30 Telenovelas Every Latina Should Watch

Telenovelas give us life

Photo: Unsplash/@molliesivaram

Photo: Unsplash/@molliesivaram

Telenovelas give us life. They’re entertaining, a facet of Latinx pop culture, and markers in our lives. In fact, you probably know exactly how old you were when you watched Maria la del Barrio, or remember how good the ending was to your favorite novela. Added bonus? They’re also so darn dramatic that they make our lives look chill in comparison. If you’re feeling nostalgic and thinking of rewatching some of your old favorites and/or need a guide to some of the best classics — we got you. Here’s a look at our ultimate telenovela watch list!


Sua vida me pertenece

We have been watching novelas for so long, it’s crazy to think about the first ones that were ever produced. Sua vida me pertenece is Brazil’s very first telenovela (and perhaps the very first in all of Latin America), debuting in 1951. It features the country’s first ever kiss on television, between the show’s two stars, Vida Alves and Walter Forster. The novela centers around the love between Alves and Forster’s characters, and whether they will end up together or not. Sua vida me pertenece ran for 15 episodes and helped spawn all the novelas that have been produced since.


Yo soy Betty, la fea

Colombia’s iconic telenovela, Betty la fea, speaks on the country’s notorious workplace discrimination against those who don’t fit conventional beauty standards. Its protagonist Beatriz Pinzon Solano, is smart, educated, and more than capable of holding down a job at fashion company Eco Moda. The problem is, she’s fea (ugly), and has to work harder than everyone else to be accepted by the snobby, looks-obsessed staff. Betty is considered to be the most successful telenovela of all time, having been reproduced in over 25 countries, including the U.S. (Ugly Betty), and Mexico (La fea mas bella). It’s message proved to be one that resonated with people around the globe.


Maria Mercedes

Mexicana Thalia is the Queen of the Novela. The singer and actress was the star we turned to during the 1990s, when we wanted to see a dramatic, must-see novela, with a cool soundtrack to match (she always sang the lead song to the telenovelas she starred in, among other songs on the show’s CD/tape). Thalia starred in a trio of telenovelas with her as the Maria-named protagonist: Maria Mercedes (1992), MariMar (1994), and Maria la del Barrio (1995). In Maria Mercedes, Thalia plays out the rags-to-riches story, which has become a common theme in many Mexican novelas. These roles helped to make her an international star.


Avenida Brasil

Brazil is known for producing great, highly watchable telenovelas that focus on everyday people living everyday life. Avenida Brasil is one of Brazil’s most successful novelas. Spanning the globe, the show has been broadcast in over 106 countries. The storyline follows Rita, a woman who was left at a dump as a child by her greedy stepmother. She is later adopted, moves to Argentina, and grows up to be a successful chef. Her life improves but Rita always has the idea of revenge on her mind. Later in life, as an adult, she returns to Brazil, with a new name and a new job — at her stepmother’s home. The suspense!


La ursurpadora

There are those iconic, melodramatic — usually ’90s novelas that we will come back to and reference time and time again. La Ursurpadora is one of those telenovelas. Based on the original Venezuelan novelas La Ursurpadora (1971) and La Intrusa (1986), the hit show has a crazy, but totally watchable plot. Twins separated at birth stumble upon each other. Evil twin convinces good twin to pretend to be her, while she travels with her lover. Good twin tries to right all of the evil twin’s wrongs. So seeing this. (Random fact: Gaby Spanic, who played both twins, actually is an identical twin herself.).


Los ricos tambien lloran

Mexicana Veronica Castro is such a legend. The big role that made the singer and actress a household name around the world was in the telenovela, Los ricos tambien lloran. In it, Castro plays Mariana, a young girl who is abandoned by her evil stepmother when her father dies, and s raised by a millionaire. Does the plot sound familiar? It should. The also-popular novela, Maria la del Barrio is actually a remake of Los ricos tambien lloran. It would be cool to watch both and see how they compare — both novelas are definitely on this list of classic, must-sees!


Corazon salvaje

Another classic telenovela worth watching is Corazon Salvaje. The 1993 Mexican production is set in the early 1900s, and stars the late Eduardo Palomo and Edith Gonzalez. The story centers around the love entanglements between two sisters (Countesses Monica and Aimee) and two brothers (Andres and Juan del Diablo). Did we mention that Juan is a pirate (that usually makes for interesting television)? In general, we are all for novelas set in another time period. Besides a good storyline, they usually showcase beautiful costumes and set design, present different customs and culture, and offer a peek at another way of life.

