Book vs. Screen: The Best & Worst Book-to-TV Adaptations

'Normal People,' 'Game of Thrones,' and 'Watchmen'
Hulu; HBO; HBO
Normal People, Game of Thrones, and Watchmen

When it comes to television, some of the best ideas are based on the pages from beloved books. Whether it’s fantasy, horror, romance, or YA, the genres and ideas are boundless, but not every adaptation is built the same.

Some shows nail the ideas and even improve upon storylines introduced in novels, while others seem to twist and butcher them into something nearly unrecognizable. Below, we’re breaking down a list of some of the best and worst book-to-TV adaptations, but we also want to hear from you. What’s your favorite and least favorite adaptation? Sound off in the comments below, and happy reading and watching!

Kit Harington and Alfie Allen in 'Game of Thrones'

WORST: Game of Thrones

George R.R. Martin‘s fantasy world of Westeros was brought to life in HBO‘s critically acclaimed drama, which ran from 2011 to 2019. Helmed by D.B. Weiss and David Benioff, the series was initially commended for its world-building and storytelling, but as the show raced ahead of the book series’ plot-lines, veering further away from the source material, it became clear that Game of Thrones dropped the ball on Martin’s vision, leaving fans unsatisfied by the end.

Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe in 'Outlander' Season 1

BEST: Outlander

Based on Diana Gabaldon‘s hit book series, Starz‘s Outlander has hit a high note with readers and non-readers alike. Faithful mostly to Gabaldon’s vision and storylines, the epic love story between Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) continues to burn bright onscreen due to the writer’s vision which is ongoing. While fans look ahead to Season 8 (the show’s last), only time will tell how faithful the series will remain to its inspiration, but great job so far.

Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon in 'Little Fires Everywhere'
Erin Simkin / Hulu / Courtesy Everett Collection

WORST: Little Fires Everywhere

When it comes to casting, you can’t do any better than Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon, but Hulu‘s adaptation made quite a few changes from Celeste Ng’s novel. While the show itself is good, looking at it in the context of the book, changes from the novel don’t make the story better, and for that reason, it takes a spot among the worse adaptations.

Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal in 'Normal People'
Enda Bowe / Hulu / Courtesy Everett Collection

BEST: Normal People

Sally Rooney’s heartbreaking and raw romantic drama Normal People connected with readers so much that Hulu ordered a series adaptation starring, newcomers at the time, Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal. What followed with a profoundly moving and near-perfect screen adaptation surrounding the complicated relationship between Marianne (Edgar-Jones) and Connell (Mescal), two individuals who grow up in the same small town in Ireland before heading off to Dublin for school. It’s an adaptation that is arguably among the best to date.

Harry Shum Jr. and Matthew Daddario in 'Shadowhunters'
Ian Watson / ©Freeform / courtesy Everett Collection

WORST: Shadowhunters

Based on The Mortal Instruments series, Freeform‘s former fan-favorite deviated from the text in more than a few ways. While some changes were welcome, including the fast-moving relationship between Magnus and Alec (Matthew Daddario) and Magnus (Harry Shum Jr.). Others like twists like in Clary’s (Katherine McNamara) storyline weren’t as welcome.

Victoria Pedretti and Oliver Jackson-Cohen in 'The Haunting of Hill House'
Steve Dietl / Netflix / courtesy Everett Collection

BEST: The Haunting of Hill House

Netflix‘s overnight hit, The Haunting of Hill House may have brought Shirley Jackson’s novel to a more modern audience, but it merely serves as inspiration to Mike Flanagan‘s horror masterpiece. Taking the ingredients from Jackson’s book, Flanagan makes them even better while maintaining elements that are integral. What follows is a product perhaps greater than its original parts, making it a strong adaptation.

Dylan Minnette and Katherine Langford in '13 Reasons Why'

WORST: 13 Reasons Why

Jay Asher’s book about Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) was read by many teens in the aughts and early 2010s, but its popularity couldn’t save audiences from controversial depictions of depression and mental health struggles onscreen. While Season 1 covered the events in Asher’s novel, once the Netflix show’s popularity grew, it expanded the drama with cheap twists and turns that ultimately downgraded the series from its stronger start in its initial run.

Lola Tung and Christopher Briney in 'The Summer I Turned Pretty'
Prime Video

BEST: The Summer I Turned Pretty

Co-showrun by the book author Jenny Han, Prime Video‘s adaptation of The Summer I Turned Pretty is both faithful and expands upon Han’s original vision for the sake of entertainment. Centering around Belly (Lola Tung), viewers track her coming of age story through her summers spent at Cousins Beach with her brother Steven (Sean Kaufman), mom Laurel (Jackie Chung), mom’s bestie Susannah (Rachel Blanchard), and Susannah’s sons, Conrad (Christopher Briney) and Jeremiah (Gavin Casalegno). Torn between her feelings for Conrad and Jeremiah, Belly is also faced with challenges life presents alongside new plots in the show, like a debutante ball, that helps enhance Han’s story for her.

Ian Somerhalder, Nina Dobrev, and Paul Wesley in 'The Vampire Diaries'
Kharen Hill / CW / Courtesy: Everett Collection

WORST: The Vampire Diaries

The vampire craze was potent when The CW ordered this TV adaptation of L.J. Smith’s Vampire Diaries series, centering around human Elena (Nina Dobrev) and vampire brothers Damon (Ian Somerhalder) and Stefan (Paul Wesley). While the show began relatively close to the source material, it strayed further and further away from the original plots as the show progressed, the biggest one being the love story between Elena and Damon. Beloved by viewers, The Vampire Diaries holds a special place in pop culture but known as a good book-to-screen adaptation, it is not.


Jacob Anderson as Louis De Point Du Lac in 'Interview with the Vampire' - Season 1, Episode 3
Alfonso Bresciani/AMC

BEST: Interview with the Vampire

Anne Rice‘s famous novel got the AMC TV treatment in 2022 as Sam Reid and Jacob Anderson stepped into the famous roles of Lestat and Louis. While some major changes were made in order to modernize the story, like changing Louis’ race and background, much of the original context stays the same and has additional airtime to include more plot points from the book than the ’90s film featuring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt.

Tim Blake Nelson and Regina King in 'Watchmen'
Mark Hill / ©HBO / Courtesy Everett Collection


While Watchmen the graphic novel may center around a different story than the one told in Damon Lindelof‘s Regina King-led series, HBO‘s show is one of the most perfect continuations of a novel onscreen. Every detail is carefully thought out to create a world set decades after the events of the ’80s-set source material. Familiar characters are brought to the screen and new ones are introduced in the context of this TV series which offers payoffs previous screen adaptations never did. That’s why this “sequel” series deserves an honorable spot among the best adaptations.