29 TV shows based on books that you should watch in your lifetime

BBC America/Netflix/FreeformSome pretty impressive shows are actually based on books.
  • Several high-rated TV shows are based on books.
  • Numerous young-adult book series like “Pretty Little Liars,” “A Series of Unfortunate Events” and “Gossip Girl” have been reimagined for television.
  • Many book-to-TV adaptations, like “You,” “Mindhunter,” and “Bones,” are rather dark.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Many fans are wary when their favourite books are adapted for the small screen, but sometimes television shows get it right.

Here’s a ranking of the best TV series inspired by books that everyone should watch.

Note: All scores were current on the date of publication and are subject to change.


“Pretty Little Liars” built suspense by straying from the book series it was based on.

ABC/FreeformShay Mitchell, Troian Bellisario, Lucy Hale, and Ashley Benson on ‘Pretty Little Liars.’

Critic Score:
81%

Based on the book series by Sara Shepard, “Pretty Little Liars” ran for seven seasons on ABC Family (now Freeform).

The story starts with four friends – Spencer Hastings, Aria Montgomery, Hanna Marin, and Emily Fields – who are reunited one year after the disappearance of their ringleader Alison DiLaurentis.

After receiving a mysterious text from “A,” who threatens to expose their darkest secrets, the girls set out on a long and complicated mission to discover A’s identity and take them down.

Notably, Shepard’s novels also inspired the show’s spin-off “Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists,” which earned a perfect score on Rotten Tomatoes, despite being cancelled after one season.


“Westworld” is one of the more popular adaptations on the list.

John P. Johnson/HBOJeffrey Wright and Evan Rachel Wood on ‘Westworld.’

Critic score:
82%

This HBO science-fiction series is based on a novel by Michael Crichton.

Airing in 2016, the action-packed show touches on the morality of corporate boundaries and how androids should be treated. The show recently debuted its third season.


The prequel series “The Carrie Diaries” scored higher marks than the original show it’s based on.

The CWAnnaSophia Robb starred as a young Carrie Bradshaw on ‘The Carries Diaries.’

Critic score:
83%

Candace Bushnell is perhaps best-known for “Sex and the City,” but “The Carrie Diaries,” inspired by Bushnell’s prequel series, received higher critic ratings than the original HBO show.

The CW series follows Carrie Bradshaw through her high-school years as she tries to become a famous writer while tackling friendships and romance.

The short-lived show ends with Carrie moving to New York City and meeting Samantha Jones, which is the lead up to the storyline of “Sex and the City.”


We got to live vicariously through NYC’s richest teens on “Gossip Girl.”

CWLeighton Meester and Blake Lively starred on ‘Gossip Girl.’

Critic score:
84%

The hit Cecily von Ziegesar series was turned into an addictive TV show that flooded blogs for Upper East Side wannabes.

Although the TV adaptation’s ending was a tad unbelievable, The CW show gave viewers plenty of outfits, apartments, boyfriends, and exclusive parties to lust after.


The science of human sexuality is reborn on “Masters of Sex.”

‘Masters of Sex’ on ShowtimeLizzy Caplan and Michael Sheen starred on ‘Masters of Sex.’

Critic score:
84%

Showtime’s “Masters of Sex” is based on the biography of Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson, which was written by Thomas Maier.

The series takes place in 1950s St. Louis, where Masters and Johnson’s research on sexuality and intimacy sparks a “sexual revolution” across the country.


“Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” turned a tricky plot into delightful fun.

BBC AmericaSamuel Barnett and Elijah Wood starred on ‘Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.’

Critic score:
85%

Creator Max Landis was able to turn Douglas Adams’ science-fiction book series about a time-travelling holistic detective into a fun romp that’s surprisingly easy to follow.

The BBC America series was cancelled after its second season, but a petition to renew it has since reached over 100,000 signatures.


“Poldark” was reimagined for a new audience.

PBSAidan Turner as Ross Poldark on ‘Poldark.’

Critic score:
87%

PBS’s “Poldark” is the second TV adaptation of Winston Graham’s book series. The first aired for two seasons in the 1970s and the modern adaptation premiered in 2015.

The modern series follows American Revolution veteran Ross Poldark’s return home to Cornwall, England, after the war. But it isn’t the same home he left.

His family thought he was dead, his fiancée-to-be is now engaged to his cousin, and his land is in shambles.

Notably, the writers of the current “Poldark” chose to introduce an original plot for the series’ fifth season that deviates from Graham’s books.


“Shrill” approaches weight-centric stereotypes and prejudices in America.

HuluAidy Bryant stars on ‘Shrill.’

Critic score:
87%

Humorist Lindy West’s memoir “Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman” is the inspiration behind the Hulu series of the same name, which is executive produced by Lorne Michaels and Elizabeth Banks.

The show is about Annie Easton, a young woman who is desperate to change up her life but is adamant about not changing her body in doing so.


The writers of “The Handmaid’s Tale” made a decision that will keep the show going long past the narrative of the novel.

Elly Dassas/HuluElizabeth Moss stars on ‘The Handmaid’s Tale.’

