7 TV Shows You Didn’t Know Were Adapted From Books

It’s easy to say the book is always better, but we’re pretty big fans of these shows, too

Hollywood has drawn source material from books since the industry existed. We all know that Game of Thrones came from George R. R. Martin’s bible-length fantasy novels, A Song of Ice and Fire, and that Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale inspired an equally gripping Hulu series, but even the most voracious readers might be surprised to learn that the following popular shows originated as paperbacks. So, next time you’re at the water cooler discussing last night’s cliffhanger, you can ask with a smirk: “Have you read the book?”

13 Reasons Why

Thirteen Reasons Why, the YA novel by Jay Asher, hit the bookshelves ten years before Netflix’s series of the same name became the most tweeted about show of 2017. Both versions are structured around the suicide of Hannah Baker and her cassette tapes, delivered to the individuals responsible for her death with an explanation of why she chose to end her life. A lot has changed in the ten-year gap between the publication of the novel and the series airing, especially the evolution of technology: In the book, the rumors about Hannah travel through word-of-mouth in the hallways, while in the TV show, compromising photos of her spread through social media and group chats.


Long before Outlander became a hit show on Starz, the story of a time-traveler in the Scottish highlands originated in Diana Gabaldon’s bestselling 1991 historical science fiction series of the same name. With all the trimmings of popular TV (Sex! Scottish accents! Time traveling! Hot guy! Hot guy who is always shirtless!), it is a wonder that 24 years went by before its onscreen incarnation. With five more books in the Outlander series and one more in the works, fans can rest easy knowing that the show won’t run out of storylines before catching up with the books (*cough* Game of Thrones). #ClaireAndJamieForever

Pro tip: A great hack to find out what happens next is to read the book(s)!

The Walking Dead

AMC’s post-apocalyptic show about survivors navigating a zombie-ridden wasteland started as a comic book series with a cult following written by Robert Kirkman. Plenty of carnage and heartbreak feature in both the cloth and screen versions (R.I.P Glenn), but major deaths are “remixed” for the TV adaptation—characters die in the comic’s frames and on the show in different, but equally gory ways.

A lot has changed in the ten-year gap between the publication of the novel and the series airing, especially the evolution of technology.


What started as the memoir of an F.B.I. agent who pioneered the psychological study of criminal profiling was adapted into the crime drama Mindhunter. The show follows two agents who interview incarcerated serial killers to get inside their mindset, and then use this insight to solve active cases. The Netflix show takes some liberties with the characters’ private lives, while the nonfiction books omits the steamy sex scenes. Overall, major occurrences from the show match with events depicted in the book, like that deeply unsettling interview with serial murderer Edmund Kemper (which yes, actually happened in real life).

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FX’s Justified, about an Old West-style U.S. Marshal enforcing his own brand of unconventional justice in small-town Kentucky, was adapted from a short story, Fire in the Hole, by Elmore Leonard. The screenwriters did such a great job with Justified that Leonard was inspired to revisit his Raylan Givens character with the 2012 book Raylan: A Novel. A case of art imitating life imitating…more art.


Bones started as Kathy Reichs’s Temperance Brennan crime novels, which in turn are based on Reich’s own life story. In the TV show, which the author described as a “prequel to the book series,” Dr. Brennan is an intelligent and socially awkward forensic anthropologist in her 30s at the Jeffersonian Institute in D.C., solving crimes with her partner, FBI agent Seeley Booth. The books have a little more dramatic grit—Temperance is a 40-something recovering alcoholic, working in North Carolina and Montreal with an ex-husband and a kid, occasionally engaging in dysfunctional hookups with Canadian Detective Andrew Ryan.

House of Cards

House of Cards has a long lineage: it’s based on the BBC miniseries of the same name, which in turn is based on a book, which drew inspiration from Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Very meta. The dark, political thriller about a ruthless, power-hungry couple manipulating their way into the White House was Netflix’s first original series. Mirroring Frank Underwood’s humiliating fall from power last season, the show has been suspended indefinitely following numerous following allegations of actor Kevin Spacey’s sexual misconduct. Don’t feel comfortable watching past seasons? Read the book instead.

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