We all know the moment where we see that one of our favorite captivating books is being turned into a television and the feeling of dread that seems to follow this information. This feeling of preemptive disappointment comes nearly immediately because, more often than not, book-to-TV adaptations are the worst. And while some of them aren’t so bad, it’s pretty rare to find a book-adapted TV show that manages to outdo what was done on the OG pages. Thankfully not all TV adaptations are created equal, and some TV shows can, believe it or not, actually turn out far better than their literary muse.
Now before you all go crazy in the comments, a disclaimer: the keyword here is “better.” We are not saying that the books in question are bad — although, can’t lie, some most definitely are — it’s just that the TV series that they spawned was/is better. Alright then, let’s carry on.
18. Game Of Thrones
Based on: A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin
When it comes to a TV series that outshines the book it’s based on, you really don’t have to look any further than GoT. Nevermind that the battle scenes are epic, and the actors that play our favorite characters are absolutely Oscar-worthy (sorry but Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke are AMAZING), you also get to check out the hottie Jon Snow in the flesh, rather than leaving it all up to your imagination in the book. GoT actually is farther along in the story than where the George R. R. Martin book series got to, which is saying something, as well!
17. The 100
Based on: The 100 novel series by Kass Morgan
To be fair, there are so many differences between the book series and the TV show that it’s almost like comparing apples and oranges. That said, the small-screen version is pretty much undeniably better. Clarke’s character is better developed and way more layered, as are most of the characters honestly. However, it’s really the visual elements of The 100 that make it amazing. The ability to physically see this story took the show to a whole other level, and let’s be honest, Christopher Larkin helps, too.
16. The Shannara Chronicles
Based on: The Shannara novel series by Terry Brooks
It’s really hard to take a fantasy book and make it pop on the small screen, especially with usually a much smaller budget than a big blockbuster movie would have. You’ve basically got a whole world to create. There are so many elements to capture and small details to take in consideration. It almost always disappoints fans. In fact, the Terry Brooks book series was supposed to become a film before the rights expired in 2010. Then in 2012, they got another chance to come to live-action — this time in the form of a show. While the odds were stacked against it, The Shannara Chronicles found a way to really capture the true essence of the original books, while simultaneously bringing in its own twists at the same time to keep things fresh. The Austin Butler show, unfortunately, only lasted two seasons.
15. Pretty Little Liars
Based on: The Pretty Little Liars series by Sara Shepard
The scenarios those PLL gals found themselves in were straight-up ridiculous at times, but there’s no getting away from that fact that Pretty Little Liars on Freeform was about as addicting as watching viral cat videos. Before ending after seven thrilling, though albeit unbelievable, seasons it was one of the most tweeted about TV shows ever, making it one of the most popular book-to-TV adaptations. Tuesday nights will never be the same without it — though the spinoff show will probably fill that Pretty Little Liars-shaped hole in our hearts! It shot Lucy Hale, Shay Mitchell, Ashley Benson and Troian Bellisario to the star level they’re at today. The first four books in the series were pretty good but, like the TV show, it kind of spun out in too many crazy directions after that. Unlike the show though, the countless twists and turns and “psych”s! didn’t work as well on the page.
14. Gossip Girl
Based on: The Gossip Girl series by Cecily von Ziegesar
Blair Waldorf and Serena Van der Woodsen get a standing ovation for providing our teenage selves with the coolest wardrobe inspiration ever. The TV show that’s based on Celia Von Ziegesar‘s teen novels was the best TV series that managed to mix Upper East Side glamour, dysfunctional families, and flawed romance so well. Even though the author felt certain things were “ruined” in the TV show (like Vanessa’s character, for instance), we thought it was pretty damn perfect.
Based on: Red Dragon & Hannibal novels by Thomas Harris
Even though this horror series was canceled, it was definitely better than Thomas Harris‘s original novels, no offense. The show was so stylish and yet, terrifyingly dark. Also putting this TV adaptation above the original books is Gillian Anderson, who was stellar at playing psychologist Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier — a character who didn’t even appear in any of the books. She slayed each and every time she was on-screen. You can watch some episodes on NBC.com and it’s well worth the watch.
12. The Vampire Diaries
Based on: The Vampire Diaries series by L.J. Smith
Many people were not aware that The Vampire Diaries was actually hatched from a ’90s book series by L.J. Smith when the Nina Dobrev-led show first premiered, but since then, the book series gained even more of an audience than it started with. Even so, the show evolved into much deeper, darker, and sexier territory than the books ever reached. The lovable Jeremy Gilbert didn’t even exist in the books, which is an utter travesty in itself.
If you are a Vampire Diaries superfan, then you probably know that L.J. was actually fired from the project due to creative differences — but considering where the show wound up, it looks like that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. (Sorry, L.J.!)
11. Sex And The City
Based on: Sex And The City collection of essay by Candace Bushnell
When SATC became the raunchy series on HBO, the Candace Bushnell original story shot to stardom. It may have been based on Candace’s first-hand experience as a columnist for The New York Observer, but it’s the strong friendships, the shoes, and the rather questionable choices about men (natch) that made Sex and the City the phenomenon it was. The TV show spawned sequel movies, a prequel show, and on-set feuds perfect for water-cooler gossip and for that, we say thank you.
