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The Greatest Black Superheroes Ever

From Black Panther to Catwoman to Sister Night, here are the most iconic black superheroes in movies and on TV

The Greatest Black Superheroes of All Time
1 of 42 CW/Marvel

The Greatest Black Superheroes of All Time

After decades of being sidelined or ignored altogether, black superheroes are thriving on screen. It's been a long time coming, but finally classic characters like Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), The Falcon (Anthony Mackie), and Luke Cage (Mike Colter) are getting the widespread recognition they deserve. Meanwhile, new additions to the caped crusader pantheon -- such as Watchmen's Sister Night (Regina King), Raising Dion's Dion (Ja'Siah Young), and The Umbrella Academy's Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman) are expanding perceptions of what a black superhero can look like and leaving their own indelible marks on pop culture.

As part of TV Guide's celebration of The Rise of Black Superheroes, we've rounded up the most memorable, influential, and all-around best black superheroes of all time. Click ahead to see these film and TV trailblazers.

2 of 42 HBO

Sister Night (Regina King), Watchmen

One of the undisputed best black superheroes -- if not the best -- to appear on screen in recent years is Angela Abar (Regina King), aka Sister Night of HBO's Watchmen. An original character invented for Damon Lindelof's mind-blowing remix of the comic book source material, Angela was compassionate by default and merciless when necessary. Athletic, tender, and terrifying with a gun, the masked justice seeker was all the more impressive because she was 100 percent human -- at least until the last time we saw her. -Malcolm Venable

3 of 42 Matt Kennedy/Marvel Studios

T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman), Marvel Cinematic Universe

This caption could just read "Wakanda Forever," and you'd know exactly what it meant. We'll elaborate anyway. If Luke Cage kick-started the current rise of the black superhero, T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and Black Panther took it to meteoric levels. The film was the second-highest grossing movie of 2018, and the highest-grossing solo superhero movie ever. But the amazing thing about T'Challa is that he's not just a token black superhero diversifying a white group of powered beings; he's a literal king, and Black Panther showed off a rich, vibrant culture that birthed the Black Panther lineage. T'Challa and Wakanda stepped up to defend the entire world at a great risk, and if that isn't the definition of heroism, we don't know what is. -Megan Vick

4 of 42 Alfonso Bresciani/Freeform

Tyrone Johnson (Aubrey Joseph), Marvel's Cloak & Dagger

Freeform canceled Cloak & Dagger after two suspense-packed seasons, but we will always remember Tyrone (Aubrey Joseph) as one half of our favorite yin-and-yang superpower duo. Throughout the show's far-too-short run, viewers watched as Tyrone learned to fully embrace his destiny as a superhero, working alongside Tandy (Olivia Holt) to fight against the drug trade, human trafficking, and otherworldly foes as the powerful team of Cloak and Dagger. We only wish we had gotten to see what Tyrone could have done, and the type of hero he would have grown into, after he and Tandy decided to leave New Orleans. -Mekeisha Madden Toby

5 of 42 Twentieth Century Fox/Marvel

Storm (Halle Berry), X-Men

Storm remains a cherished and by all accounts underused black superhero on screen. First appearing in Marvel comics in 1975, Storm may very well be a prototype for black superheroes; a descendant of a long line of African witch-priestesses, Storm can control the weather, at one point married Black Panther, and has one of the strongest wills of all the X-Men. But sadly, little of Storm's fascinating backstory made it into the X-Men film franchise that starred Halle Berry as the powerful mutant.

