In light of the news that more hit YA books are being turned into TV shows, we’ve selected 10 other books that need similar small screen treatment.
While it’s always exciting to learn that your favorite book is being adapted for film (so long as the right people are behind the adaptation), it’s more exciting if your favorite book is being turned into a television series. Why? Purely from a run-time commitment, of course. A standard television show will run anywhere between 10 – 22 episodes per season, whereas a movie is a single 2-hour event.
With that idea in mind, we asked our writers to select the books they believe could make it big in television form.
‘Harry Potter’ by J.K. Rowling
Let’s be honest, for most of us a Harry Potter television series is the absolute dream. Sure we’re all growing sick of reboots, but Game of Thrones has proven that for highly detailed books with highly dedicated fan bases, a TV show is really the way to go. Although the movie series only wrapped up relatively recently, in 2011, for Potter fans a TV show is a win-win. Fans who didn’t like the films would finally get the exhaustive adaptation they always wanted, and those who loved the films aren’t going to argue with an additional ten (at least) hours allocated to each book.
Such a TV series could easily run for a minimum seven seasons, and more if they chose to split the later books — most likely from Goblet of Fire onward. Harry, Ron and Hermione would remain front and center, but the additional time would allow the audience to see beyond Harry’s activities. This would offer a different take than the movies, which were limited by time, and the books, which were limited — except for a few notable exceptions — to being written from Harry’s perspective alone. We could see more of the world around him, and the lives of characters other than the Chosen One. Yes this would require some additional canon information, Surely in-between working on Fantastic Beasts, J.K. Rowling could sit down with the hypothetical creative team and sketch out these behind the scenes details for them. Plus, there’s always Pottermore.
Of course, if Rowling wasn’t working on Fantastic Beasts, what we would also like is for her to sit down and write an American Horror Story-style series, with each season comprised of a self-contained mini-series based in the Wizarding world. Imagine a 13-episode series dedicated to the founding of Hogwarts, or the Marauders, or (sob) Neville’s tragic-heroic life. But this approach would require a significant amount of work from Rowling, so it remains a wistful and wonderful dream. Until then, Accio Harry Potter TV show!
‘Percy Jackson’ by Rick Riordan
Percy Jackson made it to the big screen, but after two mediocre movies, it doesn’t look like a third one is in the cards. Perhaps going smaller could make a bigger splash for Rick Riordan’s best selling series — it certainly has plenty going for it. With 10 books centered around Percy and his immediate group of friends, there would be more than enough story to tell. They could expand the story to include more myths, as a television series could take its time exploring every detail.
Additional myths could be put into play to make the show even richer than its source material. There would also be room for expansion. We know for a fact that the Kane Chronicles take place in the same world, so the creators could either intertwine that story with Percy’s in a more immediate way, or they could use the trilogy has a jumping off point for a spinoff show (because who doesn’t love a spinoff show?).
With a new series coming soon based on Norse mythology, and always the possibility of more books set in this universe, we can’t help but think a Percy Jackson and the Olympians television show could be the next big thing.
‘The Lies of Locke Lamora’ by Scott Lynch
You know how it’s way past time for more fantasy on television? Well, we have the answer.
Imagine Ocean’s Eleven set in an Italian-flavored fantasy world, and you’ve got the basic idea of Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastard series. Like HBO’s Game of Thrones (which you may have heard of) The Lies of Locke Lamora is a fantasy that reflects the darkness of our own reality — but with an amazing sense of humor. The story is a grimy, street-level adventure that shines with more wit than magic, and is so vividly told that it positively begs to be seen onscreen.
And The Lies of Locke Lamora is a more intimate tale than Game of Thrones, focusing on the lives of one tight-knit gang of thieves. Balanced between the past and the present, the Gentleman Bastard sequence thrives on the brilliance of its complicated, compromised, and incomparable characters. Witty and wise, intermittently evil and occasionally magnanimous, Locke, Jean, and the rest of the Gentlemen Bastards would make instant stars on the small screen. Given the chance to develop across seasons – both in their childhoods and adulthoods – there is no doubt that the characters would capture viewers hearts and minds as they have readers.
And hey, someone has already made a title sequence for this gory and glorious series, so there’s really no excuse at this point.
‘The Lunar Chronicles’ by Marissa Meyer
Let’s face it, YA fiction hasn’t fared that well at the movies. But the small screen has a better track record (and a recent smash in The 100) and that’s why we think television is the perfect home for Marissa Meyer’s quirky, sci-fi-ified fairytales.
