10 TV Show Adaptations Drastically Different from the Books

Adapting stories from books can be one of the most exciting avenues for the creation of a television series. The characters have already been developed and fleshed out, so the work of the television show could mostly surround bringing those characters and storylines to life. But, sometimes, there is not enough space in the book to take up multiple episodes, let alone a long-term series. So, to craft a version of the story that is more easily palatable to television, the show’s writers will alter events, add characters, or extend plot lines for the sake of trying to add more to the story, without necessarily stripping it of its identity.

Sometimes, however, the television adaptation takes on a vastly different approach, to the point where “based on” is more literal than one would initially think. The overall plot or vague concept may remain similar, but the unfolding events or ways that the characters are portrayed could be so different that the novel and television show may as well not be the same story at all. While Pretty Little Liars keeps the overarching mystery of “A” at the heart of the series, many other elements of the television adaptation are a far cry from what the novels portray, even if the show uses many of the book’s storylines in different ways.

10 The 100

The 100

Release Date
March 19, 2014

The 100 follows a group of 100 juvenile delinquents being sent to Earth and being tested to see if the ground is survivable. Led by Clarke Griffin and Bellamy Blake, the group undergoes alliances and war with the Grounders. Each season ups the ante for what Skaikru is capable of surviving, as friends become enemies and enemies become friends.

The Show Is a Completely Different Story Than the Book

The novels are far simpler than the television series would lead viewers to believe. In some cases, such as seeing the perspective of the failing Ark from space and a new world from the ground, the two iterations are similar. But, that is where the similarities end. Clarke and Bellamy’s relationship is far more straightforward than the dynamic the television series creates for them. The history and world-building of Grounder society are significantly more fleshed out in the show, as it explains the importance of the Commander, the Flame, the language, and the relevance of Nightblood. While the novel and show share some characters and the vaguest of plot lines, for the most part, the show is not a recognizable adaptation of the novel series.

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9 Pretty Little Liars

Pretty Little Liars follows a group of girls in Rosewood as they find themselves being stalked and threatened by the mysterious “A.” Their elusive stalker knows far more than they should about them, and their estranged friendship grows back together when they realize that all four of them are being targeted. Along the way, Aria, Hanna, Emily, and Spencer discover many secrets about their friend Alison.

The Show Alters the Novel’s Storylines

Pretty Little Liars did use plenty of the novel’s storylines, but not all of them were in the same context as the books. For example, the novels feature a secret twin for one of the girls. But, while in the show, it is Spencer’s identical twin, Alex, in the books, it is Alison’s twin, Courtney. Alison and Courtney have a convoluted and messy background that plays into many of Alison’s secrets. In the show, Aria and Ezra’s relationship is far more involved than in the novel, where he is rightfully arrested for dating a minor, who is also his student. However, Ezra does not have a messy backstory with Alison in the novels.

While Caleb does not exist in the show at all, Toby is given a significantly larger role in the show than he was given in the novels. The show even alters the dynamic between Toby and Jenna, whereas, in the novels, they play a role reversal from the show, where Toby is the one who instigates sexually assaulting Jenna. The show took inspiration from the novel’s romance between Hanna and Mike, but did so using it as a brief and short-lived fling rather than a long-term relationship.

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8 Shadowhunters

Shadowhunters is based on The Mortal Instruments book series. In the series, similarly to the novel, Clary’s life is changed forever after discovering her family’s true origins and joining Jace, Alec, and Isabelle on a new journey of fighting demons and supernatural creatures. Clary’s best friend, Simon, tends to join Clary for the ride.

Shadowhunters Did Better Than the Movie Adaptation

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones had drastically dropped the ball on successfully understanding this world, or properly explaining it to viewers who had not read the books. Still, while Shadowhunters did make some better choices, it did make some big changes. In the novels, Simon is not transformed into a vampire until “City of Ashes,” the second novel in the series. Meanwhile, the television show has him undergo the transformation in the first season.

Although the show only lasted for three seasons, thus not being able to explore all the plot points that occurred in the novels, it was offered its own conclusion. Still, they sped up how quickly Mangus and Alec got married and altered Simon’s romantic relationships.

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RELATED: Game of Thrones: Major Differences Between the Books and the TV Show

7 Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones surrounds nine families fighting for control of Westeros. Game of Thrones was an exciting breakout series for HBO, gathering fans from the novels and those who were only fans of the fantasy series. Even the violence and incest that were constantly within the series were not enough to drive fans away. Sadly, however, the final season was a massive disappointment for viewers.

The Show Made Significant Alterations

When HBO adapted the series, it took the time to change details, from the characters’ ages to the relationships they had, and changing who lives and dies. Significant plot lines from the novels, such as Dornish’s true motives, were disregarded in the television series. Certain characters, such as Sansa Stark, do not match up with their book counterparts’ plot lines and may lean more into other characters from the novel who do not appear in the show.

Depending on the significance of the story, this could either be a slight change or a major shift in how the character is presented. Considering the novel series has not even been completed yet, the television series Game of Thrones had no choice but to craft its own conclusion.

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6 Bridgerton

Bridgerton follows the love story of each of the Bridgerton siblings. Starting out with Daphne and her marriage to Simon, the rest of the novel series follows the siblings in age order as they all undergo their love stories. But, the show has taken certain liberties with the story.

The Show Recognizes When to Go Out of Order

If the Netflix series was following the novels exactly, that would mean that season three would follow Benedict’s love story. However, the television series made the good decision not to do that. For one thing, with the way Bridgerton has gone so far, Benedict is not at the forefront or interesting enough to carry an entire season.

