TV adaptations of popular book series are nothing new, but many people often don't know that their favorite shows started out as novels or comics series. So, we've put together our list of the best sci-fi TV shows based on books to help you discover the inspirations behind your favorite sci-fi shows.
Whilst your imagination and creativity can transport you into new dimensions when absorbing the words of a new book, it is always exciting when a team of TV experts transform these dreams into a reality. There’s something extra special about sci-fi novels turning into TV shows though as the vision of the author is so out of this world that our imaginations run rampant with what they are imagining and how that would look visually.
Alas, we can sometimes be left disappointed when a show doesn’t look how you might’ve imagined it, or a book doesn’t read the same once you’ve seen it on screen, giving faces to characters and detail to places that don’t match up with your versions/visions. To help you out, we’ve put together a list of the best sci-fi TV shows based on books that are available to buy and watch on various streaming platforms right now.
From iconic novels taking us across the universe to amazing graphic novel series creating incredible superheroes, this list has a bit of something for everyone from the world of sci-fi. If you like this guide, why not check out our lists of the best space movies and best space horror movies to further indulge in that sci-fi goodness?
1. The Expanse
- Release date: November 23, 2015
- Cast: Wes Chatham, Dominique Tipper, and Steven Strait
- Seasons: Six
The Expanse is a series of sci-fi novels by James S. A. Corey which envisions a future in space where humans live amongst the solar system, with Mars becoming its very own military base. James S. A. Corey is actually a pen name for the two writers who took the series to TV, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, and so the TV series is very much envisioned the way the authors intended it when writing. Whilst The Expanse ends on Amazon after the upcoming sixth season, there’s hope for it to stream elsewhere with the next book in the series, Leviathan Falls, yet to be released.
2. Brave New World
- Release date: July 15, 2020
- Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Jessica Brown Findlay, and Harry Lloyd
- Seasons: One
Based on Aldous Huxley’s famous 1932 dystopian novel, it’s a surprise it took so long for this one to get a TV series adaptation. The plot centers around an utopian society that has, on first glance, achieved peace and stability through bringing in the prohibition of privacy, money, family, history, and monogamy... until rebellion strikes. Taking one of the world’s most iconic sci-fi books from page to screen was a daring move. Sadly, whilst the Brave New World TV series was impressive in scope, it was cancelled by NBC after only just one season. However, that might not mean the end for this Brave New World, as it may head to pastures anew.
3. The Society
- Release date: May 10, 2019
- Cast: Kathryn Newton, Gideon Adlon, and Sean Berdy
- Seasons: One
The Society’s concept is fascinating. Not exactly a direct adaptation, The Society is more of a modern take on William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Cut off from the rest of the world by some unexplainable sci-fi space-time continuum magic, a group of teenagers must learn to survive with only each other to count on. Much like Lord of the Flies, there are power struggles, attempts at establishing order, and alliances formed between the people of this new society. Although this left viewers divided, the TV show runs an interesting balance between YA drama and the supernatural. We do have to warn you that season one has a massive cliffhanger ending, with no season two in sight as of yet.
4. Altered Carbon
- Release date: February 2, 2018
- Cast: Chris Conner, Renée Elise Goldsberry, and Dichen Lachman
- Seasons: Two
Altered Carbon is a Netflix Original based on the Takeshi Kovacs series of books by sci-fi writer, Richard K. Morgan. Inspired by other sci-fi greats such as Doctor Who, Space: 1999, and the short stories of William Gibson, Altered Carbon explores a world where death is no longer permanent. This is thanks to new technologies that digitalize and store one’s consciousness, which allow human bodies to be interchangeable. Imprisoned elite solider, Takeshi Kovacs, is bought back to life to solve a murder and is in return offered the chance to be granted his freedom. You’ll notice a pattern in this list of sci-fi TV shows based on books that sadly a fair few cancelled shows are in the line-up, and Altered Carbon is no exception. Whilst Altered Carbon met its fate during the pandemic, author Richard K. Morgan hasn’t ruled out a fourth book in the series.
