The art of drag may have been relegated solely to nightclubs as recently as a decade ago, but one show managed changed that. RuPaul's Drag Race has made drag more mainstream than ever, spawning multiple spinoffs, introducing tons of beloved new superstars, and inspiring more people than ever to express themselves through fashion, makeup, and art. However, now that there are 12 seasons of the show and four All Stars seasons, it can be hard for a newbie to know where to start. Consider this ranking of every RuPaul's Drag Race season to be your spoiler-free guide to getting familiar with the franchise.
With most shows, you would obviously want to get started with Season 1, but RuPaul's Drag Race is a different beast. Although each season does include a few callback in-jokes, and sometimes even a queen from a previous season returning for another shot at the crown, a new viewer can safely start on any season and quickly get invested. There's a lot of debate in the fandom over which seasons are the best and which are the worst, but like most Drag Race mega-fans, so if you disagree with any of the below, feel free to sashay away.
16. Season 11
Ironically, the mainstream success of Drag Race seems to have had a negative effect on the quality of the more recent seasons. The show's rabid fandom makes new contestants second-guess everything they say for fear of online backlash, and the flurry of pre-packaged catchphrases can never replace the show's most iconic, off-the-cuff moments of early seasons. The prime example of this is Season 11, which delivered more cringe than camp with a messy Olympics-themed dance challenge, a musical all about Donald Trump, and a whole group of queens admitting they knew nothing about Mariah Carey. Oh, and to add to the mess, there's a six-person lip sync that is truly impossible to watch.
15. Season 7
Most fans will tell you that Season 7 is the show's worst season, but TBH, I think it gets kind of a bad rap. It had one of the best "Snatch Game" episodes ever, IMHO, plus it launched some of the franchise's most famous queens: Trixie Mattel, Katya Zamolodchikova, and Jasmine Masters. Sadly, none of those queens really shined in this season, which is infamous for its terrible acting challenges, including train wrecks like "ShakesQueer" and the Pink Flamingos-inspired musical number.
14. Season 1
You've got to give props to the season that started it all, but as is often the case, Drag Race had to deal with a lot of rough patches in its debut season before figuring the format out. The season's more laid-back attitude and its oft-mocked heavy filter make it more fun to watch as a nostalgic time capsule than an actually thrilling reality show these days. Plus, it's the shortest season in the franchise, and doesn't include fan-favorite staple challenges like "Snatch Game" or a Rusical.
13. All Stars 4
When All Stars seasons began, fans were sure they would easily be the best seasons of the show, but unfortunately, the shine wore off by the fourth season. A big reason for All Stars 4 falling short is likely how soon it aired after All Stars 3 — the third season ended in the spring of 2018 and All Stars 4 kicked off before the year was over. Because of that quick turnaround, the season was packed with queens from super-recent seasons, with Manila Luzon and Latrice Royale standing out as the only two queens from early Drag Race seasons. Overall, the season just felt a bit rushed, plus it ended with a crowning decision that is pretty universally seen as unsatisfying in the fandom.
12. Season 10
While the "Untucked" episodes of Season 10 may have been some of the most heated ever, the overall competition was more lukewarm. The season was packed with acting and musical challenges, some of which were better than others, but the disjointed "Snatch Game" was definitely a low point. Fans still got to see some great drama (and important social commentary) courtesy of The Vixen, plus Asia O'Hara's butterfly lip-sync left everyone shocked, but a few shining moments can't save a whole season.
11. All Stars 3
All Stars 3 truly lived up to its name by casting a ton of fan-favorite queens for a battle royale, but ironically enough, it was because there were so many deserving winners that this season wound up being a bit awkward. A shocking self-elimination ousted the season's obvious winner halfway through, and crowning was even further messed up by a jury vote twist that eliminated a queen most fans believed would win. It all made the final moment feel a bit cheap. Not to mention this season also had a one of the show's most questionable acting challenges in "My Best Squirrelfriend's Dragsmaids Wedding Trip."
10. Season 12
Season 12 of Drag Race might become known as the cursed season, but despite several setbacks, it still managed to become an instant fan-favorite. Splitting the queens up into two groups for a double premiere was a brilliant way to endear fans to all of the contestants more than ever before. Season 6 also did this, but it didn't work the same since they still eliminated queens in those first episodes, rather than keeping everyone safe for the first two weeks like it was done in Season 12. This season's musical challenges stand up as some of the best in Drag Race history, although the "World's Worst" acting challenge really was... the worst. Overall, Season 12 managed to give fans a bunch of beloved new queens and memorable moments, even if those final remotely filmed virtual episodes were unfortunate, and the pall of a disqualified queen hung over the season.
