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The Best TV Shows Based on Books

Updated December 4, 2020 66.1k votes 8.6k voters 200.8k views143 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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  • 1
    Outlander
    1,772
    768

    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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  • 2
    Game of Thrones
    2,359
    1,270

    Game of Thrones

    Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey

    Premiered2011

    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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  • 3
    Sherlock
    1,807
    1,020

    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).

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  • 4
    Good Omens
    480
    202

    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.

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  • 5
    The 100
    1,236
    847

    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).

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  • 6
    The Vampire Diaries
    1,288
    916

    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.

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  • 7
    The Handmaid's Tale
    1,157
    843

    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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  • 8
    A Series of Unfortunate Events
    840
    535

    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).

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  • 9
    The Witcher
    244
    78

    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.

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  • 10
    Pride and Prejudice
    419
    293

    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.

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  • 11
    Anne with an E
    465
    307

    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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  • 12
    The Haunting of Hill House
    122
    70

    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.

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  • 13
    Big Little Lies
    481
    355

    Big Little Lies

    Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman

    Premiered2017

    Genres (Tv)Comedy

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

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  • 14
    Bones
    897
    807

    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).

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  • 15
    Pretty Little Liars
    892
    734

    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.

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  • 16
    M*A*S*H
    738
    686

    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.

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  • 17
    Dexter
    1,033
    958

    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).

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  • 18
    The Magicians
    861
    655

    The Magicians

    Jason Ralph, Stella Maeve

    Premiered2015

    Genres (Tv)Fantasy

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

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  • 19
    Poldark
    225
    186

    Poldark

    Aidan Turner, Eleanor Tomlinson

    Premiered2015

    Genres (Tv)Historical drama

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

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  • 20
    True Blood
    812
    757

    True Blood

    Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer

    Premiered2008

    Genres (Tv)Fantasy, Horror, Drama

    Based on the Charlaine Harris Sookie Stackhouse book series.

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  • 21
    Hannibal
    650
    599

    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.

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  • 22
    A Discovery of Witches
    278
    189

    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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  • 23
    The Alienist
    163
    144

    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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  • 24
    Elementary
    562
    594

    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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  • 25
    Little House on the Prairie
    438
    447

    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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