9 Books That Inspired Popular Streaming TV Series

(L to R) Jasmine Blackborow, Jessie Mei Li, and Gabrielle Brooks star in Netflix's Shadow And Bone.
(L to R) Jasmine Blackborow, Jessie Mei Li, and Gabrielle Brooks star in Netflix's Shadow And Bone. / David Appleby/Netflix © 2021
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From sci-fi dramas to true-crime documentaries, books have inspired dozens of the best TV shows currently available to stream. And whether you're looking to read the books your favorite show is based on or want to jump into a novel before its adaptation even premieres, here are nine series to start with.

1. Shadow and Bone // Netflix

Based on: The Shadow and Bone trilogy and Six of Crows duology by Leigh Bardugo

Novelist Leigh Bardugo set her YA fantasy books all in the same world; fans refer to it as the “Grishaverse.” Netflix has purchased the rights to all of the novels to create its new show Shadow and Bone. Bardugo’s tale of a war-torn world is notable for the Grisha, an army of people who can control and exploit natural elements such as water, wind, and fire. The show has two main storylines: The first focuses on Alina Starkov (the protagonist in the Shadow and Bone novels), who discovers she can summon light and believes she may be able to use her power to set her kingdom free—but first, she must train with the Grisha. The second storyline is based on the Six of Crows series and features a group of criminals hired by a wealthy benefactor to capture Starkov. This is a departure from the novel, where they're tasked with breaking someone else out of prison.

Shadow and Bone premiered on April 23.

Find the books: Amazon

2. The Witcher // Netflix

Based on: The Witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski

The Witcher book series has truly mastered the art of adaptation: In addition to the show, it's been a comic book, a tabletop role-playing game, and a blockbuster video game series. The first season of the Netflix series is on the novels The Last Wish and The Sword of Destiny, which both feature collections of short stories that introduce Geralt of Rivia (the infamous Witcher), his love interest Yennefer of Vengerberg, and Ciri, the child tied to Geralt by destiny. The second season will leave the non-linear format of the first behind, though it's not known if the new season will be limited to as-of-yet unseen events included in the Last Wish or if it will include material from the next novel, Blood of Elves, as well.

Netflix is expected to release the second season of The Witcher in late 2021, though an exact date hasn't been set. Keep an eye out for an animated Netflix spin-off called The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf based on Geralt’s mentor, Vesemir, which is expected to premiere in 2021.

Find the books: Amazon

3. The Umbrella Academy // Netflix

Based on: The Umbrella Academy comic series by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá

There are a lot of people who like comic book movies and shows but are too intimidated to dive into the source material. If you’ve found yourself in that boat, consider picking up The Umbrella Academy, which only has 24 issues out so far.

At its core, the story revolves around a group of children born with superpowers; they're adopted by a rich and famous scientist, who raises them to save the world from an unnamed threat. The show's first season is based on the first story in the comic series, “Apocalypse Suite.” By the second season, the show differs pretty dramatically from the comic’s “Dallas” storyline. The third installment of the comic, known as “Hotel Oblivion,” was skipped by the show, and the fourth, yet-to-be-released comic installment, titled “The Sparrow Academy,” is the inspiration for the third season.

Netflix has yet to announce a release date for season three of The Umbrella Academy, and there is no release date for “The Sparrow Academy” comic arc, either.

Find the books: Amazon

4. The Boys // Amazon Prime

Based on: The Boys comic series by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson

The Boys is another great entry-level comic book for those who want a straightforward storyline contained in just one series. But this comic, just like the TV show, is labeled mature for good reason—so if you don’t want to read 72 issues filled with excessive gore and sexual content, you’ll want to skip it.

The story is set in a world just like ours, only superheroes are very real and even fairly common. But what happens when incredibly powerful beings are treated like celebrities and worshipped no matter how many innocent bystanders die in their wake? It’s certainly nothing like the hero-filled worlds we’re used to seeing in Marvel and DC Comics. In fact, DC's Wildstorm imprint published the first six issues of the series before canceling it, which creator Garth Ennis blamed on the book's anti-superhero tone. Fortunately, Ennis retained the rights to the book, and he was able to find a new publisher and continue the story elsewhere.

