(All of these titles were available to stream on US Netflix at the time of writing. Check here to make sure they’re still available!)
Perhaps one of Mexico’s biggest and most recent telenovela hits, 2011’s La Reina del Sur (based on a book by Arturo Pérez Reverte) stars Kate del Castillo as the titular Queen of the South, a.k.a. a cartel crime lord (or should that be lady?) Either way, with over 60 episodes and a catchy as hell theme song, you’ll soon find yourself sucked into the Reina del Sur rabbithole.
Another narconovela series headed up by Kate del Castillo is 2017’s Ingobernable (Ungovernable). In this, she plays the wife of the Mexican president rather than a cartel head, but that doesn’t mean she’s any less corrupt. While most of the show was filmed on location in Mexico City (prepare yourself for plenty of chilango slang), Castillo had to film her parts in the US. Why? Well, remember that fateful interview with crime boss El Chapo? Thanks to that, she was actually a wanted woman in Mexico at the time.
Turning back the clock ever so slightly, you can currently relive the early-aughts through the medium of Mexican telenovelas by binging Rubí on Netflix. Originally broadcast in 2004, Rubí starred Uruguayan actress Bárbara Mori (who has since gone on to work on the silver screen) and followed the life of the eponymous character as she navigates those age-old telenovela tropes of money, love and deceit.
Don’t make plans if you think there’s even a chance you could get invested in the Televisa telenovela Lo que la vida me robó (What Life Stole From Me). After all, there are close to 200 episodes of this 2013 show, which is headed up by Mexican telenovela veteran, Angelique Boyer (you might know her from her meme-worthy turn as Teresa in the show of the same name).
Juana Inés may be named for the proto-feminist poet and scholar of the same name, but this period melodrama is far soapier and much less serious than the real-life Sor Juana (probably). Even so, it makes for an entertaining, take it with a pinch of salt introduction to her fascinating life. Just remember that it’s only inspired by real life events…
Sometimes stylised as RBD, Rebelde was an era-defining telenovela for many Mexican (and Latin American) teens. Running for just two years, from 2004-2006, Rebelde followed the story of six upper-class teens at a boarding school who go on to form a band, called, you guessed it, RBD. Over its run, it managed to rack up a whopping 440 episodes (one of which features Hilary Duff, weirdly), so maybe pace yourself?
Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán takes centre stage in this fictionalised 2017 take on his life. Produced by Netflix and Univisión in partnership, El Chapo charts his rise to drug lord fame in the 80s and follows his tale through ’til the present day. There are currently two seasons.
At the risk of turning this recommendation list into a Chapo-a-thon, here’s our second and final entry centring on a drug lord that deserves half of the attention he actually gets. The Day I Met El Chapo is a three-part docu-series about actress Kate del Castillo’s meeting with Joaquín Guzmán and tells her side of the infamous story.
Not to be confused with El Chapo, El Chavo is a very different kind of Mexican icon, who remains popular both in Mexico and across wider Latin America. Starring Roberto Gómez Bolaños as the titular El Chavo, El Chavo del 8 displayed some trademark Mexican humour and a kind of bizarre premise. After all, the schoolchildren are all played by adults. This is one you have to watch before the appeal becomes clear.
This entry is a slight curveball, as it’s currently not streaming on US Netflix; however, it was impossible to write about the best Mexican TV shows to watch and not include Club de Cuervos. Charting the ups and downs of a fictional ‘Nuevo Toledo’ football team, this show centres around Chava Iglesias and his half-sister Isabel as they fight for control of the club. The premise might sound iffy to non-football fans, but once you give it a go you’ll have watched every episode before you know it.