As Storm, Berry has been both an adored and controversial figure. Many wondered why Storm, the daughter of a Kenyan mom and an African American father, wasn't portrayed as the dark-skinned black woman she was in the comics -- a question that was again brought to the fore after Alexandra Shipp was cast in the role for X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2016). Others complained that Berry simply wasn't given enough to do in the role. But for many fans, Berry is Storm, as her depiction remains the most prominent and popular portrayal of the character to date. Looking back on Storm's troubled on-screen past, it only becomes more clear that a Storm movie -- if not an entire franchise -- is long overdue. -Malcolm Venable

6 of 42 New Line Cinema/Everett Collection

Spawn (Michael Jai White), Spawn

Spawn, the infamous indie comic from the '90s, made a major splash when launched by Image in 1992. That's because it starred a black man who died and went to Hell, only to strike a deal with Devil. In exchange for passage to the mortal realm to see his wife one last time, he accepts the mantle of Spawn and is endowed with necroplasm powers to do the bidding of the Devil. However, once returned to Earth, Al Simmons finds his family has moved on without him. Filled with rage, indecision, and a demonic spirit, Spawn spends his time on Earth fighting crime as a reluctant antihero, and eventually turning against the forces of Hell. It's a dark and tragic tale, but fans couldn't get enough of it. Only five years after the Spawn comics launched, the story was adapted into a 1997 movie starring Michael Jai White and an Emmy-winning HBO animated series. Now, more than 20 years after Spawn first hit theaters, audiences are gearing up for the antihero's box office return, with a reboot film in the works. -Krutika Mallikarjuna

7 of 42 Silver Screen Collection, Getty Images

Catwoman (Eartha Kitt), Batman

Catwoman may not technically be a superhero, but she isn't really a supervillain either. More of an antihero who does the all the wrong things for all the right reasons, Catwoman has been portrayed by many actresses over the years, but no one has defined the role quite like Eartha Kitt. The first black actress to play the part, Kitt only appeared in five episodes of the 1960s series Batman, but her memorable and mischievous performance elevated the character beyond anything we had seen before and solidified Kitt's Catwoman as the one all future interpretations would be measured against. -Sadie Gennis

8 of 42 Disney/Marvel

Monica Rambeau (Akira Akbar), Captain Marvel

In the comics, Monica Rambeau is one of the most important black female superheroes of all time, eventually becoming Captain Marvel. So while her presence as a bright young girl in the 2019 Captain Marvel film starring Brie Larson was lovely, it only scratched the surface of what's to come. Even in her limited role, Monica (Akira Akbar) proved she's a formidable force by jogging Carol Danvers' (Larson) memories with treasured mementos and convincing her mother, Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), to join Captain Marvel in the fight against the Kree -- both significant acts that helped save the day. We've only just started getting to know Monica in the MCU, and we'll hopefully find out more when she returns as an adult played by Teyonah Parris in Disney+'s upcoming WandaVision. -Keisha Hatchett

9 of 42 MGM/Everett Collection

Meteor Man (Robert Townsend), The Meteor Man

The early '90s were a particularly bad time for superheroes on the big screen, and even worse for melanated crusaders. But Robert Townsend took a big swing with 1993's The Meteor Man, a comedy about a teacher (Townsend) who uses his newly gained powers to stop gang violence in his neighborhood. (Think Black Lightning, only campier.) The film wasn't exactly a masterpiece, but its significance in presenting one of the few positive images of a black superhero during that time -- and one of the first black-led superhero movies ever -- is immeasurable. -Keisha Hatchett

10 of 42 CW

Iris West (Candice Patton), Wally West (Keiynan Lonsdale), and Nora West (Jessica Parker Kennedy); The Flash

Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) casts a long shadow on The Flash that can be very easy to get lost in. Both Iris (Candice Patton) and Wally (Keiynan Lonsdale) initially struggled with playing backup to Barry's eponymous hero, but over the course of six seasons, they've found ways to stand out as heroes in their own right. Wally took on the moniker of Kid Flash in Season 3, becoming the first speedster of color on the series, and has been bopping around the Speed Force to satiate his endless curiosity ever since. Iris had powers only temporarily in Season 4, but she has stepped up as the leader of Team Flash. Without her, the whole team, including Barry, would be lost.