Cafe con aroma de mujer

There are a handful of classic telenovelas from Colombia that when mentioned, will instantly warm the heart of most colombianos. Betty la fea is one, and so is another Francisco Gaitan’s (R.I.P.) production, Cafe, con aroma de mujer. The 1994 production starred Margarita Rosa de Francisco (also a former Miss Colombia) and Guy Ecker. The storyline follows the love story between coffee harvester Teresa “Gaviota” Suarez and the grandson of a rich coffee businessman, and empresario, Sebastian Vallejo. Cafe ended up being a massive hit in Colombia. Fun fact: Like Thalia, Margarita Rosa de Francisco sang the theme song to her own novela (“Gaviota”).


Roque santeiro

Roque santeiro is said to be the most popular and most-watched Brazilian novela of all time. 60 million viewers tuned in to watch the 1985-1986 show, which was about protagonist Roque, a man who achieved saint-like status when he died defending his local church from bandits. Over the years, many profited from Roque’s sainthood, but the problem is, he actually never died. Almost two decades after he was believed to have bit the bullet, Roque returns to his hometown of Asa Branca. Those who made money off his legend now have to figure out what to do next. It’s a really unique plot worth checking out.



MariMar was the Thalia “Maria” novela that I personally watched and loved. In high school, I even modeled a hairstyle for a quince inspired by her character’s style. In this 1994 show, Thalia played protagonist Maria del Mar, a poor girl who lives on the beach with her grandparents. Like the other “Maria” shows, it’s a rags-to-riches story, complete with a super-cute, rich love interest (this time played by ’90s heartthrob Eduardo Capetillo). The super-bad, but the great-to-watch villain is played by Chantal Andere). It’s a love tale that will have you feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. I’m making it a point to watch the “Maria” trilogy soon — it’s classic Latinx pop culture at its finest!


Alcancar una estrella

Novelas aren’t just for mamas and abuelitas. Many younger novelas were made over the years, ensuring that we would grow up with various shows to watch, no matter what stage in life we were at. Alcanzar una estrella is a 1990 novela about Lorena (played by Mariana Garza, of the group Timbiriche), a shy girl who is the number one fan of rock star Eduardo Casablanca (portrayed by Eduardo Capetillo). She sends Eduardo fan letters, in an attempt to win him over. Alcanzar una estrella won the TVyNovelas Award for Telenovela of the Year (1991), and led to a sequel (Alcanzar una estrella II), and an American remake (Hollywood Heights).


Cuna de lobos

There are telenovela villains who become icons, bigger than the show itself. Catalina Creel is one of those legendary characters. She, of the eye patch, is the bad woman of Cuna de lobos. Played by Maria Rubio, Catalina will do anything to protect her son and his inheritance, and we mean anything. This includes murdering a bunch of people, kidnapping a baby, and all kinds of other evil deeds. The overprotective, overbearing, vindictive mother is another common thread in novelas. In general, we are all here for super dramatic plots, that have us grabbing the phone to make sure our friends watched the episode too.



In the ’90s, the coolest part of watching novelas was seeing pretty, young Latinxs like us, and wanting to look like them, copy their style, hair, and makeup, and having crushes on the hunky guy protagonists. Muchachitas was a novela that aired in 1991. Its stars included Kate del Castillo (who would later have her own big novela, La reina del sur), and Itati Cantoral (who was the epic villain Soraya Montenegro in Maria la del barrio). The show followed the lives of four female friends who attend art school together. They’re from different backgrounds, but all are united by their dreams to be artists.


Simplemente Maria

Photo: Radionovelas Luz Clarita/YouTube

Simplemente Maria wasn’t just a good novela, it helped spark change. The 1969-1971 Peruvian production starred Saby Kamalich, as a single mother, who moved from a rural area to the city, in order to go to school, and learn how to sew. Maria became a successful fashion designer, inspiring real-life women everywhere to move to cities, go to night school, and follow their dreams. Simplemente Maria has been remade a number of times, including a 1972 Venezuelan version, and one in 1989, which starred Victoria Ruffo. While dramatic novelas are so fun to watch, there’s nothing better than entertainment that shows the ability of women to push their families forward, while demonstrating their own strength.


Pedro el escamoso


Ok, we like dramatic novelas, but funny ones are just as awesome. Perfect example: Pedro el escamoso. Seriously, just check out how he dances. The Colombian classic stars Miguel Varoni as goofy ladies man Pedro. When he moves to the capital, Bogota, Pedro’s life changes forever. Throw in a love story, and you have a fun telenovela to watch. Pedro el escamoso aired from 2000 to 2003, and was the inspiration for the 2007 Mexican novela, Yo amo a Juan Querendon (starring Eduardo Santamarina). Remakes are always interesting to check out; like mentioned previously, it would be a cool pop culture study to compare remakes of shows, even if it’s for an episode or two. Or if you have the time, just binge watch them both!