Critic score:
88%

Based on the feminist dystopian novel by Margaret Atwood, “The Handmaid’s Tale” is set in a totalitarian society that sees fertile women as property.

The Hulu drama has been applauded for its incredible acting and its plot deviations have allowed the show to go on way past its book ending.


“Game of Thrones” kept viewers on their toes with its twists and deaths.

HBOEmilia Clark and Kit Harington on HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones.’

Critic score:
89%

The epic TV show “Game of Thrones” is based on the best-selling “A Song of Ice and Fire” series by George R. R. Martin.

Known for its dragons, betrayals, battles, the HBO series is so popular that even non-watchers know about the infamous Red Wedding episode.

Readers of the books may have had an edge on earlier seasons, but by its end, the show had veered far away from the books it was based on.


“Big Little Lies” is a surprising study of female relationships.

HBONicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, and Reese Witherspoon on ‘Big Little Lies.’

Critic score:
89%

The second HBO series directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, “Big Little Lies” is a dark mystery set in a California beach town that chronicles what happens when a new mum comes to town.

The drama series is based on the book of the same name by Liane Moriarty.


“Call the Midwife” is a depiction of the lives of nurses in London’s East End.

PBSCharlotte Ritchie plays Barbara Gilbert on ‘Call the Midwife.’

Critic score:
89%

This British series is based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth, who was a nurse in the 1950s and 1960s.

The TV adaptation covers the post-World War II baby boom and what that meant for the mothers and women delivering children.

Notably, the nurses and midwives of London’s East End are represented quite accurately, according to some of Worth’s real-life contemporaries.


“Killing Eve” is inspired by a quartet of online novellas.

BBC AmericaJodie Comer and Sandra Oh star on ‘Killing Eve.’

Critic score:
89%

“Killing Eve” was adapted from Luke Jennings’ “Codename Villanelle” novellas.

On the BBC America/AMC series, Eve’s desk-job as an M15 officer isn’t exactly measuring up to her spy fantasies until she’s handed the mission to track down the unpredictable assassin Villanelle. The two become completely obsessed with each other as the hunt for Villanelle unfolds.


“Orange Is the New Black” turned the book’s characters into multi-dimensional people.

JoJo Whilden/NetflixTaylor Schilling starred on Netflix’s ‘Orange Is the New Black.’

Critic score:
90%

Based on Piper Kerman’s memoir “Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison,” Netflix’s first hit television show took creative liberties, juxtaposing Piper’s privileged experience with loveable fictional characters who may not be perfect but who have been wronged again and again by the justice system.

Critics felt the show’s willingness to focus on the ensemble – not just Piper – was the key to its success.


Set in Ireland, the drama “Normal People” focuses on a complicated relationship.

Hulu‘Normal People’ is based on a Sally Rooney book.

Critic score:
90%

Based on the hit novel of the same name from author Sally Rooney, “Normal People” follows two individuals from different backgrounds who have a complicated relationship throughout the years as they grow up in a small town in Ireland.

The Hulu original limited series debuted in 2020, and was praised by critics for its impressive adaptation of the source material.


The main character on “Bones” is said to be based on the book series’ author, not the protagonist.

FoxEmily Deschanel starred on ‘Bones.’

Critic score:
90%

Based on Kathy Reichs’ “Temperance Brennan” series, “Bones” ran for 12 successful seasons on Fox.

Temperance “Bones” Brennan possesses the advantageous ability to solve murder cases from the victims’ bones. She teams up with the cocky agent, Seeley Booth to solve crimes for the FBI.

Although Bones is named after the main character of the books,the TV character is said to be based more closely on Reichs, who was a forensic anthropologist.


“You” brings the thriller series to life with in-depth characters.

NetflixPenn Badgley as Joe Goldberg on ‘You.’

Critic score:
90%

The Lifetime-turned-Netflix series “You” caught viewers’ and critics’ attention when it started widely streaming in 2018.

The story, based on the novel by Caroline Kepnes, follows Joe Goldberg as he proves that he would do anything for love by taking out anyone that stands in his way.

The series’ second season is also loosely based on Kepnes’ follow-up novel, “Hidden Bodies.” Season three is currently in the works.


Claire Randall is torn between times on “Outlander.”

StarzCaitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan star on ‘Outlander.’

Critic score:
91%

Based on the series by Diana Gabaldon, Starz’s “Outlander” tells the heart-wrenching story of a World War II combat nurse who is suddenly sent back in time to 1743 Scotland.

She must defend her own life as she navigates the complicated nature of time travel – made worse by the fact that she is in love with two men from different times.


A new generation of teens can relate to “Looking for Alaska.”

HuluCharlie Plummer as Miles and Kristine Froseth as Alaska on ‘Looking for Alaska.’

Critic score:
92%

Based on the young-adult novel by John Green, “Looking for Alaska” brings to life the complicated nature of teenagehood through the lens of Miles “Pudge” Halter.

Miles is a new student at Culver Creek Boarding School who, in the quest for a “Great Perhaps,” falls in love with a troubled girl named Alaska Young.

The eight-episode Hulu series is set in 2005 – when the book was first released – and holds true to the book’s original plot, dialogue, and characters.