Season 4 also introduced a new hero to the West-Allen family tree: Nora (Jessica Parker Kennedy), Barry and Iris' daughter from the future with speedster powers of her own. She proved she was a true product of her parents in the Season 5 finale when she sacrificed herself in order to rewrite the timeline that would allow Team Flash to take on Eobard Thawne (Tom Cavanagh). But that hasn't stopped us from hoping The Flash will find a way to bring the young speedster back for an emotional family reunion. -Megan Vick

11 of 42 Jan Thijs/Amazon

A-Train (Jessie T. Usher), The Boys

The Boys' A-Train (Jessie T. Usher), who joins a league of superheroes as the fastest man on Earth, isn't really a good guy. Always worried that a new superhero will take his title as the world's greatest speedster, he becomes reliant on performance-enhancing drugs to stay on top and score that cherished movie deal. But the pressure to be the best consumes him, and he finds himself involved in the murder of those who threaten to expose him or keep him from reaching his goals. A-Train is the perfect metaphor for the modern athlete chasing greatness by any means necessary; he's also the perfect example of how our heroes can fall so quickly. -Tim Surette

12 of 42 Tessa Thompson/Marvel

Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Marvel Cinematic Universe

Played by the incomparable Tessa Thompson, Valkyrie is the epitome of Twitter's Step On Me meme. Marvel fans were first introduced to her in Thor: Ragnarok, in which the former warrior, who fled Asgard after being defeated by Hela (Cate Blanchett) years ago, was the drunk scavenger of everyone's dreams. After subduing the God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth) and selling him to the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), she later teamed up with the good guys to save Asgard from Hela's destructive forces once more. Unfortunately, we've only seen Valkyrie once since then, in Avengers: Endgame, but she'll return in Thor: Love and Thunder, and considering she's now ruling over the surviving Asgardians, the future of the MCU is in good hands. -Krutika Mallikarjuna

13 of 42 David Lee/Netflix

Luke Cage (Mike Colter) and Misty Knight (Simone Missick), Marvel's Luke Cage

The very first black superhero with his own Marvel show, Luke Cage (Mike Colter) was also the first black character to anchor his own comic book series. Created in 1972 during the blaxploitation era, Luke Cage is a man with superhuman strength, unbreakable skin, and sometimes flexible morals. And on the short-lived Netflix drama, creator Cheo Hodari Coker leaned into Luke's mythology as a Harlemite, using a hip-hop soundtrack and episodes titled after Gang Starr songs.

Luke is joined by Misty Knight (Simone Missick), an NYPD officer who receives a bionic arm after her own is lost on the job -- a move that sees Misty transition into a superhero in her own right. Misty's intelligence, strength, and skills as a formidable crime-fighter made her much more than Luke Cage's companion, but his worthy peer. -Malcolm Venable

14 of 42 Brooke Palmer/Warner Bros. Entertainment

Starfire (Anna Diop), Titans

In Titans, DC's bleak take on the classic Teen Titans, Anna Diop's Starfire shines as one of the show's brightest heroes. Fierce and powerful, but not without her own emotional hang-ups, Starfire wields her sexuality like a weapon but is never shamed for it. She's reminiscent of Pam Grier's Foxy Brown, only updated for modern times. Though she's still coming into her own as a superhero, Diop's Starfire is already a star. -Keisha Hatchett

15 of 42 Sony Pictures/Marvel Entertainment

Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

After seeing so many depictions of Peter Parker, you can imagine how excited Spider-Man fans were when we learned we'd be getting a Miles Morales-centric movie. OK, it was animated, but the heart-wrenching storyline and amazing graphics made Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse arguably the best Spider-Man movie so far (and there have been SO many). Miles (Shameik Moore) is a nerdy kid from Queens, forced to go to a school without his friends, and on top of that, he gets some intense spider powers that make him the only one who can save the city -- and the multiverse -- from imploding. Miles Morales isn't just cool because of his sneakers or amazing taste in music; he finally brings a fresh flavor to a beloved character we've seen played in similar ways on screen for decades. -Megan Vick

