Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics. The official topic for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday revolved around Unlikable Characters You Can’t Help but Love. While this was an interesting subject, it wasn’t one that I felt I could contribute to, so instead I thought I would go off on my own tangent and look at my favourite television shows that are based on books.
It has been no secret that in recent years, the various television companies and streaming services have put a great deal of effort into adapting popular novels and books into television series. While this is nothing new, with books having been converted into shows for decades, this has become particularly prevalent in the last decade, particularly as these services are attempting to find their next mega-hit. While some of these shows have failed, either due to the original source material or general problems with production, many have turned out to be exceedingly epic television series that I have deeply enjoyed. I have been thinking about this a lot lately, especially after enjoying some great examples of these sorts of series, so I thought I would try and list my absolute favourite television shows based on books. This will be a bit of a continuation of another list I did recently, which looked at my favourite films based on books, which proved to be extremely interesting to produce, and I thought I would have just as much fun by looking at television series. I actually had this list mostly written up a couple of months ago, but I decided to hold off due to the imminent release of two very popular fantasy shows (I’m sure you can guess which two).
To appear on this list, the relevant television series needed to be based on a book in some shape or form. In trying to work out what my absolute favourite book-inspired series are, I looked at a few things, including the generally quality of the show, how much I enjoyed it, as well as whether it is a good adaptation of the source material. In a few cases, I may not have read the book the shows are adapted from, but I have still included them here due to the quality of the series. I decided not to include any television series based off comics on this list, as that is something I will probably try and list at a future date. Despite this, I still ended up with a ton of potential entries for this list and I had to do some cutting to get it down to 10 with my usual generous honourable mentions section. The end result is pretty interesting and I think that it does a great job reflecting which television series adapted from novels are my favourite.
One of the two most impressive recent television adaptations of Sherlock Holmes set in the modern era, Elementary was a fantastic series that I had a lot of fun watching. Featuring a lot more quantity than the other Sherlock Holmes series (which is also appearing on this list), Elementary was an excellent and grounded series featuring a great cast and a compelling alternate setting in New York.
An intriguing and innovative adaptation of Thomas Harris’s classic novels, Red Dragon, Hannibal and Hannibal Rising, the Hannibal television show was brought to life by Bryan Fuller and features his distinctive and mind-bending style. Featuring a brilliant cast, led by Hugh Dancy as Will Graham and the supremely talented Mads Mikkelsen as Dr Hannibal Lecter, this was an incredible psychological thriller series that pit a murderous cannibal psychiatrist against a troubled FBI agent. Tense, gruesome, and featuring some beautiful, if horrifying shots of food, Hannibal is a deeply impressive and shocking series that will stick in your mind.
A fantastic and awesome long-running crime series that I am a massive fan of. Based on the novels by Kathy Reichs, this was an outstanding series that helped popularise forensic anthropology to the wider world. A great series if you’re in the mood for a clever and funny serialised crime fiction fix.
One of the more entertaining shows from the first part of 2022. Inventing Anna, which is based on a series of journal articles (hence its inclusion as an honourable mention), told the remarkable true story of a fake heiress who conned New York’s elite. Utterly addictive and strangely compelling, I deeply enjoyed this wonderful show, weird accent included.
Top Ten List:
Game of Thrones
I don’t think anyone is going to be too surprised that Game of Thrones made this list. Based on George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series, Game of Thrones is one of the biggest and best television shows of all time and is highly responsible for the current fantasy fiction resurgence in film and television. Featuring an epic cast, many of whom made their name through this show, Game of Thrones had a brilliant combination of clever writing, brutal action, and some of the biggest twists and turns in television history, as well as some brutally surprising and eye-catching moments and epic battles. There are honestly too many awesome moments to discuss, but generally everything about this show, whether it was bloody massacres, tragic character deaths, massive fights against ice zombies, or its well-crafted and witty dialogue, was extremely memorable and quickly became the world’s greatest obsession. While the last season was a bit disappointing, I feel that this honestly does not diminish the impact that the first several seasons had, and this is still one of the best shows I have ever watched. An easy and epic inclusion in this list.
Orange is the New Black
Next, we have Netflix’s ground-breaking prison series, Orange is the New Black. An adaptation of the memoir Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman, Orange is the New Black was an outstanding series that showed the trials and tribulations of a women’s prison. Featuring an excellent mixture of comedy and drama, Orange is the New Black was something special, and viewers were quickly wowed by its clever story and brilliant characters. While the central storyline around main character, Piper, wasn’t always the most enjoyable, I felt that the various side characters and supporting storylines more than made up for this, and by the end, the unique and crazy cast was the real draw. An awesome show that had its ups and downs, but it is well worth chainwatching all seven seasons in a single sitting.
