It marked the impetus of at-home cinema and the fragmentation of media; an era when news and entertainment, once industries for the masses, individualized. It's better known as the 21st century. And while not yet a quarter of the way complete it has drastically changed people's relationship with news and entertainment. In response to new consumer behaviors, traditional media conglomerates - whose successes depended on major blockbuster weekends - scrambled to regain the attention of audiences en masse. And, in the race to congregate people back to the silver screen, executives leaned on their strongest pre-streaming assets. Hence the staggering number of sequels and series expansions over the past two decades. A major contributor to this IP upcycling were adaptations. Worlds built for the page migrated onto screens, and in that evolution best-selling books transformed into iconic cultural experiences.

And so, no best-of booklist for this century can ignore the importance of adaptations. Not because adaptations signify of artistry, but because they demonstrate cultural significance. It's for this reason that 13 of the 21 books on this list have been, or soon will be, adapted into television or film.

Traditionalists may scoff at the idea of a book's merit depending on an adaptation. But consider that an audience for an adapted book is enormous. Depending on the season, year, and category a book can rank on the New York Times Best Seller list by only selling ten thousand copies. Hollywood blockbusters expect to make $100M in one weekend. In other words, top performing films reach audiences upwards of ten million while the book industry celebrates reaching audiences of ten thousand. So, although audience size may not be a factor for real artists - it is for those seeking a living wage.

An adaptation also coincides with a writer's greatest achievement in literature. It is not just to create something unique, but something so spellbinding that people will trade their finite time and finances for that experience. And in that exchange the art should be so magnetizing and captivating that a reader's reality is displaced. Each page should possess a reader against their own will. A story should embed itself so deeply into a reader's mind that with each passing sentence new neural pathways develop and at the end of the book the reader should find themselves unexplainably changed. This experience is one where films succeed. In good cinema, viewers are engulfed - the boundaries of their reality distorted. But as this list reveals, some of the greatest of tales start on the page. Odds are, your next favorite series sits on a shelf somewhere today. And one might be in this list below.

NOTE: the below "buy from" links are affiliate links which allow me to earn a commission from your purchases.

American Gods 10 year anniversary cover

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

2001 · Fantasy

“I can believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and the Beatles and Marilyn Monroe and Elvis and Mister Ed. Listen - I believe that people are perfectable, that knowledge is infinite, that the world is run by secret banking cartels and is visited by aliens on a regular basis, nice ones that look like wrinkled lemurs and bad ones who mutilate cattle and want our water and our women.”

Oryx & Crake paperback cover

Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood

2003 · Adventure Romance

“He doesn't know which is worse, a past he can't regain or a present that will destroy him if he looks at it too clearly. Then there's the future. Sheer vertigo.”
“All it takes,” said Crake, “is the elimination of one generation. One generation of anything. Beetles, trees, microbes, scientists, speakers of French, whatever. Break the link in time between one generation and the next, and it’s game over forever.”

Cover to Nate Eckman's First Edition of After Thought

After Thought by Nate Eckman

2023 · Dystopian

Okay, sure I'm biased. Nate Eckman's debut dystopian is a thrilling read that's as cinematic as it is ephemeral. Heralded as the 1984 for 2023, this novel questions what is truth in a referential society where brains become completely dependent on information on the web?

Cover for the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Road

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

2006 · Post-apocalyptic

The first dystopian novel to win a Pulitzer Prize.

"Keep a little fire burning; however small, however hidden."

Cover to the first book in the Hunger Games series

Hunger Games (Series) by Suzanne Collins

2008 · Dystopian

“Happy Hunger Games! And may the odds be ever in your favor.”
“Here's some advice. Stay alive.”

Cover of the unabridged edition to Murakami's 1Q84

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

2009 · Multiverse

“I can bear any pain as long as it has meaning.”
“If you can't understand it without an explanation, you can't understand it with an explanation.”

Cover to The Martian

The Martian by Andy Weir

2011 · Science-Fiction

Considered one of the top 100 novels in English, of all time. Also riled with plagiarism claims. Specifically, from Zamyatin's We.

“Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped.”