16 of 42 Netflix

Dion (Ja'Siah Young), Raising Dion

Dion (Ja'Siah Young) of Raising Dion is just your average 8-year-old -- if your average 8-year-old recently learned he had the powers of telekinesis, levitation, teleportation, healing, and invisibility. As Dion figures out how to manage and control his powers, he finds himself in unexpected and terrifying situations that he navigates with the help of his mother, Nicole (Alisha Wainwright). Dion may be a kid now, but he's already well on his way to becoming a powerful hero. And since Netflix has renewed the series for a second season, we'll get to see how he continues to develop as he grows up. -Malcolm Venable

17 of 42 Frank Ockenfels/FX

Ptonomy Wallace (Jeremie Harris), Legion

Played by Jeremie Harris, Legion's Ptonomy Wallace is one of the most intriguing mutants to ever grace the screen. A self-described memory artist, Ptonomy used his powers to help fellow mutants unlock their potential. Ptonomy's ability to see and sift through the memories of others -- as well as guide the subject (and others who want to inspect the memory) with his perfect recall -- gifted Legion with some of its trippiest sequences. Think Inception but superpowered and with really slick suits thrown into the mix. -Krutika Mallikarjuna

18 of 42 Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel Studios

Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Marvel Cinematic Universe

Ah, Nick Fury. Where to even begin. Samuel L. Jackson took the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. from a dusty collection of '60s spy tropes to a man who can deliver a hell of a one-liner and has an escape plan for every situation. Known as the man who built the Avengers, Nick Fury is absolutely the guy to call when the fate of the universe hangs in the balance. He might not be super-powered himself, but with lines like, "I recognize the council has made a decision, but given that it's a stupid-ass decision, I've elected to ignore it," he might as well be. -Krutika Mallikarjuna

19 of 42

Curtis (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) and Alisha (Antonia Thomas), Misfits

No one on Misfits was perfect -- just look at the title of the show for a second -- but after gaining powers during an electrical storm while completing community service, the group at the center of the Channel 4 series became loyal friends through shared experiences and even managed to save the day (and each other) every once in a while.

Curtis (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), a star athlete busted while trying to buy drugs, came to have the powers of manipulating time, changing his biological sex, and resurrecting the dead. Alisha (Antonia Thomas), who was pulled over for drunk driving and attempted to flirt her way out, wasn't as lucky in the powers department initially -- her first power was the ability to send anyone who touched her into a sexual frenzy, which became dangerous for her, so she limited human contact until she could sell her power, eventually buying the power of clairvoyance instead. Curtis and Alisha were both real, vulnerable people who grew as a result of their powers and relationships, and while their problems were sometimes of their own making, they proved that anyone, no matter their past, could be a hero. -Kaitlin Thomas

Miles Hawkins, M.A.N.T.I.S
20 of 42 Fox/Amazon

Miles Hawkins (Carl Lumbly), M.A.N.T.I.S.

In 1994, M.A.N.T.I.S. was one of the most interesting sci-fi offerings on television and the first TV show to feature a black superhero lead. The series starred Carl Lumbly as the scientist Miles Hawkins, who was paralyzed after being shot by a police sniper. Miles discovered that the shooting wasn't an accident, but actually a small part in a larger conspiracy against the black community. He built a metal exoskeleton that gave him superhuman abilities, and he became M.A.N.T.I.S., a crime-fighting vigilante who not only tracked down the culprits, but dealt with everything from time travel to paranormal monsters to supervillains. The show was canceled after one season, but lives on in our hearts. -Krutika Mallikarjuna