From prisons to monster slaying, the third entry on this list is Netflix’s attempt to fill the fantasy hole left after Game of Thrones with The Witcher. Based on the iconic books by Andrzej Sapkowski (such as Season of Storms), this fast-paced and powerful show places Henry Cavill in the titular role as Geralt of Rivia, a mutated and magic wielding warrior, known as a Witcher, who makes a living killing monsters. Drawn by destiny to protect a young princess and fall in love with a chaotic mage, this series does an excellent job adapting Sapkowski’s novels and features some of the grittiest and most epic fight scenes on television today. I love everything about this show, although I must give a special mention to Joey Batey’s Jaskier, the travelling bard, whose returns in the second season was heralded by a hilarious breakup song about Geralt. However, this series is not without controversy, and I am sure that many will be aware that Cavill will be leaving show after the third season (allegedly due to disagreements over the writer’s interpretation of the source material), to be replaced with Liam Hemsworth. It remains to be seen how much that will diminish the show’s quality going forward (I’m not particularly hopeful), but this doesn’t take away from the fact that the first two seasons are pretty epic and one of the more exciting Netflix shows at the moment. It will be very interesting to see how this show progresses in the future, and I will also be keeping an eye out for the upcoming prequel series, which could be good.
The Lincoln Lawyer
Next on this list we have an amazing legal thriller series with The Lincoln Lawyer. Based on the Mickey Haler books by Michael Connelly (which include awesome reads like The Law of Innocence), The Lincoln Lawyer is an outstanding legal thriller series. The first season of this show adapted Connelly’s 2008 novel, The Brass Verdict perfectly, and presents readers with a complex and intense legal case and associated murder. Manuel Garcia-Rulfo shines in the lead role and presents a suave and intelligent defence attorney, who is also carrying some substantial emotional baggage. I powered through this entire show in a weekend, and I was very impressed with how it all came together. A second season of the show is apparently in production at the moment, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.
House of the Dragon
It seems the fantasy works of George R. R. Martin can do no wrong, as I had very little choice but to include the impressive House of the Dragon here. A prequel to Game of Thrones, House of the Dragon adapts part of Martin’s novel Fire & Blood and shows a blood civil war amid the dragon-riding Targaryens. I was initially very sceptical about this series when it was first announced, especially after the problematic final season of Game of Thrones, but I am very happy to say that I worried for nothing. House of the Dragon is actually a very exciting and captivating series, which took the entire franchise in an intriguing new direction. Featuring a whole new cast of characters and talented actors (Matt Smith for the win!), the writers built up a compelling and intense tale of internal struggle and battles for power as various potential heirs for the throne battle for domination. While a little slow at the start, the show got better with each episode, and I loved seeing the entire series come together into a thrilling tale of Machiavellian manoeuvres. While I know some people didn’t like the use of the time skips, I thought they actually were utilised extremely well, and brought the story along at a much more natural pace. The clever insertion of different actors to represent the aging characters was a particularly impressive bit of casting, and every major actor shined in their roles. While it hasn’t reached the heights of peak Game of Thrones yet, it has an awful lot of potential, and I can’t wait to see how it continues.
Next up we have one of the most entertaining and enjoyable takes on the iconic Sherlock Holmes books, with Sherlock. A clever adaptation set in the modern day; Sherlock was an absolute revelation that everyone became instant fans of. Created by the legendary team of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, and featuring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the main roles, this incredible series reinvented and modernised the Sherlock Holmes tales into 13 powerful and long episodes. There are some absolute gems in this series, with every episode featuring a clever mystery alongside the entertaining antics of its exceptional cast. An excellent and epic series that are a must watch for everyone.
Another captivating show you need to check out is the fantasy comedy series Good Omens. Serving as an adaptation of the book of the same name by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, Good Omens follows an angel and a demon as they attempt to navigate and eventually stop the upcoming apocalypse. Featuring the extremely talented Michael Sheen and David Tennant in the main roles, this was an exceptional show that had me laughing the entire way through. Sheen and Tennant are a brilliant partnership, and their oddball friendship is just perfect, especially with the flashbacks showing them throughout history. I had an exceptional time with the first season back in 2019, and there is apparently a second season coming out at some point in the future as well.