Rubi is another classic novela, which has been remade time and time again. The story is about protagonist Rubi Perez, a poor girl who’s obsessed with climbing the social ladder and getting rich. A villain, she will do anything to get her way. This includes dumping a man she is in love with, because he isn’t rich but middle class, and befriending rich kids in an effort to be like them. The first version of Rubi was in 1968; the latest Spanish-language one starred Barbara Mori and took place in 2004. A Filipino edition of the show aired in 2010.


Pasion de Gavilanes

Telenovelas can become predictable — rich families, rags-to-riches, rural to city life, etc. It’s nice when the scenery and plot changes a bit, or a lot. Pasion de gavilanes is a Colombian novela set on two family ranches. On one, we have the Reyes brothers, set on revenge after the death of their sister. On the other, the Elizondo sisters, whose family is the target of this revenge. Love changes everyone’s plans, however. Pasion de gavilanes is a remake of the 1994 novela Las Aguas mansas; the 2014 show Tierra de reyes (also great to watch) is also a version of Las aguas.


Maria la del Barrio


The final one of the Thalia “Maria” triology novelas on this list is Maria la del barrio. It might be the best one, however. We have Thalia playing the rags-to-riches story, in a remake of the Veronica Castro hit, Los ricos tambien lloran. But the real star of this show is the villain: Soraya Montenegro. Played by the legendary Itati Cantoral, this character has become iconic on her own. Because she’s legit crazy. Her infamous “judges you in Spanish/cries in Spanish/everything in Spanish” is emblazoned on everything now, from memes, to shirts, to pins. I haven’t seen Maria la del barrio yet, but it’s definitely on my pop culture to-do list for this year.




Quinceañera was the teen telenovela which spawned all the rest you have seen since. The 1987 show starred Thalia and Adela Noriega, and is considered the very first teenager novela. The classic follows best friends Beatriz (Thalia) and Maricruz (Noriega), who come from different socioeconomic backgrounds. The two young girls are excited about their upcoming quince parties. Instead of only glamorizing these huge celebrations, Quinceañera shows the gritty truth about adolescence and the obstacles many teens face before reaching adulthood. Both Thalia and Adela Noriega went on to star in other hit novelas, including the “Maria” trilogy (Thalia), and Mi querida Isabel (Adela).




Sure, today she is a Hollywood movie star, but did you know that Salma Hayek starred in a Mexican novela? Yes! She was the protagonist in 1989’s Teresa, her first and only telenovela starring role. A remake of the 1959 original, Teresa is about a bitter, poor girl who uses her looks to leave her life of poverty behind, to finally become wealthy (it’s a popular novela plot!) This show is definitely worth watching, if only just to see Salma Hayek in puro dramatic telenovela mode. Another version of Teresa was made in 2010, with Angelique Boyer in the title role.


La Patrona


This telenovela had us at its lady boss title — La patrona. We are all for shows that feature women empowerment! La patrona, starring Aracely Arambula, is a 2013 remake (remakes are another big trend in novelas— if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it, no?) of the 1984 Venezuelan novela, La dueña (which is based on The Count of Monte Cristo!). Aracely plays Gabriela Suarez, a female miner and single mother. When her father dies during a mine explosion, Gabriela is framed for the crime. In order to right the wrongs, Suarez escapes prison, changes her identity, and returns to see justice is served.

Senderos de Amor

Photo: Telenovelas Wiki

If you really want to celebrate something in pop culture, you have to go way back and see where and how it all began. You will understand the present and future of something if you know about its past. In the world of telenovelas, one of the very first was Cuba’s Senderos de amor (it was also the very first Cuban novela). The 1952 show starred Adela Escartin and Armando Bianchi. Its plot revolved around “the villainies of a repressed and in love spinster.” It was also said to compare the morality of those in the rural area, compared to those who lived in the city.




The 1958 telenovela, Gutierritos was one of Mexico’s very first novelas, and starred Rafael Banquells (as Angel Gutierrez), Maria Teresa Rivas (as Rosa Hernandez), and Mauricio Garces (as Jorge Contreras). It tells the sad tale of Angel Gutierrez, a man nicknamed Gutierritos by his boss. He is disrespected by his wife, boss, kids, and colleagues. Angel is shy and dominated by those around him, but he is also a very talented writer. He won’t give himself credit for his book, so his friend Jorge decides to steal the idea from him. The show Gutierritos lasted 50 episodes, became a film, and aired again (with some changes) on television in 1966.


