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The Best TV Shows Based on Books

Updated April 1, 2021 64.3k votes 8.9k voters 207.5k views162 items

List RulesVote up the best TV series based on novels or short stories. No comic book adaptations.

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.

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    Outlander

    Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan

    Premiered2014

    Genres (Tv)Historical drama, Adventure, Romance, Fantasy

    Based on Diana Gabaldon's novel of the same name and eight published sequels (since 1991).

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    Game of Thrones

    Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey

    Premiered2011-04-17

    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).

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    Sherlock

    Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman

    Premiered2010

    Genres (Tv)Crime drama, Mystery

    Based on the series by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, including four novels and 56 short stories (1887-1927).

    Sherlock (BBC One, 2010) is a British crime television series created by Steven Moffat and...  more

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    Good Omens

    David Tennant, Michael Sheen

    Premiered2019

    Genres (Tv)Comedy, Fantasy

    Based on the 1990 Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman novel of the same name.

    Good Omens (Amazon Video, 2019) is a six-part television serial based on the novel by Terry...  more

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    The Vampire Diaries

    Nina Dobrev, Paul Wesley

    Premiered2009

    Genres (Tv)Supernatural, Drama, Horror, Fantasy

    Based on the L. J. Smith book series of the same name.

    The Vampire Diaries (The CW, 2009) is an American supernatural teen drama television series...  more

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    The 100

    Eliza Taylor, Paige Turco

    Premiered2013

    Genres (Tv)Drama, Dystopian, Sci-fi, Action

    Based on Kass Morgan's series of four novels (2013-2016).

    The 100 (The CW, 2014) is an American post-apocalyptic science fiction drama television series...  more

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    A Series of Unfortunate Events

    Neil Patrick Harris, Patrick Warburton

    Premiered2017

    Genres (Tv)Comedy, Drama

    Based on the series of 13 novels by Lemony Snicket, AKA Daniel Handler (1999-2006).

    A Series of Unfortunate Events (2017, Netflix) is a black comedy-drama TV series based on the...  more

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    The Handmaid's Tale

    Elisabeth Moss, Joseph Fiennes

    Premiered2017

    Genres (Tv)Drama, Dystopian fiction

    Based on Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel.

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    Pride and Prejudice

    Colin Firth, Lucy Davis

    Premiered1995

    Genres (Tv)Miniseries, Drama, Costume drama

    Based on Jane Austen's 1813 novel of the same name.

    Pride and Prejudice is a six-episode 1995 British television drama, adapted by Andrew Davies...  more

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    The Witcher

    Henry Cavill, Freya Allan

    Premiered2019

    Genres (Tv)Fantasy, Action, Adventure, Drama

    Based on the series of short stories and novels by Andrzej Sapkowski.

    The Witcher (Netflix, 2019) is a fantasy action-adventure series based on the series of short...  more

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    The Haunting of Hill House

    Michiel Huisman, Carla Gugino

    Premiered2018

    Genres (Tv)Supernatural horror

    Based on the 1959 Shirley Jackson novel of the same name.

    The Haunting of Hill House is the first season of the Netflix supernatural anthology...  more

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    A Discovery of Witches

    Teresa Palmer, Matthew Goode

    Premiered2018

    Genres (Tv)Fantasy, Drama, Romance

    Based on the Deborah Harkness All Souls trilogy series.

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    Anne with an E

    Amybeth McNulty, Geraldine James

    Premiered2017

    Genres (Tv)Drama, Coming of age

    Based on the 1908 Lucy Maud Montgomery novel Anne of Green Gables.

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    Big Little Lies

    Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman

    Premiered2017

    Genres (Tv)Comedy

    Based on the 2014 Liane Moriarty novel of the same name.

    Big Little Lies (HBO, 2017) is an American dramatic miniseries created by David E. Kelley,...  more

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    Bones

    Emily Deschanel, David Boreanaz

    Premiered2005

    Genres (Tv)Crime drama, Comedy-drama, Police procedural

    Based on the Kathy Reichs's Temperance Brennan book series (20 novels, since 1997).

    Bones (Fox, 2005) is an American procedural comedy-drama television series created by Hart...  more

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    M*A*S*H

    Alan Alda, Wayne Rogers

    Premiered1972

    Genres (Tv)Black comedy, Medical drama, Sitcom, Satire, Military

    Based on the 1968 Richard Hooker & W. C. Heinz novel of the same name.

    M*A*S*H is an American television series developed by Larry Gelbart, adapted from the 1970...  more

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    Pretty Little Liars

    Troian Bellisario, Ashley Benson

    Premiered2010

    Genres (Tv)Teen drama, Mystery, Crime thriller

    Based on the Sara Shepard book series of the same name.

    Pretty Little Liars (ABC Family, 2010) is an American teen drama mystery–thriller television...  more

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    Poldark

    Aidan Turner, Eleanor Tomlinson

    Premiered2015

    Genres (Tv)Historical drama

    Based on the novels of the same title written by Winston Graham.

    Poldark (BBC One, 2015) is a British-American drama television series created by Debbie...  more

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    True Blood

    Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer

    Premiered2008

    Genres (Tv)Fantasy, Horror, Drama

    Based on the Charlaine Harris Sookie Stackhouse book series.

    True Blood (HBO, 2008) is an American fantasy horror drama television series created by Alan...  more

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    Dexter

    Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter

    Premiered2006

    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).

    Dexter (Showtime, 2006) is an American crime drama mystery series developed by James Manos...  more

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    Hannibal

    Hugh Dancy, Mads Mikkelsen

    Premiered2013

    Genres (Tv)Psychological horror, Psychological thriller, Crime drama, Crime thriller

    Based on the 1999 Thomas Harris novel of the same name.

    Hannibal (NBC, 2013) is an American psychological thriller–horror television series developed...  more

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    The Alienist

    Daniel Brühl, Luke Evans

    Premiered2018

    Genres (Tv)Crime, Drama

    Based on the 1994 Caleb Carr novel of the same name.

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    The Magicians

    Jason Ralph, Stella Maeve

    Premiered2015

    Genres (Tv)Fantasy

    Based on the Lev Grossman book series of the same name.

    The Magicians (Syfy, 2015) is an American fantasy television series created by Sera Gamble and...  more

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    Elementary

    Jonny Lee Miller, Lucy Liu

    Premiered2012

    Genres (Tv)Crime Fiction, Drama, Mystery

    Based on the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes book series.

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    Little House on the Prairie

    Cameron Bancroft, Erin Cottrell

    Premiered2005

    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.

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