10 of the Best African TV Shows of 2022
Photo: Prime Video

Abby Ajayi’s 'Riches' was one of the year's top African TV shows.

From debut dramas to returning series, we sift through this year’s television releases and pick our favorites.

Last year, Love Island received the South African treatment, and although the show’s lack of Black contestants soured its regard, it still went on to thrill legions of fans around the world. The series didn’t return this year, however, and a Nigerian version has been stuck in limbo for quite some time. And yet, African viewers love reality TV. Just look at how Netflix's Young, Famous, & African, which plucked a handful of the continent’s jet-setting stars for a reality series, was lapped up by audiences.

With global streaming corporations making inroads into the African market, we have seen an uptick in stylized TV content making a splash. And in 2022, streaming services have continued the battle for eyeballs. Young, Famous, & African was the first of its kind from Netflix, while Savage Beauty, The Brave Ones, and Justice Served were other productions that, while not as flashy, found their audiences, too, thanks to being gripping scripted dramas.

Showmax is turning up the heat, investing in original shows like Blood Psalms, Igiza, Crime and Justice: Lagos, Flawsome,County 49, Dirty Laundry, andThis Body Works for Me, while ordering new seasons of The River, Gomora and The Real Housewives of Durban.

Prime Video just launched in Nigeria, premiering the riveting family drama Riches, and a future slate that includes originals like Gangs of Lagos and LOL: Last One Laughing Naija. These shows are setting the tone for a streaming war. But more broadly, we are on track towards Africa’s own peak streaming.

Here are our TV picks of 2022:

1. The Real Housewives of Lagos

Even before The Real Housewives of Lagos premiered on Showmax in April, fans were already supercharged with excitement. This version of the popular reality franchise was a Showmax hit (read our review), its 13 episodes arriving week-to-week and the season capped off with a deliciously tumultuous reunion.

While certain bits were exaggerated for fan service, the series did reveal Lagos as seen through the eyes of its affluent cast. Friendships disintegrated, dirt laundry was aired, and drama ensued from unlikely places. RHOL had fans pitch their tent with their favorite housewife (Team Toyin! Team Laura! Team Chioma!), and pushing for a second season.

2. Blood and Water

Viewers won’t forget how the first season ended in a cliffhanger. Up until 2020, Netflix didn’t have anything like Blood and Water, the teen drama set in South Africa about 16-year-old Puleng (Ama Qamata), who is hellbent on solving the cold case of her older sister adopted as a baby 17 years ago.

Those club scenes with acid neon lighting, pulsing soundtrack and enchanting camera angles embodied how the show became a young-adult obsession. Directed by Nophiso Dumisa, Blood and Water in its third season is still a mystery show, introducing bigger stakes and more secrets to uncover.

3. Blood Sisters

This Netflix limited series from the late Biyi Bandele and Kenneth Gyang does something refreshing: taking Nollywood’s wedding trope and turning it into a high-stakes thriller. The story follows Sarah (Ini Dima-Okojie) as a bride on her wedding day, surviving a crime and taking off with her close friend Kemi (Nancy Isime) as an accomplice.

Guarding a chilling secret that could get them killed, the two women become targets in a manhunt. Mixing police procedural flourishes with real-world issues (like domestic violence, classism, corruption), Blood Sisters cuts through the fluff with its tight pacing, and delivers a rewarding pay off.

4. How to Ruin Christmas

Spending Christmas together between feuding families (the Sellos and Twallas) has been the backdrop of How to Ruin Christmas,a South African holiday special that first premiered in 2020 on Netflix. Once more, they dreadfully reunite again for a baby shower in the just-released third season. Beauty (Thando Thabethe) is expecting her first child with Sbu (Sandile Mahlangu), so what could possibly go wrong?

Created by the Ramaphakela siblings, How to Ruin Christmas has perfected the art of well-timed disasters, and this holiday season won’t be spared.

5. Diiche

This whodunnit from James Omokwe layers itself as psychological thriller, and has been praised by critics for its creative storytelling. Big-time actress Diiche (Uzoamaka Onuoha) ends up being the prime suspect of a murder investigation. The deceased is her fiancé Nnamdi (Daniel K. Daniel), and to prove she’s innocent, she must do what she can to find his killer. As a side note, Diiche is Showmax’s first Nigerian original series.

6. Country Queen

Country Queen is one of the African Netflix shows that didn’t enjoy much marketing or promotion. If you are hearing about it for the first time, this could be the reason. Also, the six-episode drama is Kenya’s first Netflix original series, tapping Vincent Mbaya to direct and Kamau Wa Ndung’u to produce.

Event planner Akissa (Melissa Kiplagat) has her world thrown into crisis when she leaves Nairobi and returns to Tsilanga, her childhood home, and struggles against corporate powers grabbing communal lands. It’s a slow burner, weaving in old-flame romance as the protagonist makes a stunning discovery about herself.

7. The Wife

Adapted from Dudu Busani-Dube’s bestselling Hlomu series, The Wife broke Showmax’s first-day viewing records when it first aired in 2021. Viewers haven’t been from South Africa alone, drawing in numbers from Uganda, Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, and the like.

Set in a small South African town, it tells the story of the titular Hlomu (Mbalenhle Mavimbela) who falls in love with taxi driver Mqhele (Bonko Khoza). But things aren’t what they seem, as she’s sucked into a dark underbelly of crime and gang rivalry.

Showrunner Guguu Ncube-Zuma and creative director Fikile Mogodi have been lauded for the deftly shot sex scenes, which explore triggering themes like domestic violence. With its ongoing third season promising a hefty 60 episodes, there’s no doubt that viewers will stick around for it all.

8. Young, Famous & African

Co-creator Peace Hyde wanted to depict a “cosmopolitan” Africa. So Young, Famous & African was the answer, gathering the biggest (and, questionably, youngest) stars in Johannesburg for Netflix’s first African reality show.

From Nigeria’s Swanky Jerry, Annie Macaulay-Idibia and Innocent ‘2Baba' Idibia to Tanzania’s Diamond Platnumz and Zimbabwe’s Kudzai Mushonga, we see flirting, feuds, and drama over seven episodes, wrapped up extravagantly with a lavish little ribbon.

9. Riches

A few months after Nigeria’s Prime Video launch in August, Riches premiered on the streamer and took viewers by surprise. The six-part drama series has also received glowing reviews from critics. What’s more, it’s bingeable, and rightfully earns a spot on this year’s best African TV shows.

It follows a Nigerian family in the U.K. who fight over control of their family-owned cosmetics empire, after the death of its founder. Created by Abby Ajayi, the show holds appeal for many fans in the diaspora, and could see a second season green-lit in no time.

10. Only Jokes Allowed

A little-known gem that premiered early in the year on Netflix, Only Jokes Allowed is a comedy stand-up special that features six of South Africa’s top comedians: Schalk Bezuidenhout, Gilli Apter, Celeste Ntuli, Nina Hastie, Robby Collins, and Mpho Popps. It’s an easy-to-digest series, with quick-set performances, each around 15 minutes per episode.

The stand-up leans into adult themes like porn and sex, but there’s also social commentary on racism, relationships, and body positivity.