Mystery series are one of the oldest kinds of TV shows. From the dawn of television, viewers have found comfort in seeing wrongs righted, and murderers found out. For decades, these were mainly fictionalized tales. But during the 1980s, a new type of show arose: the "true-crime" series, which features real-life murders and mystery stories that could not be solved. One of the most popular,
Unsolved Mysteries, was recently revived by Netflix. But Season 1 is arriving in two parts. What are fans to do while they wait? These shows like Unsolved Mysteries will help slake that true crime thirst. Unsolved Mysteries began as a one-off special in 1987. It proved so popular, it became a series the next year, and ran on and off on various channels, from NBC and CBS to Lifetime and Paramount Network over the three decades. It's success begat imitators. Some shows blatantly copied the format, while others gave it their own spins. There are true crime shows that focus strictly on women victims, and others that focus purely on women culprits. Some focus on the true crime, some on the paranormal.
Whatever part of
Unsolved Mysteries speaks to your taste, there's probably a show dedicated to it. Let's run down 20 of the biggest titles out there and where to watch them:
For those who just finished
Unsolved Mysteries and need another series just like it to watch, the top choice is Cold Case Files. It leans a little more in the legal direction in its investigations, but the cold cases are all in the same vein as Unsolved Mysteries. And much like its counterpart, Cold Case Files is a show that ended on broadcast cable (running on A&E from 1999 to 2006) and then got rebooted in 2017 and gained popularity by moving to Netflix. The older seasons are still on streaming on A&E.
In the category of shows inspired by
Unsolved Mysteries, 48 Hours also began airing in 1988. But it has one key difference: It's never been off the air. This CBS staple, now on Season 32, is the first of what became known as " newsmagazine" shows. Today, it's still considered the true crime documentary companion to 60 Minutes and has shared hosts with the Sunday night series. Episodes are available on CBS All Access. 03
'On The Case With Paula Zahn'
Another newsmagazine series,
On The Case With Paula Zahn, began airing on Investigation Discovery in 2009 and is still on the air today. A former CNN anchor, Zahn's series is a little narrower in scope that Unsolved Mysteries and 48 Hours, in that it mainly focuses on cases in which the victim is a woman. It's also one of Investigation Discovery's biggest successes. Episodes are available on ID's website with a cable login. 04
'America's Most Wanted'
A historical artifact from the 1980s,
America's Most Wanted was a show inspired by Unsolved Mysteries. It began airing in 1988 on the then-fledgling FOX broadcast network, with an angle on high-profile crimes, and a hook of getting viewers to call in and solve cases. It stayed on the air until 2011, and then moved to Lifetime, where it ran two more seasons. There is currently a revival in the works. All episodes are available on FOX Now.
Known initially as
Medical Detectives, Forensic Files began in 1996 and ran until 2011, and is considered a pioneer in today's documentary-style crime-science shows. But like Unsolved Mysteries, it was too good a concept to let lie fallow, and a new version of the series, Forensic Files II, now airs on HLN. All episodes of the original series are on Hulu.
Investigation Discovery's other most successful show,
Deadly Women, is a true crime series dedicated to women murderers. Hosted by former FBI criminal profiler Candice DeLong, the show started in 2005 as a three-part special, before being turned into a series beginning in 2008. The show is expected to premiere Season 14 in August. All episodes are available to watch on Hulu.
Another variation of the
Forensic Files type series, The FBI Files aired on Discovery from 1998 to 2006, and it was in heavy rotation on the channel until 2012. Unlike Forensic Files, which covers all crime-science scenes, The FBI Files stuck faithfully to just cases in which the FBI became involved. All seasons are available on Amazon Prime. Disappeared is the series for those who love Unsolved Mysteries but wish they wouldn't throw in the UFO and Bigfoot-type stuff. A distilled version of just the missing person-type mysteries, Disappeared initially started airing in 2009 on Investigation Discovery, and finally ended in 2018. It can be streamed on Hulu.
Another show that has run under a few different titles,
The UneXplained with William Shatner, started as Unexplained Mysteries in 2004. The original series was more UFO-based than true crime. The current History Channel version combines all sorts of mysteries, from true crime to unexplained phenomena to hidden secrets of the past. All episodes are available on Amazon Prime.
