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The Best TV Shows Based on Books

Updated October 20, 2020 65.1k votes 8.5k voters 198.7k views138 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 is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Best TV Shows Based on Books
    1,751
    751

    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 is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best TV Shows Based on Books
    2,337
    1,252

    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 is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best TV Shows Based on Books
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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).

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  • 4
    Good Omens is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best TV Shows Based on Books
    457
    190

    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 is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best TV Shows Based on Books
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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).

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  • 6
    The Handmaid's Tale is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best TV Shows Based on Books
    1,148
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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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  • 7
    The Vampire Diaries is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best TV Shows Based on Books
    1,260
    910

    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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  • 8
    A Series of Unfortunate Events is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best TV Shows Based on Books
    824
    525

    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 is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best TV Shows Based on Books
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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.

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  • 10
    Anne with an E is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best TV Shows Based on Books
    457
    297

    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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  • 11
    Pride and Prejudice is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best TV Shows Based on Books
    412
    284

    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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  • 12
    The Haunting of Hill House is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best TV Shows Based on Books
    117
    58

    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 is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best TV Shows Based on Books
    474
    345

    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 is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Best TV Shows Based on Books
    885
    802

    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
    M*A*S*H is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Best TV Shows Based on Books
    728
    680

    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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  • 16
    Pretty Little Liars is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best TV Shows Based on Books
    877
    729

    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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  • 17
    Poldark is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best TV Shows Based on Books
    219
    176

    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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  • 18
    The Magicians is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best TV Shows Based on Books
    852
    646

    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
    Dexter is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best TV Shows Based on Books
    1,022
    949

    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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  • 20
    True Blood is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best TV Shows Based on Books
    806
    748

    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 is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best TV Shows Based on Books
    646
    591

    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 is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best TV Shows Based on Books
    271
    182

    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 is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best TV Shows Based on Books
    157
    135

    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 is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best TV Shows Based on Books
    561
    585

    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 is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best TV Shows Based on Books
    431
    439

    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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