21 of 42 Cartoon Network

Garnet (Estelle), Steven Universe

If you want to get technical, Garnet (voiced by the inimitable Estelle) is actually a purple alien, not a black woman. But with her luscious 'fro and impressive movies, it's not hard to see why young black children identify with this effortlessly cool leader of the Crystal Gems. Initially depicted as stoic and dispassionate, Garnet slowly revealed layers of herself (including the queer relationship that led to her existence) and her complex backstory. Steven Universe's writers gave Garnet the space to experience the spectrum of emotions, to make mistakes, and to love and be loved for who she is. It's a luxury black woman are rarely afforded, both in real life and in fiction, which makes her all the more refreshing. -Keisha Hatchett and Megan Vick

22 of 42 Frank Ockenfels 3/The CW

Luke Fox (Camrus Johnson), Batwoman

Where would Batwoman -- both The CW show and the superhero (Ruby Rose) -- be without resourceful friend and ally Luke Fox (Camrus Johnson)? Nowhere, that's where. Although Luke and Kate Kane's relationship got off to a rocky start, the two make a capable and charismatic duo who can defeat anything -- or anyone -- that comes their way. We should all be so lucky to have a gadget guy like Luke in our corner who truly cares and has us saying, "Alfred who?" -Mekeisha Madden Toby

23 of 42 Ben Rothstein/Marvel Studios

Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan), Fantastic Four

We are not here to defend the 2015 Fantastic Four movie, but we will defend Michael B. Jordan's performance as Johnny Storm, aka the Human Torch. Jordan has since become one of the most sought-after stars in Hollywood, but the casting of a black man as a superhero who is depicted as white in the comics was initially met with racist backlash. Even so, Jordan's charismatic performance as Johnny Storm was a highlight of the movie and deserved a much better showcase than the failed film offered him. The actor did say in 2016 that he'd be open to reprising the role in the future, and we'd love to see Jordan's character finally get his on-screen due. -Sadie Gennis

24 of 42 Katie Yu/CW

John Diggle (David Ramsey) and Curtis Holt (Echo Kellum), Arrow

It's rare for a show to put another character on equal footing with its main hero, which is one reason that Arrow's John Diggle (David Ramsey) is so special. In a genre that typically relegates black characters to the supportive best friend or quippy sidekick roles, Diggle got to be much more than that. A superhero in the truest form, Diggle guided Oliver (Stephen Amell) through his darkest moments, fought on the frontlines to defend Star City week in and week out, earned his own suit and codename (hey there, Spartan!), and even took up the mantle of Green Arrow for a spell when Oliver was under investigation by the FBI. Arrow wouldn't have been the same without him, Star City might not have survived without him, and Oliver Queen certainly would not have saved as many souls as he did without the former A.R.G.U.S. agent in his corner.

And we can't forget Curtis Holt (Echo Kellum). A certified genius and Olympic medalist, Curtis quickly became a fan favorite when he joined the show in Season 4 due to his sense of humor and kind heart. He also offered viewers the all-too-rare chance to see a queer black superhero in action. While Curtis' role on Team Arrow was initially confined to tech support, he soon found the courage to get into the field as Mr. Terrific. Using his Olympian skills, rigorous martial arts training, and superior intellect, Mr. Terrific and his T-spheres were must-haves on any mission. -Keisha Hatchett and Krutika Mallikarjuna

25 of 42 Zade Rosenthal/Marvel

James 'Rhodey' Rhodes (Don Cheadle), Marvel Cinematic Universe

Colonel James "Rhodey" Rhodes (Don Cheadle) was one of the few people who could stop Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) from going over the edge and keep the sometimes reckless billionaire (somewhat) in line. But even he wasn't successful all the time. After fighting with Tony and initially confiscating his second suit for the Air Force in Iron Man 2, Rhodey eventually kept the upgraded, armored suit for himself, becoming the superhero War Machine. He used the suit to help protect the U.S. and the world many times over, often at great cost to himself. He was a soldier through and through, and we all know Tony wouldn't have made it half as long as he did if Rhodey hadn't been there at this side. But while Rhodey was a solid right-hand man, it turns out he was an even better superhero. -Megan Vick