Cover to Station Eleven, Now an HBO miniseries

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

2014 · Post-apocalyptic

“Hell is the absence of the people you long for.”
“No more Internet. No more social media, no more scrolling through litanies of dreams and nervous hopes and photographs of lunches, cries for help and expressions of contentment and relationship-status updates with heart icons whole or broken, plans to meet up later, pleas, complaints, desires, pictures of babies dressed as bears or peppers for Halloween. No more reading and commenting on the lives of others, and in so doing, feeling slightly less alone in the room. No more avatars.”

Cover to Colson Whitehead's Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

2016 · Historical Fiction

“And America, too, is a delusion, the grandest one of all. The white race believes--believes with all its heart--that it is their right to take the land. To kill Indians. Make war. Enslave their brothers. This nation shouldn't exist, if there is any justice in the world, for its foundations are murder, theft, and cruelty. Yet here we are.”

Cover to the book Ready Player One, since adapted into a Spielberg film

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

2012 · LitRPG

“I created the OASIS because I never felt at home in the real world. I didn't know how to connect with the people there. I was afraid, for all of my life, right up until I knew it was ending. That was when I realized, as terrifying and painful as reality can be, it's also the only place where you can find true happiness. Because reality is real”

Cover to Onyebuchi's Riot Baby

Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi

2020 · Science-Fiction

“It's not till she's outside that she realizes what she was looking for in there. What she's been looking for all these years. What she realizes now she no longer needs. Permission.”

Cover to the epic fiction, Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

2004 · Science Fantasy

“My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?”
“A half-read book is a half-finished love affair.”

Cover to Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

2005 · Dystopian

“We took away your art because we thought it would reveal your souls. Or to put it more finely, we did it to prove you had souls at all.”

Cover to A Master of Djinn

A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark

2021 · Fantasy Steampunk

“Why is everyone so slavish to texts written thousands of years ago?” he snapped. “Gods can change. Grow apart. Try new things.”

Cover to Susanna Clark's fantasy novel, Piranesi

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

2020 · Fantasy

“Perhaps even people you like and admire immensely can make you see the World in ways you would rather not.”

Cover to Mexican Gothic

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

2020 · Gothic Horror

“A woman who is not liked is a bitch, and a bitch can hardly do anything: all avenues are closed to her.”
“It was easy to kiss someone when it didn’t matter; it was more difficult when it might be meaningful.”

Cover to Micaiah Johnson's The Space Between Worlds

The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson

2021 · Science-Fiction

“Because that’s what a sister is: a piece of yourself you can finally love, because it’s in someone else.”
“They say hunting monsters will turn you into one. That isn’t what’s happening now. Sometimes to kill a dragon, you have to remember that you breath fire too. This isn’t a becoming; its a revealing. I’ve been a monster all along.”

First edition cover to Sarah Gailey's The Echo Wife

The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey

2021 · Domestic Thriller

“The way I see it, you mostly stop loving a person the same way you stop respecting them. It can happen all at once if something enormous and terrible falls over the two of you. But for the most part, it happens in inches. In a thousand tiny moments of contempt that unravel the image you had of the person you thought you knew.”

First edition hardcover to Arkady Martine's sensational debut A Memory Called Empire

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

2019 · Science-Fiction

“Our memory is a more perfect world than the universe; it gives life back to those who no longer exist.”
“A MIND is a sort of star-chart in reverse: an assembly of memory, conditioned response, and past action held together in a network of electricity and endocrine signaling, rendered down to a single moving point of consciousness.”

Mass market paperback cover to the now infamous Game of Thrones series

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

1996 · Epic Fantasy

I know what you're thinking, "this is 20th century." Yes, but its popularity is inexorably linked to the HBO adaptation. So, despite the series launching at the end of the 20th century it wasn't until the 21st when it rose to cultural prominence and should be commemorated as such.

“... a mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge."
“Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armour yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.”

Cover to American War by Omar El Akkad

American War by Omar El Akkad

2017 · Science Fiction

“You fight the war with guns, you fight the peace with stories.”
“It seemed sensible to crave safety, to crave shelter from the bombs and the Birds and the daily depravity of war. But somewhere deep in her mind an idea had begun to fester-perhaps the longing for safety was itself just another kind of violence-a violence of cowardice, silence, submission. What was safety, anyway, but the sound of a bomb falling on someone else's home?”

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