15 TV Shows That Are Better Than the Book

It’s rare to find a truly captivating book, and even rarer to find a TV adaption of said book that manages to maintain the edginess of its pages. (we’re looking at you, The Leftovers.) While not all TV adaptations are created equal, sometimes, just sometimes, they can turn out to be better than their literary inspiration. These 15 shows broke the mold and proved better than the books they’re based on.

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Melinda Sue Gordon/Netflix

‘house Of Cards’

When Michael Dobbs wrote House of Cards, did he think that it would become one of the most critically acclaimed television shows? Maybe. The show’s jarring plot twists, calculated relationships and Machiavellian characters are the pillars of true binge-watching success.

game of thrones lena headey
Courtesy of HBO

‘game Of Thrones’

George R.R. Martin is a freaking genius. Though his five book Game of Thrones series paved the way for the most complex, badass show ever, the throne really belongs to HBO’s cult-followed TV adaptation.

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big little lies full cast
Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/HBO

‘big Little Lies’

This seven-episode limited series based on Liane Moriarty’s novel Big Little Lies has become one of the most engrossing TV adaptations. Its salacious gossip, star-studded cast and murder mystery have left viewers literally begging for more. Moriarty has said the show’s producers, Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman, and cast member Laura Dern have indicated a strong interest in a second season and asked her to brainstorm some potential ideas. More Maddie all day, every day.

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sex and the city cast
James Devaney/Getty Images

‘sex And The City’

SATC may have been based on author Candace Bushnell’s experience as a columnist for The New York Observer, but its TV treatment is what really catapulted the story to stardom. The shoes, the strong friendships and the often questionable choices about men will forever mark the women of Sex and the City as some of the most relatable and fabulous characters on television.

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‘friday Night Lights’

High school football will never be as good as it is on Friday Night Lights, thanks to author H.G. “Buzz” Bissinger’s stellar source material. But it’s really the things like Tami Taylor’s iconic hair and sunglasses and Coach Taylor’s wisdom that welcomed this show into our clear eyes and full hearts.

gossip girl full cast

‘gossip Girl’

Cecily von Ziegesar’s Gossip Girl book series is pure gold, but it’s the TV adaption that made it an Upper East Side legend. The fashion, the Chuck and Blair saga and lonely boy Dan Humphrey’s epic ruse still have us reeling from the show’s final episode and Gossip Girl reveal.

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‘orange Is The New Black’

Based on her time spent in an all-female Connecticut correctional facility, Piper Kerman’s memoir Orange Is the New Black takes a sometimes funny, sometimes deeply sad look at time spent behind bars. While the book sheds some light on the inner workings of the prison system, the show’s perfect balance of drama and comedy, coupled with its wonderfully unique characters and progressive plot lines, is what keeps us coming back for more.

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Elmore Leonard’s short story Fire in the Hole is amazing, but its neo-Western adaptation starring Timothy Olyphant really takes the cake. The show’s intricate writing and direction do wonders to highlight the brutal battles and authentic characters at the core of the story. And, it just so happened to be nominated for eight Emmys. Even the book’s late author said the show was better than what he would have written.

pretty little liars freeform

‘pretty Little Liars’

We love a good mystery-thriller, and Pretty Little Liars does not disappoint. Loosely based on Sara Shepard’s series of novels (with the same title), the PLL we see onscreen sets itself apart primarily because of the closeness of the main characters. The secrets they keep together bind them not only to one another but also to the audience.

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Macall B. Polay/HBO

‘boardwalk Empire’

Atlantic City is fun now, but back in the days of prohibition covered in Nelson Johnson’s book Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City, it was straight up poppin’. This makes for perfect television fodder. The pilot script of Boardwalk Empire was so good, Martin Scorsese himself decided to direct it. Need we say more?

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The show’s poetic production and brilliant dialogue far surpasses Thomas Harris’s books Red Dragon and Hannibal. Did we mention Mads Mikkelsen was basically born to play Hannibal? We get the chills just thinking about him.

true blood hbo cast
Courtesy of HBO

‘true Blood’

The Southern Vampire Mysteries book series has some teeth, but it pales in comparison to the steamy HBO adaptation that was renamed True Blood. The show shines like a beacon of light against other vampire-themed adaptations, as it offers a unique view on what it’s like to be a vampire in everyday society. Also, Lafayette was never a major character in the book series, but on the show, he is truly the scene queen.

masters of sex showtime
Warren Feldman/Showtime

‘masters Of Sex’

Though both book and screen depictions of the lives of William Masters and Virginia Johnson are relatively similar, the show wins because of its clever dialogue and the oh-so-smooth way it talks about sex.

house of lies full cast
Michael Desmond/Showtime

‘house Of Lies’

House of Lies: How Management Consultants Steal Your Watch and Then Tell You the Time is a great book title, but it’s the show that really gets down to business. The ensemble cast, which includes Don Cheadle and Kristen Bell, is too fun for words. Put aside all the shenanigans, and House of Lies actually feels like an educational experience on how to get ahead in business.

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‘vampire Diaries’

Vampire Diaries series writer L.J. Smith knows her teen drama, but the TV incarnation of the show is just so bloody good. The relationships depicted on screen are too hot to handle and there’s also an inherent feeling of imminent danger that leaves the viewer craving more.

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Lex Goodman

Cat mom, yogi, brunch enthusiast

Lex is an LA native who's deeply obsessed with picnics, Slim Aarons, rosé, Hollywood history and Joan Didion. She joined PureWow in early 2017.
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