10. Orange Is The New Black
Based on: Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman
Piper Kerman‘s memoir Orange is the New Black takes a sometimes deeply sad, though surprisingly funny, look at her time spent behind bars… just like the TV series does! While her book does shed a little light on the inner workings of the prison system, the actual show shows the perfect balance of comedy and drama. The combination of the brilliantly unique characters and the liberal plot lines is what keeps us all coming back for more every season. If you can get five seasons out of one book, there’s clearly something great in the original material, but clearly something even better about the creative minds behind the show.
9. True Blood
Based on: The Southern Vampire Mysteries series by Charlaine Harris
The Southern Vampire Mysteries book definitely had some bite to it, but in comparison to the steamy HBO adaption that we all know as True Blood, it doesn’t even hold a candle. This show shined so brightly, it put all the other vampire-themed shows and movies of the time to shame. True Blood offered such a unique view of vampirism as it used it as an allegory for existing injustices in contemporary society. It was just so clever! Unlike the book, in the TV show, Lafayette was a major character and was truly the scene queen. Lafayette made the show.
8. Friday Night Lights
Based on: Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dreamby H. G. Bissinger
If you have no, seen an episode of Friday Nights Lights, then you are truly missing out because this may be the best drama show based on a book yet. Unfortunately, the TV show is off the air now, but those five seasons brought tears, laughter, heartbreak and joy in every single episode. Next time you’re in the mood to binge-watch a whole series definitely watch this one. You won’t be disappointed. It just seems like when a TV show is based on a nonfiction book, it eclipses the source because it’s got so much more room for creativity in the plotlines. (Aka it doesn’t have to worry about that pesky thing called “accuracy.”)
7. 13 Reasons Why
Based on: 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher
This Netflix series is about a shy high school student, Clay Jensen, who one day comes home from school and finds a mysterious packing in the mail that contains seven cassette tapes. The tapes were recorded by classmate Hannah Baker, who had recently committed suicide.
Like Shannara, 13 Reasons Why was originally supposed to be a movie starring Selena Gomez. But when it was turned into a Netflix adaptation, Sel signed on as an executive producer and the rest is history. This dark show took teen audiences by storm and garnered its fair share of praise and critique. But, love it or hate it, still an obsession. It’s obvious that people were obsessed with the TV version of 13RW.
6. Sleepy Hollow
Based on: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
In this TV show adaptation, Ichabod Crane finds himself in modern-day Sleepy Hollow where he realizes that evil has awoken him. After the infamous Headless Horseman kills Sheriff August Corbin, Ichabod forms a rather unlikely bond with Detective Abbie Mills, who’s had her own childhood supernatural experiences. Season two holds a 100% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, although the show was recently canceled after season four saw a heavy dip in ratings.
5. House of Cards
Based on: House of Cards trilogy by Michael Dobbs
Did Michael Dobbs ever think that when we wrote House of Cards that it would become one of the most critically acclaimed TV shows? Maybe. The show’s Machiavellian characters, shocking plot twists, and calculated relationships are all the pillars of true binge-watching success. Sadly Kevin Spacey‘s real-life indiscretions have led to the show’s cancellation but it was a success while it lasted. While the books were good (so was the 1990 miniseries based on it), House of Cards, the TV series, was a Netflix sensation that eclipsed the recognition of the Michael Dobbs original.
4. Boardwalk Empire
Based on: Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City by Nelson Johnson
The story itself about the prohibition era is captivating enough to make for an exciting read, but what the TV series really does is bring all of that to life. The show boasts a fantastic cast, top-notch production design and accurate but clever screenwriting. The pilot script of the show was so was so good that film legend, Martin Scorsese himself wanted to direct it. Need we say more?
Based on: The Roswell High series by Melinda Metz
Roswell High was a quirky, ten-book series about teen aliens that first hit the scene in 1998 and continued to release new books until 2000. Roswell, the show, premiered in 1999 and lasted for three seasons. A lot of our favorite actors can be spotted on this WB series including Katherine Heigl, Shiri Appleby and Colin Hanks. The books being spit out in such a short amount of time wasn’t exactly rare for the time, but it led to decreased quality. The show, on the other hand, was developed by Jason Katims, the genius creator behind Friday Night Lights and Parenthood. The show was eventually canceled, but has since developed a cult following.
Based on: Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay
If you have read any of Jeff Lindsay’s books, you would know that the first season of the TV show is loosely based on the book, but pretty much after that, the similarities stop altogether at the ice truck killer. The overall premise is the same: a serial killer with a conscience. But Dexter on Showtime just goes deeper. Both formats are intriguing in their own way (the book is def worth a read!) but we’ve got to admit that the show just has a bit of a leg up on its muse. Dexter, the show, will keep you interested without being cliché. Definitely worthy of a binge-watching session if you haven’t seen all the episodes already.
1. Big Little Lies
Based on: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
If you read Liane Moriarty‘s book, then you must be in LOVE with the star-studded TV adaption of Big Little Lies. For starters, its got Nicole Kidman, Zoe Kravitz, Reese Witherspoon, and Shailene Woodley. Secondly, it’s about a group of suburban, sassy, but undeniably kick ass moms mysteriously involved in a murder. The book and the TV show are absolutely gripping — but we’ve gotta say that seeing the events unfold on-screen was ever so slightly more satisfying!