Fun fact: Game of Thrones isn't the only good TV show based on a book streaming on the airwaves! Though 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 the miniseries or TV movie, 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 genre like fantasy and sci-fi to mysteries, historical classics and more.
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 it's 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.
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. Maybe the best overall shows rise to the top.
- 1Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan
Genres (Tv): Historical drama, Adventure, Romance, Fantasy
Based on Diana Gabaldon's novel of the same name and eight published sequels (since 1991).
- 2Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey
Genres (Tv): Medieval fantasy, Drama, Adventure film, Epic, Action
Based on George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire book series (five published since 1996).
- 3Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman
Genres (Tv): Crime drama, Mystery
Based on the series by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, including four novels and 56 short stories (1887-1927).
- 4David Tennant, Michael Sheen
Genres (Tv): Comedy, Fantasy
Based on the 1990 Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman novel of the same name.
- 5Eliza Taylor, Paige Turco
Genres (Tv): Drama, Dystopian, Sci-fi, Action
Based on Kass Morgan's series of four novels (2013-2016).
- 6Elisabeth Moss, Joseph Fiennes
Genres (Tv): Drama, Dystopian fiction
Based on Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel.
- 7Nina Dobrev, Paul Wesley
Genres (Tv): Supernatural, Drama, Horror, Fantasy
Based on the L. J. Smith book series of the same name.
- 8Neil Patrick Harris, Patrick Warburton
Genres (Tv): Comedy, Drama
Based on the series of 13 novels by Lemony Snicket, AKA Daniel Handler (1999-2006).
- 9Amybeth McNulty, Geraldine James
Genres (Tv): Drama, Coming of age
Based on the 1908 Lucy Maud Montgomery novel Anne of Green Gables.
- 10Henry Cavill, Freya Allan
Genres (Tv): Fantasy, Action, Adventure, Drama
Based on the series of short stories and novels by Andrzej Sapkowski.
- 11Colin Firth, Lucy Davis
Genres (Tv): Miniseries, Drama, Costume drama
Based on Jane Austen's 1813 novel of the same name.
- 12Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman
Genres (Tv): Comedy
Based on the 2014 Liane Moriarty novel of the same name.
- 13Michiel Huisman, Carla Gugino
Genres (Tv): Supernatural horror
Based on the 1959 Shirley Jackson novel of the same name.
- 14Emily Deschanel, David Boreanaz
Genres (Tv): Crime drama, Comedy-drama, Police procedural
Based on the Kathy Reichs's Temperance Brennan book series (20 novels, since 1997).
- 15Troian Bellisario, Ashley Benson
Genres (Tv): Teen drama, Mystery, Crime thriller
Based on the Sara Shepard book series of the same name.
- 16Alan Alda, Wayne Rogers
Genres (Tv): Black comedy, Medical drama, Sitcom, Satire, Military
Based on the 1968 Richard Hooker & W. C. Heinz novel of the same name.
- 17Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer
Genres (Tv): Fantasy, Horror, Drama
Based on the Charlaine Harris Sookie Stackhouse book series.
PoldarkAidan Turner, Eleanor Tomlinson
Genres (Tv): Historical drama
Based on the novels of the same title written by Winston Graham.
- 19Jason Ralph, Stella Maeve
Genres (Tv): Fantasy
Based on the Lev Grossman book series of the same name.
- 20Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter
Genres (Tv): Crime drama, Psychological thriller, Mystery, Dark comedy, Police procedural
Based on Jeff Lindsay's novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter and seven sequels (2004-2015).
- 21Teresa Palmer, Matthew Goode
Genres (Tv): Fantasy, Drama, Romance
Based on the Deborah Harkness All Souls trilogy series.
- 22Hugh Dancy, Mads Mikkelsen
Genres (Tv): Psychological horror, Psychological thriller, Crime drama, Crime thriller
Based on the 1999 Thomas Harris novel of the same name.
- 23Daniel Brühl, Luke Evans
Genres (Tv): Crime, Drama
Based on the 1994 Caleb Carr novel of the same name.
- 24Jonny Lee Miller, Lucy Liu
Genres (Tv): Crime Fiction, Drama, Mystery
Based on the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes book series.
- 25Cameron Bancroft, Erin Cottrell
Genres (Tv): Miniseries, Children's television series
Based on the Little House in the Big Woods (1932) and Little House on the Prairie (1935) by Laura Ingalls Wilder.