5. The One
- Release date: March 12, 2021
- Cast: Hannah Ware, Dimitri Leonidas, and Diarmaid Murtagh
- Seasons: One
The One is based on John Marrs’ novel of the same name and came to life on Netflix in 2021. The premise being that a company figures out the science behind matching couples together in perfect pairings based on their DNA. Set in London in the not-so-distant future, all is not as it seems when a body is discovered in the Thames, turning this sci-fi show into a thriller. It’s not yet clear whether there will be a second season, with no green-light from Netflix, but the premise itself is captivating and explores paths that run disturbingly close to how we’re already living in modern-day society.
6. War of the Worlds
- Release date: February 16, 2020
- Cast: Léa Drucker, Gabriel Byrne, and Daisy Edgar-Jones
- Seasons: Two
Based on the famed book by H. G. Wells, War of the Worlds explores the fragility of humanity as astronomers pick up a transmission from another galaxy and takes a look at the age-old question ‘ is there anyone out there?’ War of the Worlds explores what happens when Earth is wiped out by something other-worldly, and how humanity must fight for survival against aliens who have come to destroy them. This dystopian TV series takes sci-fi by the horns, tackling the existence of extraterrestrial life – this screen adaptation of War of the Worlds really breathes new life into a 19th century classic!
7. Jessica Jones
- Release date: November 20, 2015
- Cast: Krysten Ritter, Rachael Taylor, and Eka Darville
- Seasons: Three
American comic book series turned Netflix Originals series, former superhero Jessica Jones is a private investigator, hiding away from her superpowers due to a tragic incident in her past. Her nemesis, Kilgrave, led her to a dark place that caused her to retire from her superhero days, and now she channels her powers undercover to help others. This epic show has so many layers, you’ll find yourself not only caught up in the cases that Jessica Jones takes on, but the character herself as she explores and tackles her own internal struggles from strange loving relationships to even stranger family ones.
8. The Man in the High Castle
- Release date: January 15, 2015
- Cast: Alexa Davalos, Luke Kleintank, and Rufus Sewell
- Seasons: Four
Prolific sci-fi writer, Philip K. Dick, is the author behind this book turned TV series, The Man in the High Castle. A world with an alternate history where the Axis powers won World War II which ultimately led to the United States being split into three sections – one ruled by Japan, one by Nazis, and one zone caught in the middle. Whilst viewers were enthralled by this take on the dystopian twist on reality, later seasons weren’t as highly praised and the show ended after four seasons.
- Release date: October 6, 1999
- Cast: Shiri Appleby, Jason Behr, and Katherine Heigl
- Seasons: Three
The iconic Roswell High book series by Melinda Metz tells the sci-fi story of teen aliens and their human friends attending Ulysses F. Roswell High in Roswell, New Mexico. And in 1999, this was ground-breaking television when it was taken to TV for three seasons. There’s all the usual high school drama, from teen romance to friendship struggles, with a sci-fi alien twist. Although it might seem kind of dated now, Roswell got picked up by Apple TV a decade later with Roswell, New Mexico that would also get a spot on this list of sci-fi TV shows based on books.
10. The Punisher
- Release date: November 17, 2017
- Cast: Jon Bernthal, Amber Rose Revah, and Ben Barnes
- Seasons: Two
We can thank Marvel comic books for this Netflix TV show. The Punisher is Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal), an ex-Marine turned vigilante, with an unwavering mission to avenge the death of his wife and child, by any means necessary. This usually translates into violently taking out villains of New York’s criminal underworld.
It’s Marvel at its finest: backing the antihero, brutal fight scenes, and lots of brooding moments. It’s almost hard to believe that this one didn’t get renewed after two seasons, and we imagine The Punisher wouldn’t be too happy about that either. We're probably stretching the definition of sci-fi to its limits here, but the Marvel universe is deeply entrenched in sci-fi, even if Frank Castle usually sticks to gritty underbelly of New York.