The dark, female-led “Sharp Objects” was a big hit.

Anne Marie Fox/HBOAmy Adams and Chris Messina on ‘Sharp Objects.’

Critic score:
92%

Based on the novel “Sharp Objects” by Gillian Flynn, this gothic HBO mystery follows Camille Preaker, an investigative reporter with a haunting past and personal connections to her town’s murders.


“Boardwalk Empire” highlights the corruption in 1920s Atlantic City.

Macall B. Polay / HBOSteve Buscemi on HBO’s ‘Boardwalk Empire.’

Critic score:
92%

Nelson Johnson’s nonfiction book “Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City” is brought to life on HBO’s original series.

With the help of his mobster cohorts, local politician Enoch “Nucky” Thompson runs Atlantic City in the Prohibition era, until the federal government starts to catch up to him.


Dr. Hannibal Lecter is a perfect gentleman with a murderous streak on “Hannibal.”

NBCMads Mikkelsen as Dr. Hannibal Lecter on ‘Hannibal.’

Critic score:
9
2%

Using the characters from Thomas Harris’ novels, Bryan Fuller’s television creation is a masterpiece in cinematography and character study.

On the NBC show, characters see Hannibal before he became the flesh-eating monster in “The Silence of the Lambs.”


“Fresh Off the Boat” gives culture shock a comedic twist.

ABC/Eric McCandlessConstance Wu and Randall Park play Jessica and Louis Huang on ‘Fresh Off the Boat.’

Critic score:
94%

Inspired by Eddie Huang’s memoir, ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat” follows the Huang family as they move from Washington DC to Orlando, Florida, in search of the “American dream.”

Culture shock ensues as the Taiwanese-American family tries to embrace the – at times hilarious – culture of 1990’s Florida.


“Elementary” brings Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famed stories to modern-day America.

CBSJonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as Joan Watson on ‘Elementary.’

Critic score:
95%

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” series has been adapted for film and TV many times, but few adaptations have had the critical success of CBS’s “Elementary.”

A modern-day derivative of the original book series, the show features Holmes moving to New York to help with investigations for the NYPD. It also introduces Watson as a former surgeon who’s hired to keep Holmes on track.


“A Series of Unfortunate Events” got Count Olaf’s creepiness right.

NetflixLucy Punch and Neil Patrick Harris were villains on Netflix’s ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events.’

Critic score:
96%

The morbid children’s novels by Daniel Handler, who wrote under the pseudonym Lemony Snicket, were turned into a darkly charming Netflix show in 2017.

The series follows three orphans as they investigate their parents’ mysterious deaths and end up in the care of an evil guardian named Count Olaf.


“Friday Night Lights” brought the franchise into the TV world.

NBCZach Gilford and Kyle Chandler on ‘Friday Night Lights.’

Critic score:
97%

“Friday Night Lights” premiered on NBC in 2006, two years after Buzz Bissinger’s nonfiction novel was adapted into the film of the same name.

The TV series takes a more in-depth look at the pride and joy of Dillon, Texas: the Dillon Panthers, a high-school football team.

For the citizens of small-town Texas, football is like a religion, and both the team and the community surrounding it have their ups and downs throughout the show’s five highly-rated seasons.


“Queen Sugar” explores America’s history of systemic racism.

OWNClyde Risley Jones, Dawn-Lyen Gardner, and Rutina Wesley on ‘Queen Sugar.’

Critic score:
97%

Three siblings are thrust together when they inherit their father’s 800-acre sugarcane farm on OWN’s “Queen Sugar.”

The critically-acclaimed show, which is based on the novel by Natalie Baszile, tackles deep-seated issues like race, privilege, and oppression and brings an important new perspective to American literature by putting a Black woman into a role that has been dominated by white men.


Viewers get a peek into the inner workings of the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit on “Mindhunter.”

NetflixHolt McCallany and Jonathan Groff play FBI agents on ‘Mindhunter.’

Critic score:
98%

The Netflix series took inspiration from retired FBI agents John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker’s nonfiction crime book “Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit.”

The show is set in the 1970s and follows two FBI agents who interview serial killers in an attempt to learn more about how their brains work.

Throughout the first two seasons, agents Holden Ford and Bill Tench innovate the field by developing their own method for extracting motives from sociopathic minds.

It’s unclear if the show will get a third season as it is currently on indefinite hold.


Netflix’s “The Baby-Sitters Club” gives the beloved tween novels a modern twist.

Netflix‘The Baby-Sitters Club’ TV show premiered on Netflix on July 3.

Critic score:
100%

The Netflix original is based on the classic book series by Ann M. Martin and follows the adventures of Kristy Thomas, Mary Anne Spier, Claudia Kishi, Stacey McGill, and Dawn Schafer as they start their own babysitting business.

Although the original books were published in the 1980s and 1990s, the TV series takes place in the present day and incorporates some modern issues alongside the original plotlines and character details.

The series’ first season, which aired in July, was met with glowing reviews from critics and audiences alike, and although season two hasn’t been confirmed, showrunner Rachel Shukert has already dropped hints about potential future episodes.

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