Maria Isabel

Maria Isabel was a 1997 novela, starring Adela Noriega and Fernando Carrillo. It revolved around the love story between an indigenous woman, and the rich man she works for. It is a remake of the novela of the same name that aired in 1966, starring the legendary Silvia Derbez, and Raul Ramirez, and the 1960s film, starring the iconic Silvia Pinal. Maria Isabel is credited as the first novela whose focus is on a indigenous female protagonist and her community. Not only was it a great novela, but Maria Isabel also spawned one of the best telenovela theme songs ever —”Si Tu Supieras,” by Alejandro Fernandez.


Dos Mujeres Un Camino


Dos mujeres, un camino had all the elements of a novela you’d want to watch. Laura Leon singing the theme song (which gets stuck in your head), her and Bibi Gaytan playing rivals in love, Erik Estrada of Chips fame as their man, and a cameo by la reina Selena herself. In the telenovela, Estrada plays truck driver Johnny, who is married to Laura Leon’s character, Ana Maria, but falls for Bibi’s character, Tanya. He is also blamed for a death he didn’t cause. Sounds like a bunch of drama, Latinx-style. According to Wikipedia, Dos mujeres, un camino was a hit show that aired in a whopping 47 countries.


El Derecho de Nacer

El derecho de nacer is another big-time novela, considered a classic. The version most remember is the 1981 version, which starred Veronica Castro, and is based on the Cuban radionovela of the same name. El derecho de nacer was also a film in 1952, a Puerto Rican novela in 1959, a Venezuelan novela in 1966, and a Mexican novela in 2001 (starring Kate del Castillo). Its story is the following: a young woman finds herself pregnant and unmarried. She considers getting an abortion, but the doctor first tells her a story about a family, in a similar situation, which changes everything.


Lado a Lado

Brazilian novelas are known for portraying real-life scenarios and relatable characters. You will see a variety of topics, backgrounds, and people. Every Brazilian novela I have seen, I really liked; they were original, with good acting, and interesting storylines. One of these is Lado a, Lado, a novela which aired from 2012 to 2013. It follows two best friends, in early 20th century Rio de Janeiro, and their parallel lives. One woman, Isabel (played by Camila Pitanga) is an Afro-Brazilian maid, descended from a slave; the other is Laura (played by Marjorie Estiano), a white Brazilian, and a baroness’ daughter. When they meet at the church on the day both are set to marry their fiancéstheir lives become intertwined forever. Lado a Lado won the 2013 International Emmy for Best telenovela.




1997’s Esmeralda is another telenovela which is a remake of a previous hit novela. The original Esmeralda was shown in 1970, in Venezuela. Then, we have the 1984 Venezuelan production, Topacio, which was based on Esmeralda. In 2004 and 2005, Brazil aired its own version of the story, and most recently, in 2017 and ’18, the Mexican production Sin tu mirada told the narrative. It’s all about Esmeralda, a girl who was born blind and believed to have died at birth. She is switched with a baby boy who was born around the same time. Fate brings these two together as adults, and they fall in love. In the 1997 version, Leticia Calderon plays the title character.


El Clon/O Clone

El clon, which aired in 2010 and starred Mauricio Ochmann and Sandra Echeverria, is a remake of the 2000-2001 Brazilian novela, O Clone. The story goes like this: Lucas, the son of a rich businessman, is on vacation in Morocco. There, he meets Jade, who has just moved to Morocco after her mother’s death, and the two fall in love. The differences between their cultures keep them apart, which is a common theme in novelas. What isn’t common, is that Lucas’ brother gets cloned at some point during the novela, and Jade falls for him too. The result of El clon is a love story, with a sci-fi twist.




Rebelde, the popular 2004 Mexican telenovela, is a remake of the Argentinian show, Rebelde Way (which is getting a remake on Netflix!). It followed a group of teens who attend a ritzy boarding school. They all unite over music; in fact, in real life, the band RBD formed from this show. The group–Anahi, Dulce Maria, Mayte Perroni, Christopher von Uckermann, Alfonso Herrera, and Christian Chavez — went on to be the biggest Latinx pop group ever, selling over 60 million records worldwide. The Mexican group had two songs on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, as well. After Rebelde, other versions of the novela also emerged, in countries including Brazil and Chile.


Lazos de Amor

Lucero is Mexico’s sweetheart, “La Novia de America.” Whether it was hit albums or novelas, everything she touched turned to gold. In 1995, she played not one, not two, but three starring characters–triplets–in the novela, Lazos de amor (she also plays their mother!). Maria Guadalupe, Maria Fernanda, and Maria Paula are all different, personality-wise, and live totally separate lives (due to an accident), until life weaves their narratives back together again. In addition to playing four characters, Lucero also sang on the novela’s soundtrack. Lazos de amor would be interesting to watch if only to see how one actress plays so many different people in one production!

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