8.8k voters

The Best TV Shows Based on Books

Updated February 18, 2021 64.9k votes 8.8k voters 205.4k views160 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.

  • Outlander1


    Caitriona 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).

    Outlander (Starz, 2014) is a historical drama television series developed by Ronald D. Moore,...  more
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  • Game of Thrones2

    Game of Thrones

    Peter 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).

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  • Sherlock3


    Benedict 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).

    Sherlock (BBC One, 2010) is a British crime television series created by Steven Moffat and...  more
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  • Good Omens4

    Good Omens

    David Tennant, Michael Sheen


    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 1005

    The 100

    Eliza Taylor, Paige Turco


    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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  • The Vampire Diaries6

    The Vampire Diaries

    Nina Dobrev, Paul Wesley


    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 Handmaid's Tale7

    The Handmaid's Tale

    Elisabeth Moss, Joseph Fiennes


    Genres (Tv)Drama, Dystopian fiction

    Based on Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel.

    The Handmaid's Tale (Hulu, 2017) is an American web television series created by Bruce Miller,...  more
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  • A Series of Unfortunate Events8

    A Series of Unfortunate Events

    Neil Patrick Harris, Patrick Warburton


    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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  • Pride and Prejudice9

    Pride and Prejudice

    Colin Firth, Lucy Davis


    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 Witcher10

    The Witcher

    Henry Cavill, Freya Allan


    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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  • Anne with an E11

    Anne with an E

    Amybeth McNulty, Geraldine James


    Genres (Tv)Drama, Coming of age

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

    Anne with an E (Netflix, 2017) is a Canadian television series created by Moira...  more
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  • The Haunting of Hill House12

    The Haunting of Hill House

    Michiel Huisman, Carla Gugino


    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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  • Big Little Lies13

    Big Little Lies

    Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman


    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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  • Bones14


    Emily 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).

    Bones (Fox, 2005) is an American procedural comedy-drama television series created by Hart...  more
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  • M*A*S*H15


    Alan 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.

    M*A*S*H is an American television series developed by Larry Gelbart, adapted from the 1970...  more
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  • Pretty Little Liars16

    Pretty Little Liars

    Troian Bellisario, Ashley Benson


    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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  • Poldark17


    Aidan Turner, Eleanor Tomlinson


    Genres (Tv)Historical drama

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

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  • A Discovery of Witches18

    A Discovery of Witches

    Teresa Palmer, Matthew Goode


    Genres (Tv)Fantasy, Drama, Romance

    Based on the Deborah Harkness All Souls trilogy series.

    A Discovery of Witches (2018, Sky One) is a British fantasy drama series based on the All...  more
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  • Dexter19


    Michael 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).

    Dexter (Showtime, 2006) is an American crime drama mystery series developed by James Manos...  more
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  • The Magicians20

    The Magicians

    Jason Ralph, Stella Maeve


    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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  • True Blood21

    True Blood

    Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer


    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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  • Hannibal22


    Hugh Dancy, Mads Mikkelsen


    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 Alienist23

    The Alienist

    Daniel Brühl, Luke Evans


    Genres (Tv)Crime, Drama

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

    The Alienist (TNT, 2018) is an American television period drama event series created by Cary...  more
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  • Elementary24


    Jonny Lee Miller, Lucy Liu


    Genres (Tv)Crime Fiction, Drama, Mystery

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

    Elementary (CBS, 2012) is an American procedural drama series created by Robert Doherty, based...  more
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  • Little House on the Prairie25

    Little House on the Prairie

    Cameron 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.

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