26 of 42 Columbia Pictures

Hancock (Will Smith), Hancock

Since black superheroes in leading roles on screen are still a largely recent phenomenon, there's been a pressure for them to be flawless. You can't be caught slipping when you're representing everyone, you know? An interesting exception to that is Will Smith in the 2008 film Hancock. Burned out on the saving people business and repressing painful memories, the eponymous hero spends half the movie drunk and making things a lot worse before they get better. He's a mess, but it was a fascinating look at how stressful being a hero can be and how, if they aren't taken care of properly, heroes are as susceptible as falling apart as any normal person. Of everyone on this list, Hancock is perhaps the most human of the heroes. -Megan Vick

27 of 42 Disney

Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson), The Incredibles

Frozone isn't the lead of The Incredibles, but he may be the most beloved character from the Pixar film series. Mr. Incredible's BFF and partner in crime-fighting, Frozone is the coolest crusader around, shooting ice from his hands and freezing bullets in midair. He's even able to race around on streams of frozen water he creates himself -- as long as he stays hydrated, of course. Frozone's chill factor is only amplified by the fact that he's voiced by Samuel L. Jackson, an actor as famous for his voice as he is for his on-screen performances. -Sadie Gennis

28 of 42 Marvel

Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Marvel Cinematic Universe

It takes a man of great courage and strength to keep up with Captain America (Chris Evans), but that's just what Falcon (Anthony Mackie), aka Sam Wilson, did after the pair met in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Sam was always by Cap's side after the two found common ground as former soldiers. He was there, no questions asked, when Steve found out his old war buddy, Bucky (Sebastian Stan), had returned from "the dead" as a Hydra mercenary with a bionic arm; and he fought alongside Steve when that same best friend was framed for murdering a foreign dignitary, causing a rift in the Avengers. Oh, and don't forget he helped save the world from a purple alien with a huge butt-chin who was determined to wipe out half of existence.

Sam is what we'd call loyal to the soil, and that in addition to his bravery, level-headed leadership, and dedication to doing the right thing at all costs, is why he will be holding the famous shield in the upcoming Disney+ series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. -Megan Vick

29 of 42 Cartoon Network

John Stewart (Lil Yachty), Teen Titans Go!

Sure, there are a lot of Green Lanterns, but none are more iconic than John Stewart. First appearing in 1971, John Stewart was not just the first black man to take on the mantle of Green Lantern, but the first black superhero to appear in DC comics. Granted extraordinary powers through the aid of a ring that brought his imagination to life, John Stewart protected Earth and most of the known universe during his time in the Lantern Corps. Unfortunately, John Stewart hasn't gotten the on-screen due he deserves, although we loved his memorable appearances on Teen Titans Go!. But if the hints in The CW'shttps://www.tvguide.com/tvshows/the-flash/tv-listings/644014/Arrow are any indication, he might be on TV soon in the form of the beloved John Diggle (David Ramsey). -Krutika Mallikarjuna

30 of 42 Fox/Marvel

Erg (Michael Luwoye), The Gifted

Erg (Michael Luwoye) might technically qualify as a villain on The Gifted, but his journey started off with the liberation of mutantkind. With his deadly power -- a mutation that allowed him to absorb energy and redirect it through his left eye -- Erg smuggled mutants safely through tunnels and across the border to the resistance. When his human girlfriend betrayed him, leading to the death of many mutants, Erg turned toward Magneto's path. Striving to build communities strictly for mutants, Erg was a complicated study on resistance and segregation. -Krutika Mallikarjuna

31 of 42 Bob Mahoney/Warner Bros. Entertainment

Cyborg (Joivan Wade), Doom Patrol

On a team made up of fascinating crime fighters, Doom Patrol's Cyborg (Joivan Wade) is one of the standouts. The character could have fallen into some rote archetypes, but instead the DC Universe series presents one of the most layered depictions of Cyborg we've ever seen. Haunted by the fact that he accidentally caused his mother's death, Cyborg is determined to become a true superhero to honor her memory. The show's exploration of Cyborg's trauma and how it influences him along his journey makes this one of the most underrated superhero storylines on TV right now. -Sadie Gennis