Neatly divided across four (ish) novels, The Lunar Chronicles begins with Cinder — the story of a cyborg Cinderella who finds that her life as a mistreated mechanic conceals unimaginable secrets. Further complicating matters are an ongoing plague, deteriorating political alliances between Earth and the civilization established on the Moon, and a prince who — while handsome and charming — has a lot more to do than pine after the girl of his dreams.
Like any good TV series, The Lunar Chronicles gets more complicated with each successive installment. Cinder’s adventures sweep up other fairytale characters, all with their own vivid personalities and crucial roles to play in the developing war against the Lunar Queen Levana.
Between the politics, romance, and (literal) globetrotting, we think The Lunar Chronicles is way too complicated to be handled in a two-hour movie. Even a four-hour movie wouldn’t cut it. But with its diverse roles, surprising twists, and beautiful emotional core (and did we mention, there’s a spaceship?) we would be falling over ourselves to “tune in at 8:00” for this incredibly exciting series.
‘The Night Circus’ by Erin Morgenstern
In The Night Circus, two magicians have a competition against each other to see who can raise the best apprentice magician, and one year they decide to put the competition in a circus. One man raises Celia, and another raises Marco, but neither Celia or Marco are aware of each other when they join the circus in their own ways.
The circus is the stage and Celia and Marco are the players: They must use their location as their foundation to create even more inspiring tents and attractions than the last anonymous magician, all unknowing to the fact that when this competition ends only one can live.
Throughout the years the circus is occupied by magnificent tents and attractions filled with spells and charms, but when Marco and Celia start falling for each other it makes it difficult to finish the competition. How will they figure out a way around the rules?
That’s what could make for an amazing series. The show can take it slow as Celia and Marco create their own battle grounds filled with magic, and it can last seasons since the battle itself lasts years. There’s plenty that can be done and we would love to see it come onto the small screen!
‘Les Misérables’ by Victor Hugo
Les Misérables has already been the source of dozens of adaptations, from the world-famous musical to films, radio plays, mini-series and even anime, but there’s one thing that has never been done — a TV series for mainstream audiences.
There are obvious options, like a thorough true-to-the-book retelling of every step of the story, or even a present day adaptation addressing the universal social issues in the text, but if you’ve ever dipped a toe in the Les Misérables fandom you’ll know that the real goldmine for a TV adaptation would be a series about the lives of the “barricade boys” – the student revolutionaries. The main group of students, who call themselves Les Amis de l’ABC, are introduced in detail, but the five years between lead character Marius joining their circle and the 1832 June Rebellion in which they fight are very much glossed over, and this is where TV writers should pick up the story.
A Les Amis TV show would give TV writers the chance to get creative, using real life history and the students’ characterization and back-story to build up complex characters and original plots about what a gang like that might have gotten up to during that lost five year period – all the humor, romance, friendships, bar fights, university exams, activism and politics. If viewers got as invested in characters like the enigmatic leader Enjolras, warm Courfeyrac or drunken Grantaire as readers have over the past 140 years, the show could run for several seasons before catching up with the book’s canon.
Obviously, everyone knows the ending — revolution, barricades, nearly everyone dies. You’d need to keep this in mind when adapting for TV, but it can be done — after all, we know about the legend of King Arthur and his demise, but it didn’t stop 7 million viewers tuning into Merlin each week, and given the current success of shows like The Musketeers and Poldark, a Les Amis series would be a great fit as a BBC historical drama.
‘The Raven Cycle’ by Maggie Stiefvater
If we had to pitch a Raven Cycle TV series with one line, it would probably look something like this: “Charmed meets Dead Poets Society meets The Fast and the Furious.”
Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, apart from being a visually spectacular place, is the home of Aglionby Academy, an all-boys prep school attended by our Raven Boys — Gansey, Ronan, Adam and Noah. When we meet them, their quest (searching for the sleeping body of an ancient Welsh king) is already underway and we learn the history of it as they progress. However, things don’t really kick off until they meet Blue, a local girl who comes from a family of psychics. Once she joins their circle, magic literally starts flowing and things begin to get very interesting.
