ’90s drama was the epitome of teen angst in the very best way. It followed a high schooler as she navigated growing up and finding herself, which of course, sparked some more intense conversations. The show touches on peer pressure, bullying and the dangers of feeling the need to fit in — much like 13 Reasons Why. All of a high schooler’s problems can’t be boiled down to angst and overreactions, as some would like to believe. If you love how seriously 13RW takes young people, you’ll probably binge this 19-episode show in no time at all.

4. Atlanta

There’s a reason that Atlanta is critically-acclaimed. The FX series — which follows two cousins trying to make it in the Atlanta music scene — is an anthology of episodes that are loosely connected but follow a completely different story every episode. The cast is made up entirely by people of color, but that doesn’t mean that every single episode and storyline is zeroed in on racial discussions.
Instead, the series opts for larger themes that can be applied to a multitude of people, perspectives, and situations. This past season was titled Atlanta: Robbin’ Season, because it focused on all of the ways a person can be robbed (of time, of dignity, of life, of money). Every episode is more thought-provoking than the last, and the characters aren’t just some caricatures of black people. It’s got Donald Glover at the helm, so no huge surprise there. Just like 13 Reasons Why, this show sparks conversation for its controversial choices, but we like a bit of controversy if people are trying to use their voice for good, right?

3. The Bold Type

If you’re looking for a show that will make you want to take down the patriarchy, The Bold Type is the show for you. The show is about three young professional women living in New York City and working at a Cosmopolitan-esque magazine called Scarlet. They navigate their sexuality, self-worth, professional growth, and sense of identity on season one alone. One of the characters, Kat, discovers throughout the course of the season that she is bisexual and attracted to a woman – who just so happens to be a Muslim immigrant fighting her own personal battles, too. The show features honest conversations about how to negotiate a salary, how to talk to your partner about sex, and how to stand up for what you believe in. It’s not as hard-hitting at 13 Reasons Why, but it will inspire you to be a stronger, more confident version of yourself.

2. Glee

It may seem like Glee is just a glorified High School Musical, but it’s so much more than that. The comedy follows a high school glee club as they find their voice through the love and acceptance they feel in this club. While the show has its problematic characters and storylines, there is definitely some that shine a light on high school in a necessary and honest way. Throughout the series, we see honest depictions of bullying, students with disabilities, feminism, school funding and more. So what if along the way we also get some awesome musical numbers? They just make the show that much more fun to watch. While it’s more upbeat and fun than 13 Reasons Why, both shows share the same essence of bringing to light some rarely talked-about issues that arise in high school.

1. My Mad Fat Diary

My Mad Fat Diary is a British show about a 224-lb girl who has just left a psychiatric hospital. She begins to reconnect with her friends while still struggling with body image and mental health issues. Everything about this show is real. The main character, Rae, is so relatable because she isn’t some super attractive popular kid whose problems aren’t all that deep (*cough* Riverdale *cough* Gossip Girl *cough* basically every show about high school ever). She actually battles real problems, and it’s easy to put ourselves in her shoes at times. Whether you’ve suffered from mental health issues or not, this three-season series will speak to you.

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