32 of 42 Cartoon Network

Bumblebee (Ozioma Akagha), Teen Titans

One of the earliest black female DC superheroes, Bumblebee has gone through many iterations over the years. But our personal favorite version of the character is on Teen Titans, where Bumblebee (T'Keyah Crystal Keymáh) is an undercover agent investigating H.I.V.E. Bumblebee is observant, independent, and incredibly caring, and she's an agile fighter and a friend who anyone would be lucky to have on their team. All of this is why we're left wondering why we haven't seen a single live-action interpretation of this heroine, who can produce hypersonic blasts, shrink, and has a high-tech battle suit that would leave any villain quaking. -Sadie Gennis

33 of 42 Columbia Pictures/Everett Collection

Blankman (Damon Wayans), Blankman

An underrated parody of the superhero genre, Blankman starring Damon Wayans tells the unexpected story of the world's biggest Batman fan. Naive but genius inventor and repairman Darryl Walker turns to a life of vigilantism after his grandmother is gunned down in the projects by the mob. The incident opens Darryl's eyes to the fact that the inner city is being run over by everyone from crime syndicates to the government. After accidentally inventing bulletproof material, Darryl becomes Blankman and goes on a hilarious journey to save the city and find himself. -Krutika Mallikarjuna

34 of 42 New Line Cinema/Everett Collection

Blade (Wesley Snipes), Blade

It's easy to forget in the post-Avengers world, but in the '80s and early '90s, Marvel's film slate was pretty dire, consisting largely of straight-to-video releases and the panned Howard the Duck movie. However, all that changed with 1998's Blade, which became the company's first box office hit and doubled as a mainstream introduction to the titular hero, who first appeared in Marvel Comics in 1973.

Star Wesley Snipes brought his natural gravitas -- along with his impressive martial arts abilities -- to his role as the half-vampire vampire hunter, becoming the definitive Blade. His performance will inform all future takes on this character. Snipes reprised the role in two sequel films, but the mantle will soon be passed to Mahershala Ali in an upcoming Blade reboot. -Sadie Gennis

35 of 42 CW

Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams), Jennifer Pierce (China Anne McClain), and Anissa Pierce (Nafessa Williams); Black Lightning

You know what's better than a black hero in a TV show? An entire family of them. The CW broke new ground with Black Lightning, a series that puts a black man (Cress Williams) and his two kickass daughters (China Anne McClain and Nafessa Williams) on the frontline against some of DC's biggest foes. And when the Pierces aren't taking down criminals, they're fighting racism, class warfare, and other social issues that affect people of color all over this country. (Also shout-out to Anissa [Williams] for being an out-and-proud lesbian, and to the Pierce family for showing her nothing but love and support.) When someone goes low, the Pierce family goes high, showing what it means to be a proud black family -- and one that can defeat any obstacle that comes their way. -Megan Vick

36 of 42 Claudette Barius//Warner Bros. Entertainment

Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), Birds of Prey

Jurnee Smollett-Bell's updated take on the beloved vigilante Black Canary in Birds of Prey is a welcome addition to the superhero landscape. Disillusioned with the world around her, Black Canary represents a modern hero -- one who isn't fighting to be good, just better than she was. Her journey as a woman learning to own the power she wields is refreshing, and one we can all relate to. -Keisha Hatchett

37 of 42 Christos Kalohoridis/Netflix

Allison Hargreeves (Emmy Raver-Lampman), The Umbrella Academy

Usually spreading gossip is an unproductive (and often unkind) hobby of busybodies. But on The Umbrella Academy, Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman) can change reality by saying four simple words: "I heard a rumor." This dangerous power is easy to exploit -- a mistake Allison has made in the past -- which is part of why she turned away from her superhero roots for so long. But with her family in danger, we're excited to see Allison learning to re-embrace her abilities -- in a responsible way, of course. -Mekeisha Madden Toby