Apart from being incredibly visual — the mythology and horror set against the beautiful rural location of the Virginia mountains deserves the kind of artistic cinematography seen in Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal — the real strength of these books is the relationships in them: friendship, family, romance queer and straight, and the consequences of fate, loneliness, pride and power. The series may be cloaked in a supernatural shell and reduced to ‘genre’ television, but it’s genuinely so much more. Every character is absolutely real, and a TV adaptation would be an opportunity to showcase both some amazing adult actors as well as a new generation of talented teens. If the casting was done well, a legion of fans would be set up right from the start.
The Raven Boys has actually already been optioned for a movie, but these novels are a cut above your normal YA fantasy series. They don’t pull punches, they upend tropes, and their complexity and carefully crafted vision deserve more screen-time than a condensed 90 minutes per book. There’s plenty to write for — Stiefvater is a wizard at making her world seem both huge and intimate, and there are already dozens of scenes that canonically happened, but that we only know about in passing. Each of the four books could cover two short or one full season easily.
‘The Lux Series’ by Jennifer L. Armentout
The Lux Series by Jennifer L. Armentout is definitely a book series that would make great TV. The series is the perfect mix of angst, action and humor. The series follows Kat, who moves to West Virginia with her mom just before her senior year. Kat does not have high hopes for her new town until she sees her neighbor Daemon, but once he speaks she knows he is far too arrogant for his own good. Daemon has a secret and will do anything to protect it and his family. One night, Kat gets in trouble with a stranger and Daemon reveals far more than he intended. The story spins from there, following Kat and Daemon as they learn to cover up the fact that Daemon is an alien and try to fight the feelings they reluctantly have for each other.
The alien lore Armentrout creates is different and very interesting. With the success of adaptations like The Vampire Diaries and Pretty Little Liars, The Lux Series has potential for making great TV. With five books in the series there is plenty of material to draw from and the world could easily be expanded with some of the many interesting side characters that are introduced. The Lux series has all the elements of a great TV show, like sassy characters, interesting plot and supernatural beings.
‘His Dark Materials’ by Philip Pullman
I don’t believe that there is a single person alive who loved Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series and also thought The Golden Compass movie was anything other than a travesty. This series deserves a TV show, because unlike Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, it can’t be condensed down to one clear story, like Harry’s or Frodo’s quests. It just isn’t possible, as the disastrous film proved; just like Game of Thrones, His Dark Materials movies were never going to work.
The series would follow our hero Lyra, and later Will, as they navigate their way through parallel worlds and attempt to save, well, the universe. And we have Game of Thrones again to thank for proving that child actors can absolutely carry this type of material, as long as they are well cast. With parallel worlds, a beautiful a tragic love story, questions of human nature and the conflicts between religion and science and between heaven and earth to deal with, there is no shortage of plot here. Each book in the His Dark Materials trilogy could easily be split into two or three seasons quite comfortably.
A TV show is the natural home for Pullman’s story, which takes place in a world complex enough to rival Martin’s or Tolkien’s imaginations. The complexities of the series are what make it a true work of art, and all of those complexities (and controversies) are integral to the story. Those same controversies are what makes this series impractical for anything other than a cable TV series. The film was boycotted by religious groups, and this material deserves a creative team that doesn’t try to mute its powerful message. With the failed (and best forgotten) film attempt all the way back in 2007, it’s time for a real adaptation of this masterful trilogy.
‘The Lady Julia Grey Series’ by Deanna Raybourn
The Lady Julia Grey Series is the best period drama that isn’t on TV. The books, written by Deanna Raybourn, are gloriously atmospheric. As you read, you are transported to the ballrooms of Victorian England and into the lives of the March family. The story focuses on Julia who’s widowed at the start of the first novel and unwillingly thrown into the mystery of who killed her husband. Over five novels we watch Julia grow into herself and defy the conventions of Victorian England. Each of the novels pushes Julia into a new mystery to be solved, usually with the help of Mr. Brisbane, an enigmatic man her husband had hired to help discover who was trying to kill him.
These novels are some of my very favorite and can easily transition to TV. This show would be perfect for the BBC or ITV. There is plenty of material to work with and endless characters to integrate into the show. With murder, mystery, intrigue, romance, unique characters and a stolen Tower raven, there is something for everyone in this divine series.
“To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband’s dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching on the floor,” with a first line like this, how you can you not want to see this on TV?
What book (or book series) would you like to see receive a TV adaptation?
Karen Rought, Michal Schick, Jennifer Lamoureux, Natalie Fisher, Brook Wentz, Kyle Herzallah, and Marama Whyte contributed to this feature.