Thus, he would need more time to develop first. Secondly, seasons one and two have so nicely set up the dynamic between Colin and Penelope that there really is no reason to wait until season four, when they could lead season three. Bridgerton, as a Netflix drama, has also taken to focusing more on creating racially diverse characters where the opportunity arises, such as with Simon, Kate, and Edwina.

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5 The Vampire Diaries

The Vampire Diaries follows Elena Gilbert, a grieving teenage girl, a few months following her parents’ tragic deaths. But, once she meets Stefan and Damon Salvatore, everything changes as Elena and her friends Caroline, Bonnie, Tyler, and Matt, along with her brother Jeremy, are dragged into the supernatural world. But, as complicated as Mystic Falls is in the show, the novels are actually far more complex, and it begins with Stefan and Damon actually being far older than they are in the show.

The Show Is Actually Less Complicated

The television show is very convoluted, but it is actually easier to follow than the novels. In the novels, the supernatural world is expanded beyond vampires, werewolves, and witches, to the degree where it would have been like jumping into Legacies’ monster-of-the-week formula from the very beginning. In the books, Elena is half-angel, and Katherine is her sister, not her Doppelgänger.

As for Elena’s personality, she is actually considered to have more of Katherine’s traits of narcissism and rude to others, rather than the kinder girl the show introduces. Caroline never undergoes her character development, crafted from becoming a vampire in the novels, as she actually becomes a werewolf. Caroline’s relationships with Klaus, Tyler, Stefan, and Matt are all drastically different, with Caroline ending up with Tyler while she never marries Stefan or has a connection with Klaus.

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4 The Buccaneers

The Buccaneers Apple TV+ poster

The Buccaneers

Release Date
November 8, 2023

Katherine Jakeways

The Buccaneers follows a group of American girls joining England’s marriage market in the 1800s. While Conchita’s marriage to Richard is what draws the girls to England, it is Nan who becomes the center of attention when she gains the attention and love of two potential suitors, Theo and Guy. All the while, her friends are also captivated by potential love interests.

Nan’s Biggest Plot Twist Doesn’t Exist in the Book

While The Buccaneers does create its own obstacles, Nan being illegitimate is not something the novel counterpart needs to be worried about. The show also took liberties with the dialogue, modernizing the language approach for a new audience. Mabel’s romance with Honoria is also missing from the novel in the show’s strive to take on a more captivating tale.

Given how the television series is an adaptation of an unfinished novel, the show has gotten to expand on storylines and even come up with its own plot twists, cliffhangers, and endings. The show’s upcoming second season has the opportunity to do whatever it wants, as it no longer has the confines of the novel to live up to.

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RELATED: The Buccaneers: Every Main Character’s Season 1 Ending, Ranked

3 Gossip Girl

Gossip Girl asked one main question throughout its six seasons: Who is Gossip Girl? There is no way, after following the highs and lows of the Upper East Siders, that Gossip Girl could conclude its journey without revealing to the characters and the audience who the person behind the blogging site was. But, that was not necessarily the case with the original books.

The Novels Never Reveal Gossip Girl’s Identity

Somehow, the “Gossip Girl” novels got away with never revealing the identity of the mysterious blogger. But, everyone knew the show had to come up with some sort of answer. So, Gossip Girl ended up revealing that Dan had been the mind behind stalking the Upper East Side. However, the novels also offer drastically different romantic pairings in place of the fan-favorite romances from the show.

Dan and Serena’s romance, along with Blair and Chuck’s, is never the big deal that the show makes it out to be. Instead, the love triangle between Serena, Nate, and Blair is a far more dominant presence. The romance between Dan and Serena’s parents was also created for the sake of the show.

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2 The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale surrounds a dangerous and oppressive dystopian future in which toxic masculinity reigns supreme in a world where carrying a baby has become a far more infrequent occurrence. Considering how far beyond the end of the original novel that the Hulu series goes, the show is actually a drastically different story than the novel.

The Story Expansion Creates a Whole New World

In the books, June’s journey ends when she is taken away from the family, and it remains ambiguous what happens to her. But, in the show, the conclusion of the novel is only the beginning of June and the revolution she becomes a part of. The strive to escape Gilead and reach a safe haven in Canada becomes a dominant plot point in the show, as does the internal struggle June has regarding her love for her husband Luke, and feelings for Nick.

June’s complex relationship with Serena is one of the most interesting and integral dynamics the show has to offer, and the novels never get the opportunity to allow their relationship to get as far as it needs to for such a complex relationship.

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1 You


You follows the dangerous stalker and murderer Joe Goldberg as he finds an interest and connection with a random woman that he goes on to become obsessed with until he ultimately kills her. Joe is not a good man, and the show and book never pretend he is. However, the way the character and story are presented are vastly different.

The Show Tries to Offer Joe Empathy

Even though You never tries to gaslight the audience into believing that Joe is a good man, they do try to show that he has more layers to his personality than a one-note villain. Netflix’s Joe has a soft spot for children, especially those from struggling or abusive backgrounds. Meanwhile, the novel’s portrayal of the character does not have that to lean on. He is a far darker man, without anything to ground him in any sort of emotional tether. The relationship between Joe and Love is also different and does not have the same messy main plot that occurs when they try to start their lives over together with their son.

Considering the show wants to pull viewers in, it makes sense that it wanted to try and show that Joe, while not a good person, was a layered one. Still, season four embraced Joe’s darkness in an entirely new way, and as the shoe goes into its fifth and final season, it will be exciting to see just how dark he will become now that he is no longer battling his darkness.

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