Written by: Andrea Marks-Joseph
There’s nothing like escaping into a story you’ve read and suddenly seeing it come to life on screen. Many of us experienced it growing up with Harry Potter, and more recently on TV when watching Reese Witherspoon’s adaptation of Big Little Lies. With the rise of streaming networks and the popularity of TV as an extended storytelling medium, book-to-TV adaptations are more popular than ever.
I’ve compiled 6 perfect recommendations if you’re looking for true adventure that will take you from book to screen, or the other way round! What I love about these stories is the way we can’t help but connect with the characters, and how spending time in the memorable settings keeps their adventures lingering in your mind. Whether you’re in the mood for action-packed heists, courageous quests, or an emotional true-life tale, you’re certain to find adventure here.
Many of these are TV shows I watched first, then loved so much that I had to get into the original story. But they are also fantastic adaptations that lovers of the books have celebrated as wonderful reimaginings of complex, beautiful, multi-faceted journeys. It’s a perfect set-up if you’re looking for a new book to pick up, or a new show to dive into. I can guarantee (with personal experience) that whichever way you do it, you’ll have tons of fun!
1. The Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt Translated by Laura Watkinson
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has sold more than a million copies throughout the world. First published in 1962 in the Netherlands (where it’s a household classic) and only translated into English in 2014, Dragt’s novel has now inspired one of my favourite Netflix shows ever.
The Letter for the King is a story that absolutely captivates you with its charming young cast and intriguing magical premise. If you enjoy a medieval setting and surprising found-family moments, great action scenes and mysterious folklore, this is perfect for you!
The story follows Young Tiuri, (the fantastic, endearing Amir Wilson who you may know from His Dark Materials) who must go on an epic quest, along with his fellow knights-in-training. He’s fierce, determined, and pure hero at heart; The other young knights… not so much, but they grow to love one another and work together in the end. While the books focus on Tiuri, in the Netflix series we get to know the whole band of characters along for the ride. The adventure is fast-paced and so much fun! It’s a tale packed with trickery, suspense, hidden magic, honourable knights, courageous kids, and heartwarming coming-of-age feelings.
The Letter for the King is available to watch on Netflix.
2. Arsène Lupin Series by Maurice Leblanc
The Netflix show inspired by these novels is called Lupin. Set in France, it follows professional thief Assane Diop —played by the incomparably charming Omar Sy. He’s the son of an immigrant from Senegal who was wronged by his wealthy, white employers when Assane was a child. Assane dedicates his life to avenge his father, taking inspiration from the novels he and his father adored: The Adventures of Arsène Lupin.
In the show, Assane’s crimes have him parade all through France in a spectacular show of the city, starting with stealing a diamond necklace from the Louvre. The novels are just as daring and elaborate; often evoking astonished laughter at the audacity of Lupin as he simply keeps accomplishing his crimes. I highly recommend the audiobooks where you can listen to the story told in a French accent for the full Arsène Lupin effect.
Leblanc’s stories are endlessly enjoyable, the kind of thrilling that comes with knowing that your hero is going to get away with everything in the end and no one will know how. The TV show is a love letter to fans of the book –the main character a massive fan himself, living out his favorite heists from the books in the most genius, playful way. The Netflix show inspired so many new readers to the series that publisher Hachette had to do a reissue of the first book in the series, which was initially published in 1905!
Lupin is available to watch on Netflix.
3. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
This is a profound, playful, can’t-look-away brilliant story about the strength and power in children, teamwork, and the genius of out-of-the-box thinking! The Disney+ show is based on the middle-grade novel series of the same title, giving this beloved story all the aesthetics of a Wes Anderson film.
Every character is eccentric, regularly misunderstood, and wildly underestimated –outside of this once-in-a-lifestyle expedition where they come together to save the world from a global emergency. Our heroes are four orphan children, each fantastically odd and intelligent in their own right. They’re recruited and lead by Mr. Benedict (played by Tony Hale, who also plays the villain in the show) in a top-secret mission to infiltrate a suspicious boarding school where this crisis originates. The story is filled with riddles as the children face mysterious quests, reluctantly learning that teamwork is the best solution.
