There's something about the written word that feels super satisfying when adapted to the screen and this list of the best TV shows based on books ranks television adaptations of novels from best to worst based on your votes. Even as more and more people are complaining about sequels and reboots and re-imaginings at the movies, it's the golden age of television, with awesome shows inspired by books everywhere you look. The small screen has the benefit of being much more long-form, and therefore a great place to showcase something based on a book or series of books. With television adaptations of books you have the ability to learn love and live with characters for the long haul, just as with a novel or series of novels.
Naturally, as TV has been around for quite some time, there have been great book adaptations throughout the years. There have also been plenty of books adapted for TV in the form of miniseries or TV movies, but that's another list and you won't find them here (otherwise Band of Brothers would most certainly have made the cut). Instead, we are just focusing on traditional TV programs that are based on or inspired by books from genres like fantasy and sci-fi to mysteries, historical classics, and more.
Fun fact: Game of Thrones isn't the only good TV show based on a book streaming on the airwaves! Be it current and recent shows like Nancy Drew or The Magicians, critically acclaimed shows that have ended such as Boardwalk Empire and Orange Is the New Black, a show that started out amazing while it was based on its book series... then derailed (Dexter), or a classic TV show you might not have realized was based on a book at all (M*A*S*H*), this list has them all. What it doesn't have are comic book adaptations and superhero TV shows. This list is all about novels, book series, and short stories. Even teen and YA book series - like the two times the Melinda Metz Roswell High book series has been adapted - count, as do shows that are based on books and movies, or that continue telling a book's story past the movie adaptation. Some shows, like Shadow and Bone, combine multiple books from the same universe into one TV series.
These are the best shows based on books to ever air on television! Vote up the best of these shows below - whether because they nailed the adaptation or because they were top-notch, quality programming in their own right.
- Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan
Premiered: August 9, 2014
Based on Diana Gabaldon's novel of the same name and eight published sequels (since 1991).
- Peter Dinklage, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
Premiered: April 17, 2011
Based on George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire book series (five published since 1996).
- Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman
Premiered: July 25, 2010
Based on the series by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, including four novels and 56 short stories (1887-1927).
- Michael Sheen, David Tennant
Premiered: May 31, 2019
Based on the 1990 Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman novel of the same name.
- Anya Taylor-Joy, Marielle Heller
Premiered: October 23, 2020
Based on the 1983 novel by Walter Tevis of the same name.
- Michiel Huisman, Carla Gugino
Premiered: October 12, 2018
Genres: Drama, Horror
Based on the 1959 Shirley Jackson novel of the same name.
- Victoria Pedretti, Oliver Jackson-Cohen
Premiered: October 9, 2020
Based on the 1898 Henry James horror novella The Turn of the Screw.
- Henry Cavill, Anya Chalotra
Premiered: December 20, 2019
Based on the series of short stories and novels by Andrzej Sapkowski.
- Colin Firth, Jennifer Ehle
Premiered: September 24, 1995
Based on Jane Austen's 1813 novel of the same name.
- Neil Patrick Harris, Patrick Warburton
Premiered: January 13, 2017
Based on the series of 13 novels by Lemony Snicket, AKA Daniel Handler (1999-2006).
- Elisabeth Moss, Joseph Fiennes
Premiered: April 26, 2017
Genres: Drama,Science Fiction
Based on Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel.
RatchedSarah Paulson, Sharon Stone
Premiered: September 18, 2020
Based on the 1962 Ken Kesey novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
- Megan Follows, Colleen Dewhurst
Premiered: December 1, 1985
Based on the 1908 Lucy Maud Montgomery novel of the same name.
- Paul Wesley, Ian Somerhalder
Premiered: September 10, 2009
Based on the L. J. Smith book series of the same name.
- Eliza Taylor, Paige Turco
Premiered: March 19, 2014
Genres: Adventure,Drama,Science Fiction
Based on Kass Morgan's series of four novels (2013-2016).
- Matthew Goode, Teresa Palmer
Premiered: September 14, 2018
Genres: Drama, Fantasy, Romance
Based on the Deborah Harkness All Souls trilogy series.
- Amybeth McNulty, R.H. Thomson
Premiered: March 19, 2017
Based on the 1908 Lucy Maud Montgomery novel Anne of Green Gables.
- Joseph Morgan, Daniel Gillies
Premiered: October 3, 2013
Genres: Drama,Fantasy,Science Fiction
Based on characters created in L. J. Smith's The Vampire Diaries series of four novels (1991-1992).
- Ricky Whittle, Ian McShane
Premiered: April 30, 2017
Genres: Drama, Fantasy, Mystery
Based on the 2001 Neil Gaiman novel of the same name.
- Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman
Premiered: February 19, 2017
Based on the 2014 Liane Moriarty novel of the same name.
PoldarkAidan Turner, Eleanor Tomlinson
Premiered: March 8, 2015
Based on the novels of the same title written by Winston Graham.
- Emily Deschanel, David Boreanaz
Premiered: September 13, 2005
Based on the Kathy Reichs's Temperance Brennan book series (20 novels, since 1997).
- Alan Alda, McLean Stevenson
Premiered: September 17, 1972
Genres: Comedy, War & Politics
Based on the 1968 Richard Hooker & W. C. Heinz novel of the same name.
- Troian Bellisario, Ashley Benson
Premiered: June 8, 2010
Based on the Sara Shepard book series of the same name.
- Jason Ralph, Stella Maeve
Premiered: December 16, 2015
Genres: Adventure, Drama, Fantasy
Based on the Lev Grossman book series of the same name.