They say not to judge a book by its cover, but how about by its screen adaptation? A film version used to be the logical and desirable next step for any successful literary property, but in the past decade-and-change those have often been TV shows instead. The book-to-TV pipeline is dense and mighty, and the promised binge of a book club favorite is as highly-anticipated as any primetime drama. What changes did the author (often part of the production team) allow or implement? What works better (or worse) on screen? Did this need to be a TV show, or could it have been left alone in its original form?
In fall 2023 alone, IndieWire noticed a significant number of new TV premieres based on novels, short stories, or comics. From Apple’s “The Changeling” to Netflix’s “The Fall of the House of Usher,” FX’s “American Horror Story: Delicate,” and the “Scott Pilgrim” anime, the page and small screen are still closely connected, eager to share each other’s stories.
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With more and more book adaptations on TV, it’s easy to forget the growing list of entries past, or to get lost in the changes, successes, and failures. When it came to picking the 15 best, IndieWire looked at quality shows, even if the source material wasn’t of the same quality. We also limited this list to series that debuted in the past 20 years, and it still wasn’t easy! If you’re looking for more in this category, check out our most controversial film and TV adaptations, best literary adaptations on Netflix, and this cute critics survey from 2017.
Below, in no particular order, are 15 exceptional TV shows based on books.
Ben Travers contributed to this list.
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