A true crime series from across the pond, the BBC series
The Detectives follows the investigations of the Manchester Serious Sexual Offences Unit (SSOU), a real-life Law & Order: SVU. The first season aired in 2015. The second, The Detectives: Murder on the Streets, aired in 2017. It's a cult favorite for true crime aficionados looking for other countries' crimes, and all episodes can be found on Amazon Prime.
On the Canadian side of the border, there's another version of
The Detectives from CBC. This true-crime series began in 2018 and tends to cover cases that are famous in Canada, but perhaps not as well-known in the U.S. It can be found on Netflix, where it is retitled Real Detective.
Another Investigation Discovery show,
Unusual Suspects, is a little unusual for this genre because it's a series in which the cases are solved. That doesn't make their mysteries any less gripping, mind you, but for those who like a few answers in their true crime stories, this one provides. It ran from 2010-2016, followed by Unusual Suspects: Deadly Intent in 2017. All episodes are on Hulu. Snapped, on Oxygen, is another in the Unusual Suspects vein. These are cases in which the answers are already known. It's been airing since 2001 and is on Season 20 and counting. But where Unusual Suspects digs into the mystery as it's laid out, and traces how law enforcement solved it, Snapped focuses on how the charged has been misrepresented in the media. All episodes are available on Amazon Prime.
A series that predates
Unsolved Mysteries, In Search Of... began airing in 1977, and covered everything from the search for Eva Braun's remains to UFOs. There are tons of the 22-minute episodes floating around, like the Titanic episode, which spurred on the search for the missing ship, finally found four years later in 1985. Most of the old episodes have been collected on YouTube.
For those who like historical mysteries like
In Search Of, but want a bit more modern production values, Investigation Discovery has A Crime to Remember. The show started as a six-part limited series in 2013, focusing on forgotten "crimes of the decade" of yesteryear, like the 1955 bombing of United Airlines Flight 629. It proved so popular the show ran for five seasons, before finally ending in 2018. All episodes are on the Investigation Discovery website.
Netflix documentary was a one-and-done project in 2018, but that doesn't make it any less eyebrow-raising. The six-episode season covered quite a bit in its short run. These stories of multiple disappearances and murders in the Humboldt County region of Northern California, the legal marijuana industry's Wild West, will have you feeling stone-cold sober.
Considering how popular
Law & Order is, it's not surprising Dick Wolf would dip his toes into the true crime investigative genre. Enter Cold Justice, which first aired on TNT before moving to Oxygen. The series starred Harris County, Texas, prosecutor Kelly Siegler and her team as they investigated open cases in and around the Texas region. The series ran from 2013-2016 on TNT, before Oxygen revived it the next year. Season 6 began airing in March of 2020, and all episodes can be found on Oxygen's website. 18
'True Crime With Aphrodite Jones'
On The Case With Paula Zahn a hit, Investigation Discovery tried a second series that focused on a broader swath of cases. True Crime with Aphrodite Jones, which started in 2010, didn't focus quite so much on cold cases as much as it did famous ones, like Scott Peterson and O.J. Simpson. It proved popular, running until 2016. All episodes are available on the ID website.
After all that true crime, you know what's good to cleanse the palate? Fictionalized true crime. There are tons of shows in this category, but
Netflix's is one of the best. Based on the true-crime book, Mindhunter Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit, the show stars Jonathan Groff as Holden Ford, Holt McCallany as Bill Tench, and Anna Torv as Wendy Carr — aka the team who brought about the idea of using psychology to understand the criminal mind and uncover serial killers.
This list would be remiss without the long-popular fictionalized drama inspired by
Unsolved Mysteries: The X-Files. Today, when someone mentions The X-Files, everyone thinks of Mulder and Scully's romance, alien abduction, and government cover-ups. But roll back to Season 1 from the early 1990s, when the show was a monster-of-the-week drama, and you'll realize the show was initially inspired by the types of paranormal cases featured in Unsolved Mysteries. Every season can be found on Hulu.