38 of 42 Greg Lewis, Greg Lewis / Hulu

Alex Wilder (Rhenzy Feliz), Marvel's Runaways

Supremely intelligent, albeit emotionally distant from some of his fellow runaways, Alex (Rhenzy Feliz) was a natural fit as leader for the group of teens battling their evil parents. Alex was revealed to be a traitor in the comics, but Hulu's Runaways put its own spin on this double-cross. After being trapped in the Dark Dimension for an extended period of time, Alex returned with a much more ruthless worldview. But after briefly encountering a villainous version of himself from the future, Alex turned away from that path and expressed a desire to remain a hero. -Sadie Gennis

39 of 42 WB/DC Comics

Darla Dudley (Faithe C. Herman), Shazam!

There's no denying that Shazam!'s brilliant and energetic Darla (Faithe C. Herman) is black girl magic personified. Standing tall with her curly tendrils and big round glasses, this super fast and super smart bug-loving nerd owns who she is and makes no apologies for it. Darla's wide-eyed optimism and warm spirit are a shot of serotonin in a world weighed down by cynicism. -Keisha Hatchett

40 of 42 Marvel

The Dora Milaje, Marvel Cinematic Universe

T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) may be the king of Wakanda, but he'd be nowhere without the Dora Milaje. An all-female elite team of bodyguards and warriors, the Dora Milaje work together to protect the throne and the Black Panther from any threats. Led by Okoye (Danai Gurira), these warriors are unparalleled on the battlefield and were key to the victories at the Battle of Mount Bashenga in Black Panther and the Battle of Earth in Avengers: Infinity War. All this leaves us wondering why Marvel has yet to announce a spin-off movie about Wakanda's formidable royal guard. -Sadie Gennis

41 of 42 CW

Jefferson Jackson (Franz Drameh), Amaya, and Charlie (Maisie Richardson-Sellers); Legends of Tomorrow

Initially resistant to the idea of being a superhero, Jefferson Jackson (Franz Drameh) eventually found his calling as one-half of the conjoined meta-human known as Firestorm (along with Victor Garber's Martin Stein). He always kept it real on the Waverider, often reminding the crew of the racism he faced as a black time-traveler. Sci-fi shows rarely contend with the bigotry of the past, and definitely not on the level that Legends of Tomorrowdid by showcasing Jax's perspective and highlighting the strength of his character. Following Stein's death in Crisis on Earth-X, he left the crew for his own mental health -- a move that turned out to be the best choice he's ever made. He's now happy with a family of his own, proving that it's OK to step back and take care of yourself.

Meanwhile, in Season 2, the Legends recruited Amaya, aka Vixen (Maisie Richardson-Sellers), a fierce totem-bearer who joined the crew to help track down her lover's killer. After a rocky start, Amaya warmed up to this motley crew of unwanted superheroes, acting as their moral compass and forging friendships that transcended time and space. Amaya left the Waverider in Season 3 to fulfill her destiny as the leader of the Zambesi village, opening the door for Charlie's arrival in Season 5. A magical shapeshifter who now permanently bares Amaya's face thanks to Constantine (Matt Ryan), Charlie brings a punk rock flair to a familiar face. Though they're played by the same actress, these wildly different characters are evidence of the many ways blackness can be portrayed. -Keisha Hatchett

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J'onn J'onzz (David Harewood), Supergirl

Supergirl's J'onn J'onzz (David Harewood) definitely has a unique superhero journey. Initially assuming the identity of Hank Henshaw out of desperation, the shape-shifting Martian now chooses to be proudly and unapologetically black -- and that's a powerful message. An alien who understands humanity better than most humans, his importance as a hero, Kara's (Melissa Benoist) confidant, and the show's moral conscience can never be understated. -Keisha Hatchett