The Mysterious Benedict Society is clever and captivating, filled with unexpected twists and excitement! I watched the show week by week when it aired and each episode simply could not come soon enough. Every time I look it up online, I read more stories of how much people have loved the books —for the creative puzzles, the unique characters (a fantastic diverse cast!) and for the belief it gave them in their own talent. As we watch their adventure, we see these characters lean into their bravery and experience serious found-family vibes. If you’re looking for a story that’s utterly delightful and entirely unforgettable –here you go. They’re doing what is right, discovering friendship, family, and confidence in themselves along the way!
The Mysterious Benedict Society is available to watch on Disney+.
4. When We Rise by Cleve Jones
When We Rise is a memoir that takes you on a trip through activist Clive Jones’ life surrounding the AIDS crisis. It’s a gorgeous story of resilience, hope, and the vibrant queer community that transcends time. The TV adaptation is filled with eccentric and exceptional young queer actors who tell the story beautifully. Clive’s autobiography is a fascinating and fundamental read for those interested in the history of the movement, the story behind the iconic rainbow flag, and a sense of the abundant life in San Francisco at the time.
Now, the story is on this list because it is absolutely an adventure through various time periods, and what feels like lifetimes. Born in 1954, Cleve Jones was among the last generation of gay Americans who grew up wondering if there were others out there like himself. When We Rise takes us time traveling through what it was like discovering the freedom of being out in San Francisco at the time, the early years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, being involved in vital political movements of the era, and the many wonderful romantic and familial relationships built along the way.
When We Rise is not only the story of the many heroes to the queer community and the origins of the rights we now take for granted, it’s also an important capsule of so much of the joy and life that is forgotten in the tales of the devastation. You’ll get to know an array of queer activists, including Roma Guy, Harvey Milk, and Gilbert Baker –designer of the rainbow flag. The novel and the eight-part series is a 45-year journey that’s equally political, celebratory, informative and emotional.
When We Rise is available to watch via Amazon Prime and Apple TV.
5. Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson
This strange and wonderful story is centred on Jared, an Indigenous teenager who is living an unsupervised, scattered life. Between his dysfunctional home situation and drug-filled teenage experiences, when magical things start happening around him, it takes a while before he realizes he’s not just tripping. What is eventually revealed (much slower in the novels than in the six episodes of television) is a beautiful unwinding of his Indigenous culture, family mythology, mental illness, shapeshifters, and yes, some serious use of illicit substances.
The author describes Son of a Trickster, the first book in her trilogy, as “a cognitive screwball gothic with working class people” which is very accurate. Jared is a highly fascinating protagonist because of his age, his inconsistent sobriety, and because of his sceptical, sarcastic, but compassionate and kind personality –almost to a fault.
Filled with poetic writing, ancient in-tune-with-nature wisdom, and just as much weirdness to make you think twice, this is also a great story to dive into if you’d like a darker, gritty Reservation Dogs.
Trickster is available to watch on The CW app.
6. Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
The intoxicating Netflix show Shadow and Bone is actually an adaptation of two of Leigh Bardugo’s books –more accurately, the Grishaverse universe she created within them. The show mostly features the story of Shadow and Bone (first in the series of the same title) and then an original arc for much-loved characters from her spin-off series Six of Crows. Once you read any of these books, you’ll be sucked in and need to read all that you can of this world —which is essentially what Netflix is giving you.
It’s a classic, ever-powerful tale of a girl who did not know she held magic, yet ends up being the one who can save their world from eternal darkness. Our main character is Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li), a young cartographer who discovers she who can summon light; the only person who could destroy the Shadow Fold—a region of impenetrable darkness. There’s a seductive villain (played by Ben Barnes) who has spent his life searching for the person with this gift; He brings Alina into his royal court, where she is seen as a Saint and helped to embody her destiny.
At the same time, heists are planned and deals are struck in Ketterdam, the ‘underworld’ of illicit trades, brothels, bargains and magic shows. Kaz Brekker (Freddy Carter) is hired to kidnap Alina, while others are sent to kill her. This storyline is filled with Six of Crows characters, and conveys the novels’ misfits-banding-together spirit of doing crimes and having fun, as long as you get paid.
Shadow and Bone is available to watch on Netflix.