9. Season 8
For some reason, Season 8 has significantly fewer episodes than any other season of Drag Race except Season 1. Despite the lack of episodes, the season still majorly delivered with some of the franchise's most memorable queens. This was one of those seasons in which the winner became pretty apparent a few episodes in, but that didn't detract from the fun of watching everyone slay all the challenges.
8. All Stars 1
A lot of Drag Race fans might not rank All Stars 1 this high, but I truly think that despite the ill-advised teams twist, it's full of some of the best moments in the franchise. This is the season in which Drag Race favorite Tammie Brown really came alive, plus it includes one of the most iconically brutal Untucked moments ever, when Raven goes in on Mimi Imfurst. Yes, it's a comically short season with a challenge that really doesn't make any sense (the queens were judged on how well they could prank random strangers), and judging the queens as duos led to some unfair eliminations, but it's full of the unedited, unapologetic shadiness and unpredictability that made early seasons so magical.
7. Season 9
Without a doubt, Season 9 is the best of the modern seasons of Drag Race. While some seasons faltered as the show reached new levels of popularity, Season 9 rose above the forced catchphrases to deliver a season packed with some of the most iconic Drag Race moments. From Aja's instantly quotable "Linda Evangelista" rant to Valentina infamously asking to keep her face mask on during a lip sync, Season 9 was all about the memes. And it all led up to one of the most jaw-dropping lip syncs in Drag Race history — a rosy reveal every fan of the show will always remember.
6. Season 3
Season 3 stands out for a few reasons: It was the first season to bring back a queen from a previous season, it had a whopping four sewing challenges, and it remains the only season in which there is a very clear divide between the queens. You could argue Season 7's "Old Lady Brigade" versus the young queens was notable, but that couldn't hold a candle to the animosity between the Heathers and the Boogers. Watching the scrappy outcasts Shangela, Alexis, Yara, and Stacy go toe-to-toe with the cliquey queens was the perfect formula for an endlessly entertaining season.
5. Season 2
Drag Race's premiere season may have lacked the polish and drama to make it truly great, but the show definitely found its footing with Season 2. Probably the shadiest season ever, Season 2 was full of juicy conflict, raw emotion, and some of the most memorable reads in Drag Race history. Between Morgan versus Mystique, Tatianna versus Raven, and Tyra versus pretty much everyone, each episode delivered a master class in shade. Honestly, Jujubee's reading challenge should be taught in schools.
4. Season 5
Some of Drag Race's biggest personalities were introduced in Season 5, making it one of the best seasons to watch and rewatch for superfans. There's a reason half of the cast of the best All Stars season came from Season 5 — because so many queens from this season deserve a crown. From the cliquey RoLaskaTox girl group to the ongoing feud between Coco and Alyssa, the season served killer looks with a ton of meme-able moments ("Back rolls?!"). And, it all led up to a tried-and-true story: the scrappy underdog versus the seasoned bully.
3. Season 6
Many Drag Race fans consider Season 6 to be the show's best season ever, and there's a good reason for that. The top three queens are arguably one of the strongest groups ever, each representing an essential attribute for a drag superstar, and even though the winner was pretty clear from the start, watching her slay every competition was an endless delight. On top of that, Laganja Estranja is likely the most quotable queen ever, and her Untucked meltdown is legendary, and although it's not talked about as much, Trinity K. Bonet is probably the best lip sync assassin the show has ever seen.
2. All Stars 2
It really doesn't get much better than All Stars 2. A perfect storm of fan-favorite queens, rivalries, friendships, and a brand-new twist in which the queens have to eliminate one another made this the season that turned Drag Race on its head and had fans screaming after every episode. It's a rare season in which every single challenge was a home-run overall, and it upped the drama with a returning queens twist that totally caught everyone off guard. It ended with an original music performance so good that any one of the top three could have feasibly won the crown.
1. Season 4
Not only is Season 4 the best season of RuPaul's Drag Race, it is also the season any newcomer to the show should start with. This was the season that put Drag Race on the map and proved the show could deliver some of the best reality television ever. Dida Ritz's "This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)" lip sync is, in my opinion, the best lip sync that's ever been on Drag Race, and Willam's rebellious antics made for unbelievable TV. But, of course, the true reason Season 4 stands above all the rest boils down to eight words: "Go back to Party City where you belong!" Sharon Needles and Phi Phi O'Hara's legendary feud permeated the entire season, emphasizing the conflict between traditional pageant drag and spooky, left-of-center drag. Season 4 is the best season not just because of the queens or the challenges, but because it brought up conversations about what drag is and what drag should be. And yeah, all the fighting was entertaining, too.
Since RuPaul's Drag Race is showing no sign of slowing down, fans can expect the debate over which seasons reign supreme to continue for years to come. Who knows — maybe an upcoming season will become everyone's new number one. Whatever happens, let's just be thankful there is so much drag displayed proudly on TV screens these days.