While the worlds and characters are largely the same in the comics and the show, the story differs: For example, the protagonists work for the CIA in the comics but operate outside the law in the show.

The second season of The Boys aired in September 2020, and a third season is on the way.

Find the books: Amazon

5. I’ll be Gone in the Dark // HBO Max

Based on: I’ll be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara

This true-crime tale on HBO details the story behind author Michelle McNamara's book I'll Be Gone in the Dark, as well as how the crime she was obsessed with was solved after its publication. McNamara became fascinated by an uncaught serial killer, burglar, and rapist who operated in the 1970s through mid-1980s, then known as the “East Area Rapist” (among other names). She wrote an article about the killer for Los Angeles magazine in 2013, giving him the new moniker “The Golden State Killer,” which stuck. Soon after, she signed a deal with HarperCollins to write a book on the topic.

Unfortunately, McNamara died in April 2016 when her book was only two-thirds completed, leaving her husband, comedian Patton Oswalt, crime writer Paul Haynes, and investigative journalist Billy Jensen to put her chapters in order and fill in the remaining details. The book was released nearly two years after her death.

A few months after publication, Joseph James DeAngelo, a former police officer and Navy veteran, was arrested, charged, and eventually convicted of the crimes. As it turns out, DeAngelo was undone when law enforcement turned to forensic genetic genealogy to identify a family member who had uploaded their DNA to the GEDmatch database.

Find the book: Amazon

6. Lupin // Netflix

Based on: The Lupin series by Maurice Leblanc

For more than 100 years now, Sherlock Holmes has been the most popular star of mystery novels in the English language. But when it comes to French novels, that honor may go to Arsène Lupin, who is not a detective but instead a “gentleman thief” created in 1905. Lupin uses his charm and intelligence to both solve mysteries and commit crimes (though he only steals from those who had it coming).

Netflix's Lupin follows the story of a thief named Assane Diop, whose father dies by suicide after he is framed for the theft of an expensive diamond necklace. When Assane grows up, he uses the Lupin stories as inspiration for his plan to take down the family who wronged him. It's not a straight adaptation of the source material—instead, it uses the original books as the foundation for something brand new.

The first five episodes of Lupin premiered on Netflix in January, but part two won't be released until summer 2021.

Find the books: Amazon

7. The Queen’s Gambit // Netflix

Based on: The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis

Who would have predicted that one of the hottest Netflix shows of 2020 would be about chess? Even those who didn't know that the name of the series refers to an opening move appreciated this coming-of-age story, which depicts a female chess genius rising in the ranks at a time when the game was dominated by men. But perhaps what sucked people in the most is the classic example of the hero’s journey as she rises from nothing and then fights off her own demons of addiction. It also doesn't hurt that the series features stunning cinematography and costuming.

While there are always some changes between a book and the adaptation, this show is fairly faithful to the novel, and even includes a few quotes directly from the pages.

Find the book: Amazon

8. Bridgerton // Netflix

Based on: The Bridgerton series by Julia Quinn

Both the Bridgerton book series and Netflix adaption are about a wealthy British family from the Regency-era with eight children: four boys and four girls. Each of the novels focuses on the love life of one of the siblings, and the debut season of the show is based on The Duke and I. In that novel, the eldest daughter, Daphne, partners up with Simon Bassett, the Duke of Hastings, to help him stay a bachelor forever while finding her a more suitable partner.

Bridgerton has been renewed for three more seasons.

Find the books: Amazon

9. The Underground Railroad // Amazon Prime

Based on: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

This story takes place in an alternate universe where the Underground Railroad isn't just a network of routes and safe houses but also a literal railroad helping enslaved people. The book follows a woman named Cora as she seeks freedom from her enslavers. The book has been adapted by Barry Jenkins (the creator of Best Picture winner Moonlight), who is also serving as showrunner. The Underground Railroad premieres on May 14.

Find the book: Amazon

Do you love reading? Are you eager to know incredibly interesting facts about novelists and their works? Then pick up our new book, The Curious Reader: A Literary Miscellany of Novels and Novelists, out May 25!