My Picks for Spanish Immersion on Netflix

About a year into my Spanish-learning journey, I switched from watching Spanish-dubbed shows I’d already seen in English (think South Park en Español) to actual shows originally filmed in Spanish. It took me some time to figure out what I like in Spanish-language shows, and I had plenty of false starts where I watched a few episodes and gave up. However, I eventually got pretty good at picking a show I could watch just as much for entertainment as for language acquisition, so I thought I’d review some of the best ones I’ve seen on Netflix recently. These are just a few of the shows I’ve gotten all the way through, not including ones I am either still watching or have already abandoned.


This one is the best show offered on Netflix, at least that I’ve seen so far (for the purposes of this article, I am focusing solely on the original Narcos, and not its later spinoff, Narcos Mexico, which is still a good show, but not as good as its predecessor). Set in Colombia in the latter half of the twentieth century, it follows the exploits of the notorious Pablo Escobar for the first two seasons and then the Cali cartel after Escobar’s ultimate downfall.

Far from being just another generic cops and robbers show, this program is more like Breaking Bad in that it focuses more heavily on the drug-dealing anti-hero. It explores the mental and emotional downslide of the Medellin cartel kingpin, begging the question of how a man can be a loving father, an imperfect-but-still-trying husband, and a coldblooded monster. While the show did go downhill in the third season, since it was harder for me to be emotionally invested in the Cali characters and hijinks, it remains my top pick just for being the most engaging, binge-watchable program on this list.

It goes without saying that the Spanish in this show is Latin American. The actors run the gamut from Argentinian to Mexican to Brazilian to Chilean, so you will be exposed to a lot of different accents and speech speeds. One thing about Narcos (and, by extension, its spinoff Narcos Mexico) is that it often switches from Spanish to English when it cuts to scenes involving the US DEA agents. If you’re new to watching TV for language practice, this could give you a welcome break from processing your second language. However, if you’re really wanting a few hours of Spanish immersion, the switching back and forth can get annoying.

Casa de Papel

This show would certainly have beat out Narcos for my top spot if they’d not killed off a certain character who shall remain nameless (no spoilers) and pissed me off. That said, it’s still a great show — so great, in fact, that it’s the most-watched non-English series on Netflix. The show follows a gang of professional criminals, each with prodigious abilities in their own specialty, as they plan and carry out a robbery of Madrid’s Fábrica Nacional de Moneda y Timbre. Though the characters all pick cities as their names in order to remain anonymous and all try to avoid developing any kind of attachment to one another, this obviously doesn’t work out as planned — nor does their hostile takeover of the royal mint.

The development of the relationships between characters — their romances, their friendships, their blossoming affection for their own hostages — is the most compelling element of this series, and I found myself more than once yelling at the TV as they made careless decisions or engaged in counterproductive drama. The plot, however, is not far behind in terms of interest. It’s a fun ride to see the genius of the plan and its ultimate conclusion.

If you want good exposure to Castellano (European Spanish), this is a great show for that. Its cast hails from a lot of different regions, including Andalusia, Catalonia, the Basque Country, Galicia, and Madrid, so you’ll get to train your ears to plenty of distinct regional dialects. One note about Spanish Spanish is that Spaniards tend to speak fast, especially if they’re from the south, so it might take some getting used to if you’re a beginner. However, if you use the Spanish subtitles, it should help you avoid missing anything crucial.

Frontera Verde

This Colombian miniseries follows the exploits of a young detective from Bogota as she heads into the depths of the Amazon to investigate a string of murders of young women. Eventually, she meets with an indigenous tribe with such a deep connection to the jungle that it gives them magical powers. With deforestation, cartel violence, and city expansion all threatening this tribe, they and the protagonist must help each other in order to stop the violence and catch the killers.

While I was a little confused by the plot at times, this is an overall really suspenseful, really engaging show that will keep you saying “just one more episode” until late into the night. The mystery surrounding the protagonist as she discovers her own previously unknown connections to both the forest and its people will keep you on your toes, as will the relationships and rituals of the indigenous superhumans who’ve made it their mission to defend their wilderness homeland from all threats — including the mad scientist hellbent on using technology to steal their gifts no matter the cost.