A Series of Unfortunate Events
While I did really enjoy the film adaptation with Jim Carrey, to my mind the best adaptation of the iconic Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is this wonderful television series. The show follows the suddenly orphaned Baudelaire children who are being pursued by the evil and dastardly Count Olaf, who desires their vast inheritance. However, they soon discover that there is a far greater mystery in play as their parents were involved in a shadowy secret society. Neil Patrick Harris has an absolute blast as the eccentric Count Olaf, which he perfectly plays off the three great child actors, as well as the extended cast of guest stars and over-the-top characters. A must watch for all fans of this iconic young adult series, I had such a fun time watching this show.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power
Now, I know this is going to be one of the more controversial entries on this list, but I had to include The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power here. An adaptation of The Lord of the Rings and its appendices by J. R. R. Tolkien, The Rings of Power was an intriguing fantasy ride that ended up getting a lot of internet hate. I honestly don’t get why everyone was so down on this show, as I had a brilliant time getting through it. The show features some of the best elements of the iconic films, from the breathtaking landscapes, epic sets, impressive costumes, and beautiful music, not to mention that it had some pretty exceptional special effects, most of which was so much better than the rushed CGI in The Hobbit films. While the story was still finding its feet in the first season, mainly as they were working to set a lot of stuff up, I got pretty hooked on the captivating tale, and the fresh new take on the ancient war. While they were unable to adapt a few of Tolkien’s writings about this period, such as The Silmarillion, I felt that the writing team did a good job coming up with an interesting narrative, and I liked seeing younger versions of some iconic characters, and the unique stories they had to tell. I have high hopes that this series will continue to improve as it goes on, and I am sure that the continued quality will eventually win critics over.
For the final entry on this list, I chose to include one of the most iconic sitcoms of all time, M*A*S*H, which was a very easy choice for me. A spin-off from the 1970 M*A*SH film, which was itself an adaptation of MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors, this might be slightly stretching the definition of a book adaption, but I’m fine with it because its M*A*S*H. A captivating show about doctors serving in the Korean War, we all know how amazing M*A*S*H is, as it has been making people laugh since the 1970s. Featuring an outstanding cast and some poignant storylines that perfectly blended drama with comedy, M*A*S*H still holds up to this day, even though it ended more than 40 years ago. Easily one of the best sitcoms of all time, M*A*S*H is too damn good to exclude from this list, and I love it to death.
Well, that is the end of this latest list. As you can see, there are some brilliant television adaptations of great books out there, and I think that the above does a great job of reflecting my personal favourites. This is probably a list I will come back to in the future, especially as there are more and more television adaptations of novels coming out every year. In the meantime, let me know what your favourite show based on books are in the comments below.
7 thoughts on “Top Ten Tuesday – Favourite Television Series based on Books”
Oh wow, I didn’t know M*A*S*H was an adaptation! That’s so cool.
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I think it’s wonderful to see so many books becoming TV show. And, yeah, I didn’t know M*A*S*H was based on a book either.
My post: https://lydiaschoch.com/top-ten-tuesday-unlikable-characters-you-cant-help-but-love/
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Inventing Anna was so good! I loved the way they did that one. Julia Garner is fantastic.
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The only book/show you’ve listed that I’ve encountered is M*A*S*H. It was a staple of my adolescence (through syndication) and kept me entertained while I was on bed rest through the end of my first pregnancy. So much so that my daughter loves the show and recognized the theme before almost any other song. LOL!
Pam @ Read! Bake! Create!
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I like your spin on the topic. There are many shows I have watched currently that I have found out are book adaptations and I have added a few to my TBR list.
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I don’t watch much t.v., so I didn’t think I was going to have much to say about your list, BUT I’ve actually seen several of these series! Amazing. I love Sherlock. It’s brilliant, all-around. My husband and I are also really liking Rings of Power. I’m just bummed that the new season won’t be out for quite a bit now. MASH is another show I adore, although I had no idea it was based on a book! Interesting. Bones is one I have a problem with, though. Other than dealing with forensic anthropology, it barely resembles the books at all. I love book Tempe Brennan, who’s warm and funny as well as being smart and capable. I can’t stand t.v. show Tempe, who’s so cold and robotic. Ugh. I could only handle a couple episodes of that.
Anyway, I’m glad you’ve enjoyed all these shows. It’s great when you’re pleased with t.v. series/movie adaptations of your favorite books.
Happy TTT (on a Wednesday)!
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I’ve seen a few of these! I think Game of Thrones will always be my favorite book-to-tv adaptation.
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