One of the best parts about this show is that it offers its audience meaningful exposure to the indigenous languages of South America (Ticuna, specifically). When we’re with native characters, we’re listening to them speak their own language with subtitles in Spanish, which might be a new experience for you if you’re used to listening to foreign languages with English subtitles.

La Catedral del Mar

Based on the Ildefonso Falcones novel of the same title, La Catedral del Mar tells the story of Arnau Estanyol, the impoverished son of a runaway serf who falls in love with the cathedral of Santa Maria del Mar during its fourteenth-century construction and eventually dedicates his life to helping build the church. With the severe upheaval and instability Barcelona endured during the late Middle Ages as a backdrop, this show is full of intense drama, suspense, and mortal danger.

Overall, this is a good program. I think I would have liked it better if I hadn’t read the novel it’s based on first because my biggest gripe about this series is that they tried to stuff nearly 700 pages’ worth of material into eight hour(ish)-long episodes. That meant they erased a lot of characters, glossed over a lot of plot, and skimped on developing the main characters. However, unless you’ve read the book, that shouldn’t bother you. There are a couple of battle sequences they obviously cheaped out on, but otherwise, the acting, costuming, set design, etc. is all solid. This show is also when I decided Pablo Derqui is one of my favorite actors. His portrayal of an innocent boy’s descent into religious zealotry, violent misogyny, and eventual insanity is something I couldn’t get out of my head for months after finishing the show.

As for the language itself, again, this is a Spanish show, meaning we’re dealing with European Castellano rather than Latin American Spanish. Since this show is set in Barcelona, you’ll get a lot of exposure to the beautiful Barcelonan accent, but there are plenty of actors from other regions to listen to as well.

Reina de las Indias

This show is very loosely based on the founding of Cartagena de Indias in what is now the Republic of Colombia. It contains quite a few characters who were real people, including the conquistadores Pedro de Heredia and Diego de Nicuesa, along with the indigenous woman Catalina de Indias/India Catalina and her eventual husband Alonso Montañez. However, aside from the characters who actually existed, this show follows a mostly fictionalized plot in which Pedro and Catalina were lovers, he eventually betrays her, and she seeks revenge.

Of all the shows on this list, this one is my least favorite. I really only finished it because its one of the better ones for language acquisition (which is why I included it). Aside from the showrunners playing fast and loose with the facts surrounding the actual founding of Cartagena, which is something I could have learned to live with had it been the only problem, there are issues with excessive melodrama, plot convolution, and character development. Since this is a telenovela, I expected some melodramatic acting/camerawork/music/etc. and I was not disappointed. I don’t want to complain too much about it since it is a feature of the genre, but there were quite a few times when I laughed out loud when I definitely wasn’t supposed to. The plot is tortuous and hard to follow sometimes. Aside from a couple of exceptions, the characters don’t elicit a lot of sympathy. They also don’t seem to know what they want and often do things that don’t make any sense for them as individuals. A lot of things the characters say, do, and get away with also don’t make much sense given the context of the period (i.e. sometimes these late medieval/early modern people seem a little too 21st century).

As far as the language-learning aspect of the show goes, it’s one of the best. The protagonist is played by a Puerto Rican, so her accent is very comprehensible to me as a mainlander, as are the wonderfully neutral accents of the Colombian actors. And though a lot of the other actors are Spaniards, they do a really good job of tamping down their European accents for a non-European audience, meaning this show will give you a dose of Spanish-lite to allow you to familiarize yourself with the dialects of Spaniards while really being able to comprehend what they’re saying without depending on captions.

I hope this review gives you a few ideas if you’re looking for a show that’s both interesting and a good immersion experience. I’ll probably do another of these lists later in the year or sometime next year, but for now, feel free to add suggestions for other shows in the comments.


S.E. Ireland is a freelance & technical writer, aspiring novelist, singer, amateur chef, & professional homebody who lives in Florida with her spouse & dogs.

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S. E. Ireland

S.E. Ireland is a freelance & technical writer, aspiring novelist, singer, amateur chef, & professional homebody who lives in Florida with her spouse & dogs.